Reflecting on the Last Cleaning Closets Workshop

Getting stories from both sides of the closet door isn’t hard; the challenge is finding two sides of the same story. I think it’s because many times the storytellers are on opposite ends of accepting the truth. So I made it my goal in the most recent iteration of this project to recruit participants to share their coming out story along with a person to whom they came out. In the end, I was successful in finding two youth who were willing to do this. The objective during the workshop was for the participants to share their stories through games, lessons, and activities and devise a performance in collaboration with an ensemble of professional actors. This was successful and allowed me to attain my goal of growing the project and reaching new audiences. Because the funds allowed me to hire two filmmakers, I am now able to reach even more audiences by screening the performance with other community groups. I was also successful in using this iteration of the project as a model to continue the work with new groups; two schools in Chicago have already reached out to me to create a project with their students!

As always, one of the main goals of this project was to teach the participants something and create a dialogue in the community. Though audience attendance during the grant cycle was not as high as anticipate due to various reasons, I was able to accomplish my goal of creating a conversation. In the end, both the participants and the artists said they gained something from the process and also made new professional and artistic connections! I also think that I’ve solidified my image as a professional to my peers in the industry. 

Timing was a huge challenge for me because I had to work within the constraints of the grant cycle, the school year, and the schedules of my professional actors. However, in the end, shortening the length of the devising workshop from 10 days to 2 days helped. As aforementioned, finding two sides of the same story was somewhat difficult, but I was able to find four pairs of participants. However, the night before the workshop, two pairs dropped out and one pair was a no-show on the day of. This just meant the participants that did show up were paid more money. I also realized that though I’ve devised work with my peers before, this time was different because I hired them and they treated me like a boss instead of a collaborator, which then made some of the actors feel like I wasn’t listening to their ideas over the other actors. This taught me a lot about how to be a better leader.  

Guest Blog by Actor

During the last workshop, I asked the actors to write blogs before and after the workshop.  Here is one of them:

I'm feeling a bit nervous for the workshop.  I largely came to know my queer & trans identities through my studies in college:  they are rooted in modes of critical thought as well as in my personal experience and knowledge.  But those modes of thought are not readily accessible, especially to folks who haven't gone to college, which obviously these youths have not [yet].  I hope that we are all able to find ways to communicate with each other across the identities that don't bind us together, be they differences in race, class, gender, etc.  The term "LGBTQ community" is misleading in that we are composed of so many disparate pockets of communities--some of whom have nearly nothing in common.  I'm going to continue to breathe deeply and make myself open to the people in the room and the process that lies before us over the next few days.  

Guest Speaker for SPECTRUM

I'd like to give a big shout out to SPECTRUM, the alliance on campus at my alma mater Morehead State University in eastern Kentucky.  I was so honored to be their first guest speaker of the semester via Skype last night.  They asked me all about Cleaning Closets and the work I do in the LGBTQ community.  In fact, one of the students has asked me for a quote for one of their research papers.  I just hope I can live up to my apparent reputation.  These youth give me hope for the future.  They play a major role in making the coming out process easier for everyone!  

Journals Are Old School Blogs

In a moment of self reflection, I recently decided to thumb through some old journals that I've been keeping since at least middle school. In doing so, I stumbled upon and entry from January 19, 2002.  In this journal entry I laughed about the great date I had with one of my best friends. We went to the movies, and when it was over I chose not to go to the bathroom because I saw some gay boys that made me nervous because I wasn't out to anyone else yet. Only myself. And I hadn't even been out to myself that King at this point. Perhaps about a year. In this entry I state that "I almost met some gay guys in the bathroom (at least I think they were gay--I don't have official gaydar yet)." I thought this was hilarious and so telling of who I was at the time. And I love that it was on paper instead of the computer. It made it more nostalgic. I've grown so much since then. 

One journey to and through the community Part 4 of 4

One journey to and through the community Part 4 of 4

Gretchen Rachel Hammond is a senior staff writer for the Chicago-based LGBTQ publication the Windy City Times and the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Lisagor Award.  Hammond has also written novels like The Last Circle.  

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