Dr. Myers Inquires…. Questions for Joyce Carol Oates and Us: Abortion, Demagogues, the Powder Room

BY DR. LARRY MYERS **** Prolific novelist/essayist/playwright Joyce Carol Oates appeared at the legendary City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco to promote her new book about abortion in America, A Book of American Martyrs. I began the questioning myself with, “What advice would you give playwrights who are writing about our current zeitgeist?”  

She replied, “American playwrights taking action against fascism, hatred and a demagogue might look to Ionesco’s Rhinoceros.  In the drama one man turns into the beast, then the whole town become rhinocerii. Any play by Bertolt Brecht is a model now–especially The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.”

Ms. Oates, dainty, gentle, and  consummately feminine, is more engaging theatrically than any of the local regional plays I’ve witnessed in San Francisco.  Looking demure, she launched into a detailed account of her interest in boxing, inspired by questions from BAR film critic David Lamble:  “My father took me to boxing matches near Buffalo. I was just a pair of eyes witnessing a masculine audience of bloodthirsty guys. Even a defeat isn’t necessarily winning for many of these masochists. The audience is contemptuous of any weakness. Like artists and writers, boxers  always experience failure. I  did the first interview with Mike Tyson. What he proves is that fighters and playwrights can have a second life, a third life, even a fourth life.”

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She continued, “In my book there is no obligatory bloody abortion chapter.  I’m concerned with the emotional consequences for both the abortion doctor and his family, as well as the assassin and his family. The book is 740 pages. I had to cut it from 1400 pages.” Ms. Oates then (much like Broadway star doing cabaret) performed a cut passage from the book. “When I write, I begin with a place. Voices rise up from the mist of unconsciousness and characters start talking. I traveled with a folder of passages I had transcribed. The name ‘Naomi’ came to me. Our present contemporary climate of anti-intellectualism and progressive thinking is mirrored in the book. Suddenly it’s very timely. It was President Reagan who claimed, ‘The first thing I do is overturn Roe Vs. Wade.’ Our election shows us violence begets violence. Elections are war zones now. In writing dialogue, wonderment, confusion, coalesce into your work about issues.”

Oates’ words resonated with my concerns with the overturn of transgender bathroom rights.  I had begun a play called Pendulum of Sexual ID when Obama overruled prejudice. Today, as the vulnerable are bullied and those who are one of society’s most fearful and threatened are re-terrorized, I’ve excavated the play to have it produced.              

ABOVE:  Dr. Larry Myers

 I wonder: When did the powder room become the gun powder room? To me, this subject matter is part exotica and part indicative of xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and fear of non-identifying genders without resources. In my investigation I discovered that chromosome composition is only one factor in sex ID.  Sex ID, sexual orientation, chromosomal sex gender ID — they are all different. Combined with presentation of genitalia (internal and external), hormonal composition and secondary sexual characteristics can be XX or XY —- without corresponding external genitalia or secondary sexual characteristics.  Thus, a sexual ID can counter chromosomal makeup. Gender ID is one’s identifiable state in reference to a binary cultural determination, based on appearance, behavior and attitudes.

Thus, these phenomena are all pure theater.

Dr. Larry Myers, New York-based, has been spending time in San Francisco and filing reports from there. (Look for more soon).  In that city, in June, his Playwrights Sanctuary commences (endorsed by Edward Albee with a personal letter which is distributed to each participant).