JOHN CAMERON MITCHELL "We know we're successful when I don't see anyone texting at the party."
John Cameron Mitchell, the theater artist, filmmaker, actor, writer, singer, drag star, radical faerie, and DJ, is also sort of an unofficial queer historian. His dance night Mattachine is named after the Mattachine Society, a pinko- commie gay-rights group that predates the Stonewall Inn uprising by 20 years. The mission of the Mattachine Society—subject of an FBI internal-security investigation in the 1950s—was "promoting ethical homosexual culture" at a time when being gay was illegal. With his club night, which happens once a month in New York City, Mitchell says he's trying "to bring back the Mattachine vibe. Not only because we play a lot of old music, but also the community feel: friendly, socialist, non-ageist..." The DJs at Mattachine—Mitchell along with Shortbus stars PJ DeBoy and Paul Dawson—actually like to play songs all the way through "instead of 15 seconds of the climax, which is the usual ADD DJ thing. But going from climax to climax to climax, unless you're watching porn, it doesn't happen in real life. And you can't feel anything after a while," Mitchell says. "Ours is very much about play-the-whole-song, slow dancing, mixing genre, mixing sexuality, and also celebrating our queer forebears"—musicians, artists, activists. We talked on the phone last week, a few days after my boyfriend and I took mushrooms and re-watched Hedwig projected on a bedsheet in our apartment, which explains all the Hedwig questions.
What does "promoting ethical homosexual culture" mean in 2012?
Well, I think there's a lot of stupid homosexual culture that's just sheep-like following the masses in the wake of Lady Gaga or whatever's going on. That seems to be more about fashion and surfaces, which are certainly important, but they are emblems for what's underneath, which is community and nonconformism and encouraging people to cultivate their male and female energy, whatever sexuality they are... So that's the ethical part: Come one, come all, let's not get obsessed with digitalism and surfaces and meanness that comes from hiding behind your Facebook, and let's just be here. We know we're successful when I don't see anyone texting at the party. They're there rather than thinking about what's next.
So you're going to be snatching phones out of people's hands?
I actually do say no pictures. If they want to take a picture of me with them, it's like, you know, that becomes product. And the indigenous people thinking it's stealing their soul—I think they have a point. It takes you out of the moment. You're having a good time and then you have to represent having a good time. So I say, "No phones, only hugs." For me. And people are shocked! But they remember it longer. So we have a very cuddly vibe. And also, you know, let's dance together, let's do a slow dance, ask someone you've been looking at across the room to slow dance.