Last week I performed Queer 101 at Fenway Public High School in Boston, MA. After leading a workshop for their teachers earlier in the year, they invited me to share this one-person, multi-character comedy that looks at homophobia, identity and activism through the words and lives of lesbian and gay poets.
It was a hard day all around for students and for me. On August 23 they lost one of their favorite teachers, Abigail Schirmer. This was their first day back together as a community to mourn her loss and process her death. My own mom had passed away only two days before. I really didn’t know if I could perform. But once they had their memorial and I gave my opening remarks, I launched into it and gave a solid performance.
After the play, the students gathered in advisory groups to discuss the topics the play raised for them. Most students were either West Indian, African-American or Latino. From their questions and from what some teachers had shared with me, many of the students come from conservative cultural backgrounds that do not always tolerate same-gender loving people and people with gender differences.
When they gathered to share what they discussed in their breakout groups, I was struck by how basic some of the messages they heard as well as the conclusions students made on their own. One young woman thanked me for doing a show about gays and shared a revelation she had about us queer folks, “They have feelings too!”
A young man spoke passionately about how he understands how gay people are humans like everyone else. When we speak negatively about queer folks, we do not know who may be queer or who has a queer connection and is within earshot. He added that we have to stop the negative talk because it leads to suicide.
I made it clear to the students that I did not come to promote homosexuality, as some parents might fear. Rather I simply sought to make the point that even if we don’t agree with how someone lives their lives or something with their identity, we still need to make room at the table for everyone in society.
Kevin Brill, a Fenway teacher, put up some audio clips from the show. You can listen to them here.
I arrived safely in London today and sit across from one of my favorite people in the world, Jeremy Marks. He’s one of my heroes. Tonight I get to see James Alison at a book signing and will finally meet him. He’s so brilliant, I feel weak in the knees.