My wife says I’ve never met a stranger. She usually says this with eyes and mouth agape wondering how I live to tell my tales. I prefer to believe I live in a world where human connection can change hearts and minds.
So, on Monday as we waited in line to get into to Ed Sullivan Theater to see the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, it was no surprise that Lauren — who joyfully manages the crowds each night — bent her ear in my direction as I shivered from both cold and anticipation. I said to her, “I just really want to have that moment where Jon Batiste and I lock eyes and he recognizes a kindred spirit in me.” I’ve joked with my friends about that very thing because it seemed so far-fetched. Lauren chimed back with the kindest of grins, “Jon would love your style!” That was enough for me to feel my day had been made.
As Megan and I strolled into the refrigerator of a theater, I was dancing through the doors to Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” — partially just to keep warm. She gave me that teacher glare as if to say quit your dancing. But, I was wearing black and white. I took it as a welcome!
Orderly ushering us to our seats, Megan and I calculated that we’d actually get an aisle seat in the 10th row or so. We’d be able to spot ourselves and tell our friends!
That’s when Lauren came over and took us out of the orderly queue. She said, “Sorry, ladies. I saved two other seats for you.” And, she ushered us to the front right of the theater directly in front of the band — Jon Batiste and Stay Human. My far-fetched had just been upgraded to near-fetched! But, then we were moved again. There must have been some VIPs that deserved the seats more than us. You just have to roll with it.
Then it happened. She moved us to the opposite front-side of the theater where both Stephen AND Jon could see us. Lauren wanted Jon and I to have our moment and for everyone to see it. Bless you, Lauren!
I got to have my meaningful moment with Jon Batiste in which he walked into the audience and directly over to me while playing his melodica. He leaned toward me so we could connect — and I managed to kiss his shoulder. He closed his eyes as I paid homage as if to be present in that moment with me.
And this is all the story of how Megan and I stood smack next to Stephen Colbert at the end of the show — holding hands, being visible, loving one another without hesitation. As Ewan McGregor said on that very show about the controversy of homosexuality in Beauty and the Beast, “It’s 2017 for fuck’s sake!” to audience shrieks and applause (which no doubt Megan and I started).
But that’s not the only story. Care for some back stage passes?
Before the show begins, there is always a comedian getting the crowd ready, excited and loud. We had the extreme luck of catching Paul Mercurio, a frequent guest on the show. Sitting up front, and me in full Mindy-regalia, made Megan and me his very first targets. He asked us to come up on the stage and if he could shake my hand. Never having met a stranger, I requested a hug instead. “Sure! No one has ever asked before,” he retorted back. So there we stood on the stage at the historic Ed Sullivan Theater in front of an audience of 350 people.
Banter began. He asked me what I did for a living. I responded, “I work for InterContinental Hotels Group and am a visual activist.” “Visual activist? That’s a real thing?” he quipped back. “It is!” I responded. “I dress in a manner that inspires me and engages dialogue and connections with people to drive visibility, awareness and social change.” At this point, Megan chimed in, “She wears clothes,” initiating a roaring laugh from the crowd. It was a theater filled with allies.
Paul was truly wonderful, positive and affirming. We bantered back and forth for a bit. Toward the end, I suppose he wanted to end with a compliment from the lesbians. He asked, “If you weren’t a lesbian, you’d hit on me, right?” I arched my eyebrow and did a half-eye-roll. “Being a lesbian has nothing to do with it. Sorry, Paul. Swipe right.” It was all in good fun.
To me, visual activism has been more about feeling and outward expression. This was truly the first time I’ve been challenged to concisely express specifically what it is to me. I always expect that the outfits I concoct are the dialogue or at least the introduction.
When the show was over, Megan and I were beaming like the light from the Luxor. We stood outside the studio doors deciding where to grab a slice or two. As we stood there, we were greeted with such kindness and openness. A gay couple approached us letting us know that it was their anniversary. They were from Dallas and had been together for more than two-decades. They were only able to legally wed after the June 26th Supreme Court decision in 2015, just like Megan and me. And, a lesbian approached us telling us how proud she was for our visibility.
A couple that had stood beside us in line who we thought had glared at us in judgment told us how proud they were of us — how they listened to us in line and wanted to chime in with support. Then there were the 20-some-odd folks who simply wanted to tell us how beautiful our love is. Finally, a cisgender straight woman who seemed to patiently wait her turn to chat said to me, “Thank you. Thank you so much. You have made me feel emboldened to care less about how others perceive what I wear and just put on what makes me happy.”
At the end of the day, that has always been what it is to me. Authenticity. Hearing my inner voice and trusting her. Dancing when I feel the music. Popping on the top hat when the spirit moves me. Not hiding in public as if in a closet built by Emily Post or Anna Wintour. I’d like to think that if Andy Warhol or Bill Cunningham were still alive today and we brushed by one another on the street that we’d lock eyes and they’d recognizes a kindred spirit in me. Maybe we’d hug. Perhaps I’d kiss Bill’s shoulder.