Last night, I attended my first D.C. Pride event and I am completely sold. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company presented SpeakeasyDC’s production of “Don’t Ask, Do Tell: stories about coming out, coming clean, or just plain coming.” SpeakeasyDC puts on a great show: bluntly honest, hysterical, and heartfelt. This production not only exceeded expectations, but it brought something else to the evening as well: non-judgmental Pride.
MC and Co-Director, John Kevin Boggs, made it clear from the start that this show was about Pride. He stated the stories were all as unique, diverse, and complex as the storytellers sharing with the audience. And the show certainly proved that: as each speaker took the stage, it was clear that each person was proud to take a stand to unabashedly share his or her personal experience.
As the audience applauded each person off stage, I though to myself, “man, I feel bad for the next one who has to follow that act” — but each individual spoke confidence and excelled. I began to see a pattern in the stories: each storyteller willingly stood alone on stage to share an anecdote of their life, expressing who they truly were and have become, and each moment was welcomed in a safe environment. Everyone had managed to get through whatever events, good or bad, life had handed them, coming out on the other end, not unscathed, but a different, individual, and unique person.
The stories shared were unique, ranging from explicit sex scenes, to hilarious anecdotes, to sharing real emotional trauma. Without giving too much away, stories ranged from: overcoming a language barrier for a sexual encounter; coming out as the first transgender college athlete on national television; a personal journey from an advocacy position as a “straight spokesperson for gay families” to embracing being a lesbian; and a story of dancing shamelessly at high school senior prom with the person you love, despite the family effort to “fight the gay.”
At intermission, when I had a chance to sit back and absorb the atmosphere, I realized not only the performers were welcome and accepting, but the audience was completely open and happy as well. (And, yes, at the risk of being cliché, Lady Gaga was playing over the loudspeakers at this point.) And as I attempted to decipher the sentiment behind this overwhelming vibe I was feeling, I realized that it was completely non-judgmental. Despite the judgment that was occurring within each story, at that moment, I felt the entire theatre offering a safe space of understanding to each instance of discrimination described. A judgment-free space is an uncommon experience, as I constantly sense judgment coming from all sides in a city like Washington, D.C. For the two and half hours of the show, I felt none of that—only empowerment and inspiration transcending from the stories to the audience.
In her story, Natalie Illum put the evening into perspective, describing a realization she had: that being queer isn’t always about who you love but about being comfortable in your own skin and helping other people to be comfortable with who you are. She recounted a slogan she had used campaigning for an event: “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re fabulous, so don’t f--k with us.”