Two years ago, I started interviewing people in the theater world about the problems within that community.
All the subjects of the interviews remained anonymous to encourage people to speak directly and plainly without worrying that there would be consequences down the line.
(Of course, even then, some people felt like outing themselves and getting in hot water, but we're going to leave that water under another bridge.)
When I decided it was time to bring the series to a close, it was partly because I thought it had run its course, and partly because I had a new topic I wanted to tackle.
While I've had my issues with theater and the people who do it, I've never felt like I didn't belong there, whereas from the moment I came out, I've never truly felt like a part of the gay community.
To be clear, that probably has way more to do with me than the community, but it's something I wanted to explore, and I knew how I wanted to do it.
The theater interviews were always conducted with people who didn't live anywhere near me, and there was a reason for that. We like to think that if we can attach a problem to someone we know, we can fix the problem, and I've never found that to be the case. Problems within systems are not caused by any one person, but the system itself. That's the case in theater, and I believe it's the same for the LGBTQI+ community.
So I picked a city far from my own, and I started reaching out to gay men in that city. I spent a few months following as many of them as I could on social media, and then I began asking if I could interview them. The goal was to see if we could address some of the issues of the modern gay community and get to the heart of those issues while hopefully find some solutions.
Today I'm going to be speaking with one of the former title holders in the Community, who had something of a fall from grace years ago and is hoping to make a comeback.
Here's the interview:
ME: Can you hear me?
PAUL: It keeps dropping out.
ME: Hang on, let me fix the mic.
PAUL: You know how to fix a microphone?
ME: I have had to learn more than I ever wanted to know.
PAUL: I know what you mean.
ME: How's that?
PAUL: It's better.
PAUL: I'm nervous.
PAUL: I read the theater series.
ME: Did you like it?
PAUL: I did like it. I thought it was fake though.
ME: Everybody thinks it's fake until I interview them.
PAUL: You just need to interview everybody.
ME: That's how I'll fix it.
PAUL: Is anything made up?
ME: It's not about adding; it's about subtracting.
PAUL: What does that mean?
ME: It means we're going to talk for three hours and then I take ten percent of that and turn it into the interview. The thing is, I pick the ten percent. That's why it's creative writing even though it's not fiction.
PAUL: I see what you mean. Is that why people get mad at you? Because you don't tell the whole story?
ME: Well I think they know I'm not going to transcribe a three hour conversation, but usually they're mad, because I boil it down and once you do that--
PAUL: What does 'boil it down' mean?
ME: It means people talk around what they really want to say, and I get rid of all that, and then you see what you're really saying, and people often don't like that.
PAUL: So that's what I should expect?
ME: Don't expect anything. Just converse with me.
PAUL: (Laughs.) Okay.
ME: You were a title holder--let's say a few years ago.
ME: I won't say specifically what title, but where I live, we have Mr. Gay Rhode Island, so it was something like that?
ME: But you were new to the Community when you got the title, right?
PAUL: I had been living there for two years.
ME: And what made you want to run for the title?
PAUL: I was asked to run by the Pride organization here.
ME: They thought you'd be a good candidate?
ME: What do you think made them think that?
PAUL: I am someone who likes to get involved with a good cause. I was into fundraising. That was my job at the place where I worked. I got along well with everyone.
ME: So you won the title?
PAUL: I did.
ME: And how long did you have the title?
PAUL: Three months.
ME: It's supposed to be a year, right?
ME: And they took the title from you?
ME: Why did they take the title from you?
PAUL: It was because of a private conversation I had with someone who was sent to trap me.
ME: Trap you in what way?
PAUL: They wanted to make me sound like a Nazi.
ME: I hate it here.
PAUL: I hate it here too.
ME: How do you make someone sound like a Nazi?
PAUL: I was visiting home--where I'm from--and while I was there, I went on an app to see if there were any guys around.
ME: To meet up with someone?
PAUL: I don't know if I was planning on meeting up with anyone, but I was looking around.
ME: All right.
PAUL: This guy messages me and starts asking me about what kind of guys I'm into.
ME: What did you say?
PAUL: I told him my type.
PAUL: He blocks me. I don't think anything of it. The next morning, I wake up, and I have all these messages from my friends telling me that screenshots are going around of a conversation I had where I am being racist.
ME: So what did you tell him your type was?
PAUL: The guy who messaged me--If it was him, and I don't think it was--I think it was a photo he took from somewhere else. That guy was not Caucasian, and I told him that I'm usually into Caucasian guys.
ME: And that was the part of the conversation that ended up making it back to the Community?
ME: Why did you think this was someone trying to trap you?
PAUL: Because whenever I would be on the app in [The Community] I would get questions like that, that I thought were trying to set me up.
