My 50-year-old mother, who is crashing on my couch, came home from her 12-hour workday at 11 pm. When I told her the projected results, she started crying. I had gone outside to smoke a cigarette when conservative neighbors came home. I made myself as small as possible. I did not want them to know I existed in that moment, for our household waves a rainbow flag and they an American flag – prides which, in this moment of our history, feel opposing.
But the night of the election is not what I want to write about today.
My real story began when I woke up on November 9th. Later in the day while I’m on the phone with my partner about my experiences, they tell me that I am extraordinarily good at rising to the circumstances in crisis situations – perhaps scarily so. I agree. I have faced many crisis situations in my life, and I have learned to flip a switch in my head – one that I couldn’t properly trace the location of if you asked me to. I become a strange and calculated robot whose programmed to get himself and everyone else to the next sunrise. This is because, I’ve reasoned, I’m a workaholic who only knows how to cope with pain through preoccupation.
I woke up at 8am. At this point, I have slept perhaps a total of three hours. I am currently in the middle of rehearsals for a show I’m directing and have written on the trans identity, and we have a production meeting at 10am. If I stayed fidgeting in bed for a minute longer, I’m sure I’d shake my limbs right off. The minute I’m out of bed, that switch activated itself and suddenly I, who is always battling a thousand narratives of anxiety and self-doubt, am not thinking about my actions. I take a shower, play my favorite music, brew a cup of coffee. I wear my Marsha P. Johnson Memorial shirt and a bright purple vest I had made myself, adorned with black feather shoulder appliques, a huge, sequined trans symbol on the back, a giant splash of glitter infested bright red blood, and the word TRANS-GRESSOR. (It is, of course, topped off with a rainbow sash and leopard print fringe. If I’m going to go for it, I have always known to go for it all the way.) I see the dark circles under my eyes. That will not do. I rummage through my makeup case and pull out some glitter: pat it under my eyes. No one will see how tired I am – they will only see me sparkle.
I drive to my college campus. I sing along to Lady Gaga. I began to cry three times, but I tell myself “no” out loud every time – turn the music up louder.
It is 9 am and the campus is a ghost town. The few people I do see are walking with their heads down. The heavy sadness clings to us all. I walk with this heavy spirit as well, in fear that someone will look right through me and challenge my deepest parts when I am too vulnerable to articulate that I am strong.
I move immediately towards solace: the theatre. My theatre. My blood, my sweat, my spirit is in that campus green room. I walk in and immediately feel how sewn into the fabric of the department I am. Something tangible happens to me. I recognize safety.
I begin to settle in to review my pre-meeting notes. It looks like no one has arrived yet. Every light in the room is off, but I hear a jostle and look down the hallway to see the light in one of my professor’s office is open. Our janitor’s long broom is strewn across the hallway, which lets me know he’s inside the room talking with her: a token of life in the otherwise dead hallway. I swallow. Am I ready to talk to someone else yet? Up until now, I have been fighting alone.
Before my brain makes a decision the power of the switch takes over and I’m walking down the hallway. My professor has a mirror on her open office door, and we see each other through our reflections before we actually see each other. She is holding a tissue. The janitor, who always is playing music and smiling, is stoic. The switch tells me what I have to do.
The horror is palpable in the room, but I ignore it. I smile. I look at everyone. I hear my professor say “This is a travesty,” but I do not focus on it.
“Who needs hugs?”
I swoop in, I hug her and immediately turn to the janitor and hug him as well.
I don’t know exactly what I say – the switch has a habit of blurring things – but I know it’s something along the lines of a very ineloquent “We’re not going anywhere.”
I cannot participate in conversation. Something inside me starts to shake. This damn social magic in my body has made it very clear that I have work to do.
“Alright, guys, you two were my first. My goal is to hug everyone today, so I’ve got to get going.”
I go. I walk upstairs into the coffee shop. I walk to a group of my friends with a smile. I interrupt a conversation that ends with “We’re probably going to have to send him back home” with “Want a hug?” I hug them all. Some linger, some are quick. I feel shaky hands. I turn to the about 15 other students and café staff populating the room. I start tapping them on the shoulder. “Do you want a hug?” I go down the line of people waiting to order. “Want a hug?” I’ve got momentum.
I walk to my meeting. The air is silent outside, but I fucking smile through the thickness. I feel something radiating from me. I can’t tell if it’s fear or love, but I drive into it. I hug some more peers on the way in. I walk into the room, write “I love you” on the board and hug everybody as they come in. We conduct our meeting. Everybody is gracious with their time and voices. Everybody has come in with lists of things to do – we all lose ourselves in normalcy for an hour and a half as we find our same page in art.
