“As a young girl, in my journal, I never write that I’m going to have a baby. I write that maybe if my friend were a boy, we could get married and maybe someday have a baby. I was terrified of becoming pregnant. I was terrified of becoming another statistic like my mother. Lesbians can’t get pregnant and I don’t have to be afraid of my Auntie getting mad at me.”
In Jamaica with her aunt and cousins, Staceyann Chin was raised in a state of lovelessness. Bearing a learned fear of pregnancy, sprouting from her Aunt’s staunch conservatism and her birthmother’s abandonment, Chin defiantly fantasizes the birth of a child, a little girl, whom she can one day pass on the torch of love, trust, and appreciation. Things we all ought to receive as children from our parents, but in most cases at various level of severity, do not. Finding that she is a lesbian in a country where LGBT rights have not yet been forged, Chin experiences an invasion of her personhood from all sides, at home and in her community, and quests for a place where she can truly feel safe.
Chin has been an outspoken feminist activist for almost 18 years. Her poetry describes a perspective of immigrancy and black lesbianism, a voice that was barely audible when Chin landed in New York during the late 90s. “The LGBT community was just flexing its muscle, just finding out that it was a voice that the nation was taking seriously, and by extension, the global community,” says Chin on a brisk afternoon, resonating through my crackly cellphone speaker. “People of color, particularly black LGBT voices, were calling for a more diverse representation of the community because the audience was largely gay white men at first, then gay white women, but at top of the late 90s, when I landed, there were very few voices of color included.”
Her one-woman performance, part-poetic slam, part-performance art, describes Staceyann Chin’s personal journey of coming into herself, accepting where she comes from and discovering the unconditional love of parenthood. MotherStruck’s two-act journey begins with an adolescent Staceyann in Jamaica and ends in present-day Brooklyn, with a self-actualized single mother whose understanding of love grows with each new experience. Chin’s sermonic monologues feel as raw as they are powerfully vivid, pencilling sketches of island life, love and heartbreak, and a voyeuristic view into a whimsical queer community of open, loving relationships that support Chin throughout her odyssey. A black box production, Chin makes it easy to be captivated by her use of empty space. Running around like a madwoman, she time lapses intimate moments in minutes with fluidity and purpose.
“When my mother left me, I was less than a month old. Childhood marks you forever.”
“The story is about the reengineering of one’s emotional wiring,” Chinn divulges with hushed intimacy. “Here I was growing up in a world, with no love from the people who should have loved me, but I experienced love from the hands of strangers, from people who are kind to me outside the framework of who should have been kind to me. I think I learned love there.” We talk about All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks’s series of philosophical essays that attempt to define “love”, and the differences between “love” and “care”, something that people tend to confuse. Care can exist without love, but love cannot exist without care. “Love takes more out of you than just caring for the kid. Love is not one-time purchase, it is something that you must continually pay for. And I like to believe that I will be strong enough, brave enough, to give my kid the space to say, ‘this doesn’t work for me, can we try something else?’. Isn’t that what love is? Being able to make room for another person’s desire other than your own? Real love is a collaboration.”
Parenthood is the ultimate risk. Despite the fear of unwittingly perpetuating lovelessness through her child, the collective fear that we all will inevitably become our parents, Chin’s solo show describes her tribulations and her sacrifices in pursuit of pregnancy, and the struggle after her daughter is born. Beginning with in vitro fertilization, using the sperm of her deceased ex-husband’s younger brother, Chin triumphs through months of bleeding, forced bed rest, fibroids, and blocked tubes. Chin gives birth via C-section to a beautiful baby girl, Zuri, named after the great Amazonian warriors of the past.
“No one has the definitive manual on parenting, everyone is just doing the best they can.”
But the cruelty doesn’t end after eleven hours of non-medicated contractions. After her daughter arrives, Chin realizes she must fight a new battle. Her motherhood will be scrutinized by everyone, as a single mother and as a lesbian. “Gay people will tell you that they consistently have to come out all the time. Some places where people assume I’m straight, and then it comes up, and I have to come out as a lesbian. And sometimes people are asking the most wonderfully sensitive questions that start the most amazing conversations, and sometimes they ask the most racist, sexist, classist, homophobic questions.” MotherStruck peers into her ongoing battle with a moral majority that views IVF as an abomination to God, and single lesbian mothers as raising dysfunctional families. MotherStruck is a passionate, cathartic, peering view into someone’s struggles, with complexity, fortitude and honesty that is inspiring and moving. To say you will come away from it changed is an understatement.
MotherStruck runs at the Culture Project through Jan. 29. 49 Bleecker Street, Suite 404, New York, NY 10012. 212.925.1806
Image via Noam Galai/WireImage.
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