Sunday, July 15, 2007
Playwright and performance artist Scott Turner Schofield has come out in at least five different ways. When he was in high school—and was still living as a woman named Katie—he came out as a lesbian. In college at Atlanta’s Emory University (where he and this writer were classmates), he came out as transgender. But while those are powerful stories, they may be less surprising than the events that inspired Schofield’s latest show: As a young woman in Charlotte, North Carolina, Schofield came out at three debutante balls as a Southern belle.
For those who don’t know Dixie, the debutante ball is an annual Old South tradition in which young women put on elegant gowns, get paraded around mansions by tuxedoed young men and symbolically announce that they are ready to join society. For the debs, this ritual is called “coming out,” and the joke is not lost on Schofield. His solo piece Debutante Balls—which he performs twice this week at the Cherry Lane Theater as part of the queercentric Fresh Fruit Festival—pokes fun at the similarities between his time in cotillion culture and his journey within the realm of gender politics.
Schofield has unwittingly broken rules in both worlds. Consider, for instance, the story of his debutante gown: As a middle-class kid who didn’t arrive in the South until his teens, he didn’t know that upper-crust debs usually attend balls in white dresses and kid gloves. So what was his coming out attire? A spaghetti-strapped number with a long black skirt and a leopard-print bodice. Blanche DuBois would have died. . . .
Nadya Labi, writing in the May 2007 issue of the American magazine, The Atlantic, describes how amid the extreme sexual repression in Saudi Arabia, there's actually a frenzy of homosexual activity. One reason is that access to women is so restricted, and so the men turn to each other. Many of the men do not think of themselves as homosexual, and rationalize that they are going after men who look like women.
Appropriately, Labi's article is titled "The Kingdom in the Closet" to highlight the many paradoxes surrounding homosexuality in Saudi Arabia. Men openly look for other men in shopping malls, and through the Internet, yet they are always in danger of being arrested by the "mutawwa'in," the religious police fielded by the Committee on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
Don't ask, don't tell
Labi describes the atmosphere in Saudi as one of "don't ask, don't tell," the phrase originally used to describe the US policy about homosexuals in the military. Officially, homosexuals were barred from the US military, but everyone knew they were there, and as long as they kept quiet, they wouldn't be expelled. In Saudi, it's an entire nation that works on a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, keeping all its homosexuals in the closet.
Now comes the overseas Filipino worker (OFW). I once attended a "despedida" [farewell party] for a very flamboyant Filipino "bakla" [gay man] who was leaving to work in Saudi and remember how his aunt sternly reminded him "to behave," with the threat: "Sa Saudi, pinupugutan ang ulo ng mga bakla" ["In Saudi, they behead homosexuals"]. Several months later I asked how "Jun" (not his real name) was and his relatives showed me pictures of him in drag (dressed as a woman) in Saudi. He was apparently having the time of his life, with claims that Saudi men were queuing for him ("pila-pila sila").
I thought of Jun reading The Atlantic article, especially because it had a photograph of someone with long flowing hair, a crown and a bouquet of flowers. The caption read: "Francis, in drag, the winner of a private beauty pageant held by Filipinos in Jeddah." Such beauty pageants are common, but not without risks. There have been raids and arrests and if participants are caught having sex, they could be liable for very severe punishments. Saudi law actually prescribes death for sodomy or anal intercourse.
Perhaps the out and out Filipino bakla are lucky in that they know how to skirt the rules. The Philippines isn't exactly that liberal so life here gives sufficient practice for the bakla when in comes to a life of happy subterfuge.
Labi mentions Filipinos several times, including one hilarious story about how 23 of them were arrested while holding a drag beauty pageant. They were dragged (pardon the pun) to the police station together with the evidence of their crime: wigs and makeup and photographs. Herded into a cell, the drag queens began to argue among themselves about who looked "the hottest" in the photographs. . . .
A green tree frog
AUSTRALIAN drinking water standards are under scrutiny after scientific research linked commonly used herbicides to gender-bending in male frogs.The National Health and Medical Research Council has decided to reassess its drinking water guidelines after miniscule traces of the herbicides atrazine and simazine were found to turn the frogs into hermaphrodites - creatures with male and female sex organs.
Australian guidelines allow up to 40 parts per billion (ppb) of atrazine in drinking water before it is considered a public health risk. But scientific studies have found male frogs grow ovaries when exposed to the chemical at the miniscule level of 0.1ppb in water.
"The current Australian Drinking Water Guidelines specify that atrazine should not be detected in drinking water, and that if it is detected remedial action should be taken to stop contamination," said research council spokesman Nigel Harding. . . .