Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dublin Made Me Gay!!

Well, of course this is not entirely true, but I can say that living here has made me gay-ER in my daily activities.

As a recovering-Catholic Republic that only decriminalized homosexuality in 1993 (and still criminalizes abortion), Dublin is not the first place that pops to mind when one thinks of gay-friendly cities. But there is something still kind of sparkly and new about the out gay scene here. Toronto's scene has been around for such a long time, and there is a whole street dedicated to everything LGBTQ. If you miss an event, no worries - there will be another one coming along soon. I suppose the same is true of Dublin, based on the small but growing body of knowledge I have about lesbian/queer activities in the city, but it hasn't been this way for as long, so there is still a kind of buzz around events.

Take, for example, the Gay and Lesbian choir I went to the other night. My friends Shannon and Debs asked me out, and we were joined by a couple of their friends; on my way out the door, another friend, Florry, called to see what I was up to that night - did I want to join him at Gloria, the Gay and Lesbian choir? Well yes indeed, see you there. When I posted the pics on Facebook, another friend of mine tagged a friend of hers in the pic of the choir. Do all the queers know each other in this city? The venue was packed - I would say there were easily 600-800 people in the church, and not a spare seat to be found. I think this is a pretty fantastic turnout for any kind of event, let alone an amateur (in the not-paid sense) choir from a slim slice of the overall Dublin demographic. (A note on the venue - we weren't sure at first if St. Anne's was Catholic or Church of Ireland, and while it would have been more deliciously transgressive if it had been the former, the fact that it is Anglican still scores one point for the good side of the schism).

Come to think of it, maybe it's not a gay thing at all. I've been amazed by how tightly knit many communities are in this city. For example, in the theatre world, the people who write about theatre (critics and academics) seem to know the people who make theatre (directors and writers and actors etc) well. I mean, they give each other little hugs and hellos when they see each other. It's not that there is no overlap at home, but most real interaction between academics and practitioners seems to be about the work. People here seem to know each other socially. I am living in an entirely different culture than my home culture, and I am continually amazed by the little Eureka moments I have that remind me of this.

In the beginning, I noticed cultural differences, and was hit with a short but intense dose of culture shock. At one point, I thought "I am an ALIEN! Who are these people??" That seems to have passed as I return to a more moderate view of our differences, but now I am starting to see the subtle differences a bit better. To come back to the gay thing -- I need to tune my gaydar to a new wavelength. I thought I was getting pretty good at quickly noting who was likely playing for the team at home, but here, forget it. The public appearance of being gay/lesbian is different than it is at home. I am sure this observation does little to help those who argue that being gay is biological (and therefore more politically defensible, somehow), but it's true! I can't even identify, yet, why my gaydar is so off, but it's been very interesting. It kind of means everyone can be gay, in my imagination. Talk about queering the world around you...

Well, I am off home for the holidays tomorrow morning, which means I will be missing at least five queer holiday events in Dublin. But I figure I can just pick up where I left off when I return - there is so much going on! I never thought I would say this four months ago, but I think I might actually miss my wacky new Dublin life...a wee bit...over the holidays.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Lights about town

They sure do know how to do Christmas lights in Dublin. Here are a few pics I snapped when I happened to have my camera in tow. I will try to take more this week - Grafton street, for example, is just beautiful. The first few pics are of my street.  Dec 16 Update: Ok- the last three are from Grafton St. area. Took them last night.

Corn Exchange workshop

Last week, I took part in an introductory commedia intensive, offered by the super cool Dublin theatre company Corn Exchange. Annie Ryan, the company's AD, led the workshop along with the Janet Moran, a busy actor who has been in several of the company's productions. Both were involved in Freefall, which was definitely the stand-out production at this year's Dublin Theatre Festival. I haven't been on stage (although the lecture hall is a kind of stage...) in about a decade, so it was quite the experience to be thrown in with a group of professional actors, but they were gentle with me :) The workshop was excellent - Annie is an excellent teacher who has a great ability to improvise her direction depending on the moment - she is in tune with the performers' energy, and really pushes participants while always maintaining a safe and playful atmosphere. She runs workshops once or twice a year, and I would go back in a second (although I'm not sure they would want me back, LOL).

