And So I Lived: Queer Identity and Dominick DiOrio’s “The Visible World”

In which Oscar Wilde is punished soundly for gross indecency, texts are woven like patchwork quilts, and a long line of generations of queer folk fight for a future they may never see.

 oscar_wilde

To my dear reader,

A flamboyant figure of the 19th century, playwright and poet Wilde was unashamedly unconventional in a Victorian England determined to sweep the “gross indecency” of his homosexuality under the rug. In this one way, Wilde and I differ – I have grown up surrounded people that not only accepted, but often supported the visibility of my own homosexuality, both in my personal life and in my writing. Yet I somehow feel less comfortable in my queer skin than he may have. This was brought to my attention while attending Wilde: Like Silhouettes Against the Sky, a concert of a cappella choral music based on texts written by Wilde and performed by the Seattle Esoterics.

A great many of his texts – and thus, these songs – could be read homoerotically, but the piece that most shook me was one of a patchwork of texts from multiple authors, including Wilde’s De Profundis, French writer Theophile Gautier and Seattle gay rights activist Paul Barwick. The one that I remember most clearly was the reoccurring line “Sorry it took so long” – a quote from a poster outside of Seattle City Hall after the 2012 adoption of same-sex marriage. The line appears within the first minute of the nine-minute piece, in a high descending line sung by the sopranos, soon after by a harmony in the altos and basses and an echo in the tenors. The line continues to reappear between and over other texts, sometimes transformed into a melodic line with an upward contour, sometimes into high-flung soprano solos. The piece finally ends, however, with all voices singing it together in a delicate unison, over and over again.

In spite of the fortune I’ve had – fortune hard won by generations of queer folk I’ll never know – I have never felt at home with that community or identity. Maybe it’s because I associate them with a certain focus on image, whether it be rebelliously counter-culture or conventionally attractive, and I don’t feel pretty enough in either way. Maybe it’s because I associate them with a certain degree of disdain for a heteronormative world, and I don’t want to shame and insult people who so often just don’t know any better. Maybe it’s because I’m impish and impetuous and don’t want to be told what to do. Maybe it’s because I thought the world would open up like a treasure chest for me once I came out, and no such thing happened.

No matter my inability to own my queer identity, I can’t take it for granted, and the elegant tapestry of DiOrio’s The Visible World is one reason why. Such a piece could not exist if not for people like Wilde, who railed against a world that didn’t want to accept his kind. And to whoever wrote the quote on that Seattle City Hall poster, you shouldn’t be sorry it took so long. I’m sorry we don’t say thank you more often.

The Visible World, and more of DiOrio’s music, can be heard here.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

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