On prob­lems and per­spec­tive

Charles Stephens is the Di­rec­tor of Counter Nar­ra­tive and co-editor of ‘Black Gay Ge­nius: An­swer­ing Joseph Beam’s Call.’

GA Voice - - OUTSPOKEN - By Charles Stephens

A few weeks back I was co-host­ing a staged read­ing of the Tarell Alvin McCraney play, “Choir Boy,” and I ended up in a re­ally hor­ri­ble mood. The traf­fic had been aw­ful, and there was an an­noy­ing beep­ing sound fill­ing the space where our event was be­ing held. But by the end of the evening, I felt silly for ob­sess­ing over such triv­ial things.

We (Counter Nar­ra­tive Pro­ject, Mo­bi­liz­ing for Ac­tion through Plan­ning and Part­ner­ships [MAPP] and Stat­icc Pro­duc­tions) de­cided to or­ga­nize this event be­cause black LGBTQ kids are ter­ror­ized in schools around this coun­try, as well as in At­lanta, and it seemed like a use­ful strat­egy to am­plify the is­sue. We wanted the staged read­ing to spark di­a­logue and hope­fully in­spire ac­tion.

So I was run­ning around like a ma­niac, try­ing to get the beep­ing noise in­side the space to stop. The beep­ing noise seemed to keep get­ting louder and louder, threat­en­ing our event and my san­ity.

I ended up go­ing out­side for a mo­ment to take a deep breath and to greet our guests as they walked in. In the park­ing lot I saw a mid­dle-aged black man sort of stand­ing around as if he were wait­ing for some­one. I greeted him and asked if he was there to see “Choir Boy.” “No. What’s that?” he asked. I told him it was a play about a kid who’s as­saulted for be­ing gay. He gave me the look that a cer­tain kind of straight dude gives you, a look of both amuse­ment and con­fu­sion. I braced my­self for fol­low-up ques­tions or worse, but there was only si­lence. Af­ter a mo­ment or two he smiled and asked, “Do you know what this build­ing used to be?” He pointed to the Carver Neigh­bor­hood Mar­ket, where our event was be­ing held. “Nope.” “A liquor store.” “Re­ally?” “Yeah. But I like this bet­ter. Ev­ery­thing is chang­ing so much around here.” “So you grew up around here?” I asked. “No. My grand­mother lived up here. I used to come dur­ing the sum­mer.”

Time passed and we con­tin­ued to ex­change pleas­antries. I in­vited him to stay for the play.

“No, I can’t. I’m wait­ing for my daugh­ter to get off work.”

He told me she worked at the cof­fee shop at­tached to the Carver Neigh­bor­hood Mar­ket.

“And I have to go back down to the hos- pital,” he con­tin­ued. “Is ev­ery­thing OK?” I asked. “Well, they re­mov­ing the breath­ing tubes from my wife to­day,” he said, his eyes danc­ing, care­ful not to meet mine, “and I have to tell my daugh­ter.”

Then he was the one who seemed to brace him­self for fol­low-up ques­tions. I of­fered none.

More si­lence passed be­tween us. Only the sound of the cars driv­ing by broke it.

“I’m sorry. I...” I said awk­wardly, “will keep your fam­ily in my prayers.”

Sud­denly the beep­ing sound and my other com­plaints seemed less sig­nif­i­cant. He thanked me for my words and walked to­ward the cof­fee shop to get his daugh­ter. I watched him head off be­fore I went back in­side.

“I told him that it was a play about a kid who’s as­saulted for be­ing gay. He gave me the look that a cer­tain kind of straight dude gives you, a look of both amuse­ment and con­fu­sion. I braced my­self for fol­low-up ques­tions or worse, but there was only si­lence.”

Au­gust 7, 2015

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