Writer and performer R. C. Riley's journey toward full acceptance of her queer woman identity has gone through many stages and now she is embracing that label in a big way. That journey was painful for Riley because many people in her world did not recognize her sexual orientation.
"Years ago, I dated women and even had a wedding ceremony in 2004 before marriage equality was codified into law," said Riley. "After that relationship ended, everyone in my world acted as though it never even existed, that she was a non-factor in my world. No one asked how I was doing, if I missed her, nothing. So instead of forcing others to recognize how sad and lonely I was I went silent and started dating men.
"Over time, withholding my true self from myself became more and more challenging. This time I will not give anyone an opportunity to assume I am straight, or ignore the fact that I am attracted to women and was born this way. I decided to come back out and with a bang now, because I am tired of being silent about my lived experiences."
Recently, Riley has performed her solo show, Wrong Way Journey, on college campuses and local theaters, including Steppenwolf. She explained that the show is about her life from high school through her 2004 wedding ceremony and how she never felt like she belonged anywhere.
Riley said the show includes hilarious and angry conversations with God. She explained that despite the fact that parts of the faith community has shunned her she still has faith in and a relationship with God.
The show also delves into the time when Riley was raped and the after-effects, including blaming herself and trying to hurt herself.
"When I was in college, a 'friend' from high school came to visit me andinstead of going to the movies and dinnerhe raped me," said Riley. "It was as horrific for me as that sentence sounds. While I do not share his name, we do share many Facebook friends, so I assume that when one of our mutual Facebook friends posts or likes one of my events, where I tell what he did to me his stomach probably groans. On the other hand, maybe it does not even phase him at all. Frankly, I do not care. What I care about is sharing my story so that other people will know that no matter who they love or how they love, God loves them and it is not their fault."
Riley has always loved to read and write, so becoming a performer came naturally to her. Initially, she wanted to be neurosurgeon. However, when she got to Northwestern University she was weeded out of chemistry, so she switched to psychology. She worked at the University of Chicago Hospital in the Psychiatry department right after graduation and stayed there for six years.
"I used to tell one of my co-workers at the hospital all of my crazy life stories and he would crack up at the way I was telling the stories," said Riley. "One day he said, you should put those stories on stage, or make them into a movie. His comment never left my mind. Journaling about being a sexual assault survivor as a part of my therapy also helped me realize I had a lot to say and this led me to becoming a performer."
Riley's work has been recognized by Chicago's ABC and NBC news outlets.
"I thought I would be nervous but walking around downtown with NBC's LeAnn Trotter was a lot of fun," said Riley. "I was also asked to perform snippets of my solo show during that interview. The ABC interview with Stacey Baca was live, which was a completely different feel but still a positive experience. Working with NBC Chicago's Marion Brooks on the Survivor's Project ( www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/More-Come-Forward-to-Share-Their-Stories-in-NBC-5s-Survivors-Project-486744861.html ) was more emotional, however, because it was about the details of the assault and how it affected me."
When Riley is not performing, she works in performance improvement at Rush University Medical Center.
Regarding the group whose panel she will be moderating Sept. 20, Riley said, "Out in Tech is a non-profit organization with a focus on offering activities/events/panel discussions with LGBTQ+ community and leaders in the technology industry."
Riley will be moderating an Out in Tech technology and travel panel discussion Sept. 20, 6:30-9 p.m., at Chicago's Orbitz offices, 500 W. Madison St. Suite 700. The event is free and for people 21 and over. To RSVP, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/out-in-tech-chicago-travel-tech-tickets-49512823187.
On Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 7:30 p.m., Riley will be appearing at Volume Book Cafe's monthly storytelling event, Am I Man Enough?; visit www.rcrileyempowers.com/.