- Learning My True Colors:Race, Sexuality, and Adultism in LGBTQA Youth Theatre
It is an exceptionally warm winter day in 2013 and I am in Dr. Coleman A. Jennings's "Dramatic Literature for Youth and Families" course at the University of Texas at Austin. It is my fourth semester of graduate school for an MFA in Drama and Theatre for Youth and Communities, and I am excited because today's discussion focuses on African American and Black diaspora approaches to Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA). My excitement fades to disappointment as I realize that out of an entire semester of TYA, there are only two class periods that attend to contributions of the Black diaspora;1 furthermore, the selected plays focus on blackness from an antiquated stance.2 It made clear to me that I was a queer Black body in a program that accepted me into the fold, but did not reflect the same inclusivity into its pedagogy. I retreated inwards as class started. I was afraid of making it a "Black thing"—more accurately, a "big Black queer thang." I made clear to Dr. Jennings how disappointed I am in him, and more specifically, the lack of representation and diversity within my graduate studies. Tears fall from my eyes as I try to explain to my white professor and peers how it feels to be so invisible at that moment—not a new feeling, but one that stings anew each time. Following E. Patrick Johnson's critique of higher education, what my professor and peers fail to grasp is how academia (and other primarily white institutions) enforce and permeate whiteness to the point of violent erasure of queer Black bodies. On the one hand, I had the language and agency to name what was happening in the moment to/with me; and on the other, I wondered about those black queer youth/folx that did not. If finding Black TYA was this difficult and painful, I imagined that Black queer TYA was just a figment of my hopeful imagination.
This essay is a mixtape of how I began to speak to some of the aforementioned challenges in my queer pedagogy within community and youth spaces. I revisit my graduate research to establish how I developed my queer pedagogy and build upon this praxis through my professional training as Youth Programs Manager of True Colors: Out Youth Theater. I address how adultism can be another violent form of erasure that impacts youth development and leadership along with racism, homophobia, transphobia, and class. The outro summarizes my approach toward a queer pedagogy that forefronts youth and marginalized voices.
After my invisible man catharsis, I dried my eyes and got to work. The discourse surrounding applied theatre techniques with LGBTQA3 youth in Austin was nonexistent, so I decided to create a youth theatre ensemble. Not only did I discover there were very few resources for LGBTQA youth in general, but when coupled with the racial and class inequities of Austin, queer youth of color were not even a factor. In 2014, my research culminated in a thesis that documented my collaborations with and interviews of the Pride Youth Theatre Alliance (PYTA).4 I defined my queer pedagogy as "the usage of queer5 culture, language, expression, and politics in educational and community spaces with the intention of sustaining critical dialogue, interpersonal depth, creative play, and agency." This pedagogical framework is rooted in my queer body/identity and framed by the theoretical and practical exercises of seminal applied drama and theatre (ADT) practitioners. Again, influenced by my life and graduate-school experiences, being Black and queer fueled my pedagogy to develop in primarily queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) spaces; moreover, I wanted to develop a pedagogy in youth spaces as to learn from them how to best support and advocate for their needs—something that was rarely done for me. [End Page 125]
One of the most helpful elements of this research project were interviews I conducted with three PYTA instructors about queer pedagogy in their respective youth theatre spaces/ensembles across North America. In these conversations, we shared strategies on how to build youth...