The meeting ends. I knock on all of my professors’ doors (or sometimes barge into what seems to be private meetings. Sorry, teach – it’s the switch, not me) and offer them hugs. My advisor and the director I had most recently assisted under catch each other in the hallway. She kisses me on the cheek and tells me we are so lucky to be working on my show – to have worked on the show we have just closed: Caryl Churchill’s Mad Forest – a play about the Romanian revolution. I nod. In that moment I have an urge to open up, right there, in the hallway, with the fear and hunger for yesterday’s stasis that this switch magic is abiding, but we both have another meeting to go to.
I go to my department’s weekly student-run meeting. Everyone is sniffling. The atmosphere couldn’t be cut with a knife – it is too sticky. “I’ve got hugs!” I announce. I go down the line of the executive board, then the rest of the department body. I smile big, and I hug about 40 students. The professors announce a departmental meeting of coming together and conversation later in the day.
I work in my costume shop for the rest of the day. I sew dresses for our production of Oklahoma which opens the next day. I hug everybody that comes in the door. It becomes such a motif that when someone comes in, staff or peer, the costume shop supervisor directs them to me.
By 11 am, my vest permanently smells like the perfumes of at least 75 people. Their smells mingle together, create a new amalgamated scent that stays in the feathers of my appliques, continually wafting in front of my nose, reminding me I’m doing the right thing.
It comes time for my third meeting of the day. Over 100 students of the department come together to talk about the election. My professors talk to us. My white professors talk about the power of coming together and art. Our professor of color speaks tearfully that she is afraid and stands with us in that realization… and art. We speak as students about our ability to come together… and art. We say we are scared, but we also say we will not stop being who we are. I am the first student to speak. I am often the first student to speak. I feel like I am sometimes assumed to be the first student to speak. I revel in the fact that I am given this respect. I had recently become very tired as a curator of social activist theatre, my show and the questions I get from the department and general public about the LGBTQIA experiences. This is a reminder of the power of being the first to speak and that all the weariness is for the betterment of something. I notice a theme that we never cry for ourselves when we speak, but all cry when our peers do. We pass around tissues. Something brilliant happens as we all breathe in the passion and the differences in the room. We look each other in the eyes for the first time in what seems like awhile. We all realize that none of us have a clue what we’re doing next, but we all know how to tell stories. We have all come together to tell stories, have been in deep training to do so, have committed our entire livelihood to it.
A collective switch is flipped. We all realize we have work to do. We are a gifted and privileged room who has the ability to make the art that the world needs – the much – needed laughter we’re all truly dying for, the embodying a world on the stage where we can all say what we’re thinking in ways that we have no way to articulate in our everyday motions.
Rehearsals begin immediately after, in the same space. My cast is overcome. Everyone is tired. They try not to be – I can see it – but I’m tired too, and we all stop pretending. I take a breath. I go outside and have a smoke. I hear the cries of the vigil being held in our quad. I hear the revolution. It is crooning, crying, moaning – and loud and resistive. I am proud of my fearful, resistive siblings. All of their switches are flipped right now too. The switch begins to stop feeling like magic and starts to feel like the seed of change.
I walk into the room. Silence. People are hugging. Gears are turning.
I read a piece of feminist poetry. Usually, we do a thing called “hopes and fears” to start off rehearsal. We talk about what we are afraid of going into our day’s rehearsal and what we hope to achieve. I realize now is not the time to ruminate on our hopes and fears – we have all been doing that for the past month.
I turn to my stage manager. “Kara, time us. Give us five minutes.”
I start listing things I love. “I love Sia. I was just listening to her outside. What do y’all love?”
Slowly, one by one, my cast and crew begin to name things. It begins heavy. One of my cast member thanks us all for the experience of this show for opening his eyes to the transgender experience and the fear his queer siblings feel every day. We go in a slow circle, taking timid turns.
Then, the spell of fear is broken with something so simple.
One of my cast says “I love my socks.” (He is wearing bright purple socks with the word GAY written up the side.)
Another one goes “I love MY socks.” And shows off her Harry Potter socks.
“I love MY socks!”
“Oh my god, I love your socks.”
“You know what I love?”
Everybody begins to talk over each other.
“I LOVE Cheeseburgers!”
A collective “ooooooh” for cheeseburgers.
“I love Sour Patch watermelons after they’re left for three hours in the fridge.”
Everybody begins to smile.
“I. Fucking. Love. Sex.”
Everybody begins to laugh.
“I love when you do something funny during sex and you both start laughing.”
“I love chocolate!”
“I love Darren Criss.”
“I love sleeping!”
“I love MEMES!”
“I love my girlfriend.”
“I love being GAY.”
“I love a good cup of coffee.”
“I LOVE QUEEFING. IT’S SO FUNNY.”
An alarm goes off.
“Raine, I’m sorry to have to end on that note, but it’s been 5 minutes.”
We all laugh that we ended our ridiculous conversation on queefs.
“Okay, guys. Let’s make some art. Everybody get into places.”
Everybody, with a smile, does so.
The air is electric.
There is no switch.