We, The People, crave realness.
We crave visceral, profound, deep; something savory we can sink our teeth into.
Witnessing others in their “realness” is the greatest driving force of change. It presents an undeniable honesty; a tangible way of existence. It highlights where the work needs to be done. In the current age of social media and public idea sharing, it’s easy to fill up on intellectual fuel. We can regurgitate endless facts, and fight all day from a keyboard on abstract thoughts and idealistic policies.
But what happens when we live it?
What happens when that life we crave, that belief, that quest for justice, is realized?
Two weeks ago, members of The Scarlet Tongue Project gathered at The Dorchester Art Project to host a small intimate show. Makiko, Katia, Creature, Cass and myself were all together in preparation for The Arts Equity Summit, where we would be presenting our intro workshop on Multilingual Anger. After being away from each other for months since our last residency in Mexico City, we were excited to return to what we refer to as The Lab.
The evening was magical. Each artist brought incredible work that dove deep into their particular specialties and areas of focus. We were joined by guest artists Mitzie Gibson ( https://www.mitziegibson.com ) and Pampi (thirdeyefell.com), who felt like they were always meant to be with us. The air was thick with storytelling, secret sharing, and truth spilling. The energy was cozy, raw, vulnerable, unpredictable, and a little tequila wet. It was imperfect, a “work in progress” as Katia joyfully reminds us, but immensely powerful nonetheless.
When taking risks in art, there is absolutely no guarantee that everyone, or anyone, will connect with or understand what you’re doing. For that reason, maturing artists often strive to reach a point of surrender, finding contentment with the possibility that maybe only one person in the crowd will connect and leave inspired.
It really only takes one.
I’ve come to believe at this point in my career that if someone is determined to be critical and dismissive of the art they’re consuming, then that’s beyond my control. Ultimately, we all choose how we wish to accept, reject, and judge the world around us. This is why The Scarlet Tongue Project invites our audience members to explore and choose their own adventures at our events. There are always interactive components outside of the performances, and outside of our requests for respect and consent there are no rules for timing or conduct. We do not wish to be consumed**. We wish to be met, confronted, interacted with, and questioned. We want our audiences to be active in their critical thought. You, dear observer, are responsible for your own experience.
So what happens when you’re sitting in a room watching art that isn’t about you, with the instructions to find a way to have an experience? This is where the magic of co-creation resides. There is no “right thing” to do or think, so your mind becomes aware of itself. Whatever action, whatever thought you have next, you are organically calling yourself into the space as a participating member of the moment being born in front of you. What’s particularly interesting to me is watching men arrange themselves in response to this work.
One would generally assume that if you’re getting a group of women together to present art on intersectional feminism and anger, it’s going to be a man-bashing fest. For that reason, when seeking artists to join this project, I found womxn who reflect anger on a vast number of subjects. It’s important for the world to understand that our emotions and intellect run deeper than how we feel about boys and men, especially as love interests. To not honor that is to dismiss our fullness as humans.
I have had immense trouble with men, beyond my wildest dreams, since the beginning of this project. Men have wanted to make this work about them, demanded that I carve out space for them, or have wanted to shape my affections toward them via “helping” me with this project (then raging out when I say no or don’t thank them enough). Men have sought me out to tell me all of my flaws, highlight my ignorance and stupidity, and even demand that I cast certain people in my film. And yet, I keep the doors open to men, with a progressively clearer understanding that this work refuses to cater to them. With that boundary established, I am absolutely delighted when men attend Scarlet Tongue events. I think that’s a very humble and brave decision to step into such a charged space, where there’s no one who needs saving, and no one willing to fight. To be in our space, men need to discover new paths of thought and conduct that contradict standard conditioning. How that happens is completely on them and not my responsibility. It’s a wonderful hands-off experiment to hold space for.
It’s becoming more and more apparent to me that the deeper and stronger the womxn stand in this project, the greater the organic impact on the men in our audiences. The posturing, the unsolicited favors, and the well-actually’s have greatly reduced. I’m hearing significantly less mansplainations, and a beautiful increase of questions. I’m seeing new facial expressions, moments of being stunned to silence, and I’m feeling a loving softness. I’m hearing more thank-you’s and statements of inspiration. I’m watching connections being made-- men naturally gravitating toward one another, forming friendships and organizing to create positive change. When they simply sit down and witness, fully present, I feel the unbelievable strength of the container they’re creating. I’m watching the cracks form as the vulnerability takes over in a desire to honestly connect without any agenda outside of true understanding.
When I call attention to this, it’s not intended to be patronizing by any means. Men are not our pets. We are not superior, and our job as womxn is not to “make them behave”. I point this all out only because I think it’s worth noting that the war between/among the sexes shows potential to end. Maybe for now these signs of spring only pop up in tiny corners of classrooms, venues and bedrooms, but it needs to start somewhere. Because power dynamics have been mainly in men’s favor for centuries, the emphasis of the work relies on them. If men are coddled, directed, and accustomed to the unpaid emotional labor of women to “straighten them out”, then power imbalance does not shift, it simply changes masks. As womxn, in all of our wild and incredible diversity, the most impactful thing we can do to push this shift forward is to dig our heels in and stand strong and tall in our power and integrity.
This is why a culture that craves change will also crave things that are “real”. You cannot push something that is solid. You cannot simply pluck a living thing with deep, deep roots. You cannot stare into the sun and deny its light, and you cannot calm the ocean’s tides by arguing that the moon is fake. I mean, you’re welcome to try, but don’t hurt yourself. If a human being is standing in a state of empowerment, in the flow of honor and connection, they are a force to be reckoned with. I use the word “empowerment” here instead of “power”, because I want to stress the importance of sourcing strength from within, rather than from dominance over others.
There’s a current common misconception that the only things that are “real” are the things that discuss pain and hardship. Sadness is “real”. Psychotic rage is “real”. Public displays of trauma are “real”. We, The People, have become very cloudy with a high chance of exploitation. In our show last month, I mentioned that to accept the fullness of life is to allow yourself to source your strength from everything you feel. Remember that happiness and ecstacy can also be real. Excitement is real. Confusion is real. These days I’m remembering to let myself laugh “real” (which makes a weird sound and I almost always cry, but it feels so great). If we only focus on pain and despair being real, then we do our society great injustice. Don’t fake contentment and joy for others’ satisfaction, and don’t hide who you are because you don’t want to inconvenience patriarchal ideals of “rising above” and maintaining productivity (you are not a machine). But rather, stun them with your epic joy and pleasure despite their attempts to take it away from you. In your quest for change and realness, never lose balance. Give voice to anger, fear and sadness. But don’t forget to leave some spots open at the table for genuine peace and well-being. Your honest displays of happiness aren’t telling the world that the pain is okay. Rather, it’s letting everyone know that beauty is tangible, it exists, and it’s what we can look forward to when we clean out the muck.
Be you. Be whole. The world isn’t going to heal overnight, but in the permission you give yourself to be unmovable, I can assure you that reality will begin to shift itself around you.
Thank you again to all of the men who dare to stay on this journey with me. I see you. I love who we’re becoming.
**inspired by performance by Aysha Upchurch