As a newly out non-binary artist who is still figuring out how to navigate spaces that I’m not sure are safe, how do you gauge that and what can theaters do to communicate that they are safe places for TGNC theatre artists to work and be out in? Also, how do you overcome fear of professional consequences for correcting people who misgender you or otherwise disrespect your identity? I’m young and sometimes fear that being assertive about my identity will lead artists I work with to label me as “difficult” and it feels like a hard line to walk.
First of all—THANK YOU for your question. There are so many trans and non-binary theatre artists who are in precisely the same spot as you are at the moment. So know that you are in fantastic company and there is a thriving community of artists who are navigating these very same questions in our industry.
Second, I am so proud of you for coming out and please know, that even though I haven’t met you, I love you. My hope is that you have the smoothest of paths and find nothing but supportive theatres that will offer you affirming theatrical experiences.
Those things being said, I’ll say that over all (in my experience), folx who work in the theatre industry (and its training programs) are at different levels of awareness and aptitude when it comes to supporting trans and non-binary theatre artists. I work primarily as an actor and a director, and what I offer below are some of my personal experiences and suggestions for ways to navigate this industry.
But before you read them, dear writer, I want you to know regardless of your theatrical discipline(s), you should always advocate for what you need to do your best work. Sometimes will feel easier than others. The fear of “being difficult” will pop up at the most inconvenient times. There will be those who say that they need more time, that they are trying, but they may screw up, that you will need to be patient with them—and STILL: you should always advocate for what you need to do your best work.
Nico Lang is one of my favorite journalists, and he recently wrote a piece about Jacob Lemay, a nine-year old trans boy who asked a question at CNN’s LGBTQ+ Town Hall. At the end of his question, he asked,
“And what do you think schools need to do better to make sure that I don’t have to worry about anything but my homework?”
That question STUCK with me, because every time I feel that “oh, shoot, I might be acting ‘too difficult’ in this moment!’” another voice from within brings up the point that
I deserve to have the same experience as any other actor in the cast.
Each theatre you encounter will have its own approach (or lack thereof) to approaching their equity, diversity and inclusion goals as they relate to gender diversity.
If you’re considering working with a theatre, one of the first things I’d recommend is looking at their “about us” section on their website. This should be where they list some version of their mission, vision and values. Check it out. Take notes—especially on any sections that talk about ED&I in any fashion. Also consider checking out the staff bios. Do folx list their pronouns? Does anyone list LGBTQ+ theatre or audiences as something that they have worked with and/or have a passion for cultivating?
Lack of any of these things isn’t necessarily a deterrent for me, but it gives me a bit of a sense of who might be in the room or making administrative or HR decisions/policy at the company.
Next, as an actor, I’ll look at the character descriptions and/or diversity statement on their audition notices. If all of the characters are listed as only male and female and there is no statement saying “we welcome (or are actively seeking) actors of all genders,” I know that (for me personally), I’m likely going to take the extra step of reaching out the director for the specific project for which I’m submitting.
(Also, dear writer, please know that each year, I see more and more companies using this “all genders” language. I think it’s wonderful and soon hope it becomes standard across the industry.)
Here’s an example of one such email that I sent earlier this year:
My name is Woodzick and I’m a non-binary actor (assigned female at birth.) I just signed up for an audition slot for Addams Family–I’ve attached three different photos of different characters I’ve portrayed to give you a visual representation of the range of genders I can portray.
I previously played Alice in this show and love it very much! I’ve also attached my current acting resume–could you give me some guidance as to how you’d like me to dress coming into the audition (what would be most useful for your eye.)
I’m most interested in being considered for Morticia, Gomez and Fester.
Kind of an odd question, but I’d love to have your input–thanks! 🙂
Woodzick- good afternoon! Thanks for reaching out. I really appreciate it.
You pose an excellent question. Since you are interested in both male and female roles, I would suggest you show up in whatever makes you feel like the powerful and authentic actor that I think you probably are. And should there be a need to see you at callbacks, we can discuss more about what role(s) you are called back for and what we might want to see at that time.
Thanks again, and let me know if you have any questions.
I love the way that this email was answered!
Looking back at MY email, though, I see all of my insecurities coming through in the passive language I used to craft it.
