One of the gay men with whom I saw this performance later told me that gay panic is still acceptable defense for murder in many places, including Queensland. When using ‘gay panic’ as a defense, “the defendant claims that they have been the object of homosexual romantic or sexual advances. The defendant finds the advances so offensive and frightening that it brings on a psychotic state characterized by unusual violence.” In 1997 in Queensland, a man was acquitted of murder and sentenced only for manslaughter of a gay man because, the judge said, the victim’s unwanted, non-violent sexual approach “represented “provocation of a very grave kind” and would cause “some ordinary men [to] feel great revulsion.”. Murder became manslaughter because “an ‘ordinary’ man in his position would have reacted in this way.”
The Worst of Scottee was a first-person narrative of a gay adolescence and childhood, notable not just for its extraordinary comic voice, and for its precise, sophisticated direction, but above all for the way it gradually stripped the dramatic persona of a camp, showy, attitude-ful performer of all of that glitzy, queen-y stuff, stuff as in frills and gestures and vocal work, and revealed, with a candidness that I later realised is somewhat rare in the mainstream heterosexual universe, some of that incredible, traumatic pain that marks so many gay people of a certain age as to be… how to put it… assumable. It did it gradually, with immense tact, because it hurt nonetheless.
Afterwards, another gay man, younger and from a liberal country, wondered why a teenager would, after some confusing but consensual gay sex, accuse another of rape. The rest of us were sort of surprised by his surprise. I have seen and heard so many stories of people who engage in gay stuff and gay feelings and then have violent, untethered, blaming, confused, unpredictable responses. The hurt that a confused person can do to a gay person is immense and un-underestimable.
There was a moment, in this beautiful, absolutely unmissable production, in which the performer said, simply, how he had to describe his first sexual encounter “in front of my mother, father, judge, and child abuse officer, in graphical detail.”
And at this I suddenly remembered the prolonged break-up with my first real girlfriend, at 17, which involved parents on both sides, an actual psychotherapist, lots of crying and strangely shaped distances, conflicting versions of reality, changing descriptions of feelings, and large numbers of adults wanting to know the details of everything, large numbers of adults arbitrating a teen romance. This was my first romantic experience, my first erotic experience, and as such indescribably private. To have a bunch of people show up uninvited and unwelcome, and trample through something so precious, felt like a betrayal beyond anything I could put into words, as an unspeakable violation.
Dating a man, afterwards, resounded with the silence of being left alone.
The Worst of Scottee is not about the way gay lives and loves, as luminous and delicate as any other lives and loves, are so readily invaded by medical sciences, forces of law and religion, and the most violent incarnation of bonton. If anything, it is more about how a vulnerable person, often prised open for no good reason, learns to be open and closed at the same time. This is perhaps simply where it touched me. But I cried so much in that auditorium, cried for my 17-year-old self and a love that exists in no photos, no reminiscences at the family table, that I felt a little dizzy for the rest of the evening, a little unable to hold a conversation.
The Worst of Scottee, written and performed by Scottee, directed by Chris Goode, 20 Jan 2014 – 25 Jan 2014, Theatre Works. Book here.