V. Damn You, Mr Van Damme

Today’s my birthday so we’re gonna take it easy.

We’ve all got that one, don’t we? That one image that appears early in life and stirs in us a desire so strong that it burns into the brain for the rest of time causing you to seek it out so as to experience its thrill again and again.

For me, that image was of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s ass in the 1990 classic-in-certain-circles film Lionheart. If you’re a fan, like me, of shitty 80’s and 90’s action movies you’ve likely come into contact with JCVD’s monumental rear end. It’s featured gratuitously in many of his films, always lovingly lit, often at the end of a pan up from the feet. The shots are ridiculous, taking you completely out of the film, but tell me the truth, were you really paying attention anyway? Probably not. And let’s not forget: action films of all eras, but especially of the 80's and 90's, have been known to feature many, many more gratuitous shots of naked women. It’s a nice change of pace to openly objectify a man.  

Which, to get it out of the way, I’m not here to totally reduce Mr Van Damme to a single body part. He produced several of his films and wrote many of the scripts. And he’s not a completely terrible actor. Given the right material, he could work it out. You’ve simply got to check out the film JCVD to know what I mean. Butt (ha!), somehow I doubt the man who apparently claimed he could crack a walnut on them cakes would mind my little ode to his fabulous derrière Belgique. He put it on film for a reason, non?

The first time I laid eyes on this portentous posterior I was at my cousin’s house for a sleepover. This was during those heady days of youth when no one was really paying attention, particularly to what we rented at the video store. It was a small hamlet and everyone assumed you'd gotten permission to rent whatever you wanted. We could walk up with the most inappropriate material and the bored teen behind the counter would barely look up from the Very Important Film they were watching and say, “Due back in seven days. Leave.”

We’d rented something else along with Lionheart I'm sure of it, butt (ha!) who knows what. We'd started the first video late and by the end, everyone was pretty sleepy. We figured some brutal fight scenes would wake us right up. My cousins were super into martial arts then, obsessed with playing Mortal Kombat and having epic battles on the trampoline. I pretended I was also interested in these violent pastimes because I wanted to be cool and like, masc or whatever. I didn’t realize at the time that always choosing to play Sonya Blade made that effort moot.

I remember very little about Lionheart. According to IMDb, it’s about a French soldier who takes up underground fighting to support his dead brother’s family. Sure. I recall there was a rich white lady with Soft Butch hair who was the financial backer of some of these fighters. She sees Jean-Claude kick the ass of her prized gladiator and decides to take her money and put it on his plump rump. But he’s a bit rough around the edges and she decides she’s going to clean him up, get him into some slick outfits to show the other fighters he’s someone to be reckoned with. Again, sure. None of that matters. What matters is that her effort to spiff him up gave me my first glimpse of heaven on earth.

At some point during Lionheart, my cousins had fallen asleep and I was only half paying attention. Then, JCVD stepped into frame, naked as can be. Suddenly I was completely awake. How could I not be? Before my eyes, between a broad back and thick thighs were two stacks of tan musclebound majesty. I may have gasped. Possibly even passed out for a sec.

When I came to, I checked to see if everyone was fully in dreamland. They were. I reached for the remote as carefully and quietly as possible and proceeded to hit rewind with all the force in my body. I played the moment again. Jean-Claude is in a red room, framed from the ankles up, holding a luxurious dark blue bathrobe which he eventually (and disappointingly) puts on. The light from the window is hitting him just right and there might've been angels singing, it's a bit fuzzy. I hit pause. Now, this was a VHS so the image quality wasn’t amazing. Butt (ha!) despite the squiggly freeze frame lines I knew I had never seen anything quite so parfait.

One of my cousins stirred. I hit play at lightning speed and pretended to be half asleep. He didn’t wake. I gave it a moment and eventually sat up, pressed rewind. Play. Pause. Rewind. I took note of the slight jiggle in the haunches as Jean-Claude finds his mark. Play. Pause. Rewind. I memorize the divine dimples where the sensuous curve of the lower back kisses the braggadocious buns. Play. Pause. Rewind. Play. Pause. Rewind.

I held my breath, not wanting to make any extra noise so I could bask in this jubilation a little longer. Then my cousin rolled over. I smashed the play button and was all like, “Huh? Did you say something? What?” He groggily focussed on the TV, shaking his head. The moment had passed, thank Christ. He asked me to explain what had happened so far. I told him, conveniently leaving out the part where I had had an out of body experience thanks to coming face to screen with an Olympian being of celestial birth.

I spent the rest of the movie thinking about that scene and marvelling at Jean-Claude’s body.

Because who're we kidding? His whole body is amazing. The man worked hard and it showed. He’d been doing martial arts since he was ten and had several years of ballet under his black belt. After starting to lift weights he won the bodybuilding title of Mr Belgium. He was also gorgeous in the face. Problem was, Van Damme knew he was attractive and often had a smug tilt to his head. That cockiness both repulsed and drew me to him.

I became pretty fixated, not gonna lie. I started seeking out his films just to get a glimpse of that body-oddy-oddy. Lucky for me, he didn’t mind showing it off.  Some of my favourite shots include 1992’s Universal Soldier in which he sweatily strips down to nothing but a pair of white gym socks in front of an air conditioner. There's also 1993’s Nowhere to Run where he emerges, glistening in the sun, from a lake. He's caught by a little girl and backs into the water, giving us the same Poseidon-like shot butt (ha!) in reverse. And finally 1988’s Bloodsport - which might be the ultimate gluteal shot because as he's about to put on a pair of red briefs, he seems to pause for a second as if to say, “That’s right, drink it in because it is magnificent.”

Honourable mentions go out to the full or partially clothed shots that still make the heart skip a beat - starting with 1994’s Timecop, featuring a truly terrible haircut and an underwear-clad fight scene where to avoid getting electrocuted, he does the splits onto his kitchen counters. Or how about Maximum Risk from 1996 where he fights a guy in a Russian sauna wearing only a towel. If only he'd gone the Full Viggo and dropped the towel altogether. And finally, we have 1991’s Double Impact. This is probably my favourite Van Damme film since it features two big beefy scoops of Jean-Claude. He plays twins in the film, separated as babies after the murder of their parents. The family’s trusted bodyguard mistakenly thinks the one child died along with the parents and he adopts his rescuee, taking him to America. The other baby gets dropped off on the steps of an orphanage by the family maid as she dies.

