As a kid, comedian El Sanchez of Olympia expected to turn into a werewolf at any moment.
“I would tell the nurse to tell my mom that I had the blood lust, and she needed to come get me,” said Sanchez, who’ll perform Saturday at Pizza Klatch’s annual Gayla, a fundraiser for the nonprofit that organizes lunchtime support groups for LGBTQ+ students and their allies.
“I was living in a weird fantasy world,” Sanchez said. “I was a weird loner who read comic books and played Dungeons & Dragons. I talk about that and being a fat kid and about how I was kind of oblivious to all the teasing that came my way.”
These days, Sanchez, who’s been openly queer since their teens, is all about acceptance — performing intensely personal comedy that explores life as a trans and non-binary person and helping the next generation of queer youth through a job at Pizza Klatch.
After being asked to perform at the Gayla, Sanchez wound up applying for a “dream job” as a facilitator and advocate there, one of three staff positions Pizza Klatch added in the past year.
As part of the job, Sanchez leads a lunchtime support group at Yelm High School, where Sanchez graduated in 2001.
“I did not have a great time there as an openly queer student,” Sanchez said. “Most of my friends in high school were straight, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I thought my straight friends would think I was gross if I talked about being queer.”
Sanchez’s teen years would have been easier with a group like the ones Pizza Klatch offers.
“At these lunchtime support groups, students can come and see that they’re not alone; they’re not weird; there’s nothing wrong with them,” Sanchez said, adding that about 30 students attend the klatches at Yelm High School.
In total, Pizza Klatch supports more than 400 students each week, executive director Rosalinda Noriega told The Olympian. Staff and volunteers facilitate 29 groups at 15 schools, including all of Thurston County’s public high schools and at Komachin Middle School in Lacey.
New to working directly with queer youth, Sanchez has long been spreading the message of self-acceptance through comedy.
“A lot of people talk to me about how meaningful it is that I’m kind of representation for them,” Sanchez said. “That’s what matters to me most.”
Sanchez, who jokes that their dad had more trouble accepting their years as a vegetarian than their sexuality or gender identity, is affecting the next generation in another way, too.
Sanchez is raising their child, 11-month-old Lobo Mysterio Sanchez, in a gender-neutral way “until they can talk and tell me otherwise.”
“I have a lot of weird interactions with people based on that,” Sanchez said.
Like many parents, Sanchez gave a lot of thought to the baby’s name.
“ ‘Lobo’ is Spanish for wolf, and I’ve always been really obsessed with wolves,” Sanchez said. “Also, I wanted to give them a name that was gender neutral, and if they want to have a feminine nickname, they can go by Lo, or if they want to have a masculine one, they can go by Bo. I was trying to find a name that could have all options.”
“Mysterio,” meanwhile, pays homage to wrestler Rey Mysterio and opens up another possibility for Lobo’s future.
“If they want to become a professional wrestler, they’re all set,” Sanchez said with a laugh.
A Slice of the Good Life Gayla
- What: Pizza Klatch’s annual fundraiser features performances by feminist singer-songwriter Cris Williamson, funny folkies The Righteous Mothers and comedian El Sanchez. The nonprofit works against bullying in schools and teen suicide by supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth and allies.
- When: Show is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, with doors opening at 6 p.m. for an auction, mingling, a photo booth and pizza and cupcakes for purchase. VIP reception with appetizers, desserts and drinks begins at 5 p.m.
- Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia
- Tickets: $25-$67 for the main event; $127 for tickets that include the VIP reception
- More information: 360-753-8586, pizzaklatch.org, washingtoncenter.org
- Watch: See Sanchez doing self-deprecating standup at https://youtu.be/v7iRvwbVvJk