Episode 2: The Date

Video

NEW EPISODE: Jimmy’s adventures in casual dating – today’s episode: when clothing comes off the trans man, cis panic ensues.

CONTENT WARNING: sexually explicit.

Please share widely.

What does it mean to make an event or performance “accessible?”

Transgender Seeking Sunny Drake photo by Hillary Green 7

I will never forget the year I spent being unable to use my hands for the most basic tasks. The challenges in my day were going to the toilet, turning the pages of a book and opening a door. I remember the shock when overnight I went from able-bodied ignorance to struggling to work, cook, clean and participate in social and other activities I’d taken for granted. I remember the painful moments of being left behind and left out. Yet I also remember the profoundly inspiring ways that my community rallied around me, fed me and supported me to return to creating theatre. My experience also shifted who I’m in community with and laid the groundwork for the immense gift of having deeper connections with people with a wide array of disabilities. This has made my world much richer – by getting to have the smarts, perspectives, love, friendship and community of many fabulous people. Whilst I have had ongoing challenges with my arms in the eight years since the original injury, I don’t claim to know what it’d be like to have a longer term or wider-reaching disability – my experiences give me only a small window into the world of disableism.

In the lead-up to a run of my theatre show No Strings (Attached) at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, I’m thinking a bunch about what it means to make my work “accessible” (oh and raising money too – click here!). There are so many layers to access. In reality, every single one of us has access needs – it’s just some of our access needs are prioritized over others. I’ve been deeply inspired by reading and conversations with disability justice activists – particularly those who are Black, Indigenous, persons of colour, queer and/or trans.

A central part of access is about being connected with community and listening deeply to what it means for people to be able to engage with a performance work. How do we promote a culture of what Mia Mingus calls “access intimacy“: where the access needs of our friends, loves, and communities are met, felt, and deeply understood?

Given that this is a big shift in where many of us put our time and resources, I’ve also been reflecting on why it is important to make my work more accessible. For me, it’s not just about simplistic notions of equality and wanting to offer my work to others. It’s about creating vibrant dialogue and action alongside others to propel us towards living in the world I want to live. It’s about the ways that having a wide array of people in my audiences creates juicy connections and conversation. I see my work as one thread in a larger conversation – it’s meant to spark reflection and discussion, healing, questioning and change. It’s both a response to other threads of the conversation and meant to be responded to. So if I’m not engaging the right people, that conversation becomes less vital, and the work loses its potential and potency. This is why I feel strongly about spending time and generating money and other resources to make sure Deaf community, sober folks, low income peoples, parents, people with disabilities and others are a part of the conversation that bounces inside and outside the theatre walls.

So, I’ve started to list some access considerations in relation to performances and events to guide my own performance planning and act as a resource for others. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

 

Some access considerations for performances and events

Show content & artists:

  • A show is more accessible to many folks when under-represented stories get told. Seeing one’s own reflection in the work can be a powerful experience. Important questions therefore include: who makes the creative works? Have there been people of colour, queers, women (trans and non-trans), other trans folks, sex workers, poor and working class folks, people with disabilities, and survivors in the centre of producing and creating the work?
  • Having artistically compelling work is an important part of people being able to engage with performance, so having the time and resources to cultivate one’s skills and incubate a piece of work is also an access issue.
  • Have the performances’ content been carefully screened for transphobic, racist, sexist, sex-work-phobic and other hurtful content? If you’re curating a performance night, do you know what others will be performing? Have you discussed your stance on content? There is a big difference between making work that is challenging versus work that perpetuates oppressive ideas and behaviour. For instance, if you are depicting a transphobic incident, does the performance actually unpack or transform the transphobia? Or does it simply replicate it without challenging audience members to be critical? Another way to consider content – are you asking people in the audience to sit through things more painful for them than for you? As a white person, if I’m exploring racism in the piece in a graphic way, I’m asking folks of colour to risk being triggered in a way that I don’t have to be – just like outside the theatre walls. Contrast this to a person of colour making a piece of work that is uncomfortable for white folks – this is challenging the usual power dynamic rather than replicating it. We need to take into account the context in which we’re creating work including systems of power.

