It’s a sure bet that even the most remedial American high schooler can identify George Washington as the nation’s first president or attribute the abolition of slavery to Abraham Lincoln. A more challenging wager is seeing who can explain why Karl Ulrichs is significant—yeah, that one is likely to stump even the nerdiest of AP History geeks. Ironically, without the contributions of historical figures like Ulrichs, we’d never have an openly gay community like West Hollywood, let alone a homo-centric news publication like the one you’re reading right now. Fortunately, Ian MacKinnon is prepped to re-teach you everything you never knew about gay history. And this professor has traded in his tweed jacket for a pair of bootie shorts.
MacKinnon’s latest show, Gay Hist-Orgy, is a smart, smutty crash course in homo history. Opened on Feb. 18 and running every Saturday for six weeks at Moving Arts Hyperion Station, the avant-garde production not only recounts our culture’s journey through the centuries, but also proposes the existential questions, “Who are we as a people, and why are we here?” As a seasoned performance artist/gay activist, MacKinnon utilizes myriad sources from a diverse spectrum of time periods in his quest to answer these queries. More importantly, he approaches the subject with humor and a raging libido.
As the title suggests, Gay Hist-Orgy isn’t your grandpappy’s history lesson. The plot revolves around MacKinnon donning a pair of enchanted hot pants that allow him to scamper from one epoch to another in his pursuit of the ultimate orgasm. On his journeys, our hero crosses paths with a number of femme forefathers, both renown (Plato, Lincoln, Ginsberg) and obscure (Karl Ulrichs, Harry Hay, Edward Carpenter). Surprisingly, it’s the less obvious figures that contributed most to our shared history.
“We wouldn’t have Stonewall without Hay’s Mattachine Society,” explains MacKinnon. “And Hay was inspired by Edward Carpenter from turn-of-the-century England, and he was inspired by Ulrichs, who read Gerte’s translations of Sufi mystic poems about gay love, and Sufis were inspired by Socrates’ ideas and Plato’s Symposium.” Once again, Karl Ulrichs pops up in the conversation of gay history. Why exactly is he so important?
“Karl Ulrichs [is] the grandfather of the gay rights movement,” states our slutty professor. “He was the first person to speak out publicly for gay rights back in the 1860s. His ideas are really hot and still totally relevant today. He says it is our duty to the higher force to follow the dictates of our orientation. So, basically we owe it to God to be gay and make gay love.” It’s a refreshing counter-argument to the classic ‘God Hates Fags’ dogma often forced down our throats.
Besides acting as the origin of the gay rights movement, Ulrichs also served as the origin of this show. “I first began writing about Ulrichs beacuse I was so hot for his ideas,” admits MacKinnon. “I realized I had a crush on him, and so I created a short piece where he was my lover and the information about him came out through our sex. Then I realized I could do the same with other gay icons, and the show began to develop. Basically, I’m just a history slut following my fantasies.” Luckily, MacKinnon possesses an ability to transmute his fantasies into reality.
As a veteran of Highways Performance Space, MacKinnon centers the bulk of his work around the subject of homosexuality, occasionally while sporting a fuschia boa. Although he employs a heavy dollop of kitsch, his performances are consistently smart and have garnered local acclaim. L.A. Weekly has praised, “MacKinnon often steals the show with his (her?) outrageous personality. Homo-larious!” Backstage West beamed, “Suggesting Harvey Fierstein by way of Lucifer, Ian MacKinnon gives a dazzling performance.” Ian is obviously a charismatic personality worthy of stage time. He could seemingly tackle any subject, gay or straight, and make it personal and entertaining. But why specifically gay history?
“Gay history is so often hidden and invisible. It’s what is missing. I find a great deal of strength in knowing about the gay men who came before us. It’s empowering to bring their stories out into the light and share them. Plus, there are so many hot guys from history who are presented like there is nothing below the belt. I wanted to put the sex back into it.” And thats how an effective teacher keeps asses in the classes.
Ian MacKinnon’s Gay Hist-Orgy! Part 1 & 2 performs Feb. 25 and March 3, 10, 17, 24 at 8 p.m. at Moving Arts Hyperion Station, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, gayhistorgy.com