Penny Arcade Says

A cultural icon of Downtown New York, Penny Arcade is a writer, actress, comedienne, social commentator, political activist, and one of the inventors of Performance Art (for which she apologizes!)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Gay Pride.The Kevin Aviance Story

On friday I spoke to Kevin Aviance and we booked his flight to LA to appear at Outfest 06 with me. Tonight I just visited him in Beth Israel Hospital two blocks from where he was jumped and beaten by several boys hours after I had spoken to him friday night. Kevin and I were excited that he would be dancing in the 15 year show anniversery of Bitch!Dyke!Faghag!Whore!

Earlier that day I had been on the phone with Freeze , my dance captain for the revival of B!D!F!W! for OUTFEST 06's Platinum Series. Freeze had recommended Kevin when it turned out that James 'Tigger" ferguson , couldn't get the time off from his rehersal for a Shakespeare show he was doing later this summer.

"Kevin Aviance?" I said."Kevin Aviance?? "Do you think he would want to do it?" I asked doubtfully. Frankly , after how the downtown art scene has changed over the past 15 years, I am used to much less accomplished performers with far less experience than the 15 years Kevin has been at it, being insulted and arrogant if you suggested having them appear in a show they are not the star of.
Of course in a Penny Arcade show..If you are a shine! because as people ought to know..that what makes a real star!

I myself have always continued to work with anyone whose work interested me, but more and more the rampant careerism of downtown had led to performers who because they don't realize that there is actually NOWHERE to get to with their careerism, out and out steal other performers material, leave the names of people who influenced their work out of their resumes and other actions that frankly make my skin crawl.

I had become a bit jaded , thinking that someone with Kevin Aviances career wouldn't want to be in 'someone elses show".Later the day before he was attacked when I spoke to him, I was amazed by his modesty, his kindness and openness and that he was in fact not just willing to come to LA to be in B!D!F!W! but EAGER to be in my show as a dancer. After all he is a huge star,(not just tall)He has had Billboard hits and is a powerful performance presence all over the world.
On the phone Kevin was sweet and kind and so open about appearing in B!D!F!W!
"I know I would learn alot from working with you "he said. I was so touched.

After I got off the phone with him I kept thinking about the most emotional moment in B!D!F!W! The Red Dress number in the middle of the show , what B!D!F!W! alumnnas call the Faghag-Aids-Love part of the show.

The Red Dress scene had started spontaneously one night in 1992 at PS122 during the early days of B!D!F!W! I had taken off the dress while making a strong statement about AIDS and my dead friends and I had walked off the stage..behind me Kenny "Angel" Davis had stopped and picked it up and had put it on...the effect was startling! There was Kenny representing everyone and everything I had been talking about.After Kenny, James 'Tigger "Ferguson had done the red dress as well as Aaron
and Lindel. It was a scene with a history,

In it, the red dress that I have been wearing, through the central part of the show , which I say I wear in honor of all the gay men who raised me, as I speak of being taken in by gay men as a young girl and mentored by them , and then about all the adventures that I had with them and what it meant to be a faghag and after I speak about the devastation of AIDS and homophobia and a million other things that mean alot to me and that I know represent the lives of many ,many people around the world like me, which are almost always left out of our story, While the bitchy, cynical, sarcastic, face continues to always be shown..mostly bereft of the great humanity,tolerence and understanding of the human condition that the gay world that I grew up in and live in still, carries.

I take the red dress off while speaking of these things ..and for me it is one of the saddest things I have ever done on stage..because after I have revealed all of these emotions that the dress symbolises for me , I take off the dress..and I walk away..leaving the dress on the stage For me this i a symbol of leaving this history, these ideas, with the audience. Leaving them to feel my sadness and my bitterness...leaving them to feel all the people whose spirits cling to me long after they have left this sphere (I always say I am surrounded by dead people and all of them want just one thing- publicity!) I leave the audience to just FEEL these vibrations that I live with everyday, ...the dancers follow me off the stage...but one dancer hangs back, and picks up the dress, as there is always one throw back fag out there, that reminds me that what I lived and fought for is still there to live and fight for , and that dancer, lifts up the dress with great tenderness and honor for all the gay men and queens who are represented in my history, because when you see Penny Arcade you never see just me..I am always conciously carrying the history and the personalities of the people who came before me, of my history and the history that formed me. I would no sooner hide my lineage than I would deny my just wouldn't happen..THAT is my pride.

When the male dancer in B!D!F!W! puts that red dress on and just stands there with the the honesty and strength that it takes to be a queen, to be in drag in this society..not the Halloween drag, but self expressing drag, everyday drag, working drag, who has to be strong..who will be strong and is always tougher than any butch muscle queen. This dancer represents for every queen that has ever been ridiculed, fag bashed, treated like less than human for being gay, queer, effeminate or different. It is the most powerful moment in the show nd it is one of the most powerful moments in all my work. it is non verbal, and anyone from any culture can understand it.

On friday night I kept seeing Kevin do the red dress..I called Steve Zehentner, my collaborator and partner in theatre and video of 14 years and I told him.."I keep seeing Kevin in the red dress."

