Interview with George Myatt
Interview with George Myatt
Women's studies; Feminism; Theatrical works; Plays; Stage plays; Gay drama; Theater; Acting; Angels in America; Gender; Masculinity; Sexuality; Interdisciplinary approach in education; LGBTQ people; Independent study
This is an interview with George Myatt, a graduate of The College of Wooster in 2011. George was a Theater and Dance major, but was very involved in the WGSS department at Wooster. George talks about his experiences in the WGSS classes and how he related what he learned in those classes to his Theater and Dance classes. George also talks about his experience being a guy in a largely female discipline and the importance of interdisciplinary education within the WGSS program. George also talks about how he used WGSS related topics in his senior independent study.
OHLA Undergraduate Fieldwork Fellow/Faculty Mentor Microgrant, College of Wooster Libraries
Presented with permission from George Myatt
Oral History Item Type Metadata
George Myatt Interview Edited by Matthew Harris-Ridker and George Myatt for clarity [00:00:00] MHR: So I with George Myatt, it is May 29 . Hello, thank you for being part of this study. [00:00:08] GM: Thank you. [00:00:09] MHR: So to begin the interview, just some background questions, where are you from and how did you end up at the College of Wooster? [00:00:16] GM: Sure, I'm originally from Cincinnati Ohio and I ended up at the College of Wooster, you know, my college counselor recommended the College to me. So I just applied like any other student would for a spot at a college. [00:00:33] MHR: Nice. What year did you graduate? [00:00:37] GM: I graduated in 2011. [00:00:39] MHR: Cool, so my next questions are sort of based on your participation in different WGSS classes and different things on campus. So, what made you interested in WGSS Discipline? [00:00:52] GM: I was interested in expanding my understanding of feminism as well as what was happening in Queer Studies at that time. So, I saw myself as an activist or someone who was going to lead to promote fights, to get equal rights, and to push things forward and I was always interested in understanding what feminism was instead of what the media was telling me what it was about. [00:01:20] MHR: Very nice. So what were your favorite classes that you took in the WGSS Department and what were the most valuable things you learned from those classes? [00:01:31] GM: Sure. So, I think, one of the most valuable ones, first, was the introduction to WGSS. It was the first of its kind since that's when the Program went just from Women's Studies to, finally, WGSS. [00:01:46] I found it valuable because it challenged my perspective as to what feminism was and we were introduced to different concepts of it. We didn't get to look at, like, the history of it all the way, but it was an intersecting point to show the differences of where we got out of what was America's perspective on women's issues, and all those other things, and we took a world view of all these different things. We did look at feminist thought and in the media now of America. So that was very valuable to see that as of now. Another one that was very helpful was a course by Dr. Craven which was Queer Lives and that was looking at specifically the queer lives of men, women, and other identities along the LGBTQ+ spectrum and it was nice to see a world perspective in that. You know, I got to learn about how in Brazil, I forget the names unfortunately of these identities, but they're very different in how they act there and it's something like oh it's part of the culture, it's right there. Versus in America, it's like, I don't know what to do this. I can't touch this. So, I saw those as valuable in those regards. [00:03:04] MHR: Talk a little bit about your I.S. I know that it was very WGSS central. [00:03:10] GM: Yes, yes. The backing theme was, was definitely WGSS central but it was pushed into a theatrical space because I majored in theater/dance. So, it was, it was all about putting the issues of gender and sexuality on the stage in an interactive forum particularly looking at the gay male identity. So it was all about a visual conception of that. When you take a male and female energy and you put it together you're going to get all these identities that come out of it. [00:03:45] But at that time there was no visual reference as to what that looks like, it was just you put it together. But people don't know what that means. So with my I.S. adviser Shirley Houston-Findley, it became like a positive and a negative charge I was thinking about electricity. But, I didn't want to put like a plus symbol on someone and a negative symbol because those have negative and positive connotations. So, it then became a male dummy and a female dummy and then there there's a white screen there, so kind of like what people might change behind if they have one in their home, and I come out of the stage where it's looks like there's shards of electricity going everywhere. I come in and take the two cords and