Bi Demi Me: Or, an Exploration in Sexual Identity

Hi there. It’s me. The blogger. For those of you who might be new here, here are some things to know about me: I’m a Hufflepuff. I’m starting a new job. I have watched Good Omens about five times in the last three months and I’m not about to stop rewatching it so help me God. I’m a trauma survivor who’s spent the last year completely reorganizing my mind and my heart and my life, which means I’m returning back to myself in a way and rediscovering/uncovering things about myself. One of these things is demisexuality.

I’ve known for a long time that I have a complicated relationship with sexuality. I didn’t really experience anything that looked like sexual attraction until my late teens/early twenties and then it was built a lot on just wanting someone to be attracted to me and/or someone who wanted to kiss me. Growing up as a young woman in a certain social context (Catholic school up through half of fifth grade, a grandmother who asked me every Christmas starting around age 10 or so if I had a boyfriend, a society focused on wanting women’s bodies to look slim and fit and fun like Jennifer Aniston from Friends or one of the Spice Girls) I felt a certain pressure to meet certain socially constructed goals or expectations – have a partner to take to Homecoming and eventually Prom. Get married in my twenties. Have a family? (Okay, I could never see myself having kids, but I did entertain it for a very short time.) I struggled a lot with loneliness in the last twenty years (as an anxious, shy, only child who didn’t make friends easily, there were a lot of reasons for this) and, as the dominate narrative I saw in stories involved romance, I began to yearn for a significant other by the middle of high school. Up until then, I couldn’t understand a boyfriend. I genuinely thought boys my age were gross and didn’t really feel any sort of interest in anyone other than Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings and Ewan McGregor. I had a few awkward crushes on people in my life, generally because I cared about them a lot and, as I wasn’t good at sorting my feeling but I was good at ruminating on them, I dwelled on them and thought they might be crushes (they weren’t – not really. It was a platonic kind of love we don’t discuss enough in the world. But that’s another post).

By college, I began to to panic. I had never been kissed. I had never had a boyfriend. I decided college is when this would happen. College was, instead, a landslide – moving aside the rubble of who I thought I was and trying to uncover the true person underneath, the person I’d buried under graphic t-shirts and sarcasm in high school because I was afraid of being seen as week or vulnerable. During this time, my crushes on actors continued (notably, John Barrowman, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Tom Hiddleston) and I explored the world of Tumblr. Around this time, I first heard the word asexuality. Thanks to Tumblr and Sherlock Holmes (and the BBC show Sherlock), this identity became present in my life – the absence of sexual attraction, not due to physical issues or trauma, but because one simply did not experience it. I found this incredibly relieving – as someone who had a sort of a sex drive but didn’t feel compelled to act on it, who didn’t feel attracted to anyone, unless I knew something deep or significant about someone. I became very good at getting weird crushes-that-weren’t-actually-crushes on people I wanted to like admire or like me. Meanwhile, the only romantic thoughts I actually had were towards fictional characters, usually played by notable British actors, because I learned a great deal about the characters in the course of whatever media I was consuming. As people began to act weird about the “never being kissed thing” (one friend’s boyfriend notably remarked, “How? It’s not like it’s hard”) I began to think that maybe I didn’t approach physical interaction and attraction the same way as everyone else.

I struggled with a great deal of body image issues (that’s not actually past tense – I still struggle) that made it hard for me to think that anyone would be attracted to me. I believed men (because yes, right now, I thought I was only attracted to men) were attracted to certain types (tall, blonde, generally looking like Rachel McAdams – which I understood, or Taylor Swift – which I didn’t understand). I had been led to believe I was not attractive – or at least was not the ideal attractive type, and never would be – and thus I would be alone forever. This on top of simply not experiencing attraction beyond deep connections with fictional characters was… a lot. I cried about it. I panicked about it. My (then) undiagnosed anxiety went mad about it. I thought there might be something actually wrong with me. I tried to read about asexuality, greysexuality, and demisexuality (which I related to most and told a few people I might identify as) as much as possible, but I still felt like I was doing something wrong.

I began to worry about time – if I didn’t get kissed/ get a boyfriend/ have sex by a certain time, it’d be weird. I’d already become an old maid in the eyes of my grandmother, I’d already spent the entire semester of my Human Sexuality course panicking about being the only virgin in the room, and I was also trying to figure out how the hell scientists could research sex without feeling super weird about it (note: I’m still trying to figure that out. Looking at you, Bill Masters). The entire idea of porn revolted me and made me scared. Seeing someone naked also scared me. My own body scared me. There was a lot of fear.

And then I fell for someone, a real in the flesh person, in 2014. I got my heart broken, and I acted like an idiot, but it was real. I had my first sexual experience, which threw me into a literal and figurative tizzy. And then my brain did something very, very stupid – in threw out all the things I thought I might new about how I felt about sex and decided that I was up for anything. I had two one night stands (which I felt humiliated about and still do, despite arguing that I have no reason to). With my ex, I wanted to experiment – I’d recently come out as bisexual, realizing that I was actually attracted to all genders, now that I was feeling attraction (albeit in a still pretty limited sense). I’d already had certain negative experiences with it – there seemed to be a sense that bisexuals were into free love, multiple partners, and rough sex – which simply wasn’t the case. I’m embarrassed now that I felt such a pressure to have sex and a yearning to explore it (and try to convince myself that it could be good) that I wouldn’t say no. Of course, there was the added caveat of this being a toxic relationship and that when I did try to place limits, I was cajoled into other actions. It was like a bit of overcorrection – I went from not wanting sex to thinking I wanted sex all the time. And it caused me a lot of stress.

