Chelsea Faulkner, SAFTA’s Summer Editorial Intern, recently talked to OUTspoken participant Raven Mason about her life and about her upcoming performance at OUTspoken this Saturday, June 28 in Knoxville. OUTSpoken (a one-night event) will be this weekend at 7PM at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church.
Fourteen-year-old Raven Mason is wise beyond her years.
Although she will be starting ninth grade this fall, her passion, wit, and drive, rival that of many adults.
From a young age, Raven has identified as a member of the LGBTQ community and, although she has been the subject of ridicule from her peers and teachers, she has remained steadfast in her identity and beliefs.
This weekend, Raven will be performing an original monologue for OUTSpoken, a theatrical review produced by Sundress Academy for the Arts and performed by the local LGBTQ community and its allies. Raven’s piece focuses on the struggles faced by young LGBTQ persons in the public school system and poignantly calls attention to the fact that bullying has a grievously broad scope.
How did you get involved with OUTSpoken?
I am friends with Vania Smrkovski (Performing Arts Director for SAFTA) and he told me about the program and that I might be interested in it.
You are the youngest member of the OUTSpoken cast. What have you brought to the production and what have you learned?
I really love theater, I love writing and I love the arts. OUTSpoken is the best of both worlds for me. I was able to write about something I feel so passionately about and then perform something I created. And it was focused on a subject matter that I care so much about. It wasn’t just a poem about nature.
I have met a lot of people that have given me great advice and helped me to deal with people. But, really OUTSpoken has been an outlet for me. I got to go somewhere and talk about my problems. It felt extremely good to be around people who knew exactly what I was going through.
We were able to take all the positivity and negativity and string it together into a beautiful finished work and make something good out of it. To me, that’s spectacular.
Tell me about your monologue.
I actually wrote it at school when I was really angry about the way my teachers were treating me. I was dealing with so much. So, sitting right there in class, I wrote it all out and it turned out to be my rough draft for OUTspoken.
All the great people at the [OUTSpoken] workshop helped me revise it and it has evolved into a very developed and strong piece and I’m really excited to have it put out there.
My piece can relate to people who understand my situation or it can reach people who are estranged and propel them to take action and put a stop to the discrimination. They can know what it is like and hopefully have an open view.
What specific incident prompted you to write your monologue?
There were so many teachers who were discriminating against me.
My girlfriend and I were walking out of school to leave and we were holding hands. There were a lot of other (straight) couples holding hands, but my guidance counselor took me, just me, aside to tell me that it wasn’t ok and that I couldn’t hold hands with her anymore.
Also, one day my art teacher had my class make posters for the Sochi Winter Olympics. With everything that was going on in Russia, I decided to make a very satirical poster. She did not like it. Because it talked about gay rights, she sent my poster home while everyone else’s were hung around the school.
It’s a living hell being an LGBTQ student living in the south, having a lot of ignorant peers say really mean things and bully and discriminate and hurt you. In my case, luckily just with their words but, in some people’s cases, with their hands. I’ve had it pretty bad, but there are a lot of people who have had it a lot worse.
What do you feel can be done to eradicate this kind of discrimination in the public school system?
There needs to be a non-arbitrary system so that teachers cannot get away with discrimination. The rules are so arbitrary. For example, one teacher might say it’s fine to dye your hair bright green while another will send you home for it. Even though dying your hair is a choice, unlike being gay, it’s really the same principle.
It’s not fair to be targeted.
There needs to be a strict set of rules where teachers can’t get away with discriminating against students just because they are different.
On what level do you identify with the LGBTQ cause outside of school?
It’s a part of me, it’s how I identify, it’s who I am. I believe it is the new civil rights movement right now and it is very important. I think it is important to spread the word.
You are very mature for your age. How has this affected your relationships with your peers?
I’ve never been one that really made friends. I only have one or two real friends. My struggle is that I don’t really relate to most of my peers because of their immaturity. I almost feel trapped sometimes. My significant other, Casey, is the only person I have ever truly clicked with and I’m very lucky to have her in my life.
If you had to choose one role model/idol, who would it be and why?
Oddly enough, I’d have to say Joey Ramone. The Ramones are my favorite band and quite an obsession of mine. I’ve done extensive research on both the band and Joey and I really admire how he was able to defeat so many obstacles in his life despite his illnesses and how little they knew about them in the sixties and seventies.
Despite various doctors telling him and his family he would be rendered useless to society for the remainder of his adult life, he used his strength and talent and became a beautiful singer and a brilliant songwriter for himself and one of the most influential bands in history.
Do you plan to work with SAFTA again in the future?
I would love to be in another production! I do a lot of work with Tennessee Stage Company and I’ve dabbled in Theater Knoxville downtown and I’m hoping to get started with Tiger Lily.
It was great to have a group of common grounds with people in the field of LGBTQ, but also to have people that are so supportive. Everyone was accepting, loving, and nurturing and we were all there for the same cause. I find myself very lucky to have been around such wonderful people that I can help and be helped.
Chelsea Faulkner is an undergraduate senior at The University of Tennessee majoring in English Literature. One of her greatest college experiences has been marching with The Pride of the Southland Band Colorguard from 2009-2012, in which she served as both squad leader and captain. Born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, she possesses passions for reading, crafting, and bluegrass music. Chelsea hopes to one day find a job that will incorporate all three of those things. Until then, she spends her time collecting books, singing, arranging flowers, and decorating her tiny apartment.
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