This past week I attended my first public meeting in my small town of Wimberley, Texas, where members of a local playhouse had petitioned to be heard by the board to voice their adamant opposition to a scheduled production of “Sordid Lives,” a dark comedy featuring a colorful family, including, ”a beautiful gay man on a journey,” a “guitar playing ex-con singer,” a “former gay-bashing remorseful bartender,” and a ‘Tammy Wynette obsessed transvestite,” and set in a small Texas town, according to the playwright’s casting notes, which implore: “These people are real. Don’t play them as cartoons, please.”
I had no idea what to expect when I went in, and by the time I left I was laughing. The hypocrisy heard at the meeting at the Wimberley Players, despite a well written letter by artistic director John Hood on its website, was beyond all comprehension. The near comical moments in that room became a reflection of the material and characters in the play. Art does indeed imitate life.
Our local paper, The Wimberley View, had published an article about the controversy along with three angry letters from some of those opposing the play, by Del Shores, and calling it “offensive with utterly no redeeming value,” despite its multiple awards and having been turned into a film and a TV show. The ranting takes up an entire page and comes dangerously close to using anti-gay slurs. I’ll leave it up to you as to why three angry letters opposing and no supporting were printed.
After my 64-year old neighbor came to me with the paper today crying “censorship!” I had to go. I have no idea why someone would want to wear a meat dress or many other artistic expressions including some stage shows, but I’ll be the first one out the door to fight back when someone wants to repress their right to do so. It also didn’t hurt that I was living here with my boyfriend of two years, meeting people like Diana, a local transgender woman, and writing about the diversity in small Texas towns as the culture wars battle on in these places.
I grabbed the first seat right next to the door, and a few minutes later a very nervous man asked if the next seat was taken. I had noticed him in the sea of blue-hairs in the lobby earlier, and he had noticed me. I was obviously a safe bet to sit next to since I was sporting my Nashville T-shirt and head buzzed just like his. As he sat I agreed with him when he said being close to the door might be a good idea at this meeting. We didn’t speak otherwise, but I think the relief on our faces with the knowledge we would be seated together was all that was needed. We braced for the vitriol we knew would be coming.
Before the meeting even started the hypocrisy began to flow. The woman behind me — who throughout the meeting made clear her position, with comments and noises, she opposed the play and its perceived un-Christian values — was telling someone coming in the door she was going to bring the “booze to the next trip.” She mentioned she’d signed up for the wrong trip and bringing the booze would be necessary for this one. I have no idea where they were going, but I hope they have a designated driver.
The first thing asked to the crowd of over 100 was a show of hands as to who had actually read or seen the play. About 12 hands went up. A few others said they had seen the movie. There were over 40 people who had signed the petition in opposition to the show. I’m no math whiz, but I’m sure the majority of those in opposition had already stepped onto the hypocrisy train the moment they walked in. They clearly hadn’t even bothered to hear the story’s central message of acceptance of family and people. I was possibly one of very few in the room who had actually read the play, seen the play, seen the movie, and seen the show.
As the meeting went on people were slinging accusations of bigotry and zealotry as well as bringing up words like “values” and “our Christian conservative community.” Angered, hate filled arguments from a guy with a British accent and passionate pleas from a writer and teacher filled the time. The nervous guy next to me had to ask the women behind us to stop gossiping as other people were speaking because he couldn’t hear. One woman began crying and another kept a list of peoples’ names and whether or not they agreed with her, giving a deep “tut-tut” to those who changed from her side to the other and marking it on her notepad.
The high point of the hypocrisy came when those opposed were accused of censorship rose up claiming they were only concerned for the community. After someone from the exact same community got up and spoke against them they actually interrupted the proceedings to ask why members of the community were being allowed to speak at all since they were not members of the theater. What censorship?
I was finally brought to laugh out loud, to my embarrassment, when one woman stated she had seen the movie and she didn’t like the way it depicted the people of Texas. It is set in a small Texas town just like ours. It was demeaning to her. She was perfectly happy, however, with the reality that they were all in that room speaking hate, hypocrisy, intolerance, and judgement. Thankfully, they were clearly in the minority and many others, including people of faith in this town, stood up to remind them of that.
To the people of my small, Texas community and the countless other towns in this country just like it, I say this. I’ve lived here for close to six years. I’ve worked in about 800 homes in the Wimberley area to help out with my family’s cleaning business in years past. I’ve seen what’s under your beds you forgot you left there. I’ve dealt with you when you were drunk and needed a ride to the local AA meeting. I’ve smelled the marijuana drifting over to my cottage when you didn’t know I knew what it smelled like. I could write a play about some of the people I’ve met in this wonderful, crazy little town that would make you try to censor me, too. You’re no different than all the cities you listed as being below your “standards.” You have your fair share of sordid lives. I promise you that.
This play, along with many other productions, depicts a truly different and diverse group of people just like the group I sat with this past week. It is hilarious, but it’s not for everyone. If you don’t like it, don’t go see it. But the moment you try to stop others from being able to see it is the moment you yourself more closely reflect the misguided characters you disagree with. You have given up on your belief in the bonds of family, acceptance, and individual freedom. That is far more detrimental to our community than any play we could put on.
Guest author Jeremy Stubbs credits his parents for his twisted sense of humor. He currently lives just outside of Austin, Texas with his wonderful partner and their pesky cat. When he’s not working to pay the bills he is photographing and writing about the world around him. Three days ago Stubbs created a Facebook group to support “the free expression of art” at the Wimberley Players theater. As of this writing it has attracted 560 members.
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