America: Leave It to Love
Performance artist Tim Miller grew up gay in Orange County, and he returns regularly from his home in Venice Beach to remind us (usually humorously) that America still has a long way to go on civil rights. As evidence, consider the Knight Initiative—Proposition 22 on the March ballot—which would ban same-sex marriages in California.
Miller's latest piece, Glory Box (at the Laguna Art Museum on Friday and Saturday), is best seen against the background of the Knight Initiative. It focuses on love, marriage and lifelong relationships—particularly Miller's lifelong relationship with a man the state says he can't marry.
One of the NEA Four, Miller is co-founder of the two most influential performance spaces in the United States: Performance Space 122 on Manhattan's Lower East Side and Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, where he is currently co-artistic director.
OC Weekly: Wasn't it only recently that blacks and whites weren't allowed to marry in many states? Tim Miller: Until 1967, it was illegal in many states for men and women of different races to marry! What people sometimes forget is that marriage has been very fluid in our history. Its changes mirror our nation's huge leaps forward in civil rights. I try to remind people that for 200 years in the U.S. during slavery, African-American women and men were not allowed to marry. Thanks to the women's movement, we no longer see marriage as a man's ownership of a woman; we view it as a partnership. That wasn't the case 100 years ago, and it's a huge change.
California was the very first state in the nation, in the late 1940s, to overturn racist miscegenation laws that kept men and women of different races from marrying. I'm hopeful 2000 will be the year Californians will make this the first state to defeat an anti-gay measure like the Knight Initiative.
What should marriage be?
I think that when two people—two men, two women or a man and a woman —are ready to undertake the huge challenge and link their lives and their hopes and their dreams and their strengths and failings to form a committed relationship, that's a marriage, and all marriages should be treated equally by our nation's laws. No better and no worse.
Why is the bi-national issue so big, especially with gays and lesbians?
The fate of bi-national couples can really get people to realize how unjust the denial of gay people's relationship rights actually is. There are 1,049 special rights and special privileges that all heterosexual people get the instant they get married that no gay person can ever access. I manage to squeeze that factoid into the show! The biggest, fattest, juiciest of these for me—since Alistair, my life partner of six years, is Australian—is the fact that every straight person can make their husband or wife a citizen of the U.S. I can't. Most people don't realize that if a lesbian or gay man falls in love with someone from another country, you have no ability to include that person in your life under U.S. law. Any heterosexual person can fall in love with someone of the opposite sex, marry him or her and make them a citizen—poof, like a magic wand.
Are there really a thousand-plus benefits?
Yup! I got that from the Lambda Legal Defense Web site (www.lambda legal.org). If you're clever with computers (which I am not), go to www.marriage equality.com to download a document published by the General Accounting Office. It lists the full 1,049 benefits afforded all legally married couples and denied to all lesbians and gay men!
What are some of the other benefits for straight people?
The other special rights are pretty dramatic, too: property rights, medical insurance, inheritance, child custody, hospital visitation, etc. This is why it's so important, regardless of how a person feels about the institution of marriage, for us to be struggling over the marriage issue.
As a young queerling, did you ever think you would be fighting for the right to marry?
I think I knew from the age of 5 or 6 that I would have to fight every single day of my life for my right to love another man. In the show, I tell a very sweet story about the day I asked a boy to marry me when I was 9. He beat me up! But during my more radical Queer Nation days, I would say to myself, "I don't want to support a corrupt bourgeois institution."
I guess that's what I was thinking of: the rejection of what we in the gay community saw as such a tired institution.
But that kind of rhetoric really rings hollow when your lover faces deportation, or you can't get into the hospital to see your partner, or the immediate family takes away the house you left your partner because your will was not acknowledged. I don't want anybody to feel like they have to get married. On the other hand, I want every dyke and fag who wants to marry their partner to be able to—to have the same equal right of relationship that straight people have. Otherwise, we are just letting them fuck us over.
Why is it so hard for Americans to handle the notion of marriage rights for anyone other than male/female couples?
I think some very bigoted and hypocritical political and so-called "religious" leaders attack gay people as a way of keeping themselves raising fat contributions and staying in power.
In Glory Box, I was struck by how much you love living in America and being an American. Does it scare you to think about being forced to leave this country to maintain your family?
It scares the shit out of me. I am such an American at my core, and my nationality is at the heart of my identity and creative work. I'm just going to have to work my little performance-art booty off to raise awareness, money and protest with Glory Box. I want the piece to conjure for the audience a graphic vision of the unfairness of these laws. I guess the proof that I am so deeply American is the belief I have that this might actually change something. I'm in the fight for the long run.
Where do you and Alistair stand right now in regard to his visa?
Alistair has about a year left on his student visa. After that, I don't know. Bi-national gay couples like Alistair and me are offered three scenarios: your partner is deported, you break up your relationship, or you both leave the country and make a life in a more civilized nation. Not very pleasant options. Fortunately, Alistair has passports from two countries (Australia and the U.K.) that give gay people and their partners immigration rights.
I can't imagine that we would let them force you out without making a lot of noise!
The unfairness of this situation is so outrageous. But it really feels like America does whatever it can to destroy gay families. And some days I'm not very hopeful that this country will ever join the community of civilized nations. I suspect there's a good chance that Alistair and I will be forced into exile in England or Canada in a year and a half or so, but I'm going to give it a good fight. I'm glad I have something I can do as an artist right now.
Tim Miller performs Glory Box at the Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8971. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. $15; museum members, $10.
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