Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Precisely Not I

I always sit here and scribe. It is one of the few places I can feel not here, not precisely in this city. I can stare down the wide boulevard with the old women in sweats scoffing and pretend I am back in another country where my mohawk is equally disdainful. The dogs barking in the distance are chasing me again like they did that summer of the new doberman next door. That wasn't here but rather in a suburb of green and turquoise and short, wide houses.

But as I sit here I am equally in another place not all together real. It is the memory of one branch that never happened, a simple future not meant to be. I pass him unnoticed in the night. I do not stop for early morning passion on the deserted streets. I keep walking to the bed of an ex-lover yet to leave. I sleep and dream of this day of ocean winds riding ahead of marine fog and old women scoffing. The sun skews perception: this is not precisely me. I am alone and writing but I am not looking up. My curiosity is for the hidden story on the page and not in the inquisitiveness of observation. I am not noticing the hideous mismatched stripes everywhere or the Giants' fan winking. Not I is scribbling some other story I cannot read or decipher.

But that is not me nor am I there. I am simply here with a bit of coffee left in the cup and a boy passin by in a hot pink t-shirt wearing a sparkly blue Diego backpack.

I like it here even with the scoffing women. I like how the sun casts long and the man preaching salvation keeps moving along. I like the briskness of afternoons in early fall captured between the ocean and the bay. It is magical here, and I can imagine. It is why I visit and remember the not to be futures: to feel.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Beg You: Do Not Read This Trivial Meandering

These thoughts that manifest externally as if the sun has plucked them from the creases of my brain and planted them as some bird of prey, bright orange the same color as the bitter mood of yesterday's discomfort, turn. This is too much for me -- the days spent wandering, the racing of possibility. I yearn for the days of blank computer screens with fingers madly typing with nothing but an order to compose. Then, it emerges -- forever emerging -- almost like an archeologist exhuming their fist dinosaur bone, a feeling of discovery yet to be achieved.

A story, possibly about a boy whose own father has left him to be found somewhere among the redwoods -- the only place the boy has called home -- is threatened. It is being torn down like all great trees are, turned into planks and pulp. He digs his way to its roots and plant himself like so many seeds. He's never found. He is killed mindlessly as trees uprooted pierce his heart. Blood spills consecrating this future mall. Haunted, it closes only months later. The boy is left to wander empty hallways more hallow and dispirited than his dead redwoods.

Or is it meant to be something other than a ghost story? Is it meant to be fact uninterpreted and unbiased? Then, these trees are not sacred. Rather they are just trees like so many other things alive that can never speak for itself, know no heart beat, and therefore are just that: things devoid of emotion or feeling. They are just things to be consumed and any thought otherwise is strictly editorial. If it weren't for its sacrifice, I couldn't even write this in my notebook of empty paper. So even as I scribble I am hypocritical. I am western.

I am nearing the end of his tale, and all I do is weep. Facts are sorrow. They never tell the story I need to hear, and simile is a language corrupted by extremism. The sun did not pick my brain, and my bitterness is not orange. Words escape ability to communicate. So why are you reading this frippery? What hope do you have at understanding my significance?

That isn't necessary. The boy is but a circumstance just like the Soviet soldier holding a baby raising his sword to the motherland crushing the swastika. I am fearful that it will run away and find another home; I want it to be mine. I want to own and hold it and destroy it if the fancy strikes me like the passing whim of the child who plucks wings off the dragonfly or captures the firefly until its light goes out. Innocence breeds cruelty. I wonder what that baby will grow up to be.

Again you continue reading. I continue typing at this blank screen imagining you as you stare and eyes dart confused that I am speaking directly to you. It makes you uncomfortable. I can tell even if I will never watch you read. Writers don't speak to readers. They speak of themselves as if they are as important as the moon is to the tides. We are not. You are important. It is your interpretation that compels me to create the boy in the first place' it is why the Soviets built the statue. I am merely a conduit between existential imaginings and adventitious judgment. You judge me. You must judge me. Otherwise it is just a baby in his arms and a crushed symbol beneath his feet.