I regret that I didn’t see what I see now – that I wasn’t comfortable doing what I was doing and that I didn’t communicate that. On one hand, I wanted to explore my sexuality, and I thought I would get that. But I got exploring it only on my ex’s terms. I kept expecting things to change and they didn’t. There’s a whole lot more going on here than not really allowing myself to be honest with my ex and myself (bad communication all around and lots of other stuff as discussed in previous post), but there was probably an underlying layer of this tension throughout. True, my body was keen on exploring sexuality and it felt good thinking about it, but the actual experience was… well, simply put, it was not great.

Post-break up, I was back to being disgusted by sex. I thought it was an inability to be attracted to anyone else due to heartbreak, then later shame and regret when I realized how upsetting what I’d done and what I’d been through was. Months later, that lack of interest in sex is still there. And, thanks to the reemergence of asexual narratives in my life (can I hear a wahoo for Good Omens?) I started thinking about the asexuality spectrum again. Because, like other sexualities, it is a spectrum. I know that bisexuality is a spectrum – though I struggled through not feeling bi enough, there is no one way to experience it. Likewise, asexuality is a spectrum. Being attracted to someone threw me off and, while I do have some sex drive and interest in physical behavior, by and large I am far more interested in emotional connection. I prefer cuddling and talking and establishing intimate bonds more than anything else. As I’ve learned from my weird British actors crushes (again, thanks, Good Omens, for another realization), it’s easier to establish feelings when I know something about someone (or a character) – and the more I know, the easier it is (fictional characters or people you don’t actually know have the added benefit of allowing you to write scripts about them in your head and, as you don’t actually know them, they won’t disappoint your or throw off your scripts). Though I thought my sexual experiences and behavior meant I couldn’t be demisexual, I was wrong – again, it’s a spectrum, and what I might do is not indicative of my entire sexual preferences (this was discussed in a film I saw recently – You, Me, and Him – I have mixed feelings about it overall but this part was a nice touch). Also, it’s an ongoing process – I’ve learned things about myself I didn’t know before. And, thanks to articles like this wonderful piece from The Guardian, there’s a lot more discussion and representation out there about the asexual spectrum, and a lot more for people like me to read and help them understand themselves (side note: Dan Savage is mentioned in this article and I used to fervently listen to his podcast. While he’s on the money about some things, trans and asexual identity are not it. But more about that another time).

I also want to focus on being single – something I hated when I was younger and love being now. Being single is nothing to be ashamed of. There’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, I’m a far healthier and happier person being single than I ever was in when in a relationship (that was indicative of the relationship of course, but point being – don’t be in a relationship if it’s shitty simply to avoid being single). Some people never want to be in a relationship. That’s fine. Some people never want to be in a romantic relationship. That’s fine. Some people only have sexual relationships. That’s fine. Some people only have romantic relationships. That’s fine. There’s a lot of ways to be in this world. And we need to start accepting them all far more.

The new piece for me to grapple with is bisexuality and demisexuality – because I am both. Or at least, I am a demisexual who is attracted to all genders – at least in the sense that I could have relationships with all genders. I suppose technically I am a demisexual – biromantic (which is represented in the first of the images at the start of this piece). Or can I simply say I’m a bisexual-demisexual? Can’t I be both? Can’t I show that bisexual people are not all focused on sex? At the end of the day, words fall a bit short. But I know more of who I am than I did just a year ago. It’s another coming out – but coming out is a never-ending process, really, especially when you have identities that are misunderstood or thought to not real. I always felt drawn to bisexuality being represented by mermaids, but I really feel keen on making narwhals be representative for my specific identity. I’m not a myth but people think I am and no one really understand the things I do. But I know and I’m happy. And that’s what matters.

I hope to keep writing about my experiences with this intersection of identities and I hope to further represent the ace spectrum. But I’ll start here. I’m the blogger. I’m demisexual, bi, and I’m done being what people think I should be. I’m me and I’m perfect as I am.

A Way Forward

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For those of you wondering: is this going to be a personal blog now? Here’s the answer: No, note entirely. But also yes. Yes and.

In order to write about writing, theater, and the arts in general, I need to show where I’ve come from. The past couple years of my life have drastically changed me as a person (somehow simultaneously bringing me back to a more authentic self, more connected to who I was when I was growing up and also someone different – a little less afraid, a little stronger, a little more scarred and accepting of my scars.

I’ve changed greatly as a writer too – I used to have this sense of blockage that kept me from writing frequently. Post-heartbreak, post-world turned upside down, I don’t have this same struggle. Finding time to write is a continual issue but, after a lot of work soul-searching, and writing when I didn’t feel like it (especially when I didn’t feel like it), I have more ideas than I can handle. Not that I was short on ideas before but wasn’t like this. Have I exorcised what was blocking me or am I possessed by something new?

Everything in my writing goes back to current events and my personal philosophy that is growing and evolving with me as I evolve and grow. This is also why it’s important to know the background of where I’m coming from, why current politics have greatly effected my writing, and why it makes writing all the more important. Many of my friends who are artists and I sit around wondering how and what we create in a world where every day is like a fight to survive. The world has always been this way for many of us, of course, more so for some than others. It’s wound tighter now and it’s more visible than before and many of us who have privilege are experiencing this struggle for the first time. Some of us are more likely to take risks and say things we were afraid to say before – because if not now, when?

So – yes, this is a personal blog. This is a theater blog. This is a writing blog. This is a blog for me to rant and hope and fight for change. This is me to talk about fighting against mental health stigma, against ableism, against homophobia and biphobia and transphobia. This is a place to reckon with white privilege, to denounce racism and white supremacy, and to recognize how it continues to work on me – and resist it. This is a place to support femme and nonbinary voices, resist the patriarchy, and fight against toxic masculinity. These things have become clearer than ever for me and I expect they will become more clearly expressed on my blog. And so away we go.

