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