It is the 20th anniversary of the terror attack on the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon and on fellow citizens of this country. The Bush administration began planning war even before the tragic events of 9/11/01, but that it was the causus belli for which they were waiting and the day after 9/11 they went to work to weave the web of lies they used to bring us into an unjust and even more tragically, unnecessary war.
As the shadows of war slowly began to spread across our country, White Crane offered an issue devoted to the spiritual idea of “Resistance.” Performance artist and author, Tim Miller spoke about the role resistance played in his art.
The rise of Fascism and Racism and the plutocracy of the Republicans has made resistance new again. If not “new” then as pressing as ever. The war that was started twenty years ago still rages on, chewing up blood and treasure in its belligerent maw. We live in the Chinese curse of “interesting times.” I don’t hesitate to say it’s scary.
So in observation of 9/11, now more than a decade later, and in light of current events, it is a idea and a discussion worth revisiting.
Art of Resistance
Even more than in my performances, I think I have been able to explore and dismantle the worst of our patriarchal legacy as men through the Gay men’s performance workshops I teach. For almost twenty years I have been leading performance workshops for groups of men all over the world. These workshops have been a place for men to resist the patriarchal legacy by physically exploring in full-color real time their most intimate narratives, memories, dreams and possibilities with one another.
While I have often done this work with mixed groups of straight, bi-sexual and Gay men, the majority of my efforts have been within the diverse Gay men’s communities in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. A constant focus, the base note as it were, of all this work, has been a commitment to discovering a more authentic and individualized way of being present within our deeply problematized men’s psyches and bodies. I have taught such workshops in contexts as varied as at the Men & Masculinities conference that was sponsored by the National Organization of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) in Johnstown, Pennsylvania to hundreds of performance workshops for Gay men in cities from Sydney, Australia to Glasgow, Scotland. .
In the work I do with groups of Gay men, I have learned that finding a way to be more present in our embodied selves and open to the narratives that we carry in our queer flesh and blood is the quickest route to discovering the revelatory material about what it just might mean to be human. Claiming this kind of psychic space to explore our most queeny, spiritual or erotic selves as Gay men is to me a profound act of resistance.
In 1994 frayed from the culture war and onslaught of AIDS, I made a show called Naked Breath in which I wanted to write a sexy and highly personal story about how two men, one HIV-positive and one negative, managed to connect. After several years in the late 80’s and early 90’s of shouting in front of government buildings or being dragged by cops down the asphalt on the streets of Los Angeles or Houston or San Francisco or New York with ACT-UP, I felt called to really honor the quiet human-size victories that are available to us.
To model the resistance to fear of each other’s bodies across sero-status, but also to perform the resistance to the virus’ negative effects to our psychic and emotional health as we did this. I wanted to try to locate what has happened to us during the AIDS era and hold up the hopeful fact that men were still able to get close to one another there amid the swirl of blood within and the cum smeared on our bodies. In Naked Breath I am surrounded by both these bodily fluids; I wanted to get wet in this performance. I also wanted that we could do this safely and full of respect for each other’s bodies.
My new show Us is full of nascent little queer boy resistance, but my show GLORY BOX has my favorite example. I tell a funny story in GLORY BOX about asking a boy to marry me when I was nine years old. He beats me up and tells me to “take it back”. I do “take it back—that I wanted to marry him—but I cross my fingers behind me before I do! Maybe that was the beginning of my resistance and activism! That gave me the basic dissatisfaction with stuff that just isn’t fair.
I do think though, that Gay Americans are ready to submit to a basic disrespect to their humanity that Gay people in other western countries would find unacceptable. We have accommodated to sodomy laws, Gays not allowed in the military etc. We have that damn radical religious right in the U.S. that other countries just don’t have. It infects everything. If queer folks in America would actually be prepared to resist we could change so much that messes with our community. That old devil of internalized homophobia gets in our way.
I keep trying to stay close to that little nine-year old who knew that it just wasn’t fair that he couldn’t marry another boy! This is very much connected to the story I tell in Us about relating to Oliver Twist in the film musical as a little queer activist. He, too, wanted some “more!” That crucial act: wanting to marry another boy, of claiming space and agency as a little nine-year-old Gay boy, that resistance to the heterosexual narrative, is the place from where all my other activism around lesbian and Gay civil marriage and immigration rights leaps.
Tim Miller is the author of SHIRTS AND SKINS and BODY BLOWS. In 1990 he was awarded an NEA Solo Performance Fellowship which was overturned under political pressure from the Bush I White House. As part of the NEA 4 Miller successfully sued the federal government for violation of First Amendment rights and won. Though this decision was later partially overturned by the Supreme Court, Miller continues his fight for freedom of expression and Gay rights.