As a married, poly, masculine-ish mannered gay guy who regularly wears eyeliner and who performs and teaches fire spinning, Thomas Vaccaro brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘flaming.’
What do you do here in Peterborough?
I am a circus artist. I specialize in fire-spinning, fire-eating, fire-dancing, fire-performing. Lots of things! I am starting aerial silks, and I do other things like hoop for fun. I have artsy little projects on the side.
Right now, we have a show at The Spill, which is called Nude Fire-Spinning, which I have coordinated with other circus performers in town. I’m disappointed that I haven’t received any hate mail. None! I mentally prepared a list of responses: about the sanctity of the human body, we are all naked underneath our clothes, nudity doesn’t equal sexuality. I was pumped! I was ready to go on TV and defend it, but I have not received one negative thing about this show.
I think that is my only disappointment. I think you expect that when you put yourself out there. You expect that somebody won’t be on board. Hopefully someone comes up to say they’re offended so I can thank them for giving me the full art experience.
Where are you from? Where have you been?
I was originally born in Connecticut, and also lived in Chicago and North Carolina in the Bible Belt. I moved to Los Angeles where I studied Japanese, and served coffee in a coffee bar for a year.
After that, I met my husband-to-be. We met in 2006, got married in 2008 on Leap Day. We’ve had only one anniversary so far! I’ve been in Peterborough ever since, since this is where he works. And fortunately for me, this is such an artistic and vibrant community, which is something that I have noticed.
People who grow up here tend to really dislike it, but people who move a lot are really happy here—happy that a place like this exists. Peterborough has so much of everything, in such a small amount of space. Compared to the Bible Belt in North Carolina, this is an amazing place to flourish and be creative.
Performing nude fire art must take a lot of courage. How do you do it?
I’ve tended to notice something with fire art: no matter what you are doing, no matter what level of skill, people watch you when you’re doing something with fire. They’re either expecting a train wreck at any second, or they want to see something beautiful and captivating. Or a combination of the two.
So, I think how it ultimately came about, is that Kipper (another performer) got us a gig at a naturist resort, and he said we would be performing naked. I agreed, thinking of it as a free vacation. I didn’t think about it until we actually got there.
There’s a transitional hour where you feel a little like something is wrong. After that, you become so desensitized to nudity that it doesn’t mean anything to you anymore. And it was honestly one of the best performances we’ve ever given. So that’s what led into this project.
What is masculinity? Does masculinity even exist?
Not too long ago, there was a group I was a part of called Discussing Alternative Masculinities (DAM). I find that, despite the fact that I regularly wear eyeliner, people tend to assume I’m straight. I feel true masculinity isn’t about upholding some sort of status quo.
In this day and age, it’s tough to be a “man.” It’s being yourself at whatever cost that might be. If you are alienated and ostracized for thinking differently, and you are true to yourself… that’s being a man. Men are upheld to a lot of standards that they don’t really talk about. It’s hard! It’s hard to be a man.
I’m not coming down on women because I think it’s hard to be a woman. I feel sad for people who don’t go out there, and do what they truly want with their lives, instead ending up in a little narrow box because they’re too afraid to break out. I think that’s what it’s all about, being a man. It’s hard!
What are your thoughts on being a gay man in Peterborough, in Canada?
I’ve heard it said that you should be the change you want to be in the world. And as far as the change that I would like to see… I don’t define myself by my sexuality. I just live according to the life I want to live. And whoever I want to sleep with or fuck is inconsequential.
The more I just be myself, and go through my life, and don’t make a big deal about my sexuality, other people won’t make a big deal of it either. I definitely don’t measure up to the stereotype of a typical gay man.
I’ll still do things that are gay, and things that are straight. I’ll do what I want to do. There are plenty of ways to live your life; you don’t need to follow a stereotype. I’m just a person. I want everyone else to just be a person.
How do you choose to define yourself?
I don’t know! Every day I am growing and learning. I’m doing what I love. In fire-spinning, there’s no school. I learn from other people. Every day I wake up and think “what the hell am I doing,” and expect that at any night a police officer will knock on my door and say, “you stand accused of having no idea what the hell you’re doing.” And the best thing I can say is, “You’re absolutely right! I have no clue, but it’s going to be ok, because I’m making it up as I figure it out!”
What would you say to anyone who is questioning their identity?
Listen to your favourite music. Don’t be afraid to be alone. The more time you spend by yourself, the more time you get to know yourself, the happier you’ll be.