BY FRANCESCA LEWIS
We all know LGBTQ youth suicide is a problem. We see high profile cases every few months and a brief, heated conversation ensues. The subject is not, however, part of every day discussion, in part perhaps because many don’t realize just how common LGBTQ suicide really is. Every day in the United States, our community loses 2-5 young people who take their own lives, not to mention the many more who are thinking about, planning and attempting suicide.
Acclaimed spoken word artist Pandora Scooter has been taking her show, “I AM ENOUGH,” to venues across the country in an effort to start a frank, life-saving dialogue about the negative self-talk that can lead to suicide. I asked Pandora a few questions about the inspiration behind the show, its aims and the impact it is already having on her audience.
What inspired the I AM ENOUGH show and what does it mean to you on a personal level?
Four years ago I wrote and toured a show called “OUTwordlyFabulous,” which was about stopping bullying and homophobia. This show toured to LGBTQ Centers with Youth Programs. When I returned from tour, I realized that there was a major component of this bullying story that I was missing. The component was suicide and the way that people, youth in particular, have a bully INSIDE their heads that pushes them to end their lives. I had such a bully in my head for decades and it stemmed from the way I was treated when I was a kid — by other kids, by my parents, by teachers. Everywhere I looked people were telling me that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t smart enough, that I wasn’t Asian or white enough (I’m mixed ethnicity). So, I decided to write a show about suicide prevention and how I took my journey from self-loathing to self-love. It turned out to be semi-autobiographical.
The show, on a personal level, means to me that I have come to a place where I am OK with my story, with my history. I don’t need to hide it or apologize for it, it’s out here for anyone to see. And I’m rock solid about it. It’s my proof of my growth and my self-acceptance and self-confidence.
Why did you choose to build the show around a character and what does Pan represent?
I typically choose to build my shows around characters because I like telling narratives. Stories centered on characters who have a major struggle and overcome it in unique and powerful ways. Pan represents a part of me and, I hope, a part of each member of the audience who have struggled with issues around self-loathing, self-rejection, self-deception. Pan is kind of my Everyperson — there’s a part of Pan that each of us can relate to, hopefully. Pan represents the very firm belief I hold that we can all be whole, autonomous, healthy and happy.
One of the themes the show tackles is suicidal ideation — do you think that if the taboo around this topic was reduced, young people would be able to cathartically release these darker feelings without resorting to drastic action?
YES! Absolutely YES. That’s what I’m trying to do. Make the subject of suicide less taboo, less heavy. Trying to make it so that we can all talk about it more easily. There’s a point in the show when I say, “If more of us talked about it, fewer of us would attempt it and then there’d be more of us around to talk about it and then even fewer of us would attempt it until there’d be so many of us talking about it NO ONE WOULD ATTEMPT IT.” That part usually gets smiles and nods. I ask the audience how many would be willing to talk to someone who was suicidal about their suicidality. 100 percent so far.
Have you had any young people come up to you on the tour and talk about their experiences or how the show positively impacted them?
Yes, many. One came up to me and told me that the show convinced them to start therapy and they thanked me for showing them how beneficial it could be. One came up and told me that they had no idea anyone else had their story and thank you for showing them something that resonated with them. One came up and said, “They say if you reach one person and positively influence them, you’ve done your job.” Then that youth held out their hand and said “I am that one person.” One youth has been talking to me on Facebook regularly since I performed at their youth group. Confiding in me, getting support. Quite a number of youths have asked me about that journey from having a bully in my head to getting rid of it and we’ve discussed that and they’ve told me it was illuminating. One youth said that they felt bolstered by the show that now they know that they are enough just the way they are with no changes necessary.
What does it mean to be “enough?”
Being enough equals self acceptance. I am how I am and that is all I need to be. I don’t need to be more than I am and I don’t need to be less than I am. I am enough. For instance say someone feels that they’re overweight, well, if they know they’re enough, then they can accept their size, whatever it is, and live from that self-acceptance. If someone is getting B’s in school – being enough means that they accept that that’s where they are, they don’t beat themselves up about it. Being enough does NOT mean that a person can’t choose, with intention, to change themselves. The overweight person can choose to put on more weight or lose weight, intentionally, for themselves, out of self-love. All the while knowing that they are enough — all along the way.
Francesca Lewis is a queer feminist writer from Yorkshire, UK. She writes for Curve Magazine and The Human Experience as well as writing short fiction and working on a novel. Her ardent love of American pop culture is matched only by her passion for analyzing it completely to death.