My First Cabaret, By: Ryan Keesee

It was at the ACPA 17 Cabaret my friend and I made the deal, you enter, I enter. I watched and attended the ACPA Cabaret my second year at that point. I learned how the event supported local organizations focused on the LGBTQA community as well as scholarships for this same population. Watching the performers, I thought it was something I could never do.

When the application for the 2018 show came along my same friend reminded me of our deal, we entered, and were accepted. I entered my stage name as Kinky Blessing. Kinky representing Kinky Boots which I wanted to wear. I always admired thigh high boots and thought about how fun it would be to rock a pair. The Blessing is an ode to my personal college group of friends. We collectively regard ourselves by many group names but we are currently owning The Blessing because this is the title given to a collection of Unicorns. Why unicorns? Well…why not, right?

I grew up in a lower socioeconomic home with my mother and sister on the perimeter of Atlanta or as natives call it OTP. Shania Twain was played…a lot! Who’s Bed Have Your Boots Been Under, Any Man of Mine, & yes….Man I Feel Like a Woman were played throughout the house on repeat. I remember helping with chores and singing to all of Shania’s songs and dancing throughout the house. My love of the songs and the femininity never struck me as something wrong then and I was never challenged until later in life. All I knew was that I loved Shania’s look in the Man I Feel Like a Woman video. When the chance came to select a 90’s song to perform, I instantly jumped to this selection and excitedly pulled together the Shania look.

The search for my clothes was an experience within itself. I specifically recall sitting on a bench in Goodwill trying on a pair of high heeled boots when I looked up and saw a young kid observing me. I perceived how they were trying to comprehend a guy with a beard jerking a pair of kinky boots on his legs. While I was in DSW trying to find THE right pair of boots, multiple stares and giggles were had. My thoughts during this experience were, “This is my lone, one-time experience. What of those individuals that face this everyday? What of those individuals that need a size 11, cause they’re impossible to find! How privileged and blind am I to have never considered this before.” As I pulled one pair of thigh high boots off I felt a muscle fade in my hip and worried a might’ve actually caused real damage in the process of getting my Shania on. I longingly looked at boots I wanted but couldn’t afford. I imagined how fabulous I could be if I just had that one pair of $150 gold studded thigh highs. I found my hat, wig, gloves, and bedazzlement at Party City. I vocally gasped when I found my top hat because it was velvet and beautiful! I hope it becomes a signature piece for me : )

All in all I pulled my outfit together. Then the contemplation came into play. What would my Uncle think? Seeing his nephew wearing studs and make-up? How might my mother explain it to her friends, “this was just a charity experience he was doing.” How do we explain any Facebook pictures to my nephew and niece? How rattled will my college friends be to see their friend dressed as a woman? Owning my identity as a gay man has come with its difficulties, and thus far I have handled it well enough so far; but, was I really ready to explain the world of drag to others? Above my concerns of judgement from family and friends I was even more concerned about the drag community itself. I felt and am, in a sense, an imposter to the scene. Although I received multiple nods as, “a new drag baby,” I was concerned how I may represent this community and if in doing so could I potentially cause harm. As I continued to share the news of my upcoming performance, I continually received phenomenal support. In the end, I resolved to remember the purpose of the Cabaret and appreciate the opportunity I had to contribute. As with other things, I was also prepared to entertain questions and challenges that could arise as a result of my participation. I was proud I had the courage to participate and grateful for the new knowledge and friendships it brought.

Performing in the show was a liberation of my own desire to let it all go and own those things that were deemed “feminine.” My hair I could flip, my lips were luscious, and I damn well fit in a corset. I had prepared a few choreographed moves in my hotel room that all but left me during the performance. My beautiful top hat refused to stay on my head and I may have had a few nipple slips. Overall, though, I felt amazing. I suspended judgement and just imagined myself dancing in my home with my dust rag in hand. It  felt good to let go of my own insecurities and own my Queen.  I received great feedback from the experience and one colleague even expressed how I slayed my performance which was all the validation I ever needed.

Beyond all of this, what made the experience was the people. While my time on stage was LIBERATING, the moments I enjoyed most were standing in the box cheering on our fellow Queens and Kings. There’s something to be said about the strong sense of community that exists within ACPA and within every single performer that poured their heart out that night. We pressed our faces to the glass, screamed, “Yaaaasss,” and offered hugs to each member that returned to our space after their performance. THAT was the Cabaret experience. Knowing we were all there for reasons beyond ourselves and owning that bravery was the galvanizing experience of it all.