ME: In what way?
PAUL: Asking me questions about other people, asking me leading questions. Just--you know when people are trying to get you in trouble, and that's how it felt to me.
ME: But why would this person in a different--You don't live anywhere near the Community.
PAUL: Yes, but the person who messaged me must have known people from [The Community], because how else would it have gotten back there? I didn't give him my name or where I was from.
ME: So what happens after these screenshots come out?
PAUL: The social justice warriors came in and asked me to resign. They wanted me to give up my title. I declined to do that. I was asked to have a meeting with the committee that's in charge of all the title holders, and there was a vote taken about removing me, which is what was done.
ME: They removed you because of that conversation you had?
ME: Is that legal?
PAUL: You know, I was mad enough at first to think about pursuing some line of action against them, but I decided it wasn't worth it. The Community was who wanted this. I did have some support, but I don't know if I would have felt safe being where I needed to be--doing events and so on--based on how people were behaving. I don't agree with what the committee did, and I wish that they had had my back, especially since I felt like I had a target on my back--
ME: Why did you feel like you had a target on your back?
PAUL: Because when I entered the pageant, I was competing against other people who were on their third and fourth try.
ME: Trying to get the title that you won?
ME: So just sour grapes?
ME: And you think one of those people were trying to trap you in a situation where you'd look bad?
PAUL: Them or someone who they're friends with, who likes them, or just someone who doesn't like me.
ME: Did you see how what you said could upset people?
PAUL: I get how taken out of context, it would upset people. Yes.
ME: But what would the bigger context be that would make people understand it better?
PAUL: That I'm on an app people use to meet up and that I was talking about what I like and what I don't like.
ME: Was it not clear from the screenshots that you were on an app?
PAUL: It was, but I don't know if everybody understands how people act on there.
ME: I mean, if we're talking about--Do gay people understand hook-up apps, I think the answer is 'Yes.'
PAUL: Nobody was trying to have a bigger conversation with me about it though. I wasn't saying 'I hate Black people.' I was being asked who I am interested in dating or being physical with.
ME: So, I feel like that used to be more prevalent, this idea that it's not racist to say you're not into dating a particular group of people--
PAUL: It's not. I don't think it is.
PAUL: Do you/
PAUL: You do?
PAUL: That's interesting to me.
ME: I think it's maybe more of a bias maybe than a prejudice, but I don't think you can say 'I have ruled out ever dating someone if they're not white, but there's nothing racist about that.'
PAUL: I don't see how it's different saying 'I'm not interested in guys who aren't Caucasian' and 'I'm not into blondes.' There are guys who won't date blondes. There are people who don't date guys who are short.
ME: Yeah, that's a problem too.
PAUL: Why is it a problem?
ME: Because it's like we think there's this free pass you get to say the most problematic s*** as long it's while you're describing who you would sleep with.
PAUL: Because people shouldn't have to sleep with anyone they don't want to sleep with, right?
ME: But how are you going to say, 'I am confident I will never--'
PAUL: You're putting words in my mouth though.
ME: No, I'm not.
PAUL: You are.
ME: Let me say it like this then, when you say 'I am only interested in dating white guys' are you not saying 'I am ruling out ever being attracted to a guy who is Black, Latinx, Asian, or anything other than white?'
PAUL: I am not saying that.
ME: So why not base it on the guy you're talking to? Why not say, 'I'm just not into you.' Why do you have to put it as 'I'm not into Black guys?'
PAUL: Because I think it's less hurtful that way.
PAUL: Because it's not about that guy. I don't know who that guy was I was talking to, but it wouldn't have been about him as a person. It's a preference I have.
PAUL: No, wait wait wait. How is it different than if I said--I don't like guys who don't have six packs. I've seen guys say that and nobody is trying to cancel them.
ME: Well, those people should be cancelled, but--
PAUL: But they're not.
ME: But you see the difference between the color of someone's skin and a six pack, right?
PAUL: What about hair color?
ME: Mama, you can dye your hair.
PAUL: But you know what I mean.
ME: I really don't. Because by you saying 'I wasn't turning that guy down because of who he is, I'm turning him down because I would turn down any Black guy.'
PAUL: I didn't say that.
ME: But is that not the case?
PAUL: You're trying to say I would never date a Black guy.
ME: Would you?
PAUL: I'm doing what everybody else is doing, which is talking about who I have been attracted to. I don't know who I might be attracted to next week, Kevin.
ME: Have you ever been attracted to a guy who wasn't white?
ME: Oh my god.
ME: You can't be serious.
PAUL: I like everybody. It's not about liking people. I'm talking about attraction.
ME: Attraction is about liking people. It's about liking them on a higher level than you--
PAUL: That's not true.
