Editors' Note: Guest blogger Alan L. Bounville is a full time graduate student studying theatre for social change at New York University and is one of the founding members of Queer Rising New York City, a direct action group fighting for queer equality. This summer Alan is traveling the country performing a solo play about activism, facilitating civil disobedience trainings and partaking in queer activism.
Late one evening, two years ago this past April I took a shower. A couple minutes after I started drenching myself with the hot water, I collapsed. I wasn't physically ill in any way. Instead, my body and spirit gave out in that moment. I was mentally breaking down.
So much led to that defining moment. I had just been dumped. I was living in a volatile situation with another guy – an ex boyfriend. I was upside down in two properties that were supposed to be part of my brighter future - part of the American Dream that got flushed when the market started crashing.
And in that moment, I had the thought. A question actually. I had been depressed before, but this time was the worst it had ever been. I asked myself, as I cried and ached on the tub bottom – Why live? I decided I could answer that question by doing one of two things.
Choice 1 – Kill myself.
Choice 2 – Find my way out of this.
Making Tough Choices
I could see in that abysmal moment many of the circumstances that led to me being in that low place were similar to the past depressions. Like before, I followed other’s suggestions on how to live my life instead of just following my gut, I waited until my emotions were out of control before I started making my life better and I hoped for a better tomorrow even though I was stagnant in my present day.
As I picked myself up off the tub bottom…
I chose number 2.
I figured I'd give living a try for a while longer.
From that point forward I took similar repairative steps I had taken to dig myself out of the past depressions. 1. I started with therapy. 2. I got on some drugs to help me sleep (I was sleeping maybe two hours a night at this point). 3. I started the process of moving out, even though I knew my ex and I were (and still are) being held hostage by a strangulating real estate market.
But somewhere in me, I knew I had to do more. The Get Out of Depression in Three Easy Steps process I used in the past would not alone stop this cycle. But I had no idea what to do next. I had thoughts of leaving Florida, where my properties are located. I had a desire to continue studying theatre.
What if I were to move to New York City? I used to say I wanted to do that. I'd love to travel the country too. I want to speak up more - for LGBT rights - for myself. I'm an event manager at a hospital - that is totally a compromise career. Back to theatre – I don't want to just keep studying theatre that isn't tied to something deeper. I would want to do theatre that really moves people to action of some kind.
So, broad desires led to more specific ones and in there I learned what I needed to do to really move to a place where I made Choice 2 much worth my while. I had to just trust my gut – against all the nay saying – against all those who try to shut me down. I just had to trust in where my heart wanted me to go.
Touring the Midwest
The past couple weeks on this journey have been extremely fruitful. After leaving Cincinnati I traveled west to Milwaukee. There I visited a very close friend I knew in Orlando. He moved back to Milwaukee a couple months before I moved to New York City last year. I didn't have any performances of CHAINED TO FREEDOM or civil disobedience trainings or other activist activities scheduled. I was passing through, seeing an old friend. I did however have a performance of the play scheduled for Madison, Wisconsin, but it wasn't for a week from when I arrived in Milwaukee.
So, I had time to get caught up with a friend. As has become customary with others this summer, during my visit, he and I got to talking about activism, the LGBT movement, this crazy journey I’m on, etc. In that conversation I learned that he is not officially out to his parents. I strongly advocated for him to come out. He expressed that talking about dating life isn't something customarily done in his family. I bluntly said none of that matters. We must all come out and continue coming out. Our outness is our biggest asset as a people who desperately need our equality. And our sexuality is a whole lot more than our dating life.
Maybe he will come out to his parents. Maybe not.
I had the privilege of meeting some wonderful new people in Milwaukee. As I shared with them what I'm doing this summer, it as well opened up all kinds of conversations. One person told me about the struggles of a friend of theirs, a transitioning transgender woman who lives in upstate Wisconsin. The person who shared this with me wants she and I to connect. I'll be sure to do that.
As I waited for the performance in Madison, I thought, what else should I do while I wait?
Oh yeah! I should leave my car in Wisconsin and fly back to New York City to participate in the Sampson and Diaz Bigot Gala! and bus it down to Washington DC to be part of The Big Commit and the Homophobia Kills Die-In. Then, I should fly back to Milwaukee with a stow away, one Activist Extraordinaire, Iana DiBona.
