This was a pretty horrifying week for gay youth in America. Aside from the Rutgers student who leapt from the George Washington Bridge after being surreptitiously broadcast having a dalliance in his dorm room, teens in Rhode Island, Indiana, Texas and California also killed themselves at least in part because of the anti-gay bullying they endured.
It reminds us that words don’t just hurt, they kill. And that’s why I am going to do something the Las Vegas Review-Journal refused to do; I’m going to show my readers, in full, a message posted to the Facebook site of Tony Del Valle, the R-J’s openly gay theater critic:
“you’re a piece of shit, man. i can take a bad review any day and i definitely have shit nights as an actor. but youre just such a fucking piece of spam about it all. you cant just write the review. youve got to demean, you’ve got to insult the company and the effort of doing it at all. the union redemption offering at the end was just faggoty pissy bullshit. it was womanly. seriously. fuck you.”
The person who posted that passage was John Beane, the founder of Insurgo Theater Movement, one of Vegas’ independent troupes. That’s right, someone in the theater, a place we all believe to be a haven for all sorts of societal misfits and outcasts, felt it was appropriate to angrily deploy the nuclear bomb gay word, “faggot,” and to attack a man’s gender identity.
Beane has a right to be incensed by a harsh critique. In this case, Del Valle had blasted a production of Salome starring Beane and suggested that Beane shouldn’t have created Insurgo at all. That’s rough, and Del Valle is loathed throughout the theater community for such biting, demanding commentaries.
Beane started Insurgo, oddly, in Vegas’ gayest theater, the Onyx. It’s in the back of a sexual fetish shop, The Rack, a few doors from the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, where our kids find shelter from the hate that led to five suicides last week.
“I’ve never known John to be homophobic,” said Onyx owner Michael Morse, who no longer hosts Insurgo shows. “Maybe he was so angry and so hurt he had nothing else to grasp at, and maybe that’s how he really does feel. ... He is a good guy, but he has chosen some harsh words that will resound in the community, absolutely.”
It already has. Gay actors have told me they’re unlikely to appear in Insurgo productions and Las Vegas Night Beat owner Bill Schafer says he won’t provide Beane any publicity. Beane owes apologies to Del Valle and the gay public.
He hasn’t even tried to fix it, though. When I told Beane why I wanted to talk to him, he said he’d call back in five minutes from a less-noisy place. He never did. After Del Valle wrote a September 24 column in part about Beane’s Facebook screed, Beane wrote a comment on the paper’s site bitching that Del Valle “cropped my responses to him to make his point” in that article. (Beane actually had been “cropped” to seem less crude, the R-J having refused to print his most offensive words.)
As a service to Mr. Beane, then, I’ve kept him completely in context. He may defend himself by insisting he’s no gay hater and get all his gay friends to testify for him. It won’t matter; he knows these terms are as cutting and hurtful as any that can be hurled at people who are gay. He used them anyway. Clearly he thinks using “faggot” and “womanly” as insults is okay.
Except that it’s not. Not ever. Maybe within an oppressed community, taboo words can be deprived of their power by becoming endearments, but as Joe Jackson once sang, “Don’t call me a faggot, not unless you are a friend.”