One of the first shots of the American twin - who has a thick Belgian accent despite spending his entire life in America - is at his martial arts studio where he is asked to take over the stretch portion of an aerobics class down the hall. After he extolls the virtues of flexibility, he drops into a deep split. The camera sits low in the bright pink room, inviting us to bask in the spandex-clad mounds as he bounces them up and down. This bounce is presumably to show just how deep his split is, but really it’s about as homoerotic as any image I’ve seen in a mainstream film. And this despite the fact the class is full of women, ogling him hungrily.  

I once attempted to rent this movie at Queen Video’s flagship location (which is now sadly closed). My friend stood beside me and made a face. As we walked out sans film, she said, “Wait, what were you trying to rent?” “Double Impact,” I said, disappointed. “Sounds like porn.” she scoffed. I spent the rest of the walk defending the film. Then, as we entered the house I admitted, “Really though, I just wanted to see Jean-Claude’s fine, fine ass.”

In other words, damn you, Mr Van Damme. I’m ruined for life because no other rear will ever be as redoubtable, no tush as terrific, no booty as beautiful.

Don’t believe me, darling reader? Then take a look. Go ahead, I’ll wait.


Now tell me I’m wrong.

IV. Pt 2 or, It Could All Be So Simple...

"It could all be so simple / But you’d rather make it hard / Loving you is like a battle

And we both end up with scars..."

Ex-Factor, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

To say that my first night in the hospital psychiatric ward was one of the longest in my existence isn’t an exaggeration. I'd felt so trapped by life, then hurt myself in an effort to become free. The fact that I ended up putting myself in an actual, physical cage, even if it was just for a night, was a vengeful reality that returned again and again anytime I opened my eyes.

I had arrived at the hospital sometime around ten in the morning. I'd waited in emergency for about eight hours, then was taken to a room to be examined by a doctor. Quickly cleared (though not without judgement), I was taken to a tiny room with a small table, two chairs, and a phone. I waited perhaps another hour. I was visited by a nice lady I would not see again who questioned my motives in hurting myself. As she left, she instructed me to call home. I did. After waiting what felt like another hour someone came for me.

It was mid-November so by the time I walked the maze to my home for the next while, it was dark outside. Hospitals at night are not cute. They’re filled with people yet unbelievably lonely. The man leading me through the dim halls didn’t say much, only occasionally looked back to see I hadn’t run off. I suppose most wouldn't know what to say to a teen who tried to off themselves. A joke feels inappropriate and anything serious runs the risk of sounding like an admonishment. Silence seems like the safest option. We came to a sky bridge that connected the main building to the psychiatric ward. Looking out, I saw a parking lot filled with cars. I could almost hear the muffled sound of the atmosphere in its blanket of snow. I remember fear starting to creep in.

We entered the psych ward and I was greeted at the main desk by a big burly bald man (who I would also not see again) with a no-nonsense attitude. My first thought was: he’s that big so he can overpower the patients. The person I journeyed with disappeared into thin air and, after being given a sleeping pill, I was informed that I was being placed under observation. I would be sharing a room with two others and everyone was already asleep, so I needed to be quiet. This wasn't hard. Inside my brain, a terrible cocktail of self-hatred and numbness trapped my words. Even if I had wanted to, I doubt any sentences would've formed. All the lights in the building were dimmed and there was a terrifying heaviness to the air, the kind that made you feel like it would swallow you whole. In those moments it seemed possible I and this big burly bald man were the only ones alive. He took me to some stairs and started heading down. The fear became stronger.

I was led into the basement where we entered a brightly lit hexagonal room. A heavy looking door punctured by a small barred window was on each wall. There was a man in a hospital gown being corralled by two nurses. He was clearly high as a kite and the nurses were trying to get him to return to bed. When he saw me he smiled a smile so sweet. It was one of the first I'd seen all day and I was totally taken aback, not remotely prepared for kindness. When he attempted to hug me I recoiled and the big burly bald man put his body between us, reminding the man not to touch the other patients. He opened the door to my room and pushed me inside. As the door closed behind us, I looked back to see the man in the hospital gown staring at me with kind understanding.

The room was dark and silent save for the breathing of my two roommates. The big burly bald man pushed me toward my bed and asked quietly if I needed anything. I said no and he informed me that we would be checked on every hour. He turned on his flashlight and told me to get comfy. I stiffly sat down. He swung around, checking on the other two who didn’t stir and left. I stared at the light coming from the main room, the way the little squiggly bars cut it up. I listened to the breathing of the two strangers I couldn't see and wondered what they had done to end up here. I started to cry and lay down, tucking myself under the rough hospital sheets. I curled into the concrete wall, wanting desperately to slam my head into it. Looking up, I could see the stars through a small window near the ceiling. I recall being unbelievably pissed at the sky. Like somehow those stars were an affront to my whole existence. I didn't cry for very long. This wasn't that kind of sadness. Instead, I let my hands roam the divots in the concrete, let the cold permeate.

The pill eventually took hold but, as promised, every hour I was pulled back into the night. The sounds and images in my memory are fuzzy, burned into my brain under a layer of hazy narcotics: there was a clanging door to signal the watcher, a beam of light, a silhouette somewhere beyond. They would stay long enough to know you were breathing, then go. Eventually, the tempo of these visits became the lullaby I drifted off to. Off into a dreamless sleep.

The next morning when I was woken up, my roommates were already gone. I was taken upstairs for breakfast. Everything looked different, including the man in the hospital gown. He looked older now, heavier. He didn't acknowledge me. The cold winter light that infiltrated the building showed it was much larger than I'd expected and also much fuller with people, people who seemed friendly, who wanted to start a conversation. I was in no mood, still trapped in that repugnant cocktail, so I found a corner as far from everyone as I could possibly get and stared out the window. That light. Same as the light the day before. But nothing was the same. I wished for music.

It was only a few weeks before that I had purchased The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Prior to this, my tastes lived most in the space of pop or musical theatre. I was obsessed with Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys, and Christina Aguilera. As you may have previously read in Part 1, I was a musical theatre junkie, a complete sucker for the shallow unchallenging waters of blockbuster warbling. But sitting in the psych ward doesn’t exactly promote shallowness. Instead, it promotes introspection and, hopefully, a deepening of your understanding of self. If you’ve heard Miseducation you know that album does the same in the most beautiful, hopeful way.

