Gay Man Finds Confidence And Sheds His Toxic Masculinity On The Theater Stage. “For Once, You’re Seeing The Real Me.”

by Jack

My name is Jack. I’m from Chicago, Illinois.

So I came out of the closet when I was about 15 years old. I come from a very masculine, sportsy middle class suburban background, and I think just, like, the pressure built up one day and I wrote a very long Facebook letter explaining to everyone that I was gay in the letter. I made sure to remind people that I’m not that sort of gay. Like, I’m still a sports gay, I still wrestle and I play football. Like, I was this sort of gay that called other people faggot. I made gay jokes. I was really, really trying to stress my masculinity and perform this role. You know, I shat talk with the boys. I would go out to parties. I would get really drunk. I was just genuinely acting like an asshole because I was afraid that if I slipped up at any point, I would sort of lose this social status that I thought I had.

When I went to college, I decided to not go to a college that I liked. I decided to go to a very masculine school. I went to Indiana University. I tried joining a fraternity. I went to football games. And I was just generally really depressed and I was drinking a lot and I was having a lot of unsafe sex and was suicidal.

And then eventually push came to shove and I decided to change things. So I came home after my first semester of college and I decided to go to Sarah Lawrence College, which was a smaller… it was a more arts-based school. And I was still telling my parents that I was pursuing a career in political science, but what I really was interested in was writing and theater and performance.

I made these really weak, cowardly baby steps towards joining the theater. I would go to meetings, but I didn’t sign up for any classes. I went to auditions for my first semester, the fall semester there. I went to audition, but I think at the time I told myself that, you know, I had just forgot to prepare an audition piece, but I think in my head, I intentionally didn’t prepare anything. And it was sort of like already purposely pushing myself into this position of just being an asshole or sort of a pariah.

So luckily what winds up happening is one of the directors of one of the plays, I remember it was for the basement theater – it was for the smallest theater. He asked me if I wanted to be his stage manager. He was like, Come to auditions. He’s like, Help me read. And he was like, You could get involved in theater this way if you’re, like, too nervous to be a performer or do any of your own stuff.

So we went to auditions and he had me read for this character, Warren. “This Is Our Youth” is kind of like a coming of age story, three kids in a love triangle. Two guys and a girl. They party a lot. They do a lot of drugs. And he had me reading for this character, Warren, who is depressed, who’s very shy.

As I was reading the role, I found that I was really good at it. I found that more so than the other people who were reading the role, I could sort of acclimate myself to the character’s speech patterns to his specific timing, et cetera. They wound up offering me the role. They were just like, You know, you’re good at this. You should just do it. You’ve read for the role anyways. And at the time I told myself I was excited because it was pages and pages of dialogue.

So I got the role and we started rehearsing, and at the time I was still drinking and partying a lot. And I remember the first couple of rehearsals, I kept on nearly sabotaging myself. Like, I once came two hours late ‘cause I woke up in my bathtub because I fell asleep in my bathtub covered in glitter. The other two people who were in this show, too, who wound up being very good friends of mine were also sort of like wild child partiers. And so they with the director, we sort of worked out this system of rehearsals. He sort of incorporated that, like, our social lives into it. So rehearsals were very calm, like we’d have a beer and we’d talk or we’d go outside and smoke cigarettes and walk around.

We started rehearsals and the other two people in the cast, one of them who is sort of the main guy who was acting opposite may who, funny enough –  so I was playing the depressed, sad inward character, which is how I really was. And he was sort of played the really hot, very arrogant, gregarious guy, which is what I thought he was in real life. So when we started acting, I only knew this guy by reputation and he was kind of like the suave man about town. Like, yeah, everyone wants to sleep with him. He was very rich. He was like a former TV star when he was a child and I was really scared that he was going to overshadow me or that he wouldn’t like my performance.

What wound up happening is this guy that played opposite me who played sort of the beautiful, arrogant, best friend, wound up becoming my best friend because I realized that all those things that I had placed on him weren’t true, and then continuing the process, all the things that I placed on myself or thought I should be weren’t true as well, because he wound up being a very sweet, great guy.

As the process went along, I just learned to be alright in my emotions and I just learned to be alright with not being traditionally masculine or not always being the center of attention. I sort of realized there were ways to center myself without hurting myself and others.

And so the production happened. It was the big production of the semester. I remember I was very proud because we sold out each night and people came to see the show, and I remember after the show was sort of like my friend group, we went outside to smoke a cigarette later afterwards, and one of them said, “That’s, like, not the Jack I know” or something. Or like, “Oh, I think it’d be – I didn’t know you had that in you the entire time.”

And I was sort of realized that I, I was sort of like, Oh, that is me though. And I was like, For once you’re seeing the real… the real me. 

The way I changed after the play was I think i was just more comfortable living in that area of not knowing. I’d still to this point had problems with substance abuse and I still, you know, am trying to conquer anxiety and mental illness. But there’s no sturm and drang, I guess is the term about it. I don’t put on a show for people anymore. And I really don’t ask people to put on a show for me.

So before I was performing this hyper-masculinity and I think… I think now I just don’t really care. But really just allowing myself the space to figure myself out and not worrying that there’s anything I should or should not be.

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