Sunday, January 30, 2011
Southern Presbyterian Sissy
So last night Derek and I went to see Del Shores' play "Southern Baptist Sissies" in Charlotte NC. For the uninitiated Shores is the creative force behind the brilliant play now cult hit film "Sordid Lives." If you haven't seen Sordid Lives I urge you to go immediately to Netflix and put it in your que. In any event most of his work centers around the fact he was raised Southern Baptist in rural Texas and is also gay. AKA...the perfect candidate for therapy.
In "Sordid Lives" the plot focuses on one family and their struggles with issues revolving around sexuality, secrets, and old time religion. All of which is handled with a razor wit and a heart, appropriately, the size of Texas. "Sissies" has not made it to the silver screen yet but it should. It pans out the focus from a single family to four young gay men, all from different families, and their varying experiences. It beautifully illustrates the pain and difficulty that is growing up gay in the big ole rodeo buckle of the bible belt known as the Southern Baptist Church.
Having not been raised in a consistent church setting, other than our occasional visits to the First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, I thought I would have a hard time relating to this show. Imagine my surprise when I was laughing out loud at the jokes and sobbing like a baby at the tragedies. My point is that even for us sissies that aren't Southern Baptist we feel the impact of all that hate. As one of the characters pointed out we all learned at a young age to hate ourselves, or perhaps to be fair we just never learned how to love ourselves for who we are.
Most of us relied on what social science buffs call the family of "choice" to learn how to love ourselves. Essentially a surrogate family that loves us for who we are. You see we humans are social creatures and will seek out a support system to make us feel safe and validated. The unfortunate thing is that often our new "family" is made up of peers or persons that are not that much older or more mature than we are. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how that might not end well. I for one am thankful that I chose well in my family of choice and that my family of origin came around. But it was a long and difficult journey. Shores play did a fantastic job of illustrating that journey.
The show presents an intense example of four caricatures that exist within all gay men in some measure or another. The flamboyant devil may care queen, the self loathing conservative perfectionist, the angry and indignant activist, and the one that many gay men hide with vitriol and cattiness, the sweet and gentle kind spirit. We learned a long time ago to don our own suits of armor, mine consisted of sequins and grease paint, others might be their perceived or actual success, while some, like one character, the illusion of his own superiority in matters of faith and virtue. Faced with a society and many time a church and family, that invalidates our very existence it is not surprising that most gay men are seeking ways to feel a sense of self worth. I just happened to find mine riding on what my dear friend and I call the "Glitter Bus."
I have since graduated from the spinning disco ball and disembarked from the Glitter Bus but they still haunt me. The idea of a young LGBT person spending their lives at the local gay bar at the bottom of a glass because, "it feels safe." That same young person that one day will grow up to be tomorrows "old troll" hanging on the edge of the bar desperately trying to relive their youth. After all in a gay bar the only thing worse than being fat, is old. An escape is just what it says it is and it can never offer true happiness or validation, that must come from within. It was these realizations that were my own personal impetus to radically change my life, not that I don't miss the escape, I just thankfully no longer "need" it.
So many young people have lost their lives ultimately to fear, of the world, of their families, and most tragically, success. "Sissies" has renewed my passion and fire to serve LGBT youth and their families, and I encourage anyone who wishes to have a greater understanding of the struggle that comes along with being gay to go and see this show. A percentage of the proceeds also goes to benefit the Trevor Project a national suicide support phone line for LGBT youth.
Tickets are available here:
Go and see it! If your not gay, a brother, sister, cousin, or roommate will be thankful :-)
Be blessed and highly flavored,