exploring vulnerability and transparency one bath at a time

Lauren Yarbrough


Date of Interview: September 9, 2017

Name: Lauren Yarbrough

Age: 27

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Location: Chicago, IL


How often do you bathe or shower?

Usually once a day. Sometimes, in the winter, because I shower in the morning, I will skip it if I feel like I smell nice because it’s cold and I’m already unhappy in the winter [laughter].

If you were a mythical creature, which one would it be?

Oh, my gosh. I meant to think so much more about this question [laughter]. I’m going to go with Loch Ness Monster because it has the word monster in it, which I’m a fan of and, also, I just like the idea of people not being sure if you’re there or not [laughter]. Just on the down low out here, lurking. It’s like the Internet [laughter]. 

What are you passionate about?

Oh, my gosh. I feel like this has changed and evolved a lot in the last year or two because I’ve spent the majority of my adult life doing theater and, specifically, stage managing, and production managing, and making people’s projects happen. And I hit 26 and I was like, “You know what, I need to go to sleep at night, so I’m not going to be in rehearsal anymore.” But I guess now it’s more specifically– theater is one way you can encourage people to be creative. And I think I’m still about that but now it’s more open-ended. I want to find a niche to encourage people to just be loud and unapologetic about their shit. Yeah. So I guess making or holding space is what some people will call it because I’ve experienced not feeling like it’s okay to speak up or as if you have anything important to say. And I still feel that way a little bit of the time but I’m also louder and have fewer fucks available to me as I grow older [laughter]. So I’m just like, “Just say no to those people. Tell them you need more money, tell them that you have something to say and Chad just repeated it in a different tone of voice. Do your weird thing. Yeah, sure, it’s weird. I mean that doesn’t matter. Just do it. Life is short, we’re all going to die, it’s 2017, we’re all very aware of this fact. Just do it. We don’t have enough time to be afraid of shit.” Yeah. And, basically, what I’m saying is I’m turning into my mother [laughter]. Yeah. That’s that.

What did you mean by you are very aware of the amount of space you’re given?

Well, my experience, being a black woman who’s not a particularly small person. For context, I’m like 5’5, 5’6 now and somewhere around 200 pounds. I’ve been approximately this size since the age of 12, and that was one of the first things my grandfather started telling me when was going through puberty was, “Celebrate your height. Don’t slouch,” and me being, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about, this is awful.” And so I’ve been big, I was a fat kid, and I used to have a whole bunch of hair, like three-and-a-half feet, just everywhere. And I’ve been very aware of– and I was a bully on the playground [laughter]. So I’m very aware of, “Oh, I am going to be bigger and stronger than some of the people around me. I have the ability to do a lot of damage if I’m not being careful,” and preemptively thinking about other people’s’ concerns. And I can make myself take up a lot of space or, if I’m in a situation where I’m worried about my personal safety or trying to impress these white people so they will give me my paycheck, I’m also capable of making myself very small. And for a long time, being small is a reaction to not wanting to be the kid that hurts people and everybody doesn’t like you. Being small has been my default. But I mean, right around the time I got into the relationship that I’m currently in, I was like, “Oh, I don’t have to do that. Some people will like me even when they’re a little bit intimidated. Oh, people being intimidated by you sometimes doesn’t mean they don’t want to be your friends. Oh, well, in that case, that’s just what I’m going to do [laughter],” that side. And so I started doing things like accepting compliments and letting people be good enough friends with me that I would give them my no-bullshit answers to things, which, again, is still relatively new. But it’s great. I’m enjoying it [laughter].

What is something you still struggle with?

I mean it’s definitely vulnerability, which is sort of ironic, given the circumstances. But since I was a kid, I’ve been really good and rigorous about kind of hiding what I’m really interested in and what I really think about things and the stuff that I care about a lot, I want that to be a secret. I don’t let anybody know because I grew up expecting to be judged and corrected about things. I wanted to figure things out by myself and so my reaction to that was to just be very, very secretive all the time. And I’m still kind of getting over that now, being like, “Oh, these are friends that I’ve chosen and they already know that I’m kind of weird or kind of a lot, so it can be okay to not like the same things or to be into something that’s kind of odd and be honest about it because people can’t really know you and it gets kind of lonely if you’re not honest.” It’s all very aspirational [laughter]. It’s not a linear journey by any means. There are degrees and bits where I have to be, “By the way, I was kind of lying when I said that I was interested in doing that. I really want to go home and go to sleep.” But, yeah, that’s the one that’s closest and most in my face, in my daily thoughts right now.

