by Lucy Orr
It’s easy to suppose that, with the rise of the alt-right in North America and an increasingly divided Europe the prognosis for an intelligent, informed and forward thinking discourse surrounding sexuality and bodies is poor. Watching recent bounds forward in legal and societal liberalism come under real and seemingly unopposed threat is no comfort for the artistic soul. Luckily there are those performers like Amada Palmer who, in a recent article, echoed what many of the marginalised in the world’s artistic communities are thinking and hoping: that there will, after the shock and awe, be a creative backlash bound to produce a new wave of subversive aesthetics and responses as we saw in response to the Reagan, Bush and Thatcher administrations.
The mainstream media portends the Trump administration with the release of the newest TV adaptation of Margret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Though unsurprisingly helmed by a white male, there’s hope that it may jump start a painful discourse and critique of a white, heterosexual society dominated by men: those hounding and objectifying women and non-binary people through social media. The dystopian future depicted in Atwood’s novel, and in the recent HBO series Westworld (where sentient female robots are raped and murdered for pleasure), feels at this moment closer than ever with the disenfranchisement of women’s sexuality and the potential erosion of Roe vs. Wade in America. There’s about to be a war on every woman’s body, a war that will be fought on the fringes of society. Universal female foreboding has been unified and channeled into the March for Women which took place throughout the US, UK and around the world on January 21st, dwarfing the turn out for Trump’s inauguration the previous day. There was a tangible sense that those in attendance were bridging the continental divide, a show of international feminine solidarity totaling 670 marches worldwide with over 2 million in attendance. In the US these were the largest numbers seen at protests since the Vietnam War.
In Edinburgh The Sick of the Fringe highlighted the vast range of performers addressing sexuality and a discourse of the body through performance. Romana Soutus’ performance of Hyena highlighted the caged and rabid female form, one which will now have to fight even harder for freedom and expression, the dissonant feminine howl a call to arms for a frightened female populous ultimately ready to resist this right-wing populist onslaught. In her recent book Tranny and interview in The Guardian Laura Jane Grace, lead singer of punk band Against Me! details her struggle with gender dysphoria and transphobia, but also suggests that now is not a time to panic. In the radical act of not losing hope, she is a hugely positive presence oozing self-esteem and unrepentant sexuality just like Christeene and her Edinburgh show Trigger, a “sex-positive pro-dirty celebration”. This artistic embracing of non-binary genders and the rejection of cisnormativity is something that the trolls on the alt-right seem terrified of. The hysterical closure of gender-neutral bathrooms under the suspicious auspices of female safety produces an atmosphere light years away from the Queer utopia imagined at Edinburgh in Callisto: A Queer Epic.
John Berger’s death acts as a timely reminder of his fundamental writings on the male gaze. The language of images are more relevant than ever as we now have the prospect of a societal norm where is that male gaze magnified and transmitted across a variety of social media platforms. Be sure these are no longer safe spaces, with many women such as Lindy West and Leslie Jones opting to leave twitter under barrages of racist and misogynist fat shaming abuse. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Twitter has now become the communication tool of choice by Trump, as it favors the short angry sexist snarl. In Edinburgh, I saw the male gaze unwittingly undermined for a female one. John Berger suggested “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” Bea Roberts performance of Infinity Pool, where she used multimedia and found objects to unravel one woman’s desires and dysphoria with the mundane, in retrospect offers a telling insight into how those swathes of female Trump voters felt as they walked into the polling booths, fooling themselves that somehow different was better.
The infamous footage of an unrepentant Trump’s physical mocking of a disabled journalist Serge Kovaleski and the rising death rate as ATOS unethically dismisses the claims of the sick, disabled and mentally venerable in the UK, might indicate an escalation of uncaring. We have every right to feel sad about this increasing emotional austerity. During the London festival performances the rise in hopelessness and depression will be addressed by the poignant but uplifting Black, by Le Gateau Chocolat & Psappha Ensemble, combatting feelings of despair at the future told in news of half-truths and dismal sound bites with love songs and harmonies. London will also play host to Brigitte Aphrodite’s My Beautiful Black Dog, dealing with mental health with a hopeful swagger. As was evident in Dancer at Edinburgh, a collaborative performance exploring the movement of able and disabled performers, it’s important not just to hear disabled voices talk about everyday limitations but life and art. Let’s hope these voices aren’t subdued in a daily struggle for subsistence.
The arts are undeniably quick to respond to any form of political turmoil. The discourse surrounding the rise of populism and backlash against the establishment has been met by shock and cynicism by many on the liberal left, but this will quickly change and the prognosis for The Sick of the Fringe and its continuing encouragement of discourse and collaboration is bound to highlight how these troubling times can provoke performance and creativity, continuing an increasingly angry and passionate discourse around sexuality and the body. It is up to these emerging discourses to interrogate the new right-wing norms and never let them rest. We will undoubtedly be forced to fight for the fundamental human rights our current governments would take from us. It’s up to us to make this fight ours and grab it by the pussy!
Diagnoses Relating to These Themes from Edinburgh 2016: