I love Taylor Mac. Portland loves Taylor Mac. Or at least the 200 people I saw him with did, and the hundreds more I saw him with last year. What is it we love so much? When I asked my dad, as delicately as possible, why Priscilla Queen of the Desert made him cry so much every time he watched it, he responded, “There’s just nothing that makes me feel so much as a tragically aging drag queen.” Taylor Mac isn’t tragic, nor aging, as far as I can see. No way—he’s bold and wonderful and vibrant and alive. And yet his songs are sad, a bit “slit my wrists” as an old dandy apparently told him. They are about missed connections, failures of love, of identity, and the funny, tragic little lives we all lead.
I think the thing that struck me most at this year’s show was the absolute outpouring of love toward Taylor at the end of the show. Is it because he’s such a good figure for us (whatever the collective us may mean)? A little beaten down, really sad about the stark isolation of this life, and yet bowled over also by the delicate beauty and the absurdity of it. Still trying, always trying, and furthermore, being fabulous while doing it. That, I think, is what I hear from Taylor Mac—be a little more gorgeous, a little more wild. “Nothing’s worth doing unless it makes you nervous,” that same dandy said, and Taylor Mac encourages taking risks. Until we dip a little into mylar (which some of the audience got to do), we’ll never be safe from “dwindling down into homogeneity,” he insisted.
Taylor Mac reminds me of something that’s bounced around in my head for a long time, from Nelson Mandela’s inaugural: “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. . . . We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? . . . We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. . . And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” And Taylor Mac liberates us, little by little, with a bit of Mylar and an explosion of glittering synthetic fabrics.
But why, Taylor, why did you do the same show we got from you last year? With the addition of “find the mylar” I remember all this quite clearly from that show at The Works. It’s wonderful stuff—that’s why it stuck, but I wanted more, something new, a little further jaunt along your strange highway. That was my only complaint, except for the venue. Sure it’s ironic to have a drag show (or what have you) in a Christian Science Church, but I miss the nighttime world that Taylor Mac seems to belong to. Is he looking to be heard with more seriousness, as his remarks about “Catty Cathies” imply? Or is this just a scheduling issue? I have no qualms about calling Taylor Mac high art, but he’s the type of high art I like to experience in the dark with a drink in hand. Still, as he said, “We’re muddling through.”
The wise, above-mentioned dandy inspired Taylor Mac because he “believed wholeheartedly in beauty and not at all in perfection,” and that, I think, is the moral of this show. Taylor Mac shows us his own striking and curious beauty, which he maintains in the face of real and humorously imagined tragedy, and inspires in us our own. He affects us. After quipping that we were a diverse audience with “so many different kinds of white people,” he said “I’m not trying to bite the hand that feeds me, just wanting to get a little lipstick on it.” And so he did. From what I could see, we all left a little smeary, a little sad, a little less perfect, and a little brighter and more beautiful.
Posted by: Taya Noland