BEING GREG WALLOCH

Raymond J. Aguilera
talks to the cripgay performer
and uncovers some post-interview truth.

 

Last year, a friend of mine turned me on to Greg Walloch. He's here, he's Queer, and he's got CP! Last year a film about his work, incoporating documentary and concert footage, toured the festival circuit. When it was released last year on DVD as "Fuck The Disabled" I reviewed it for BENT and posed the question, "Is America ready for a gimp on crutches armed with jokes about blowjobs, Harlem junkies and dumb-as-a-post circuit boys?"

Last month I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Walloch during the run of his show, White Disabled Talent, at the New Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

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RA: Are audiences responding differently here in San Francisco than they do on the East Coast?

GW: It's always interesting to perform in different places, from city to city or country to country, because responses are different everywhere. I mean, some stuff seems to be universal, but I definitely think that cities have certain energies and attitudes about them. San Francisco people seem to be really friendly and warm. Not that people on the East Coast aren't, but there's just a different energy. I would say that people in New York . . . there's always that thing of being on a schedule and being in a hurry, things are a little more "slick-ified" in a way.

In some ways I feel like New York audiences are a little harder, so it's a good place to really cut your chops. But I've experienced really hard audiences and really wonderful audiences in both types of places.

RA: You talk a lot about living in Harlem, the experience of that. I could identify. Having just spent several years living in Oakland, CA. I have had that same experience, where people are hesitant to come to my neighborhood, based on their own perceptions of the city.

GW: The lesson for me about living in Harlem is that people are people everywhere. The image that Harlem has is undeserved. It's such a beautiful place, with such an amazing community of people. It was challenging to work on the documentary element in the film. I'm a storyteller, but in those sections of the film, someone else is the storyteller, putting things together. That was tough, because I wanted to make sure that Harlem-I have unique experiences being a white, disabled gay man living in Harlem—I wanted to make sure that Harlem wasn't misrepresented in some way.

The way I use Harlem in my show is very funny and light, and I hope it conveys a positive message. I wanted to make sure that stayed intact in the film.

RA: You just called yourself a storyteller, as opposed to a comedian or performance artist. Is that how you conceptualize yourself and what you do?

GW: I never really considered myself a comedian. I don't work in a very traditional joke-telling style. The work is funny and the material is funny. Most performance artists—my best friends are performance artists—well, the term conjures up such a vast array of images that it's hard for people to get their mind around what exactly a "performance artist" does.

I do think that "storyteller" describes most accurately what I do. I stand up there and tell stories, so in the most basic way, it's an accurate, accessible way to describe what I do.

RA: What other performers do you draw from or get inspired by?

GW: I love David Sedaris. I love Spalding Gray. Sandra Bernhard is another person who I think is really wonderful. In a lot of ways, Laurie Anderson is a sort of very unique storyteller, she uses her voice in very interesting ways. It's those types of people whose work I am attracted to and find inspiring.

RA: Just to go back for a minute to the documentary portions of "Fuck the Disabled" and what you said about giving up control, what was that like?

GW: It was interesting, because I love performing and I love being onstage. My favorite part of the film altogether is the stage time; I think it's really great. The documentary part, the reality component . . . it was hard for me. It was hard to give up that control, and to have cameras around. I didn't really like having cameras in my private space.

The film tells a certain story with the reality footage, but I don't really feel like it's the full story. It was hard to give that up and go with it. I think what's most representational and most true in the film is what I say onstage. It was intense to have cameras in my personal space.

RA: Were they there 24 hours a day or . . .

GW: They weren't there 24 hours a day, but they were there often. All the shooting was done at once . . . all the stage stuff. So, the days that they were shooting, they would follow me around for the rest of the day.

RA: You said that certain parts of the film don't tell the whole story. Are there parts that you would change, looking back at the experience?

GW: I was most critical of the stage stuff, because I know in my head all the stuff being shot. Of the footage onstage, there were certain performances that I might have picked over other ones. But, it's been a couple of years ago now, so all it really does is give me the opportunity to create that in the future, do that in the future. I'm really really glad I did it. It was so much fun to do, and it just inspires me to keep telling my story. R

A: Do you think there is such a thing as the "gay community" or the "disabled community?"

GW: I do think that there is such a thing as the disabled and/or gay community, but I think that what I'm striving for in my work is to show that those are smaller parts of a bigger community, which is just a community of people. We could point out many differences between ourselves. Those are two big ones, and two interesting ones, but if we really sat down, we could point out a lot of similarities and differences. I think the important thing is to realize that we're all people.

RA: Did you really see Stephen Baldwin's dick?

GW: I guess I mentioned that in another interview . . . yeah. I talk about it a little bit in the show. Yeah. He did—I don't know what to say about it [laughs]!

He did flash it, but I think he flashes it to a lot of people, so I don't think I'm special in any way [laughs]. He was on that "Celebrity Mole: Hawaii" . . .

