Choosing Authenticity: How One Lesbian Risked It All to Be Themselves & Thrived.

by Sammi Price

My name is Sammi Price and I’m from Neenah, Wisconsin. 

I remember the first time that I had a crush on a girl, and it was in eighth grade in my little hometown in Wisconsin. I was always in the theater department and they were putting up a production of Alice in Wonderland, and I was in the back of the theater and Alice was up there singing the beautiful song that she was singing. And I remembered feeling new feelings for myself that I had never felt before. And I went home that night and I went into my bed. I remember laying there crying, asking powers that be, “Why am I feeling like this? Why am I? This is wrong? This is weird.” There was pretty much no queer representation in my town at the time. A few years go by and I go into school, and again, there was no queer representation.

So I remember scouring YouTube in the early days of YouTube, and I came across poetry by Andrea Gibson, who was just one of the most fabulous poets that I’ve ever come across in my life. And I looked into their work and I came across a poem in specific, which was “Photograph” by Andrea Gibson and spoken word poetry, and it was this beautiful queer love story. 

I felt like I saw myself in art that I had never seen myself before. I started diving into lesbian and queer literature, poetry, and I saw pieces of myself in these poems, and it just ignited a flame in me. It made me take their words that they had written and view it in areas of my life and the feelings that I was having that they weren’t bad. 

I felt like I saw myself in art that I had never seen myself before.

People started talking a little bit. In my small town there wasn’t much to talk about. There were suspicions that I was a lesbian. There was talk amongst the crowds. But fast-forward, about a year later, my school put on a diversity fair, which I think was one of the most amazing things that my school had done, doing this each year and how important it’s that schools promote diversity. But I had recited an Andrea Gibson poem at this diversity fair. And it was basically like, “If you didn’t know then, now you know now that I am queer, here, lesbian and ready to rock.”

Over the next few years, I started looking into my own kind of artistry and being inspired by all of this work by queer artists and literature that I was reading and taking in. So about a year passed, and there was a coffee shop performance at my school. So they had converted our cafeteria into coffee shop vibes. There were bean bags, that it was vibey lighting, and it was very fun. 

And I remember being backstage about to go up for the poem that I was going to be performing. The poem was about my girlfriend at the time, and I had read them the poem a day before, and I was very nervous, but also excited. I had a lot of different people in the audience, friends who knew who I was and supported me, but also strangers and family members. I remember being nervous and the lights were coming up, and I went up on the stage and I stood in front of this, and I just imagined that there was no one else in the audience. 

And I start reciting the poem that I had written and I finish and I walk off the stage. And I remember the first reaction I got was actually from someone who was on crew, another student, and they came up, they were like, “That was awesome. Thank you so much.” And I believe they were queer as well.

So I received some very good feedback, some kind, supportive feedback. But then I also received some feedback from different directions that were saying, “Be careful. Don’t put yourself in this category of having queerness be a part of the art that you’re sharing with the world,” because there were some opinions that it’s not going to make you as commercially successful. Many people knew that I wanted to pursue acting, pursue art as my career. 

So that was a big point of it where it was like, are you going to shift yourself into something that will be commercially successful no matter what, or are you going to live your authentic self? And I was just like, “Well, in true Sammi’s style and in true queerness style, I will live authentically myself. 

So at 18 years old, I packed up and I moved to New York City. I worked three jobs all through college, all of that. And I started infusing my art into just authentically myself, which took some years. After college I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I went there and continued acting, continued working a million day jobs too, until 2020 came around when the pandemic hit. And I was like, “Well, what am I going to do now? The world is ending. Theaters are closed. I’m not sure what to do.” 

So I opened up a voiceover company and I built up my company. I was able to stop working day jobs. I started drag, which was fabulous. It allowed me to get into and explore masculinity and femininity outside of any kind of binary gender. So I started drag as drag king Sammi Hands. I started doing performance artwork. I started performing still my queer poetry. I put on a one woman show, which was amazing. I just continued to infuse the authenticity of my own queer experience into everything I do.

So I thank Andrea Gibson for doing that for me, and I hope that one day, maybe some little kid at a small town will stumble upon my work and say, “Wow, you know what? Maybe there’s more outside of these four walls. Maybe there’s more outside of this little town.” They don’t have to move to New York City to live a wonderful, queer authentic life. They can do it exactly where they are, because representation is important everywhere.

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