Triggering topics:

  • Are triggering topics dealt with in a sensitive and nuanced way? For example: physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual assault or violence, live gun shot sounds, police violence, suicide and childhood abuse.
  • I know as a survivor, seeing graphic sexual violence can be triggering – even more so when it’s a live performance compared to TV. Personally, I find I can go deeper with the content if it is suggestive rather than graphic. I realize there are also rationales for presenting more graphic content, in which case – are there trigger warnings? Are there debrief options or active listeners available?

First Nations/ Indigenous groups:

  • Is there an acknowledgement of the local First Nations/ Indigenous groups given verbally and/or in the program? Although remember this can risk become tokenistic if not coupled with many other layers of change.

Sober access:

  • Will alcohol be served? Particularly in the first year of getting sober, I found it very difficult to be in spaces with alcohol.
  • Are there good non-alcoholic drinks – not just soda/soft drinks – e.g. quality affordable juices or fancy mocktails?
  • Are there sober buddies available to accompany folks upon request?
  • Are there options to have some alcohol free shows?
  • I’ve written an article with more about juggling the needs of sober folks and those who use alcohol or drugs – click here.

Visually Impaired & Blind access:

  • Are you providing audio description for people who are blind, have low vision, or who are otherwise visually impaired?
  • Is seating close to the stage prioritized for visually impaired folks?
  • Are the images on your website described with alt tags?
  • Some mentioned in the comments a group called Vocal Eye who arrange touch tours of props.

Deaf access:

  • Is there ASL or BSL or AUSLAN interpretation for Deaf folks? Have you allowed enough rehearsal time with the interpreters and given them the scripts well in advance?
  • Are your promo videos captioned?
  • Have you done promo videos in ASL? Remember it’s an entirely different language – don’t assume all Deaf folks read English.
  • If it’s a scripted show, have you considered engaging a Deaf person to do the interpretation? For No Strings (Attached) we’re having a Deaf artist team up with a hearing ASL interpreter. Having a Deaf theatre artist on board means the quality of interpretation will be excellent. It’s also a way to prioritize an employment opportunity for someone who faces huge systemic barriers to employment.

 Other languages:

  • Is the work in accessible English that you don’t need a PHD to understand?
  • Are there other language translations for which you could consider projecting subtitles? I’ve worked with folks to translate No Strings (Attached) into three languages for projecting subtitles while touring: Puerto Rican Spanish, Italian and German – it’s made a huge different to engagement with the work.

 Trans and gender non-conforming folks:

  • Are there gender-neutral washroom options as well as gendered washrooms? Can you temporarily transform a washroom into a gender-neutral option?
  • Have the box office and ushering staff been briefed and trained to not assume someone’s pronoun?

 Low-income folks:

  • Are there affordable ticket options e.g. sliding scale options? Are there pay what you can shows? Or other subsidized or free ticket options?
  • Are there options where free or subsidized tickets can be put aside under people’s name in advance? I know some folks who feel too ashamed to turn up and say they don’t have any money, so having their name on the door as a complimentary ticket makes a difference.
  • Are transport tickets provided e.g. bus or train tickets? Some folks can’t afford to get to the show either.

 Parents:

  • Is there childcare provided? Or if you run into public liability challenges, are there informal groups who could organize with each other to do collective childcare?
  • Are there subsidized tickets or pay what you can options to offset the cost of babysitting?
  • Are there matinees or early shows programmed which might better suit the schedules of parents?
  • Are there “baby in arms” options or other “relaxed theatre” shows where a little more noise in the audience would be ok?

 Fat folks & larger folks:

  • Is the seating wide enough to be comfortable for fat or larger folks? Also, narrow seating with armrests can be very difficult for larger folks to fit in.

