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Mitchell Martin on The Laramie Project and Queerness

My first experience with the word queer was that it meant weird. I remember driving home and my mom asked my friend how his day at school was. He sighed and said, “queer”, and then he explained to me that queer meant odd, or weird. Years later, I found out it was a gay slur, butwe’ve taken it back, I think. It does mean weird. I can’t tell you one person who would describe me as “normal”. I’m weird. I’m gay. I’m queer.

Louisville. Born and raised. I knew I was gay when I was in kindergarten. I had crushes on boys and I had a hard time relating to them, so most of my friends were girls. I learned quickly that being gay was looked down upon and I kept a part of myself locked in. That kind of shame plays on you, and you learn to live with secrets. I was always observing the subtleties with which people can hate. I remember watching HBO’s The Laramie Project in middle school which made an impact on my life that I’ll never forget. That was the first time for me that people weren’t censoring themselves on what they thought about homosexuals. It wasn’t taboo, or this fun, sly thing where people make jokes with a smirk. It was real issues, out in the open. I came out when I went to college in Illinois. I didn’t want to deal with coming out in high school. I knew most of their opinions, and I didn’t feel safe.

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“Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” I’ve been there. Its not easy. You’re not alone. Talk to a friend who doesn’t mind who you are.

I think being closeted for so many years taught me how to act “masc”, or like a traditional straight dude. Unfortunately, society’s norms on men is that we are emotionless, strong, or protectors. However I’ve always identified with traditional “feminine” stereotypes: I’m sensitive, empathetic, and very compassionate. So what happens when you have a young boy who feels these emotions that are considered “weak”? If they can’t cope, they overcompensate and become aggressive or indifferent. We’ve started calling that toxic masculinity, but its not a new idea–look at The Laramie Project: two young men in 1998 had such a problem with the fact that another man might actually have “feminine qualities” that they killed him. I make a point to be unapologetically me. I laugh when something is funny, and I’m not embarrassed to cry. I show strength in sensitivity. My hope is that young people, especially young men, will see that they don’t have to fit in this “man means strong, woman means weak” mentality that I definitely grew up with.

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I love the queer community. I think we are just trying to find ourselves in whatever 2018 is. I wonder what life would be like if we grew up without gender roles, and stereotypes. There are major problems with body image. I view myself as “gay fat”. I’m “gay fat” because I don’t have a six pack. That doesn’t make me fat–that just means I love pizza. I think it changes with TV and movies: until we start showcasing NORMAL looking people in roles where maybe they are made to be the love interest, we are still going to have this airbrushed view on what we should look like. Good luck with that.

I don’t party as much as my friends, and have been called, “the worst gay” on multiple occasions. I don’t really feel excluded from the mainstream gay culture … If I wanted to be included, I would (and do) insert myself. However, I’d like to meet more gays at not bars… and not apps.

I’m at my best when I’m in a rehearsal room working with others. Devising. Creating. I love to collaborate and come up with something that couldn’t have been made by just me. It’s different as an actor, and a director. I’m used to mostly acting, but as the director of The Laramie Project, I’ve done a lot of improvising. I come in with a plan, and then realize that we need to hit point A, B, C, and D before we can do what I need to. They key is being adaptable.

I’ve had so many teachers who taught me what its like to have a sense of humor. On the opposite end, I’ve had a lot of teachers teach me what it’s like to hate your job. I think that the greatest ability one can have is the ability to laugh at themselves. In the end, we have one life to live, so we might as well giggle our way through it.

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