When my mother arrived for a visit she brought clothes and the only thing I had really asked for: my Discman and a wallet of CDs. The first one I popped in was Miseducation. I’ll admit, to this day, I think of that album as beginning with “Ex-Factor” the album’s third track. For some reason, I always skip “Lost Ones” unless I’m feeling like I need hype, and the “Intro” is not really necessary unless you're a completist.

I still remember my first listen. Probably one of the most mind-expanding non-drug related experiences I’ve ever had. There’s layer upon layer upon layer on that album and each one spoke to a different part of myself that had gone mostly unexplored until then. Now, to be clear, I am aware this album was not written for me. I'm not here to appropriate a Black woman’s gorgeous ruminations on love and life and make them all about me. But I can’t deny that while listening to Miseducation I was allowed access to a worldview and life experience I had little knowledge of. This, in turn, gave me entrance to a part of myself I couldn’t have entered before. In other words, exactly what good art should do. It opened my eyes to a different way of seeing the world, pulling me out of my solipsism. The distance I gained from my own situation - one that seemed so hopeless and trapped - showed me I had the tools to continue exploring, to continue breaking down the walls.

This is going to sound simplistic but I believe the lack of this knowledge, the knowledge of your own power, can be a huge part of what allows depression to take hold, to really sink in its teeth. It certainly was for me. I was brought up in a world where I was encouraged to only look so far, where my views were expected to stay confined to a tight box. And, like most people, I had deeper layers that needed tending. My inability to explore them left me emotionally handicapped.

A few weeks back, I was discussing with a friend our differing tastes. I made a bad joke about how his tastes tend toward "white people music." In response, he made a point of telling me that I used music to manufacture emotions because I didn’t know how to access them myself. No, this wasn’t the kindest thing in the world to say, but it’s also not totally untrue. So much of my life was spent tamping down my passions, not being encouraged to speak freely about what I was feeling. And music is a totally accessible way to dig into something you might not otherwise have any idea how to dig into. Lauryn Hill’s vulnerability, wisdom, her way with words… if she could dive into herself, if she could speak the truth about her experiences with strength, then I become convinced I can too.

For example, even though “Ex-Factor” was written about a former lover, its lyrics can also speak to one’s relationship with oneself. I know, even now, I still wage an internal battle on all things. These days, when I listen to Miseducation new things become clear, new layers appear that I can apply to my adult self. Whereas before, I was comforted by the lush romance, and fuck you-ness, today the themes of forgiveness and love stand out in a way they hadn’t before. Like during the interlude at the end of “Doo Wop (That Thing)” when one of the students breaks down the difference between loving somebody and being in love with somebody:

“You can love anybody," they say, "but when you in love with somebody you looking at it like this: you taking that person for what he or she is, no matter what he or she look like, no matter what he or she do.”

Of course, they’re talking about love between two people but as Mama RuPaul always says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” You’ve got a responsibility to learn to accept yourself even with all the flaws, to learn to forgive yourself even after all the mistakes.

Another student responds, referring to a theoretical partner, “Maybe sometimes they never been loved before, or they never been in love before, or they never - they don’t know what the feeling is to be loved.” This can absolutely apply to one’s approach to oneself. If you didn’t know how to love that inner being, were never taught to love them, how easy will it be to accept love in kind? To give love?

Art of all sorts presents us with these questions. Art leads us to a deeper self. The best piece of advice about writing I’ve ever gotten was to go out and take in more art, more life - it doesn’t always have to be about getting something on the page. Those experiences feed the page. Those experiences feed your forgiveness and understanding of self which in turn feeds your forgiveness and understanding of others, which allows you to live more intimately, to create more expansively. I'll admit, I'm still not great at this, the chains of emotional repression are hard to break in their entirety, but I know it’s possible. It will always be possible when there are amazing, sensitive people out there making beautiful, layered, intelligent art. It will always be possible when you allow yourself the space to experience that art.

I don’t actually remember how long I was in the psych ward. Two weeks seems too long, but one week seems not long enough. I suppose it was somewhere in the middle. In between visits to the psychologist, occasional group therapy, and becoming confinement friends with the man in the hospital gown, I wrote in a diary while listening to Miseducation over and over and over again. I consider it the gateway to all the art that has fed my practice through the years all the way up to today. It led me to seek out music with deeper layers, to find films that challenged what I thought film could be, to read more, to write more. That album helped me get through, no two ways about it.

If you're an artist of any kind, you might be that beacon to someone out there. You could be the person whose work makes someone feel seen, lets them feel comfortable with being seen, to love, to be loved, and pulls them out of the mire and into the light. So keep going, keep creating. We need you.  

III. I Dreamed a Dream That One Day I'll Fly Away From This Wicked Little Town (Pt. 1)

I’ve been conflicted about being seen my entire life...  

When I was in grade three my school was arranging a trip to see a touring production of Phantom of the Opera in the “big city” aka Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. At the time we were living in a little town about 45 minutes north of Saskatoon. Even then, I was pretty obsessed with going to the city, probably because it seemed to happen so rarely. We'd go mostly on the weekends for groceries or the occasional movie, and I remember the excitement I would feel when I saw the city rising on the horizon. Y'all, it wasn't even a nice view. But to my eyes, starved for anything out of the ordinary, it seemed like a City of the Future. In other words, the idea of a day trip with no parents to see a theatrical event sounded pretty damn great. I suppose I imagined a Home Alone 2: Lost in New York scenario where I would get to see the glittering stars of stage and then somehow get separated from the group and wander into the hijinks of the city streets. I was excited.

There was a little problem with this daydream, however: I was already being called out quite a bit by my father for not being enough of a boy. I was expected to play soccer and help him with home repairs and generally stop being so effeminate. I already knew these things didn’t interest me, but I was brought up to listen to my parents, to respect their authority, especially my father's. The trip to see Phantom was around the same time as a monster truck rally. We didn’t have much money so I was given a choice: go see Phantom (which my sister had already decided to do) or go to the monster truck rally. You already know what I really wanted to do. But thanks to some pressure from my father and uncle who made it clear that swaying in the other direction would make me a Man Disappointment, I decided to go to the rally. I spent the next couple of weeks performing my excitement for this most masculine of activities.

The weekend of the rally came and we drove into the city where my father, uncle, two cousins and I headed into the arena once known as Sask Place. I don’t know how many of you have been to an indoor monster truck rally but they are truly horrendous. The smell of gasoline, the roar of engines, and the crashing of metal put me off cars for the rest of my life. Still, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t have a kind of fun. I was, after all, an eight-year-old boy who was getting to spend dedicated time with his father doing something that felt like exactly what fathers and sons should be doing to bond. But the fun was fleeting, to say the least. I remember getting a splitting headache from the gas fumes and bucket of soda we shared. I remember thinking myself much too delicate for all the noise and macho posturing. But, when we got home, I again performed my part. I made it sound like the most fun thing I had ever done.