bring them together. There's a light that comes out of it and I just straight up tell, in a monologue, to people what this is all about not just go off into the next thing. And then I go behind the screen and then I start changing and showing how I can shift identities or change it. And it was a format of different scenes from a couple different plays to show that. So, one was from a play called Take Me Out. It's about how a baseball player has never come out in the prime of his career and what would happen. So, dealing with issues of coming out those issues of what it means to be a man in a sport like that and if you're gay. The next one was taking two scenes from Angels in America that dealt with, you know, the complications of attraction as well as what is considered mostly masculine and feminine [00:05:18] and can those types of people come together or can they coexist, or the problems that society creates when we try to bottle those things up and not let them interact. And then the last one, to turn on its head, was a play by Caryl Churchill called Cloud 9. In that I played a woman named Betty. And as the playwright described it, it was a man playing a woman. So, it was definitely full on drag. In that you basically see a woman in the eighteen hundreds of Victoria Africa, or Victorian age Africa, and how she's ostracized by her, by her husband and all her other family how their identities are switched. And they kind of confuse the brain as to, well wait that's a boy but that's a girl and now there's a strange relationship with this uncle. This is kind of creepy. And then there's some, there's some homosexual activity going on stage. What's going on, you know, with that? [00:06:15] To backtrack a little bit, I played one of the title characters in Take Me Out. What's kind of important with that is it's, kind of, a poking fun at a major league baseball player named Derek Jeter who's biracial. So, I could pass for biracial in that instance for that play. So that was a bit of a rumoreque kind of poking fun, if you will, for that kind of play. And then with Angels in America I play Joe. He's a conservative federal Mormon judge. And he's, he's definitely coming to grips with who he is and he has yet to come out and he finds this man who is who's, who he attracted to who's younger, who's more feminine, and starts to fall in love with. So there's the complications of Reaganism in the 80s and religion and other complications just head on with each other. But that was the production component I took. [00:07:12] To describe more about my independent study or what I did within it. So I had that theory as to when you put the male female energies together you get all kinds of identities. I first looked at how the gay male identity was pushed down or kind of left alone in 20th century American theater. How it was just pushed to the side. And then to prepare for my roles into, into the production, which was called "The Electric Current," I took a, read a book by a woman named Diane Torres who basically teaches women to be Drag Kings. And they start to learn male energies, and male lingo, and other body languages as to what it's like to be a male and to assert your commanding presence and energy when males try to come, come up and confront you and try to get past you. So I had to learn that because, yeah, I'm definitely gay and queer my own right and, you know, this being whole tough thing was like, OK well I could stumble through to do it, but I have to learn what this is so I understand what's being taught. And so that was interesting. So it was basically taking movements like I have where I'm very, like, soft in my movement to more sharp and such and lowering my voice and speaking more concerted in a way. And even my body language, I couldn't be as fluid [00:08:44] I had to be more like, you know, physically stuck or something to show that there was struggle in my body in a way. And then after that, you know, after the production was than a full on analysis of what I did during the show and what those moments were kind of creating. So that's what it was about. [00:09:08] MHR: Thats really interesting! [00:09:08] GM: I can give you the full text of it if you like. [00:09:10] MHR: Oh sure, actually! [00:09:11] GM: Yeah. [00:09:14] MHR: What in the WGSS classes sort of, like, helped shaped your idea for your I.S. [00:09:20] That was actually hard because it almost seemed like Queer Lives was kind of battling for some of "The Electric Current's" attention because Queer Lives said, take a world view. But my I.S. said, I love the world but I got to focus on America first before we can go to the world. But actually there was another thing. There was another class I took about feminism and this was always offered in conjunction with the Department of Theatre and Dance and WGSS and that was Feminism and Theater. That had the most influence because that looked at feminism from a theatrical perspective by a woman named Jill Dolan and she looked at the different types of feminism presented on stage at that