Since the next iteration of the project is a portrait exhibit, it only seemed fitting that we prepare for it by launching our own Instagram profile! And in honor of the Stonewall, we launched it on June 28, 2019 which was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Thanks to activists such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the LGBTQ+ community has access to rights today that were unheard of five decades ago. We must always remember those who came before us and helped us get to where we are today! I was lucky enough to visit NYC during World Pride 2019, and the love and solidarity that my friends and I felt was unparalleled.
STATING MY CLOSET CASE
"I don’t wanna be labeled. Bi is as close to (nervous laugh) an unlabeled label as I can get to. And you know some people say 'oh that’s just an excuse to be promiscuous'…"
Quite often I have companies and organizations reach out to me to share their LGBTQ+ resources with me so that I can pass them along to you. If I have worked with or vetted these companies they end up on the Resource Page. However, if I've never worked with them, I still try to pass them along in a blog post, but I like to disclaim that I have not worked with them before. That doesn’t mean that they’re not good resources, it just means I cannot recommend them personally. Having said that, here's a few new resources for you that you may find helpful:
Getting stories from both sides of the closet door isn’t hard; the challenge is finding two sides of the same story. I think it’s because many times the storytellers are on opposite ends of accepting the truth. So I made it my goal in the most recent iteration of this project to recruit participants to share their coming out story along with a person to whom they came out. In the end, I was successful in finding two youth who were willing to do this. The objective during the workshop was for the participants to share their stories through games, lessons, and activities and devise a performance in collaboration with an ensemble of professional actors. This was successful and allowed me to attain my goal of growing the project and reaching new audiences. Because the funds allowed me to hire two filmmakers, I am now able to reach even more audiences by screening the performance with other community groups. I was also successful in using this iteration of the project as a model to continue the work with new groups; two schools in Chicago have already reached out to me to create a project with their students!
As always, one of the main goals of this project was to teach the participants something and create a dialogue in the community. Though audience attendance during the grant cycle was not as high as anticipate due to various reasons, I was able to accomplish my goal of creating a conversation. In the end, both the participants and the artists said they gained something from the process and also made new professional and artistic connections! I also think that I’ve solidified my image as a professional to my peers in the industry.
Timing was a huge challenge for me because I had to work within the constraints of the grant cycle, the school year, and the schedules of my professional actors. However, in the end, shortening the length of the devising workshop from 10 days to 2 days helped. As aforementioned, finding two sides of the same story was somewhat difficult, but I was able to find four pairs of participants. However, the night before the workshop, two pairs dropped out and one pair was a no-show on the day of. This just meant the participants that did show up were paid more money. I also realized that though I’ve devised work with my peers before, this time was different because I hired them and they treated me like a boss instead of a collaborator, which then made some of the actors feel like I wasn’t listening to their ideas over the other actors. This taught me a lot about how to be a better leader.
Here is another actor's thoughts before the last workshop. (11/4/17)
My expectations for this workshop are to further immerse myself in the world of LGBTQ to understand how I can help further bridge the gap between people who are out and people who are close-minded.
Also my expectation is to make a safe environment for people to share and heal; to hopefully help someone who doesn't get it; to make them click. To understand. My expectation for this workshop is to help a few close-minded people be open-minded while providing a supportive environment for these young folks to share and understand who they are and know that that is okay. People love them and support them and there is nothing wrong with them. These are places where it is safe to be exactly who they are.
During the last workshop, I asked the actors to write blogs before and after the workshop. Here is one of them:
I'm feeling a bit nervous for the workshop. I largely came to know my queer & trans identities through my studies in college: they are rooted in modes of critical thought as well as in my personal experience and knowledge. But those modes of thought are not readily accessible, especially to folks who haven't gone to college, which obviously these youths have not [yet]. I hope that we are all able to find ways to communicate with each other across the identities that don't bind us together, be they differences in race, class, gender, etc. The term "LGBTQ community" is misleading in that we are composed of so many disparate pockets of communities--some of whom have nearly nothing in common. I'm going to continue to breathe deeply and make myself open to the people in the room and the process that lies before us over the next few days.
Wesley Slone, a student from my alma mater of Morehead State University recently contacted me after I was a guest speaker via video conference with SPECTRUM, the alliance on their campus. He was writing a research paper for class about the impact of social media, more specifically YouTube, on the next generation of LGBT youth. Here's a little excerpt with my quote in it!
For some people they are afraid to come out because they are afraid that they will be treated differently or not accepted. When they look on platforms like YouTube they see that they may be treated differently and sometimes not accepted but it’s okay. There are people that because they were different they could have the biggest impact on someone else’s life. As quoted by Jonathan Mayo, “These internet sensations have come out in personal video confessions blazing the trail for today's youth. Many of them have built their fan base as openly gay men right from the start such as Troy Sivan and Tyler Oakley. These brave individuals allow youth to feel represented in the media and not alone in the world.”, there are individuals like these that use their fame to trail blaze and show youth that they are accepted in the world.
I'd like to give a big shout out to SPECTRUM, the alliance on campus at my alma mater Morehead State University in eastern Kentucky. I was so honored to be their first guest speaker of the semester via Skype last night. They asked me all about Cleaning Closets and the work I do in the LGBTQ community. In fact, one of the students has asked me for a quote for one of their research papers. I just hope I can live up to my apparent reputation. These youth give me hope for the future. They play a major role in making the coming out process easier for everyone!
In a moment of self reflection, I recently decided to thumb through some old journals that I've been keeping since at least middle school. In doing so, I stumbled upon and entry from January 19, 2002. In this journal entry I laughed about the great date I had with one of my best friends. We went to the movies, and when it was over I chose not to go to the bathroom because I saw some gay boys that made me nervous because I wasn't out to anyone else yet. Only myself. And I hadn't even been out to myself that King at this point. Perhaps about a year. In this entry I state that "I almost met some gay guys in the bathroom (at least I think they were gay--I don't have official gaydar yet)." I thought this was hilarious and so telling of who I was at the time. And I love that it was on paper instead of the computer. It made it more nostalgic. I've grown so much since then.
Guest Blogger Eric Yoak is a fifth year at Morehead State University. Originally from Willard, KY, he studies Strategic Communications. He has served as a board member for Campus Pride Board of Directors, performed on stage in the original production, Cleaning Closets, and hosted LGBT events since beginning his college career.Read More
Like the clasp on the bracelet pictured here, I finally got closure. Last week I got to Skype with the ensemble from Morehead after not even getting to say goodbye to them due to the massive snowstorm in Kentucky. Our entire week of performances was cancelled. One performance was rescheduled for a date when I had already returned to Chicago. Great for the students, sad for me. I also sent them a care package with pride bracelets made by Moonshine Gems and cards made by Frances Mayo Photography. I told them to really take to heart the feedback they received at the post-show talkback. I agreed with a lot of the critiques and questions posed by the audience, but even the things that we didn't necessarily agree with are important to consider. But now it's up to the students to take their own show to the next level. Many of them are interested in editing their personal stories and submitting them to some 10-minute play festivals. I say go for it! In a post-show survey I gave the students for feedback on the program, one of them said that they want to "use [their story] to help people on a smaller scale." I wish all of them the best of luck. I can't wait to take the feedback from the students and create a better program that I can take to other institutions!
When asked in the survey what they learned from the experience, one actor said, "I am unsure what to say. I learned a lot about the LGBT community in general, but I feel like I also learned things about myself and my peers that I can't put into words. I guess I furthered my understanding/respect for others' situations. And I think I gained confidence."