To conclude the show, we all gathered on stage to sing, This is Me, from The Greatest Showman, which, if you know the song, is pretty representative of this experience. At one moment on stage, I stopped and thought how fortunate I was to be a part of something so impactful and fun. It truly ignited even more desire within me to continue understanding and advocating for this community. I’m excited to see the Cabaret continue to grow at future ACPA’s and hope to see many more new faces join in the fun. Collectively, I believe, it is an experience like no other to explore the Drag community and truly immerse yourself.

Until next year,

Kinky ; )

 

Ryan Keeseee (He/Him/His) Currently works as the Assistant Director of Volunteerism and Service-Learning at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter as @keesee22.

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Discomfort Rather than Fear: A Reflection and Call to Action, By: Danny Foster

I’m uncomfortable.

As I reflect on the incident that happened at the Philadelphia Starbucks just a few days ago, and the subsequent reactions, I continue to be uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. I am a queer, white, cis-male; I am from an educated middle-class family and I hold a graduate degree. I am one of the most privileged people in the United States, and that privilege allows me to say “I’m uncomfortable” over and over again rather than “I’m afraid” or “I’m unsafe,” I feel that’s an important point to make, here. I am uncomfortable because I continue to have to examine how I have been complicit in systems of white supremacy. The Starbucks incident again has me examining my actions (conscious and ingrained). I have never had to fear the police, that doesn’t mean I am always comfortable around officers or scared in their presence, but it does mean I have never had to think “will I go home alive after this interaction?”. That is why I am uncomfortable.

This isn’t the type of post where I give all of the answers or any answers at all, really. This is simply a call for my white colleagues, friends, peers, and communities to continue to be uncomfortable and to use that discomfort as your call to action. It is not enough for me to be educated.  It is not enough for me to have read some really great research by scholars of color. Guess what? It’s not enough for you either

The Starbucks event is not an isolated incident, it is a symptom of something much larger, more systemic and systematic, but because it didn’t result in death, because a white woman recorded the incident, because a few (not even most) white people in attendance questioned the police, and because the two black men were meeting to discuss real estate opportunities with a white colleague it has become palatable for the (white) masses. It is an easy catalyst for white people (like me) to cry “Injustice” but for people of color this is a day in the life. Let this be your catalyst. We (white people) all have to start somewhere, but don’t let this just be your start. Use this as your assignment to do more. Research the murders of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and the countless other people of color murdered by police in our country. Look at the murders of trans people (specifically transwomen) of color. Dig deep in to our history of segregation, white supremacy, racism, colonialism, gentrification, and oppression. Read about racism. Read about history. Listen to people of color. Hear what is being said. Work to understand the fears of the marginalized around us. Take action in your work and communities. Protest. Be active in your communities and work places. Interrupt systems of oppression, hell, just interrupt the cisgender, white guy in your meeting so your colleagues of color have a louder voice in the conversation. Start small, but start!

We all recognize our role in racism at different points in our lives. Obviously, we want that recognition to be earlier, but if the Starbucks incident was your moment take it and run with it. Take it as far as you can and never look back. One thing, though, white people, learn to follow. We have, for too long, failed to listen to people of color and the most marginalized in our communities because we have always been “the leader.” Remember when I said to listen to people of color? That’s not just to inform you, it is also for you understand the needs of people of color and following through on those needs by using your privilege to amplify the voices. I am not the leader in this moment, and neither are you.

I’m uncomfortable. I hope for the sake of my friends of color I am never again comfortable. I will continue to question my complicity. I will continue to recognize my role in white supremacy earlier every day and dismantle it. I will teach my students that using their white privilege to help people of color and other marginalized identities is more important than their comfort, because for many racism is a life and death scenario.

I hope you are uncomfortable too.

 

Danny Foster (He/Him/His) is a Residence Director and Orientation Coordinator at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX where he lives with his partner, Dylan. Danny is passionate about Social Justice education and restorative justice in student conduct and hopes to one day be a Director for a Student Conduct Office.

Danny can be reached at fosterdj2@gmail.com or @FosterDJ2 on Twitter.