time. So the first one was cultural feminism which, as described by her, is it's not just like girl power and such like that, but it's like, men suck! Women only! Women only island! kind of mentalities. You know, forget men we don't need them. Her argument, okay you can do that but all you're doing is isolating yourself from a population of people who make up the equal parts of this world too, as well. [00:10:41] Then you had liberal feminism, in what Jill Dolan describes, and this was a book made in like the 90s, so some of it is still accurate today. The liberal feminism was bringing in everything, feminizing everything and not like gender feminizing but a tool of feminism to go after what the mainstream or norm thinks is good when actually it's bad and you're actually taking these identities and just putting them in and strict constructions with that. So, to back track and circle around a little bit, some of the languages between all the courses I took had these similar terminologies but they were set differently. So I had to think back to what I was learning and then put my own label stance so that the audiences that I was reaching from a theatrical and world perspective, and WGSS perspective, could all be on the same page with that. And kind of like hints and nods to that as well. [00:11:55] But the final part of that course where it was just like, oh of course here's the bias of the author but it's her book and she's arguing very well, was materialist feminism. Materialist feminism, from the theatrical perspective, is where we take something that is considered normal and turn it on its head to show how messed up it really is. How bad it is or the problems with it. So in the examples of that show what happened theatrically was how I got, you know, challenging a conventional way a play as run, I'm dressing myself as from man to woman, I'm bringing in different challenging viewpoints of moments and interaction that we don't usually see because it's so taboo or hidden at that time. Another inspiration, because her name is coming up all over the place, Butler... [00:12:40] MHR: Judith Butler? [00:12:41] GM: Thank you. Judith. And like, Adrian... [00:12:46] MHR: Rich? [00:12:47] GM: Rich! But Judith Butler was always coming up in these books, always referenced throughout all of this and was the toughest writer because she packed so much into one sentence where you're like, here's a book on this one sentence you wrote. So that's how it shaped it. And then another woman named, that I found eventually for the research that Jill Dolan was referencing, was a woman named Sue-Ellen Case, and she was another theatrical person too. So yeah, really the inspiration for it, it just came in different avenues at different times. [00:13:26] MHR: So moving a little more away from the academic aspect of WGSS, what was that campus climate like when you were a student when it came to, like, women's rights and LGBTQ rights? [00:13:42] That four year period from 2007 to 2011, it was dramatic shifts. So, by that time, the old guard had left. So, there was a president that was very nice to the students, no discrimination. He had left and then Grant Cornwell came in. And I'm in that period of time where there's tons of transformation that was just literally right after freshman year, just started like crazy. The climate... there were people, and throughout the years it got more liberal more open and accepting. I saw, I saw this change right under my feet. I was a part of it. The theme that was common though was that, we're the gays, and I don't mean to be rude but I saw a ton of lesbians and bisexual ladies, but there were hardly any people who were out and gay and male like me. [00:14:31] I've heard rumors that it was very underground, whatever that meant at that time. I and didn't participate in any salacious stuff like that. And then transgender rights at that time, by the time I got to my junior year people were putting their feet down and saying something about it and doing something about it. I had no recollection of what transgender was until my sophomore year when I had friends who were coming to me and coming out. The overall climate really, it just got more liberal. It got more open. Dr. Craven had arrived a year or two before. The college was clearly moving in the direction of more openness and it needed those pushes along the way to help that. I never felt unsafe on campus. I always felt safe. People who identified as straight acting, or straight, were always very pleasant to me, were always very nice. I had very few, almost no, confrontations that people wanted to beat me up, ostracized me and call me names. If they did I was with my friends. So, there was a difference with that. But there was, unfortunately, inner turmoil to get to those points. In terms of making a stake a claim for your name or, or seeing what that was, so unfortunately there was cases of loneliness because there were no other gay guys around. There were no other like- people, but there were a lot of supportive straight people. So