I originally intended this post to be about writing scenes to make them matter within the context of a story.
However, Making It Matter means something else to me tonight. This week, a certain story has been moving through some very important spaces (important to people like me, at least) about a young person’s horrific treatment at a cult-like boarding school. Tonight I had the humbling privilege to hear Xandir tell their* story at Bawdy Storytelling in San Francisco. Bawdy Storytelling is a moving event no matter what stories are being told, and most of that moving comes from laughter. Most often at Bawdy we laugh at each other’s sexual mishaps and cheer for our extraordinary experiences. This isn’t to say there isn’t often a lot of tenderness, sadness, and frustration, too, because the event is about sex, after all. However, tonight Xandir’s kick-assly brave testimonial moved a jaded, privileged, sex-geeky San Francisco audience to its feet. As Xandir recounted, in 10 plain-spoken minutes, the events that took them from their abduction to their “graduation” there were times when it felt as though the audience held its collective breath, and times when we groaned in teeth-gritting frustration. There were moments when we clapped in support as Xandir struggled through tears. Their story reminded us of the struggle, and that San Francisco’s sex-positive reach isn’t big enough to protect everyone who needs it.
It would be unfortunately reductive to call Xandir’s story tremendous theater, because “theater” would imply fiction, even perhaps a cynical one. “Entertainment,” too, sounds crass, though in its purest form the word means to “to hold” and we were certainly held rapt by Xandir’s story. Perhaps, even for an atheist like myself, the word “testify” is the closest to what happened tonight. Xandir testified, and we witnessed. Their testimony was beautifully constructed and beautifully transparent. They struggled at times, and we held space for those moments. And in other moments, they exhibited more bravery and wry humor than I could imagine myself having in a similar scenario.
Xandir made it matter tonight; making the stories we all take for granted take on a greater resonance. They reminded us that most of us came to San Francisco seeking sanctuary, too. While the term “sanctuary” implies many things, freedom is not one of them. As sanctuaries are most often associated with churches, they are often the last places many people can find lasting freedom. Instead, they are places where we may regroup, find solace, a moment of peace away from the fire and condemnation of the rest of the world. But the rest of the world is still out there to be faced, and few people can live in a church. San Francisco has been a sanctuary to many of us, but we need to remember that the world is still out there, firing off round after round of savagery at our fellow freedom-seekers. At Bawdy Storytelling tonight, an event with the theme “Libertine” no less, Xandir reminded us all what freedom feels like.
* I didn’t find out Xandir’s preferred pronoun, so I’m using “they” here just for good measure until I’m otherwise corrected.