I broke my wrist in September. When I went into A&E the break needed ‘manipulation’, which means I had two nurses and a doctor pulling on my wrist until the broken bones clicked a little more into place. This would probably hurt quite a lot even with the adrenaline I was swimming in at that point, so they gave me some nitrous oxide to breathe while it happened to me. I don’t know if it’s true but I felt like I could hear and see the strip lights flickering. They slowed down to a deep, throbbing pulse. Maybe it was my pulse in my ears, maybe it was entirely imagined. Maybe all human experience is a story we tell ourselves.
Sensation isn’t real. Feelings aren’t real – time moves too quickly for that to be true.
Come Closer is a disorienting experience. Throughout the performance, Gareth Cutter speaks through a radio mic which drops his voice an octave, the stage is lit with cool pinks, greens and blues and Cutter moves across it in a series of slow, precise movements. He tells us a story. Or something like a story. One time, he hooked up with the guy who shoots Humans of New York. One time, he overdosed on poppers and permanently damaged his eyesight.
I think a lot of Queer work inhabits an impulse to shock or celebrate. And of course this is a big part of contemporary drag + Queer aesthetics and I think it is tied to the fight for legitimacy in Queer existence that is ongoing and has been being fought for a long time. Cutter wears a mesh and leather bodysuit as if he’d wear it popping down to the offie. There’s no climax, no shock, no celebration. Not for me, at least. idunno, maybe someone would be shocked, there are some tAme people out there.
A lot of Come Closer is about being unwell. The reason Cutter tells us the poppers story is because his hook-up asks him about a time he felt looked after. In the hospital, after overdosing on poppers watching porn, failing to climb the stairs, getting a taxi, he is looked after by nurses. What has happened to him is surprisingly common. Sometimes when you’re in pain, the most useful thing to have happen is a nurse to tell you you’re nothing special. Cutter mentions he’s HIV positive at one point too, another detail of having one of these strange vulnerable things we call bodies. Fortunately, Cutter as a stage presence is in control of his.
What comforts me about the lack of shock or celebration in Come Closer – in the loucheness of the work – is it feels part of a landscape of Queer work which is performed in theatres, watched by paying audiences and is a legitimate part of a wider culture. I see a culture large enough for the Queerness in an individual work to be a casual aesthetic detail.
I hang out with Queer people because on a level we share some understanding of moving through the world. We don’t need our hackles up. And I love Queer performance’s hackles, I love seeing fighting, angry work but in Come Closer, Gareth Cutter seems to say, “What? You thought I’d be upset? Hurting? Darling, I’m just fine.” And there’s joy and power enough in that.
I want a Queer politic as positive philosophy, as a matter of record that the way we are allowed to move through the world is a matter of who we are. That our bodies are there and make waves when they travel, fluid. When Queer performance is shocking, celebratory, brash, vulgar, beautiful, ugly, it is a matter of being. Queer performance is a stating of who we am. And you know, maybe that oughtn’t matter to you but even if it does we’ll keep being just the same.
Cutter’s character recounts a conversation had with a gay man in New York. After mentioning a recent ex-girlfriend, the man asks if he came out recently. ‘No.’ A moment. ‘You can be out and have a girlfriend,’ Things are allowed. Let them be. Cutter doesn’t respond, ‘I’m bi.’* – he doesn’t explain himself one bit. He’s just some guy who fucks and has a zip over his arsehole. Get on with yourself. I see a model of Queerness in Come Closer which is liminal, between concrete understanding, because honestly reactive respect is all you need to manoeuvre through the world.
When I’m drunk – really drunk – or y’know just having a good time, sometimes, I decide the rest of my life doesn’t matter. Any moment before, any moment after. Eh. I swear to myself that human experience is magical and fleeting enough that I should be amazed and thankful to find some joy in any moment of it. Life at a large enough scale is just a dull pulsing in the dark.
*and yknow he might not be but that’s beside the point.
Come Closer was on at HOME, Manchester as part of PUSH Festival, on 24th January. More info here.