Gaybashing isn’t a subject that normally gets people up and shakin’ their asses. But that’s part of what Stewart Legere hopes to achieve with Let’s Not Beat Each Other to Death. Part vigil, part memorial, part community meeting, the work blends Legere’s writings with 12 original dance songs and a heavy dose of video. Created over the course of the last year through work in his native Halifax, as well as Dublin and Sydney, Australia, the still-in-development work lands at Videofag this week. Xtra caught up with Legere to chat about the impetus to make it and how audiences have been reacting so far.
Xtra: What’s your personal relationship to the subject matter?
Stewart Legere: A few years ago, a well-known activist named Raymond Taavel was murdered in the Halifax outside a gay bar. There’s lots of speculation whether the event was an overt hate crime, but certainly the institutionalized acceptance of homophobia and misogyny in our culture can’t be discounted. Then, right before I went to Australia last year, a young guy named Scott Jones was attacked just outside Halifax. He was stabbed in the back and now he’s paralyzed. Every day it feels like there are more stories of violence, and being queer, those stories stick to me in a unique way. I’ve never been beaten or bashed as an adult, but I’ve experienced the same kind of low-grade, low-level fear a lot of queers have at one time or another. I’ve been called faggot by the police. I’ve been threatened a million times. Intimidated, excluded, shamed. The long list you don’t realize you can make until you’re asked to.
The show brings together some serious subjects, with the lighthearted element of a dance party. How have people been reacting so far to that mix?
Some people came to the show in Halifax and danced their asses off. Some people sat, didn’t move, and left when it was over. One woman wrote me a five-page email about how problematic she found the piece. It was very critical but very positive and affirming in the end. The process has definitely been a lesson in transparency and generosity.
Speaking of playful elements, the title is kind of humorous.
I think that’s my way of dealing with frustration or pain. I know it sounds simplistic, but sometimes it’s hard to understand why the blatantly obvious solution to a problem isn’t adopted. Of course there’s systemic oppression, institutionalized and enforced behaviour, lots of other factors that prevent the simplest solution from working. But still, we’re bombarded with stories of violence against queer people the world over and sometimes it’s overwhelming, and you just think, Can we just fucking stop? And of course, the answer is more complicated, and so we have to go further into the discussion and work harder and understand more perspectives and dissect the causes and the effects. But in the end, I feel like it comes down to the question, Can we just not fucking beat each other to death, please?