Are You Single?
Tim Miller and Ryan Haddad Discuss Dating and Relationships
Drawing on his life experiences as a gay man with cerebral palsy, Ryan Haddad strives to bring authentic depictions of disability and intersectionality to the stage. He and his mentor, the performance artist Tim Miller, with whom Haddad studied autobiographical storytelling, share highlights of their conversation with Stanford Live.
RH: Your work draws on your personal life—that’s what drew me to you and continues to inspire me to do what I do. When you enter relationships with people, particularly romantic relationships, is there ever an understanding, spoken or unspoken, about the possibility they may end up in a performance?
TM: Yeah, that happens. My personal life has been quite settled for a long time in terms of relationships. But there was a period with my husband, Alistair, when I knew I wanted to begin making work about our political situation as a couple with him being an immigrant from Australia and unable to remain in the United States. I asked him to give me the go-ahead, but I wouldn't have done that even a year earlier because it would have made our lives more complicated to be talking about it so soon.
Right before I met Alistair, I did a piece called Naked Breath about what happens when a gay man who is HIV-negative, as I am, starts a relationship with a man who is positive. In 1993 or 1994, we were talking about it all the time. I mean, it’s still complicated. I asked my friend Andrew if I could. (We had an ongoing romance.) If he had said, “I really don’t feel comfortable,” I would have changed his name, but I still would have made the piece because it was something important that had happened to me. And I felt it was important to create a piece that positively shows that men who are positive and negative can be in relationships, which is something we take for granted now but is still by no means simple.
RH: When you are living life, are you constantly aware, “Oh, this could be something. This could be a scene or a story or a whole piece”? Or do you let life happen and then reflect on it later?
TM: There are certain things you can’t imagine not performing about. With all the work I’ve done on immigration and marriage equality, how could I not perform about Alistair’s green card interview and us getting married? It was something I used to worry about more. Life is so much more complicated than our little creative ventures could ever get at.
RH: Your personal life has been settled for many years now, and you’re very happy and content in your marriage with Alistair. As you look back on the journey, on the road to finding him, what does that reflection bring you today?
TM: I think that for me, I was such a clumsy, ambitious young gay man. But I don’t think in the scheme of things that I was being too much of an Attila the Hun with other people’s hearts. My own heart was broken a number of times, as well. In retrospect, I wish I could have been a little less hyper-ambitious, but Manhattan invites the ambitious. That’s why people go there.
I wish in some ways I had been less nervous, less desperate, less anxious. But you know, you perform that in Hi, Are You Single?—that very natural, urgent hunger and nervous desire to find love. I mean, it never goes away in our lives.
RH: No, and there have been pockets of time over the past three years since I began performing it where I felt like I have moved on from this character. There was a line in the show that used to be my uncle saying to me, “Could you be any more subtle?” Then, about two years ago, my director asked, “Could we just change it to what he is actually saying: ‘Could you be any more desperate?’” I thought I had graduated from that feeling. I experience encounters with men, and many times they’re fine. I recently had an experience with a boy who I really like—and I often like boys who don’t like me back. It’s something that I’m used to, but this particular one just hit me in a certain way that was so lovely and intense. And I'm realizing, “Oh I'm not that really that far off from the boy who was 22 or 23 in Delaware, Ohio.” It doesn’t go away.
I want to ask you to go back 25 years to your courtship with Alistair—or anyone really—and share what is one of your fondest memories of a lovely date with a lover.
TM: The thing that I really think of is the beach. I think of those graceful days, which feel abundant in their hours—in a good way, not like on a horrible day at work or school when the clock doesn’t move—those days where it feels like there’s plenty of time to spend with Alistair and our 16-year-old dog, Frida…to spend time together and talk and eat and walk the dog and have sex or not have sex, to go to the beach if it’s summer. We are always going to the beach. There, it’s a mixture of romantic but also timeless and heavenly in a strange way. A bit like the image at the end of Longtime Companion. You’ve seen that movie, haven’t you?
RH: No, but now I’m going to watch it.
TM: That final image—much criticized at the time—was amazingly beautiful, a brave conquering of the afterlife. You know, if we’re not going to do that in the theater, what are we doing?
RH: I’ve gone on many dates, or what I thought were dates. But the best intimate moments for me have been just a couple of sexual encounters that were very lovely and passionate. My mom would be like, “Oh my God! That’s not a date,” and of course it’s not. Sometimes, though, a guy will understand me and my body in a way that is intuitive and he will make me feel a kind of sexiness, that I AM SEXY. For as much as I get on that stage and say, “I am beautiful, I am sexy, I am...I am…I am…” and sort of perform the act of empowerment, the truth is that when you are a disabled body and naked with another human being, it’s incredibly vulnerable.
The beach is not an accessible place for me.
TM: I was thinking that as I talked about it.
RH: But I will say that, recently, I was with a guy who—for the first time in my adult life—made the beach accessible for me.
TM: How did he do that? Where were you?
RH: We were by a lake. With some other people too—but I was fixated on this person that I found to be Prince Charming—he held both of my hands and held me in the water the whole time, totally supporting me physically and never letting me go for the entire hour that we were in the water together. Just like, “I’m going to do this for you: I’m going to make this experience possible and accessible.” It’s impossible not to fall for the man who does that. For me, it was like, this is the most intimate thing I’ve ever experienced. But I don’t want to say more than that right now. It’s still relatively close to me, that story, the emotion of that beautiful moment in the water. And I want to save it for a play or performance piece of some kind.
TM: What if you imagine, each time you perform the piece, that maybe someone falls in love that night. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s the person in the fourth row. I think your work creates the conditions for people to see each other, appreciate each other. And that includes you. Of course, you’re so loveable in your work, as well as cranky and funny. I think the work you make helps make that happen.
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Hi, Are You Single?