thankfully there was that. [00:16:08] MHR: Yeah, so in the beginning you were talking about how you were interested in the WGSS classes because you felt like you were an activist. Did taking any more classes inspire more activism while you were a student on campus? [00:16:22] GM: It did, it did. I came in that way from the get go. But, it inspired me to be a thoughtful activist in many respects. A critical thinker who can basically go further and take action on things like that. I guess it inspired me to, to stay in the course and keep going with who I was, as a gay man, to be open and as well to, you know, set a foundation for others eventually so that they could feel comfortable. And doing that was true, I know the group is changing in that many different times was w the group Allies and Queers our LGBT student group on campus. It really inspire me to do that, to be a part of that, and then graciously honored to then be voted as you know the president of that organization for my senior year. So it was very important to me. [00:17:23] MHR: Awesome. So actually going back to a few more points about taking WGSS classes, was there any, sort of, when you were taking classes was there any stigma you, sort of, saw as somebody taking a Women's, Gender, Sexuality Studies class, or being a guy taking those classes? [00:17:47] GM: We had some guys in the Introduction to Women's course. That wasn't an issue. No one was mean to others in that class. There might have been some, like, there were no any, like, whoops didn't know kind of moments necessarily. They were mostly silent but not, but not judgmental. But around me and such, I never faced that because I think people saw me, because I was such a public figure in people's eyes not like, I'm unpopular people must respect me thing, [00:18:23] I think because I was so highly visible that people knew to respect me and not ever go into something like that. But any time I heard, any time I heard rumblings about, and it always happened, of feminism in particular. How apparent straight white men would attack feminism and call it a problem when really it was just a disagreement with their beliefs or thoughts as to what is normal or not because they just didn't understand. They didn't have the tools or understanding of that. Dude, you call yourself normal. You call other people who are not like you, other, it, different, foreign, object, you know? So there was that. It's hard to say if that got better over time or not with, with the status of things and being that way. But, I never felt uncomfortable in the class. I never felt that from my peers that I wasn't comfortable taking it. They just had interesting charred views about feminism because they weren't informed, they had bad examples of people who they thought were over-hyperly feministic in the wrong way, to which I say, people are different and shift and change at different times and they're just being themselves. Don't, don't think that they are taking on something that they shouldn't or an ideal like that. Don't attack the person for feminism. Have a healthy discussion or dialogue about it, you know? So, yeah. That's how I would respond to that. [00:20:06] MHR: What about being a guy in any of the classes? Was that controversial at all? [00:20:14] GM: That wasn't an issue in the WGSS intro course and it wasn't an issue in Feminism in Theater. It wasn't an issue in Queer Lives but it was unfortunately, and I wasn't harmed by it, but I was the only guy in the course. But I knew the women in that course, and the other identities in there. I don't know if someone was transgender or not in that course, just being, you know, safe and honest about that. But it was very, female queer lives driven focused, unfortunately, and not enough male. And it's like, I don't want to be the only one here to be like, "Male problem, male problem, male problem." But I did at times and that's ok. I didn't fight with anyone about it. But I didn't feel uncomfortable. The discussion, and it's not that it has to be this, but very female, traditional female focused. Not enough male focused. But there were some moments of people of different identities on different parts of the spectrum, especially transgendered, not as much for bisexuality. So it had its unevenness, but it happened naturally. It wasn't anyone's particular fault. [00:21:31] MHR: I was curious about that because as a guy in the Program, too, I'm oftentimes the only guy in especially at the more upper level courses. So, I was just curious if that was similar issue and experience. [00:21:45] GM: Sure, yeah. [00:21:46] MHR: So one of my last questions is, how have you used what you learned from the WGSS Discipline in your life after Wooster? [00:21:59] GM: I guess what I've used now, in a sense, is I'm much.. I mean obviously I'm much more educated on besides just the information but the... the interdisciplinarys that go within it. But also the core theme that go with it. That, you know, identity transforms. Identity doesn't just stay there. It armed me with the right