 Scent-sensitivity:

  • Have you encouraged a fragrance free space in your promotional materials? Scented deodorants, perfume and colognes can be toxic for some folks.
  • Is there fragrance free soap in the washrooms, and are fragrance free cleaning products used?
  • For more info on how to be fragrance free, click here.

 Strobe lighting:

  • Have you considered eliminating any strobe lighting? It can cause seizures.
  • If you are determined to use strobe lighting, have you posted a warning?

Physical access:

  • Is it wheelchair accessible? Scooter accessible? That means both entry into the building and within the building.
  • Are the seating aisles wide enough? (at least 36 inches)
  • Are there good audience spots for people who use wheelchairs and scooters – rather than spots tucked up the back or with terrible sight lines? Can wheelchair users also sit with their non-chair using friends? And make sure these seats (i.e., empty spaces) are organized ahead of time so you don’t have to shuffle chairs out of the way – particularly if you’re accepting latecomers to the show. Remember, in a disableist world, it can be very difficult for some people with disabilities to get there on time due to unexpected broken elevators, wheelchair transport delays etc.
  • If the main concept of your performance involves standing rather than sitting in a space, are there chairs for folks who can’t stand for long? If it’s a show that’s likely to be sold out and have “standing room only” – are chairs prioritized for people who need them, regardless of whether they can pay a premium price? Audiences can also support in this by making sure we are mindful about keeping good seats for others. Additionally, pillows and carpeting for folks to sit or lie down?
  • Is the space so crowded that access pathways become blocked?
  • Is the stage wheelchair accessible so you can have people who use wheelchairs as performers as well as audience?
  • Are there railings in the washrooms?
  • If it’s not wheelchair accessible, how many stairs are there? Is there a railing?
  • If the elevator breaks down, have you considered cancelled/ rescheduling the show?

 Listing access details in promo:

  • Living in a profoundly disableist world, many of us will not be able to meet all of these access needs, all of the time. At a very minimum, are access details clearly posted along with event information so that people don’t have to spend their valuable time doing the research? Make sure to include layers of detail like the nearest wheelchair accessible public transport stations and if it’s not wheelchair accessible – how many steps there are.

These actions are not something I can or should be able to do on my own. One of the many things I’ve learned from disabled activists is the power and importance of inter-dependence, as reflected in one of the 10 principles of Disability Justice framework by the groundbreaking performance project, Sins Invalid.

So, I’m asking for your support to donate money towards the access costs of No Strings (Attached). Here’s the link to the Fund What You Can campaign – please donate and help spread the word!

Big thanks to Arti Mehta and Chanelle Gallant for their valuable feedback and input into this article!

Photo by Hillary Green

 

Donate to access costs for theatre show with queer & trans content

hero_sunny.jpg

We wanna get some cash together to make my theatre show with queer and trans content accessible to Deaf community, low income people, sober folks, and parents.

No Strings (Attached) has toured to audience and critical acclaim in 40 cities around the world and been translated into 3 languages – we’re soooo delighted to premier it in Toronto! We wanna make sure we remove as many access barriers as we can – which costs money.

We want our friends, loves and communities to be able to come. Our access goals are inspired by conversations, connections, relationships, and collaborations with queer and trans activists organizing around ableism and access critically and broadly. While this campaign focuses on funding for a specific production, we also hope to contribute to larger dialogue about how we come together, build connections, and promote a culture of what Mia Mingus calls “access intimacy”: where the access needs of our friends, loves, and communities are met, felt, and deeply understood.

There’s great perks too…

Please donate what you can and share widely!

