LGBTQ&A: R. Eric Thomas
R. Eric Thomas is a local playwright, “dramedian,” and creative writer who still makes time to work at the William Way Center. We got to talk with the renaissance man on what inspires his various talents and what it’s like to go viral online.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I don’t know where to start. That’s not true. Yes, I do. I’m working with a life coach to get better at owning my power. And by that I mean I follow a lot of inspirational Instagrams. Okay, it’s just two inspirational Instagrams. And a lot of thirst traps. Anyway, I’m a lot of things right now:
I’m a playwright. My play Time Is on Our Side was commissioned and produced by Simpatico Theatre Project and directed by Jarrod Markman last month. It was a Philly-centric intersectional comedy, and audience reaction has been astounding. I’m a bit overwhelmed, actually. It was the best of experiences. My short play Human Resources is being produced by Goldfish Memory Productions in New York as part of the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Play Festival in August.
I’m a stand-up dramedian. Which means I tell stories and sometimes they’re funny. I host The Moth StorySLAM every month. It’s incredible. I’ve been doing that for two years, and I love hearing stories. I love hosting. I love it all!
I’m the program director at the William Way LGBT Community Center. This allows me a really wonderful opportunity to engage with our community in a meaningful way and to help forge connections. People sometimes ask what the Center does, and I always tell them that the Center’s product is belonging. Everything the Center does — from social activities, to activism, to support groups — is meant to create a space where being LGBTQ or an ally is the norm and where one feels completely at home.
There’s other important stuff — I’m engaged to a wonderful man, I volunteer with some incredible organizations, I do a lot of cooking — but my life coach is giving me the “wrap it up” signal.
What is the inspiration behind your creative way with words?
A compulsive desire to be liked. Also, a deep, lifelong sadness, honestly. Being sad and feeling out of place in the world and in various situations imbued me with a hunger for a world that was more beautiful, magical maybe, and wider. I hungered for a world that included me. And very early on I discovered that I could create that world. I went to college thinking I was going to be Toni Morrison, but one of the things that has been wonderful about finding storytelling is that I realized that I didn’t have to be Toni Morrison, as much as I want to be — I could be me. I could write the world as I saw it, in true stories, in semi-true stories, in comedy, in fiction, and sometimes in tragedy.
You recently went viral with a Facebook post that took a humorous look at a political moment. What was that experience like?
The Internet is such a funny thing. It’s slippery. You think “I know who my friends are; I know who I’m speaking to,” but the Internet is limitless and has the ability to connect literally anyone. I first went viral with an article I wrote for a college newspaper in 2002 or 2003. That was a bit of a controversy, as I’d written a satirical article about race, but everyone who read it thought that I was a white person who was being serious. It was madness. I got all this hate mail. I ended up on the news. It was a scene.
In February, I wrote a blog post about Beyoncé’s concert ticket prices that resulted in more than 100k hits to my website. That was a very different scene. One of the things that happens is that people who are commenting stop talking to you and start talking about you. You — your post, your blog, etc. — become a commodity as opposed to a thought from an individual. I find that very fascinating. I wrote a post about John Lewis and the congressional sit-in two weeks ago that was shared 7,000 times, and I was surprised by how quickly people just showed up to trash John Lewis. Like, I’m 100 percent not interested in that. I spent an afternoon low-key deleting anything out-of-pocket. But it was fascinating to me: They weren’t talking to me. They were talking to the Internet.
You currently work at the William Way Center. How do you channel this energy for LGBTQ causes?
Everything has to be intersectional. In life, in the world today. It is far too late for anyone to not understand that if one person is not free, none of us are free. So, the same desire to see the world be better, the same quest for intersectional viewpoints, informs my work every day.
What is one piece of wisdom you would give LGBTQ writers pursuing their dreams?
Find your people. Find the people whose ears are tuned to your voice. There are a lot of people who have, maybe, never heard a perspective like yours and might not receive it well or understand it. Those are not your people. They can be your fans, one day, but they’re not your people. Your people may not always be your fans; it’s more important that you find people who are receptive to what you have to say even if they’re critical of what you say or how you say it. You’re not always going to get it right — writing is mostly rewriting. But when you find people who get you, they’re usually also the people who want you to be better. Don’t be afraid to be better. Don’t be afraid to listen to constructive criticism. Believe in yourself enough to try harder.
There are people out there who are going to love what you write. Find them. The way you find them is by writing, it’s by pitching articles, it’s by posting on Facebook — it’s absolutely about posting on Facebook — it’s by putting on a solo show. It’s by doing whatever you can to put yourself out there in the world. It may not happen immediately and it will definitely take a lot of revision, but it’s possible.