What amazed me most about the actors was there great willingness to play, and to play big and small depending on the moment. I've hosted and participated in a number of theatre workshops for undergraduates in the past few years, and I have always found the students really hungry and willing, but not always entirely able to play. But of course, this is the difference between professionals, and professionals-in-training (not that we aren't all amateurs and professionals at the same time, on some level, in our chosen work).

I feel drawn to Corn Exchange because of their philosophy, their commitment to theatricality (and not naturalism), and their process: for the last while, Annie has been starting rehearsals with a group yoga practice, and as you know from previous posts, I am seriously hearting yoga right now. But Corn Exchange has also been on my radar for a long time - a couple of years ago, I assigned my students a group project: to build an entire website dedicated to Dublin By Lamplight, which Corn Exchange premiered at the Project Arts Centre in 2004, and then toured around Ireland, the UK, and Australia until 2007. It's odd how life operates in circles or spirals; many moons ago I was offered a PhD position at Trinity College, but I turned it down to attend the University of Toronto. I feel a bit like the character in John Mighton's play Possible Worlds, continually cycling back around multiple possibilities for existence.

Anyhoo, this blog posting is mostly an excuse to post a bunch of pictures from the workshop. The company draws on commedia traditions, but also updates the traditions, and infuses them with elements of story theatre. Physical postures are informed by LeCoq and several other physical theatre practices, so, for example, Pantalone types don't need to stoop over, and Capitanos can appear both in and out of uniform. The company has distilled the essence of the types, and uses these stock 'essences' as inspiration for character-building. It's a completely unique form; characters and text can be contemporary, and they discard the plastic masks in favour of fantastic makeup. You'll see what I mean in the slideshow below. Enjoy!

Corn Exchange Commedia Workshop, Dec 7-10 2009
Leinster Cricket Club, Rathmines

Meta Blog

Loyal readers (if indeed there are any out there), I know I've been away for a while. It's just that...I got kinda...distracted (bonus points for anyone who knows that is a quote, and can name the source). I've been trying to figure out why I haven't felt as compelled to write about my experiences lately as I did in the beginning, so here is my opportunity to work that out. Meta-blog: the blog posting about the process of blog postings. Here are some possible explanations:

1. First and foremost, I've been busy during the social hours. I usually write blog postings at night and on weekends, but I've been rather busy at night and on weekends. My friend Andrew even wrote me an email saying "Are you ok? Because you haven't blogged in a while!" Blogging: proof of life.

2. Related to the first: my social life has kind of taken off. Whopppppeeee! I was dreadfully lonely in the beginning, but I forced my way into several people's lives. Just picture a sad clown wearing a Canadian flag, holding a light saber, and grinning madly - that's how I likely came off. Several of those people magically adopted me! Some of them even drop me texts when they haven't heard from me in a few days! I am always delighted and just a bit amazed when someone wants to be my friend, because for a long time, I was so freakin' busy that I had no room for adopting new people, and I lost perspective. I thought everyone felt that way.

3. Cultural Life: I have been going to the theatre and other traditional cultural events since the beginning, but, partly through my very cool dancer friend Deirdre, I've been introduced to a burgeoning indie/arty/dance/performance scene. There are lots of exciting smaller-scale/one-off things happening in Dublin, and I've taken the opportunity to attend what I can. In terms of artistic tastes, I am really moving towards the visual and kinesthetic. I mean, I've always preferred theatre that verges on performance art, demonstration, or 'happening', but lately I want to soak up anything with great movement, preferably if it has few words. Blame it on the Irish dramatic tendency towards monologue theatre: I need a break from all the blarney.

Last night I went to The Back Loft for Mamuska, which bills itself as a 'cross-media arts salon'. There were a series of short performances - dance pieces, performance art, experimental films, soundscapes, clown -- and the audience was encouraged to wander around the space. At this particular event, they had the chairs (a great collection of armchairs, kitchen chairs, and office chairs!) arranged in a traditional forward-facing, aisle-in-centre fashion, so the wandering didn't happen too much, but I did manage to meet a few new people. One of the performance artists - Hilary Williams - was sitting beside me, and struck up a great chat. She told me that she had returned to do an MA in Performance Art at age 55, without having much knowledge of the field at the time. She was just bursting with energy, and wanted to chat about every performance as soon as (or before, LOL) it ended. And as I made my way to buy a raffle ticket, I saw a woman who had been in the restorative workshop I had taken earlier in the day. I keep forgetting that Dublin is not very big - there have been several instances where I have bumped into someone in one place early in the day, and in another entirely different place later in the day. I am glad she singled me out and said hi, because I was so blissed out at the workshop that I'm not sure I really saw anyone else there. Think of it as perma-dristy.

