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What's in a Name? Why SCISSORING

Playwrights’ Corner

Everyone in the cast and creative team of SCISSORING has a terrific story about the moment they revealed the show they’re working on to their parents or loved ones. The responses have run the gamut from exclamations, question marks, laughs, and high fives. Even the artistic director of the theater, upon choosing the play, commented: “I love this play, but I can’t say I won’t blush every time I say the title.” And the truth is, that’s a big reason why I chose the name.

During rehearsal last week, the actress who plays Elaine—the principal of the fictional St. Elizabeth Rose Catholic High School—asked me to explain “scissoring.” So, I offered plainly: “It’s a slang term for a type of lesbian sex called tribadism or tribbing.”

“OK—but what is that exactly?” She persisted—and I must have turned about twelve shades of red.

When the title idea first came out of my colleague’s mouth, it was a joke. By 2013, the play had utterly transformed from the pages that poured from my 19-year old brain six years before. What was once Closed Doors, and then (HEARSAY), turned into a different play altogether and had to become something else. I kept dancing around different not-right, too-clunky titles. Ultimately, I wanted to encompass the experience of being being caught between worlds, and—if possible—cleverly reference the act itself.

My colleague, a gifted poet, took a drag off his cigarette outside of our office building while I divulged my dilemma.  We’d often take our breaks together and discuss queer dating escapades and current projects. He released a breath of smoke. “You should call it scissoring,” he chuckled. I did, too.

He flicked his cigarette to the ground, and I watched the embers turn to dust. “You know what—I think you’re right. I think that’s the title.”

At the time, I was dating a woman from Alabama. As a homesick New Orleanian, I found her Southernness simultaneously comforting and electrifying. Her roots were wealthy, Catholic, conservative, and although she’d been living in New York for much longer than I, she hadn’t yet managed to untangle herself from the uglier parts of her history. That night when I arrived at her apartment, I gushed: “I have a title!”

Her slight drawl suddenly turned sour. “You can’t call the play that.” I felt a knot twist deep inside me. In that moment, I knew that I had to call the play SCISSORING to combat her shame and my own—to feel myself flush, to live in that feeling. To title the play this way meant to be seen and to reckon with that visibility.

Playwright Eric Micha Holmes commented that this play “updates the theatrical conversation on gay shame.” Of course, this is a very generous suggestion, but if I can take any credit here it’s only because I’ve pushed through my own.  My life (like most) is intersectional. Today, I proudly identify as a queer Latinx playwright—even as I once resisted the “box” mentality. Because historically, our great American theater has had little room for one checked box, let alone two—or three. In graduate school, I wrestled with being tagged as one type of writer—why do the straight, white men get to be free of the labels? I wondered; I raged.

For many years my Cuban-born father perpetually lamented: “When are you going to stop writing about women’s sexuality?” A big, fat euphemism for when are you going to stop writing about lesbians, and write about everybody else. It wasn’t an easy journey to get to my current response, which is NEVER. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

In SCISSORING, New Orleans native Abigail Bauer re-enters the closet for her dream job at a Catholic high school. In doing so, she jeopardizes her relationship with her live-in girlfriend and sends her life into a tailspin—accented by appearances from a personified P.A. System, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Lorena Hickok.

I love women, I love lesbians, I believe in stories about queer women of color more than anything. Literature, history, the world has erased us for long enough and we matter. My sophomore English teacher was an Abigail. I knew it without knowing it—even then. I felt her story was important down to my bones. And it is. It’s 2018. And yes, this is still happening.

To quote playwright Sarah B. Mantell, we live in a “world where we're simultaneously told, ‘It's fine now’ and also ‘But not there/here/now/in that way.’  A world where someone might be utterly out in one aspect of their lives and utterly not in another. A world in which people can love watching Ellen, but discourage their children from coming out.”

Spoiler alert: SCISSORING is not an overtly sexual play. For many of us in the margins, language is about reclaiming the words that have been used as tools against us. Call us queer, and we proclaim the term as a badge of honor. Decide that all I am is one misunderstood sexual act, and I will write you a play.

Beyond the erotic connotation of the word, lies the day-to-day human reality of navigating multiple worlds and selves, and the strain of being torn apart. I hope that in turning around the title, this play never quite gives audiences what it leads them to expect. I did not title this play to be bombastic, or hilarious. (Though, I will admit, I get great joy out of the puns!) In a way, this play titled itself. In the same way that, in the piece’s long journey of 10 plus years of story, I have also found myself.  

Even now, as the theatrical world is finally opening its eyes to all of our stories, it is still a leap for many theaters to take a chance on a play like this one. Especially with a title like this one. I do not take for granted that this piece will have its world premiere at INTAR, home of María Irene Fornés—the goddess of modern playwriting and my queer Cuban-American forbear. A queer story featuring two women of color by a Latinx playwright—or just a play, a very human play.

Thankfully, this script won’t fade away in a drawer or a Dropbox folder, but instead, has the chance to live. And live as loudly as its name.


SCISSORING, directed by Estefanía Fadul, begins performances May 31 (opening night June 11) and runs through June 30 at INTAR, 500 West 52nd Street 4th Floor. Tuesday through Saturday performances begin at 8pm and Sunday performances at 7pm.

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