Keshet and Anyone But Me: Two Different Organizations, doing separate things, with the same common goal: bringing attention to acceptance, identity and social change
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” A peaceful fighter for social justice, we remember MLK Jr. as an honorable individual who indeed sacrificed, suffered and struggled to help make generations to come be able to skip hand in hand- white, black, pink, red – no matter what color, race, sexuality, or ethnicity. Years later, even though MLK Jr.’s dream has become partially true – we still have plenty of work to do.
Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are – and Keshet does just that. An organization that develops leadership among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Jews who can affect policy and cultural change in Jewish institutions, Keshet creates many opportunities where people of all sexualities can come together. Keshet, like JChoice, is about uniting the differences in people and working with Jewish communities. Based in Boston, Keshet’s Community-Building programs creates an institution where GLBT Jews can celebrate their Jewish identity while engaging in the acquisition of concrete activist skills for change. In 2006, Keshet began to offer national training, resources, and technical assistance to Jewish communities. To learn more/contact Keshet, go to their JChoice profile page: http://www.jchoice.org/CauseDetails.aspx?id=51.
After reading about this organization, I was doing some surfing on the web one day and came across the web series Anyone But Me, a show that introduces a new generation struggling with identity and modern relationships. Anyone But Me is a new webseries brought to you by one of the writers and producers of The L Word and thirtysomething, Susan Miller and independent filmmaker Tina Cesa Ward. Anyone But Me stars Rachael Hip-Flores, Mitchell S. Adams, Jessy Hodges, Joshua Holland, Nicole Pacent, Barbara Pitts, Alexis Slade, Dan Via. In the interview (which you can read in full at the end of the blog entry) Pacent talks about her experience coming out bi to her family and peers. An organization like Keshet embraces individuality and provides a safe haven and educational institution to do so. Anyone But Me is creating this same idea through the web and social media.
The new hit web-series Anyone But Me’s Nicole Pacent looks like a spitting image of Angelina Jolie. Created by one of the writers and producers of The L Word and ThirtySomething, Susan Miller, and independent filmmaker Tina Cesa Ward created Anyone But Me to introduce a new post 9/11 struggling with homosexuality, identity, and modern long distance relationships. Acting since she could literally put one foot in front of the other, Pacent flips her freshly salon highlighted brown hair, and flashes a crest-white smile. Placing her Au Bon Pain coffee near her computer, she gets ready to explain how excited she is for recently being nominated as one of Shewired.com’s 2009 Gay Women of the Year and what it means to her to be a part of Anyone But Me.
“We’ve amassed such a wonderful, small niche following for Anyone But Me,” said the New York University Tisch School of Arts graduate who plays 15- year old Astor, Vivian’s (played by Rachael Hip-Flores) on-screen love. “I think people really relate to the Vivian and Astor characters and the fact that in that first [SheWired.com] interview when I came out, people were really psyched about it. I guess it’s just not that typical,” says Pacent. “It’s funny to me now because it’s just so second nature for me. I don’t even think about it. I talk about it because it is who I am and it’s part of my life.”
When Pacent was notified that she had been nominated as one of Shewired.com’s 2009 Gay Women of the Year, she could barely hold in the excitement. “Ellen is nominated! I honestly do not deserve to share a sidewalk with the women that are nominated!”
After coming out publicly to the press as bi-sexual on April 21, 2009, shortly after the release of the first season of the web-series, Pacent says she gets contacted daily by devoted fans saying they have been touched by her efforts. “It’s why I act at the end of the day. Besides my own love for it, it is to do something that makes a difference with people,” says Pacent.
Although acting is a way for Pacent to make a difference for people, she also finds other ways to touch lives personally. In the midst of writing her graduate school essay for drama at Yale University about why she chose acting as her profession, Pacent says that even though she was “born and raised on the stage,” she has other many interests as well. “Acting is about everything else,” explains Pacent, “If your entire life is only about acting, I don’t know how you can really draw on anything else and be a worthwhile actor and tell worthwhile stories.” Also a middle school tutor at a Charter School in Harlem, New York, Pacent loves working with kids and wants to continue to teach alongside acting. This past summer, Pacent was asked to be a seventh grade English teacher for their summer school. “It was one of the most incredible experiences ever and I got to make the curriculum. I’m obsessed with literature and poetry so it was too much fun for me,” says Pacent, laughing.
As a kid herself, Pacent often played the little mermaid during recess, always showing admiration for the song, “Part of Your World,” to the point that even to this day, she still relies on it as her audition song. Casting kids on the playground as different characters from the Disney movie, theater was always something that just “made sense” to Pacent. “Anything that was theater or music related I just loved. When I watched a movie or went to see a show, I was just completely transfixed,” says Pacent, “I went to see Red Riding Hood when I was seven and all I wanted to do was be red riding hood.”
But the confident and smiling actress reminiscing about her musical production and community theater days on and off the playground actually used to be a little girl scared of coming out to her peers, and more importantly, to herself. “It’s such a funny idea this whole idea of coming out because if we lived in a world where people didn’t assume that you were straight until proven otherwise, then maybe things would be different. But really you come out everyday to people,” says Pacent.
While watching a long television special back in eighth grade on gay marriage one morning when she stayed home from school, Pacent recalls homosexuality being very foreign to her then. She was so uncomfortable with the television special and gay marriage in general, that it was absolutely fascinating at the same time. “I remember seeing that special and saying to myself, ‘I’m gay. I’m gay. I’m gay. I want to stop watching this show because I can’t be gay. But I’m gay,’” says Pacent. Coming out of denial was the first step towards Pacent coming out with her sexuality.
