The most disheartening moment of my very short and only just emerging writing career so far was a rejection from a major production company last year. They explained how they couldn't pick up my project because they've “already done 'the gay thing' this year”.
I'm still not sure what “the gay thing” is. It was followed by a comment from a gay friend of mine the other day, after he'd seen my current play SCREENS at Theatre503 in Battersea, about how he'd love to see my work in bigger venues, but is worried I'm a bit too niche.
And it made me think. I'm a queer, Jewish writer. I have mixed-bag roots that also take in Cyprus and bits of the West Midlands. I'm a geek. I'm a boy.
If we factor in online - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Grindr etc. I am a whole bunch of other labels too. On Twitter I describe myself as: “A little bit Cypriot, kinda Brummy, very Jewish, fully LGBT, questionably intelligent, theatrically space obsessed, total geeky writer kid.” I left Grindr an age ago, but I'm sure shorthand labels like “cute, masc, vers” came up.
To put it loosely, it’s this potential of an identity crisis that inspired the play; and what I'm proud of the most in this play, is that it's not a Queer play. Sure it has two queer characters and a fuck ton of Grindr. But in trying to create something that doesn't concentrate on issues but explores our very real experience of the whole world. I want to take us out of the ghetto.
WHERE IS THE NEW QUEER?
I fell in love with drama in the 90's and Mark Ravenhill, Sarah Kane, Clare Dowie and Philip Ridley were instrumental to that. Brutal and beautiful stories that exposed a different side to the queer experience. From afar, at school, it felt like theatres like The Royal Court and Paines Plough had this radical Queer agenda: laws were changing, Queer as Folk hit our screens and Gregg Araki exploded into my life. I discovered Tony Kushner and Pedro Almodovar and promptly adopted them as my bastard gay parents.
I came of cultural-age in the noughties. Music, publishing, films all suddenly about Queercore. I fell in love with the Hidden Cameras (gay, political indie-rock - Joel Gibb became my pretend boyfriend for nearly a decade), Shmekel (Jewish, transgender punk) and John Cameron Mitchell (radical, angry hardcore sex on film). The L Word crossed over in a way Queer as Folk couldn't quite do and Hollywood started coming out.
Then I launched my career as a writer about three or four years ago. In the middle of a desert.
Politically and socially we're relatively privileged in many parts of the world. Almost equal rights. Almost. Although Homophobia is increasing. It's a fact; and the rights we so enjoy right now, could be taken away at any time. We can see it happening all around the world. So we have to keep the conversation open, loud and moving forward.
In the past few years six plays really stand out to me:
- The Pass
- The Pride
- 5 Guys Chillin'
Only half of them were written by LGBTQI+ writers. Now I'm not criticising my ally writers, not at all. I'm not calling cultural misappropriation; we all get to write about what we want to write about. It's amazing that non-LGBTQI+ writers are adding to the canon and have something to say. And these particular plays are brilliant, beautiful pieces of work. But they have to exist alongside.
I'm saying it's not enough. I'm asking where are all the queer playwrights? Queer creatives have always been at the forefront of culture; pushing boundaries artistically and politically.
I don't want tokenism: Andrew Haigh makes beautiful films and telly, Russel T Davis is still at the top of his TV game. We have more voices in our beautiful fucking rainbow than that white, middle class Anglo-Saxon male.
We're also past issues. Fuck AIDS. And fuck coming out. They are. Done. To. Death. I want to see narratives driven by queer characters, who just happen to be queer. Who happen to be the loud brash kids screaming their new version of 'we're here, we're queer'.
I saw a great film called Nerve the other day. There was no reason at all, that those lead characters couldn't have been LGBTQI+. I want to see the LGBT horror movie that doesn't exploit the inherent sexiness for straight, white, teen boys. I want to see the cool, off-beat rom-com with a lead who just happens to be trans.
Because that's where we're at. We're more than sexuality and gender. We're just as much everything as everyone else. And its time the New Queer reflected that.
On my stage at Theatre503, for the remaining two weeks of my run, my gay boys reject cock shots on Grindr and argue left wing identity politics and the hangover of partition, whilst bonding over Nine Inch Nails, Douglas Coupland and Johnny Cash. They're messy and imperfect. They stutter and swear and they're not particularly bitchy, particularly sexual or particularly well turned out or any other one of those clichés that we're tired of seeing. They're just a couple of lads with thoughts, hopes and ideals, who are fighting loudly for what they believe in and just happen to be gay. And I want to see more of that.
So, boys and girls and everyone on either side and all around of that, hear me, just because we get to sit at the top table now, doesn't mean we have to be quiet about it.
Screens by Stephen Laughton runs at Theatre503 until Sep 3rd. https://theatre503.com/whats-on/screens/
Photos by - Pank Sethi.