Here’s how I would edit it to read as more assertive and general template (and please feel free to use/edit this template as you see fit.)
My name is Woodzick and I’m a non-binary actor. I just signed up for/am interested in submitting for X production.
I’ve also attached my current acting resume—as I play roles of all genders, I am requesting guidance as to how you’d like me to dress coming into the audition (what would be most useful for your eye.)
I’m most interested in being considered for the following roles: X, X, X
I look forward to hearing from you.
It’s not perfect-and I’m sure there are folx who would completely rewrite this email. But just by writing it and having a moment of connection with a director before coming into an audition, I feel like I’m giving them a head start to have a discussion about trans and non-binary talent and how they envision possibly casting that talent in a show. It’s a question they may not have been asked before. Personally, it makes me feel a little safer, though it may just be a placebo effect.
I list my pronouns on my acting resume in a font that’s the same size as my name, directly underneath it (so they can’t miss it.) I’ve also adopted a practice that my dear friend Kathryn Lynn Morgen (http://www.klmxyz.com/) recommended, which is to clearly state the roles for which I’d like to be considered. This currently lives on my resume as “Open to playing male, female and non-binary roles.” I also choose to break out my resume into three sections: Male, Non-Binary and Female.
If I get to an audition and the form only has a binary male/female option, I will cross it out and write in “non-binary.” If there is not a spot to list my pronouns, I will create a spot and write my pronouns. (And if there IS a spot for pronouns on the form, my expectation is that there will be an invitation for folx who are comfortable to share their pronouns when introductions occur, and that whoever LEADS the introduction will model this during their introduction.)
If I am offered and accept a role in a production, one of the first things I do is reach out to the stage manager and ask them how misgendering will be handled in the rehearsal room. Through years of trial and error, I have found that the most effective way to curtail misgendering is having a stage manager call a “hold” (as you would do for any other actor’s safety), assertively make the correction and move the rehearsal right along.
You may run into situations where (for whatever reason) it isn’t possible for the SM to fulfill this role. If this is the case, once I get to know my cast mates, I’ll ask one of them who seems particularly pronoun savvy to be my pronoun ally/proctor/protector human. Again, it’s not a perfect situation, but I’ve found that when the correction of misgendering expands from a two-point line to a three-point triangle, it becomes far less likely for misgendering to continue.
When it comes to dressing rooms, I’ve been lucky enough to work with theatres so far that have actors self-select which dressing room they feel more comfortable changing in. I know this isn’t always the case—again, I would recommend leaning on the stage management team here to communicate what your preference is.
(Most of the time) I enjoy having conversations with theatres about their practices in supporting gender diversity, but not everyone does. (In my opinion) you don’t need to answer questions that 1) you feel uncomfortable answering and/or 2) are outside the scope of the tasks expected of your fellow cast members/you feel that the theatre should pay a trans or non-binary consultant for your/their emotional and intellectual labor to answer. I’ve found (and have heard from some of my peers) that some theatres will assume that by casting you, they can consider you an unofficial consultant—-again, in my opinion, that is a boundary that only you can set, according to your comfort levels.
To finish out the life-span of a production:
-I take note of who is in charge of publicity/social media for the show in case misgendering occurs in print pieces about the production. If it does, I send a swift request for the PR person to address it.
-I take advantage of post-mortem conversations (either in person or in writing) to offer my feedback of what they may want to consider in future when it comes to trans and non-binary talent.
To address the second part of your question more specifically, the “how do you overcome fear of professional consequences for correcting people who misgender you or otherwise disrespect your identity” part of the question.
I don’t know if I’ve honestly overcome it…
I have found that feeling the fear and attempting to address these issues anyway has resulted in building more professional connections than burning them. I have seen changes that theatres have made first hand because I or one of my trans or non-binary peers has been offered a place at the table. I see former castmates build more inclusive spaces as directors and teaching artists. I see more and more trans and non-binary talent being cast each year.
I go back to:
I deserve to have the same experience as any other actor in the cast.
I shouldn’t have to worry about anything other than my homework.
As with any advice column, this is one person’s opinion–if you’d like to offer advice that differs with that given above, please post in the comments section!