‘Look Me in the Eyes’ told truth about sexuality
I raised my hand to ask a question during a play. It was a really small moment; I caught my hand and quickly corrected myself before anyone around me noticed. But still, for a second, I forgot that I was an audience member, in a theater, with people all around me and a program in my hand.
I blame David Ellens for that small mistake of mine. What he has produced isn’t a play, not really. Instead, a conversation was taking place on stage, the kind of conversation that usually only happens late at night with close friends. And all I wanted to do was join in.
Maybe it was the setting. The Christmas lights strung throughout the theater made a warm, safe atmosphere; there were bowls of popcorn on stage, and the actors themselves felt and looked like people I personally know and love. Each time an actor came on stage, introduced themselves, and let us get to know them, I found myself thinking how much they reminded me of a friend I have, or a couple I know.
By using characters and stories we can all associate with, the play connects in some way to our own lives and forces us to think about how we personally identify with our own sexuality.
In a lot of ways, I think this can be an incredibly frightening thing. Each view and experience with sexuality was imperfect in some way — even (and maybe most surprisingly) within the context of married life.
But this imperfection made the play relatable to us, the audience. Though it would have been an incredibly easy thing to do, we weren’t shown a completely depraved sex maniac, or a rapist or someone perfectly content with his or her own sex life. The play was meant to open up discussion, here, in our everyday lives, about the word no one ever seems to want to say.
Why does no one ever want to talk about it? This is a point raised by Nurse Lori’s exasperated line concerning an uneducated and sexually nervous patient, to whom “No one was saying anything!”
It’s due to a strange kind of guilt and shame we have towards sex, words which again and again crept up in the interviews. Rebecca and Andy both admitted to feeling shame at being naked for the first time in front of their spouse, and on the other end of the spectrum, we have Emily, a girl who has never been in a relationship, even after graduating from Calvin. What is her response to her sexuality meant to be? Pride at her ability to be alone? Or (and here’s that word again) shame?
I have an idea about this. From middle school onwards, our lives become a cacophony of mixed messages.
We live in a visual culture that is — quite frankly — obsessed with all things sexual. To be attractive you must be sexually attractive. “50 Shades of Grey” is one of the best selling books of all time, and it is impossible to walk down the street without some subliminal message creeping through about our appearance and the sex appeal of others. I really don’t think, if I tried, I could find more than ten women I know who are completely comfortable with their own bodies — think about Emily, who complains about the fact that she doesn’t “have big boobs!” This is the result of living in a visual culture that is self-deprecating and harmful.
But in retaliation against these messages (and this is the culture I grew up in), sex is turned into something that one should be ashamed of. There are moments when I wonder if I should feel guilt about my sexuality, it gets lumped into the same category as drugs and alcohol, and we are warned — again and again — never to sleep with someone before marriage.
Sex becomes a bad word.
Sex becomes something one should feel guilty about and never discuss, even after marriage.
I think the result of this silence is that people are getting hurt.
Take the married couple, Rebecca and Andy. Sex is still a struggle for them, even after six years of a loving marriage. Or Kyle, a college boy who has just broken up with a long-term girlfriend because of a refusal to be honest about their boundaries. Or perhaps Meg best illustrates this. A dedicated Christian, for a moment she got lost in the strange, wild side of college and lost her virginity in her freshman year of Calvin. “All I was thinking of was — when will this end?” she admits.
I don’t want to make judgments about people’s choices, especially in this context, but I can’t help but wonder if she had been open about what she was going through, honest about her sexuality, in dialogue with people she trusted, would the same thing have happened?
I was deeply touched by each of the actors (and director) I saw on the stage that night, and I couldn’t say I had a favorite — but it was something Meg said that I think touched me the most. After all the abuse she had been through, and describing the trauma she experienced with her father, Meg began to talk about the absolute love and adoration she felt for her current boyfriend.
“I’d never kissed anyone with my eyes open before,” she admitted. As she talked about that moment more, she commented on how there was a true intimacy in that kiss, an honesty that was both humbling and beautiful.
I love that.
If “Look Me in the Eyes” did anything for me, it taught me what I think true intimacy should be. Intimacy (as well as sex) should be just like that kiss, an honest, shared experience that is “both humbling and beautiful.”