One would never think that in the middle of a field hockey field where practice was being held, someone could have an identity crisis. However, for fifteen-year-old Pacent it was possible. During a summer afternoon, her and her teammates saw, what they thought, was an attractive-looking guy across the field hockey field. A few minutes later they found out that this guy was actually a girl, when he, or rather she, took off a baseball cap to expose a shaved head and a face that had very apparent girl features. That moment was the turning point in Pacent’s awareness of her sexuality. As all the other girls laughed at the idea that they could possibly think this ‘guy’ was attractive, Pacent still could not get it out of her head that she still thought the girl was quite striking. “I remember looking at her intently and being like, ‘That’s a girl. You know it’s a girl now. Why are you so attracted to her?’ I had to keep on telling myself, you know this is a girl, right?’”
To Pacent, coming out at fifteen was a scary process. It was different and she did not know anyone her age that identified as gay. “It was so the other. As soon as it came in my conscience mind that this just might be who I am, I suddenly was alienated in my own head,” says Pacent, “I became the other that everyone could talk about and to me, that was very scary. It was scary because it was real.”
Coming out only became real when Pacent came to terms with the fact that this was something that would be a constant element in her lifestyle: she liked boys, but she also liked girls. When the truth was itching to come out Pacent would “drop hints like bombs” to her parents. While watching Felicity one afternoon with her family, there was a bi-sexual man on the show. Her mom made a disgusted comment about the man, knowing that her daughter was such an openly gay advocate. At the end of the evening when her dad was walking out to his car, Pacent decided it was time to tell him. She knew that her dad was more accepting because his sister was gay too. Three months after coming out with the truth to her dad, Pacent finally told her mom the morning after she came home from a sleepover with another girl- who later became her girlfriend.
“[My mom] had met my first girlfriend a week or two before this. My girlfriend, whose name was Nicole too was more obviously gay than I was. I was very broken up one morning coming back from a sleepover with this girl because I was just dealing with a lot. We were just friends at that point. I just knew I really liked her,” says Pacent, “But I was still dating the boyfriend and I was obviously very confused and I was in a very upset place about everything. My mom asked what was wrong. I told her I liked someone else besides Chris [the boyfriend] and she just looks at me and asked if it’s a girl and I just said, ‘Yep.’”
Pacent explained that her mom most likely expressed great discomfort with her bi-sexual daughter because she grew up in a society that considered it to be taboo. Her mom was not exposed to the idea of homosexuality and the thought of putting herself in that situation was uncomfortable. “Usually it is the opposite sex parent of the kid that comes out that is more okay with it than the same-sex parent,” says Pacent, “Dads are more okay with their gay daughters and moms are okay with their gay sons. I think the reason for that is its not so personal to them.”
A few months later, Pacent’s mom got used to her daughter’s sexuality, even though she still clung onto the bi part of it. Coming out was hard for fifteen-year-old Pacent because she did not know what kind of response to expect from her parents or her peers. Both parents became accepting and supportive and her friends never once judged her. But when Pacent was a junior in college living in the East Village, she woke up one morning around ten, as usual, to go to rehearsal not expecting to get a sudden sour taste of discrimination because of her sexuality. Leaving the apartment with her girlfriend at the time, they walked together to the corner where Pacent hailed a cab. The cab pulled in front of her and before she opened the door to get in, she gave her girlfriend a quick good-bye –see-you-later kiss. When she turned back to the cab, the door was locked. Pacent knocked on the window thinking the cab driver did not know the door was locked- but the driver never turned around or unlocked the door. The red traffic light at the corner turned green and the cab driver flipped his off duty sign and drove away. “I just turned around to my girlfriend and asked, ‘Did you just see that?’ I mean, I guess you could have justified it by saying it was something else. But we were the only people on the street. I mean who do you think you’re driving around? This is the East Village! There are a lot of gay people,” says Pacent.
Able to relate on a very personal level with her character on Anyone But Me, Pacent says Astor is very confident. “She’s much more myself now than myself in high school. Myself in high school was a little more Vivian,” says Pacent. After moving from New York City to Westchester, Vivian has to deal with coming out to her peers in a new school and neighborhood and has a hard time adjusting to that idea while still maintaining her relationship with Astor back at home. “Sometimes I was comfortable with it and sometimes I wasn’t. In terms of owning to who she is, she is more mature than I was. Astor is the kind of girl who I would date, not necessarily the person I am,” says Pacent.
Performing as Astor on the show makes Pacent think a lot about her identity as an actress, saying that often where people have trouble in acting is where they have trouble in life too. Sometimes during scenes where she needs to become vulnerable, Pacent finds it hard to do so in front of other people when she is not in control. “There have been times in scenes where I’m like, ‘Should I cry in this scene?’ and I found myself so uncomfortable at the idea of crying and I ask myself ‘Is that me being uncomfortable for Astor or me being uncomfortable for me?’
Since coming out to her peers and family, Pacent is finally comfortable forming relationships with other women and not afraid of being judged. The Angelina-look-alike is starring again on the second season of Anyone But Me that premiered December 15. “You know, my ex-girlfriend in the beginning thought I looked like Angelina Jolie but then over time said ‘Yeah I saw it when I first met you, but I don’t see it anymore. You’re just…you.’ That’s what I get from most people. They see it at first and then they don’t see it anymore. I mean it’s an incredible compliment. That woman is outstandingly beautiful. Can’t argue with it.”
Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments