Who are the men who indulge in anonymous sexual exchanges in public lavatories and why do they do it? LLOYD NEWSON of DV8 talks to Mark Fisher about men having sex with men.
6 has built up a reputation for bone.- breaking, limb-wrenching dance, choreography that punishes as it entertains, movement that is defiant and brutal. With his company, DV8, he has stretched the physical tolerance of his dancers, while stirring up tabloid furores over taboo subject-matter like the show about serial killer Dennis Nilsen or the one that featured a naked female struggling Christ-like on a Crucifix. Neither has Lloyd Newson shielded the dance fraternity from his no-nonsense attitudes: ‘Too much of dance has tried to con the public for too long,’ he told me last time he was in Glasgow. ‘Too often choreographers rely on an audience’s fear of not being able to understand.’
Lloyd Newson knows how to brew up a storm, but here’s the real shocker: MSM is not dance at all! That’s right, drop your tutu right there, DV8’s latest show, its title a coy abbreviation of Men who have Sex with Men, is a piece of documentary theatre based directly on interviews with 50 men about their experience of cottaging, the practice of having sex in public toilets. ‘This is a verbatim play,’ says Newson, who has always preferred to follow his instincts rather than be dictated to by his large and loyal audience. ‘I thought dance was inappropriate for it. I want to keep exploring things in my life and just because I come from a dance background doesn’t mean I should stay in that camp. I’m interested in developing as a creator and that means I must use whatever’s necessary to help me say what I want to say at the time. The only criterion in the end is that you say it as truthfully and as accurately as possible.’
Truth and accuracy haven’t always been the easiest commodities to come by in a show that wilfully wanders into the twilight world of men’s toilets. The source material was compiled by two researchers who were paid to find a cross-section of men and to talk to them about cottaging. Not surprisingly, they had to confront a great deal of fear and not a little violence, particularly as outside London the vast majority of the men concerned don’t identify themselves as homosexual and live in otherwise heterosexual relationships. Indeed, MSM is actually a sociological term, coined to break down the confusion that surrounds both the activity and the classiﬁcation of sexual orientation. ‘A lot of people have a lot to lose,’ says Newson, explaining that the researchers chose very wisely before approaching men to be interviewed. ‘People have families, they can
‘At the base an of this work seems to be the stigma of being seen as a man who has sex with other men.’
lose jobs, it’s still an illegal activity.’
There’s a joke that runs, ‘1 would have been gay but I didn’t like the disco music,’ and Newson’s researchers have found that for many men it is a sad reality that the public toilet is the only place they can express their sexuality. One man who helped with the research is 80-year-old Hasidic Jew, someone who would surely find he contravened the door policy of more than the occasional gay club even if he wanted to get in. ‘A lot of it seems to be about whether you identify gay,’ says Newson. ‘You walk into a toilet, and anyone sees you, a friend or a work-mate, you’re just going to have a pee. You walk into a gay club and somebody challenges you, it’s very difficult to say you just wandered in there. At the base of this work seems to be the stigma of being seen as a man who has sex with other men.’
But once they chose to confide in the company, the men would reveal secrets of their double- lives like they had never done before. ‘One man we interviewed,’ says Newson, ‘had been married for 25 years and had never told anybody about his homosexual activities. For many it has
DV8: Explorlng the stlgma
been a very strong form of catharsisjust to speak to someone. We’ve talked to people who have been arrested and been to court ten or twelve times on account of cottaging, who’ve had their houses broken into and their tyres slashed, received anonymous letters, been constantly harassed every time they walk down the street. You only have to hear those stories to know that cottaging engenders a stigma for the single act of two men making some kind of contact.’
To do justice to the experience of the men and to avoid polemic, Newson has ensured that only their original words are used. ‘I wanted to present stories that existed, not stories that people wanted to exist,’ he says, explaining that one of the greatest problems has been to edit down over 100 hours of taped interviews. ‘I hope that MSM will break down some of the myths. Too often people want to make rules about the type of men who cottage, but there seems to be very few consistencies from all the work we’ve done. I would like to make the men we’ve interviewed human on stage and to feel that some of the things they reveal are things that on a more general level we all feel, men or women, but very rarely dare to tell others.‘ Cl MSM, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 20—23 Oct; Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 26—30 Oct.
10 The List 8—21 October 1993