Considering that Alternative Sex Education itself calls attention to the cooperative (Lashings of Ginger Beer Time) that produced it and whose principles it is deeply embedded in, it becomes difficult to think of the queer, feminist, burlesque show out of that context, or to evaluate it without making an evaluation of those principles.
For Alternative Sex Education does not seem, really, to be trying to be ‘good’ according to accepted theatrical and technical standards. A moment of research reveals that the woman who began the cooperative, was inspired by an older definition of ‘burlesque’, where the word does not signify a boring middle class strip tease, but a ‘grotesque juxtatposition of the serious and the comic’ that tells a truth while wholeheartedly embracing the value of entertainment.
If we think of it in those terms, the show has many merits. There’s no slick kitsch from the curious assortment of queer, gay, transgender, disabled and otherwise outcast performers. Their compilation of song, dance, storytelling, Lord of the Rings-Harry Potter-Star Wars parody is unabashedly political. Their message? That in the twenty-first century, when a queer schoolchild is four times more likely to kill himself than his heteronormative classmate, things are still bad.
With many of their stories being drawn from their own experience, their ability to move is not under question. It is evident that the performers have lived the difficulties about which they speak. Insofar as the show aims to encourage compassion, it succeeds.
Yet where it wants to advise, it is less successful. The stories are reductive, about the stupid, insulting questions that have been posed to members of the cast about their sexualities. But they do nothing for people who are faced with more compelling and better articulated prejudices than “isn’t a snail a bit like a transgender person?”
Their feminist arguments are similarly frustrating in their simplicity. They criticise the establishment more readily than they provided methods for doing anything about it. In what way ought one embark on their anti-misogynistic quest? It is only in the last five or ten minutes that the show becomes about how to implement change as opposed to just an incessant chime to just change, change, change. And even then, their first suggestion is the disappointingly banal request that the audience should go vote.
Despite this clumsiness, one gets the sense that the show is as much for the sake of its participants as for its audiences. It is therapeutic insofar as it enables one to take pleasure in the outlet it provides for the members of the co-operative. It educates by giving, if not real tools with which to fight for acceptance, then at least a hopeful view of the acceptance that does exist in little corners of the world.