I ate my words when my sister came home the next week from the performance of Phantom. Since her ticket was deeply discounted she had some money left to spend and came home with the double tape of the Original Cast Recording featuring the legendary Michael Crawford and (gasp) Miss Sarah Brightman. I was immediately fascinated by the deep black of the tape sleeve with its broken glass titles, punctuated by the red of the rose and bluish white of the Phantom’s mask. Then, I listened. And OH. MY. GAY. GAWDS.

(Hold up, I put it on just now as “background music” and got completely sucked in. I haven’t listened to this shit in years and somehow every word is still up there. Will I remember this when I’m on my deathbed!? I hope so.)

Anyway. Another souvenir had come home with my sister: The Complete Phantom of the Opera in glorious hardcover. Inside all the secrets of the development and mounting of the original production were revealed and I became obsessed. Not just with the show but with the process of theatre. It seemed like such amazing magic. They had a boat, my friends. On stage. And a chandelier! And and and! Then, after all this joy and fascination, I crashed. The world of lights and costumes and curtains seemed completely inaccessible to a kid stuck in a wasteland of flatness. I vowed then and there that I would never pass up another opportunity to see one of these big touring productions. In the following years, I begged my parents to take us to every show possible. They did their best, bless them. I honestly don’t think they knew what to do with the little girly boy who holed himself up in his bedroom and listened to the Phantom tape over and over. Taking me to these shows might have become one of the only ways for them to get me out of the house.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was my next obsession. Mostly because it was a frustrating missed opportunity. When the production came through they announced that they were looking for local kids to join the children’s chorus. Despite my desperation to be on stage, I was beset by horrible doubt that theatre wasn’t an appropriate desire for a boy to have, and my father was still doing very little to dissuade me of this notion. I hadn't ever been a, let's say, socially talented child, possessing very little self-esteem and feeling unsupported in my dream didn't help. So I missed my chance to make my theatrical début. I was crushed. Especially when I got a chance to see it and the sea of white kids who emerged as the chorus made my theatrical dreams that much more inaccessible. I became a critic that night. As much as I appreciated the talent on stage, I was struck by the shoddiness of the production, something I probably couldn’t (but absolutely could) tell from our cheap seats in the sky. Also the fact that Joseph was meant to be this wonderful, kind, attractive young man, but struck me as a terrible brat. I could have given him heart, I thought. I was also put off by the blatant kid-pandering of the score. I was sophisticated, you see. I found myself wanting to play the Narrator, an interesting choice in hindsight.

It was Evita that truly solidified my love of the stage. I mean, come on. Latin actors (maybe) on stage! Latin characters that I could (maybe) play! And Eva Perón was exactly my kind of lady: outspoken, ambitious, calculating, and glamorous with a deep-seated need to Get Out, to Live the Dream. There were many times where my father discovered me using my music stand as a makeshift balcony of La Casa Rosada, singing quietly and emoting gigantically. He could never hide his displeasure and I would shrink into myself, trying not to be seen, trying not to take up space. Despite this, or because of this, I swear Evita was the real cementing of my queerness. How could it not be? It was Diva Magnifica Miss Patti Lupone whose voice I pretended was mine, and there’s a song called fucking “Rainbow High.” If that's not Gay!, then I don't know what is.

Then came Les Misérables. Joseph and Evita were cool, but they felt obviously scaled back for touring. Les Misérables, on the other hand, was BIG. Having love for Les Misérables is pretty basic, it’s true. It’s a bunch of accessible pop songs strung together by a "plot". Characters come and go at random, giving us A Moment and then often dying tragically and glamorously. But for all the Bigness, the moment that stuck with me most was when Eponine, your favourite tragically glamorous street urchin in unrequited love with Hunky Marius, wanders the stark night-lit street of that French place they were in (Paris? Who knows, who cares!). This was when they still had that giant rotating disk as the centrepiece of their set so she was walking but stayed. In. Place (gasp). Dilapidated windows looked down on her as she belted out her emotional deprivation. I meeeaaan. Girl! She was me, I was her, we were one. Both "on our own." Pretty sure I’ve described this moment in reverent tones to practically every single one of my friends. Then, the dumb girl had to go and die to save Hunky Marius and I was outraged. Why would she do that? He was a dick! He didn't deserve her love! She should've said "Boy, bye" and gotten outta that fucked up town, lived her dream in some other fabulous city where they appreciated her kind. I had conveniently forgotten her (and my own) financial hardship. 

The next few years were pretty dry. The only major theatre in the city underwent renovations or lost a contract and could no longer host the bigger productions that rolled through town. I spent those years going to the library as much as possible. The main branch in Saskatoon actually had a really great musical theatre section and any chance I got I would head down and spend hours browsing the CD’s. I would bring a stack up to the counter and cart them home. I stuck to the more traditional stuff, South Pacific (nope), Carousel (nope), Sunset Boulevard (meh), and Jesus Christ Superstar (meh).

Then the renovations were finished or the contract renewed and one of the first shows announced was Miss Saigon. I’m not sure if I can fully describe how impactful this show was to me. Asian people (maybe) on stage! Parts that ambiguously raced people like me could play (maybe)! And the scale. They had a fucking. Helicopter. And there seemed to be so many people on stage! Things flying in and out! A pink Cadillac! And the melodrama of it all. I assume it’s because I’ve become accustomed to Lea Salonga’s voice from the Original Cast Recording but I swear the woman who played Kim sounded exactly the same. How could you not be turned into a jelly mess when she sings “I’d Give My Life For You”? But, as big a deal as the show was, the music wasn't always memorable and the icky fetishizing of Kim was truly unfortunate. Theatre still seemed so far away. I needed to find something that spoke to me. 

