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.
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.
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:
First Nations/ Indigenous groups:
Visually Impaired & Blind access:
Trans and gender non-conforming folks:
Fat folks & larger folks:
Listing access details in promo:
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
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
It’s so important to unlearn misogyny/ sexism in queer communities.
Good article on how to be an ally and challenge misogyny/ sexism, or at least how not to be an asshole.
I love these images showing how wide ranging queer identities are.
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:
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.
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
A series of photos celebrating my beautiful chest before I had top surgery through adorning it with fabulous outfits.
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Photo by Tania Anderson
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.
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.
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.
Good ally article, authored by the fabulous Kai Cheng Thom.
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.
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.
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.
This was just what I needed to hear. Authored by many different survivors
– Campaign resources
* 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:
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
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 email@example.com
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
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.
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