Click here to donate

Femme Resources

320 Sunny (6595) Small Edited Version

It took me a long time to understand myself as femme because I’m a man, and to understand myself as a man, because of my femininity. Misogyny, being the fear or hatred of women or femininity, can manifest in many different ways. I can perpetuate sexism myself, and also I am the recipient of misogyny because I’m effeminate. I’m so grateful for fabulous femmes and women and their powerful resistance to misogyny and sexism. I hope to keep learning how to unpack sexism in my own behaviour and learning how to be ally to women and other femme folks, as well as increasingly unleash my effeminate fabulousness. Here are some great reads as well as some useful ally stuff.

I’ll add new things as I come across them – my website (Sunny Drake www.sunnydrake.com ) will the most up-to-date place.

ONLINE ARTICLES & VIDEOS

 – Femme Invisibility: On Passing Right by Your People and Not Being Recognized

It’s so important to unlearn misogyny/ sexism in queer communities.

–  4 ways to support queer femmes

Good article on how to be an ally and challenge misogyny/ sexism, or at least how not to be an asshole.

 – Powerful Photos Fearlessly Redefine What It Means to Be LGBTQIA+

I love these images showing how wide ranging queer identities are.

Femme Lesbian invisibility Video

BLOGS & BOOKS

– Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity, edited by Chloe (with 2 dots above the e) Brushwood Rose and Anna Camilleri

– Piece of my Heart, anthologized by Makeda Silvera

– Dirty River by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

– Femmes of Power: Exploding Queer Femininities by Ulrika Dahl

– Femme: feminist lesbians & bad girls by Laura Harris & Elizabeth Crocker

– The Persistence of Desire by Joan Nestle

– Persistence edited by Zena Sharman & Ivan E. Coyote

– Heels on Wheels Roadshow http://www.heelsonwheelsroadshow.com/

MY BLOG ARTICLES:

I’ve also authored some relevant blog articles:

Femme Ally Conversation Starter

This is a conversation starter (continuer?) on how to be ally and challenge misogyny/ sexism, aimed primarily at trans-masculine, trans-male and masculine of centre peoples. It is equally application to other cis men unpacking misogyny/ sexism and working on ally skills.

And So Shall Our Heels Till the Earth

My Boyfriend is a Lady

About my experiences a queer effeminate man who is partnered to a woman and how people are constantly confused about my sexuality because of my effeminacy

the Boy T*t Finale Summer Collection

A series of photos celebrating my beautiful chest before I had top surgery through adorning it with fabulous outfits.

femme, ally, conversation starter, fabulous, queer, pansy, trans, misogyny, misog, sexism, sunnydrake, sunny drake, sunny, drake, queer, transgender, transgender artist, trans artist, queer artist, trans performer, queer performer, transgender performer, trans writer, transgender writer, queer writer, transgender theatre, trans theatre, queer theatre, theater, LGBT education, trans education, queer politics, trans politics, bloc, transgender politics, LGBT politics, toronto, canada, australia, tumblr, sexual, sex, sexuality, assault, sexual assault, anti-racism, violence, dude, ally, misogyny, sobriety, hand puppet, acts, contact, articles, authored, committed, responsible, feedback, reputation, profile, link, posted, author

Photo by Tania Anderson

Sexual Assault Resources

Sexual assault is a very real issue in our communities. Dominant narratives are that strangers are mostly responsible, but many of us also experience sexual assault, violence and other abusive acts from lovers, partners and family. The times I’ve been sexually assaulted, I felt like I was responsible for what happened to me and felt so much shame that I found it difficult to talk with people. It’s had a huge effect on my health, sex and life. I wished I’d at least had some things to read. So, here are links to resources I’ve found useful particularly for femme, queer and trans survivors (and ally articles too). Please take care of yourself when reading.

I’ve also included some ally resources for working with those who have abused others. I believe our communities need to work together to deal with each other in responsible ways to unlearn abusive patterns, rather than isolating and shaming people, whilst centering both survivors and the overall well-being of our communities.

I’ll add new things as I come across them –my website (Sunny Drake www.sunnydrake.com ) will the most up-to-date place for resources, as well as other resources such as trans, femme, sexuality, queer stuff, anti-racism etc.

