Queeroes: John Waters

Danni Glover shares why the Pope of Trash helps contextualise her queer politics.


 

Disclaimer: this piece is adapted closely from an earlier essay I published on MostlyFilm in 2014.

 

My politics are not the politics of assimilation. I don’t think it’s enough for LGBTQ people to have the same rights as cishets; I want us to also have room to celebrate our difference, our history and cultural milieu defined by oppression, subversion, and protest, and I don’t see these things as being mutually exclusive. Shouldn’t we have the same legal protections, the same social opportunity, while still enjoying our own cultural reference points, celebrating (and mourning) our own history, and avoiding the complacency of accepting the rights we are legally awarded without owning the facts of the struggle that got us those rights?

 

So maybe John Waters is a good representation of these politics.

 

Shouldn’t we have the same legal protections, the same social opportunity, while still enjoying our own cultural reference points, celebrating (and mourning) our own history, and avoiding the complacency of accepting the rights we are legally awarded without owning the facts of the struggle that got us those rights?

I was seventeen when I began paying attention. To anything, really, but specifically to John’s films. That year, Pink Flamingos showed at my local arthouse cinema’s contribution to the LGBT festival. This particular theatre is beautiful, a plush art deco cavern with 400 seats and a licensed bar. I couldn’t think of anywhere better to watch Divine revel in the indignities and splendour of the human body – until I saw Female Trouble six months later projected onto a wall in a disused schoolhouse near my home that had a communal garden and language classes for asylum seekers in the next room. I felt like his films spoke to the part of me that loved the scabby roguishness of my community as well as the part that was intellectually aspirational. His films helped me accept an inalienable truth within myself that I could be cerebral and observational without conceding to the conventions of kyriarchial establishment.
They’re also really funny. You can’t really overthink a character who gets a sexual thrill from stamping on women’s feet, or a housewife driving her neighbour into a violent rage with the words “pussy willow”. Mink Stole and David Lochary’s sex scene in Pink Flamingos is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. “Oh, I love you Raymond. I love you more than anything in this whole world,” says Stole, in a parodic interpretation of heterosexual passion. “I love you more than my own filthiness, more than my own hair colour. Oh God, I love you more than the sound of bones breaking, the sound of death rattle – even more than the sound of my own shit do I love you, Raymond.” Raymond’s response could almost be from a Richard Gere movie: “And I, Connie, also love you more than anything that I could ever imagine: more than my hair colour, more than the sound of babies crying, of dogs dying – even more than the thought of original sin itself. I am yours, Connie, eternally united through an invisible core of finely woven filth, that even God himself could never ever break.” The narrator of Pink Flamingos calls Connie and Raymond “jealous perverts” – and it’s no coincidence that they’re the only married hetero couple in the movie.

 

I felt like his films spoke to the part of me that loved the scabby roguishness of my community as well as the part that was intellectually aspirational. His films helped me accept an inalienable truth within myself that I could be cerebral and observational without conceding to the conventions of kyriarchial establishment.

 

I should stress, of course, that I have no specific problem with LGBTQ+ people who involve themselves with more liberal political pursuits such as marriage equality. I think those things deserve our attention. But it does frustrate me a little when the predominant rhetoric of queer liberation is to make our lives as similar to the lives of cishet people as possible. Because they’re not. No amount of assimilation will make us immune to the psychological trauma of irrevocable trauma. And one thing that John and I have in common is the belief that laughing at the conventions that cishet people use to beat us with is a good way of dealing with that trauma. “I always thought the privilege of being gay is that we don’t have to get married or go in the Army,” he once said. Quite.

 

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Backstage at John’s Glasgow show in 2014, glowing with glee and nervous perspiration – meet your heroes, kids!

Follow Danni on Twitter (@danvestite)

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