Aodhan Gallagher has written a blog about their inspirations and experience of writing this new comedy-drama centred around two gay men from very different generations.
“I am not a gay writer. I am a writer who happens to be gay”
– Edward Albee
I remember coming across this quote in an article when I was at university, not long after I had “come out” (whatever that really means). I didn’t understand the difference between a gay writer and a writer who happens to be gay. It irrationally frustrated me at a time when I was so hungry to consume work by authors and artists who were like me, who had lived through the same struggles to be who they are.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realised we actually don’t have the same struggles at all. In fact, my queer elders and ancestors were dealt a very different set of cards from what my generation have been dealt, particularly those who lived through the AIDS epidemic. Although, the incessant attacks on transgender people currently proves that weaponised hate/propaganda really does come full circle.
So, the more I sat with the quote, the more I started to understand what Albee really meant. By a gay writer, he means a writer who is gay and also writes about “gay things.” He was well within his right to identify or not identify in any way he pleased, regardless of what his peers or successors thought about it.
Why should a minority artist feel any responsibility to represent anything other than the stories in their head, regardless of who they are about? If one politicises or essentially brands their own identity, does that mean they never really had much of an identity to begin with? Why do queer people my age, who did not live through a traumatising epidemic, feel they can police or, dare I say, censor those who did?
From these questions, Write-off was born and it aged into a play that was really my attempt to understand the biases and resentment that some older gay people, particularly gay men, have for queer people my age. It’s easy to assume that anyone who shares a facet of your identity also believes the same things as you, but I have encountered many gay people who are more conservative in their thinking. I don’t understand that, but if I did understand it, I wouldn’t have to write a play about it.
When you’re young, you’re constantly being told by older people how much easier you have it, which I agree with, but also disagree with. Within this contradiction, came the conflict for the play I wanted to write. In Write-off, we see an older gay man named Freddie (played by Richard Conlon), whom like Albee, is a gay man but refuses to be labelled as a gay writer. The work Freddie makes is controversial (think Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk) and after a lot of public criticism, he is forced to bring on a young assistant and an ambitious creative writing student called Ben (played by Bailey Newsome), who performs the role of a sensitivity reader for Freddie’s next novel.
An easy play to write would be that the conservative and “problematic” character is the bad guy, and the “progressive” character is the good guy. As you will see if you come along to watch it, I did not go for the easy option. In fact, if anything, I have more sympathy for Freddie than Ben, which admittedly wasn’t the case when I first started working on it. There are moments in the play that make me uncomfortable, but I keep having to remind myself that I am not representing all gay men or all people of a certain generation. I’m only representing these two specific and deeply flawed characters I have created.
As much as I have been banging on about “gay, gay, gay, queer, queer, queer,” I really do think that at its heart, this is a story about the clashes and intersections of two different generations. When Write-off was read and performed at Dundee Rep’s Stripped new work festival, it warmed my heart to see that people from all walks of life found something they could relate to, which is something I aspire to achieve with anything that I write.
Maybe I am a queer writer, maybe I am a writer who happens to be queer. I don’t really know. But if there’s one thing I have discovered while writing Write-off, it’s that our identities are intrinsically ours. We don’t owe any of it to anyone but ourselves.
This is my first professionally produced play and while it sounds pretty heavy, the team and I have found so much enjoyment and humour in it. I hope you will feel the same way. If not, at least you’re getting a pie and a pint out of it!
Write-off is performing Mon 13 – Sat 18 March at Òran Mór, Glasgow.
Tickets are available to buy via Box Office on 0141 357 6200, firstname.lastname@example.org or online here.