In a quest to encouraging anyone who has been involved with the Out & Allied project to write something or let me interview them so people can begin to hear more about how performance and activism change individuals and change the world. Stephen M. Feest wrote as a younger and more recently out man the popular spoken word pieces published in Vol. 1–Tough Guys Wear Pink and Liquid Gender Form. Click through to see his powerful spoken word pieces!
CP: Do you have a favorite piece-or one that changed how you thought–from Out & Allied Volume 1?
STEPHEN M FEEST: My favorite piece in the first volume is actually “The Crayola Crusade“ by John Coons. Crayola Crusade so perfectly captured how I felt about how I dreamed my life to be and how other people expected those dreams and expectations to change because I had discovered that I was queer. The world was simply colored wrong, it wasn’t me. As kids we do not think we are different until people say otherwise, until they segment us into different groups like different shades of Crayola crayons. It is so wonderful when someone else can translate the language of your thoughts into a linguistically coherent perspective.
How did it feel to be published?
I remember sitting in my oversized blue chair writing and rewriting Tough Guys Wear Pink. I am a very quiet person and I filter everything I say but in my writing I let all of my emotions run free and I am unapologetic with those emotions. Everything I write has a tinge of anger and frustration and those emotions come from growing up dealing with medical trauma, so writing is both a voice and therapeutic catharsis. It was a bit scary to be published because I had come out at age 19 and I wrote and submitted for Add Verb within 2 years of that process. I also liked the idea that my pieces were given a voice. Having been born with a cleft lip and palate, I have a very monotone nasal voice, so rarely have I performed my own pieces but rather left them to be read. I do perform more now, in part from the response after people like Nate Speckman have performed my pieces (
–>listen to an audio here (though Nate’s performance at TEDx was waaaaay more in-yo-face-intense!)
What did you think of seeing Tough Guys Wear Pink piece performed for TEDxDirigo?
It was exciting to be a part of something that reached a wide audience and that could be shared so easily without having to explain it. I was doing Social Work Masters coursework when I discovered the video and I shared the TEDxDirigo video with my advanced policy professor who thought it would be a great example of using advocacy in a creative way. There were a lot of working professionals who loved that they could use it as a resource, the anthology and the TEDx talk. One woman at the end of the semester shared how she was using the book and video as a resource to help young people in her work with Native Americans within a reservation community setting.
The TEDx talk spoke about Adding the Verb, Adding Action. How do you translate that notion in your work?
Before the opportunity to be published, I went to a novel reading by Chris Abani who was a political activist and writer who escaped the apartheid of Nigeria. Abani said that the only good writing is risky, so I have taken that to heart in my writing style. Allen Ginsberg said to a someone asking about writing, write for your friends and yourself, “follow your inner moonlight, don’t hide the madness.” I try and speak about the struggles of life in an open and honest way. I believe that if people can connect on a more personal level that people can find their selves in the struggles of others. If people know they are not alone, more minds and hearts can be changed and lives saved. I continue writing, with an emphasis on advocacy and working with adolescents. I continue to write performance pieces and I try my hand at other performance opportunities.
I love that Add Verb does more than bring a performance to a school or community stage. Bringing along resources and direct support professionals that can be change agents and life supports for people has really helped shape the way I want to approach my writing and my advocacy work. There are youth theatre groups popping up in Wisconsin geared towards queer youth and I think about the wonderful opportunity of working or volunteering with such groups. My passion is to work with adolescents and I have facilitated groups of minority youth in schools.
Do you have any advice for writers or advocates about reaching young LGBTQ people?
I went to a slam poetry workshop led by Guante, a slam poet and hip-hop artist. We looked at the performance pieces that have touched us and have reached mainstream audiences. We then came up with reminders for writing performances that did more than speak to an audience. A call to action was the main importance that the poetry had to do more than simply tell people about a problem but give them some idea about how they can effect change. Also of importance is to make it personal to your life, as in the case of writing a piece about war. A piece about war can be more widely personified by an audience if you focus on the feelings of walking past your brother’s empty bedroom every day while he’s in Afghanistan and the world is moving on while he’s stuck in a state of limbo.
You have to talk about what you know and what you’ve experienced because that is where you are going to get the emotional intensities needed to move an audience in a way to hold attention and promote awareness and ultimately change. You have to able to put yourself out there, so that young people can find something of themselves in you or your experiences.
Any final thoughts?
It has truly been a blessing to be a part of the Out & Allied Anthology and its corresponding performances and productions. I never imagined that words I lived and breathed could continue to reach people beyond being published. I commend all of the people who were brave in standing up and performing the pieces or making them into a project that geared itself towards education and acceptance. It has had a great effect on me and how I intend to make change in the world.