What are your thoughts on relationships, platonic, sexual, familial, and otherwise?

So …my thoughts have definitely evolved. I was raised by very private people who were also evangelical Christians. As we’re doing this interview, I’m still kind of like, “Man, they’re going to find this. It’s going to be weird but, you know, we probably need to have that conversation anyway [laughter].” So I guess my expectations for a lot of my life have been, you’re in a  monogamous relationship and maybe you have two or three close friends. And that’s not really what I’m doing with my life right now. I’ve discovered, as I’ve been more real with myself, that, actually, I’m really interested in having different kinds of intimacy with maybe more than just one person. Because intimacy, there’s sexual and there’s emotional, and a lot of other different kinds. I learned about myself this year, that I’m a person who’s very happy with casual touching, whereas my partner is someone who does not like to be touched unless you’re really close. I’m like, “No, actually I don’t feel that way,” and it’s really hard for me to maybe be emotionally vulnerable but other kinds of intimacy are really– I feel more powerful when I have more of that in my life, which is kind of the heady new thing I’m still working out. But, no, relationships are great. Relationships can fuck you up for sure, but not always [laughter].

What is something that you feel very accomplished with?

This feels kind of dumb but in 27 years, I would feel like the thing that I feel the most accomplished about is having a sex life [laughter] because I definitely didn’t expect to have one of those the first, I’m going to say, 18 years of my life, when I was like, “Oh, whatever, that means you have to marry a cis man and have kids and homeschool them probably and just be miserable until you’re dead [laughter].” That wasn’t in the cards. Now, I’m like, “Oh, first of all, none of those things are true and also you can have sex and not be miserable.” Thanks, Obama [laughter]. It’s been nice, you know, being able to divorce those things.



Olivia Lilley


Date of Interview: September 6th, 2017

Name: Olivia Lilley

Age: 28

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Location: Chicago, IL


How often do you bathe or shower?

Every day. I have a pool in my building, an indoor pool so I tend to get back from rehearsal and I will go and dream down there and play some dumb pop music and then shower. And that’s pretty much my showering for the day. I go down to the pool. I swim and then I immediately go upstairs and shower. It’s the routine since I moved into that place. Before I lived in a garden unit in Logan Square and we had a bathtub. It was kind of gross and one day the ceiling caved in so that was a hard week for showering. We thought we heard an avalanche and it was just like yeah. It was the ceiling into the bathtub. The scary thing was I was about to take a shower and I got distracted [laughter]. This could be a much sadder story.

If you were an underwater creature, which creature would it be?

I would probably be a starfish. I like the way they move. It’s pretty beautiful. They don’t really move a lot but they seem pretty content where they are and they look good where they’re sitting [laughter] in the coral reef or whatever.

Do you appreciate when people only move with meaning?

Yeah. I do. I live in Chicago, not New York. Like, in New York everyone’s just moving because they think–They’re moving, moving all the time, because they think that means they’re getting something done. But I think that’s kind of a myth and often if I’m moving way too much I’m just a total mess and I don’t know where I am. I like when I have a little room for being pensive in my life in order for my work to happen. Standing still in order to move.

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about giving voice to other people but in a way that doesn’t shut out my own. I’m a theater director and maker and so often times as director, these weird negotiation happen and I often devise so I’m either writing literal characters with the actors. Asking them well, what do you think? What do you think they do here? Or and through their imaginings, it’s really great to be able to write something because it feels like a symbiotic relationship. But I have to be careful not to fully take away their voice and misunderstand their voice and when they say I’m wrong and I’m going in the wrong direction, I have to listen. I have to be humble like that otherwise they won’t be true. It’s a constant balance. It’s a constant trying to carefully understand the people I’m working with. I try to really hear them. I don’t want to misunderstand and then not have an opportunity to know I’m wrong.