So what is the meaning of this? How are you synthesizing the possibility? There is so much underneath, between, amongst, above that goes unnoticed, that is still hidden in the blankness. I have only carved out one small undefinable thing; it too has no emotion or feeling. Should it be consumed? Do you claw and scrape and tear it? But it is on your screen and therefore is as intangible as the symbol. Destroying it means destroying a thing of yours. There is beauty. There is meaning. Where does it reside in you? What have you gutted?

The boy lurks. He has grown and is now a man. He is that Soviet soldier who once was the baby in his arms. The woman who weeps -- a whole manicured lawn separating them -- turns away. She cannot watch like you do. Her bravery is compassion despite the razed redwoods. She will not witness the mall. Will you? Will you visit the ghost of her son/spouse/brother/lover/father? Will you let the memory and imagination haunt your hallowed shell? I think not. It is why you read versus type at this blank screen. Does that discomfit you?

I beg you: continue your reading, even this trivial meandering. You made it, and I am desperate for your attentiveness. Don't let me become the boy; I promise I will make you her. She is so much more powerful. She is that blossoming bird of prey picked by the sun from the crevices of our collective acumen. She is orange, green, white, pink, sharp lines, and prickly points. Become her. Embrace the compassionate bravery of turned away glances.

Are you still reading? Turn away. Turn away. Turn away. Turn away. Turn away. Turn away. Turn away. Turn away. Turn away.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Clatter Obstructs

The cool ocean wind as it coasts to Oakland picks memories of forgotten falls, carries them to nose hairs, transports smells to that part of the brain that longs and seeks and sometimes yearns. The crisp immediacy beckons Lake Ada on October days when leaves as if in time lapse change green, orange, red, yellow, brown, then die. This is that and all other moments wrapped in a scarf of stark black and white warming veins and arteries confusing a heartbeat that knows no difference between contrast. All are the same. And each distinction is only a grain of sand passing through my wide spread fingers.

The light distilled by swaying leaves that will never change color and might never die disjoints time. The trick of memory and travel converge on a life meant to wander, to be stuck between objects and subjects, to always be on a bus that has no destination and never stops. You are here in the back seat waiting. Always waiting.

(S)he rummages through garbage with (her)his basket obstructing that bus forcing its stop, and you leave. It is your only chance. And you are confronted by (his)her poverty, (her)his homelessness, the stench of unbathed days. This is where you are supposed to be, and yet it is rejected so thoroughly by uncontrolled repugnance. Vomit, but not of the stomach variety, spills out of mouths, a sign of our collective distaste for things that confront and force discomfort. We never want our sphere invaded by others not invited. There was safety on that bus. Why did you leave?

Interrupted. A phone rings begging an answer that you are not ready to give. We wait for that moment when all is revealed unable to see the revelation of our current state. A revolution scratches under skin and irritates that state. You scratch not knowing, and I watch. I am (him)her as (s)he stacks cups and bottles of plastic and tin. We are the trinity: you, s(he), me. That is the beauty of English: first, second, third person implied in singular terms and yet contained in all. You, (s)he, me are our and we and they and you.

The sand that falls from wide spread fingers, each single grain multifaceted, collects its hope. I, s(he), you walk past it unknowingly each time we don't stop. There it is waiting to be found. It is in (her)his cup resting in (his)herbasket. It is what forced the bus to halt fleetingly.

We still don't see it.

We never will.

Clatter obstructs.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Taoism of Ensemble

I am a member of OutLook Theater Project. I got here on a winding road of increasing leadership that started as a production assistant. Like almost all things I'm involved in, I mold my self to the opportunity. Most of the time this means putting pieces of my self on shelves, charging ahead full steam, and taking on a "holder" role. I good in these positions.

However, the "holder" is not sustainable. It always inevitably leads to resentment, a mismatch of expectations and reality, and anxiety. Holding is tiring work, especially when what you are holding is as hard to grasp as water, as shifty as sand. I don't want that role, and I need to find a way so I don't play that part.

OutLook is in transition. We finished our first major work which took two and a half years to produce. A collective sigh was released at the end of This Many People, our original play about LGBTQ elders. There was a sense of accomplishment, pride, and celebration. We had done it!