information and power to call people out when, you know, they're not be nice to others or being dicks. It also afforded me the ability to educate others on things that they think is right or wrong. But it also really allowed me to... reminded me to keep thinking openly and extensively with what it means to be a human, to the queer, to be gay, to have your identity. So it's really influenced me to have an educationally positive influence on others in almost any conversation that I might have If we go talk about feminism, if we talk about women's issues, gay rights, gender issues. Particularly gender issues, that is the one thing that when you start to push people like this in the outside world about, they start to freeze up because they're like, "system could not compute, what are you talking about?" So you're kind of helping extend the Program or education to peoples' lives because they may not have known about it as well. [00:23:28] MHR: Yeah, that's awesome. Is there any, well you sort of talked about classes that really stuck with you, but, like, what's, like, one thing that you have, like, kept with you, like the most? [00:23:42] GM: Well, physically I've kept the books. What I kept with me? And besides the knowledge of what I've learned. I've learned that, basically, I mean two things. Open to the possibility of exploring for more information. Just because you found it here doesn't mean you can't go further with it. And basically, always to keep an even more open mind than you thought because while there's times there are people in certain subjects of their disciplinarys that there like, "no, this is the rule, you can't bend it! Blah." [00:24:21] But literally it helps with that. Saying, "just because it was this way before doesn't mean it can't be this now. And if you dig deeper, the perspective you might have been taught could actually be wrong. There's more to the story." So, it really fueled a thirst for more knowledge, for more understanding, being more inquisitive with whatever I might research or understand even with my line of work, to go further into it. And, as well, to kind of be aware of what is considered male and female with it. So, or, well gender coded I would say because I don't want to be like it's only this or that. What is traditionally gender coded are not gender coded as well. So, so yeah! [00:25:09] MHR: That's awesome. I'm actually… that's interesting because I'm, sort of, feeling those similar themes from the classes that I've been taking. So that's cool to hear that it's similar for you as well. Those are the questions I have. Is there anything you wanted to bring up or say? [00:25:28] GM: What is a defining moment that's prompting you to... to look at this important juncture for the WGSS Program? Is it because of a new subject that's being introduced or just the... one of the anniversaries that's coming up? [00:25:44] MHR: Well, the main thing is it's the anniversary coming up so me and Dr. Craven were able to do this project through a grant. For me personally I was just interested in hearing people from all different generations, so people who have taught here, people have been students, sort of why WGSS was important to them. Because for me personally coming into Wooster I did not think I was going to be a WGSS major in the slightest. I thought like, "oh what is there to, like, learn? I feel like I understand feminism." [00:26:20] That was a very, like, teenager type of thing, like, not as cultured as I could've been. So then I took the intro class for fun and then I was just exposed to all these new ideas and all these new thoughts and different theorists and topics. It was just... I was fascinated by it and I started to be more classes and then I thought to myself, "this is awesome and I really enjoy these things and it feels very important and very relevant, especially with the climate we are in right now." And I thought, "this is actually my favorite classes I've taken." So, with that experience in mind for myself I was just curious to hear what others were taking from the Program and how it sort of shaped how they think and how they, like, where they have gone after Wooster. [00:27:15] GM: Are you finding any common themes or theories pop up or...? [00:27:21] MHR: I mean, right now it's... it's a lot about activism I think. I think a lot of people who I've been talking to have been very active on campus as either a faculty member or a student. I'm just...this whole idea of, like, being open to different people, being open to different ideas and how this sort of change of acceptance of people from different identities has, like, grown throughout interviews with people I have been talking to. So those are the main things I'm seeing right now. [00:27:58] GM: Cool, very good! [00:28:00] MHR: Well, thank you so much for doing this! [00:28:03] GM: You're welcome.
Harris-Ridker, Matthew and Myatt, George, “Interview with George Myatt,” WGSS at Wooster: Past, Present, and Future , accessed January 19, 2021, http://woosterdigital.org/wgssatwoo/items/show/68.