Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! My date with Penny Arcade

If anyone can keep me in a theatre for four hours on a hot summer day, Penny can...

Aug 29, 2012 at 3:10pm | Leave a comment

image

‘Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!’ is Penny Arcade’s celebration of sex and freedom. Created in the 90s as a self-proclaimed ‘fuck you’ to legislation condemning arts funding being used for ‘obscenity’ in the States, it's feminist performance at its most exuberant.

This review got lost in the post [my bad, Olivia, it was meant to go up about a month ago – sorry! ], but do not fear- the show is running at The Old Vic Tunnels in London until September 1st.

'm always down for an excuse to see strippers in a feminist setting to alleviate my moral confusion, particularly on a Sunday afternoon. So I went to see Penny Arcade's 'Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore' at the Arcola in Dalston a few weeks ago.

I was slightly bemused by the premise - it's a show that has been running almost since before I was born, and the title seemed a little tired in it's declared controversy. But Penny threw bricks at Stonewall and was a beloved of Warhol so I felt, if nothing else, she had to have character.

Gender-based standup is often something that I find can get dated. I have devoted my passions to working in liberal feminist politics and have been frequently disappointed with the gaping chasm between the activism of the 60s and that of the 21st century, an era translation that often doesn't compute.

image

The Germaine Greers of the left often dismiss men and transgenders from a movement that I wholehearedly believe they can belong to if they choose, admonishing women of minorities to the background, creating barriers where they do not belong.

My prejudices, however, were completely squashed by Penny's passion for utter inclusivity, reminding an audience more captivated by her message than her naked breasts (always a challenge) that we all fight the fight of equality together; that without straight people marching the first gay prides, they would have been empty, that unity and love is all that we have in a determinedly divisive society.

The show was a series of monologues interspersed with erotic dancing and a half-time dance party to Gloria Gaynor.

Some of Penny's acts didn't quite sit well with me, but I think we differ in opinion on a couple of things, from our understanding of the sex trade to our casual use of racial slurs (I'm not into them, she calls it 'political correctness gone mad').

But her speech on how her world as a self-proclaimed faghag was shaken by the AIDS epidemic of the 80s, and the relevance of that in a contemporary setting was incredibly moving.

There was a lot of talk about how awesome the gay scene was way-back-when, which got a little monotonous by the end of the third hour. But within the context of acknowledging a legacy that is often forgotten by the ever-diminishing presence of activism in a society desperate for it, it was invigorating.

It reminded me a little of Beth Ditto's impassioned closing and slurred speech at the Gossip show a few weeks ago, when she dragged Ana da Silva of The Raincoats alongside Perez Hilton and demanded he acknowledge his heritage as a gay man to her punk rock politics, or something along those lines.

She was pretty trashed, but it was more than awesome (possibly because I just bloody hate Perez and he looked embarrassed and confused throughout and I am number one Raincoats fan).

What Penny reminded me of, with bundles of charisma, is something than as a young woman I shouldn't ever tire of hearing - that I am blessed to live in a time where diversity and difference is more okay than it has ever been (purely because of the legacy of those before me) but that there is still a fuckload that needs to be done.

She references London as where it's all happening and where she wants to be, that New York is gentrified and boring, a vision which appears to be seen through the rose tinted glasses of a tourist - if Gay Pride showed anything, it's how the message of activism here has been diluted to a big piss-up - but we do have a lot of liberty here that just isn't available over the other side of the Atlantic. And we don't all have guns, which is cool.

Ultimately, the show wasn't particularly revolutionary anymore but it is a message that bears repetition; sticking strippers in a queer context isn't that subversive these days, nor is the damning of Facebook, but that is fine by me.

It was an affirming celebration of activism, social awareness and generosity alongside an opportunity to dance to I Will Survive that was moving and inspiring - as she put it, she wants a political movement that you can dance to and who doesn't?

If she can keep me merrily in my seat in a theatre for four hours on the first hot day we'd had in as long as I could remember, she's at least worth a look. Get your tickets here