Ideas of utopia are embedded deep in queer culture. They promise an environment that’s free from rigid heteronormative, patriarchal structures: one where sexual and emotional relationships can be imagined afresh. In 1850s New York, the Oneida Community enforced non-monogamous ‘complex marriage’, and cared for children communally. In the 1960s and 1970s, gay and lesbian communes formed, in single-gender societies that were segregated from the world outside. And more recently, queer theorists have explored the idea of Temporary Autonomous Zones, as propounded by anarchist writer Hakim Bey. Their central idea is that individuals can release themselves from social constraints and hierarchies by focusing on the moment, in temporary communities or spaces like squats or wild spaces.
Callisto: A Queer Epic returns again and again to the idea of queer utopia, but only one of the couples it looks at accomplishes it. They live on Callisto, one of Jupiter’s moons, and are a man and a robot who are struggling to build a utopian new society in their image. The other three couples in the play are scattered through the preceding centuries. In Stuart times, an actress tries to conceal the fact that her husband is a woman. A pre-war Alan Turing mourns Christopher Morcom, trying to square his grief with that of his mother Isobel. And in by far the silliest of the four plotlines, a woman runs away to queer porn studio Callisto in 1970s New York.
Each couple tries to carve out a patch of space for themselves, in a world that can’t quite accommodate them. Howard Coase’s script lets their stories float, without ever colliding. And what emerges is the way that across centuries, queers are seen as a threat to a male-dominated social order. They take refuge in their own private worlds - and in gazing out to galaxies together. Turing even discovers a new moon, in astronomical investigations inspired by his love for Morcom. And more recent research has suggested this love also inspired his thinking on artificial intelligence, and how a mind could live on after the body was gone.
This queer epic focuses on small moments, rather than taking in the huge sprawl that the title suggests. But by considering the radical possibilities of space, in all senses, it feels huge and wide in scope. (AS)
Callisto: A Queer Epic was on at the Edinburgh Fringe August 6-29 https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/callisto-queer-epic
More information on the Oneida Community http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/24/books/complex-marriage-to-say-the-least.html
Art activism and temporary autonomous zones http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10130950.2014.985469?journalCode=ragn20
Alan Turing’s relationship with Christopher Morcom http://www.polarimagazine.com/features/gay-love-story-led-invention-computer/