Performance art provides the fuel for activism

Scott Turner Schofield will present his transgender-person show, “Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps.”
Scott Turner Schofield will present his transgender-person show, “Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps.”

In 2008, I was in Miami with my transgender-person show, “Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps.” We had just begun a golden era of intercultural curiosity; there was a sense of “Yes, we can” — we can understand our differences, and in doing so, unite.

Thanks to MDC Live Arts, I’m back in Miami with an updated version of the show, at a time when everything feels profoundly different. I’m not alone in a feeling of fear — for our nation, for our humanity, and for myself as a member of the LGBTQ community. It seems too serious a moment for storytelling, in 2017. And is this the beginning, or the end?

We do live in newly uncertain times, seemingly ungoverned by the rule of law or established democracy. But in my own life, I know that the hateful actions of the leading party, its leader and his followers, is actually just a regression after a short respite full of major social gains.

Unfortunately for LGBTQ Americans, we have lived through worse acts in worse times. Ask anyone who survived the Reagan regime and the 1980s AIDS crisis. Look up what elected officials said and did then —literally remaining silent as thousands of gay Americans died. President Bush I did no better. Bill Clinton enacted “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” requiring LGBTQ Americans serving their country in the military to hide who they were. President Bush II voted to create a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. Those are just the major historical low-lights: from “Don’t say gay” laws in school districts to the criminalization of consensual sex between adults and blood-donation bans for gay and bi men and anti-LGBTQ laws and policies that existed at every level until recently.

Even President Obama had to “grow” in his thinking on LGBT issues during his first term. We have lived through one single modern election where the worth and value of LGBTQ love was not used as a political football.

Conversely, during the past four years, I have seen more allies wake up and get active — not just for LGBTQ issues, but also for Black Lives Matter and women, immigrants and disabled Americans than in all my 15 years of activism. People with privilege have been listening. They have become knowledgeable, passionate and litigious in ways I have never seen They are making themselves known, they are actively changing laws, policy and culture — and they are not going anywhere.

This terrifying historical moment may, paradoxically, be one of the best times ever to be a marginalized person. Our government may attack us, but a majority of the people — your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers — are resisting. We have more supporters who see and hear us, who believe u, and who are fighting with their privilege on our behalf than ever before. And this is only the beginning.

During the 1980s and ’90s, solo performance became a vital art form because elected officials like Sen. Jesse Helms created an atmosphere of censorship that drew money away from the arts. It was a great time to be a dead white guy. But audiences craving politically astute, cutting-edge creativity about the realness of the situation came together in bars and basement blackboxes to listen to stories told, affordably, by solo performers who were trans and women, black and brown, queer, had accents.

It is a sign of all that has changed for the better. Experience the power of performance in dark times: your attendance is activism.

Scott Turner Schofield will present “Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps” will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday at MDC Live Arts Lab on Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus. For information, visit MDCLiveArts.org