I Won’t Go Down With This Ship: Or, What Happens Next

In a transition between my last bomb-drop of a post and whatever is to come, I’ve penned this letter to myself as a retrospective look back and recognize how far I’ve come. There will be more about theater and writing soon, but for now, this is what I have for you. 

Dear 2018 me,

Hi. This is you in 2019. Believe me when I say things get better for you. You’ve gotten your first or second significant crush since “the break-up” (which has earned its scare quotes quite strongly, I might say). So what if said crush is on an unattainable Welsh actor who’s been on the periphery of your awareness for the last decade and has now overwhelmed you with their talent due to a certain mini-series which, due to the excitement it will cause you, I won’t name and will leave you to discover for yourself. The point is, the crush – regardless of who it’s for – is an important sign of growth, a realization that your heart is healing, has healed, is moving on.

How did you get from floored heartbreak that you never thought you’d recover from to this? It’s a strange evolution. And one that is difficult to track.

Part of you is still filled with concern writing this. As you scrawl away, you feel somewhere that it is a betrayal of trust, that you have somehow hurt him. You are already concerned that your Instagram stories and posts have hurt him. Perhaps this will too. But on a scale of damage, this is small compared to what you could do, what you have been tempted to do which, thankfully, 2018 self, you do not do. Though you hate to compare different experiences of pain because each experience is different, you have aggrandized his and ignored yours in the past and you cannot downplay the damage he has caused you anymore.

One of the last texts you will receive from him before you stop responding (it will not be ghosting, I want you to know – ghosting is dropping out at the middle or beginning of a relationship, not in the dumpster fire that has been the end in order to make a clear finish and give yourself the boundaries you deserve) will be “sorry that I caused you pain.” You will wish it was a genuine apology – but you will sense that it is not. Not after months of stringing you along after breaking up and promising to have a conversation that never happens. You will refused to go down with this ship. You will not let this destroy you – you will break free and find a better place to journey to and a better way to get there.

Lord willing, one day you will stop writing about this. You very nearly have. You have written a hundred plays no one will ever read about what has happened to you and it has done you so much good – both in terms of your strengths as a writer and as a person. You have discovered whole new stories you never though of writing before – in fact, you are writing now more than you ever have before. You have discovered new books and shows and things to fill your life with that have helped you recover, not just from this but from years of buried memories and abuse. Books like Good OmensGoodbye Sweet GirlThe Hating GameCinder, and Carry On will fill your life with utter joy. Pure joy is not something you have felt in a long, long time and you will be amazed at how good it feels.

You have reclaimed Neil Gaiman as one of your favorite writers. When you were with your ex, it was something that somehow belonged to him. You bought him a copy of a Gaiman book one Christmas, one you hadn’t read yet, thinking he might read it and share it with you. You’re not sure he ever actually did read it. Now you’ve bought yourself your own copy, allowed yourself to delve back into fandom, and have watched Good Omens five times, despite the fact that you were afraid to even watch it once, thinking it would remind you of your ex and one of his favorite authors. But it didn’t. Neil Gaiman was yours long before you ever knew your ex liked him and Gaiman has always belonged to you, as have all the other things you care about that overlapped with your ex. You regret on one level that you gave away a few copies of Gaiman novels and short stories but you’re glad those who took them will enjoy them and you know it was part of a grieving process, one that led you back to a stronger, better you. If you gave those books away, would you have ever bought your own copy of View from the Cheap Seats? Would you ever have made it back to the place where you can happily read Gaiman and celebrate fandom and talk happily about the days when you liked Twilight? How long has it been since you’ve allowed yourself to enjoy things without caring what some would-be partner thought?

You will beat yourself up for taking so long to have these epiphanies and realizations and waking up from what feels like a very long bad dream. It is only after months of therapy, a great deal of arguments with yourself, lots of side-eye from friends and voices of reason, having him not show up again and again and again for you (especially in the wake of a family death and graduation from grad school), and sobbing through a Brandi Carlile concert – which will most clearly define the shift in your grieving process to one of moving on – that you can see more clearly how you feel and what has happened. Time gives a sort of clarity, one that brings a whole new lens to your life. You are ready to remove toxicity from your life – not just your ex, but others who don’t respect your boundaries, jobs that don’t value you, and systems which have made you feel broken and wrong. You will be come stronger, weirder, queerer – and you will feel the most authentically yourself you ever have in your life.

You hope by writing this you are throwing a life vest to someone who deeply needs to leave an abusive relationship or needs assurance that things get better. Or maybe for those who need to see some hope or just need to hear the truth. As one of your favorite actors in the Twin Cities said about your previous post, “You could be someone’s Jessica Jones.” This might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said about your writing. If anything, you are doing this for yourself, to remind yourself how far you have come, how much you have grown, and how much growing you still have to do. You will no longer shy away from the hard conversations. You will no longer be afraid to speak your mind. You are amazing and you are finally able to see it.

Lots of love,

2019 me

 

 

A Call for Boycotting CTC

Note from the blogger: For those of you who have been working in the Twin Cities theater community for some time, you may know about the abuse scandal at Children’s Theatre Company that occurred in the 1980s. For those of you like me, you may have only learned about it shortly before or after the Laura Stearns Adams, a former child actor and coworker of mine at the Guthrie, sued the theater and the matter went to court. The theater was found negligent but not liable and overall the matter seems to have been concealed once more. Thankfully, that is not the case. While public media is by and large not discussing this, many of us in the theater community have discussed it over and over, especially with the recent death of John Clark Donahue. Now, Laura Stearns Adams has spoken out again on her Facebook page about her experiences. As someone who has recently started attending CTC, an advocate for survivors, and an abuse survivor myself, I knew this was not something I could stay silent about. I asked Laura’s permission to share her post, the entirety of which is below. Please read and share. I myself am joining the boycott and will no longer be attending CTC. Rather, I will speak out and advocate for Laura and other survivors. And for those of you looking for more information about the case and for resources about abuse, please visit this post written by Chris Peterson at OnStage Blog. #boycottCTC

A CALL FOR BOYCOTTING CTC:

I am a patient person. Some might say too patient. I am also a person who wants to see the best in people. I am not a pessimist. I want to believe that people are intrinsically good and I give the benefit of the doubt. That is, until proven otherwise. I now have all the proof I need to call for an all out boycott of The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis.

