Performer, writer and gay rights activist Tim Miller was at ease while sitting in his hotel room chair drinking hot tea and discussing what haunts him day and night.
“Me having to go into exile from my country with my partner because America is the only Western country that does not allow their partner to sponsor citizenship hurts me and shocks me,” Miller said.
From this experience, Miller created the musical Us. The title, Us, stems from the double meaning of Miller’s 11-year relationship with his partner Alistair and his relationship with the United States, which he describes as complicated and hurtful.
“One of the messages of the musical is that America is about fairness and equality … and yet (gays and lesbians) are really at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to civil rights in this country,” Miller said.
Miller will have to leave the country at the end of this year because Alistair’s work visa will expire in October. The government will not recognize or give asylum to same-sex, bi-national couples.
Miller demonstrates his outrage at what he calls the hypocrisy of his own government through the performing arts. He is one of the field’s most influential artists, having won a landmark court battle against the government in 1990, when the former Bush administration took away the funding for his work through the National Endowment for the Arts because of his gay and controversial themes. He then proceeded to successfully sue for the violation of his First Amendment right and vows to continue to fight for “freedom of expression for fierce, diverse voices.”
Miller is known for performing humorous skits nude, and mentioned that Us has a nude piece referring to his childhood days as an aspiring Gypsy dancer. Gypsy was a musical about strippers in the 1950s. He said he used to perform this skit for his neighbors growing up.
He has been performing for more than 20 years and has traveled throughout North America and Europe, gaining notoriety through his performances such as Glory Box and Stretch Marks. Most of his work explores the artistic, spiritual and political topography of his identity as a gay man in this country.
Dr. Stacy Holman Jones, assistant professor at the department of Communication, said Miller is great at combining personal and political elements.
“(Us) in particular is important to students in Florida because of the political climate here,” she said.
Half-jokingly, Miller refers to immigration laws in Florida as “mean as a snake.” He feels appalled that Gov. Jeb Bush, who is married to a foreign-born woman, would not have any empathy for gay couples in the same situation.
Miller said he hopes that gay audiences will feel represented and that he creates space and visibility that thousands of gay couples experience.
“After every show there is always at least one person that comes up to me and says ‘Wow, we thought we were alone,'” he said.
For the straight audience members, Miller said he hopes his work encourages them to be smarter, wiser and deeper. He wants to open an authentic window into what it’s like to be another person by engaging, humoring and educating the audience about how his experience fits into the bigger picture of the United States.