The first time I was booked for a college show, I wasn’t even old enough to rent the car I needed to get me there from the airport. I ended up taking a three hundred dollar taxi ride (money I most certainly did not have!), and simultaneously ruining the day of a not so friendly old man cab driver, when we both realized I had no smartphone, no map, and no idea how to get to the school. The old guy spent most of the drive looking at me in the rearview mirror while shaking his head and muttering curse words under his breath, but by golly, we made it.
I had been brought to the school for their annual Diversity Week, and was being asked to perform a two hour set of poetry on their cafeteria stage during lunch hours. The first terrifying part of this endeavor was trying to read poems to a giant room full of people playing pool, hanging out with their friends, eating McDonald’s french fries and decidedly not that interested in the pink-haired poet girl on stage. The second, is that I most certainly did not have two hours of material to perform. I was a young queer poet, who wrote queer poems, about my queer life. But I stood on that stage for a hundred and twenty minutes, read everything I’d ever written, told every aching moment of my own coming out story, and by the end, was weeping right alongside a small group of students who had moved to a front table to be able to hear me over the clashing circus sounds of the cafeteria.
It’s been over twelve years since that first show, and while I’ve conquered my fears of performing in front of people eating french fries, and have written more poems than any reasonable set length should ever be, the feeling of connection I had with that small table of students permeates through every show I’ve ever done. There was a gig at a rural school in North Carolina where, for some reason unbeknownst to me, my performance was paired with a giveaway of tickets to a Packers football game, leading to an absolutely overflowing theatre of sports loving dudes (a demographic one does not expect to encounter at a queer poetry performance!). I was terrified I would be booed off stage, or worse. I contemplated changing my entire set list to better hide who I am, but in the end, read the poems I knew needed to be read, and after the show, was walked to my car by the ENTIRE school football team because they wanted to make sure I was safe.
I often like to joke that I am “gay for pay”, which is a funny way of saying that my job is one of the biggest gifts of my life. It’s rare that after a show at a college, there isn’t some shy, heartbroken, excited, scared, young person waiting and desperate to tell me their story.
About their new girlfriend.
Their new pronouns.
The way their family just doesn’t understand.
I am a firm believer that everyone gets to be “out” in whatever way works for them in the moment. For some people, I’m the first queer person they’ve seen name that out loud, in person. I feel so lucky that my “out” has led me to stages in every tiny corner of the country, telling my story, and hopefully, making a difference for the folks that need to hear it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katie Kramer, Spoken Word Poet & Diversity Speaker