Here are some facts to help you understand why;

-In December of 2015, I filed a civil suit against CTC and Jason McLean for the sexual assault that happened to me in 1983 while I was a student there. I filed it because of the MN Child Victims Act which allowed for my case to be brought fourth in the civil court, not the criminal court.

-Seventeen people filed civil suits because of abuse they endured at CTC. Hundreds could have.

-In order for the truth to be revealed about what happened to the students at CTC back then, we needed to have the legal platform of a the civil court, otherwise we could be sued for slander.

-If I could have done this in a criminal court, I would have.

-Because years we’re going by with no resolution to any of the cases filed against the theater, I was required to go through all of the difficult hoops again. Some of those hoops include probing depositions and psychiatric evaluations. Trust me, they are not fun.

-We were not allowed to present evidence at trial that showed that McLean’s criminal activities extended beyond me. Victims of his that were abused after May of 1983 were not allowed to testify at my trial because the defense objected to it saying that McLean’s activities after my abuse was irrelevant and the judge ruled in their favor.

-I have been sexually assaulted four times in my life by four different men. My lawyers argued for me to not have to give testimony of the rapes that happened after McLean. The judge did not agree and I was required to describe every one of my sexual assaults at my trial.

-Kim Motes, the current Managing Director of CTC, was allowed to testify at my trial, giving testimony to how great they are today and how they only have an operating budget around $8m. My lawyers objected on the grounds that her testimony is irrelevant to what happened back in the 1980’s and would prejudice the jury. The judge overruled and allowed Motes to testify.

-Because the law requires that juries NOT be instructed about who has to foot the bill of what ever they deem fair as a judgment, they only need to worry about the number, they were not told that the Insurance companies who covered the theater at the time of the abuse are the ones who would be required to pay. Unless they already knew that, which most people don’t, there would be no way for them to know that this is an insurance liability issue.

-In January of this year, after a 13 day trial, CTC was found negligent for their part in my abuse as a student at CTC back in the early 1980’s

-I was awarded a judgment of $3.68m but because the jury did not find CTC liable, only negligent, the payment of that judgment would fall to Jason McLean, the man who raped me.

-I will likely never see a penny of that judgment because McLean was allowed to sell his properties, the Varsity Theater and The Loring Pasta Bar, to his business associates, and flea the country. He currently resides in Cabo San Lucas and can not be extradited because this is civil court not criminal court. His assets are safely out of the country.

-My lawyers have filed for a mis-trial, citing several reason in a court hearing on Friday, not the least of which is the fact that the judge allowed Motes to testify and that never should have been allowed, especially in light of the fact that he would not allow the two Jane Does that were assaulted after me to testify.

-On Friday, I sat in a courtroom and listened to CTC’s lawyers argue that I should have to pay $283,792.25 of CTC’s trial fees. This is called “taxation of cost” and is only allowed to be an option to the prevailing party in a trial. CTC was found guilty of negligence. I’m not sure how this is even allowable.

CTC’s administration and board would have to sign off on this request for taxation of cost. They know they got off the hook by the jury not finding them liable, and now they are going after me. So, in a nutshell:

CTC was found negligent in the case against them, that proved that the institution placed children in harms way, and now they are going after me, the childhood sexual assault survivor who was harmed because of that negligence, to pay cash dollars out of my own pocket, for proving their own negligence.

It is the last straw for me. I know that these kinds of cases are very much in the hands of the lawyers. This is their arena. So I have sat patiently waiting to see how CTC’s current administration would chose to respond to all of this. What the survivors of CTC want is for them to own their part. To apologize. Not say how sorry they are for what happened to us and wish us well, but to publicly own the fact that their very existence as an institution today is because the well being and safety of the students was sacrificed for the INSTITUTION ITSELF! They would not EXIST if the kids hadn’t been silenced. If the right thing was done back in the 1980’s, when all of the shit hit the fan, the theater would have gone under. Instead, the board of directors and administration saved the theater and vilified the children who came forward at the time, saving the theater and their reputation, which never deserved to be saved. The BCA investigator who testified at my trial referred to the place as “a cesspool”. My lawyer says that in the 35+ years he has been doing this work, he has NEVER seen anything like what they have found through their investigation. They should have gone down. They didn’t. They survived. Those of us who were assaulted there still have nightmares. CTC needs to help those that were harmed, take a real stand, not deny their culpability and put “policies” in place, but take some damn initiative to make things better for children all over! Stop hiding from the past! They want to own their legacy of 50+ years, OWN ALL OF IT!!!

I have taken the high road through all of this, trying to give CTC a chance to do the right thing, not wanting to make things ugly because I believe healing happens in the light and we don’t need more discourse. But this personal attack on me is enough evidence for me to take a different kind of stand. I ask that you not buy tickets, send your kids to their classes, audition for their shows, accept jobs or support them in any way until they do the right thing by the survivors. If you work there, ask yourself if you want to work for an organization that would do this to the survivor of sexual assault who brought the truth to light. Other theatre companies, make a point of reaching out to employees of CTC and offer them work so they have other options around town. To the other theater owners, artistic directors and administrators, board of director members around town, call on CTC to do the right thing. Many of you are my friends. Do you think this is right? If you are okay with it, ask yourself if you would be okay with it if I were your daughter.

