Performed live by Jon Davies & Sholem Krishtalka during Ryeberg Live Toronto 2010.
SHOLEM KRISHTALKA: A couple of our gossip-loving friends have a keen fondness for psychologically revealing party games (sort of like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” only a tad more casual) with titles like “Exclusive Secrets” and “Would You Rather?” One of their favourites, adapted from turns on the therapy couch, is “Root”: everyone in the room has to take their turn and divulge the root of their homosexuality.
Of course, this game depends on a fairly thorough recall of one’s early life. I’ve never been able to firmly identify my own root (although I have narrowed it down to a few possibilities). The young gentleman in this video, should he one day be called upon to make such public confessions, will have no such trouble.
loswhit, “Single Ladies Devastation” (2010)
Here it is, clear as day, laid out for all to see. The title of the clip is “Single Ladies Devastation,” but it could more aptly be called “Young Boy Gets His First Taste of the Social Disapproval of His Own Difference.”
Losiah, the young boy in question, is thrilled by the song (who isn’t thrilled by this song?), empowered by the bouncing rhythm, by the energetic strength of Beyoncé’s commanding delivery, by the kinship he feels with his sisters. But his father feels the need to assert some heteronormativity, and the declaration, while delivered jovially, comes like a crushing blow: “YOU ARE NOT A SINGLE LADY!”
You can see it all happen in roughly two seconds. His face is still while the gears move and all the pieces of anxiety and self-doubt arrange themselves in his mind: “I want to be a Single Lady; I thought I was a Single Lady; The Father has told me I am not a Single Lady; The Father has told me that I do not and cannot belong to this club; The Father has revoked my membership, and therefore told me that wanting to belong to this club is wrong.” And all of those pieces then lock into place, and the seismic shock of this realization is too much for his 3-year-old mind to bear. He weeps for all he has lost: security, belonging, acceptance, fun.
The Father’s guilty backpedalling begins, but it’s already happened; he set off this psychological tremor, and he can’t take it back.
When this child eventually comes out to his parents, his surest ally will be his sister: The one seated next to him, in the middle of the backseat. Her look to the iPhone camera says it all: “What the fuck did you have to go and do that for?”
“Beyonce Single Ladies Little Kid Dance” (2010)
JON DAVIES: The critic Wayne Koestenbaum refers to Andy Warhol in his biography of the artist as “the proscenium for traumatic theater” and we find ourselves drawn to the trauma of queer childhood that plays itself out on YouTube – the faggy boy-children dancing, but just as often, crying, sometimes in the same video. Shame is arguably foundational to queer identity, a structuring fact.
For gay or proto-gay boys, being overly invested in femininity was and continues to be taboo. Identifying with female stars represents a kind of survival strategy in our young minds, an uplift from humiliating or merely banal day-to-day life into glamour and power. Loving and wanting to be like female stars from Maria Montez or Elizabeth Taylor to Madonna or Beyoncé is a sign of trouble. Being too musical or too artistic, moving too gracefully (or even wanting to move one’s body in rhythm at all), too conscious of aesthetics and beauty, were all qualities heavily policed by parents, school officials, doctors, church. Expert speech therapists were airlifted in at the hint of a lisp, at least at my elementary school (but I guess the benefit was that I got to leave class for an hour each week).
On the home front, my parents basically didn’t have bodies, at least ones that moved freely and without shame. I don’t dance because that would require a suspension of inherited bodily self-consciousness that I’m basically incapable of.
Another hindrance to being able to loosen up was an incident at a day-camp in my suburban neighbourhood in Montreal when I was about 5, and “the boys” (which for some reason included me) were forced to perform the song “Greased Lightning” from the musical “Grease,” on stage, dressed up.
When they forcibly slicked my hair back, I completely lost it and broke down in messy gay tears. Any possibility of a life lived comfortably on the stage was shattered at that moment, and the road to my current small-scale karaoke superstardom has been a long and arduous one.
“Lil Boy Dancing To Rihanna Rude Boy” (2010)
SHOLEM KRISHTALKA: There are precisely two moments (at least that spring easily to my mind) of my own self-conscious self-determination. Both happened when I was 12. One was Darlene, during the season of “Roseanne” that she became a goth. I said to myself, “her. I want to be like her.” The second was Madonna. I remember, clear as day and sharp as lightning, seeing the videos for “Express Yourself,” and “Vogue” (both directed by David Fincher, by the by) on MuchMusic, and thinking to myself, “her. I want to be like her.”
And so I tried. I sat in front of my TV religiously, watching MuchMusic, waiting for the Vogue video to appear, and every time it did, I studied with an intensity that I never ever applied to my schooling.
That year saw the emergence, at least in my elementary school, of “the social.” I have no idea how this term came about, but it achieved metonymic status in my school: “are you going to Lisa’s social? Is Avi having a social this week?” They were lavish dance parties, basically rehearsals for the following year’s Bar- and Bat-Mitzvahs. My friends hired DJs and had them in their basements (I went to a private Jewish elementary school; I had rich friends with large basements).
So having rehearsed the Vogue dance time and time again in the privacy of my bedroom, I went to these socials, and when Vogue came on, I went proto-gay apeshit. I struck a pose; I vogued down like the fiercest, shadiest bitch a white, middle-class 12 year old Jew could be; I did the dance from the video. My female friends made a ring around me and clapped; the boys in my class stood on the sidelines and yelled “FAGGOT! FAGGOT! FAGGOT!” for the 4 minute, 51 second duration of the song. But still, I danced.
If my parents had ever caught me by surprise, though, I would have screamed, cried, and fallen down in terror and shame.
nizzy1115x2, “Mom Scares Gay Out Of Kid” (2007)
JON DAVIES: Shame is also a potentially transformative creative force as all that trauma and bad feelings can be harnessed into something potent, the blazon that comes from intense self-revelation. Shame becomes performance and the stage of the theatre or the webcam becomes a place where the interior can be turned outward and extreme self-exposure can connect you with others rather than keep you apart and isolated from them.
Watching — and listening — to this video, which has logged over 23 million views just on YouTube, I know that this 12-year-old kid from Oklahoma has experienced fame and glory after the fact, and of course we hear applause at the end.
But I can’t help projecting onto the wall of girls’ faces in the background a shift in their attitudes from bored and dismissive to stunned, enraptured and tearful, but this could all be my fantasy that jaded tweens can be affected by a skinny little boy at a piano, that his extreme theatricality and naked, embarrassing display of emotion (on behalf of a pre-fab pop song, no less) can actually transform those on the receiving end.
Greyson Chance, “Paparazzi” (April, 2010)
- Jon Davies & Sholem Krishtalka
“Kid Singing and Dancing to Lady Gaga Bad Romance” (2010)