Taylor Mac would hate such a clickbait-y title. Taylor Mac would descend from the ceiling wearing an ensemble shaped like a carousel, bedazzled with a million sequins, the tattered glamour of which would put Dita von Teese in awe, playing a ukulele, and admonish me for saying something so trite. Taylor Mac would rather something like:
Baby Jesus Put ME in a Corner (Consensually)
Life Lessons from the Three Wise Gender Nonconforming Persons
Oh Hole-y Night and other Repaired Christmas Classics
The spectacle of a Taylor Mac show might draw you in, but it’s the utter poignance of it that will captivate you. I know because it happened to me.
I had never heard of Taylor Mac before last Wednesday. A friend couldn’t make the show and offered me her ticket. I’m overbooked this season like many, but I reluctantly looked at the website, saw the photo above and was like, “Ummm.. hell yes gimme that ticket.”
San Francisco was shrouded in gray drizzle as I walked into the theater. The seat was good — first row of the balcony in the newly renovated Curran Theater. It’s gorgeous, with its enormous restored chandelier and ceiling, bold wallpaper prints and chic marble bars on each level. The stage was set for a nine piece band and floor to ceiling sparkling fringe lightly rustled. This holiday show already looked campy in a way that I’m partial to, despite my general lack of enthusiasm for Christmas itself. I’m a sucker for tinsel.
The audience filled in, the lights dimmed, and it was showtime.
It became clear and quick that Mac (whose gender pronoun is judy) is an irreverent, bombastic performer, nay… preacher, who pulls zero punches. There was everything — politics, blow jobs, grandmas, Mick Jagger. It takes skill that I don’t have to weave all of those together to form a coherent message and alter your senses, as reviewer Andrew Sean Greer wrote in the program: “I don’t mean your sight and hearing and all of that. I mean your sense of decorum, your sense of humor, your sense of privilege, your sense of family, and your sense of taste.”
It was a challenging, riotous and profound performance. And I’m sorry Taylor, but my reeling brain wants to distill it into a few meaningful takeaways for those of us who aren’t yet vibrating on your fantastical plane of consciousness, so here are three (of many) gems that really struck me from the show.
1. “It doesn’t matter what others think of us. It only matters what WE think of others.”
This is a quote Mac attributes to drag mother extraordinaire, the late Mother Flawless Sabrina, who was the honoree of the show and who passed in 2017. The petty interpretation of the quote is kind of appealing, but the generous interpretation (and I would come to find that Mac is almost always leading us there) is that we can only control what is in our own hearts. Others’ opinions are completely out of our hands, and our energy is much better spent cultivating our own love, creativity, and community. It’s a beautiful sentiment that I forget regularly.
2. Drag is bringing the inside out.
I’ve never heard drag described this way before, but I love this perspective. In some ways, we’re all always in drag, whether it’s intentional or not. The inventiveness and messy extravagance of the costumes and set (all designed by Machine Dazzle) were magic, and I got the feeling that Mac & crew are just more skilled at bringing imagination to life than most of us. I studied fashion at FIT 15 years ago, and my relationship with it is… complicated. But in moments of clarity, I have appreciated style as a form of real exploration and expression, and I got such a sense of freedom from witnessing the show. The outrageousness felt courageous and somehow inclusive, this wasn’t Mean Girls or an impossible beauty standard. It was creative, inviting and collaborative.
3. Reclaim your story from whatever threatens to steal the narrative
Many of us find the holidays challenging. For me, it’s distress with the commercialism and social obligations, Waspy family dynamics where we didn’t talk about our issues yet another year. Overeating, over-drinking, over-spending, over-thinking. Taylor shared stories growing up queer and how that turned the holidays into a blatantly traumatic experience. But one of the main themes of the show is that if something is threatening to steal your narrative, incorporate it into your story as a subplot and then return to your vision. It’s a way to create a context without letting the shit consume you, whether that’s politics, the news, family, work or our own behavior.
I think judy’s on to something.
There’s reality, and then there’s what you do with it. I’ve discovered a treasure in this beautiful person, who has taken the challenging aspects of life as raw material and now creates mind-bending, compassionate art to uplift and connect. I wasn’t the only one to go from reluctant to intrigued to grateful. Taylor brought out the Queen in us all that night. And it turns out that was just the Christmas miracle I needed.