Interview with Poet Steven Reigns

LGBT OUTreach, a website designed by LGBT teenagers for LGBT teenagers, interviews Steven Reigns

We the members of OUTreach decided to come up with some questions for Steven Reigns, which he answered wonderfully for us. Hopefully this will help you all out and let you know that you are not alone in whatever you are going through.

When did you realize your sexuality?

Coming to terms with my sexuality was complicated for me. I didn’t grow up in a religious household so I didn’t have to struggle with any negative religious programming. The biggest struggle was identifying it for myself/within myself. I was molested by a neighbor at a young age. I didn’t fully know what the name was for what was going on, how to stop it, and that I didn’t deserve it or provoke it. There were television shows that talked about “inappropriate strangers” but my molester wasn’t a stranger—he was at my birthday parties. I had no idea what was happening to me was happening to others. I didn’t want it and never asked for it. What made things emotionally difficult was that sometimes the touch and attention felt good. I, who was being beaten by my parents, had someone touching me and doing things to my body that felt good. At seven years-old all of this is too hard to comprehend at an early age. It took me quite awhile to fully understand what was going on.

All of this muddled my perception of what I liked and wanted. I feared that what had happened with my neighbor had “made me gay” or “confused me.” There is a high number of GLBT people who have experienced sexual abuse as children. Growing up gay or questioning leads to isolation and insecurity and that insecurity is preyed upon by perpetrators. The sooner one comes to terms with their past and talks about it, the quicker the healing process and easier life becomes.

When/how did you come out?

I came out in stages. I grew-up in St. Louis, MO. There was a gay bar with an All Ages night but it was on Wednesday nights. My parents were strict and gave me a ridiculously early curfew on weekends. I can’t even recall if I was allowed out on weeknights. I soon found a fake ID and was able to get into bars all over the place. Being 16 and in clubs might not have been the best idea but I managed and I’m thankful to not have gotten into too much trouble. My high school had a very straightforward health education teacher, so when I entered the world of sex I knew how to protect myself.

What advice would you give to teens who are struggling with their sexuality?

To be very gentile and kind with yourself. A closeted person can feel so much pressure from straight society to not be gay but also from the gay community to come out. It’s okay to have coming out be this slow unfolding process. The closet isn’t a healthy place to be in but coming out before one is emotionally ready isn’t ideal either. It can be traumatic. Start by telling a few people you trust and that you feel will encourage and support this new you.

Gay people are seen by our society as weak. This is false. I think queer people are the some of the strongest people around. We live outloud in a dangerous and threatening society to follow our hearts and fulfill our wants. Being openly gay is a bold act.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that who you go to bed with doesn’t matter. I cringe when people say that they’re just like their straight brother/sister and the only difference is who they sleep with. This isn’t true. Our gayness/queerness makes us unique. Growing up closeted and surrounded by messages denying who you are creates a gap between a straight experience that is bigger than the Grand Canyon.

How much of an effect has your sexuality had on your poetry?

I don’t have a concise answer to this. I started writing in my journal at age 15. When I first had sex with a guy at 16, I read the passage to my friend. She told me I should be a writer and I followed her offhanded advice. These two main forces in my life came into being around the same time.

Do you look to poetry for experience, inspiration, or as a way to vent?

I don’t necessarily know where I’m going to go in a poem until I’m writing it. The page is where I discover and rediscover things about my relationships, the world, and myself. There’s a satisfaction that comes from crafting our experience into art. This satisfaction and reframing of our life is one of the reasons I’m so committed to teaching autobiographical poetry. I’ve taught workshops to GLBTQ youths, people with AIDS, and GLBTQ seniors. I want to connect people to the joys of writing and reclaiming their life experiences. It is important to document our experiences. If you don’t write your story, no one else will.

Can you tell us about your poem “Cocaine” that we chose to honor National Poetry Month?

This is poem is from my new collection Inheritance. All of the poems are autobiographical. I’m fortunate I never really had a drug problem but the first time I did drugs I fully understood the appeal. I never really liked pot because it was a downer. Cocaine was an upper and made me feel more alive. With it came this false self-esteem or bravado. Cocaine is a poem that scares me a bit. I wrote it in a workshop taught by Sharon Olds and she said the same thing. In the poem I make no apologies for my using the drug. I’m telling the story of what the drug gave me and at the time it gave me quite a bit. I no longer do it and haven’t in about a decade. Those feelings, that esteem, that self-love is all chemical courage and dissipates when the drug does.