Changing the Lightbulb: Or, How to Get Beyond Trans Tropes
January 19, 2017

Two years ago, Paul Lucas called me to check if a certain passage in Trans Scripts might cause offense. I said, “Darling, you are going to offend someone. I know my sisters. Buckle your seatbelt.” I’d never seen an author try so hard to get it right: conducting over 75 interviews with trans women on several continents, painstakingly trying to create as inclusive a picture of trans life as possible. But opinions within the trans community are varied and passionate. Someone was sure to get pissed off.

Yet, surprisingly, during our run at the Edinburgh Fringe, there wasn’t an angry placard in sight; not a single post-show debate in the pub. How could this be? We trans people are a cantankerous lot. And for good reason: the experience of being trans, and how trans people define ourselves to the world, has changed rapidly with each generation. Being "a woman trapped in the body of a man" seems quaint now, but it summed things up perfectly for Christine Jorgensen in 1952. We have gone from afflicted patients seeking sympathy and treatment to proud activists demanding our place at society’s table, all within a span of only 60 or so years.

In addition, trans lives are deeply affected by race, class, and age, as well as the political climate of the times. There are lingering resentments between young transitioners (with beauty, endless admirers, and the ability to pass), and older transitioners (with successful careers, health insurance, and social connections). We are a diverse, opinionated, and, occasionally, contentious group. We are rarely happy with dramatic depictions of us (we won’t discuss comic representations). So why has this piece been so well-received?

Perhaps it’s because, despite our differences, trans women have a lot in common. Our individual stories resonate across class and racial divides, across oceans and generations. Ironically, the broader the picture, the louder and clearer that shared resonance becomes.

Virtually all trans women know discomfort during childhood, a nebulous feeling that something is wrong, a sense of being at odds with the world. As we grow, we experience the pain of rejection, of feeling unique and alone, of causing embarrassment, anger, and sometimes violence. And while we may react to our ‘dysphoria’ in different ways—fighting it tooth-and-nail or transitioning as quickly as possible—most of us eventually find ourselves. For many of us, there is profound joy in our new lives. Different roads, same destination.

This shared experience within diversity is the strength and the beauty of Trans Scripts. It is the reason for its positive reception. Trans Scripts is not a typical trans story shoehorned into a play. These stories are the play.

Characters cover the gamut: the successful British doctor who transitioned within the mainstream medical establishment at sixty-eight; the young, black beauty queen transitioning on her own terms, without apology; the ex-dominatrix who uses humor as both shield and weapon; the no-nonsense Aussie yearning for anonymity; the Afro-Latina runaway ready to remake the world; the elegant Staten Island mechanic with Bergdorf dreams; and the lonely survivor of childhood abuse longing for connection—all brilliant trans women who share, learn, disagree, and find precious commonality. Assumptions are challenged—sometimes sharply—and shaped by others. These characters grow. Their minds open. Hopefully yours will, too.

Bianca Leigh plays Tatiana in Trans Scripts and has been with the piece since its inception. Leigh is an actress and writer based in New York City. She recently co-starred with Bianca Del Rio in the film Hurricane Bianca

 

This article appeared in the A.R.T. Guide, published by the American Repertory Theater.

Also in this guide about Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women:

No Single Story
A.R.T. Artistic Director Diane Paulus interviews Trans Scripts writer Paul Lucas

 

Author:
Bianca Leigh
Publication date:
January 19, 2017

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