And then there was, "What's next?" and our personal lives. The combination of reclaiming our own person as swell as uncertainty at our collective future meant we needed to plan, to actively work things out. The challenge was our personal lives were full, so we had to wait more than two months to come back together. This is not ideal when you have had success and want to keep momentum going.

In the space between our ending and our planning, an opportunity emerged with the Council of Churches of Santa Clara County. I had recently become unemployed, so I had some extra time to contribute to the project. I stepped up and decided to coordinate the event: a booth at San Jose Pride exploring the intersections of spirituality, sexuality, faith, and gender.

Coordination is a tricky thing. It enables the "holder" in me. My process of creation always involves listening to as many people as possible and finding connection between work, vision, passions, and art. I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility whenever I hear someone. I want to ensure they feel included in whatever emerges even if they don't want to be a part of it. Sometimes, it can be immobilizing. Always it produces anxiety.

After listening to a number of different people, I wrote up a plan for our booth. It was actually quite easy to compose because so many people had so many wonderful ideas. I shot it out to all involved and waited for feedback. I needed to know if what I proposed made sense, if it captured nuance, if it was as pluralistic as possible. Silence. For two weeks, silence. Our event date was swiftly approached. My anxiety grew: was this the right plan; did I offend someone; are people really committed to achieving this vision? I was fine coordinating, but I knew I couldn't do this alone. It wouldn't be pluralistic if I did.

As part of our OutLooks future planning process, we assigned ourselves homework during our two months of "down time". One of the assignments was to define ensemble as we are an ensemble theater company. I work best in groups. I like the accountability and inspiration of others. While ensemble is a newish word for me,  I much prefer collective, I know ensemble and collective are on the same die as coop, coalition, and collaboration.

I set to the task of defining the word in three distinct ways. First, the project with the Council of Churches was my experience in ensemble. I knew for my definition to hold meaning to me I had to feel it somewhere in my body. The second was to read, read, read. I opened The Second Book of the Tao. I reread sections of The Essential Gandhi. I continued reading Memories of the Future. I started reading The Collaborative Habit. I opened the dictionary and looked up definitions. I knew others would have better words than I. I just needed to find them. Third, I needed to mine my life. I needed to thoroughly dig into the recesses and find my history and memory of ensemble.

Combined, these three things transformed me. I am more my self now than when I started this journey.

The silence I received after sending out my proposal bothered me deeply. I felt like I was not part of an ensemble. My memory and body raced, and I was swept back to times when I "saved" programs by doing the job my employees failed to do rather then me holding them accountable. I was that sad little boy who stood on stage wanting to be part of the theater but was still harassed within the confines of what I hoped was a safe space. I was the "young one" at the conference planing table being silenced by elders because they "knew better". I was hurt, and in that hurt a black anxiety grew. It was only moments away form rearing its ugly head. Something had to be done.

A couple of days later, after hours of processing with my husband and best friend and growing uneasiness in my belly, I crafted an email drawing lines in sand and questioning whether or not we could achieve our goal of a booth at San Jose Pride. Immediately, there was response. People were shocked there was a question of commitment. This was definitely a go: money had been spent on the booth.

I still felt uneasy. I needed a solution that was realistic. With only a few weeks to San Jose Pride, my original proposal for a two day booth would not be successful. Nor was I willing to put more of my self forward if others weren't going to give in equal measure. I was reacting with a tit for tat. That, too, did not feel good or right. How could this be an ensemble if I was retreating to the stance of a frightened snake ready to bite? Only poison could come from this, or so I thought.

After a few brief phone calls and some internal readjustment on my end, a compromise was reached: we would only do a Sunday booth. This meant less resources and less time. It meant more focus. Once this solution was agreed upon, another email was sent confirming details. Again, I jumped to wanting feedback. I wanted to make sure what I captured was accurate and confirmed our agreements. Again silence. Again anxiety.

For two days, I dragged my books around with me pulling them out and reading and rereading passages. I was hoping the wisdom of others would change my perspective. I went and sat at Ocean Beach on a foggy cold morning bundled head to toe. Quotes started popping out at me, and I madly copied them in my notebook. Two in particular struck at me and caught me in the nape of the neck. The first is from Memories of the Future. "A correctly constructed talent is a constantly maintained balance between what one is given and what one gives back." The second is from The Second Book of the Tao. "The Master uses his skill to harmonize with both sides, and rests in the Tao, which makes all things equal." They swam through my blood stream and infected my heart. They planted themselves in my heels and sprouted out my finger tips. Then, I read, "You save the world when you save your self." (From The Second Book of the Tao.) Chills, and not the chills from the wind rushing off the ocean, rippled my body. Change was coming. I still didn't know what that change would be, but I knew it was almost here. It hit me on my journey home from the beach.

