Gael García Bernal
Neil Patrick Harris?
What do they have in common? Not trans, and unless you live under a rock, they’ve all been acknowledged for how well they play the part. Well, maybe Daniela Sea wasn’t so well-received. And we can quibble over whether or not Hedwig is meant to be a trans character, even though they have a genital reconstruction surgery, but regardless, Hedwig ends up being confused as a trans character, and also a victim of the severely blurry line of the misinformed: drag queen versus trans woman.
The conversation of trans women’s representation is huge, and while extremely relevant to the visibility trans people are beginning to finally achieve in the mainstream, I work with trans masculinities because I’m a trans man, and I like it. Let’s look at this for a minute.
the list can go on.
And yet, with all those male roles out there, played by performers with female bodies, there isn't one who is still in masculine form by the end of the play. No, not even Yitzhak, but I won’t linger on that.
Trans men on stage have only been what Jack Halberstam (whom I don't always agree with, but in this case I do) refers to as a “temporary disruption to heterosexual romantic narrative.” Historically, we have been repeatedly subverted by non-trans storytellers. Historical characters that exhibit behaviors on stage similar to FTM identity invisiblize or intentionally distort transsexual desires so that any character an audience is supposed to identify with returns to cisnormativity, thus alleviating discomfort (transphobia) for a cisheterosexual perspective. Trans communities deserve to have our stories told accurately and our identities portrayed with respect INCLUDING RESPECTFUL LANGUAGE. Transgender voices aren’t being heard, or more accurately, we're not being listened to. Non-trans people have to work to get it right, so where are the transgender playwrights?
An overwhelming amount of non-fiction has appeared in trans literature. The prevalence of non-fiction which stems from memoir-themed literary salons has led to a swarm of memoir-based solo shows. The solo show is the definition of trans men’s theatre at the present and has been since the mid 90s. Trans men started telling the basics of medical transition. They gave these stories unimaginative titles such as “FTM”. A need exists to create a truthful, non-exploitative history of our newly visible culture. However, the emphasis on non-fiction suggests that true stories are necessary for accuracy. What is missing from trans men’s theatre is fiction that embodies emotional truths as opposed to literal truths of real people. They are still staging memoirs and actually publishing sequels to printed memoirs.
The solo shows all include some amount of removing clothes, discussing how they have sex, and giving examples of passing or not passing as men. Thousands of trans men do the same thing on youtube, so I’m not sure why this made it into the Fringe Festival. Trans men’s theatre lacks creative, dramatic storytelling, and could use more characters. Non-fiction is a sea that washes over all of trans men’s art, but especially in theater. Before it can change there, fiction must hit the surface, and break the waves. Being transgender is no longer the obstacle: a non-memoir story is.
Dissecting our lives on stage only explains us to a non-trans audience. Trauma, abuse, or other unpleasant moments in the lives of trans men are often the focus of memoirs. The mainstream depicts us as victims; we’re famous for being murdered like Brandon Teena, or denied hospital healthcare like Thomas Beattie or Robert Eads. These things haven’t changed, but they stereotype us. Let’s not reinforce it. Alternatively, self-pride is not derived only from how well the results of surgery came out.
For that reason, we also do not need to get naked anymore. Body reveals only serve to satisfy the voyeuristic nature of the non-trans audience who needs proof. More specifically, these are boob-reveals for a straight male gaze whose inevitable arousal will negate the maleness of the man who owns or used to own the boobs. To quote Halberstam again, “the reveal of the body becomes a marker of gender disorder that always resides elsewhere”. Victimization and nudity serve only to further fetishize us. Dramatizing queer relationships or other non-transition-related anything can wield more radical honesty than any revealed top surgery scar.
As playwrights, we should not accommodate to an unknowing audience. We should be unapologetic using trans community-specific language and depicting trans experiences. If you don’t know what T is, or packing, or binding, or what stealth means, look it up. Our plays should not be trans 101 lectures. We do not need to be rationalized to the un-informed. It is not our job to teach mainstream viewers. It is their job to self-educate without us spoon-feeding them.
SAY NO TO:
- REVEALS -- OR CIS PEOPLE OUTTING TRANS PEOPLE (OR COMING OUT AT ALL – START AFTER THE PERSON IS OUT) -- COMING OUT IS OLD NEWS IN STORYTELLING.
- BIRTHNAMES - NOPE
- WRONG PRONOUNS (DON’T EVEN HAVE MORE THAN ONE PRONOUN OPTION UNLESS THE CHARACTER USES MULTIPLE PRONOUNS – USE THE RIGHT ONES AND DON’T WRITE IN MISPRONOUNING FOR ANY REASON)
- EXPLAINING TRANSITION PROCESS (THIS IS USUALLY DONE WHILE OUTTING A CHARACTER, WHICH WE ALREADY KNOW IS BAD)
- DEPICTING ASSAULT/VICTIMIZATION – DO WE NEED TO SEE ANOTHER RAPE SCENE OR TRANS PANIC SCENE? I WONDER IF DEPICTING IT PERPETUATES IT – WHY DON’T WE SEE COOL RESPONSES TO SEXUAL DISCLOSURE? HMM… OH RIGHT BECAUSE VIOLENCE IS FETISHIZED.
- VALIDATION/RATIONALIZATION FOR NON-TRANS PEOPLE – Y’ALL DON’T NEED TO HAVE A REASON WHY WE EXIST
- FREAKS/OTHERS -- STOP
- TRANS AS “DECEIT” – NOPE, IT’S NOT AN ALTER EGO OR DISGUISE OR COSTUME OR PHASE, AND YES… WE HAVE TO
- “CONFUSION” – NOT CONFUSED. OPPOSITE OF CONFUSED ACTUALLY
- DO NOT MIX US UP WITH DRAG
- STOP CASTING CIS PEOPLE AS TRANS CHARACTERS AND START CASTING TRANS PEOPLE AS CIS CHARACTERS!!! THAT'S MY DREAM.
- UNLESS THERE'S A PURPOSE FOR IT, KEEP SLURS OUT. PERIOD. THE END.