And then I found Rent. As A Theatre Gay of the 90’s, I’m pretty much obligated to have a past with Rent. I found the double CD at the library, pulled in by its colourful cover, with a diverse group of faces set in grungy, hip expressions. And the music! Everyone was so angry and ~arty~. They were also glamorously tragic and, despite living in New York City (the centre of the universe!) they desperately wanted to Get Out. My parents probably know the words as well as I do because of my near constant listens. This love only deepened when I got into a summer theatre program in Edmonton where we workshopped a new show by Marty Chan called The 7th Circle. The kids in the program were a gaggle of mostly middle-class nerds from the suburbs of our various cities and we were supposed to be playing a bunch of disaffected teens in a high school based on Dante’s Inferno. Rent was the angriest thing most of us had any experience with so clearly we had many sing-alongs while partying in basements. I was playing the closeted gay teen who led the main character through the halls of the school AKA the seven circles of hell. At some point, my character was beaten up by a gang of boys. He eventually shot the school up in retaliation, at one point dramatically dumping a backpack full of bullets on the stage. Despite the difficulty of the role, I was in heaven. I remember quite clearly when we choreographed the beating. It was appropriately hot as hell that day and the studio was beyond stuffy. For some reason, the director had left this scene to the last hour of a very long day in the final week of rehearsal. I spent much too long on my hands and knees on a hard floor in the middle of a circle of young men enacting a violent beating in slow motion. When we finished setting, I left feeling emotionally distraught but challenged. It felt good to tell the story of a queer kid, to make explicit the kind of violence that can happen to us. I had a lot of bottled up rage and pain from never really feeling safe to be who I was and, being away from home, playing this role, gave me a chance to let some of that out. Because of all the emotional catharsis, the run felt like a resounding success. I was given an award for performance excellence and on the last night, as we partied, we belted out "Seasons of Love" until our voices ached. I felt like a new person, finally free, finally more comfortable with being seen, with taking up space. 

Then, I returned home to play Scarecrow in my high school production of The Wizard of Oz. The shock to my system was immediate. All the old walls and expectations started to build up. Depression started to creep in at the corners. I needed... more.

I went back to the library where I had been eyeing a certain CD. On the front was a black and white photo of a sad looking person holding a microphone under a single light. In the top right-hand corner, in bright pink, it declared: Hedwig and the Angry Inch. For balance in the bottom right-hand corner was one of those Parental Advisory: Explicit Content fearmongers. I was fascinated, completely. First, Explicit Content? Yes please! Second, this person on the cover was ambiguous in gender. They wore a skin-tight dress with a slash of red on their lips. Their legs were muscular, their shoulders wide, their jaw square. I mustered up the courage to face the judgy library worker and took the damn thing out. Friends, this album. The moment Miriam Shor snarls “Ladies and Gentlemen, whether you like it or not: HEDWIG!” made me a fan for life. I had never heard anything like it. Hedwig was my dream role. A self-professed “slip of a girly boy” sitting alone, listening to quiet music and imagining a world far away from the world they inhabited was exactly me. Unfortunately, Hedwig is German, blonde, white and clearly, I am not. I was also tragically unhip and trying with every last bit of my gay heart to continue being the good kid I was supposed to be, never rocking the boat, never being too emotional or too feminine. Having gotten a taste of what the world could be, I felt even further from it than I had before and, as my sexuality crystalized, all that need to be good and fit into what was expected became more of a cage than it ever was.

Things got really dark then. Playing a brainless sack of hay was obviously unchallenging. And the director had a rather unsavoury habit of separating the lead actors from the chorus folk by treating us like friends, equals, regularly belittling the chorus members to our faces. It fed my ego, sure, but took a lot of fun out of the proceedings. As one of her favourites, I was supposed to live up to a standard: the good kid, the upright example. Over the next year, I partied more and more, trying to be anything but That Kid. I started going to raves and sneaking into the local gay bar where I hung out with drag queens and disappeared into an all-night lucid dream. I thought, if this is who I have to be at school, then it's too much to try to be the same at home. The rebellion was strong. This turned me into a disappointment in my parents' eyes and the weight of managing lies - pretending everything was all right - was heavy. The depression drew closer still.

The next year, as a senior, I played Tommy in Brigadoon. This show, man. It was the complete antithesis to everything I found interesting or creative. The songs were dull and totally unchallenging, I was one of the only people of colour in the entire cast, and I was supposed to be playing a masculine charmer of a man, the kind who falls madly in love and croons gently in the fog. I've since softened on it, but at the time, Brigadoon felt like the kind of thing that could only appeal to someone at death's door. So, not only was I not feeling free to express myself at home, but I was also left without a chance to do it in my chosen art. Without a proper outlet, I spiralled further. My aforementioned fear of being seen came back with a vengeance and that meant I was too scared to speak up or seek help. Who knows if it would have mattered, I don’t remember Saskatoon having much in the way of queer youth outreach. I felt completely muzzled without the proper tools to deal with anything I was going through.

I tried to kill myself that winter. I know, I know, dramatic shift. But that's how it happened. I made the choice suddenly. Or at least that's how it looked from the outside. Really it was a choice that felt inevitable, the darkness laying under the surface of my skin finally ready to come forward. I remember quite clearly lying under the twinkle lights I’d set up above my bed, as drunk as I’d ever been up to that point. Nicole Kidman was singing “One Day I’ll Fly Away” softly from my CD player. The world of Moulin Rouge with its bombastic romance and tragically romantic bohemians felt like a universe away, space that despite all my efforts, I could never ever have access to. I’m not going to describe how I did it, that's too personal. But I can say it felt very freeing. I know now that was a huge part of why I did it: to exert some kind of control over my own existence.

I drove myself to the hospital the next morning. And that night as my sleep was interrupted every hour by a watchful flashlight, a new vow began to form: to never let myself be muzzled again and to focus on the kind of art that felt rigorous and challenging.

This was much easier said than done.

II. To You and You and You and...

Dear Preskott*, my first in so many ways. First love is probably too generous but as my first boyfriend, you’ll always hold a special place in my heart. You were older and so much cooler than I thought I could be. I'd barely kissed a boy and somehow you were into me. They said you were a player, maybe I wanted to be played. I know now you weren’t always kind, once telling me the acne on my back meant I’d be horribly hirsute in later life. This hasn’t come to pass. I can still see those chunky highlights, “diamond” earrings, smell the mix of cologne and cigarette smoke. I remember how I lost my virginity to you while the Grammys played in the background. Céline Dion was having mic problems, I was having flexibility issues. I made you wear that powder blue baseball hat, turned backwards. It helped fulfill all the straight boy fantasies that would disgust me today, but in that moment it was hot as hell. You proceeded to cheat on me with my nemesis, whose spectre I'd fought since high school, first day. Callum, tall and willowy, pink skinned and self-possessed with that perfectly straight statue’s nose, everything I couldn’t be. This betrayal gave me a complex that went on for years, might still be going on. Last I heard you married a man, had kids. You’re probably a good dad. But maybe try not to make fun of their bacne. I still wonder why your name was spelt with that ‘k’...