I was at another event at the Back Loft of La Catedral Studios last weekend - this one was called 'Zero Gravity', and it was hosted by a newish collective who have dubbed themselves 'Art Freckles' (at first I thought Art Freckles was some philanthropist guy with a wicked name). The event was also an eclectic mix of short performances, but I got a bit weirded out hanging around by myself because everyone seemed to know each other, so I didn't stay much past Deirdre's performance.

4. Back to the reasons why I haven't been blogging so much. I think the fourth reason - and final for now, gotta get to work - is that I am not finding Dublin as weird as I did in the beginning. I'm probably not noticing the cultural particularities so much. This could be a really big loss, but I see it as a good sign: I am integrating. My dear dear friend Paul (who visits me via the Skype gods daily) even caught me saying "em" instead of "um". My unconscious verbal tics are turning Irish! Jaysus!!

Finally, to my Canuck friends out there: I am home on Friday. Looking forward to seeing everyone!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thoughts on the Civil Partnership Bill

Ok, so it’s time that I sat down and understood the real issues with the Civil Partnership Bill, because I hadn’t been following it prior to my arrival in Ireland, and I am thinking about joining the protest organized by LGBTNoise, taking place tomorrow at 6pm, outside the Dail. I wanted to make sure I agreed with the reasons for the protest, because in some ways the government is taking a huge step in introducing this legislation, and I want to make sure I agree that it is right to, er, throw the baby out with the bathwater.On major rights issues, you never know when the first shot might be the only shot...

I thought I would learn the main contents and elisions of the bill last week when The George hosted the first session of The G-Spot – a new live biweekly ‘talk show’ dedicated to issues of interest to the LGBTQ community -- but I just learned what GLEN and LGBTNoise do and do not have in common. And then they invited a reality tv star to the stage, and given my aversion to regular tv (i.e. not Mad Men or True Blood, no, no) and general dearth of knowledge about Irish superpopculture, I had no idea what anyone was talking about. But I digress...

So, I just skimmed through the entire 118-page long Civil Partnership Bill, and I can say that it is a real snore... You may say that all legislation is that way, but just read the preamble to Canada’s Bill C-38, which was put into law in July 2005:

WHEREAS the Parliament of Canada is committed to upholding the Constitution of Canada, and section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination;

WHEREAS the courts in a majority of the provinces and in one territory have recognized that the right to equality without discrimination requires that couples of the same sex and couples of the opposite sex have equal access to marriage for civil purposes;

WHEREAS the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that many Canadian couples of the same sex have married in reliance on those court decisions;

WHEREAS only equal access to marriage for civil purposes would respect the right of couples of the same sex to equality without discrimination, and civil union, as an institution other than marriage, would not offer them that equal access and would violate their human dignity, in breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;

WHEREAS the Supreme Court of Canada has determined that the Parliament of Canada has legislative jurisdiction over marriage but does not have the jurisdiction to establish an institution other than marriage for couples of the same sex;

WHEREAS everyone has the freedom of conscience and religion under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;

WHEREAS nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs and the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs;

WHEREAS, in light of those considerations, the Parliament of Canada’s commitment to uphold the right to equality without discrimination precludes the use of section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to deny the right of couples of the same sex to equal access to marriage for civil purposes;

WHEREAS marriage is a fundamental institution in Canadian society and the Parliament of Canada has a responsibility to support that institution because it strengthens commitment in relationships and represents the foundation of family life for many Canadians;

AND WHEREAS, in order to reflect values of tolerance, respect and equality consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, access to marriage for civil purposes should be extended by legislation to couples of the same sex;

It makes me tear up everytime I read it.

Ireland’s bill, by comparison, is devoid of any sense of joy about actually contributing to the growth of human rights. I don’t mean to toot the Canadian horn too much because we have our own share of embarrassments and bigotry, nor to enter an Ireland vs. Canada debate, but to show that there are other ways to approach this issue. The Irish bill is mostly a long list of amendments to current legislation in order to add references to ‘civil partner’ or ‘civil partnership.’

The Civil Partnership Bill is meant to provide for the legal registration of same-sex partnerships. The praise is that it finally allows same-sex partners a version of marriage, complete with some economic rights, legal recognition, and some degree of social recognition. The criticism is that it provides same-sex partners with some degree of marriage, but not marriage itself, and importantly, there is no mention of children in the bill: no extension of adoption or custody rights. This is a biggie.

The first thing that struck me about the bill is that it is an entirely separate piece of legislation, just for same-sex partners. In other words, you can’t choose to have a heterosexual civil partnership. This might seem obvious, but it is significant, because it means that the only rights granted to civil partners (read: same-sex) are the ones included in the bill. The bill does attempt some degree of comprehensiveness, referencing everything from the Abattoirs Act 1988 to the Vocational Education Act 1930 (to take an alphabetical approach to comprehensiveness), but, again, make no mistake, it’s not the same to be a civil partner as it is to be married.

It’s rather sneaky to create an entirely separate piece of legislation like this (instead of amending current definitions of marriage), because it means that you have to continually cross-reference the rights that are granted to married couples in order to see if they are included in the 118 pages of the Civil Partnership Bill. So, I didn’t get too much out of reading the bill, but it did spur me to seek out analysis on other sites, where people have had the time to comb through current marriage rights and the proposed civil partnership rights on a comparative basis. Here’s a brief list of some of the problems (you can see I have already decided to attend the protest):

- no mention of children and parental rights. so, nothing changes in relation to the children of same-sex couples. single gay/lesbian people can apply for adoption, but they cannot apply as a couple. that’s just absurd.

- foreign same-sex marriages essentially get downgraded to civil partnership, and if one partner has Irish citizenship, it is harder for his or her same-sex spouse (if married elsewhere) to obtain citizenship than it is for the spouse of a married heterosexual person.

- if your church recognises same-sex unions and is willing to ‘civil-partner’ you, they can’t. Religious bodies can only perform marriages

- when splitting up, only married couples can have a judicial separation. And if a civil partnership is dissolved, partners cannot apply to courts to work out property rights, and married couples can.

I could go on, but there are better summaries out there on the web, so I’ll point you in that direction. When I first heard about the bill, I naively thought “how different can it be, really,” but now, it’s clear that it’s entirely insulting.

To read more, try these sites:

GLEN (Gay and Lesbian Equality Network)

If you are interested in Canada as a comparative case, same-sex marriage was made legal in 2005 following fairly heated debate that rallied between discussions of religious freedoms (the clergy’s right to not perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples), and lots of discussions about the language of the Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the end, instead of creating separate legislation for same-sex couples, the Canadian parliament created new legislation that defined ‘civil marriage’ - or more plainly, defined marriage itself. This legislation is what now governs all legal marriages in Canada, regardless of the number of X chromosomes in the pairing. Changes were made in relevant Acts to remove references to ‘opposite sex’ when it came to defining spouses. There was initially a lot of backlash from religious groups and Alberta, but it’s pretty much disappeared from public debate. I have to say, I felt a very rare sense of national pride the day that bill was passed. I don’t mean that I don’t like being Canadian, I just mean that I always get the willies when I see a lot of flag waving, or when I (used to) hear every American, including Ani Difranco, mention that they ‘loved their country’ before saying anything critical about it during the Bush Jr. years.

A very thorough summary of the debate, legislative process, and Act is available here: Bill C-38 Legislative Summary

One other thing of note: I read that nowhere in the Irish constitution is married defined as members of the opposite sex. So, wus de problem? In fact, the BUNREACHT NA h√ČIREANN is an interesting read. You'll learn about the social changes in the last few decades pretty quickly in the first few pages. For example, divorce was only legalised in 1996. For those of you reading this who have no idea of Ireland's history, then it is also important to point out that homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993! By comparison, . But the battle continues - Uganda was in the news recently for introducing a big-brother anti-homosexual bill that would "imprison anyone who knows of the existence of a gay or lesbian and fails to inform the police within 24 hours," among other penalties (Globe and Mail, Nov 29, 2009). The UN just introduced a declaration on the decriminalization of homosexuality at the end of last year, noting that 86 UN countries still have at least a partial ban on homosexuality on their books (Guardian, Dec 8, 2008).

Ok, judging by my use of citations, this is dangerously close to becoming an essay, and I can't possibly write a comprehensive one on this topic right now, so I'll leave you to explore the links.