«Representations of Queer Identities on the American Stage from the Postwar to the 1990s Francisco Costa A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor ...»
‘I Used To Be Subversive, But Now I’m Gay’:
on the American Stage from the Postwar to the 1990s
A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
School of American Studies
University of East Anglia
‘I Used To Be Subversive, But Now I’m Gay’
‘I Used To Be Subversive, But Now I’m Gay’:
Representations of Queer Identities on the American Stage
from the Postwar to the 1990s
Francisco Costa A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy School of American Studies University of East Anglia 2013 © This copy of the thesis has been supplied on condition that anyone who consults it is understood to recognize that its copyright rests with the author and that no quotation from the dissertation, nor any information derived therefrom, may be published without the author’s prior, written consent.
This dissertation is my own work and contains nothing which is the outcome of work done in collaboration with others, except as specified in the text and acknowledgements. The authorship of the cover also rests with me and the authorship of the background cover image rests with Mario Eskenazi.
It does not exceed the regulation length.
This dissertation adheres to the MHRA Style Guide (2008).
Signed Declaration _________________________
Date 13/06/2013 ● ACKNOWLEGMENTS ● I have benefited greatly from the extensive knowledge and unerring guidance and encouragement of my supervisory team, Nick Selby and Jonathan Mitchell. I must also thank Becky Fraser for supervising me during my first year, when I was not completely sure the direction this thesis was going to take. The School of American Studies and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities provided financial support that enabled me to complete this research project and attend several academic conferences in the U.K and abroad. I was also privileged to have taught several courses at the University of East Anglia while working on my research, which provided engaging and challenging company that took me away from this thesis.
Friends who have been patient and put up with my whingeing are some, but I ought to mention those who have had the worst of it: Catherine Barter who generously took the time to proofread this manuscript and provide helpful feedback, and with whom I spent many hours enthusing about it, usually accompanied by cocktails; Ângela Prestes has also continuously been a source of advice and inspiration, kindling my initial interest in academia, for what I am immeasurably grateful.
My parents have been supportive in too many ways to list, and ‘thanking’ them seems almost absurdly insufficient to the task. Nevertheless, I would like to thank my mother, Francisca Sousa, my father, Joaquim Costa, my siblings, Rui Costa and Diana Sampaio, and my grandmother, Margarida Almeida de Sousa, for providing the right kinds of support at all the right times. This thesis must therefore be dedicated to them, and also to Paulo Pepe, who has been absolutely there for the
The central aim of this study is to examine ‘non-normative’ masculinities constructed and represented in American drama, theatre and performance throughout the second half of the twentieth century, thus assessing the ‘queer’ challenges these masculinities present to hegemonic ‘heteronormativity.’ To identify the historical, social and cultural constraints that shaped the manifestations of ‘gay’ male identities on the American stage from the postwar to the 1990s, I will offer extended analysis and close reading of selected texts. I will examine Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Suddenly, Last Summer (1958), Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band (1968), Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart (1985), Tony Kushner’s two Angels in America (1992) plays, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, Terrence McNally’s Love! Valour! Compassion!
(1994), and David Drake’s The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me (1994).
My analysis of the selected texts will demonstrate that some of these particular plays represent ‘gay’ male individuals who challenge, and others, who identify themselves with ideological principals of a hegemonic ‘heteronormativity.’ Consequently, in this study I partially outline a history of ‘queer’ drama, theatre and performance in America throughout the second half of the twentieth century, and examine how ‘gay’ male identities were represented particularly by ‘gay’ male authors during this period. I will also analyse to what extent these representations were subversive, assimilative, or had a hidden agenda, and most importantly, I seek to deconstruct established conceptions of the works here analysed, considered to be the most assimilative, which through a ‘queer’-inflected close reading can be in fact
Subversion versus Assimilation
Delimitations and Designations
Theory and Method
Chapter I Queer Challenges: Queer Strategies in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Suddenly, Last Summer................53 Tennessee Williams and Homosexual Defiance.………...………………53 Visibility and Masculine Performativity in A Streetcar Named Desire….59 From Heteronormative Masculinity to Homosexuality in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Stigmatization of Homosexual Desire in Suddenly, Last Summer.............83 Queer Ghosts
Chapter II Queer Transgressions: Gay/Queer Confrontations in Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band
The Boys in the Band and the End of the Closet
Chapter III Queer Failures: Alterity in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and Terrence McNally’s Love! Valour!
Queer Politics/Gay Theatre
Gay Regulations in The Normal Heart
Gay/Queer Intersections in Angels in America
Gay Revival in Love! Valour! Compassion!
Chapter IV Queer Performances: Gay Agenda in David Drake’s The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me
Homonormativity in The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me
● INTRODUCTION ● Writing does not come to power. It is there beforehand, it partakes of and is made of it. […] Hence, struggles for powers set various writings up against one another. Let us not shrug our shoulders too hastily, pretending to believe that war would thus be confined within the field of literati, in the library or in the bookshop. […] But it is true that the political question of literati, of intellectuals in the ideological apparatus, of the places and stockages of writing, of caste-phenomena, of ‘priests’ and the hoarding of codes, of archival matters – that all this should concern us.