Iana accompanied me for a final couple days in Milwaukee, through Madison (where another Activist Extraordinaire, Jude Stevens put together the great audience to see the play) and further west.
Side note - Jude is an amazing straight ally - a mom to all us LGBT folks out there fighting for a better tomorrow. Jude has an amazing story of what drives her in her activist work. I'll let you friend Jude on Facebook and ask her questions yourself. Jude's husband Jim is equally wonderful. Sitting with them watching Eddie Izzard and laughing my ass off, having a late-night chat with Jude and Iana that opened up Jude's story as well as some deep thoughts and feelings from all of us about connections we have to the work we are doing, getting time to talk with some other local activists about civil disobedience and scheduling a time for me to come back to facilitate a training and perform CHAINED TO FREEDOM again - well, Jude wasn't kidding me when the week before my arrival she told me on the phone that I was going to love Madison. Mom knows best.
Side note to the side note - Two local Madison activists Jessie Otradovec and Katka Showers-Curtis, Iana and myself decided, while in Madison, why not agitate? So, the four of us went down to one of the local Target stores and announced that Target was having a Bigot Special!
Past Madison, my stow away, Iana and I had an impromptu photo shoot in the ladies room at Ten Chimneys in Minnesota. One of the sisters working there totally caught Iana and me coming out of the ladies room and asked us point blank if we were just in there together and I said – ‘Hell yeah! It’s all dolled up in there. I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to pose in a powder room. Oh – and by the looks of the photos of Alfred Lunt in this place – you can’t tell me he wasn’t a screaming queen!’ Then, a quick stop to the SPAM Museum. Lord help me if I ever sit down and eat that crap! There was an older man there who pushed a SPAM sample on me – and it was on a pretzel stick. Why didn’t I lie and say I was a vegetarian? Why am I not yet REALLY a vegetarian? And then, through the corn and soybean fields of South Dakota. And then, through the corn and soybean fields of South Dakota. And then, through the corn and soybean fields of South Dakota.
And then, through the corn and soybean fields of South Dakota.
It’s a big state.
There were many more stops along the way where we saw some of the quirkier sides of South Dakota. Then, the Badlands. Then feeling so very small. Then the Black Hills and Mount Americana Masturbation Session Rushmore. Then the Native American's justified big fuck you to America that dwarfs the heads of the four white men down the road - the amazing Crazy Horse Memorial and its moving tribute to all cultures - but mostly Native American cultures – that moved me to tears. I'd like to see Crazy Horse completed in our lifetime. You can help - donate to the project here. And then the Needles. And then bison. And then Wind Cave. And then, and then, and then.
Iana and I drove westward to Yellowstone National Park before she flew home yesterday from one of the smallest airports I’ve ever seen in West Yellowstone, MT.
It was great to play tourist for a bit. The first half of this trip has been almost non-stop work. And to spend some down time with Iana, someone I hold in the highest regard meant the world to me.
And now - I sit in the middle of Gold West Country in Montana. The past couple nights have been below freezing and upwards of 90 degrees during the day. I found a cheap cabin up here in the middle of the seemingly countless mountains of this vast state. I need a couple days to regroup. To write. To synthesize the work I must complete for my thesis paper I am starting to write.
A More Complete Version of Me
I travel this summer on student loans and the donations of old friends, new friends and strangers. I began trusting my gut two years ago and am now doing everything I have wanted to do for years. I am studying theatre again - but theatre that does more than entertain. I am traveling the country. I am based in New York City. I am a more complete version of me.
And though I get lonely on the road. And though school is costing me about $140,000. And though this Master's I am working on right now is not the end of the education I need so I can be a theatre professor (one of the longer term goals). And though when I am a professor the salary I will make will in no way make it realistic for me to ever pay off my student loans. And though because of this I'll be enslaved to the government forever - unless I become homeless and don't have an income. And though the two properties in Florida are going to force me to declare bankruptcy.
I have never been a happier person. I have never felt more complete. I have never been more hopeful.
I finish this post rocking in a chair in the lodge by my cabin listening to Sound of Silence. And for so many reasons I want to cry. And I almost do.
Next – Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona, Texas and as it turns out, now back to Ohio. I want to go home and I want to stay on the road forever.