The constructs of the gender binary show up in our work as artists and can affect how trans, gender non conforming (gnc) or gender non binary (gnb) people engage in or with the work.
It can be very challenging for trans, gender non-conforming (gnc) and gender non-binary (gnb) folks to have to fit into the limited gender options for casting and to perform gender in the same way as cis-gender artists. Gnc or gnb folks auditioning for characters described as man/male or woman/female risk not having their gender affirmed throughout a project by the team if they are cast. Casting calls almost always begin with gender, usually using biological terms like male or female. This makes it very difficult to even submit at all if one doesn’t identify with those terms. By opening up all roles to all genders and performers, artists can submit for the roles that fit them best. The binary “normal” can be deconstructed by redefining characters by traits, archetypes, attitudes or habits; if a character’s gender or sex is not used directly to further the plot, then it shouldn’t be necessary to put it in your character description.
Sometimes, when trans roles are created, they can be tokenizing roles that lack dimension. Similarly trans, gnc and gnb people are often cast as a foreign or strange other; inhuman in some way.
Roles that are specifically created for trans, gnc or gnb folks should be as complex and reflective of the human experience as any role given to a cis-gender artist. Trans, gnc, and gnb folks want to be cast for more than their gender identity. Understand that casting a trans, gnc or gnb performer into a role makes that role trans, gnc or gnb. Allowing a performer the ability to define the gender of their character gives room for a much richer tapestry of representation within the world of the production.
Within all gender identities, there is a spectrum of ways to present (for example, there are more masculine presenting women or vice versa). Trans women in particular feel the pressure to wear make up, dress up and present as a “perfect woman” in order to have their gender affirmed and ensure safety. A trans woman should be affirmed as a woman no matter what she is wearing or how she presents. Writers, creators, producers and casting directors should be aware and open to all the variations in gender presentation.
It is important when working with trans artists not to out their trans identity to anyone without their permission. Being forced to repeatedly identify oneself as queer, trans or gnc or gnb is tiring and stressful. Not everyone is out to everyone they know, and they should not be tokenized by the production they work with. Trans, gnc, gnb folks have the right to identify as a person with trans experience, and not have their identity or artistic practice be defined by their trans experience.
An artist’s trans identity should not be used as a novelty or as a way to “sell” a show. This is tokenizing and disrespectful: it can have and has had detrimental effects. Trans people should be able to come out on their own terms. Asking the performer if they are comfortable sharing their trans, gnc or gnb experience first is preferred. The repercussions that can come with having to having to defend or explain one’s relationship with their gender can be exhausting. It works like consent, if you ask first, they can agree or opt out without feeling pressure of needing to educate with their lived experience.
It is important to educate the media and communicate clearly with critics when working with trans, gnc and gnb people. Trans, gnc and gnb people have been misgendered by the press, who in some cases have refused to print accurate information, or displayed blatant transphobia in their reviews. This has been damaging to trans, gnc and gnb performers. When engaging trans, gnc and gnb artists, it is your responsibility to advocate for your artists to ensure they are properly represented and protected.
- Be open to everyone. Be ready to learn someone’s name correctly, learn their pronouns, who they are, and stop operating from a place of assumption. Assumptions based on bias and stereotypes limit your potential relationship with a new person, and the potential of your art.
- Put your own pronouns on your resume, email signature and in cover letters as a gesture of inclusivity and solidarity towards the trans, gnc and gnb community.
- Stand up and be an ally all of the time, especially when trans, gnc or gnb people are not there. Insist that their genders be affirmed and referred to properly. If you don’t know, ask. If you forget, ask again.
- Be proactive and educate other cis people. Trans, gnc and gnb people should not be responsible for providing this education unless they are paid for it. If you feel more formal education is necessary, hire a trans, gnc or gnb artist to host a workshop in order to educate you and your team and pay them appropriately.
- Remove barriers that prevent trans, gnc and gnb people from engaging with your art, such as removing biological terminology from casting calls, and removing gender from casting calls. Try stating that all roles are open to all performers, regardless of gender.
- Begin every rehearsal or meeting with a pronoun check-in; hearing new pronouns out loud helps to normalize them.
- Have a conversation with your artists about how they wish to be represented in your press material. Be very clear with the media about your artists’ pronouns. If the media misgenders or displays transphobic views about your artists, advocate for your artist. Talk to the artist to see how they would like you to respond. Ask for the article to be corrected, or taken down.
- Use consent to release forms that include pronouns and opt-out options when engaging with trans/gnb/gnc artists
- Ask the artists what you can do better to create a more inclusive, safe and creative environment. Listen and learn from the community. Most importantly, be ready to change.
- Australian artists Spence Messih and Archie Barry have compiled a free resource titled Clear Expectations: Guidelines for Institutions, Galleries, and Curators Working with Trans, Non-Binary, and Gender Diverse Artists, to help arts and culture organizations better understand best practices around working with gender variant artists.
The information and ideas on this page were generated at Woke 2.0 Edition #3: Gender Blender on June 10, 2018. The event was hosted by Generator and the Storefront Theatre, and was facilitated by Kit Boulter (Performer & Creator) and Sedina Fiati (Managing Producer of The Storefront Theatre).