(above post by Laura Stearns Adams)

Little Women (Jungle Theater)

Jungle • Little Women
Photo credit: Rich Ryan

About the Show: 

Based on the much loved novel by Louisa May Alcott, this play follows the story of Jo, a young woman growing up in Massachusetts during the Civil War, and her three sisters Meg, Beth, and Amy. The three struggle through the hardships of war and the difficulties of being a young woman in a society that has certain expectations for them while their neighbor, Laurie, has similar struggles as a young man. As the five come of age, the world around them changes and their relationship and connections to one another change as well.

Why I Chose to See It: 

This play was commissioned by the Jungle to playwright Kate Hamill (whose adaptation of Sense and Sensibility was performed in the Guthrie’s 2016-2017 season). Hamill is a wonderful adaptor and she’s a female playwright who’s work I eagerly follow. This play is a world premiere and I would see anything Sarah Rasmussen directs. I grew up around the story of Little Women and, though the ending troubles me, it feels like a strong part of my childhood (though I only read the full novel for the first time in the week preceding the show).

My Response:

This play is beautiful. It has all the charm and elegance of the original story (and all the same plot points and character quirks) with a distinctly modern edge. The language feels contemporary without being utterly 21st century and the conversations are loosened from the 19th century novelistic style to a more conversational stage-friendly tone. The events in the play – especially Jo and Laurie’s conflict with their gender identity and expectations, Aunt March’s bigotry and classism, and Meg’s frustration with being an overwhelmed mother with an unhelpful husband are all seen through a lens of where we currently sit in the present day and the show gains a fresh, powerful flavor from this stance. What makes this story so compelling is the words it gives to the struggle around women in America, especially women from everyday lives who may not have great adventures and epic stories. These women still have stories that deserve to be heard and, in this heartwarming and heartbreaking play, Alcott and Hamill work beautifully together to let these stories be heard. And at the end of the story, when things feel they end not as we would like, Hamill uses her power as a playwright and Jo’s own character to reflect on this tension and give us some satisfaction even as we cry through the curtain call.

Also, the cast for this show is absolutely marvelous. Every single actor on stage nails the characters they embody. The March sisters themselves work as a fine-tuned quartet and each of their emotional extremes and personalities work in harmony with one another (even when that harmony involves personal discord between the characters). Also, if you’re a fan of Michael Hanna, he leaps out of a trunk. You’re welcome.

Overall:

Go see this show. I continually feel tension with the idea of “classics” in American literature and the assumption that there are stories that everyone knows. However, this is one American story that is worth telling – and this adaptation clearly shows why. You do not have to be familiar with the original book to enjoy this play and you certainly don’t need to be a fan of the classics to attend this show. Better yet if you aren’t. This story is for the person who wonders if their story is worth telling and what to make of a world where they feel they don’t fit in.

General Information

Little Women is written by Kate Hamill and directed by Sarah Rasmussen. It is playing now through October 21st at the Jungle Theater. Ticket and show information can be found on the Jungle’s website.

Dear Grace (#metoo)

Dear Grace,

I know this is not your real name, but hello. I read the article that was posted about you on Babe.net in which you discuss a situation that happened with Aziz Ansari. I would like to first say I believe you. There are plenty of reporters right now from CNN, the New York Times, and especially the Atlantic* who would rather complain about how you are making mountains out of molehills or accusing Ansari of not being able to read minds or any possible rhetorical strategy they can find to belittle your story. Do not let them belittle you. Your struggle is real. I understand it well. Because #metoo.

I admit that I was shocked when I initially heard about the allegations against Ansari. I enjoyed his book Modern Love and like his work. However, at this point, I’m finding that a lot of people I admire have done less than admirable things and, while no one is perfect, there is a difference between making mistakes and owning up to them, and hiding them and pretending to be a perfect of example and using your power to do so. I work in theater and I hear about how all too often someone’s success is used to protect them. It is part of the reason I am so afraid to discuss incidents that have happened to me. I am also afraid because of the responses to your stories, in which people blame you for being too ignorant, of not saying “no” clearly enough, of not facing the issue head on and feeling upset about it later and using it as “revenge porn” (clearly the reporter from the Atlantic who uses this phrase has absolutely no idea what revenge porn actually is). As a person who has felt upset about an incident and later was unsure how to handle it, I feel these are unfair attacks. I have been in situations where I could have more clearly communicated how I felt but I was so surprised that I was never asked or it was assumed that I wanted something a certain way that I wasn’t sure how to proceed from there. The point of your story is that men do not ask – they take – and that we live in a culture that socializes them to be this way. They assume if we are sexually active that, even if we are drunk, our mumbled yes is consent. They assume that if we say yes to one thing, we are okay with anything they do. They think that the moment they are done with us, we should be done with them and they do not care about our emotional well-being afterwards. They think that we can read their minds and we can completely understand what they want and that their needs come first. They think because they talk about feminism and post about feminism, it makes them a feminist and it some how absolves them of the sexist things they do in their personal lives because they present themselves as a feminist generally but fail to practice those things in their personal life. I of course am using “they” broadly here to talk about issues I have seen in my experiences. For those who would call me out, I don’t mean “all men” but several I have had encounters with. The fact that I still have to say “not all men” is an issue of how I’ve been socialized to excuse and avoid and pardon the flaws of men while women are constantly being reprimanded and people of other genders are kept invisible in most of these discussions. People of other genders are affected too. The patriarchy is not good for anyone. Why we perpetuate it and continue to give it power is beyond me.

