TO LOOK AT Tim Miller you wouldn't think he's been a thorn in the side of three consecutive presidential administrations. At 42 years old, he's a handsome, all-American guy who just wants to perform, teach, and enjoy life with his partner of seven years, Australian writer Alistair McCartney. Trouble is, Miller lives in the United States where who he is and what he does seems to put many a politician's undies in a bunch.
Back in 1990, for example, Miller, who has founded two influential theaters (Performance Space 122 in New York City and Highways in Santa Monica, California), was denied a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts because of gay themes in his work. He joined Karen Finley, John Fleck, and Holly Hughes as the "NEA 4" and together they successfully sued the government for violating their First Amendment rights, only to have the outcome reversed by the Supreme Court in 1998.
Now that he's through fighting, Miller is in love, but the government is on his back (and in his bedroom) once again. Essentially, nothing can be done to keep McCartney in the country once his student visa expires next year. Interested in a mail-order bride? No problem; apply for a green card. Committed relationship between two gay men from different countries? Can we show you to the door?
You'd think that after a decade Miller would be tired of fighting the power, but instead he's advocating for the passage of the Permanent Partners Immigration Reform Bill in Congress (despite certain death in the House, or eventual veto by George W. Bush) and uniting gay and lesbian bi-national couples through his one-man show Glory Box, performing this weekend at Patrick's Cabaret. In a phone interview from his home in Santa Monica, Miller tries to temper his anger at an Immigration and Naturalization Service that up until ten years ago classified gays and lesbians as "sexual deviants."
"I feel like a complete fraud paying taxes to a country that makes war on my family," he says. "Alistair and I are denied the 1,049 rights reserved for married couples in this country. I just want the U.S. to live up to its promotional materials, you know, 'All men are created equal.' I'm enough of a Pollyanna to think that eventually the U.S. will join the civilized world, but it could take two or three generations.'"
Asked how he navigates this complicated personal and political terrain in Glory Box, Miller explains that his sense of humor, a yin-yang blend of barbs and self-deprecation, is key. But he also wants the audience to be moved. "This piece affects my identity with my country and my life with Alistair, so you have a gnarly problem here," he says. "I'm challenging people to look at heterosexual privilege, but I do it in a funny way. I exaggerate my own agitprop, but I get my points across. It's what theater artists from Bertolt Brecht to Tony Kushner have been doing for the past 100 years: making theater that challenges society."
While touring with Glory Box Miller has met many bi-national couples who are contemplating the expatriate life in order to stay together. He even has a kindred spirit in Patrick's Cabaret founder Patrick Scully, now involved in a long-distance relationship with a man in Brazil. Miller points to other countries like Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands as being more enlightened when it comes to recognizing same-sex relationships, but he hopes, nonetheless, that he and McCartney will not be forced to call one of these nations home when the visa runs out.
"Relationships are hard enough," observes Miller, "without having to feel like your society is trying to destroy your home. If we can maintain our relationship under these crummy circumstances, we can survive anything."