Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Creating art and self from the intersections

RVCBard identifies as many things: queer, Black, Jewish, woman, nerd, introvert, and much more. A playwright in the tradition of, That Sounds Cool Let Me Try This And See If It Works, she is currently working on the $1 Play Project to put on a summer production of her play, TULPA, or ANNE&ME. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, she now lives in Brooklyn. To find out more about the $1 Play Project, visit indiegogo.com/onedollarplay.

With the $1 Play Project underway (and if you have 60 seconds and $1.00, you really should give what you can), and way too much to do in not enough time, I want to take a moment (read: procrastinate) and talk about what it's like and what it means to create art from a perspective of intersectionality.

Before buzzwords like “intersectionality” came along, a lot of people assumed that womanhood was White, Blackness was male, and both were straight. When Black feminists and womanists proclaimed that All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some Of Us Are Brave, they created a new paradigm for examining race, gender, and sexuality that centered on the lives of Black women.

When I started writing Tulpa, or Anne&Me in late 2009, I had no idea I'd be doing the same thing for theatre. As much as I like to fantasize otherwise, I'm not really all that brave. I hate pain (receiving or inflicting it), and I am more easily hurt than I often let on. I'm much more prone to shyness, anxiety, depression, and exhaustion than my online persona indicates. My outspokenness about racism, sexism, and homophobia says more about their magnitude and the peril they pose to human beings than about any particular courage or wisdom on my part.
So when I set out to put down on paper some of the many thoughts and feelings I have when I try to relate to White women about race and gender (all from the perspective of a woman who loves women), it wasn't because I was intentionally trying to provoke people. It initially started out on my LiveJournal on something of a lark that channeled my infatuation with Anne Hathaway into something more meaningful. Since the discussions about race I was having with real White women were often so lacking, why not make up the conversations I wanted to have?

As Black women, we are constantly being asked to hide away or tear off chunks of who we are to make us safer for consumption. When we are with women, we're supposed to magically forget we are Black. When we are Black, we're supposed to ignore our womanhood. And we'd better keep that queer shit deep in the closet if we know what's good for us. Yet in Tulpa, all three of these identities are necessary to fully understanding the characters and the story.

Tulpa, or Anne&Me is not Intro to Intersectionality. The dialogue is pretty exclusively about race. But it's a queer woman's experience of race and how it impacts her most personal moments. The play focuses on an intimate relationship. But it's a relationship between women trying to maintain that intimacy in the face of racism and what that means for both of them.

“Your silence will not protect you,” Audre Lorde once said. Even prior to reading Sister Outsider, I may have sensed that this was true. As much as I hate being the center of attention or the object of scrutiny, the alternative – my silence – was even worse. My silence would mean allowing someone other than myself to define what my life means or what it should mean. My silence would mean becoming a shadow not only of myself but to myself. My silence would mean accepting my own dehumanization.

Despite the fact that I live as a queer Black woman in my queer Black woman body, as an artist I often wrestle with a sense that my life as I live it diminishes my art because it's somehow not as universal. But creating Tulpa, or Anne&Me cured me of that.

My art does not happen despite my queer Black woman self but directly because of it.

My queer Black woman self is not an obstacle to my humanity – it's the key to truly acknowledging and understanding it.