ONLINE RESOURCES

– 4 Ways to Overcome Self-Blame After Sexual Assault

Yup this is real. Many of us know on an intellectual level that we are not responsible for the acts of violence we receive, but how do we actually get ourselves to really shift that toxic self-blame and insidious internal dialogue? Some useful suggestions in this article. Authored by Sian Ferguson.

 – 11 Truths Every Survivor of Intimate Partner Violence Needs to Know

This link covers a lot of myths about violence and acts of abuse and how equally valid different survivor responses can be. This is essential in learning how to be a responsible ally too. Authored by Kai Cheng Thom, who’s writing I love.

– 6 Ways to Confront Your Friend Who’s Abusing their Partner

Good ally article, authored by the fabulous Kai Cheng Thom.

– 5 Common Ways Our Communities Fail to Address Intimate Partner Violence

Remembering that we all are collectively responsible for creating change and have the power to transform cultures of violence. Also authored by Kai Cheng Thom.

– Gaslighting

A useful resource on gaslighting –when someone acts to manipulate another into questioning their own sanity. It can be used to make people who are experiencing abuse doubt their own experiences and often end up feeling responsible and blaming themselves or even thinking they are the ones being abusive. Good ally article as well in terms of skilling up on gaslighting. Authored by Shea Emma Fett.

– 6 Ways to Have a Healthy and Enjoyable Sex Life After Surviving Sexual Trauma

The article also acknowledges the different ways that we can reclaim our sexuality. Particularly helpful for was the section on how we might act when we are triggered during sex – it doesn’t always look like disassociation or curling up in a ball. Sometimes I’ve struggled to understand when I’m triggered during sex  because a big part of my coping with sexual assault has been to minimise my own experiences and try to pretend to myself (and others) that nothing was wrong. Knowing when I am triggered can help me take power back to be able to be responsible for creating my own healthy sexuality. There are so many ways we can reclaim sexuality and have awesome sex lives.

– Your Child Should Never Be Forced to Hug Anyone (Yes, Including a Relative) – Here Are 7 Reasons Why

– Love letters for survivors

This was just what I needed to hear. Authored by many different survivors

Consent skills video

– Campaign resources

* Consent campaign images

* Poster series – no-one is entitled to your body

* Barriers to reporting acts of sexual assault

* Article about campus sexual assault – mainly I like the “40 powerful images of survivors” at the bottom of link.

BOOKS & BLOGS

The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence In Activist Communities, Both a book and a blog, authored by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Everyday Feminism has lots of great articles on a wide range or relevant topics authored by fabulous people.

MY BLOG ARTICLES:

Here’s some relevant blog articles authored by me:

– Femme Ally Conversation Starter

Whilst this is not primarily about sexual assault, I include this link because of the disproportionate amount of abuse and other shitty behaviour and acts of abuse that femme folks receive.

2 articles about drinking/sobriety – which are relevant given that alcohol (and other substances) can often be involved in acts of unconsensual sex, and abusive behaviour

Wet >< Dry

The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Throat

– When a Man & a Woman Love Each Other Very Much

Looks at teenage sex and sexuality and how we don’t prepare young people for either staying safe or actually having fun. Many educational programs have finally started acknowledging that teenagers have sex, but an exclusive focus on STIs and birth control doesn’t prepare young people to enjoy their sexy times, have consensual sex and prevent sexual assault.