Dear Jack, baby you dodged a bullet. Though it probably didn’t feel that way at the time. There was so much going on in your life and you still picked up, moved two provinces at my urging. I can admit now I was scared, didn’t want to go alone. I needed a steadying presence in my life and you were happy to provide. When I gained confidence in the new city that need ran out and I tossed you aside, for that I’m sorry. No other relationship has soured so quickly, and no other break up has felt quite as concentrated in its implosion. I still can’t listen to those yearning first notes of Hero and Leander from Myths and Hymns without seeing your sweet snaggle-toothed smile, without thinking how I shut you out, how I couldn't support you in your family difficulty. I cried and cried to that album, convinced every word was about us, but really about me because that's as far as I could see. The way I sobbed and sang in our empty apartment by the docks, "my lighthouse on the shoreline, my passion on this lonely sea..." The way I stared across the harbour singing, “my loving you was meant to be...” Ludicrous now, but at the time, oh at the time… I know we’re good now - you sent me that note. It was lovely to hear you stayed in the city on the island and found a life that leaves you fulfilled. 

Dear Matthew, you got me at my worst. Maybe we should’ve known from the way we started it would be a rough ride. I went home with you the same night I broke up with my boyfriend who’d moved across the mountains for me, the same night I’d run back and forth across my building alternating makeout sesh with you and a classmate, the same night I kicked everyone out of my house in a rage. We had stars in our eyes, blind to everything that wasn't us. That's never a good sign. You were the first person I ever told my biggest secret. I remember crying in your arms on that pile of pillows in the acting studio. You cried too. My concept of time has always been junk, but it feels like only a little while after that you proposed. Or was it me? Lying in bed together all giggly, somehow we decided we’d lived enough life on our own. Everything about you made sense. In the morning that was terrifying. My plate was already full of terrible memories and I’ve never been good at accepting good in my life. I spent the next few months dodging your questions. I also spent those months spiralling further and further into depression. The day you found me in a heap on the floor, crying uncontrollably, totally unable to accept comfort is still the deepest sadness I’ve felt in my adult life. But you sat by me, waiting. You waited a lot. We broke up and got back together so many times, we lost count. Do you consider that time a waste? I still remember your kisses and hugs, the way our bodies entwined throughout the night. I wonder, if I hadn’t been so off the rails, would we have survived? Last we spoke you’d been with the same guy for awhile, possibly heading toward marriage. I know that’s what you always wanted, to settle down, have kids. If my madness hadn’t ruined us, that probably would have. I hate to admit, I'd probably still make out with you.

Dear Sean, your shine persists. We had our problems, I know, but our relationship felt stable in a way no other has. Maybe it was my year of sobriety, maybe it was being stuck in the Prairies… really though, I think it was you. Your caring spirit was like none I had encountered before. Your non-judgemental kindness surprising me from the start. Though we had a deadline, nesting with you was easy. I remember how you'd stay up with me and my unsettled mind despite having school the next day, I remember how we’d sit and leaf through your giant atlas while getting baked, I remember how you would give me space to disappear into my writing for hours on end, then make us an amazing meal. I ate like a king in those days - I’ve never been so chunky in my life. You were even willing to give non-monogamy a try. Something about the fact you couldn't go through with it was terribly romantic. When you proposed, though it made no sense, I accepted. It was probably unfair to do so. I didn’t want you to give up on moving to Asia, I didn’t want to compromise on moving to Toronto. You used to say it didn’t matter that our paths were divergent, we could make it work. Maybe I was cynical, less prone to Big Romance. All I know is that everything that had come before taught me to be cautious, taught me that really loving someone sometimes means letting them go. We were no longer engaged. We moved apart. A while back when we messaged each other about I don’t know what you said you’d move here in a second… I actually considered it. It's still a bad idea.

Dear Kyle, I was blindsided by your jawline. I suppose I’d had too much stability in my life for too long and I needed to be upended. I broke a cardinal rule for you and probably deserved exactly what I got. But you were so charming and handsome and broad-shouldered and had that long hair and those lips. On our first date when you drove us out to the beach and we made out on that log and laid in the grass under the stars, I knew I’d been hooked. When you picked a small flower and gave it to me with that smile; when you pretended to look over your shoulder in the car and instead gave me a quick kiss… boy, I could see all the moves. I could see how you were playing me. But it didn’t matter. I’d already decided I’d give in and let myself Feel. To my dismay, I became that kid who waited by the phone, who thought about you always. I could see myself careening toward that wall and let myself crash right in - I’ve always had a self-destructive streak. Then that day when you visited between rehearsal and work and we napped in the sun, I came to my senses. Somehow in that afternoon light, the heat, I faced the truth: I was more into you than you were into me and that simply wouldn't do. Our last night together, at that party where my phone got stolen, your friends kept asking, as if we were in high school if I “liked you," if I "wanted to be your boyfriend." One of them even pulled me into a room and grilled me on my intentions. Yes, I’d let myself Feel, but I knew it wasn’t serious, I knew we weren’t meant to be. How could I make it work with someone I only made out with to avoid listening to their stories? We went back to your place and the heat had been so dispersed I could barely put your dick in my mouth. We stopped texting after that night. Then you moved away. Your current boyfriend recently liked a post of mine on Instagram, then followed and unfollowed. Maybe he was upset I hadn’t followed back. Maybe he knew we once had a thing.

