Carrying Queerness With You: Reflections inspired by {my lingerie play}

Photo by Jeremy Daniel

I. Outside or, Finding Your Fellow Queers

A clump of people stand outside Rattlestick Playwrights Theater before the final performance of {my lingerie play} Installation 9/10: THE CONCERT AND CALL TO ARMS!!!!!!!!! (which would run through October 28th, 2017). Sold out weeks in advance, it’s hard to tell who is standing outside for the wait list and who has a ticket, or who is simply loitering. Despite having been to the theatre countless times, I find myself unsure of exactly how to proceed. We stand in the quickly descending autumnal darkness. I gaze around me, trying to figure out which smaller group of people I belong to, and which I’m mistakenly a part of.

During the opening of the performance — I keep writing “play,” but writer, musician, lyricist, and co-director Diana Oh stated that the show “[wasn’t] a play,” —  the air feels especially charged, and Oh comments that the team of {my lingerie play}, performers/musicians Matt Park, Ryan McCurdy, and Rocky Vega, in addition to co-director Orion Stephanie Johnstone, has just finished the final street installation at the pier. That if things feel weird, it might be because things are weird. The context of the word doesn’t seem negative — just full, swelling, tender. I am struck by how community, especially queer community, can mean holding space for complex and intense feelings.

I am still struck by this weeks after, as political legislation worsens for much of the country, as Australia rallied for gay marriage rights. I am reminded of how my high school wasn’t allowed to have a Gay-Straight Alliance until three or four years after I graduated.

Upstairs, I am encouraged to visit the glitter station: optional glitter, make-up and face paint. I choose to go for my eyebrows, and a two-color cheek highlight.

II. The Origin Story of a Superhero

The concert and call to arms is, in fact, that. It begins with a reenactment of Oh’s first love, starring Oh and Park. It wouldn’t be accurate to call it a scene, because it’s mixed with asides from Oh about her early adolescence and burgeoning queerness. Minus this first, intense love, the presence of other touchstone romantic relationships is limited for the remainder of the play.

While sections of the play are intermixed with songs with titles such as “Joe,” “Almost Impressed with You / Fuck That Guy / Super Rich White Girl Medley,” “Strong As A Man,” and “Don’t You Tell Me,” we follow a the general through line of Oh’s adulthood and find ourselves exploring the narrative at Smith College, where she learned to shave people’s heads among her classmates and community.

I wonder about the ways that our bodies clue us into selves and identities, perhaps even before we’re aware of them. Sometimes, fashion choices are grounded in conscious protest or subversion of norms, but other times we are drawn to choices — androgynous presentation or glittered eyebrows or shaved heads —  before we know what that means for ourselves on a deeper level. The politics around when, or how, someone comes out can be big, and complicated, even if that coming out is to oneself. The smaller choices of personal aesthetic can be, to a degree, a safe, private way to come to terms with who we want to be.

III. Enthusiastic Consent

One of the most striking moments of {my lingerie play} is when Oh shifts focus from the narrative — because again, this isn’t a play — and begins to explore what she calls, “enthusiastic consent.” This is employed first when she asks if anyone wants to have their own head shaved on stage. If the answer isn’t a “hell yes,” it’s a no.

I almost raise my hand to have my head shaved two times. I think about a pending interview, and my concern for socially appropriate appearance in spaces that mandate it. I think about practicalities; distinctly anti-punk, not a call to arms. I put my hand down.

IV. Love

The songs that Oh performs with her band are vibrant, punk and pop and moody, rife with emotion that explores many facets of Oh’s journey and layers of calls to arms, action, and reflection.

These moments lead to a particular level of frankness with the audience. This culminates in one manifestation of intimacy, when Oh invites someone from the audience to make out with her. An audience member in the front row volunteers, and we watch them cozy up on the lip of the stage, and Oh checking in: can I do this, is this okay, do you like this?

Consent during intimacy and between adults, in modern dialogue, often gets thrown into the wind as a great concept, necessary, but inherently unsexy. Watching Oh and her partner for this exercise kiss, it feels like watching a queer rom-com adeptly negotiated: intimate, sweet, and heart-swelling.

V.  Community

At the end of the production, after the audience is gathered up on the stage and does its best to form a circle around the theatre, Oh asks for us to do something that was done during the installation at the pier: could we go around and say our names, and our pronouns?

Slowly, one by one, we go around and share a small part of ourselves with each other. In some ways, community; in other ways, strangers, brought a little closer, seeing each other a little more, because of this call to arms.

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