How did you fall into that line of thinking?

Well, I think before I was the director. I was a composer. I wrote musicals in high school. And I went to music school for music composition. And I went to this kind of awesome boarding school arts academy environment. And I had my music composition teacher– I was coming from small town Illinois. And it was a miracle if there was one person in my class that was in the arts anyway. And now suddenly, I was surrounded by all these amazing people from all these amazing backgrounds. But the worst of it was my composition professor because I’d walk into his office. I always remember he had this picture, this picture of him and one of his former students, his former student that won a young arts or presidential scholar of the arts and for writing the most atonal bullshitty music and who had gone to Julliard. And it was some white man. It was his crowning joy and we were all supposed to live up to that. So I’d walk in. Because when I was a senior, I was working on this vast opera about the Bolshevik revolution. So I was constantly working out material. I wasn’t often going, “Here’s a string quartet. Here look at this.” I was working out themes and variations and harmonies. And so I would give him my notes and he would just refuse to look at them and not teach me anything and basically just be acting like what I was presenting him with was the worst thing in the world. And I think that comes from that very macho mentality of break them down so that you can build them back up. And really, that just made me not want to write music ever again. So when I went to drama school, something that I realized is that the arts don’t have to always be horrible and vindictive all the time. And there was one time– but I mean, that still existed, that breakdown mentality, that kind of stereotype with the Russian male director who’s just like, “You’re shit!” So there was one time in director’s colloquium where a girl was talking about a quote that Stanislavsky, he’s an acting forefather of the modern– Yeah, you get it. But he used to yell at his actors from the back of the theater, “I don’t believe you.” So I got this tattoo. I’ll show you. And it says [foreign] in Russian. And it means, “I believe you.” So to me, that means “encourage people and the way to get people to get better is not to tell them that they’re shit. It’s to let them know that there is something great within them and to break that open and try to get rid of all that bullshit that standing in their way. That’s my story [laughter]. While I’m simultaneously trying to help, I’m also trying to not let my voice disappear and trying to get all the stuff that’s in my way out of the way too.

What do you think of relationships, platonic, sexual, and otherwise?

I really like them. I am in a long-term relationship with a partner who I first met in 2011. And when I first met them, I knew they were the one and they didn’t. And it ended pretty badly. We were friends and I was like, “I think I really like you,” and he was  it’s like, “I’m confused. I’m still angry about some girl over there.” And then in the year 2015, we found each other across the country in a long-distance form. And then I moved out to Connecticut with him for like three months. And then I got him to move to Chicago. And that’s who I live with in a building with a pool. And so I always felt like Jake, my partner, we were supposed to be together. And there were definitely times in my life, after I met him, that I was like, “Okay, no. I’m just being crazy.” And I was wondering if the person I thought he was, was the person he really was. And so I kind of found out– all right. I’ll tell you a story [laughter]. In 2013, two weeks into us dating, he invited me to this mansion in the woods of upstate New York. So all of his friends from college have this thing called a shore party that they do every so often. They rent a giant mansion. They do a bunch of drugs. And they wear a lot of costumes and do lectures, and stuff. So Jake was like, “I’m going to buy us acid [laughter].” So he bought us acid. And we were sitting in a basement and we’re about to do it. And I was like, “Jake, we need to do this together.” Because he was like– because when we got to the party he started being a douche bag. He started being like, “Look, we don’t have to be together this whole trip. I can go this way–” And it’s like, “Asshole. You invited me to a party where I know no one. And you know everyone. That’s absolutely not fair at all [laughter].” So I got him to be like, “Okay. We’re going to do this acid trip together.” So we took the acid and it kicked in. And we went on this crazy journey where we worked through all of our subconscious bullshit. And he realized he was in love with me. And I also realized he was the person I thought he was. And then we kind of never looked back. Back to the monogamist and relationships. I feel like that’s been my experience. But I don’t think that’s like everyone is going to find that experience. I also feel like polyamory is completely possible and great. And if I ever found myself in that position then I would say yes to it. Yeah. I just think it’s all personal. But I think humans are not meant to do one or the other thing. It’s a completely unique journey. And I love working with people who, in creating theatre or whatever, or any sort of art, people who have a completely different experience. And then the challenge of how to work with them to render that experience on stage. And especially experiences that aren’t often depicted. And how to try to not make assumptions. And when I do make assumptions listen when they are correcting me [laughter].

