by Mairy Beam
Are you mystified about gender? Don’t really get what the fuss is about? Perhaps you are curious. Maybe you are as fascinated as I was when I met my first transgender person. There is a lot more information available now but it is still an area where knowledge and awareness are increasing.
I first met a trans person in 1993. I was fascinated. At that point I was writing short stories, not plays, and Roberta immediately became a feature in my stories. My interest in trans gender has ebbed and flowed over the years. Peaking when a colleague or friend came out as trans, ebbing when life got busy. It is only now 25 years later that I understand the intrigue.
In 2013 a group of students in the ACT II program at Ryerson University decided that it was time that the queers should be more visible. ACT II is a theatre program for people over 50. You would think that theatre would be progressive, and in many ways it is, but all the roles were either male or female, and often we lesbians found ourselves playing some man’s wife.
We created a documentary theatre piece called Closets and Cubicles where we told our coming out stories. Mostly we talked of sexual orientation, but we included some reference to gender. Gender was something we struggled with, that we didn’t fully understand ourselves. The audience loved our play mostly, except for the gender parts which they just didn’t get.
In 2015 I organized a smaller group of two gay friends and one other lesbian to explore gender more. I wrote a play for this group, but they were not much interested in it. It was a role reversal called My Way or the Highway. It takes place in a world where women have the power, and a husband is struggling to assert himself. It was produced in Toronto in 2016 and had a reading here at UCV in 2017. People found it quite funny.
Meanwhile the group was developing a play about a transwoman coming out, and the reactions from her partner, her sister, and her brother in law. This play called Out and About was a much more honest look at the issues arising from an adult deciding to transition. It was a great group to try to grapple with the issues. I remember at our first meeting when we learned about the concept of cisgender. It’s a little like learning that white is a race (not just the standard or default). Out and About was produced in Toronto and Vancouver in 2017.
A year ago I completed yet another play about gender as my fascination had continued unabated. At its heart it is a dialogue between a trans man and a non-binary gender person. I wanted to delve into how a person who believes strongly in the binary gender, who has the physical characteristics of one gender but feels their essence is the other, how such a person talks to someone for whom gender has no meaning. This play is called Body Parts. It will be produced as part of the New Ideas Festival in Toronto in March 2019.
So, why this fascination about gender? It’s not just because it’s a hot topic, and plays on this topic are more likely to get produced. No, it’s much more personal than that. I have decided that I’m non-binary gender. All the reading and research that I did on the topic, talking to others who are trans of some type, it all started making so much sense to me. All my life I’ve had characteristics that society generally deems masculine, for example being very analytical. On the other hand I’ve no desire to be a man (though there clearly are advantages to that). I don’t want to leave the company of women, but I’m reassured that many women’s gatherings now include non-binary people.
I don’t mind which pronoun you use for me – she/they/whatever. I don’t intend to have any surgery or make drastic changes in my life. I am happy just to discover the benefits of living a freer life, a life not defined in any way by gender. I will join the fight for more inclusive language, and to get rid of the practice of having only two check boxes for gender. I will join in the high energy of the Trans march – the best part of Pride weekend, in my opinion.
If you are curious, I recommend the book, Gender Failure, by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon. It is entertaining and informative. Ivan Coyote is a great story-teller. You may have heard them on the CBC. They also wrote Missed Her which I recommend.
It’s always great to hear from a variety people speak of their personal experiences. For this I recommend Beyond Magenta: Transgender teens speak out by Susan Kuklin, and Trans/Portraits: Voices from Transgender Communities by Shultz, Jackson Wright.
PS – Are there books (or films) you’d recommend for people interested in exploring the concept of gender? Please send to our UCV Genders and Sexualities Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org Various members of our group take turns responding to email. If there is interest, a book club, film or theatre group around gender and sexuality diversity might emerge at UCV or online.
– Mary Bennett for GSA