Being Queer and the Fear of Death

In my play Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs I perform a scene as two characters–Chad, a queer studies major who has to take over the introductory to quee theory class since Dr. Eugenes, the transgender professor is out that day, and Federico Garcia Lorca, the early 20th Century Spanish poet and playwright. (see scene below).
 
The audience learns pretty quickly in the play that Chad is not what they expect. Instead he reveals he is intelligent, deep thinking, insightful and willing to expose injustice. At first though they just see a fem guy and make all sorts of assumptions about him and about me for portraying him as a fem guy. 
 
Take a look at the scene and then I’ll tell you how I have been using it lately. 
 
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=go1IElk23QQ&hl=en&fs=1&]
 
Often I speak at various venues and then do a series of excerpts from my various plays. I almost always present the scene above as I did at the Lambeth Conference when I was invited to speak their last year.  The scene with Federico ends with Chad saying, "Federico wasn’t just another pretty face; he was someone of substance. And because of his political beliefs in the midst of a fascist dictatorship and because he was openly gay, they killed him."
 
After a pause I come out of character and address the audience and explain that many people hide parts of themselves. They expend a great deal of energy to cover the fact that  they are transgender, lesbian, bisexiual, gay. Often they do this because they fear death. In some cases and far too many places they fear actual death, violence perpetuated against them by people on the streets, from their governments or in some cases from their own family and friends. But there are other deaths that people face which keep them from being fully open and honest about themselves–
  • the death of vital relationships–parents, siblings, friends
  • the death of a career dream or a call to ministry
  • the death that comes from losing their place in a faith community that has meant so much to them
This fear of death can keep people silenced and on personal lock down for decades. They may slowly emerge in anonymous venues like on-line communities, but far too many live half in and half out of the closet, never fully present, never sure how they stand in the world, desperately needing to come out but desperately afraid of the consequences. 
 
I know what it is like to exist in this way and the extreme relief of finally coming out along with the losses that comming out can bring. In my presentation I then read this poem I wrote about the half in/half out living.

 
                              Riddles

We speak riddles to ourselves,
proclaiming,
in whispers,
“I am OK”

But strapped to our backs
We bear a wardrobe,
the opposite of that portal to Narnia,


a closet that dumps us into a smaller world,
a cramped, musty place of shadows.

“I don’t want to upset my mother.”
“My brother will never understand.”
“No need to flaunt it.”
“It’s only a tiny
part of me.”


A part muffled in a velvet-lined padded valise,
Jammed in the back of a wardrobe,
besides dusty boxes of dreams and desires,
A place where we speak riddles to ourselves.

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This post has 4 Comments

  1. GreenEyedLilo on August 28, 2009 at 10:51 am Reply

    Absolutely heartbreaking. I wish people would get it. I’m glad you’re trying. I also love that you celebrate fem gay maleness. It doesn’t get nearly enough respect even among LGBT people.

  2. Sheria-SA on August 28, 2009 at 12:13 pm Reply

    I love the outfit in the video with its eastern influence…Peterson, have you ever thought of doing stand-up comedy?

  3. Natasha Yar-Routh on August 28, 2009 at 4:45 pm Reply

    I live that life half in and half out of the closet. You inspire and give me strength. Thank You

  4. Laura on August 28, 2009 at 5:21 pm Reply

    Beautiful poem, I can definitely relate. I am out to some of my friends but not to all of them, and I am not out to my family. It would be such a relief to come out to everyone, but I am afraid of the consequences.

    Thanks so much for this.

    I saw you perform “Queer 101” at Imago Dei MCC in PA last year, it was amazing!

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