I wasn’t thinking when I stepped out into the night, vintage Colt revolver in hand. I was merely seeking a breath of fresh air and held the peace keeper because I’d be needing it soon. The neighborhood I was in wasn’t the nicest, but that wasn’t why I was packing. I wasn’t looking for trouble, a fact supported by the gun’s empty chambers. Nope, no trouble here, in fact I was carrying as Dan Belford, a character in, “Chaos At The Cannery.” The gun, real as it was, was just a prop.
I walked into the cold air, inhaled once, looked at the heavy gun in my hand, immediately spun around, and returned the weapon to the props table. There’s an old saying about not tying one’s shoes in a watermelon patch and this certainly fell under that edict. It’s not sufficient to be up to no good, it’s also imperative that we not look like we’re up to no good.
What thoughts would reasonable passersby have if they saw a man lurking at the back door of a community center, gun in hand? I may be slow, but I can be taught, and this little non-incident transformed my intellectual knowledge concerning the importance of how we appear to others into visceral; what my brain understood conceptually my gut now recognized. Head knowledge is a good start but it was the addition of life experience to theory that created a transformative moment.
I had another transformative moment February twentieth in downtown Raleigh. I was again in a public building, Saint John’s Metropolitan Community Church, and I was again in a part of town where I don’t usually hang out. I was in Saint John’s because the church is partnering with Bare Theatre in presenting Dustin Britt’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s, “Timon Of Athens,” a show in which I have three small roles.
Our Timon has a dozen actors representing dozens of characters and in many ways we’ve turned the play ninety degrees. Among the meta-mega-themes visited is an exploration of gender, gender-roles, sexual orientation and gender-based power and domination. Shakespeare wrote my three characters as males, but I decided to make “Painter” a woman. I found my reading of Painter flowed better with the sex-change and my need to transform multiple times from female, middle-class Painter into high-caste Sempronious and low-man Isidore’s page is facilitated with Painter being female.
Our Timon production is big on small, meaning most of the character changes are done on the fly using an accessory to clue the audience in concerning who is being represented at a given time. Page wears a green necktie, Sempronious a particular sweater, and Painter has a lovely pink and peach flowered scarf she wears around her neck. It was the scarf that gave me my latest transformation from intellectual to visceral knowledge.
Our accessories adorn black on black costumes. During play practice I stepped out from the rehearsal space and headed to the rest room; my lovely print scarf tied daintily around my wattled neck. I enter the men’s room and encounter a man within. Freeze frame.
Many of my friends have expressed an ever increasing fear of both personal attack and an eroding of protection under the law as Donald Trump progressed from fear mongering candidate, to vitriolic president elect, to hate spewing, lying president who denigrates and threatens people who are not his kind of Americans. I have sympathized with my friends’ fears and concerns but I had not felt the emotional or visceral pain that they were expressing.
Donald Trump is a polarizing figure and I feel that the documented increase in hate crimes that accompany his presidency are directly tied to Trump’s grotesque pandering to groups that love to hate people of color, non-Christians, migrants, and those who identify as LGBTQ, to name a few of Forty-Five’s targets.
Let it be fully understood that any uptick in incivility, increase in hate crimes against the minorities listed or lessening of human rights is abhorrent, especially when fueled by the “Leader of the Free World,” but it is imperative that we utilize risk assessment as we live our lives and the numbers show clearly that despite greater incivility, an increase in violence, questionable arrests and a host of other germane issues, each of us faces more life threatening (or ending) challenges on a daily basis than those our post Donald Trump for President American new reality has created.
I am not suggesting that we minimize the degeneracy of the Trump world but only that we recognize the difference between perceived versus actual risk. Hey, it’s important that we remember that society is slowly progressing to greater equality and it’s super important that we don’t attribute more power to the haters than they actually have; know what I mean?
Those were my feelings as I left my protected theatre space and stepped into the church’s restroom where I saw both my scarf clad reflection and a man who looked at me in my ultra-fem boa; it was then I understood. Viscerally. I understood what everyone knows, that fear is not rational and that our brains are hard wired to fight or flee when confronted with visitations that put our hackles up. Merely stepping into the restroom with my Painter scarf brought a gut reaction of fear; fear that I had put myself in a situation where I would be belittled at best and Heaven knows what at worst, all because I didn’t look “normal.”
My fear, as real as it was, was completely unfounded. Saint John’s MCC is not LGBTQ tolerant, they are LGBTQ loving. I was about as likely to be confronted in that restroom dressed in a pink tutu as I would be dressed in a navy blue suit, but my split second fear was very real and no one should have to live in fear simply for being who they are; we all deserve love and grace and we all deserve a president who can build bridges between diverse groups, not pit us against one another.
I have a lengthy list of “ah-ha” moments that I’ve collected in the last half-century, moments where I learned enlightening life lessons and now I can add a visceral understanding to my tepid intellectual one concerning being ridiculed or threatened for falling outside the norm. I’ll be sure to remember. Keep loving everybody.