Queering the Culture

Oscar Wilde on Broadway, Lesbian Opera at Lincoln Center, Sparky the Gay Dog on TV. Be Careful What You Wish For.

Most of the gay male artists interviewed for this piece say they are searching for new sources of arousal, exploring their feelings for women--especially butch women--and for straight men. "Just as any woman lusts after a gay man," says Atilla Richard Lukacs, "gay men lust after straight men." But the homo/hetero dyad is remarkably effective at suppressing these desires, along with whatever else might be contained in the self-definition Todd Haynes offers: "I'm a non-practicing bisexual."

As these transgressive stances percolate up from the vanguard, they have already begun to rock the mainstream. Consider a relatively conventional indie comedy like The Opposite of Sex, in which a gay man and his twinkie lover navigate the shoals of sex and intimacy without falling back on the refuge of a rigid identity. True, all the hot stuff in this film is straight, but at least it has the funky aroma of the new queer art, in which sexuality is a point of departure, not a destiny.

"I'm gay and I'm an artist, so to that extent I'm a gay artist," says Stephen Trask, the 31-year-old songwriter and coauthor of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. "But I grew up influenced by people like John Lennon, who wasn't gay. What he did was to create a persona in his songs, and my persona is someone who writes about love and power relations from the perspective of a gay man." With his band Cheater (named after a prosthetic vagina worn by trannies), Trask has been gigging around the Downtown scene for the past five years, honing a repertoire that cannot be sung by someone of the opposite sex to cover its tracks, because it's inflected by the unmistakable signs of being queer.

"I never had a problem in straight clubs," Trask says. "I only had a problem when I sent a tape to record companies. The only real impediment has been industrial." But now that Hedwigis a hit, Trask may get to live out his wildest fantasy: becoming the first rock star to explore the role of "predatory bottom." As in this stanza from "The Brush":

What I want is
to be taken
to be taken down a peg
I've got my pride
and it's running down my leg
When I'm in love I
want to take it
I can take it, take a shove.

Elton John it ain't, but this lyric crosses over and touches the abandon and surrender at the core of all sexuality. That's the mark of the new queer sensibility: It's universal without being straight. Or, as Stephen Trask puts it, with the assurance of a young man who has always been out but never been willing to live in a ghetto of desire: "Homosexuality is not my subject. I'm a subject who is gay."V

Research: Nita Rao

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