There is a reason we cherish the friends we made in elementary school or hang around family – these life-long bonds create safe places where we feel known and secure. Where we don’t have to filter everything we say because they know who we are. The acceptance is like a warm bath, enveloping us like a loving hug.
Then we venture into the world! We meet people who are not like us. Who do not know us. Who tilt their head sideways in confusion when we make a joke. Or cast a stern eye if your clothes, your issues, or your thought processes challenge their status quo.
So many of us create versions of ourselves that fit into different scenarios. Like putting on a costume; we embody a part that is chameleon-friendly to the assemblage of humanity we are surrounded by.
In Huron County where I live, if you are white, straight, hard-working, family-oriented and can shoot-the-shit, then it doesn’t take much effort to “fit in” with whatever crowd you find yourself amongst.
You can be however you like, of course! Or you can blend in and find the common denominators. There is editing, sure, but likely not a constant recalibrating.
It’s that word “constant” that has been echoing in my head since interviewing Mark Crawford, an actor and playwright who wrote and performed in Bed and Breakfast at the Blyth Festival Theatre this past month. .
I thought the play was brilliant though I’ll admit that at one point, during a sex scene I have never seen performed on stage before, I was uncomfortable. I didn’t expect it even though the play is about two gay men opening a bed and breakfast in a small town. It focusses on relationships and how they, and the townsfolk, process life through scenarios of love, hate, acceptance and rejection because of their sexuality. It’s a two-man play and the actors are a couple in real life.
I sat in the theatre for a while afterwards to analyze the play (for a story in this magazine) and to process my feelings. Was I shocked because my imagination filled in the blanks? Was I overwhelmed because the play was pushing my boundaries? Was I jealous because of the honesty portrayed on the stage; a revealing some would hide knowing the climate of small-town life?
I couldn’t wait to chat with Mark Crawford about the play. Having grown up on a farm in small-town Middlesex, he knows what it’s like living in rural Ontario. I asked him why he chose to include that provocative scene. He explained that he didn’t want to write a play about gay men that side-stepped the real reason some people are uncomfortable with gay men – sex. The scenes in the play, he continued, are not autobiographical but the feelings of having to maneuvre through the world differently because of his sexuality are.
“What I have lived and experienced in the world is the negotiation, the constant negotiation, of how comfortable is the other person? How out can I be? What can I talk about? Do I edit what I talk about?” he asks.
Crawford acknowledged that while we all “negotiate” in some form, being gay, especially a gay man, adds another layer.
This, then, is why it’s good to be shocked by seeing things we are not familiar, or comfortable, with.
When that happens, we have to ask ourselves questions. We have to analyze our response and wonder if our state of discomfort is an opportunity for growth and understanding. Because if we don’t figure that out, we will forever be part of the reason that Mark Crawford feels he is in a state of “constant negotiation” with the world. ◊