Sunday, November 25, 2007

Paris is Burning. Pass the Turkey, Please.

A few days ago I went with James and another friend to the Scion Route 07 Film Series screening of "Paris is Burning," a documentary about gay life in Harlem during the 80s.

If you know "Vogue" by Madonna then it's worth watching this film, which explores the birth of a pop phenomenon from the city's most disenfranchised and unwanted citizens. And isn't that always the way with great art? Suffering breeds genius, no?

But I have to say, the preamble to the film, and some parts of the film itself, were too much for the little homophobic queer inside of me. A few people featured in the film survived the AIDS crisis of the 80s and were on hand for a Q&A at the Scion screening. On the one hand, it was great to see these guys, on the other, the swishing and the "girrrrrl" shout-outs and the rampant silliness of these men, all well into middle age and beyond, was just annoying.

The film follows poor gay men of color as they dress up as women, doctors, executives (a term that got me to thinking that the "executive" is dead seeing as no one says "I'm an executive" anymore. Unless they're a sniveling PR underling, but I digress) to vogue, pose, read and shade at "Balls," lavish affairs where prizes are awarded for the best representation of any category -- best butch/femme queen, best white woman, best executive.

No best PR underling?

So I'm watching the film, the spectacle of it all, and I'm saying "didn't these guys ever think to finish high school, get an education and make something of themselves? Didn't they see the silliness was going to kill them? Which is when the other pro-everything angel popped up on my shoulder and asked "Did anyone warn the Dada-ists that their silliness was going to kill them?" "Did anyone tell the Andy Warhol and the folks at the Factory to cool their jets and be more civilized?"

And I went back to rooting for the guys, the girls, whatever, and lamenting the fact that most of them would never get to see the impact their silliness had on our world.

Which means I should come clean about why I cringed during the screening. The film chronicles a New York I forgot I knew -- one with gang violence, balmy summer nights with no A/C, neighborhood blackouts, a whore-house called Times Square -- it chronicles the minority experience in this country that teaches people of color "if you ain't white you ain't right."

Check out this clip from the film, it captures the feelings I had growing up when I'd look at the TV and say, "um, these people don't look like me and they certainly don't live like me....what's wrong with me?"

Fast forward some twenty-odd years into the future and I'm in the suburbs celebrating Thanksgiving with my (white)boyfriend of three years and our families, and the talk is pleasant, if not a little boring, and the hood I grew up in is now referred to as an up-and-comer on the real estate scene.

Talk about lucky breaks and privilege -- I've had more than my share of both. And love and support as well. That's something that a lot of these guys in the film didn't have - a childhood, parents, safety - and you wonder how they made it as far as they did in the first place. I mean, before Pageant Place there were more than three queens living in less-than-opulent circumstances trying to find their way in the worldd.

So, on the close of this Thanksgiving Weekend I'm thankful for the lucky breaks and opportunities that came my way, and of course, for the family I came from and the one I have with James. And now, I must WORK...


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