Listening to Diana Ross’s exuberant “I’m Coming Out,” you’re faced with one of the biggest mysteries of modern queer life. Why is Gloria Gaynor’s bitter and hard-done-by “I Will Survive” the quintessential gay anthem?
Faced with a choice between “There’s a new me coming out/ And I just had to live/ And I wanna give/ I’m completely positive” and “Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye/ Did you think I’d crumble/ Did you think I’d lay down and die,” gay men identify with the one who almost laid down and died. If you can be a parade marshal-type person who has discovered a brilliant new side to yourself or a victim, hanging on by the sheer force of vindictive remorse – be the victim.
Not to point fingers, but I blame bad drag queens. You know who you are. There are more elements to act out in “I Will Survive” – leaving the key, walking out the door, changing the locks, crumbling, crying, turning around, dropping in from outer space – that even the rankest amateur can fill the song’s running time somewhat entertainingly.
By contrast, “I’m Coming Out” is not so concrete; the listener is left to fill in the blanks of how they’ll “come out.” You can’t sleepwalk through lines like “Got to let it show” and “I’m spreadin’ love” – you have to create your own language, your own way of showing and spreading love. That’s much tougher for a drag queen, or for anybody. It takes talent.
Because “I Will Survive” is so easy to perform, it’s a drag staple and its familiarity carries it onto Pride floats and into dance remixes and even into community forums. When the song is played, our straight friends throw a glance our way. But as the song binds us, it infects us with its message, a message that’s really stuck in a nasty rut. It’s an embarassment.
As Samuel Beckett wrote, “Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit.” Queers in Canada lead a life today much different than they did when Gaynor’s song won a Grammy in 1979. Many of the people mouthing the words to “I Will Survive” were not educated in the school of hard knocks; there’s no reason for them to glare at the world suspiciously. Your boyfriend left you – get a new apartment.
It’s time to put on a new record, one that asks more of life than mere survival (sorry, Beyonce). You are what you listen to and, as Esthero sings in her latest ditty, “We R In Need Of A Musical Revolution.”
Take as an example the kids in the Gay/Straight Alliance at Thornhill Secondary School, who recently got a $500 grant from the Lesbian And Gay Community Appeal. They’re not sitting around crying into their diary about bullying; they’re hosting conferences to combat homophobia and transphobia. Getting to the root of the problem is a far greater social good than sitting around complaining about the results.
The blathering politicians debating the same-sex marriage bill (see the next item)? Most of them are regurgitating ideas that haven’t been true for 50 years, if ever. Rightwingers are reading from a script (and it’s not the Bible) without having thought any more about what’s coming out of their own mouths than they’ve thought about why four parents would probably be better than two, why cocksucking isn’t traumatic. Their arguments aren’t worth responding to. Queer activists need to get ahead of the straight people in order to stake out positions that make sense in the here and now, regardless of what the nay-sayers are blathering on about.
The first step is driving “I Will Survive” from drag stages everywhere. Throw condoms when you hear that first piano trill, then go get a drink or go take a leak. If someone mouths, “At first I was afraid” at you, shrug your shoulders like you don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Believe me: When the song has been cut like a cyst out of the drag repertoire, the revolution will come much more easily.
Gloria Gaynor must die, metaphorically at least.