Chicago-based writer-performer R.C. Riley was raised with conservative Christian faiths: her father was an elder and president in the Lutheran Evangelical Church and her mother was a Southern Baptist. "When a young woman got pregnant out of wedlock, they made her, but not the man, stand in front of the congregation in shame," says Riley during a Skype interview, where her bubbly personality and smile contrast with her personal story. It's heartbreaking, though perhaps unsurprising, that after she was brutally raped by a friend in college, she initially blamed herself.
"I had a crisis of faith after my rape," says Riley. She explores that crisis in her one-woman show, Wrong Way Journey, running August 10 only at the Center on Halsted. Ultimately, she didn't lose faith, but discovered that her perspective on God became bigger. Once she accepted that God is love, she forgave herself for the rape and for not telling anyone about the assault. When she came out as queer, straight family members questioned her connection to God. "In my acceptance of my queerness is where I built my strong relationship with God. My queerness is just as valid as your heterosexuality. If I'm going to hell, y'all all going with me. You can quote that."
"Most people don't understand how to love outside of the way they were taught," Riley says. She recounts the story of when her aunt confronted her about her queerness, stating that it was "just wrong." Riley responded by asking if God was wrong for causing grass to look and grow differently in the north than it grows in the south. "That perspective had never been presented to her before."
The process of healing and writing also brought new perspectives to her relationship with her son, serving as a catalyst for deeper dialogue. For example, when she shared her thoughts on a stereotypically sexist billboard advertisement, it led to a conversation about "pimps and hos" that in turn led to a more substantive discussion about sex workers.
Says Riley, "I don't consider myself a performer." The idea originated when her therapist suggested that she start journaling. As the pages began to add up, friends and coworkers asked if she was writing a book. After performing in a college production of The Vagina Monologues, she had an epiphany.
If Riley could give any advice to those who have experienced assault, she would tell them that it is not their fault and that there is nothing wrong with them. As she has learned in her own Wrong Way Journey, "When you believe in yourself, you function in the world differently." v