ME: Are you usually attracted to people you don't like?
PAUL: All the time.
ME: Okay, me too, but--
PAUL: (Laughs.) See?
ME: But you have a racial bias. You can't say you don't.
PAUL: Who I want to sleep with has nothing to do with whether I can help people in a position--and I had been helping people--
PAUL: And we all have racial bias.
ME: Yes, that's true. You're right.
PAUL: Thank you.
ME: So you're saying there is a racial bias?
PAUL: Not on the level where I should be called a racist.
ME: But it's troubling to me that you think making a blanket statement about who you have and have not been attracted to isn't going to set off alarms. I mean, just on an intellectual level, you had to know that wasn't going to go over well.
PAUL: I didn't know it was going to get captured and sent to everybody, Kevin.
ME: But that's how you're talking to people in--
PAUL: The way that people talk on the apps is not the way anybody talks in real life.
ME: That's not wrong, but is it you saying things you don't mean or things you would say publicly if you could?
PAUL: I will tell anyone publicly that I am not ashamed of being into who I'm into. Everybody be into who you want. I'm not trying to tell anybody who to date and who to take to bed. I don't care. You do you.
ME: But people might take this to mean--
PAUL: Can I ask you a question?
PAUL: Have you ever dated anybody who wasn't white?
PAUL: You don't have any preferences when it comes to who you're attracted to?
ME: I prefer Henry Cavill, but it's not looking good.
PAUL: But there must be things about him you like that other people don't have.
ME: Yes, the fact that he can rip me in half and do it in a British accent, yes.
PAUL: I'm being serious though.
PAUL: You're saying there are acceptable things to prefer and unacceptable things to prefer.
ME: I think some things speak to bias and some don't. If you have Daddy issues, and your Daddy was a ginger, you might be into gingers.
PAUL: There you go.
ME: But you could examine that and figure out where that's coming from, right? Have you ever examined why you've only ever been into white guys?
PAUL: It's not that deep.
ME: I think it's very deep.
PAUL: I know I want the people who came for me to have to examine themselves too then, because they're the same people scrolling on Instagram, liking the same photos, from the same people, and all those people are white too and they all look the same, but they're mad at me, because I just say 'This is what I like.'
ME: Again, you're not all the way wrong, but why not say--'It is a little troubling that I am willing to rule out whole swaths of people that might enrich my life and break my headboard. I should bring that up in therapy.'
PAUL: I don't go to therapy.
ME: Oh kitten--
PAUL: This is my therapy. You're my therapist right now.
ME: Sweetie, you can't pay me enough.
PAUL: (Laughs.) I'm trying to be healed on this Zoom, Kevin.
ME: Get someone else to lay hands. I am not it.
PAUL: I wanted you to investigate this for me.
ME: Investigate what?
PAUL: That I was set up.
ME: Mama, I don't care if you were set up. You don't need to set up stupid.
PAUL: Don't be mean.
ME: I'm not saying you're stupid, I'm saying your actions were stupid, and you have terrible taste in men.
PAUL: Listen, my boyfriend now is cute. You've seen him.
ME: He looks like macaroni salad.
PAUL: (Laughs.) What is wrong with you?
ME: Unseasoned, elbow macaroni salad, but I'm sure he's a wonderful person.
PAUL: We need to cut this short.
ME: I gotta go get my ten percent from you.
PAUL: I'm going to send you some things to look into.
ME: Look into what? There's nothing to look into.
PAUL: There's hypocrisy.
ME: What else is new? I'm asking you to take a month, book a session with a doctor, and think about why you're limiting who you have in your life.
PAUL: I can only have one man in my life now.
ME: It's not just about who you're dating. If you go through life thinking 'This is who I'm attracted to' that's who you're bringing into your life.
PAUL: I have many diverse people in my life.
ME: Oh god. We have to stop.
PAUL: Don't make me sound like an *******, okay?
ME: I'm going to have to edit this to make you sound better, actually.
PAUL: Sorry to have to make you work hard.
ME: @KRB071984 on Venmo. Send your apologies there.
PAUL: Love you, Kevin.
ME: You said when you emailed me that you were thinking about running to get your title back?
ME: Do you think that's a good idea?
PAUL: Was talking to you a good idea?
PAUL: I'm considering going for it again. Yes.
ME: Do you think you'll win?
PAUL: I should win. I don't know if I will.
ME: Can I check back in with you if you run?
ME: Great. We'll talk then.
PAUL: Let's talk then.
Kevin has decided not to investigate any further into this.
For more insight into this week's episode, check out The Community Podcast which comes out every Thursday on the Epic Patreon (www.Patreon.com/EpicTheatreCo)