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[whitespace] Trans Mission Trouble

A sex-crazed historian sizes up 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch'

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Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it's a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas and popular culture.

'I LOVED IT! Totally loved it," exclaims author David Allyn, enthusiastically snarfing up a few post-film French fries around the corner from the movie theater. "I loved the story, loved the music, loved the attitude. And of course I loved that it was about sexuality and sexual identity--and sex."

We've just seen Hedwig and the Angry Inch--the colorfully off-color movie version of the outrageous, underground stage sensation from New York--and Allyn's rather obvious adrenaline high shows no signs of subsiding.

The decidedly non-Hollywood musical stars John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig, a hard-rocking, trash-talking transsexual bandleader offending her way across America in pursuit of fame, fortune, revenge and love. The victim of a hideously botched sex-change operation--thus the "angry inch"--Hedwig believes in Plato's theory of the origin of love, stylishly illustrated in one of the movie's best musical numbers. According to Plato, humans were once two-headed, four-armed, four-legged creatures, split apart by Zeus and thus doomed to wander the world in search of our missing halves. The way we reconnect with that half, assumes Hedwig, is through the act of sex.

It turns out she's only half right.

And David Allyn thinks he knows the other half.

"I wrote a book about it and everything," points out the New York-based Harvard Ph.D.

The book is Make Love, Not War--The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History (Routledge, $18.95) and it is a testament to Allyn's extroverted obsessiveness that the exuberantly detailed volume, a terrific chronicle of the social and sexual upheavals of the '60s and '70s, is almost impossible to put down. A film like Hedwig, to state the obvious, is right up Allyn's alley.

"I loved it all. I especially loved the stuff at the women's music festival," he says, referring to a scene where Hedwig and her band are shown performing their edgy hearts out--for an audience of one.

"There's a whole history to that," Allyn explains. "In the '80s, there were all of these feminist, back-to-nature folk festivals that transsexuals suddenly started playing at--and it caused this huge crisis in feminism. This one feminist, Janice G. Raymond, was really upset about it and wrote this book, Transsexual Empire, making the case that transsexuals were taking over the planet and were going to destroy the world. She said that transsexuality was a male plot to subvert the feminist movement. So I think that scene in Hedwig was an allusion to that."

Later, when I pose a question using the word "transgender," Allyn grins.

"You know, I kind of hate the term transgender," he allows. "That is the politically correct term, but I still prefer transsexual, because it's got sex in it. The sex part is important. Changing your sex is no small thing. The word 'transsexual' says it all, right up front, while 'transgender' sort of soft-sells it, glosses over the raw truth."

Hedwig, no doubt, would approve.

She'd probably write a song about it.

"Actually, I've never understood why there isn't a bigger genre of gay music," Allyn says. "Homosexuality has so influenced painting and sculpture and writing and playwriting--all of the arts. But in music, it's so absent."

Really? What about Elton John? David Bowie? Boy George? Melissa Etheridge?

"Sure, those performers are gay, or they sometimes play with gay characterizations," Allyn counters, "but where are all the songs about being gay? You'd think there would be those songs, because being gay can be such a painful experience. It's such an emotionally rich and powerful subject, full of love and heartbreak and drama. Hey, there's so much to sing about.

"What's neat about Hedwig," Allyn says, "is that it takes the whole transsexual, transgender, transvestite thing that The Rocky Horror Picture Show introduced and it takes it to a higher level. It's an important cultural benchmark."

Yeah, a benchmark that's rated R. Should kids really be allowed to see it?

"Teenagers, sure," Allyn nods. "We have such rigid notions as to what's appropriate for whom and when, but it's counterproductive. I used to crave seeing pictures of people naked. It was part curiosity and part erotic interest, but those things were held away from me, which made me want to see it so much more.

"And look at me now," he adds with a laugh. "I wrote a whole book about sex because I always felt like I wasn't allowed to see it or know about it and I became totally obsessed. Who knows; if I'd been allowed to see movies like Hedwig, I might be an accountant today."

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From the August 2-8, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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