If you have any other resource suggestions, particularly ones that are femme, queer, sexuality and trans positive, please email me (Sunny Drake) at sunny@sunnydrake.com

 

http://www.sunnydrake.com/#!__sexual-assault

http://sunnydrake.tumblr.com/tagged/sexual-assault

https://sunnydrake.wordpress.com/resources-links/sexual-assault/

sunny drake, trans, transgender, trans, transgender artist, trans artist, queer artist, trans performer, queer performer, transgender performer, trans writer, transgender writer, queer writer, transgender theatre, trans theatre, queer theater, theater, LGBT education, trans education, queer politics, trans politics, transgender politics, LGBT politics, toronto, canada, australia, tumblr, anti-racism, femme ally conversation, femme ally conversation starter, dude, sobriety, hand puppet, acts, contact, articles, authored, committed, responsible, feedback, reputation, sunny drake, sexual, sexuality, sexual assault, sexual violence, femme, sex, assault, healing, violence, survivor, trauma, ally, femme ally, sexism, misogyny, misog

An Upset Transsexual writes about the difference between Therapy and Theatre: A trans-view of “My Pregnant Brother”

It was with skeptical hopefulness that I went to see Johanna Nutter’s one woman autobiographical show entitled “My Pregnant Brother”, presented in the excellent SummerWorks Theatre Festival in Toronto. The show had won several awards and this made me even more curious to see what audiences who I’ll bet are mostly cisgendered (meaning – not trans) are consuming about trans stories.

For 60 minutes, I wavered backwards and forwards between some appreciation of Johanna as an individual and growing increasingly irate at the painful barrage of transphobia and uncontextualised trans stereotypes. I valued her basic acceptance of her brother because unfortunately a lot of trans people don’t have supportive families. I cringed through the continuous hurtful jokes which could only have been pulled off by a trans person or if the rest of the show been more politically responsible and accountable to trans communities. I was horrified at overt and hurtful transphobic comments. I felt alienated by an audience of seemingly mostly non-trans people who were laughing at the jokes. I tried to be as small as possible during the applause so that no-one would notice I wasn’t clapping very enthusiastically, because I didn’t want to be the overly-sensitive//angry//party-pooping transsexual. But the fact is, I am.  And for good reasons.

I believe the audience was lured into thinking the jokes were acceptable and taking the content at face value because of Johanna’s great stage presence, her “bare all” style honestly and the way she positioned herself as a trans ally in contrast to their overtly transphobic mother. It is complex, because Johanna has seemingly done a decent job in some aspects of her personal relationship with her brother. This however, does not translate to a doing a decent job of presenting a trans story in a public realm. I don’t want to demonise Johanna. I know how painful it can be to have your work publicly reviewed and criticised, especially when it’s about your own life. I have made plenty of political mistakes in my work and I am deeply grateful for the people who have held me accountable.

As someone who makes partially autobiographical performance, I have often come up against the fact that “authenticity” of personal story and presenting work that is politically responsible is not always an easy fit. This is where we, as theatre makers and storytellers, need to remember that we can go to therapy. We can seek help from our family, friends and support groups. It doesn’t all have to go on a stage. I’d suggest that key parts of ‘My Pregnant Brother’ belong in therapy rooms and at trans family member support groups. Or alternatively, that Johanna’s story and the lens through which she is telling her brother’s story, be contextualized more politically responsibly. Particularly given the artistic medium (the show was narration/ storytelling with occasional characterisation), it would be easy to add direct comments which contextualise the piece and address stereotypes and misunderstandings which trans communities have been fighting against.

Let me be more explicit with some examples. Her pregnant brother had specifically said that he wanted his baby to get to “choose” their own gender when they were old enough and therefore he didn’t want others to impose a gender identity. Johanna was at the birth and out popped the baby, to the standard doctor’s comment “it’s a girl!” Johanna’s delighted awe-struck reaction was “ooh, it’s a girl”, followed by a realisation that she was gendering the baby against her brother’s wishes as she turns to her brother with “oh sorry”. The audience laughed. The moment was crafted to be funny. I get that it is very difficult to unlearn gendering babies. However, to intentionally craft a humorous moment out of disrespecting her brother’s wishes, was one of the many examples where a joke delivered by a cisgendered person was too painful for me to laugh at. Apparently, the rest of the mostly-cisgendered audience didn’t feel that same pain. So I can only conclude that the joke was at  the expense of trans people. Not cool.

