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“Any definition that limits us is deplorable,” Edward Albee said in his acceptance speech at the Lammy Awards. And I agree. But it was uncomfortable to hear “gay” classified as a limitation while sitting in an auditorium filled to the rafters with talented glbtq writers, artists, actors, etc. whose accomplishments and their gayness we were explicitly celebrating. I wasn’t alone.
Albee’s words weren’t a surprise. He has rarely dealt with gay themes in his plays and has actively dodged the label of “gay” because—you guessed it—he sees it as a limitation. The artist should transcend their own personal experience to create good art or bad art—there is no “gay playwright” only a “great playwright.”
Albee is most definitely a great playwright. But what play might he have written if “gay” wasn’t a black mark but rather something to be celebrated? What if it was an adjective describing a unique sensibility born of living life as a glbtq person—open-minded, imaginative, innovative, questioning, diverse?
I can’t help but think we lose something by trying to assimilate or deny the unique perspective that informs our work. Being a woman and a lesbian (among other things) shapes how I see the world. I may try to transcend those particularities to my utmost and inhabit the head of a straight male dandy cutting a swath through eighteenth century London, but, alas, I must always return to myself.
For all of the hoopla around Albee’s speech, he shared a particular perspective and reignited a conversation we need to continue to have. It’s really Stephanie Powers’s quote on the EW blog that irked me:
“The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities are in a position where they’re expected to fill a niche, to make a point of themselves,” she said. “We all long for the time when nobody has to do that.”
Excuse me while I go make a point of myself. Happy Pride!