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Shock the Audience

Graphic by Hannah Boston

It was the moment we had all been waiting for. Our theater class was finally about to experience the magic of that wonderful unit, Expressionism. We had all heard about it from girls in older grades. “There’s people throwing raw meat around the stage, screaming, making out, all that weird shit,” I remember someone telling me. Everyone waited for those beautiful few weeks in junior year where we’d finally get to let loose with some dark material.

Our teacher was a flamboyant man, a welcome presence to us in our conservative, all-girls high school. He galloped into the room that Tuesday morning wearing white jeans, a fur vest, and a purple polo shirt. “Who’s ready to die?” he asked us ominously.

He sorted us into groups.

“Remember,” he said, “the whole purpose of Expressionism is to shock the audience. So go nuts!”

My group was the smallest, made up of only three girls. There was me, obviously. There was Molly, a quiet girl from the country who had chosen a theater class because she felt like it was easy credit. And Cami. Cami had been somewhat of a fixed presence in my life, in a vague, abstract sort of way. We were the two girls who always got to school early and messed around on the computers in the library before class in our first few years of middle school. We had a few classes together over the years, she seemed pleasant enough, and over the course of junior year, we became close because of the course. But I didn’t know the half of it yet.

Unbeknownst to me, Cami had emailed our teacher asking that we be put into the same group. I would’ve thought nothing of that at the time, until I heard her speak during our first brainstorm.

“Ok,” she began, “So I’ve compiled a list of things that would shock the audience.” Molly and I were impressed by her forethought. She began to read down the list. It all sounded like fairly routine disgusting stuff.  Raw hearts, blood squibs, licking the audience’s faces, etc. As commonplace as it gets. But then Cami, with her head down, said in an offhand voice, “We can also make out in front of everyone.”

Molly laughed, faintly appalled by the suggestion. I laughed too, imagining the spectacle it would cause. I still assumed I was straight at this point in time, and I thought it was a fantastic suggestion. “I’ll stay out of that,” Molly said nervously.

“I’d be down,” I said. Cami looked up, almost sheepishly.

“Ok, perfect,” she replied. And that was that.

We put it off as long as possible, until one day, about a week or so before our exam performance. Molly was away sick, so it was the perfect time to actually practice the kiss. We went through our scene almost robotically, until it was time. I was grinning nervously and cracking jokes, trying to diffuse the tension, but Cami was looking at me with an almost scared focus. “I guess we should do it now,” I said. She nodded, and we leaned in.

It was over before it had begun. She pressed her mouth to mine and instantly careened away from me, as if in shock. She wouldn’t meet my eyes.

I was relieved we had gotten it over with, and I fell back laughing. “You have to stay there!” I wheezed. “You have to at least act like you like me.”

We scooted back towards each other and practiced again. This time, she didn’t back off, and we broke apart awkwardly after a while. Then we were interrupted by a fellow classmate. “Hey,” Ingrid called to me. “Can you teach Naomi and Izzy how to hump the floor?”

I zipped out of the room, glad to get away from the tension.

We had to kiss for the play several more times, including on a lit stage in front of a panel of teachers and a crowd of girls from different grades. I could hear them whispering when we kissed, but I had no idea if it was a positive or negative response. But it felt nice, almost like a middle finger to the homophobic rhetoric our school had exposed us to for so long.

We had sat through religion lessons where we were told gay people could only go to heaven if they chose to live a celibate life, or, “the life that God intended for them.” We had learned that “lesbian” was an accusatory, negative word, especially in an all-girls school. We had been told not to organize human rights projects about LGBT issues, and were diverted to what were, in the eyes of the administration, less controversial topics. I would’ve thought that issues like human trafficking or unacknowledged genocide would be more upsetting for a group of girls to see than protection for LGBT people, but apparently my school disagreed with me.  Now we had a chance to circumvent their subtle discrimination with a statement.

Once we did the performance component of our exam (our stage kiss perfectly executed; the blood capsules less so), the unit was over, and we didn’t have to kiss anymore. But that fact sobered me, instead of making me feel relieved. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I didn’t want to move on from that little black box theater, splattered with raw meat and blood squibs.

Of course, this prompted what I like to call my Queer Crisis, in which I looked back over my life and realized what all of my strange thoughts and feelings meant. I started to understand what happened when I looked at certain girls and felt a warm, unexplained nausea. It wasn’t a bad realization for me at all, except that I now understood that I quite liked Cami, but I had no idea how to go about my daily life with that extra knowledge.

I told my other friends, and they were supportive, but liked to tease me in front of her, hinting about my “huge secret.” Cami was one of the most inquisitive people I knew, and hounded me constantly for whatever information I was withholding from her. We went through months of me trying to work out whether or not she was interested in girls (let alone me) and her doggedly trying to get me to tell her my secret (which of course I would never, ever do).

Until I did.

We were in a play together – The Odd Couple. It was a small cast, and we were all close friends. Eventually, Cami and I found ourselves alone in the dressing room, and I promised to tell her my secret. Just as I was about to spill my guts, the door opened, and our castmates tumbled in joyfully. Cami shrieked in annoyance and tried to push everyone out. I told her I needed to get new shoes from props, and dragged her out of the dressing room.

The prop room was a narrow closet, lined with shelves holding everything from suitcases to fake guns, goblets to boater hats. We plopped ourselves down in the middle of the linoleum floor, and I stared at the ground while she sat across from me and waited. Impatiently. Cami was never good at waiting for things. She kept prompting me, and my heart was pounding so hard in my chest it felt like it was going to break my ribs.

There were only two possible outcomes.

After several attempts to convey what I was trying to say, Cami picked up on the sentiment in my stumbled words, but apparently wasn’t satisfied with the delivery of my confession.

“Come on,” I whined, after this went on for nearly five minutes. “You have to know what I’m talking about.”

“Say it,” she said coolly.

So I did. And then she kissed me again. It was just like our stage kiss: sitting on the floor of our theater building. But this time it felt real. And the only person it shocked was me.

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