“My story is that typical narrative of a Midwestern boy who comes out of the closet—or doesn’t come out—in his hometown and then leaves,” explained playwright Michael Patrick Spillers, who grew up in the Ozark mountains of southwest Missouri.
Spillers, now 48, headed west to Los Angeles, but instead of settling in the traditionally gay enclaves of West Hollywood or Silver Lake, he found himself in the grittier Hispanic neighborhoods of East L.A.
“But, at the risk of generalizing, I didn’t fit into that stereotype of upward mobility of the white gay men who make it to the big city, double income-no kids—at least until recently—with the sort of financial security and affluence that is usually associated with West Hollywood,” he continued. “West Hollywood left me feeling cold and I gravitated to the other side, LGBT communities of color.”
Spillers’ experience in his early 20s would become the basis for a one-man show and, later, a five-actor play, “White Boy,” that explores the clash of cultures he experienced as he immersed himself into and began dating within the Latino community. His play will receive its southeast premiere Sept. 27 – Oct. 22 at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.
Like Spillers, the “white boy” in “White Boy” is Patrick, a young Midwesterner who makes a move to East Los Angeles and falls for Lobo, a Chicano gang member. The unlikely couple must deal with the clash of cultures and confront racism and labels.
Spillers pointed out that young Latino gay men often have a more difficult time separating their sexual identities with the priority their culture places on family.
“For a lot of young gay Mexican and Salvadoran kids, that connection to family is much more difficult to negotiate. They are often living at home helping take care of extended family members or still connected to roots in a different country…and their gay lifestyles are more integrated into their culture—the music, brands of beer and even the language. It can come across almost like self-segregation because they hang out in clubs where bartenders are going to hear them in their language,” Spillers said.
Even self-identifying as “gay” can be an issue for some.
“One of the pioneering concepts, being ‘gay’ or ‘MSM’ (men who have sex with men) for communities of color doesn’t work. Why doesn’t everyone call themselves gay? The terminology and idea of connecting with other men at a sexual level without identifying as gay is complicated. It’s not just a matter of ‘being in the closet’,” he added.
Spillers, who is also directing, was convinced to remount a production of “White Boy” by local producer Ronnie Larsen. Spillers shelved the work nearly 20 years ago, but soon realized that the issues of race and culture were every bit as relevant today.
Even the title, “White Boy,” can be tricky given the current racial tensions in this country, Spillers pointed out. He “reimagined, reinvented and revived” the play and, in the process, discovered how current and contemporary it could be for a new generation of audiences.
“White Boy” by Michael Patrick Spillers will be performed Sept. 27 – Oct. 22 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets start at $30 at RonnieLarsen.com.