Gods and Monsters
Gods and Monsters
By Carlos Pons Guerra
“It’s like crossing into the looking glass. You go there and you feel it’s like Wonderland. It’s not like being in the real world. It should be like being in the real world.” A vogue ball is described in one of my favourite quotes from the 1990 American documentary on the New York vogue and drag culture, Paris is Burning, a statement that traces that ethereal line between reality and fantasy that is ever present in my life, but which I also intimately relate to gay life. A threshold that like many other gay people, you grow up crossing to avoid a harsh reality of bullying, persecution and ostracizing, and which offered me an attraction to tales of transformation, of other creatures that are considered inhuman, stories of magical malleability where relations do not abide to the norms of the real world. Fairy tales, in many of their forms, have always been present in my life, and with TORO, I chose to explore a question that had haunted me since childhood: how could anybody love a monster?
In most mythologies, gods symbolize an order that is threatened by the chaos of monsters; creatures often built of hybrid parts, which live and behave against the laws of nature. They have been deemed unnatural, sick and evil throughout centuries, yet they adorn cathedrals, temples and walls across the world and cultures; artists like Bosch often giving their creativity free reign when creating such gender-fluid, colourful and diverse incarnations of fear. “Some people think that we are sick, and some people think that we are the most gorgeous creatures on Earth” says Venus Extravaganza, also in Paris is Burning. It occurred to me how the gay community has often fallen under that order-defying category of creatures, where they sit alongside the female gender, natives of colonized lands, and those of different skin colours. Beings that have been feared and abhorred, but have also graced the stages of sideshows, freak shows, circuses and vogue balls. Monsters shape shift, and too often take the form of those who are beautiful but weaker, defenceless, and fewer- and are feared as much as they seduce.
Often, tales of the fantastic like to moralize, and in so doing shape the definition of what a society sees as monstrous. Succubi and female vampires are prominent figures in lore around the world, nightly warnings against overt female sexuality and independence. Bluebeard’s locked chamber cautions against female curiosity and an infamous wolf has taught centuries of girls of the perils of being adventurous and taking the road less trodden. In Spanish tales we were terrified as children by dark skinned creatures that perhaps spoke of the smaller ethnic groups we shared a country with- the gypsies and moors, ancient, historical and inherited phantasms that tainted bedtime stories with racism.
TORO too tries to moralise, and in it I have portrayed my most feared monster: the white alpha (and often Fascist) male, the one that silences voices, that harasses, that bullies, that colonises and brutally destroys virgins and lands. In this reading of Beauty and the Beast, the beastly is the imposed guise of the oppressed: of women, homosexuals and subjected natives, strapped in leather harnesses and steel bondage, who nevertheless dance proudly and bravely like the animals in drag (or dragimals) that live in this production. Like all fairy stories, TORO is a cautionary tale, but in this case, one that cautions us against the men who have historically decided who the monster is.
Unlike many fairy tales, TORO does not have the benefit of magic to create a world easily healed with true love’s kiss, an enchanted rose petal or a single man’s repentance. As I created the work, the horror stories that distress us daily: of rape, homophobia, xenophobia and exclusion- crept into our studio and became persistent reminders of the monsters that still govern and subject us (and are reproducing at lightning speed). Art, just like a fairy, has the necessary magic to transform situations into brighter endings. But more importantly, art also has the power to reflect its time and demand the magic of transformation from its beholders. And so TORO became a tragic and brutal fable, in our hopes to portray a current world that becomes, every day, more alike a bleak fiction, and that is in desperate need of our collective enchantments.