Meanwhile I was expecting a call or email from Kevin. Late friday night while Kevin was getting the shit kicked out of him by 5 cowards, while Kevin was getting the shit kicked out of him while a crowd of friday night East Village revelling cowards stood and watched and didn't lift a finger to help him, while Kevin was kicked repeatedly in the head, a few doors from a gay bar, while Kevin was kicked 12 times in the head the week of Gay Pride , while Kevin was kicked without interuption in the middle of the street at East 14th and 1st Avenue, I was writing Kevin an email....and imagineing him in the red dress.

Today I went to see Kevin in the hospital, at Beth Israel Hospital ,a hospital like all the hospitals in NY where I have been too many times in my life, where I have too many memories and too much history. It was 7:45 pm and the guard didn't want to let me in, Kevin had already had way too many visitors, way too many visitors that stand out, you know, the kind who laugh too loud, or get too upset, or have a belligerence about them or who just dress too loud, or have a belligerence about their clothes or their hair or just something that is ..well too , too.

Since I have spent an inordinate amount of my life trying to get into hospitals that don't want to give me entrance because of the time, or because I am not a 'relative' or because there are too many visitors or for one reason or another, I have had a lot of practice and I got in.

As I got rode the elevator to the 10th floor I had no choice but to watch the internal movie of all the other times I have been to Beth is always the first time and it is always the last time and the times blend togther till the elevator spits me out .

Kevin had just returned from surgery.His friends and loved ones who had kept vigil were hanging back, Kevin weak and probably woozy, returning from the recovery room he was helped out of the wheelchair and into bed.The room was filled with flowers and gifts and sad friends. Most of the friends were young and I could feel what a shattering experience this was for them. Most of them hadn't sat in endless hospital rooms with endless friends who were dying or beaten up.There was a hush in the room...I made for the chair by Kevin's bed. "Is there somone older them me who should be sitting in this chair ?" I asked. Close to Kevin I could feel his sorrow... the after shock of the attack. After an attack, here is the realization that this has been done to you, that arbitrarily, for no reason personally connected to you, you have been the focus of the blank hatred and empty rage of people with eyes and ears and physical sensations that allow them to see and hear and feel what they are doing to you.

Kevin tried to speak to me through his wired shut mouth. "Shh", I said don't talk
"Did you have surgery?" I asked. Kevin nodded still processing that this awful ordeal was happening to him.

I asked if I could photograph him..the flowers were so beautiful. He nodded yes.
"You made all the papaers "I said, "and all the radio and tv news" "Kevin " I continued, "It is a terrible thing that this happened to you, but it is an important and meaningful thing that this has happened to you and that you could bring attention to this," Kevin nodded again. Looking at his bruised and swollen face. "May I kiss you? somewhere it doesn't hurt" I continued, He nodded and I looked till I found a place far away enough from the bruises.

I felt enormous rage.I thought about Gay Pride this week, I thought about the gigs Kevin couldn't do. Would his beating make any impact on Gay Pride? Would the story of what happened to Kevin Aviance be told at every Pride event as it should? Would money be raised for kevin to pay his bills, to pay for his loss of wages this week? or will it be just another market place week, another time to focus on what is for sale without mention of the long way we have to go as a community and as a community that focuses on what makes us the same as any other human on this planet, in this city, that focuses and sends the message of equality and the message of what it takes to create equality. Kevin Aviance is not only an artist and performer and celebrity, he represents a long line of heroic entities who have carried all our Karma on their backs, larger than life people, like Marsha P Johnson, who started the Stonewall Riot. I say take it to the voting booths or take it to the street.We are not going to evolve as a race in a vacumn.
It is like Mayanamna Buddhism..either everyobody evolves or no one evolves.
The fight for equality is still ahead, the long fight ahead for equality which means we have to focus on the result of equality and not just the message of what to buy and wear and see and do as gay consumers but faces that we have still not reached the even the bottom rung of understanding that we are still all in danger,that equality and freedom whether it is to marry or adopt children or any thing else is all still caught up in the dollar value of it in the market place
and that the blind hatred that jumped Kevin Aviance from behind on East 14th St and 1st ave still has to be confronted head on and dealt with and it is we who have the responsibility to do this and that the people who graze off the so called gay community need to put some of that cold cash to hot use to educate the public, both the public that attacks and the public that stands around and watches.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey's Chauncey from 4.11 From The Heart. Max told me he saw you at the hospital and told me you said to read your blog. I just did and if I didn't love and respect you already....I'm sold for life now. That essay as I guess we should call it was brilliantly inspirational and terribly sad. When Kevin stands on a float on June 25th I hope that he wears that red dress....

LOve Beams,

Chauncey D

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just found your blog, Penny. I liked reading your KA story, and I can imagine the spirit that you provided at his bedside. It makes me happy that another performer - and a straight, female one - who has been persecuted (although not "gay bashed" - what words) was there, esepcially given the connection. -- gayle snible

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Kivi said...

I saw your show last night and kevin's beauty along with your voice for my experience of this aids war made me cry in a way I haven't been able to for several years. I left SF after 15 years of watching my family (mostly leather men) die. It still hurts and I doubt the pain will ever stop. Part of me knows it can't because that would mean that I have forgotten and that is truely unacceptable.
Thank you for your voice, your power and your humor.

4:52 PM  

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