I’m a gay writer, meaning not only that I am gay but I often write about gay subject matter. Gay characters are the heroes of my stories: the straight characters are the cheerful next door neighbours who stop by now and then to borrow a cup of sugar and provide comic relief. The fact that the plays, poems and novels I write often focus on gay subject matter, in addition to the fact that I am an out-of-the-closet drag queen, and finally, due also to the fact that I founded a Gay and Lesbian Theatre in Toronto many years ago (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre) — all of this has served to marginalize me as a writer.
In other words I am marginalized because the details of my personal life are well known in Canada, and even sometimes seem to be displayed (in a veiled way) in my works. Truth be told, my characters are often gay, flawed, disreputable reprobates.
So when writers or artists are marginalized because of their personal life — well, that interests me. I’m fascinated by the question that is on everyone’s lips these days. ‘Ought we to enjoy Woody Allen’s movies? He’s such an awful man.’
Fifteen years ago I was approached by Lynne and Michael Kositsky in the lobby of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama Theatre and Performance Studies. I was sitting in the lobby working on my Ph.D. dissertation, they were handing out leaflets advertising an upcoming event. The leaflet invited me to their house for coffee, cake, and a discussion about Edward de Vere. I wasn’t sure about the whole ‘de Vere thing,’ but I sure liked them.
What I discovered during that informal discussion, was that Shakespeare might not have been a nice little middle-class businessman farmer, a man whose cardinal sin was leaving his wife his second-best bed. No, he might have been Edward de Vere, who was at one time the richest nobleman in England, but managed to squander all his funds and die in penury. Of course, it also fascinated me that de Vere had a stormy personal life and might have been bisexual (rumours about an Italian choirboy that he brought back from Italy — how juicy!) and also, he may have killed someone — by accident.
I knew that Picasso was a bit of a bad boy, as were several of my favourite artists and writers. Was it possible that Shakespeare wasn’t a ‘nice’ guy? Was it possible that artists might not be perfect people? Was it possible, in fact, that being imperfect (i.e. human) might be one of the prerequisites for being an artist? Had, in fact, the bardolatry around the ‘Man from Stratford’ led to a bland idealization of a relatively colourless figure as being the greatest writer who ever lived, giving me — and everyone else — the absolutely wrong idea about the kind of person a great writer might be?
This was the door that opened. This was my entrance to being an Oxfordian.
And, I’ll tell you, I’ve never looked back.
– Sky Gilbert
“How I Became an Oxfordian” is edited by Bob Meyers. You may submit your essay on this topic (500 words or less in an editable format such as MS Word), along with a digital photo of yourself, to: email@example.com. Also include a sentence about yourself (e.g., “John J. Smith is a businessman in San Francisco.”)
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