We’ve been having a great discussion over at my facebook page about the Lee Hall/Beached thing – BBC version, Pink News version, the local authority version – and while I am, of course, delighted it’s going ahead (such a waste of work and time and money and effort otherwise), I am saddened that one change that has accommodated this is changing a character reference from “queer” to “gay”.
Queer means many things to many people. It rarely means the same thing to all people. It can mean sexuality, yes, and is a lovely inclusive term to do so, often covering LGBandT, but it also has an aesthetic sensibility, an artistic sensibility, and a questioning, challenging tone to it that gay no longer has for many people. Not least because gay all too often conjures up the image of the straight-accepted (though not at all necessarily straight-passing) gay MAN. I’m very happy for it to mean those men, and for those men to be out and proud and representative. But when gay also has come to mean generally white, generally male, generally middle class (in that this is what we tend to see on our screens and stages, given back to us as “the gays”), queer can be a very useful word indeed.
I don’t think it’s a hard word for kids to understand. I do think we reclaim words by using them with positivity and enthusiasm, I love that some of my straight friends perceive their work to be queer – in that it is not traditional, not of the mainstream. I love too that at a recent Improbable DandD, led by Chris Goode, some (younger than me!) LGBT theatre/art-makers preferred to use trans (as in transition rather than transexual) than queer. For them, even queer was too mainstream!
So back to the Beached drama of this week – as I say, I’m very pleased it’s going on. I think Lee Hall has done a sterling job of agreeing an accommodation which clearly isn’t what he wanted initially – if he’d wanted “gay” in the first place, he’d have written it! I also think Opera North‘s attitude – putting the local authority/local school before the writer is an interesting indication of how theatres and writers are working these days. The theatre as champion of the writer (the writer they have commissioned!) is clearly long gone.
But I am saddened that there has been a watering down of impact of the language. Because queer is a stronger word than gay. Stronger because of the confusion, stronger because of the complexity, stronger because it’s not easily defined, stronger because it is more recently reclaimed, not yet fully reclaimed, possibly never will be. And what a joy that is, what fine discussions it provokes – and why on earth would any educator want to ‘protect’ children, of any age, from a discussion about the power of LANGUAGE? For any human being, language (verbal, literary, or physical in sign) is all we have. It is the only way we communicate. The complexity of our words is their joy and their power. And I am very, very saddened that a writer, by definition someone who works in words to share story, has had to water down the power of a word. Any word.
One more thought – how long still before we see this furore over a queer/gay WOMAN character? Just asking …