Hate Sells

If you're a gay man who earns a living as a performance artist and who has drawn the ire of some of the right wing's leading hatemongers, the "election" of George W. Bush is a distressing fact. While governor of Texas, Bush vetoed hate-crime legislation, and since his Supreme Court coronation last month, Bush has nominated right-wing icon John Ashcroft for attorney general and—lip service and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter aside—has done nothing to make gays feel they'll ever earn equal rights in the land of the supposedly free. It's enough to make you ponder leaving the country.

In Tim Miller's case, leaving the U.S. isn't merely fanciful; it's a real option, but one that has less to do with presidential than sexual politics. Miller, who grew up in Orange County, has had a relationship with Australian native Alistair McCartney for six years. McCartney is studying in California, but his student visa expires in a year. If one of them were a woman, they could marry and stay here. But because gay marriage is illegal, Miller figures he'll eventually have to choose one form of exile—from the country of his birth, or the man he loves.

Miller tackles marriage, exile and gay rights in his one-man performance piece, Glory Box, which he brings to Santa Ana's Empire Theater for two performances this weekend. A politically charged look at same-sex marriage and the struggle for equal rights among lesbians and gay couples, the piece runs on the fuel of outrage and provocation that drives Miller's other autobiographical pieces. "Love between human beings is being attacked by the U.S. government," Miller says in the piece itself; passage of same-sex marriage initiatives like Proposition 22 are part of an organized campaign of oppression against a specific group.

"It's very disappointing to me that 61 percent of the people in the state I grew up in voted last year to deny same-sex couples basic, fundamental rights," Miller said of Prop. 22, which passed shortly after he performed Glory Box in Laguna Beach last year. Two similar, successful initiatives in Nevada and Nebraska further make him question the very concept of America as a civilized nation.

"Hate sells," he says. "That's one of the big lessons of the 20th century. And hatred toward homosexuals is still the only approved hatred. It's not like this in any other Western country."

Miller admits he's "not sure if performance is the place where that attitude can be changed, but it's what I do. I want to make people angry, and I want to make them want to do something."

That's why at every show, Miller gives the audience the phone numbers of local congressional representatives, in hopes that some will call in support of equal-rights legislation for gay couples.

But outrage is only one element of Glory Box. Miller is proudest of the fact that he has created a funny, compelling show. "That's what I'm most happy about in this piece," he says. "Sure, I get my rants and little infomercials, but ultimately, this is a love story. And that is an upside to America. Yes, there's a fascist element lurking beneath the surface, and my friends in Europe barely even consider us a civilized country by the way we treat gay people. But we're also a very sentimental country, and I think that is a real positive faculty."

Glory Box at the Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. $15-$20.


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