Here is one of the many reasons why this matters: of the partners I have had (a statistic I will not disclose because that’s no one’s business), I have had exactly one who has asked me what I wanted, who has checked in with me, who has made sure that I am comfortable. He has taught himself to do this – I have not had to ask him to listen. We are working to listen more to each other but the fact that he started by asking, that he started by listening is something I have never experienced before. He is my current partner and we’ve been together for many months and still I am surprised when he checks in with me, when he wants to know what I want, when he asks questions. This should not surprise me. Having a male partner like this who is like some rare unicorn in the midst of everyone else is not the way things should be. But I’m afraid that the desires of women are terribly misunderstood and misrepresented. These reporters are not helping but reinforcing what has already been built against us. We are like birds, throwing ourselves against the bars of a cage and hoping the bars will break. I believe that one day the bars will break, or that someone will open up the cage. But it is going to take time. Until, stay strong, and I will keep fighting for women like you, like me, for all women. I hear you. I believe you. And #metoo.

 

*I am not linking to these articles because I do not want to be sending readers directly to them. They are poor excuses for reporting and opinion and the Atlantic piece is especially badly written.

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.

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Photo by Tony Nelson

“This play should not be well behaved,” Alice Birch writes in the notes for her play Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. One of the most powerful things about Birch’s play is the language and form and how it misbehaves – it violates the expectations for how a play looks on the page and how it’s written, how dialogue works and how a plot is structured. Frank Theatre is currently staging this gem at Gremlin Theatre’s new space in St Paul and I couldn’t have hoped for a better company to tackle this piece.

With a powerful ensemble of Charla Marie Bailey, Joy Dolo, Jane Froiland, Emily Grodzik, Grand Henderson, and Gabriel Murphy, this play certain misbehaves. This play grapples with the difficult and often contradictory ideas throughout the waves of feminism, from refusing to marry, to starvation as protest, to “my choice.” I would have love to have been a fly on the wall during rehearsal to see how lines were split among the actors, who was going to be in each scene, and how the lines interact with each other. For those of you have never seen the script, Birch breaks away from the conventions of typical playwriting and doesn’t often note what character is saying what line (in fact, only in one specific scene are certain characters given names).

What I love best is how this play deals with layers of feminism – pointing out how large the issue really is and how often we get pushed into dealing with smaller issues. It reminds me of an episode of the Savage Love podcast that Leslie Vincent initially told me about – guest performer Rachel Lark sings a song about freeing the nipple but decides that it’s too nuanced an issue after the election of 45. She instead sings a song repeating “women are people” because that’s where we are. Another podcast I listen to (called Nancy) remarked recently that sexism has changed – it’s become more sinister and harmful in a way. It’s somehow hard to point out the workings of the patriarchy when it’s learned to hide itself – or even when it’s so clearly blatant (looking at you, Harvey Weinstein and 45) that it surrounds itself in power so that it can’t be taken down.

This show also struggles with the ways in which women take each other down and perpetuate the patriarchy themselves, how they have been taught to harm each other in ideas of resistance, how “my choice” is a complicated idea, and that men too are affected by the patriarchy that confines the idea of what a body is supposed to look and act like. It’s not often that a show this refreshing and bold comes along and I’m so glad that Frank is doing it. It’s exactly what we need right now to give us perspective and the drive to keep resisting.

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is written by Alice Birch and directed by Wendy Knox. It is playing now through October 22 at the new Gremlin space in St Paul. Ticket and show information can be found on Frank Theatre’s website. 

Juliet: a poem

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Source: author’s photo

I’ve decided to play around with content out here and start including writing that’s not limited to reviews or thoughts on shows. As I’m working on the Guthrie’s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet as the literary intern, I’ve been thinking a lot about this play. It used to be one of my least favorite, but not because of the play itself. Because of 9th grade English, Taylor Swift, and Bella Swan, I found myself hating how the play had been appropriated into our culture instead of what the play actually contained. Revisiting it in my reading and research (and planning to see a production of it by Mission Theater Company this Friday) I did some soul-searching and rethinking about what in this play did intrigue me. Turns out I actually really love this play (as I do most Shakespeare) so I wrote a poem about it. 

Juliet
“beautiful flower”
A contradiction
Portrayed so often
as an ingénue who doesn’t know
the pain of heartbreak
(or so someone would like me to believe)
Yet she would rather die
than live without her Romeo
live a life caged in
by iron bars and iron ways

Though she is seen as sweet and simple
her world is pain
filled with relentless violence
senseless hatred
poisoned words and poisoned minds
Perhaps she has learned to hide this pain
(as so many women do)
Beneath bright skin and cherry red lips
a storm rages

Though she fights no battles on the page
she is a badass, a warrior
turning against society’s norms
Bold bright and cunning
she listens to her mind and heart and body
instead of numbing herself to the pain of the world
and doing what she is told

She spurs her family
trading blood lines for life lines
and breaks out of hatred
based on names
based on bodies
based on prejudice

Some claim Shakespeare wrote this tragic tale as a warning
of what happens when fools fall in love
of romantic love overtaking family bonds
and children refuse to listen to their elders
But perhaps it’s a different warning
a warning of what happens
when we refuse to let ourselves love freely
of violence begetting violence
prejudice begetting prejudice
Cycles that repeat because
we cannot break free from the wrong kinds of passion

Juliet
too often reduced to petty love songs
and cardboard characters
in love for the sake of love
Society would prefer me to hate her
(and I did, not so long ago)
because it would prefer me to be jealous
(that greened eyed monster)
jealous of her looks
her innocence
her love
but most of all her freedom
Her fate is not one I want
but if my choice is death or a cage
it would be death that I take
She took her own life
rather than live with hate
with losing the power to make up her own mind
with hatred, the greatest pollutant of the soul
She battled against the darkest of foes
a battle women continue to fight
(we have died that same death a thousand times)
Still that fight goes on

 

 

The Awakening

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Source: facebook.com/SavageUmbrella

I’ve been trying to find the words to describe Savage Umbrella’s The Awakening, playing now at the Southern. And I have to admit that I’m more or less lost for words.