RA: Yeah. That was my guilty pleasure a few months ago.

GW: Kathy Griffin talks about having seen his penis, so I think that's the deal. He was so great. He was amazing, a really wonderful, generous person.

RA: If you could be nondisabled for 24 hours, what is the first thing you would do?

GW: Wow, that is such a good question! Nobody has ever asked me anything like that before. Wow! What would I do? That is such an interesting question. I haven't really thought about that too much.

RA: I was thinking about it today, because I figured if I ask this question . . .

GW: You have to have your own answer. What is the first thing I would do? Wow. My head keeps going to all this mundane stuff, like I would move all the really heavy stuff [laughs] . . . I'd rearrange all the furniture, do all the heavy lifting that I can't do now. It's funny how my mind is going to all this completely mundane stuff.

RA: The first thing I would do is go out and buy a pair of really shiny—like patent leather—shoes, and wear them around all day. For once, I wouldn't scuff them and they'd be beautiful all day [laughs].

GW: I hear ya! These are loaners from someone else. I'm on this shoe loaner program with a friend.

RA: That's my problem with shoes, if I ever buy anything nice and shiny, five minutes after I put them on I scrape the toe, and that's it.

GW: I like your answer. Your answer's really good, that you'd buy some nice shoes. That's great [laughs].

RA: Thanks. What's more annoying: lap dogs, or rainbow colored everything?

GW: Lap dogs are fine—you know, we can't blame the animals [laughs]. Rainbow-colored-everything: I'm gonna say something not very good. I was walking around the other day, down in Chelsea, and I saw all the—everything was all so ghettoized and gay. In a way, it's really great, really progressive, but in another way it just reminds me of girls on spring break in Fort Lauderdale [laughs]. It's really kind of the same.

I can't decide if it's all really political and fabulous or if it's exploitative. Sometimes it straddles that border, that everything is so commodified and wrapped up and ready to buy. That trend—gay or not—is disturbing to me; whatever goes down, we're ready to wrap it up and take it home, almost instantly.

That happened with September 11th, a really really tragic event, without a pause. The media had it pre-chewed and spit back out, so you could take part of it with you. Maybe that helps console people, but it's a disturbing trend, I think. It's almost like more than the actual experience, people want something they can hold and take home. So I guess my answer is that rainbow-colored-everything is more annoying [laughs].

RA: Do you have a drag name?

GW: No. I've only done drag once and I don't even know what name I made up. I don't really have a self-invented drag name. Maybe down the line sometime that would be a whole different avenue of performance [laughs].

What I do as a performer feels a little like drag already, it feels a little like reality blown up a bit.

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Heading back to my car that night I was ecstatic. The show had been even better than I'd expected, and Greg himself had turned out to be a thoughtful and gracious interview subject.

As it happened, I had parked in the Castro district of San Francisco. Lost in my own thoughts, I came up from the Muni station, and made my way down Market Street. I was thinking about what Greg had said, about people just being people, about his experience of being a disabled man, about the fact that no matter how badly I wanted them, my disability will always make patent leather shoes an impossibility.

At the corner of Noe and Market, four giggling little fairy boys were laughing and posing and generally carrying on in the way that nineteen-year-old twinky boys in the Castro usually do. I paid them little mind, but when I passed by, they immediately began to whisper and giggle and clutch at one another. I ambled past them, and when I was about thirty feet beyond the group, I heard someone behind me calling out.

"Hey!"

I looked back over my shoulder, and saw all four boys looking in my direction.

"Me?" I called back.

"Yeah," the spiky-haired one answered. "Can we ask you a question?" He looked down at his feet, and started to giggle nervously.

"Sure," I said, turning around.

"Well . . . we were wondering . . . " He studied his shoes again. "Are you . . . gay? I mean, we didn't know if people like you could be gay. Don't take this the wrong way. I'm not trying to be a bitch, but, you know . . ."

"I prefer Queer," I said.

One of the other boys took a step forward. "I told them so!" he said a little bit too proudly. "I told them your shoes were too cute for you to be straight!"

The others all started to giggle and clutch at each other again. I noticed that two of them held shopping bags from some of the gay tchotchke shops that line Castro Street.

"Let me ask you a question now," I said. "Are you guys on Spring Break?"

"Omigoooooood!" Spiky-Hair shrieked, immediately falling into gay-boy vernacular. "We are tooootally here on Spring Break! This city is fierce! I, like, totally wanna move here."

"Well, good luck with that. Have fun and play safe," I said, continuing on my way, laughing to myself.

All the way home, I couldn't stop thinking about how much my shoes really do say about me.

© 2003 Raymond J. Aguilera

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Raymond J. Aguilera (at right, cheered on by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence) keeps busy trying to finish his master's degree and enjoying a faaaaaabulous suburban existence with his partner (at left). Writing by Ray and Greg Walloch is featured in "Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories," edited by Bob Guter and John R. Killacky, Harrington Park Press, December 2003.

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/May 2003