Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The First Kiss

I was involved with a very cool project recently, in which a group of gay men, (including me) told our stories of our first kiss with another man as part of National Coming Out Day on October 11. The piece was scheduled to run in Bay Windows, but ultimately ended up just on their website, and here:

“When He Kissed Me”

By Judah Leblang/2007
Word count: 810

We stood in a half circle, 11 men, including me, facing an audience of 80-plus people in a rehearsal hall at the Boston Center for the Arts. It was the evening of Thursday, November 11 – National Coming Out Day – and we were performing our community theatre project, “When He Kissed Me,” a series of stories describing our first meaningful kiss with another man.

As we read the finale – each of us calling out several lines, describing the actual moment of that first momentous kiss – the atmosphere in the room was electric. It was obvious that many of the men and women in the room could relate to our experiences, and recall their own memories of a special kiss.

The First Kiss Project was the brainchild of Bob Linscott, outreach and education coordinator for the LGBT Aging Project in Boston. Bob was interested in promoting projects that bring our community together across generations. Back in late summer, he asked me to help him develop a series of writing workshops, so that a group of gay men could share their stories and prepare for a culminating performance on National Coming Out Day.

This first year, the project was a “pilot,” an experiment. Initially, we didn’t know if we would be able to find 10-15 men willing to devote serious time and effort into crafting their stories. If we did find the men, would we find a suitable performance space? Could we entice an audience to show up to listen to those stories?

On September 11, after putting out a call to various gay men’s groups, we held a meeting with 10 men who expressed interest in the project. A few others joined a week later, and soon we had a group of men committed to sharing their stories with the larger GLBT community. In the space of just four weeks, we pulled the show together. Each man shared their memories of a meaningful kiss with the group. Then we did some peer editing, finding the “gold,” the best aspects of the story, and helping each other shorten, tighten and strengthen the pieces.

On October 4th, we ran through the show; a week later we were doing it “for real,” in front of a full house at the BCA. The show began with the taped music of David Brown, a gay singer/songwriter, singing “Every Kiss is a Revolution.” The song opens with the following lines:

Every kiss is a revolution.
Everyday I walk thin ice.
Knowing what’s been given freely.
Knowing I might pay a price.
And every kiss is a revolution
Everyday I walk a line.
Knowing what’s been given freely.
Knowing what’s been sacrificed.

As Bob wrote in the program, “Every Kiss is a Revolution” emphasizes the social and political importance of a simple kiss between two people of the same sex.”
Then each performer read his story. The pieces were varied, and yet they touched on universal themes, each powerful in its’ own way. Many touched on our desire for more closeness, connection, self-acceptance, and love.

The group was truly intergenerational, including a high school senior, (all of 17 years old), and a senior citizen in his mid-60s. The specifics of each piece reflected the rich diversity of our community.

Topics included:
A high school student who had his first relationship with another boy at 15;

A young African-American man who, at 21, fell in love with a man of 71 via the Internet, and who subsequently became his husband;

A “trans-man,” who transitioned from female to male and had his first kiss with a man, as a man, at 36;

A middle-aged man who had an on-again, off-again relationship with “the love of his lives,” and who discovered a deep form of friendship and platonic love with his former lover after their physical/sexual relationship had ended.

As the tales spun out on a cold rainy night last week, as I looked out at the assembled audience and at these men who had taken the time out of their busy lives to write down and then speak their stories, I was reminded that, for gay people, every kiss is a revolution.

Each time we tell our stories and share excerpts of our life experience, we validate our identities as GLBT people.

Along the way, thanks to the generous donations of our audience, we raised more than $500 for future collaborations and projects between GLSTEN (the Gay Lesbian Straight Teachers’ Education Network) and the GLBT Aging Project.

Last week, a group of us created a deeper sense of community by “coming out” into the fullness of our experiences as gay men.

And isn’t that what National Coming Out Day is really about?

Postscript: If you would like to participate in next year’s project, which will be open to both men and women, please contact Judah Leblang through his website: www.judahleblang.com


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3:15 PM  

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