I'll never know what went through my father's mind when he found pictures of me dressed up in drag on the Internet, but I know that the phone call that came after changed my life forever. I was standing outside in the snow when he called me, spitting rage through the phone.
"I'm not here to buy your dresses," he said. "You're not a quiet gay. You're a liar. I showed the pictures of you in drag to your 10-year-old brother and he cried because he couldn't understand why his hero would do something like that. Deal with me as a man. Listen to me, son. Who would give a job to someone like you? Say, 'Yes, sir.' Did you hear me? Say 'Yes, sir.'"
These words have stuck with me over the course of the last two years -- and they continue to rip me to pieces. That's why I had to sew myself back together by sharing my experience through my original play, Our Lady.
When I received that call, I was about to go into my final semester as a student at Boston University. My father made it clear that I needed to use "all that talent of mine" to figure out how to pay for it, since he didn't approve of me, my work, or my lifestyle. I had become disgusting to him. By putting on a dress and stomping around in heels for a night, everything about me had become an embarrassment, and because of it, I was losing my apartment, my education, and my father. Did he forget about playing Captain Hook and pirates with me in my tent as a little boy, I wondered? Did he forget about tucking me in at night, and leaving the little toy dinosaur outside my door to protect me? Did he forget that I was still his son?
In confronting my father's rejection of me, I understood for the first time the confusion and shame that so many young gay people encounter upon coming out. I saw his loathing of me as a vicious monster that attacked its victims: A hatred transmitted and internalized, that makes the hated see themselves as worthless. And for the first time, I saw why suicide had become an answer to so many young gay people.
But the image of me in drag that so repulsed my father was an image that was powerful to me -- and maybe, I thought, I could force that woman to become greater and more magical. Her makeup would become war paint. Her costumes would be transformed into armor. I could use the weapon that condemned me as a tool to fight for a way to love myself.
That was the guiding influence as I began to write my original play, Our Lady, which forced me to look at my greatest fears. What would it be like to watch a monster pull the trigger of a gun in my lover's mouth? What is it like to lose the only person you have ever loved? How does it feel to be hunted by a predator? What would it mean to fully see myself as worthless? How would I take my life? And how would this mythical drag queen that I imagined save me?
And although the memories of my father still haunt me -- his words seep in, and I can feel that monster inside of me -- I have to welcome those feelings. Maybe he was afraid of me, or didn't know how to be brave and stand beside me, or maybe he feared for his personal or professional reputation. I reason it out and I can feel the love for him that I felt as a little boy, and the image of me standing alone in the snow, not knowing how I would pay for my apartment or finish my education -- that image becomes less powerful. Even if it's difficult to find compassion for a villain, it's necessary in the war against hate and ignorance. Even in my show, I tell my father that I love him, and that it's okay for him to not reciprocate that love.
After torturing myself for years, I have to let him have his own journey as I have mine.
I've spent those years workshopping Our Lady, and the upcoming New York City premiere is the greatest accomplishment of my life. The monster told me that no one would ever hire me, so it was more important than ever to debut this production in the biggest city in the country, commissioning it myself to share with audiences. The monster made me feel disgusting, but in one of the biggest international theater festivals, FringeNYC, I get to prove to myself that I am beautiful.
I hold the sincere hope that an army will form behind this woman, so she can lead us through battle into a braver and more honest world. But even though Our Lady is a one-man production, it's not just my story. It's a story for everyone who has ever suffered the monster of hate and come through to the other side, stronger than ever.
'Our Lady' is playing at the Living Theatre at 21 Clinton Street in New York City on August 13 at 7, August 18 at 3:45, August 20 at 4, August 23 at 10 and August 25 at 12. All showings are in PM. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door. Tickets are available for purchase here or more information, check out www.ourladytheplay.com or tweet @ourladytheplay or @alexandergold.