This isn’t a new phenomena for me recently – more and more I’m finding it hard to discuss shows I’ve seen in an review or post. Part of that I think is due to pressures around me. And part of that is due to how do I, as an artist, discuss another artist’s work?
The Awakening has the added caveat of being a highly musical and visual piece, so much so that I can’t describe the experience because you simply need to see it. And while any show is like this, The Awakening, based off of Kate Chopin’s landmark novel of the same name, takes emotional moments and performs them through movement and musical styles. A novel which takes place primarily in the mind of its protagonist, the unhappy Edna Pontellier who desperately wants to break out of the fragile mold society has forced her into, it at first seems an impossible work to adapt to stage. However, it’s the perfect story to tell because it is so emotional and, with the waves of feminism we ride like waves on the sea, it once again feels very present and very live in our current culture. Though it deals with Victorian women and their yearnings, it contains a force that is still very much alive in the lives and minds of modern women.
With a marvelous ensemble of Emily Dussault, Nick Wolf, Amber Davis, Seth K. Hale, Alexis Clarksean, Mike Swan, Russ Dugger, Nathan Gebhard, Lauren Diesch, Nayely Becerra, Rachel Kuhnle, Tinne Rosenmeier, Aaron Henry, Eric Marinus, Thomas Ferguson, and Daniel Rovinsky, with music performed by Nic Delcambre, Carley Olson, and Alissa Ona Jacobsen, the world these performers create grips you and ensnares you. Edna’s life of leisure on Grand Isle which becomes a life caged in back in New Orleans becomes a portrait of a life that cannot be fully lived as long as one’s society does not fully accept you. In the middle of women’s history month and in discussions of current events, a play like this has never felt more important.
The Awakening is adapted and directed by Laura Leffler-McCabe and created by the Savage Umbrella ensemble, with music by Candace Emberley. It is playing now through March 18th at the Southern Theater. Tickets can be purchased on Savage Umbrella’s website.

Feminist Sensibility

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Source: guthrietheater.org

Last night I saw the Guthrie’s performance of Sense and Sensibility. Since I’m a staff member at the theater, I can’t review the show. But I am going to share some thoughts with you that the show and program notes provoked as well as some issues I’ve been juggling around in my mind for some time. This may have little to do with the show, but it served as a good jumping off point.

In the program, there’s a piece written by Kate Hamill, discussing what it’s like to be a female playwright, especially a playwright to adapts novels into plays. Hamill gives us statistics from the Dramatist Guild that state in 2015, over three-quarters of all plays produced on American stages were written by men. As a playwright myself, this isn’t new information, but seeing just how large the gap is between male and female writers is shocking. It’s even more disconcerting given the quandary I find myself in at the moment.

I’m worried that I’m having a crisis about feminism. After discussing with friends how much feminism has changed from the 1960s and how millennial feminists are dealing with issues that are different than what second wave feminists dealt with but still feel threatening, I struggle with knowing how I to approach certain issues. The example I’ll be using is male feminists.

Let me break this down for you. I did some research, trying to find a really good article about how it’s hard to talk about feminism with your male friends, even when they consider themselves feminists, because – well, the patriarchy is still alive and well and their views aren’t mine and communication is hard. I mean, it’s hard to talk about feminism with female friends (feminism is downright hard. But more on that in a moment). I was really hoping for some pithy article to actually got the nuances and the difficult emotional issues involved – something with a nice does of both skepticism and empathy. Instead, I found articles like these. In New York Magazine, the writer cuts down male feminists and simply states that men will always be the enemy and that’s that. They can try being feminists, but it’s ingrained in them not to be. This is valid, but a bit harsh. And a bit narrow-minded, I think. But then on the other end there’s this article from the Washington Post that calls feminists out for being misandrists and making mountains out of molehills over issues like mansplaining and friendzoning. So, yes, sometimes feminists get really negative. Sometimes this hurts more than it helps. But our anger is valid. And while clearly mansplaining is not comparable to, you know, getting the right to vote, it’s also not fair to brush it off as a non-issue. Then I hoped for some kind of sense to be found in this post from Medium, which seems more calmly concerned with male feminists rather than hating on them. Except that it seems to assume that men are only feminists because it can benefit them and doesn’t pause to consider things like women also watch porn, women can also be guilty for only caring about issues that relate to themselves, and, good God, why are mainstream articles so petty? There were other posts too, but they gave terribly obvious advice like “Don’t rape.” Really? You have to put that in an article on how to be a feminist?

So after seeing Sense and Sensibility last night and being inspired by seeing women take the stage in a story that (more or less) is about relationships between sisters, being incredibly happy to see a cast that had so many women in the artistic and creative side, and seeing audience members warmly respond to it (despite having heard people complain about it being “too conservative” for the Guthrie’s new season or uninteresting because it’s all about women), I decided to take some advice from Marianne Dashwood to heart. “Leave me, hate me, forget me. But do not ask me not to feel,” she cries. So, I’ve decided to write the article I wish I could have found. And I’m going to unleash a lot of feminist feelings on you.