What are your thoughts on familial and platonic relationships?

I would say I have a lot of friends. But sometimes I’m closer to some at certain points. And then some go away and then others come back. And then some people, it’s like you’re friends with them and it’s great. And then you realize there’s something fundamental that’s not going to be reconciled here so then you stop being friends. And I value those people as much as I value the people I talk to every day. Because even though maybe we crossed and didn’t– I don’t think that person is bad for not being able to be a good friend to me or me not being able to– it’s just that we don’t click. That’s something I guess I’ve learned since school: That most people are not really manipulative or bad. Everyone’s just got goals and sometimes they don’t align. And sometimes people go about things in totally different ways than you and that’s okay [laughter]

Robyn B.


Date of Interview: 9/1/2017

Name: Robyn B.

Age: 33

Pronouns: She/Hers

Location: Chicago, IL


How often do you bathe or shower?

Twice a day, typically; I’m very very clean. I shower. Baths are more of a special occasion type thing for me.

If you’re an underwater creature, which one would you be?

A dolphin for sure. Dolphins are playful and they’re happy; also, they’re not afraid to fuck up a shark when the time requires it. And I don’t know, they seem like very genuine creatures to me; I try to live my life with kindness, respect, and a little bit of playfulness and that just seems very dolphin-like to me.

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about learning first and foremost. I love learning new things. I love having new experiences because I feel like that’s ultimately the point of life- to learn as much as you can and experience as much of the World as you can before it’s time to go. So, that’s one thing I’m passionate about. Do you want a list? [laughter] Because there’s lots of other things. Well, weed is pretty cool!! [laughter] Chemistry is also awesome-  I think the whole of existence is essentially a continuous chemical reaction that is constantly producing new products and that is pretty cool. What’s the most recent thing you’ve learned or experienced that has had weight to it? That people can be different than the way they present themselves. Even if it’s been somebody you’ve known a month or ten years of your life some people can really really surprise you. And it sucks when that happens but it’s a learning experience, and learning is the point of life.

What are your thoughts on relationships? Platonic, sexual and otherwise.

I think they can be a great thing. I think they can also be a very dangerous thing. Relationships are great in the sense that they can make us feel great and they can make us feel wanted, happy, and they can make us feel whole. One thing that makes them dangerous however is that they can make us feel too secure; relationships can hurt us in ways that we weren’t anticipating and yeah, you’re also very very vulnerable in a relationship and that vulnerability can lead to some pretty extreme cases of pain. Familial relationships are kind of a challenge because my family has never been the stereotypical connected family; we experienced a series of deaths and other tragedies in our immediate family unit when I was little and it just kind of broke things. I believe in the concept of blood family, I do, but I think ultimately family is more of like something you create for yourself than something you’re born into. Platonic relationships- we need them!!! [laughter] Just… We need them. They’re the spice of life. They’re also totally essential in terms of navigating the human experience; we all get by with a little help from our friends! Now, as far as sexual relationships are concerned, of course, those are important too. I would say just almost as important as the platonic relationships because sexuality is one of the purest forms of self-expression; during sex, you’re giving yourself fully to another person and it is a demonstration of your kindness, generosity, and it also demonstrates a little bit of strength because there’s strength in being able to make yourself so vulnerable to someone.  But again, if you wind up in that position with the wrong person, it can also be detrimental. It can lead down the road of pain and suffering if you’re not careful, which is what I recently went through.  I was married and had been with my partner for about 10 years. We have a child together. So, three and a half(ish) years prior to today I came out to [redacted] as trans and started the process of transition and initially, she was extremely supportive of me. Over the course of time, the changes started to become a lot more visible and that was when we started to have some problems as a couple; truthfully, the problems were always there but my gender transition forced us to face some tough realities that neither of us were expecting.  

