Friends, it is time to introduce you to another guest blogger. It is my pleasure and honor to lift up the powerful work of Marcus Patrick Ellsworth. I met Marcus at the Veritas gathering in Chattanooga where communities of faith came together for an afternoon of love, grace and solidarity with the LGBT community of Chattanooga. Kat Cooper pulled us all together and I am SO glad she did (and still is). There were so many voices of faith and truth who spoke of God’s compassion and radical hospitality – IN TENNESSEE Y’ALL!
And Marcus. Wow. When Marcus approached the stage I was all tuckered out from the drive and talk and settling in on a sofa in the back of the sanctuary for some brownies and quiet in my head. But he began speaking and I was on me feet – mesmerized – blessed.
Ok, enough of my rambling – ladies and gentleman – Marcus.
“I have come to believe over and over again
that what is most important to me must be spoken,
made verbal and shared,
even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
– Audre Lorde
By the time I had reached high-school, I had come out to only a few close friends. I still wasn’t very proud of my identity and feared that I would be figured out and summarily burned at the stake. But when I joined a school club called the Young Artists and Writers Society, I found something incredible. Many of my fellow students in the club were gay or bi or questioning their identities altogether. These sentiments began to bleed through in our work until we realized that we were not alone and even the heterosexual members of the club and the teacher who sponsored our group accepted us and supported us. Our creative work began to take on new depth and meaning. Many of the friendships forged in that group are still near to my heart to this day. Because of that outlet and the support I found there, I gained the courage to come out to more of my friends and finally became comfortable enough with who I am to accept myself. Mostly. It would be some time before I came out to my family, but that is another story for another time.
Let’s fast forward to me in my mid-twenties. I started to frequent a few open mics and poetry events in Chattanooga. Particularly an open mic called The Speakeasy at Mudpie Restaurant (God rest its soul) and the poetic collective known as Rhyme N Chatt. At these events, I discovered something that shocked me a little: I was the only openly gay person talking about my identity and my personal life on stage. It was not uncommon for me, upon stepping away from the mic, to be told I was “brave” or “courageous” or “shocking”. I was only being honest, as I had assumed all writers and artists were called to be. I could only write and express what I knew. I knew being gay, black, and Christian. How could I write or perform anything else? The comments I received from the audience and fellow poets encouraged me and I became more intent on using material from my life and the people around me to create poetry that explored the truth of our lives, both beautiful and heart breaking. Most of my writing tackles issues like bullying, LGBT rights, domestic violence awareness, HIV/AIDS, the good and bad sides of religion in society, and several other social issues.
Few other performers in Chattanooga were tackling these issues, and even fewer were addressing the concerns of LGBT people. I suddenly found myself being asked to perform at events in town and I used every opportunity I could find to bring these issues before an audience. Usually it was an audience made up mostly of straight people who were not expecting to hear anything about gay romance or struggles in a sea of poems and songs about heterosexual sex and love. Most of the responses I have heard regarding my work have been surprisingly positive, including one clumsy yet endearing conversation with a gentleman in a camouflage ball cap who thanked me after a set and told me he felt he needed to apologize somehow for how he’d thought about and treated “people like me”. The poor guy didn’t even know what terms to use that wouldn’t be offensive. But it was a big step for him and an eye opener for me. LGBT people at shows have met me with tears and hugs. Others have greeted me with such enthusiasm for my work that I still find it slightly uncomfortable. Even relating these moments here feels a little embarrassing and bit like bragging. That is not my intention.
What I am trying to convey is that there is a need for LGBT voices out there. Especially in the south. Especially in the places where we have the least amount of freedom and acceptance. People need to hear our stories and see our faces. They need to know that we are out there living our lives loudly, proudly, and happily. They need to know they are not alone. Rather, we need to know we are not alone. I was asked to write about why I write, perform, and speak as I do. I do this work because, to paraphrase Audre Lorde, our silence will not protect us. So speak up, speak honestly, speak loudly, and speak often. No one else can do it for you, and you may well find your voice makes a tremendous difference for someone you haven’t even met.
Marcus Patrick Ellsworth