I sat on the bus anxiety coursing through me. There was something brewing in me, and I also knew I needed to take action to keep the booth on track. There was tension all over and within me. It manifest in palpitating heartbeats and shaking hands. I needed to let it all go. My body was telling me so. I reached into my pocket to grab my phone. I was going to send an email right now, so I could get a response. It worked the first time, and it would surely work again. As I ran my thumb over the keyboard, my heart changed, and I pulled out my hand leaving the phone in my pocket. My hand was still shaking.

I looked around the bus conscious of how packed it was. Then, I did something I have never done: I decided to meditate right there in my seat. I straightened my posture, inhaled deeply, and exhaled slowly. The hard plastic beneath my ass creaked its response, "You are in a public place." I acknowledged it by closing my eyes and quietly saying, "You will wake up at your stop refreshed."

Then, I listened. I listened to the shaking hand and fluttering heart. I heard the argument of the person next to me in full detail. I noticed the automated voice announcing stops. As I listened, a blackness enveloped me. It wrapped me in a warm calmness whose roots were in both anxiety and hope. I didn't need to deny my nerves and fears. I let them be what they were. Everything else took care of itself. This primacy transformed my view of self and ensemble. I opened my eyes. We were at my destination. I stood refreshed and exited the bus.

As I walked the block home, I realized what my response to the boot, to ensemble, to my anxiety was: silence. Simply, silence.

As mentioned earlier, I was asked to define ensemble. Based on my experience with the Council of Churches project, reading -- endlessly reading -- and mining my life, I have realized two things. One, It means listening to it all and letting silence be a response. Two, it means we have as much internal work to do as collective work to do. 

For we all have our anxieties, fears, nerves, and patterns and they are beautiful and make us whole. It is not all about inspiration and vision. It is about presence. For that I must be present in my self. Then, and only then, can I be part of an ensemble. 

As for the booth, it was a smashing success! Everyone contributed. Everyone. All held equal weight. I just needed to get out of the way so others could find their balance.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Manifesto of Jason W

This post was inspired by my work with OutLook Theater Project. As part of our annual retreat, OutLook asked it company members, "What do you want out of OutLook?" I started journalling my response. Then, I realized this is what I need out of anything I am involved in. So it has become a sort of manifesto in what I want to accomplish in my life and how I want to accomplish it.

Read on dear readers, and I hope you enjoy The Manifesto of Jason W.

I love the written word. I love performance. I love rhetoric. I love media. I love narrative. I love storytelling. I love community. I am not an actor.

I want a vehicle to translate literature I write into multi-media performances that transform non-traditional venues into spaces of creativity, fun, community, inquiry, and inspiration. I want to be bold and large in the creation of these works innovatively applying performance into life. I want to explore experimental techniques and deepen my inquiry skills. I do not want boxed art.

I am willing to give my whole self including my vast administrative skills in return for input into creative direction and pay for grant-related work. I am able to donate five hours per month specifically related to large picture planning and development. I am looking to be part of a team where each member holds equal weight and responsibility. I am not looking for inequitable power distribution.

I need regularly scheduled meetings to ensure accountability of work getting done. I need a dedicated pool of people who step up and step back in equal measure and have ideas, support the work of others, and seek connections between ideas to create depth and breadth. I need fun, exploration, creativity, passion, communication, and commitment. I need to feel and know that those doing the work are also seeking ways to connect that work beyond a singular organization finding opportunities to strengthen, grown and transform the queer community and identity. I need a balance of selfishness and selflessness. I do not need flakiness.

When paid, I want the pay to be an equitable, strategic investment. I want pay parity across the board for any and all work done. I want budget transparency. I want a not for profit model that actually pays people what they are worth. I want to leave the field and society at large in innovative ways to create performance and to build a model of economic revenue that invests that revenue back into the community. I do not want business as usual or to buy in to the non profit industrial machine.

