Lea DeLaria – “A Man for All Seasons”

Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications at UMKC

Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications at UMKC

 

Actress, comedian and jazz musician Lea DeLaria had one message for students at the Pride Lecture Thursday: “No fucks given.”

In her lecture, titled “A Man for All Seasons,” DeLaria gave her comedic, uncensored and musical takes on current issues, from homophobia to intra-LGBTQIA community issues. She also took on politicians and celebrities such as Donald Trump and Kanye West.

“Let me be clear: this isn’t going to be your normal kind of lecture,” DeLaria said. “I’m not going to be very austere up here. That’s not what I fucking do. Okay?”

DeLaria started off her lecture by encouraging students to break one of the rules set for the evening: taking photographs.

“You can take a picture of me, I don’t give a fuck,” DeLaria said.

DeLaria is most well-known for her role on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, in which she plays the rude-but-lovable butch lesbian prisoner Big Boo. DeLaria, like her character was overweight, but began losing weight during the filming of Orange’s third season. When she announced her weight loss to the audience, DeLaria was met with applause.

And for the first–but not last–time that night, DeLaria got serious.

“And people are already applauding,” said DeLaria. “See this shit? I hope that you’re applauding because you know that I was diagnosed with diabetes and that I lost weight because it was something that I had to do for health reasons. I’m living a healthier lifestyle, and I’m gonna live a lot longer and I’m not gonna lose an eye or a foot. I hope that’s why you were applauding. I hope that you weren’t applauding because of some preconceived notion about how women should look or how much should weigh.”

Delaria then went on reassure the audience that everyone was beautiful, regardless of size, race or gender presentation.

Bringing the comedy back to the lecture, DeLaria had men and women stand up and yell the phrase “I’m a lesbian!” as loud as they possibly could.
“I want you to scream this so loud that the Westboro Baptist Church is going to wonder what the fuck is happening,” DeLaria said.
DeLaria then changed the subject to her own experience in the LGBTQIA community as a butch lesbian. She joked about community’s acronym, explaining her preference for “queer.”

“At the turn of this century, it all becomes about inclusivity,” DeLaria said. “We’re no longer Gays and Lesbians, we’re Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Questioning, Allies—by the time you’re done saying it, the fuckin’ parade’s over! That’s why you’re gonna here me use the word queer . . . To me, [queer] encompasses all those letters that you guys are saying all the time. ”

She riffed on the difficulty of finding a suitable title for her fiancé—partner, wife, or significant other—before settling on a term she liked: “travelling companion.”

“Irony was the language of queers,” DeLaria said. “Irony is who and what we are. So I suggest that we call the person we’re with our travelling companion. Just go right back to Jane Austen.”

DeLaria then told a recent story about being mistaken for a man in a women’s dressing room. A woman asked DeLaria to leave and upon being corrected, proceeded to insult DeLaria for dressing like man. A group of older women came to DeLaria’s defense. For the 57-year-old DeLaria, this experience was proof that the world is getting better in regards to LGBTQIA issues.

“It was amazing,” DeLaria said of the dressing room incident. “And let me tell you why: in 1980, in San Francisco, where I was living at the time it, was Gay Pride Week. I was waiting to catch the J-train. . .and a young man came up to me, called me a ‘dyke bitch’ and punched me in the face. For merely standing there. And while I was on the ground, he kicked me repeatedly. He broke my nose, he chipped my eye socket and he cracked many ribs. I was in the hospital for a week.
“Forty other people were waiting for that train. They were all gay. And nobody did anything to stop it. Now, I don’t blame them. Things were different in 1980. They were scared. It hadn’t occurred to them that if they all came together, they could stop this from happening. If we came together as a group, we could end violence against us.

“We’re talking thirty years later, maybe thirty-five years later, and complete strangers, all of them heterosexual, chased someone away from a dressing room for merely using, heterosexist, homophobic language—I call that immense progress.”

DeLaria then did a couple of musical numbers, drawing laughs and applause from the audience. She then got political.

“Vote—do not sit on your asses—vote,” DeLaria said. “You can’t get any more lefty than me.” DeLaria then went on to compare Donald Trump to Benito Mussolini.

When answering audience questions DeLaria got deep into LGBTQIA issues. When a closeted student revealed her struggle with being in a lesbian relationship while having “Trump-supporter parents,” DeLaria offered her take on coming out.

“It doesn’t do the world any good if you’re kicking and screaming out of the closet,” DeLaria said. “It doesn’t do the world any good if someone’s dragging you out of the closet. It doesn’t do you any good. If you are not comfortable coming out yet, then don’t. Once you know exactly what to say, that’s probably the time to come out of the closet.”

DeLaria was the first openly gay comic to perform on American television when she appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1993.

The annual Pride Lecture is sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

“The goal of this lecture is to really recognize the value of the LGBTQIA community . . . students, faculty and staff,” Dr. Susan Wilson, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, said.

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