When the baby was born by C-section, while her brother was in recovery, Johanna told of how she was nursing her “niece” and whispering something like “ooh you’re so beautiful. I wonder if my credit card would have enough on it to get us to Mexico. We could just take off, disappear, just you and me. A baby needs a mother, not a…. question mark. Doesn’t it? Just you and me.” We later heard that she had been wanting a baby but was unable to conceive. Were we supposed to draw our own conclusions that she was being 1. Grossly transphobic in not even being able to call her brother a dad (she’d quoted him earlier “I guess I’m gonna be a pregnant dude and then a dad”) and in questioning whether a baby’s needs could be met by a trans person and 2. fucked up by considering abducting her brother’s baby? In no way did she craft the rest of the show to gently guide us towards those conclusions – which is obvious for many trans people, but I believe would have served only to fuel transphobic sentiments from uneducated cisgendered audience members. This is damaging and irresponsible. I may been prepared to sit through the transphobia of “a baby needs a mother, not a…. question mark” if she had more explicitly referenced her own transphobia as a stage on the way to trans-positivity, to model this process for other cisgendered audience members. However, it’s important to note that I don’t have kids – my heart went out to trans parents and the kids of trans people, this must have been unbearably painful for them.

In fact, she went on to present how irresponsible a dad her brother was, which is obviously horrible for the baby, just like it would be horrible if a non-trans parent was irresponsible. Given that most audience members would know nothing about great examples of trans parenting, I could understand the audience concluding that trans people shouldn’t be parents, and yes a baby needs a mother. Furthermore, I’m gonna bet the audience is left thinking a baby needs a mother like the cisgendered woman sweetly cooing the baby we see on stage. I don’t actually think this is what Johanna was trying to say. As I said, she seemed accepting of her brother, at least on a trans 101 level, and I’m willing to extend a generous interpretation that she is supportive of trans parents in general, but that her brother, like many non-trans parents, found himself unable to cope with an unplanned baby. I don’t trust that many of the other audience members, steeped in a transphobic and cis-sexist context, would have the experiences with amazing trans-parents in their community to counteract the one story they may ever have heard about trans parenting. Once again, the problem is not the telling of this story, it’s the lack of context.

Another example. Johanna tells a story about how her brother was in a relationship with a woman when he first came out as trans. His girlfriend “stayed with him for years” through his transition including him taking hormones and having chest surgery. Firstly, the choice of language “stayed with him” implied that she was some sort a saint for staying with such a freak. Ouch! After they broke up, her brother moved to Portland and fell in love with a man, which apparently sparked a deep gender confusion, “he wondered if he’d made a big mistake”.  After the relationship with his boyfriend ended and he came back to Montreal, Johanna says he was “heart-broken and more confused than ever”. From this, I find it difficult to believe that Johanna could have had much contact with trans communities outside of her experiences with her brother. If she had, she would understand the irritation and hurt caused to many trans people by the suggestion that we are “confused”.

I’m not saying what she said about her brother being confused in that instance is not true, just that it needs context. The difference between gender and sexuality is often very confusing to cisgendered (non trans) people and as such, it’s a topic that needs to be dealt with with care. Put in a very crude way, gender is about whether you identify YOURSELF as being female, male, genderqueer etc, regardless of what body parts you have. Sexuality is about who are attracted to. So, for example, a trans person may identify their gender as male (in contrast to their culture telling them they are female) and their sexuality as gay (if they sleep with men – cisgendered or trans) or straight, queer, asexual etc. To get a little more into advanced concepts, yes, sometimes people’s gender and sexuality bounce off each other, for example, some people’s genders are fluid. Sometimes a woman may feel kind of boy-ish when they’re having sex with a particular partner. Sometimes a trans-man might feel gay with one partner and queer with another. The fact that her brother was feeling confusion may have been a sign of gender fluidity or it may have been internalised trans-phobia and/or lack of role models. Trans people are not immune to a world that hates on and misunderstands us.  Frequently we internalise all sorts of shitty messages about ourselves. I grew up with neither trans role models nor queer role models, so no wonder I initially felt a bunch of confusion about the difference between my gender and sexual identity. Now, through exposure to amazing, resilient, smart and diverse trans communities, I feel solid on my identity and it’s incredibly invalidating when people reinforce stereotypes of trans people as “confused” without providing context.