Dear Charles, I had to take a pause before I wrote to you. Not because the feelings are hard to deal with but because you’re the last, so far. There have been flings, one night things since you. But nothing serious. We weren't together for a long time but you taught me a lot. Or maybe it’s best to say, you finalized a lot. I was finally able to admit after you that, despite wanting something long-term, I really, really don’t want monogamy, I don’t want kids, I don’t want to settle down in the traditional ways people settle down. It wasn’t easy to admit this. I remember looking through your Insta after you asked me to get a soda and visit the cherry blossoms. There was a photo of you smiling in your fave flannel, holding a baby. It reeked of sweetness and I hope it's not offensive to say, but I swear I straight up grew ovaries and started ovulating on that day. I remember lying in the grass in High Park and talking about whether or not we saw kids in our futures and I lied. I lied because I thought I’d be more attractive to you if I said I did. Because that’s what all the nice boys - the ones worth anything long term - seemed to desire. I made every effort to be the kind of man I thought you wanted. Pretty sure I tried to become my ex, Sean. But very few people can be that good. My mom had come to visit while you had a show on. I was making you a gift as she watched. She shook her head said I was sweet, that I fall too hard, that I'm prone to exposing too much of myself for those I deem worthy. I scoffed. But when it took you three days to acknowledge the gift, I realized she was probably right. I was reliving a pattern I’d lived several times before. Despite the self-centeredness of youth, you were a sweet, kind boy who checked a lot of the boxes we're supposed to want checked. Maybe I thought I could change for you. But I’m not that guy. Not really. Someone told me you’ve been with the same guy for the last few years. I’ll admit I think about you often, your name is everywhere in the city and we covered the most area in our wanderings. The thoughts are warm, with no bitterness. How could there be? Our breakup inspired me to write a whole play, and that play set me on the path I’ve been travelling for the last few years. I wonder sometimes why I don’t see you in more things, conveniently forgetting how little theatre I actually see, then tell myself I should write something for you. But, despite those previously mentioned warm feelings, I don’t think I’ll ever really trust you. Doesn't help that you think Beyoncé is only so-so (!) but you stan Taylor Swift hard. I'll see you around again, no doubt. The city is too small not to. I'm pretty sure I'll be nice. If I'm not, say something nice about Queen Bey and I'll probably warm up.

Dear Future Love, as you can probably tell from the above, I’m a bit of a mess. I’ll probably fall too hard for you too quickly and then proceed to ignore you when I get into my fits of creativity. I still don’t quite know how to be part of a family or how to not be socially awkward. But maybe, like me, you’ll think it’s okay for us to keep our friend circles separate so my inability to have meaningless conversation in large groups won't be an issue. Or maybe, like me, you often think you’re an alien left behind to observe and we can loom on the edge of parties, quietly judging or praising sartorial choices. I’m still a terrible cook, but I don’t mind baking. If you cook but hate to bake, we’re equally matched. If you also bake, I’m sorry my dear but you are up for elimination. Not really. I’m totally down to make muffins together as long as you’re not one of those non-allergy gluten-free crazies. I’m prone to overly chaotic workflow, I’ll never know where anything is. I’ll want to talk over wine about movies and TV shows until all hours of the night. I'll want to get baked and drag you to shitty action movies in 3D. I love celebrity gossip, will always want to watch the Oscar's red carpet, and will probably hush you when Nicole Kidman or Angelina Jolie show up. I still use too many words to say something simple causing me to forget what I’ve said two minutes before. Somehow, despite this terrible memory, I will remember many things you say and then use them against you at a later date. I’ve retained my love of cuddling and getting all tangled up in each other, but when it’s time to sleep, I’ll probably move as far from you as possible. This isn’t because I’m mad or suddenly don’t like you (most of the time). I’ve lost my disgust for feet so I’ll be willing to give you foot rubs. In fact, I’ll probably rub you a lot. Your cheek, your head, your back - it’s a thing. I also give random squeezes. Usually of the bicep or thigh. I hope you’ll be comfortable in your femininity and accepting of mine, I hope you’re able to hold hands in public, and okay when I put my head on your shoulder at the movies. I hope you’re ambitious and creative (just don’t be an actor) and that you teach me a few things. Like where to find good vintage sweaters that don’t smell like old men or where to get the best deal on rhinestones. I hope the people who came before me were as wonderful as those who came before you. These gents taught me a lot and I'm grateful to them. Maybe, if things don't last between us, Future Love, you'll make it onto this list. Or maybe our story will be so long and full of stuff it'll take a whole book. Oh, that's another thing: if you date me you better be okay with showing up in my writing, 'cause it's already happening. Kisses!


*Names have been changed.

I. Very Scary Things

Writing for anything other than film and theatre has always been something I’ve shied away from. Not because I thought I'd be bad at it. Back in the day, I'd occasionally whip up a short story and, when I read it back, had general good feelings. But writing an opinion piece seems, to me, a very different beast. I suppose I’ve never thought anyone would want to hear my thoughts on anything, or that my lack of formal education somehow made me less qualified. And isn't the internet populated with enough Men Who Opinionate to last us ‘til rapture?

But recently I was reading an article by Catherine Hernandez in which she helpfully reminded me that “being an artist means scaring yourself into doing new things every day.” This is how she scared herself "into writing full-length fiction for the first time after years of writing theatre.” And I had been meaning to diversify my writing soooooo here I am, doing this Very Scary Thing, which might not be so scary in the end, but since it’s October why not lean into the spooky moments?

In a convenient bit of synergy, my most recent play Rope Running Out will be read in one week as part of DaPoPo Theatre's Live-In Festival 2017 in Halifax. This piece recently had its world premiere in Toronto presented by lemonTree creations. It was my first professionally produced work and I'm still shook that I can make a claim to such a thing. Even more that people came to see it (which is only a bit of a lie because I was also convinced it would sell out every single night [it didn't] and that it would win every award it could possibly win [it hasn't]).

Rather, my shookness comes from how long it took to get the damn thing to the stage. At several points, you start to think it might not happen, so when it does incredulity is part of the package. In total, the journey was about twelve years. It began at theatre college, a particularly tumultuous time in a tumultuous life. I was in my most serious relationship up to that point and had recently come to terms with the fact I had been sexually abused as a child, something I had by that point suppressed for over a decade. I'm still not totally certain what combination of events led to the bubbling up of this truth. Maybe it was all the stretching and breathing, the dance classes, the sheer physicality of it all that finally loosened the walls I erected for protection. Loosened. What a slight word for how they fell! They crashed really and buried me under.

Still, I soldiered on. Offered the opportunity to create our own work in second year, I chose to write. I'd recently seen the original cast of August: Osage County on Broadway and I was inspired. The revelation of my abuse caused huge rifts in all my personal relationships and this work, with its high-wire emotions and fractured familial dynamics, had resonance. But it, like so many works before, focused on a white family. The only person of colour barely had any lines and seemed to serve only as comfort to her employers. Wanting to be an actor at the time, this obvious lack of opportunity was glaring and, paired with all my inner turmoil, stirred a hunger to create something that reflected my reality: a world where people of colour were central to major stories.

The first version of Rope was heavily influenced by August and super traditional in its structure. There were like seven (!) characters. One was depressed! One was overbearing! One was distant! There was a dinner party where everyone got drunk and yelled! And, about three-quarters of the way through there was a revelation of trauma. Specifically childhood abuse.

