I just came back from a theatre workshop run by Tim Miller, a well-known American performance artist. He does a lot of work with queer sexuality and experiences in his theatre work, and the professor for a class I’m taking next semester called Gender and Theatre emailed us to say that it would be a really, really good idea if we went to the workshop tonight, as well as the show he’s putting on tomorrow, as we’d be discussing both of them in class next semester.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I walked in. I did not expect it to be so emotionally charged, so draining, but simultaneously really affirming. I don’t know how to explain the workshop without sounding corny, but it was about grounding theatre and how we make it in ourselves, as individual theatre practitioners. How do we make theatre using our own experiences, using what knowledge and insight we have, how we saw the world when we were young and how we see it now? In doing the workshop, we all opened up and let people into portions of our world, using an experience that resonated with us and that we wanted to share in our own unique way.
As we stood in a circle holding hands, the first question Tim asked us was what was something going on in our lives, thoughts that were taking up a significant amount of our day. I answered roughly something like “connections and negotiating my relationships with people and being a strong individual outside of them.” Relationships, what they mean to me, the forms they take, the kinds of relationships I currently have and the ones I want in the future, are things I think about with increasing regularity, as well as how I can have relationships without negating my attempts to take pride in myself as an individual defined through my own beliefs and actions, and not my relationships with other people. And because, for me, my thoughts on relationships of any sort are almost inextricably tied up with my thoughts on asexuality, that’s what my brain continued to think about for the rest of the workshop.
We talked about moments in our lives when we said “no”, when we defied whatever person or system, be it our parents, our friends, our schools, our religions, and refused to go along with something anymore. We talked about “yes” moments, when we opened up and embraced some moment, some instance, some part of our identity. At that moment, I couldn’t think of any “no” moments I strongly identified with. I usually reframe those moments as “yes” moments, because those feel so much more empowering and add a lot more to my life. I thought about asexuality. I thought about the conversation my friend and I had about asexuality, that I wrote about previously. It was the first time I had had a conversation about asexuality with another ace person. I remembered what it felt like, the teetering-on-edge feeling, knowing this was something incredibly new that I hadn’t really thought I’d actually experience. I had never expected to actually talk with an ace person in real life about asexuality, and I definitely had not expected it to be with a friend I’d known for over a year and who I’d never known was ace until recently (She now identifies as demisexual. At that time, she identifed as ace). That moment. That moment was definitely an important “yes” moment for me.
Then we split up into groups to put in 1-minute theatre pieces of those moments, using two other people to help us stage how we wanted to present that moment. I stood in the middle, with the two people standing on either side of me on the other side of the stage. I began speaking, “I’m asexual. You’re asexual. I know you know I’m asexual. You know I know you’re asexual. That we both know we’re asexual and we exist makes me so happy!” As I spoke the two people moved closer and closer to me until we were holding hands, jumping up and down in excitement, and we screamed the last line in unison, “I do believe in fairies, I do, I do!”
I had been wanting to scream that last line for a while. I had wanted to scream it out loud when my friend told me another friend of hers had completely invalidated her identity. I had wanted to scream it later that night in my room as I sat there, crying, not knowing what else to do. The last time I had told a group of people I was ace, their response was to say and do nothing. They ignored it. In the workshop, we didn’t talk about what was the exact experiences or circumstances surrounding each piece, but when Tim talked about my piece, he talked about how those sentences, “You exist, I exist” were powerful, explosive statements, and that’s how they should be.
Afterwards, I went back to my dorm and told another friend of mine all about it. I told her how amazing it was that I got to do theatre about asexuality. I told her that I wanted to come out, but I was really scared about doing so. I freaked out when I realized National Coming Out Day is tomorrow; I had completely forgotten it was so close. And she listened, she held my hand and gave me a hug as I sat there blubbering about how much it meant to me and say I was asexual in front of a group of people and for it to be accepted as a valid part of my experience and who I am. And as I was telling my friend, the person with whom she was doing homework with happened to overhear me, leaned over, and told me she was ace too. We exist and we’re real. We really are.
“I exist.” I’ve wanted to say those words to people for a while now. I hadn’t realized until tonight how desperately I wanted to say those words, how much I needed to let the world know and for the people I tell to absorb and integrate that knowledge into their understanding of me as a person. I plan on coming out tomorrow. I plan on putting up a facebook status to let all of the people I’m friends with, and by extension my college community, know that I’m ace. I plan on restricting my cousins from seeing this status – I’m definitely not ready to tell my extended family. Likewise, I’m not going to tell my parents. They’re not ready to listen to what I have to say and believe me.
Even as I write out that I’m going to do this, I’m terrified. What if people don’t believe me? What if people just go “Oh, ok” and blow it off, not realizing that it’s a huge fucking deal for me to say I’m ace in a public venue among people who think of me as something else. There’s been a lot of tension between the queer and ace communities on the internet, particularly tumblr. What if people I know start yelling at me for appropriating their language, for daring to think I have the right to use “coming out” to describe me telling people about my identity? What if I’m blowing things out of proportion? What if being ace and telling people I’m ace isn’t really a big deal? Why should it be a big deal? I don’t face the kind of hatred and violence LGBT people risk when they’re out. Hell, I’m romantically attracted to men! I’m even more afraid to say I’m heteroromantic than I am to say I’m ace. I worry that there will be people who will focus on the “hetero” part of “heteroromantic asexual” and yell at me that I’m straight and to shut up already, stop trying to get attention by pretending your “special”.
However, if I don’t say it, when will I say it? When will I ever get enough courage to tell the world? As we wrapped up the workshop and we shared some thoughts about we saw in the performance, I said I saw people owning their experiences. I need to take what I said to heart. In the workshop, I had owned my experience of the conversation my friend and I had, in which it was an incredible experience to share our identities with each other. I need to fully own my identity. It’s time I did so.