Remember when I said previously that feminism is hard? Yeah, it’s hard. The basic premise is very simple – people of all genders should be equal. But the practicing of it is much more difficult. Feminism is no longer focused on getting voting rights or fighting for a woman’s right to marry when she chooses or proving that women are the intellectual equals of men (though we still have continue to argue these things from time to time, which is frightening). Feminists want a lot of different things because lots of different terrible things have happened to women and it takes a lot of arguing to point that out. And that’s the tough part – one doesn’t just decide “women are equal” and you’re done. It’s an all-day, every day, 365 days a year argument against cultural norms that have built up social injustices (aka: the patriarchy) and it takes a lot of work. It’s exhausting to resist a culture that is so focused on certain standards of femininity, body image, behavior, sexuality, and so on. Especially that not only are men taught inequality towards women, women are taught it to each other. We’re taught to critique each other’s appearances and bodies and general state of being. And it’s more exhausting when you’re not only arguing with people who aren’t feminists, but people who think they’re feminists but maybe don’t have the whole picture, as well as arguing with yourself.

Here’s my major concern – I’m worried about how the patriarchy works on feminism. I’m beginning to feel like there’s certain ways of being a feminist that more popular than others. After seeing friends mention those friends of theirs that will team up to destroy the patriarchy, I wonder: do I look like the kind of person who would do that? Why look; why do I have to look like that kind of person? And yet I wonder. I think some of my female friends would say yes, but I struggle think whether my male friends would say so. To be honest, I feel like either my friends – and usually this applies to male friends, but perhaps I’m more aware of it with them than I am others – are weary of my perspective or think it’s not edgy enough. Either my complaints are too commonplace or I’m making too much of an issue. I find myself seeing a new double bind, the double bind of a female feminist who has male feminist friends but doesn’t feel like she fits in with the female feminists they know or, at times, with feminism at all.

I’m beginning to wonder if there’s something wrong with my perspective. Not in way that white female feminists are criticized for not branching out into intersectionality; I make that as large of a focus, especially as I’m a bi anxiety-ridden woman in a city with fairly large diversity. What I’m concerned abut in my perspective is that maybe I’m great at discussing and talking about feminism but not so great at practicing it. But how do I practice it when things keep me in check? Little passing comments from people that cut off my arguments, lack acknowledgement of issues I see. Feeling like if I talk about feminism, no one cares, but if someone else says the same things I do, it’s more important. Am I not cool enough to be a feminist? Am I too uptight? Too angry? Too anxious? Too conservative? Too liberal? Too prudish? Too sexual?

And we’re back to the whole issue of being too much of something, an issue that feminism has grappled with forever.

I’m hopeful that most of this anxiety-driven and that I’m grappling with myself, not others. Because I don’t want feminism to become this water-downed fashionable thing that people find cool and hip to be and not really think about what it implies. Don’t get me wrong – I want people to be feminists, even though some find it scary to be part of a label that large and broad and you can’t control. But I don’t want it to become this sort of marketing “I’ve got a t-shirt that says feminist so I’m one but I go home and gaslight my girlfriend” or “I’m a feminist which means I as a woman can pass judgement on the choices of other women because equality means I can criticize them all I want.” The articles above worry me so much because the continue this sort of feminism that doesn’t really seem to understand how it applies to ourselves. It’s all fine and well to point out how other people are bad at feminism, but how about overcoming our own flaws? How about talking about how much work it takes to be a feminist, especially in regards to yourself, or your ex, or your boyfriend’s ex, or someone who’s choices look nothing like your own?

On the other hand, I don’t want feminism to feel like an exclusive club where you have to prove yourself to show you belong, which is where I feel like I am right now. I’m clearly really passionate about this and it largely fuels my writing. I want to keep talking about this because it’s important and it needs to be discussed. I know what it feels like to be ignored or silenced with these issues and I don’t want that feeling of not being taken seriously to perpetuate. But how can I include feminist perspectives in my writing without being called out for being the wrong kind of feminist? How can I write about any of this at all in a way that makes sense? What more can I do to avoid these feelings I have about not being good enough? That I’m too angry or too emotional, too sensitive or too fragile for what feminism wants me to be?

This is a problem, because feminism is not about being one kind of woman, or one kind of person that supports feminism. My views are valid because of my experiences and, while I certainly don’t know everything, I want to listen and learn about the perspectives of others. I used to believe that diverse perspective could bring us together around a common goal – a goal of equality – but I’m beginning to worry that’s not the case any more. I don’t feel a coming together. Especially when I still have to fight to understand where my own friends are coming in their perspectives of feminism, especially my male friends. Especially when I’m still fighting with myself to feel like I belong. There is never going to be one way to be a feminist, but it feels clouded by contradictions, double standards, and a push-pull feeling of trying to move forward towards new goals but still fighting to protect rights we’ve already gained but are still threatened to be taken away.

I know that change can’t happen overnight, that we can’t ask for instant remedies, and can’t look to feminists, especially women, to have all the answers or to fix it. But I’m curious to know if these feelings of not being on the same page as others, as feeling too radical, of being too much, too sensitive, are fears that other feminists have. I’m sure they are, but how do we deal with them? How do we acknowledge that our perspective is valid? How do I understand where my friends’ views are coming from and understand without invalidating them? How can I talk to my male friends about feminism without sounding preachy, how can I avoid giving them feminism 101 when they do understand it, how do I make them realize they don’t get it when they think they do? And before you think this is only about men, it’s not. I’m embarrassed by the number of times I’ve heard women say sexist things and I’m more embarrassed that I didn’t intervene in some way.

I don’t think there’s any easy answers to this. But I do feel that it’d be better if we talked about our flaws as feminists more frequently and acknowledged that it’s really difficult, regardless of gender. Same goes for acknowledging hidden racism, intolerance of the GLBTQA community, ableism, and so on. I’m tired of feeling angry and that I’m doing something wrong. I’m even more tired of getting angry at friends because I don’t know how to express how I feel about this issue or how I respond to certain things they say and post. I want to be a better feminist and I want feminism to do better in general. None of us are perfect, our ideals may never come true, but working towards them and not giving up, but acknowledging how much damn work it is feels like something, at least.