“The Great Thing About Story

Is That It Can Join Before and After.”

I wish I’d said that line first, but I heard it in a speech given by Jenny Boylan at the GLAD Spirit of Justice Award Dinner last Friday night. That said, I’m going to use it at my reading for Fantasia Fair.

Window of Provincetown Bookshop

Window of Provincetown Bookshop

While well aware that GLAD’s strategy to win marriage equality was to “tell our stories,” this new dimension of joining before and after through story has made me think. On Friday, October 23rd, I’ll have the distinct honor of doing a reading to celebrate Fantasia Fair’s 40th year in Provincetown. (It’s at 3 pm at the Unitarian Meeting House.) As I prepare my thoughts, Jenny’s words are very much present in my mind.  “Story can join before and after.”

My “before” was as a budding musician in an athlete’s body, persecuted for caring more about music than sports, and labeled a fag before I even knew the definition of the word. The bullying and harassment I experienced drove me as far away from my hometown as I could get at the first opportunity I could get. I returned after college for a short period—for reasons that were misguided—but in the end, I gave up on my hometown and dreamed of a new one where I might live free from harassment.

My “after” was when I found that new home after seven years in limbo. Provincetown, that quirky, beautiful, accepting, contradictory place became a possibility, and I jumped at the notion of living here. Today, as I walked Commercial Street passing out cards for my reading, I was impressed once again at what a diverse and liberating place this town is. In the old days, they called it “tolerant.” I’ve assiduously avoided that word in recent years having learned, after much heartbreak, that one should never be thankful for being tolerated. Provincetown is home. That’s all that matters to me these days.

As I ponder Jenny’s remarks, I see much more of a continuum in my life than I ever have before. While I’ll never thank my tormentors for nearly riding me out of town on a rail, I am suddenly grateful I had so little incentive to stay. I now see that early heartbreak as ensuring I would venture forth, take risks, and define my life on my own terms. After all, much can be accomplished when you’re running away from something. You think more about what you’re running from than where you’re headed. While sheer monotony might have accomplished the same outcome in the end, there was never any doubt in my heart that I desperately needed to be someone else living somewhere else. Perhaps my tormentors saw that in me. I’ll never know. However, thinking about my story as before AND after, I now see that painful, early chapter as part of a larger plan.

Someplace where I could be myself—my self, which I realize is a continually evolving story of risk and redefinition, sometimes lacking in clarity, but inevitably headed in the right direction. Tonight, as I hone my words for an event I anticipate with much delight, I see that what I once thought was a disjointed series of missteps and heartache was the perfect path to this very moment.





A. C. Burch
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