I am very excited about this opportunity. It will probably be my last performance before I leave Seattle and I couldn’t pick a better piece. “ROAR” was inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” (Read about it here.) In 2010, James Franco starred in a film featuring both the poem and the obscenity trial that followed it.
Allen Ginsberg was part of a group of revolutionary artists, and his poem was considered obscene in part because it contains a large amount of sexually explicit language about gay men (among other things). The poem uses the vernacular of the time it was written in (horrifically discriminatory words) to describe something that the author considers quite beautiful.
I have invested a lot in the LGBTQ etc. community in Seattle, and it’s a pretty progressive area in general, but there are times when I wonder if we aren’t white-washing a more subtle side of discrimination. Sometimes I see people in my community content to merely replace a negative set of stereotypes for overly positive ones with great gratitude for their new-found acceptance. So hungry to be “normal,” they neatly package their lives in sanitary words, clean-cut images, and heteronormative translations with the hope of holding onto what acceptance they have been granted. For the young folk, I wonder if a disadvantage of the equal rights movement is that people don’t search themselves quite as hard before declaring labels, and short change themselves of the soul-searching that can come out of the heightened risk of losing belonging in a community. If so, the result could be a blanket acceptance of the prevailing stereotypes about sexuality; theirs and others. That’s conjecture on my part, but I suspect it’s out there and it doesn’t lead to the experience of personal expansion that coming out can and ought to be. In its place is a very shallow understanding of a very complex part of our humanity.
Part of coming out, whatever you are, is about being authentic. I don’t think it’s bad to recognize stereotypes exist for a reason, or to use them as shorthand with people you’re not invested in. However, I feel sad when I see people trade one set of externally based limitations for another in our language, ideas, and behavior.
At its core, my poem “ROAR” is about reclamation of a shared humanity beyond the labels and expectations from one culture or another. It resists the temptation to make our lives look pure and wholesome and acceptable to society by using “nice” words to describe them. All words are human words, and no one owns what they can mean in our experience of them. This is especially valuable for minorities, who are so often given the language to talk about their lives that best expresses the flavor of censorship most favored by mainstream society at the time.
It’s rare to find opportunities to perform such a piece, and I couldn’t do better than to feature it in an event dealing with artistic censorship.
I hope you’ll join me for this if you can.
Or you could come just to hear me say a bunch of dirty words. 😉