Standing Astride his Glory Box
Last Wednesday, Tim Miller performed his solo piece, Glory Box to a receptive audience. I expected Tim Miller's performance to be very good, and I was unsurprised: he was excellent. His delivery went from frothing at the mouth with rage to filling the hall with fierce sassiness, and he did it all with such heartbreaking sincerity. So I'm not going to talk about the technical aspects very much. I will just say that Glory Box is a funny, campy, engaging, edgy, poignant, and deeply moving piece.
The central focus of Glory Box is the battle Miller has fought (and continues to fight) in trying to bring his Australian partner, Alistair McCartney, to the United States. In their 16-year relationship, soft-spoken, non-confrontational, thoughtful Alistair has been denied entrance to the United States at the customs and immigration line, has had his student visa revoked, has had his life disrupted, all because he loves another man.
This injustice serves as the anchor for a rumination on the complications of being gay in America, from fag-bashing to the complete denial of one's being and desires by peers and people in authority.
When Miller was nine, he was convinced he could marry another boy and live in a house with a line of plastic gnomes. However, when little Tim Miller told the other boy this, he did not react well: he beat Miller up and made him "take it back." However, the "taking back" of this statement was negated as Miller had his fingers crossed when he said it--oh, the small acts of resistance. It is in such vignettes that Miller showcases his excellent sense of combining the serious with the humorous, and the truly horrific with the magnificent.
The vignette on fag-bashing was particularly vivid (and illustrative of Miller's perfomative power) for this reviewer. Miller established the metaphor of being slapped when some punks stabbed his boyfriend in high school repeatedly and shouted "Die faggot." He juxtaposed this episode immediately with the image of his friend in Iowa City, Iowa who, when called fag, would proudly assert "Yeah, I'm a fag, and you can eat my pussy and like it!" Applause and laughter issued from the audience for such a display of courage and humor in the face of bigotry.
Glory Box ended with Tim Miller the person, not the performer, thanking us for being such a great audience, and speaking on the progress of a bill in Congress, Uniting America's Families, that would allow lesbian and gay couples to sponsor their partners for immigration. He asked us to sign petitions on our way out urging our representatives to support the bill.
If Glory Box had utilized the melodrama as its narrative structure, putting the gay man in the role of the victim, it wouldn't have had the same impact. Miller was never the victim. He was the agent. Despite the heaping pile of abuse queers get in this country, he can still love his partner: an army of lovers cannot be stopped.
I want to end by writing about the effect Miller had on the audience here. Miller described the effect of his work as "rehearsing another kind of being, creating an alternative space [in which] we can see the way a system we think is totalizing [such as homophobia] is actually fragile."
Of course the audience for this performance was compromised of queer or queer-friendly people, we know the things Miller says and agree with his politics. But as American Studies Professor Margaret McFadden eloquently said, "It is powerful to hear your truth spoken in an authoritative way. It gives that view power in a place where it is often devalued or dismissed. We already know this truth, but to say it in a public space of performance has symoblic, ideological power."
Tim Miller was completely vulnerable on that stage, and we, his audience, were similarly open: to be hurt with him, to laugh with him, to receive truth from him. We don't normally have such a safe public venue at Colby, and the kind of sense of being alive and seeing our truth represented, was so palpable for that hour last Wednesday.