Ex-Gays: Not a Str8 Remount

savageumbrella

Source: facebook.com/savageumbrella

I never felt quite a uncomfortable entering a show as I did for the performance of Savage Umbrella’s Ex-Gays. Of course, it’s meant to be uncomfortable. Held at Uptown’s Springhouse Ministry Center, overly cheerful “pastors” greet audience members and bless you, directing you where to check in for a “five week” camp to rid yourself of sin and find your way to heterosexuality. Not expecting this interactive aspect, I was pleasantly surprised and hurtled back to my own Sunday bible school sessions at a Catholic Church. Even the program ( a Camp Str8-N-Arrow welcome packet) brought me uneasily back to my childhood with coloring book images that were cheerful but haunting (one of a kitten staring at its reflection really got to me. I’ll save the psychoanalysis of why for another post).

The show itself follows a group of camp pastors teaching campers how to “admit we are powerless over our unnatural attraction to same-sex persons” and to “turn our lives over to the care of God’s heterosexual touch.” The cast, including Eli Purdom, Katherine Skoretz, Amber Davis, Alyssa Davis, Nick Wolf, Shannon McCarville, Meagan Kedrowski, Nissa Nordland, Matthew Englund, and Courtney Stirn, presents these issues with hilarious, over-the-top campy cheer (yes, that’s a pun on campy) which ultimately makes the serious subject matter of the show all the more powerful. We see how many of the characters are pretending to be happy and straight, trying to lead double lives, and doing harm to themselves in order to do what they believe God requires of them.

To understand the full affect this play had on me, you need to know some parts of my personal life. I grew up Roman Catholic. I came out as bisexual just over a year ago. I recently read a book about the Westboro Baptist Church and, having seeing this show during Bisexual Awareness Week, this show certainly packed a wallop. I was uncomfortable, I was entertained, I was horrified, I was heartbroken. But most of all the importance of discussing these issues was brought to mind,

Director Laura Leffler says in her notes that she feels a new apprehension during the remount of the show. I felt this same apprehension. With a sense that the current political climate cares nothing about marginalized people, especially those who identify as LGBTQ+, and those in the White House already working to undo progress that has been made (be it the military ban on trans individuals or overturning Title 9) there’s a reason for the uneasiness and fear. The thoughts of extremists who believe in conversion therapy and that people need to change to fit into their God’s (increasingly narrow) idea of good humans are not just outlier voices but voices that are being given recognition and power. This play is so important because it hears those voices but shows how wrong they are. This show broke my heart but also revealed how important it is to show others – especially young LGBTQ+ community members – that they deserve respect and to be loved who they are. After seeing this, I’ll never look at a bundt cake the same way again (and it’s all for the best) and I feel stronger in resisting forces that wish to harm others. I always feel a little like I’m making up some sort of Stephen King-esque monster when I talk about the threats to the LGBTQ+ to people I’d like to make allies. Maybe I do a poor job of it, still navigating my ways through my identity. Or maybe I feel like people assume I exaggerate the threat because, “it can’t be that bad” or “this isn’t Chechnya.” But I’ve heard the horrific things that people say and heard the horrible acts people commit because someone else’s sexuality makes them uncomfortable. There is a need to speak up and be heard right now, and I’m grateful that this play is not only doing that but encouraging others to do the same.

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Charm – The Importance of Representation

charm

Source: mixedblood.com

I would like to preface this article by saying that I am a cis-gender individual and that, while I do my best as an ally, I make mistakes and am still learning. If I say anything word-wise or representation wise that is incorrect, please let me know. It is not your job to teach me what I might be doing wrong, but your voice is important.

I had the wonderful opportunity to see Charm at Mixed Blood last night. It’s the first play I’ve seen at the theater in a long time – too long. It’s a very timely production and one that is much needed, especially here in the Twin Cities.

I was told by a friend that this production had been done in Chicago but did not cast according to representation. That production cast cis-gender people (or people who identify with the gender they were born with) in roles meant to represent trans-gender people. This received many negative reactions from individuals who wanted to see these roles performed by people who actually represented these identities. In Mixed Blood’s production, the show was cast mostly this way, allowing trans actors to take on roles that are not often seen. This show represents not only their personal story but also stories of people rarely seen not just onstage but in all other media forms.

I’d heard complaints about some of the acting in this show not being up to par because of the faithful casting, but, if this is an opinion you hold, it should be seen as an issue with the actors. This is an issue with the acting community as a whole. There are not many opportunities for trans actors – either they don’t get cast for roles that exist or there are no roles available to them. They may not have as much experiences or the same kinds of experience as other actors simply because fewer options exist for them. If I were to audition (God forbid) for a show, I would have no trouble being cast according to my gender and sexual preference. The same cannot be said for those who are not cis-gender or even heterosexual. While we may live in one of the “gayest cities” in the US (at least as of 2011) and Minneapolis is making great steps to accept LGBTQA identities, there is still room for improvement and we are still under the influence of what large opportunities can exist in a nation that apparently is terrified of who might be in the bathroom stall next to them.

The wonderful thing about having a community like ours is that we can make our own rich, theater scene and create new chances. We local playwrights can write new roles for different identities, people who have these identities can write their own work, directors can begin to consider different methods of casting. However, we have to want to do this not just because social justice compels us to, but because we want to and because we truly care, whether our patrons are going to care or not. Trust me, I’ve heard the onslaught of discomfort of people trying to understand (or flat out refusing to understand) trans identity. They argue that it’s biology, that you can’t base such large social changes on feelings. To which I’d like to remind you that racism also used to be (and still is, by some) backed up by biological differences. The fact of the matter is that feelings ARE important – any psychologist and neuroscientist will tell you that. If feelings are irrelevant, then there’s no reason I should feel angry when people misidentify people’s gender or refuse to use their correct name, or treat someone as less than equal because they identify with a certain gender (I got catcalled on the way to Mixed Blood that night and spent much of the evening being an deeply annoyed feminist). And it’s more than just a feeling – it’s knowing you are what you are, regardless of your biological sex. There’s more than one way to do things, Charm tells us, and there’s more than one way to be a man, woman, agender, and just a human being in general.

What I love about Charm is how much it packs into the show. Not only does it deal with the intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality, it also deals with fissions within the LGBTQA community itself. There are misunderstandings between the character Mama Darleena, a trans woman, and D, who is agender and uses the pronouns they/them. Darleena cannot understand why D doesn’t “pick a gender” when she has fought so hard to be recognized as a woman. D cannot understand why Darleena is focused on charm, when it represents a method of oppression to them. Charm speaks to the different attitudes towards surgery for trans individuals and how some deeply desire it while others want to be accepted by who they choose to be regardless of their body. There are discussions of violence towards one another in the community, especially through the character Beta, who is part of a gay gang that assaults trans people. It also deals with the confusion of trying to make your identity known and feeling that you don’t know who you are. Lady, a trans girl who is struggling with her identity, powerfully represents this and shows the struggles of becoming who you are when living in a society that won’t accept you. The show doesn’t always deal with these dense issues smoothly, but there isn’t really a way to deal with it without out a bit of messiness and complexity. Being human is complicated but we all want something very simple – to be accepted and to belong. Charm conveys this important message beautifully and makes a place for people who are different – and that’s what theater has always done and will continue to do.

Charm is playing now through May 8th at Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis. Ticket and show information can be found on Mixed Blood’s website.