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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



The adventures of roller-derby star Melissa Rapp
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

This article shared 5595 times since Wed Oct 17, 2012
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From appearing on The Jenny Jones Show to a strong tie to the ever-popular musical Rent to roller derby, welcome to world of Melissa Rapp, known as Rapp Scallion on the track during her stint with the Windy City Rollers and, starting this winter, for The Chicago Outfit.

And that's just a portion of Rapp, 37, who lives on Chicago's North Side and identifies as pansexual. She is the co-founder and game maker at Chicago Pervasive Games, which held its first public event, the Alien Invasion Race, Sept 22. (Previous events had been private.)

Rapp has been with her girlfriend, Dela, for four years.

"This is a crazy moment in time, and all us humans refer to this moment as 'life.' These silly meat sacks/bodies we're all inside of are so temporary and the end is so final," Rapp said. "It's the beauty and tragedy of life. This embracing of mortality reminds me daily to engage fully in daily living, including those times of quiet reflection and stillness, and to live my life as much as possible with as few regrets as possible."

Rapp's wild ride has included a few decades of memorable—and some not so memorable—moments, most interwoven in the gay community.

In the early 1990s, for instance, she endured gay-bashing. She was chased down the street a few times in Chicago, and she also was attacked with three friends by four men with crowbars in San Jose, Calif.

"Several times during the 1990s, I had bosses say things like, 'I never would have hired you if I had known you were gay' or 'Gay people are fine as long as they keep quiet and never raise children because you need a mother and a father.' For decades, people have yelled insults at me on the street and thrown stuff out of their cars at me; it still happens today, but less frequently," she said.

Also in the 1990s, Rapp, while living in California, learned about producing by assisting in event production with two different producers. "When I returned to Chicago in 2001, besides getting involved with the Dyke March and running the pub quizzes, I started performing vaudeville, drag and burlesque with earnest," she said. "I began performing as a guest with such groups as Gurlesque Burlesque and Girlie-Q.

"After guest performing with the Chicago Kings drag troupe, I joined them and spent many years working with some of the most talented people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. The shows of the Chicago Kings spiked in quality, choreography, costuming, and talent. We were regularly selling out shows and I had the privilege of performing all around Chicago and in other U.S. cities.

"I will never forget the feeling of performing in front of a ravenous sold-out crowd (1,200) during [the] International Drag King Extravaganza, which the Chicago Kings hosted and I was one of the committee heads."

Rapp, in the early 2000s, ran a semi-regular quiz show at T's Bar & Grill in Andersonville, as well as BINGO for local non-profit organizations and events.

She eventually created the Windy City Blenders. According to the group's official website, it's "a Chicago performer collective building international communities through gender performance."

"I made all the connections and arrangements for a group of Chicago performers that I selected, to travel internationally to work with other groups for combination shows in their countries. I produced international trips to Dublin, Berlin and Toronto," she said. "We also held fundraisers here in Chicago building up to each trip and then went abroad to perform in [those] cities, developing unique and special connections with other performers.

"These [shows] required an incredible amount of hard work and were definitely stressful to produce, but I wouldn't trade those experiences and friendships for the world. Looking back, despite any producer panic moments—like going through customs and airport security in multiple countries with the accoutrements of 10 or more drag and burlesque performers packed with elaborate costuming—the trips and shows were all huge successes and priceless memories."

Another integral part of Rapp's repertoire over the years is the gaming world. "I am fortunate to have a very large and insanely active community in Chicago of nerdy gamer friends. I'm talking board games, card games, role-playing games—hobby games, not video games," she said. "Each year, for the last 10 years, we make an annual trip to GenCon in Indianapolis. The first year it was five of us for the gaming convention. This past year there were about 50 of us. The group has grown and morphed organically, overlapped and merged with other groups, and become this Frankenstein of geek love. It is an essential part of my life."

Rapp brought roller derby into her world last year as a blocker for the Windy City Rollers.

