Monday, March 26, 2012

A sad night at the theatre

‘Heteronormative’ is not a word I ever thought I’d find myself using.

If I understand it right, it comes from queer cultural theory, and describes a set of values that holds that people fall into distinct genders, male and female with heterosexuality is the only normal sexual orientation and which belittles, ridicules and marginalises anyone who falls outside this norm, either because of their sexuality or their gender.

It is an all pervasive set of values that’s hard for many people to spot, because it’s as all encompassing as the air we breathe or the water surrounding a gold fish swimming round and round the goldfish bowl.

It is far more obvious to an outsider like me, but generally I scrape by, until a particularly aggressive instance of it exposes my nerve endings and scrapes them painfully.

And then I find myself using this ugly piece of jargon; because it encapsulates an ugly experience.

There really is no other word that better describes the new adaptation of “The Marriage of Figaro” I saw in the theatre the other night.

What first hit me was the treatment of Cherubino. In the original, he’s a young and beautiful page boy who is in love with the countess and who on a couple of occasions is disguised as a woman. Here he is a stupid office boy from Eastern Europe who is humiliated and made to look ridiculous in drag.

The man next door to me found it hilarious. He particularly liked the moment the boy was pushed out onto a window ledge 8 stories up.

I’ve always had difficulty laughing at people’s suffering. Particularly then, when I felt so vulnerable, so at the margin, so at the very edge. As I know trans people do everywhere.

Transphobia, to use another ugly word, is about the expression of ugly attitudes of hostility towards and prejudice against trans people. It’s what inspired the abuse and threats of physical violence I used to encounter every time I left my front door; ridicule and physical attack that remains a constant possibility. As it does to trans people everywhere.

Because it’s partly about the the notion that it’s ridiculous and grotesque for someone biologically male to want a woman’s identity or want to wear women’s clothes it is closely related to misogyny; and so it was no surprise to find so many of the play’s other jokes were directed against women. Older women in particular.

My neighbour particularly enjoyed the moment when Susanna performed a humiliating stripper’s dance; and when it came to the count’s line “Men age like wine. Women age like milk” it seemed to be the funniest thing the man had ever heard.

Beaumarchais and Mozart created a precious work of art that is compassionate, tender, funny and humane. That points up the absurdities of the sexist double standard and points forward to a time where there are more equal relationships between the classes and men and women treat each other with tenderness and mutual respect.

How desperately sad to see a gifted, witty, intelligent and ingenious young writer transforming it into something so reactionary, so rancid and so heartless.

How depressing to see a theatre I love staging it.
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