Broadway and BDSM...

Ask any of my friends, close or otherwise, and they'll tell you just how much I love Broadway musicals...

My friend Matt often rolls his eyes at how quickly something he says can cause me to break out in song. When my girlfriend Kristin asked me if I was free tonight to see Jekyll & Hyde with her, of course I said yes. Besides, I never turn down the chance to add another Playbill to my collection... yes, I'm that guy (and that gay).

Having just arrived home from the show, I can honestly say I have never felt this torn over a show. Not only was the lead, Constantine Maroulis, lacking in energy, depth, and vigor, but several key songs were either changed so drastically or dropped altogether that the show lost much of what made it one of my favorites. Additionally, troublesome was the portrayal of women of color as either whores or servants, never once showing up in a role of power or prestige. In its defense, the modernized staging was beautiful (apart from the decision to have the internal battle between Jekyll and Hyde take place on a video display). Both Deborah Cox (Lucy) and Teal Wick (Emma) were fantastic, at least vocally, though their respective storylines and character development were stunted—almost beyond repair.

Most bothersome to me was the vilification of BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism).

Every onstage interaction between Hyde and Lucy involved him tying her up and physically abusing her. Even in Lucy's final scene where Hyde murders her and suddenly transforms back into Jekyll (a re-write I don't particularly like), Hyde only stabs her after binding her hands and tying her to the bed. No other staged version I've seen has made such a strong connection between evil and kinky sexual practices. If Hyde is the personification of humankind's inherent dark side, then it would seem the logic presented is one of demonizing taboo sexual behaviors. Sure, the show is staged in a Victorian-value-ridden London, but still, did you really have to go there?

Even though my own connections to the kink/BDSM community are fairly loose, I found myself almost fuming by curtain call (though that was also in part to Maroulis seeming like an arrogant, pompous prick who literally snapped at the audience to give a standing ovation for the show's pit). The entire ride home, Kristin and I talked about the inherent racism in casting, misogyny in staging, and who we felt would make a better Jekyll/Hyde (Aaron Tveit, anyone?). Most of all, seeing Lucy bound every chance Hyde could get, not to mention the lack of any true visualized remorse on the part of Jekyll, just left me saddened and frustrated.

For some people, many in fact, bondage, domination, and sadomasochism can be healthy parts of one's sex life. For many, it can actually be vital in developing insight into one's own character and building self-esteem. Granted, here I am saying this, a man whose own sex practices would make french vanilla ice cream look kinky. Still, we live in an age where people become sexually active at a younger age, where sex education is seemingly no longer the responsibility of one's parents, and where fidelity in relationship does not necessarily mandate sexual monogamy (see Dan Savage's article on being "monogamish" here).

The fact is, societally and culturally, we are thinking about and doing sex differently.

As much as conservative individuals might like to argue that "Biblical marriage" mandates monogamous (and monotonous) lifelong heterosexual relationships, the scriptural evidence in favor of this model is, well, sparse—lacking one might even say. My partner and I have a number of friends who are in open relationships, polyamorous relationships, or some mixture of the two. If anything, these friends have more well-developed sexual ethics than many of my monogamous friends.

I remember the time of True Love Waits, of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I cringe at the memories of Every Young Man's Battle, promise rings, and waiting until one's wedding day to kiss their lover for the first time (yeah... right). I remember being told that blue balls were better than masturbation, especially if one's fantasies were of a "different flavor." I recall the shame associated with self-gratification and with having "premarital sex."

Imagine the shame, guilt, and internalized homophobia induced by deciding rather to have sex however, whenever, and with whomever one chose after realizing that one could not be a whole person and "get married" in the traditional heteronormative sense (aka welcome to my world).

No longer do most of us live in a world where women are property, where married couples are pronounced as "man and wife," where a woman could face execution on the off-chance that she doesn't "bleed" on her wedding night. This is not how things are anymore. At least, this is not how things should be.

Sex is a beautiful, wonderful, magical part of life. It is also messy, complicated, and potentially harmful if not treated with a certain degree of respect and care. We human beings might be strong, persistent, and resilient, but we can also be incredibly frail and fragile creatures. In my own life, I've seen what harm comes from objectifying someone else or allowing myself to be objectified (even if I'm the one doing it). Over time, even in my marriage, I've slowly developed my own "rule of life" for sex: never lose sight of the humanity, the intrinsic worth and value, of my partner or myself. I think this is a rule that leaves much wiggle room in the bedroom for how one can express his or her sexuality.

Don't get me wrong: I do not think all people who engage in BDSM practices and kinky behaviors do so responsibly and with care for themselves and their partners.

In fact, I know there are those in the community who use such practices abusively and with little to no genuine respect for those with whom they are intimate. For them, my heart aches in a sense, if only because of how they limit the joy and satisfaction that can come from exploring one's own sexuality and connection to others "behind closed doors."

For the time being, while I appreciated how dark Hyde was portrayed in this particular revival, I think I'll go back to the David Hasselhoff version of the show where Hyde's darkness and evil were not so closely linked to "alternative" sexual practices, where his being dark and sinister had nothing to do with his carnal appetites. I might even go back further to where both "Good and Evil" and "Bring On the Men" were incorporated into the show's book. Sometimes newer does not necessarily mean better. If anything, tonight's experience with the theatre showed me just how far we have to go in our own cultural and societal development as it pertains to sex, sexuality, intimacy and brokenness. We have a long way to go. Maybe starting in the bedroom wouldn't be such a bad idea after all.