What It Means
07 October 2023
Wilton’s Music Hall
4.0 out of 5.0 stars
What It Means is based on the true story behind one of the most impactful pieces of writing ever published in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality. In 1971, Merle Miller publishes “What It Means to Be A Homosexual” in the New York Times, a response to the very homophobic 1970 article “Homo/Hetero: the struggle for sexual identity” in Harper’s Magazine.
Being the former editor of Harper’s, and a gay man himself, Merle Miller is appalled by the article and decides to take a stand the only way he can, writing. Directly speaking to the audience, Miller reminisces about his own life, his struggles with acceptance and hiding in the closet, never quite speaking his truth out of fear of the consequences. He re-lives important moments of his life, examining his own behaviour and that of the world around him, wondering what else he could have done to give other queer people hope in the future.
This play is deeply emotional, speaking to stereotypes and prejudices that still cling around to this day. While the LGBTQ+ liberation movement has been going for over 50 years, it sometimes feels that we still have a long way to go before we can freely be ourselves without judgement or fear of attacks, so going back to the beginning, to the Stonewall riots and the first publications in favour of queerness, feels almost harrowing in how many parallels to today’s society can be drawn. Simultaneously it is hopeful and ambitious, digging into society’s prejudices and how they affect us, in the past and today.
Richard Cant plays Merle beautifully, engaging the audience fully, whether he is directly addressing the auditorium, or quietly re-telling events of the past, he inhabits the stage with confidence and purpose. What it means is another fantastic addition to modern, queer plays.