When [redacted] and I first started dating, I was quite a bit heavier and that was one of the thing that she found really attractive; [redacted] likes large, hairy men and that was definitely me for a long time!  My gender transition started with a massive weight loss; I’m not where I want to be yet in terms of like overall body composition but I feel like I’m so much closer than I’d ever lost before because I lost like a very significant amount of weight. And with that kind of weight loss comes– you can’t lose that amount of weight and not experience some sort of psychological shift in the way you view the relationship you have with food, fitness, and your body.  You just can’t. It was essentially like I lost an entire severely depressed person that was living inside me and all this deeply repressed negative energy kind of started to work itself to the surface. While I was discovering what kind of person I was and finding out all these awesome new things about myself, [redacted] was mostly just hanging out on the sidelines watching; she had a hard time seeing me grow from being this surly overweight dude who smoked pot and played video games all day and didn’t really care about anything (almost to the point of nihilism) to this budding young woman who cared about things. Like how people were treating one another. Like how queer people were being treated in our community. I don’t know, I started caring about things and that became like a problem– I don’t know. It’s apparently cool to not care [laughter]. It’s cool to just be like– like a stereotypical Brando-esque greaser with the devil-may-care “I can do whatever I want to” attitude.  

The one awesome part about this point in time was that after coming out, our sexual relationship became incredibly active. We conceived a child together and all seemed to be going well over the course of the 9 months the baby was growing fingers and toes.  C was born in December and due to the complications during childbirth, C was transferred out to a different hospital; for the first seven days of his life C and [redacted] were in different facilities and for those seven days I really didn’t sleep.  I just drove back and forth between these two hospitals and made sure that my family was okay. Eventually, we were discharged from the hospital and sent home and upon arriving it was like immediately something was different between [redacted] and myself. She did not want to hug or hold hands, was super mean to me, and just generally kind of started treating me as though I was an unwelcome guest in her home. And it was just so bizarre to me because she started off as one of my staunchest supporters. Our relationship began a steady decline and eventually it got to the point where every interaction was a fight. We weren’t interacting kindly with each other anymore, it was just constantly this negative bitter energy; in November of last year the need for me to transition became overwhelming and I began to express a firm desire to begin hormone therapy. And so she sat me down– actually, it wasn’t even a sit-down kind of thing because the conversation happened while we were arguing!! So mid argument she was like, “If you do hormones. That’s it. That’s it.”  It felt very surreal; I made the difficult choice to move forward with my transition and then in January that was when it was just—done. She was like, “I’m not divorcing you because I’m very loyal.” And I was like, ” All right well what kind of a marriage do you want to exist or do you want to have?” And she was like, “None of that stuff is important to me.” None of the bonding emotionally or the experiencing life together mattered at all to her; we had nearly ten years of shared experiences and she told me that none of it mattered at all to her and she thought that we were best off as friends and nothing more.

After that, we continued living together and were trying to do the cohabitation thing for the sake of C, which really didn’t work for us. I moved into the spare bedroom and for a minute it got better, but then it was just like the arguments more-or-less took a turn for the worse. Especially once I started expressing a little bit of independence; it got to be June and it was during Pridefest that I had the epiphany that this situation needs to come to an end. Chicago just has this magic about it; being down here for the whole weekend I was like, “This is the place I need to be right now. This is like really where I need to be.” Because I was at the point where I just didn’t ever want to return to [redacted]. I was just so unhappy. I just felt unwelcome and I was tired of feeling that way.  I started saving up a little bit of money and I started my search for roommates and places and moved to the city at the end of July.

What does home mean to you?

Home means security. It means safety. It means a place to rest and really let your guard down. A place to be yourself with no shame and no pretense. Just 100% you working it, all-natural. And I think that’s what home should mean to everybody because what could home mean otherwise? I mean because I’ve experienced various forms of “home.” I have the abusive home growing up as a child. I don’t even know– the negative home that’d I just come out of. And now it’s like this place is– I finally feel okay. I feel like I can be myself, whatever that may mean. I can be Robyn and not have to offer a disclaimer or apology or anything, so I guess home to me would be a place where you can just be you in your most raw form.  

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