I believe we can achieve all of this. I believe that doing so will take work. I believe that a strengths-based approach is a foundational model we can build upon, and that we must also address the work that needs to be done even when no one at the table wants to do of has the current skill set. I believe accomplishing all of this will take years. I do not believe it is impossible.

I recognize that to realize all of this means putting some things at the forefront and other things on the back burner. I recognize that we are a group with multiple voices and perspectives, and we may not share the same vision. I recognize that there will be compromise. I recognize that feelings will get hurt. I recognize there will be challenges. I will not recognize that al of these things cannot be overcome.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Audaciously Celebrate: What We Need to Do Post Proposition 8

Yesterday was historic: love won. It was also a missed opportunity. Instead of celebrating audaciously, partying recklessly, dancing madly, and loving loudly, Gay Inc. organized a bland rally and march in the most boring of places: the Castro. There were beautiful moments -- a lesbian Jewish wedding for one -- and gorgeous people and an air of victory, but it wasn't celebratory. I'm concerned.

We struggle day after day to live, survive, and love. Our political wins as a community are rare and microscopic. We have yet to advance any major civil rights legislation on the national level. We still get gay bashers legally showing up at our funerals. Time and again we face adversity after adversity and we still show up, challenge norms, and push boundaries. We are a resilient people.

To put is simply: we won! We won on so many levels that the only thing to do is celebrate; to rejoice with our whole beings and show the world what the victory of love looks like; to inspire those who have fought for years and those just joining the fight; to transform our anger at injustice into a fete of freedom. It is not the time for politician political grandstanding, organizations demanding donations, or protesting as usual. We need a party!

Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling yesterday structurally paved the way forward for our legal battle on the federal front. It is a lengthy 138-page document that strikes down Proposition 8 on two fronts: a violation of equal protection and due process clauses. This alone it victorious. It is also only the tip of the iceberg. Embedded into his judgment are 80 statements of facts on gender and sexual orientation. These facts systematically and legally debunk all of the conservative Christian arguments against homosexuality. Judge Walker even calls out the validity of the research on which these arguments have been made. These statements of facts can and will be used in almost all of our legal battles moving forward. That we now have legal language that disproves the Religious Right, not just researched facts, is the most historic piece of yesterday's ruling. Like I said: we won!

I tried listening to figureheads up on the platform at the intersection of Castro and Market streets yesterday. I strained my ears as the speakers quietly projected speeches about how "the fight isn't over" of "this is only the beginning". I wanted to be engaged, but these tired phrases and blase' colloquialisms mean nothing. Yes, I know the fight isn't over. No, it isn't the beginning -- in fact, it is far from the beginning. I want radical celebration. I want screaming, hugging, dancing, joy. I want pride.

I ran into friends at the rally and march. We hugged, hung out for a minute, and bitched. I wasn't the only one wanting something different than what Gay Inc. organized. At some point, a friend said something close to, "When I found out, I had to go into the SF MOMA store to find someone I knew to celebrate with. Sure, she was straight, but I needed my hug." I felt the same way, and I was standing next to my husband. Yet here we were standing in the middle of hundreds of queers all looking like lemmings waiting for permission to party. Is this the legacy of the gay machine: that we need permission?

Each of us holds responsibility for not jumping into the middle of Castro and dancing or turning to our neighbor and hugging him/her. I could have walked in to Twin Peaks and said something to compel the patrons of the packed bar to get out in the streets instead of sipping cocktails. I didn't do any of these things. Instead, I stayed in my comfort zone of personal judgment. I stayed a passive participant holding a sign handed to me by Equality California. I was waiting for permission instead of making my own. I could have done better. I could have done more.

Gay Inc. can also do better. The Castro, which a noble and historic staging ground, isn't the heart of the queer movement any longer. Queers are integrated into communities of all sorts around the Bay Area and beyond. We live in Bayview/Hunter's Point, the Mission, the Sunset, West Oakland, Richmond, Daly City, Vallejo. We are black, Chinese, blue collar, nurses, poor, homeless, Christian, unemployed, wealthy, potheads, Salvadoran, sober, Buddhist, Jewish, young, elders, positive, artists, police, business owners, radicals, conservatives, monogamists, polygamists, and everything in between. We need a celebration that honors this incredible and beautiful diversity and pluralism. We need rallies at 16th and Mission, Stonestown mall, Union Square, Grace Cathederal, on Ocean Avenue in front of Voice of the Pentecost. We need music and art. We need to use our strengths. We need the drag queens dressed to the nines and the dykes on bikes and the punks with signs filled with cursing. We need a massive outlet for our expression. A rally with the same old speakers rattling off tired talking points is something we do not need.

Let's, for a moment, review some of the significance of this victory:

1.) Judge Vaughn Walker was appointed by President Ronald Reagan not by some "liberal activist".

2.) Ted Olson and David Boies, plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case, were on opposite sides of Bush versus Gore.

3.) "Sexual orientation is commonly discussed as a characteristic of the individual.Sexual orientation is fundamental to a person’s identity and is a distinguishing characteristic that defines gays and lesbians as a discrete group.Proponents’ assertion that sexual orientation cannot be defined is contrary to the weight of the evidence." -- From Judge Walker's Rulings.

4.) "Individuals do not generally choose their sexual orientation. No credible evidence supports a finding that an individual may, through conscious decision, therapeutic intervention or
any other method, change his or her sexual orientation." -- From Judge Walker's Rulings

5.) Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional against the federal constitution.

Regardless of its appeal or the its potential result, these few facts matter and they matter in core, fundamental ways.

First, this issue has gone beyond Republican and Democrat. While lead Republicans in the House and Senate are vehemently anti-gay and anti-transgender, their base is shifting. The Tea Party is holding a certain base of Republicans hostage, but there are also liberators in unexpected places like Roy Ashburn, Meghann McCain, and Laura Bush. Democrats while talking out of both sides of their mouths -- "Personally I believe marriage is only between a man and a woman, but I support repealing DOMA -- are finding their own words being used against them by both liberals and conservatives. The real of who is for and against gay marriage and gay rights is no longer the same as that of the 1990s. It is a younger, more connected, and more savvy realm. We need to party in this realm.

Second, we now have a legal precedent upon which to build a case of gay and transgender civil rights beyond gay marriage. Judge Walker's statements of facts about the evolution of marriage, definition of sexual orientation, and gender constructs and roles show how much the United States of American has changed. And it does so legally. Color me crazy, but a legal document that acknowledges, "Gays and lesbians have been victims of a long history of discrimination" and "Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians." means that we have progressed as a society -- Religious Right, Tea Part, Fox, and NOM be damned!

This is radical! I want our radical response!!

Yesterday's rally and march missed that opportunity. We played it safe still fearful of outside perception and media coverage that could taint our image. We held ourselves to constructs of what it means to protest. In some ways, the winning of this case solidifies our buy-in into mainstream constructs of being. That is why our response to this win is so significant: we cannot just reenforce the status quo. We must be brave, brilliant, and creative. We must not conform. We must dance and sing and dress up and make noise. We must celebrate!

I celebrate this win with all of my being. It is the most radical thing I can think of to do. I feel victory in the tips of my toes. I weep at the struggle it took to get us here and the struggle it will continue to be. I write this piece not really for readers but for my self. I have to make sense of this and celebrate; audaciously celebrate.

I know this isn't the end. I know we still have hard, significant work ahead of us. I also know that if we don't celebrate our victories we won't have anything to celebrate. For it is in these moments when we must inspire, connect and love. That is the queer thing to do.

So...If you see me in the community, expect a hug, a kiss, a shimmy. For we won! We fucking won!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Compassionate Mirror: My Reflection of Q/queer

I have skirted the borders ever since childhood. I was always the queer. In fact, I was SO queer I got my tailbone broken in a game of Smear the Queer in the sixth grade. Needless to say, Queer and queer mater in my life. They are an essential component of my being as vital as blood and oxygen, as rejuvenating as my daily morning coffee, as fundamental as religion. I was queer because others called me that. I am Queer because I am.

I wasn't popular. Hell, I was called "faggot", "weird", "queer", "funny", "different", "odd", "freak, "fruit" almost every day. No one wanted my friendship. Everyone wanted my attention. They wanted me to see them, their pain, their cries for visibility. These peers were scared, hurt, reactive creatures running on instinct and urge. They lashed out because they knew no differently or had experienced the abuse themselves or because they just needed someone to be lower than themselves. I was an easy scapegoat because I was loud, flamboyant, theatrical, pushy, and poor. I was the kid in the 1980s K-mart clothing that took musical theater. I stood out in a suburb of white. And if I could be seen, even with all of my queerness, others wanted to be seen. Jealousy is a strong force.

I am/was privileged as an outsider and Q/queer. I get/got to see people not as they project/ed themselves to the masses but as they are/were. This space in shadows, borders, edges, and alleys is powerful: I am honored with people's truths. It also bears an incredibly responsibility: to be a compassionate mirror.

I haven't always been a compassionate mirror, and the weight of this responsibility has grown over time. In fact, this responsibility started only as a mirror regardless of form. Sometimes that meant only reflecting that which I heard paraphrasing it word for word until recognition washed across faces or confusion compelled them to leave. Other times, I was like that fun house mirror completely distorting the image often in unflattering and violent manners. Compassion came only as a result of seeing so many truths; often truths that conflict and harm.

Everyone is messy, disjointed, searching, and conflicted. Everyone has capacity for transformation. I have worked with white folks unpacking their privilege and watched them completely break down -- guilt flooding over faces -- as they finally bodily realize the impact of racism. I've witnessed a seventh grade African-American young man move from throwing around "That's so gay" daily to checking his peers saying, "Don't say that. You can't say that here." My mother went from trying to ban the Halloween books in my Catholic elementary school library to coordinating volunteers for an HIV/AIDS affordable housing developer.

These transformations have and continue to transform/ed me.  I never expected empathy for the white woman weeping over the loss of her reality of the young man yelling "faggot" at me or for my mother who sent me to a shrink to become straight. Yet in each of these reflections I see my self: a terrified white man fearful of his loss of power; a young man wanting to hurt others because I hurt; a caregiver fiercely protecting their stead against the corruption of the outside world. Time and reflection grew compassion.

Compassion at its basest level is queer: strange, odd, unusual. It is weird to respond to epithets with an open ear. Instinct urges fight or flight. Letting that instinct run its course silently in the background while remaining in the moment conflicts with our nature. Everything pushes a reaction, a movement, a decision. The queer thing to do is the thing no one expects: to love utterly, completely, wholly, openly, unreservedly. It is also the hardest thing to do. Living queerly is work.

I began writing this piece in response to OutLook Theater Project's, a queer ensemble theater company for which I work, need to begin defining queer. We are in the process of figuring out strategic directions and next steps as to how we will show up in the world.

I started the task by reading loads of articles on queer theory and the essentialization of sexuality in identity. Most of what I read was from the mid-1990s to early 2000s. Almost all of them grappled with the evolution of identity, politics, community, economics, social change. There is a tension between the historical use of the word as an epithet and the reclamation of it by younger generations who view it as an open, fluid, and inclusive term for sexuality and gender. There is a difference between queer -- a particular way of being that unsettles assumptions and preconceptions of sexuality and gender -- and Queer -- a reference to a diverse and broad LGBT... community. Queer theory grew out of feminist theory and gay and lesbian studies as well as any other studies that construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct identities and aesthetics. These are helpful in my understanding of queer and Queer in relation to community and identity. They are not very useful in my understanding being.

To find being, I had to mine my life. I had to put a mirror in front of my self and study its features peeling back the layers, looking deeply and inquisitively at the muscles, joints, organs, values, valves, passageways contained within this body. I had to listen quietly as my mind spun tales of faggotry, otherness, and pain. There I stood raw and naked yet fully clothed a hint of make-up from a party the night before. I am all of these people I was. I am every age I used to be. I am all of my lessons yet to learn. There staring back at me is queer, and it has absolutely nothing and everything to do with sexuality and gender.

These are the essences of Q/queer to me: loving fearlessly, transforming radically, and compassionately mirroring.

I am honored I was asked for my definition. It forced me in front of this mirror, and I love utterly what I see: flaws, scars, tears, and all.