The experience of the read is fuzzy, like I had stepped outside myself because I knew how personal it was going to be. I sat as far away as possible in a dark corner, on the floor. I remember the audience laughed more than I thought they would. I remember the actors seemed to enjoy themselves more than I thought they would. And I distinctly remember cringing for the gawds as the revelation happened. But while the moment felt exposing, it also felt amazing. Because even though the words were coming from the mouth of a fictional character, they were still my words, and it felt in many ways like they were coming directly from my lips.

The reading went well and buoyed by the high of triumph I vowed to keep developing the piece. But as the weeks went by I found I could no longer look at the pages. What had once felt healing, now felt oddly exploitative and much, much too personal. Then my relationship came to the final end in a string of ends and the central love story lost all meaning. I put the piece away, telling myself I would revisit it one day after I had lived some life and gotten a better grip on the emotional mess of being abused.

What I didn't realize was that a "better grip" would never really manifest. Not in the way I thought anyway. A part of me said, "get some therapy, put in the work, you'll feel normal again soon." But it had slipped my mind how expensive therapy is, how much life gets in the way of doing the work. The journey to a kind of healing was marked by fits and starts and the burden of my abuse hung over every single intimate relationship I went on to have.

That might seem a bit overblown, but I assure you it's not. In the most simplistic terms, it got better, but it never really went away. I'll use a rather strained metaphor I've voiced in the past: think of the emotional toll of abuse as the weight you might use to create recycled paper. You are the amorphous blob that gets smushed into something seemingly pristine, but easily tearable. Once torn you are turned back into an amorphous blob, waiting for the weight to land again. And it always lands again.

By the time the opportunity to return to Rope came up, I'd done therapy whenever I could, I'd fallen in and out of love a few times. Needless to say, I approached the writing with a completely different set of eyes. Thanks to all that emotional work I'd done over the years, I'd gotten to a point where I could be totally open about my abuse with anyone who asked and when I was feeling sassy, even those who didn't. Yet still, when looking at the script anew, I was reminded of an issue that had plagued me in the past: the third act revelation. So, not wanting Rope to be That Kind of Play, I chose to move the revelation into the distant past, outside the structure of the piece. I chose as well to focus on life after without revealing the details of trauma. Basically, I didn't want it to be easy for the audience. The revelation only served to explain away the protagonist's complicated sexuality when what I wanted was for the audience to find a piece of themselves in the characters and go off into the night reflecting on their own relationships with sex and intimacy. After all, everyone's got hang-ups around both.

Some context: Rope Running Out follows Nacio, a struggling photographer who, for better or worse, has learned to live in the aftermath of trauma. He and his partner Félix have built a loving and happy partnership that just happens to be physically non-sexual. Instead, they play a game where they choose a hookup for Félix and after he has gone out to play, return to each other to have what Nacio calls "brain sex." But after a drifter from Nacio's past appears, their entrenched approach to intimacy is challenged.

Here's the thing: I still feel keeping the exact nature of the trauma out of the play was the right choice. First, because I didn't want to trigger anyone and I wanted to show a loving relationship whose members were working together and apart to heal. In that context, exactly what the trauma in Nacio's past entailed wasn't relevant. In collaboration with Indrit Kasapi, the wonderful director of the world premiere, I chose not to share the full information of Nacio's trauma with the actors. We felt it was more important for them to make their own choice, to find something that they could relate to and therefore play truthfully.

What no longer feels right, however, is how I kept telling myself I didn't want Rope to be That Kind of Play. While I stand by my reasons for not including what the trauma was, I do regret to a certain extent that I wasn't more open about how the play came to life, that I didn't use my platform to be a more vocal advocate for the lives of survivors. But my regret is a double-edged sword. The play did what I hoped: it spoke to people's personal experiences in personal ways. Audience members expressed to me vastly different opinions on why Nacio and Félix related the way they did. Some thought he was trans and not ready to admit it, some thought he was asexual and again not ready to admit it, some picked up on the trauma but vocalized its origin in vague terms, usually in hushed tones. Some who mentioned it even rolled their eyes, aghast at the "cliché" of it all.

Sadly, I completely understand this reaction. So often trauma is used in film or theatre as a way to shock audiences or to explain in supposedly simple terms why a character acts the way they do. It is almost always depicted as pitiable and strips the survivor of their agency. We rarely get to see what it means to live in this truth, what it means to work together with a person you love to overcome past pain. I suppose too, this reaction had a lot to do with the fact that I was not forthcoming with my own truth, which could easily have meant I was appropriating this experience to inject drama. I tend to shy away from discussing the personal aspects of my writing. There's a feeling in some circles that putting too much of yourself into your work makes it less Art and more diary entry. The personal nature makes work too specific, cutting off a chunk of the potential audience. Also, talking about your personal issues in a professional setting is to most unbearably gauche. So even though I was totally open about my abuse in my personal life, I figured bringing it up in my professional life was, well, unprofessional.

But in experiencing my work with an audience again, I realized that whatever shame or hesitation I had about sharing the true genesis of this piece in a public forum stemmed from a small raw spot I hadn't fully come to terms with. When I was actively dating, I used to feel this same shame about revealing my trauma to potential partners. I feared that when I told them they would go running for the hills, never to be seen again. Or, if they chose to stay, they would never truly be able to look at me the same way. Suddenly, in their eyes, I was damaged goods to be handled carefully. I feared that my work would be looked at in the same way. I feared that the true core of the piece would then never been seen. I keep hemming and hawing about whether or not to share this. I imagine if I hit publish some future audience member will read it and will only be able to see the abuse. I worry the truth behind the piece will make it less enjoyable for them, less relatable. But what is the root of this feeling? Shame, plain and simple.

So you know what? Screw that. There's nothing to be ashamed of as a survivor. And there's no reason for this piece to pretend to be anything else. I trust non-survivors will still find something to relate to. But mostly I hope that survivors will feel seen, reminded that they are worthy of the kind of love that is willing to work alongside you, willing to evolve and expand and flourish. Because survivors absolutely deserve this. And we deserve to have the aftermath of our trauma depicted in a way that doesn't only focus on the suffering but chooses to celebrate how we can navigate those difficult waters in a sex-positive, loving way. 

Rope Running Out will be read as part of DaPoPo Theatre`s Live-In Festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia 7:00 pm, Tuesday October 10 at the TNS Living Room, 2353 Agricola Street

For more on Dahlia Katz please visit www.dahliakatz.com