- Jacques Derrida, ‘Scribble (writing-power)’, 1979 2 Subversion versus Assimilation This study is about the construction and representation of ‘queer’ identities, particularly ‘non-normative’ masculinities, in American drama, theatre and performance of the second-half of the twentieth century. By any definition this is a ‘queer enterprise.’ The title I used to be subversive, but now I am gay is provocative, in that it offers a stimulating criticism of the contemporary strategy of ‘gay assimilation’, which seems to be the major objective of the ‘gay rights movement’ at this historical moment. The reason I am employing the terms ‘gay assimilation’ and ‘gay rights’ instead of the inclusive acronym ‘LGBT’ results from the dominant signs of ‘straight’ conformity having become more and more the ultimate measures of ‘gay’ success. In this context, the rights of all other ‘deviant’ identities are not included in this ‘gay’ success, but rather those of a particular group of ‘gay’ individuals.
From the last decade of the twentieth century and increasingly in the beginning of the twentieth-first century, the trinity of marriage, military service and adoption has become the central concern of a ‘gay movement’ centred more on achieving ‘straight’ privilege than challenging power. Indeed, if two men or two women wish to get married and/or adopt a child, their union and/or adoption should be legally allowed and recognized by the state and afforded all the benefits they are entitled to. If a ‘gay’ man or ‘lesbian’ also wants to serve their country in the military, it should be their option without fear of expulsion or harassment and with an honesty and openness about their sexual identity. Yet, should the goal of the ‘gay rights movement’ be symmetry? Or should same-sex desire endeavour to cultivate a new social dynamic that could be described as horizontal rather than the hierarchical
all must live? Or, should ‘gays’ and ‘lesbians’ – should I, as a non-heterosexual – seek the ‘disintegration’ of a society defined by a ‘heteronormative’ system rather than integrate and assimilate into the very society that has long oppressed them/me with severe physical, emotional and psychological consequences?
Assimilation is for me not the answer for those who practice same-sex desire. My position in no way diverges with those ‘gays’ and ‘lesbians’ who seek to get legally married or adopt, nor those who want to serve openly and with integrity in the military. What troubles me about the objective of symmetry is that it does nothing to restructure or challenge the ‘heteronormative’ system itself. Even with
‘masculine/feminine’, ‘heterosexual/homosexual’, ‘straight/gay’ will still be imposed in which the first term is persistently privileged over the second term. Assimilation does not account for the structure of representation itself which centralizes its power in a specific (and highly problematic) construction of masculinity that in turn degrades all other subjectivities.
Thus, partially for personal reasons and my particular interest in this topic, the central aim of this study is to examine ‘non-normative’ masculinities constructed and represented in American drama, theatre and performance throughout the second half of the twentieth century, thus assessing the ‘queer challenges’ these masculinities present to hegemonic ‘heteronormativity.’ Consequently, in this study I will partially outline a history of ‘queer’ drama, theatre and performance in America throughout the second half of the twentieth century, and examine how ‘gay’ male identities were represented particularly by ‘gay’ male authors during this period. I will also analyse to what extent these representations were subversive, assimilative,
conceptions of the works here analysed, considered to be the most assimilative, which through a ‘queer’-inflected close reading can be in fact read as the most subversive.
In this study, therefore, I will address the following questions: (a) how do both ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ masculinities function as a reflection of one another? (b) what is the ‘queer’ element through which dramatists, performers, and spectators operate the construction of ‘heteronormative’ masculinity on a so-called ‘gay theatre’? (c) does the gay male appropriate a ‘heteronormative’ masculinity with the purpose of employing the power he is politically, socially, and culturally ‘entitled’ to as a man, or does he simply assume this incorporation as a way of concealing of his homoerotic desire? (d) does this ‘gay’ male incorporate this ‘heteronormative’ masculinity with the objective of subverting – ‘from the inside’ – its inherent principles? (e) what is the significance of the gender dynamics constructed and represented in the selected works for the formation of contemporary American culture?
These are questions raised bearing in mind the main objective of this study, and which I will address by focusing on specific elements concerning the construction and representation of heterosexual and non-heterosexual masculinities and homosocial and homoerotic relations – viewed as products of collective and personal memories – in the different texts. I will combine principles of several scholars in the course of my arguments, from historians, to political, and cultural theorists. Furthermore, to answer these questions, I will not be looking at the construction of readerly identities, in terms of the liaison between ‘self’ and text, but the construction of identities within the texts and how these mirror and possibly alter
Delimitations and Designations The main analytic focus of this study will be ‘gay theatre’ produced in America during the second half of the twentieth century. 1 However, I do not intend here to establish a finished definition of ‘gay theatre.’ I will consider as examples of ‘gay theatre’ texts in which their authors and characters are non-heterosexuals (not only theatre that assumed itself militantly as such, but also theatre that subliminally represents ‘gay’ male identities). In studies that focus on ‘queer’ drama, theatre and performance – namely by Alan Sinfield, John Clum, David Róman, Nicholas De Jongh, to name a few – this term defines works that, explicitly or implicitly, represent the love or sexual desire between men, or where homoerotic desire is present.
Drama, theatre and performance were selected as the object of analysis of this study as these are cultural products which have long investigated ideas of identity, knowledge and the power of radical configurations of the body that notably precede queer theoretical paradigms. These paradigms have consistently drawn from the iconic work of pre-’queer’ artists and philosophers that, by implication, destabilizes a perception of ‘queer’ as a specifically contemporary socio-cultural discourse.