In fact, let’s take a quick look at who is really confused. Why have people been constantly mis-gendering me from the day I was born? Why did the doctor say “it’s a girl?” Considering I’m not a girl, I can tell you who was confused. It’s not my fault that my transphobic culture couldn’t see me as a boy. And considering I grew up within this very confused culture, it’s no wonder it took me 30 years to become un-confused. Now, I’m in the position of continuously educating my very confused cisgendered community and shows like My Pregnant Brother do a massive disservice to the hard work of trans communities.

On a practical level, this explanation of gender, sexuality and issues about confusion may be too lengthy to include in a show. A simple shorter version could be something like “he wondered if he’d made a mistake. We now know that trans people can be gay, straight, queer or whatever, but at the time, he spiraled into uncertainty without any role models around him” (or something more artistically put).

I did an internet search and couldn’t find any reviews of the show by people who I knew were trans (although of course, we can’t always tell who is and isn’t trans). All I found were a bunch of glowing reviews, which I’m going to bet were mostly from cisgendered people. Trans perspectives have been marginalised even in the critiquing/reviewing of the show. Offline however, I’ve spoken with a number of trans friends who saw the show and who were similarly irate and upset. Maybe some trans people just went home swearing under their breath and chalking it up to another day dealing with transphobia.

I’d like to also name the sexism that Johanna has to deal with in her life, including it sounds like her brother has a bunch of sexist behaviour. She talks about her brother’s expectations and demands of her care-taking of him and the baby. I’m super sorry to hear that. She’s not alone in dealing with trans-men’s sexism.  My critique of the way Johanna has represented a trans narrative does not mean I’m not appreciative of her journey in learning to draw boundaries in a sexist world. This is very important. I feel very strongly about trans men challenging each other to be more feminist. There’s some suggestions about trans men challenging sexism in another article on this blog entitled “Femme Ally Conversation Starter”.

This does not excuse Johanna from the harmful treatment of his trans story. I believe that given the way Johanna is benefiting from her brother’s trans story, she has a responsibility to do the research and figure out this political context. Even though the story is clearly from her lens including being about her journey in giving up her family care-taking role, the fact that she called it “My Pregnant Brother” and not “The Day I Stopped Being My Brother’s Mum” is leveraging interest primarily from her brother’s story. This comes with a responsibility not just to her brother, but to trans movements. This responsibility is even more pertinent given the lack of trans stories told in the theatre, newspapers and popular media. It’s likely that many audience members may have never seen a theatre show about trans people, like EVER. This doesn’t mean Johanna should try and tell every angle of every story about every trans person ever. What it means is that she has a responsibility to properly contextualise the one story she is telling.

Concretely, what this could look like is the playwright doing a lot of research of articles, books and shows created BY trans people about trans people. Collaborating with trans people in the dramaturgy and creative development process. And I’m not talking about consulting with one or two token “friendly” trans people who are disconnected from trans movements. Paying trans consultants and being involved with trans community and making sure the support is reciprocal and built on relationships, rather than a one sided sucking of information and education.

Alternatively, I hope Johanna can find some private therapy that is not at the expense of trans communities, particularly not at the expense of trans families.

Some other popular blog articles:

Racism is to White People, as Wind is to the Sky

Femme Ally Conversation Starter

Boy Tits in the Locker-room

the Boy Tit Finale Summer Collection

2 articles on sobriety: Wet >< Dry and The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Throat

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