I felt moved to write a blog post because the other night I saw Briefs - all-boy, all-drag, all-faggy, acrobatic, burlesque cabaret from Brisbane, and I can’t get the image of the final solo performer, Mark Windmill aka Captain Kidd, out of my head.
The whole show was wondrous fun from the very first underwear-and-feathered choreographed disco number, through the array of stripping, burlesque, acrobatics and all-round camp humour and subversion.
Drag was used in its widest possible sense and animal drag featured prominently. Acts included pet-inspired drag, with a John Waters-esque gross out moment; Evil Hate Monkey, who was very fond of his phallic banana and sticking it in the face of various male members of the audience, encouraging them to take a bite (whilst I don’t want to speculate about anyone’s sexuality, let’s just say he didn’t go for the guys you would obviously read as gay); and a movie-inspired performance which included a re-enactment of the Serial Mom ‘Is this the cocksucker residence?’ prank calls. It’s all hosted Fez Fa’anana aka Shivannah, a Samoan-Australian drag queen of glorious wit and presence.
There are political aspects to Briefs I think, but in a way that eschews the monotonous earnestness of many supposedly radical queer performances I have seen over the past ten years. The Southbank is of course uber white and middle-class, so the humour and politics are pretty refreshing for both a queer show and a night at Southbank. The Briefs boys dress in spangly, torn-up Australian flag outfits for the final group number, but with the Aboriginal flag prominently spangling over the top of it. Fez at one point jokes when two of the white performers are cleaning the stage after Mark’s performance (which leaves it soaked) ‘Finally, I’ve made it! I’ve got a couple of white boys cleaning up after me. My people have been cleaning up after white people for years. All I can say is we did a damn better job of it!’ as well as shouting, ‘FUCK TONY ABBOTT!’ and saying all proceeds from the evening will go to feed starving children in poor third world countries ‘like New Zealand’. Above all it was refreshing to see a queer performance which incorporated politics, where the performers and audience were actually enjoying themselves.
As one of the friends I went with pointed out, Briefs is a big fuck you to straight white masculinity, the ease and strength and stage presence of the performers make macho norms look as weak, contrived and pathetic as they are. I have often felt despair at the idea that as a trans guy I should aspire to dominant ideals of what it is to be a man, which I find gross and fucking boring. Briefs is an excellent antidote to that.
Back to Mark Windmill’s performance, in which he is suspended, holding on with various parts of his body to a ring above a gigantic champagne glass of water, occasionally splashing the audience as he performs acrobatics from above. It doesn’t sound as amazing as it looks, and I doubt a video could do it justice, because although what he does physically is amazing, there’s something in his presence which makes it doubly compelling. Watching this beautiful boy, covered in glitter and tattoos, so at home in his body, defying traditional norms of masculinity, yet so totally strong and connected that you see every individual muscle move I actually felt like crying. I think it would have been moving whatever the case, but I guess as someone who at times feels confused about my own body, often not in the way I’m expected to, but as someone who often stresses about my gender and presentation…to see someone so comfortable, so at home in their body, so unbothered about the constraints of gender, made me feel like crying. It wasn’t just the trans stuff of course, it was that level of comfort and ease the performer seemed to have within himself. Imagine feeling that! Even for a moment. Of course I have no way of knowing what was really going through his head, but it was so powerful to watch.
Now I’ve made it sound serious. It was actually totally innuendo-packed, full of hot boys and many a call-to-arms for the casual alcoholic. Shivannah got one shy young audience member to drink tequila off super cute new twenty year old performer Louis Biggs’s body, zealously anouncing: ‘You can either go for the cheap salt we got from the fish and chip shop or the snail trail left by all the wanking he did last night and hasn’t washed yet, the dirty twenty year old!’ Girl from the audience looked mortified.
Acrobatics, burlesque, subversion, humour and snail trails of cum. Being queer is fun again.