Queer in the City
Here's a piece from a reading series I performed at recently. Some people use the holiday season to remember what they're thankful for--I think about what I'm afraid of. I know, I'm special.
It all first struck me when I was at the gay pride parade this summer. These kids were here, and queer, and putting some glitter on that. They came in every shape and size imaginable from muscle party boys on the Altoids float (yes, apparently, Altoids is the mint of the gays), to the eight-foot tall drag queens (god bless them walking 50 blocks in heels I can’t make it 50 feet in), to the metrobears, to the group of flag twirlers covered from head to toe in purple. The group’s name? The Flaggots, of course.
And the fact is, I’m sure that most of the Flaggots were not always quite that brash. I mean, some may have been the baton twirlers for their marching band in high school, but they could have also been the quiet ones with understated fashion sense that worked on the costumes for the school play. Still, I think they always had a little Flaggot trying to get out.
Am I using this opportunity to come out? Well, no. Sorry ladies, and gentleman for that matter. But I am a comedian. Now am I saying that being a comedian is like being gay? Well, not exactly. Do I think both things are something you’ve felt that you are for your entire life? And that you won’t be happy if you don’t let it out? And sometimes being more comfortable with it means that you have to open yourself up to new experiences and some of them might be scary and hurt a little? Yeah, I think that is what I’m saying.
It’s taken a long time to figure it out, but I think my biggest fear is being a comedian. And the strange thing is, I am one. Even stranger, only a minimal amount of it has to do with the audience now—yup, the drama is all in here. At first the fear was just getting onstage and telling jokes. And that was despite being the funny, Napoleonic -complex friend growing up. But I began to realize that once I conquered one fear, another one wasn’t far behind. Okay, I’ve gotten onstage, but am I really funny? Okay, I think I’m funny, but am I saying something interesting and different? Am I really exposing myself? Am I exposing myself inappropriately (I mean my soul, not, a wardrobe malfunction). Okay, I’ve been doing this a while, what comedic direction am I supposed to go in? And am I living up to my potential? And what if one day I simply develop a stutter and never again will be able to ppppp-erform onstage?
Maybe it’s my most focused fear at the moment, because I’m afraid of a lot of things. Join me on a brief tour …I have fears that I will live to 100 and everyone close to me will die. I fear that I’ll die young and it will be in a ridiculous, humiliating way, like my allergy to nuts finally getting the best of me. So I will meet my demise, much like Superman can be destroyed by kryptonite, except without doing anything vaguely superhero-like. Or that I’ll die in a self-cleaning toilet, as it almost happened once.
And there are the fears that my parents are right and that my relationship with someone of another race will never work (because apparently it’s 1952 and we’re in the Deep South). Or that we’ll emotionally scar our children because they’ll be biracial and they won’t know where they fit in. (Granted, maybe they’ll be so cute they can model, and at least put themselves through college. I’m hoping they’ll be more Halley Berry and less Tiger Woods, because seriously, he’s not that cute without the success.)
But it all comes back the comedy. And comedy is like therapy. You know what they say: Those who can, go to a therapist. Those who can’t afford it, turn to performance art.
But with anything, if you’re really going to throw yourself into it, it’s going to change you a little. You’re going to be exposed. And that’s scary, too. Between doing comedy and adjusting to living in New York (and I’ve been here for a few years now), sometimes I don’t even recognize myself.
I was coming up the stairs from the subway, when I realized that I didn’t know if I was going left or right, so I abruptly turned around to go look at the street map. As I was heading down the stairs, a woman happened to be coming up and I excused myself as I got a little too close to her.
“How about instead of excusing yourself you watch where you’re going?” the woman said with an inordinate amount of disgust.
How dare she? I was polite! I used my manners. I didn’t trip her. I was indignant!
“Well…how about you not be such a bitch!” I returned, without hesitation.
For a moment, I felt elated. Talk smack to me and you get burned, lady! And seconds later, I felt the pangs of my nice, middle-class upbringing, and I felt ashamed. Was this really who I had became? Instead of choosing my battles I just went for every single one that came my way? Was I going to be the one who sighs passive aggressively every time I ended up behind a tourist seeing the city for the first time? Or when the subway takes too long? Or “the kids” downstairs are playing their music too loud (after all, it is after 9 p.m.) At this rate, I’ll be dead by 30.
And it was then that I realized that New York City is changing me, too. So in the end I’m not sure. Is my fear that I can’t see where I’ll be in ten years and that scares the crap out of me? Or I’m afraid that the career I’ve chosen to pursue and the place where I’ve chosen to do it will change me? (And really, I don’t think I like change. It took me a long time to warm to the idea of Capri pants.)
All I know, is that I had a good, nurturing upbringing. I play well with others, I wasn’t fondled at a young age, so why I feel that the only way I can be happy is if I tell jokes to strangers, I will never know. Because I don’t think being a midget in a family of tall people, is enough to do that. And if I have to be in a place like New York, which I love, but most of the time makes me feel like a tadpole in the Atlantic Ocean, then so be it. Because there’s no way you can be in a situation like that, and not change just a little.
So I’m facing my fear: I’m here, I’m queer (and by that, I mean more the Webster definitions of “unconventional” or “mildly insane”, yes, that’s really what it says), and I’m going to live out my dream and tell jokes. And if that, and this city changes me a little, let’s just hope it’s not into someone that is angry, bitter, and unwilling to hang up her Capris when they change with the times.