"I always played sports when I was younger—rugby, soccer, swimming, archery, etc., until I took a break [from sports] during the years I was performing and producing all the time," she said. "I had already been watching roller derby for several years, and all of a sudden, it was just time for me to try on skates and learn to roll. It was a no-brainer and I wasn't getting any younger. It is a sport filled with strategy and tight teamwork. It is physical, aggressive, fast and slow, with constant streams of input and ever-changing strategies all while in the midst of a jam. I love the complexity."

Rapp appeared on The Jenny Jones Show multiple times in 1992 to talk about a subject related to sexual orientation.

"I have many stories about that first show, [including] the behind-the-scenes dramas and excitement of a gaggle of teenage queers all hanging out in a hotel together for a weekend during filming," she said. "The notable thing about the second show was that I was brought on [for] a special gay perspective on a show that was about the general topic of teenage girls navigating life.

"[The musical group] Wilson Phillips was the special guest on that one. Interestingly, the whole show took a quick turn into dissing on males. Considering that my closest friends and roommate at the time were all straight men, by the time it got to me, I—as the token lesbian—spent my whole segment defending young straight men."

Rapp is a cousin of Anthony Rapp of Rent fame, and they have a "special bond," she said.

"I was just so excited for my cousin when Rent very first opened, that he was a lead in a show that was getting some amazing initial reviews," she said. "I flew out from California to see the show shortly after it opened. By then, the buzz was on fire. When I saw the show for the first time, I was floored, absolutely floored. The whole cast, which I had the honor of hanging out with, was solid, real people and passionate performers who were involved with something magical that launched many of their careers. I'm just so damn proud and happy for them all, still to this day. When the show went to London, I went and visited Anthony there as well, and I think I openly cried from the opening to the closing number, filled with all ranges of emotion.

"We [now] both go off and live our very busy lives and fall in and out of regular touch, but whenever I see him, it's as though I just saw him last week, only we have a lot more to catch up on."

Rapp added, "In the early 1990s, I was involved with [the advocacy organization] ACT UP, and did safer-sex and needle-exchange street-level outreach. Stories of being queer, being different, being HIV-positive, living a life on the constant edge of poverty and homelessness ... well, those were stories that hadn't been told with that level of exposure before that I knew of—powerful [and] needed. Stories like these seem sadly absent today."

This past summer, Rapp marched in her 20th consecutive Chicago Pride Parade. "Pride marches were different [in the early 1990s]," she said. "It was a different time. Pride marches were angry, political, sexual, hopeful and filled with both the excitement of being the majority on a street, if for only one day, and the seriousness of the busloads of the dying.

"In the 1990s, I really thought that the LGBTQ community was going to be able to make the larger society more open, more diverse, more celebratory of the different. To spill gender and relationship expectations out and allow more opportunities for all people, LGBTQ and straight, to have room to be their own unique selves. Twenty years later, I believe things have gone the other way and that the larger society has made the LGBTQ community more traditional, more normal, and that conformity is demanded more than before."

Rapp also has attended Pride Parades in Washington D.C.; San Francisco; Santa Cruz, Calif.; Monterey, Calif.; San Diego; Richmond, Va.; Madison, Paris; Tulsa, Okla.; and Indianapolis.

"[Pride Parades] used to mean a lot more to me personally," she said. "I fully believe that humans need more outlets to 'let go' in our society. Our citizens of all sexualities crave experiences that allow them to revel in adult-focused celebration, in drunkenness and general mischief. A time and place to misbehave, to purge cultural norms and expectations. It's why Mardi Gras, Burning Man, and Halloween are such a huge deal in the U.S. But Prides now are, for the most part, just shallow large street parties, like a Mardi Gras, but with huge corporate sponsorship. But, LGBTQ folks still don't have basic equal rights under the law, and I wish that we still owned our event and that it was about visibility and equality and diversity, rather than an excuse for people, many who aren't even allies or LGBTQ people, to party."

—It's a fact: Rapp's mother (Stephanie Colburn) and stepmother (Kim Engel) were on the cover of Windy City Times approximately 15 years ago, talking about their gay children. "All four of my parents get along famously," Rapp said. "There was a photo of them sitting next to one another on a bench."

This article shared 5595 times since Wed Oct 17, 2012
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