By Rena Bryson
The title kind of says it all, Queer Theatre changed my life. I used writing and creating Queer theatre as a vehicle for self-discovery, learning and reflection. But mostly as yet another excuse for placing myself in the centre of Queer culture as a “great ally”. This is a realisation I now have in hindsight, not something I was consciously doing. But it all began with Jungle Door, a play I began writing when I first moved to Galway, before Eva’s Echo existed.
I was 23, fresh out of college, working a horrible retail job, and couldn’t find accommodation (Yes the Galway Housing crisis has been this bad for this long!). So naturally, I was evaluating everything about my life, about myself and so the characters of Jungle Door were created. Louise, clutched on to the simpler college days while secretly struggling as part of the hidden homeless. While the newly engaged Michelle connects with her ex Louise, as she revaluates what she wants for the future.
With each production, the characters developed and changed. Michelle’s relationship with her own sexuality began to be explored deeper, as she feels unaccepted by both Queer community and heteronormative society. Being too straight for the gays and too gay for the straights. This is where it all got a bit too real.
So I’m going to out myself here, literally. But although I play Louise I have always related and connected with the character Michelle. It was really important to me to include a Queer character that is hyper-feminine. As when I was young even though I was attracted to girls I convinced myself I could not be because I was so feminine. At this point in time, I don’t think the concept of bisexuality had reached rural Ireland and my only understanding of lesbians was women who were hyper-masculine. And when the concept of bisexuality did reach us in my teen years it was consistently through a male gaze. If Katy Perry kissed a girl and she liked it, then surely this is just something everyone does? Although in hindsight this culture of girls getting with each other for male approval was horribly damaging, at the time it was an excellent cover story.
But it wasn’t all pop songs and casual bi-erasure, at this time there was a deep shame and fear around being gay. Gay used to be used as slang for something you didn’t like. “Why would you listen to that band? They’re gay.” I had several romantic interactions with girls, but these were away from male eyes. Meaning there was no excuse to hide behind. And the fear of being found out was heart-stopping, especially because as a teen I didn’t have an attraction to boys. Apologies to any long-lost exes who come across this, at least it might explain a lot! Despite all of this I was still deeply in denial.
When I got to college I slowly became slightly more open, many of my friends would make comments. All of which I would laugh off, but feel briefly accepted by. For the first time, I had friends who were out and proud, I admired that a lot more than I’m sure they knew. Eventually, I began coming out without coming out, in safe spaces. I would describe sexuality as a spectrum, and say I didn’t believe in labels. Which was true because labels scared the shit out of me. I was also somewhat still under that Katy Perry ideology that every woman likes kissing girls, so we’re all a little gay? I realise now this is not true, but I was moving on to slightly healthier coping mechanisms. And even kissing women in public settings, without the excuse of a gross male audience. Despite all of this I was still deeply in denial.
What validated this denial was discovering an attraction to men. Something that I’m ashamed to say gave me a huge sense of relief. I’m totally aware of the privilege of being a feminine bi-sexual cis woman. I was more aware than ever at that moment, and that still makes me feel gross. But I feel it’s important to address that while bi-erasure is an issue, the privilege of appearing heteronormative is a thing. These are all of the wonderful issues I attempt to dissect in Jungle Door, rather than as I probably should, with a therapist.
This brings us to adult me, creating Queer Theatre, and still carrying the stance that sexuality is a spectrum and I don’t like labels. My coming out at this time was delayed for a new reason. I had found the love of my life, and he really is the best. I was certain by this point that this is the relationship I’ll be in forever (I was right, we’re getting married next year) and it’s with a straight man, so what’s the point in coming out? I felt as though I’d be taking up a spot, a spot I wasn’t gay enough to deserve.
It took a lot of time, literally years, to overcome this final hurdle. And what helped me do that was Queer theatre. I realised that people did care about Michelle’s story, about her struggles and that people could identify with it. It’s also made me realise how important Queer Theatre is, especially for those contemplating their sexuality.
I’m hoping that Jungle Door can inspire audiences to learn and empathise, as well as help Queer audiences see themselves in art. In art that is not solely about the character’s sexuality, but explores the lives of authentic Queer characters.
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