Dear Woodzick, #3

How do I explain that I use multiple sets of pronouns (for example he/they) to folx in a rehearsal room without making myself the token explainer of all things gender/trans-related?

Dear Writer–

Thank you so much for your question!

The first thing I want to write to you is that you have every right to go through a rehearsal process without being made the “token explainer of all things gender/trans-related.”

That is so real and a point I feel is often lost in conversations about gender diversity: while many trans and non-binary actors are also educators, activists and consultants, not all of us are–AND we are all well within our rights to set boundaries about the scenarios in which we will serve in professional capacities outside the artistic one for which we have been hired. Enthusiastic consent needs to be obtained before companies assume that they’ve gotten a two-for-one deal on an actor/consultant combo.

Below are some recommendations from my three years of experience in rehearsal rooms navigating pronouns (I use they/them pronouns.)

I’d suggest approaching the stage manager and ask what policies the company has about pronouns–what systems are in place for introductions, how is misgendering handled in the rehearsal room, what is the conflict resolution path… Hopefully, the stage manager writes back quickly, with a thorough response.

If not, here are some resources that have been released in the last year to support gender diverse casting, rehearsal and performance practices. I’d recommend putting them in an email response to the SM, with text framing it along the lines of:

“Thank you for your response. In order for me to do my best work, it’s imperative that I’m only referred to he and they pronouns throughout the rehearsal process. Please forward these resources to whomever is in charge of HR and/or ED&I efforts at this company, so they can prepare accordingly for the start of our rehearsal process. I do not have the capacity to serve as a trans consultant for this production.”

One of the things I find most helpful is instilling a practice of re-introducing the room whenever new people come into it (designers, dialect coaches, etc…) I have found it most effective if the director or whomever starts the introductions leads by example thusly:

“Hi, friends. My name is Woodzick, my pronouns are they, them and theirs and I’m the director–since we have new folx in the room with us, we’re going to go around and share our names, our role(s) with this production and extend an invitation to share pronouns.”

(I use the invitation language surrounding pronouns when I facilitate after being approached by trans and non-binary folx who either 1) sincerely do not have a pronoun-preference and/or consider themselves pronoun-inclusive or 2) for a variety of reasons, did not feel comfortable/safe being mandated to share pronouns.)

I practice introducing my introduction with pronouns at home before I’m in a new room sometimes, especially if I’m feeling nervous. I want to sound confident AF during that first set of introductions. I recently played Ram’s Dad in a production of Heathers: The Musical, and my introduction went something like this (this was in a setting where there were both youth and adult performers–the directing team had asked me to frame it with a bit of context for the youth performers, which I enthusiastically consented to.)

“Hi, y’all! My name is Woodzick and I use they/them pronouns. I’m playing Ram’s Dad, and either they or he pronouns work for me during our rehearsal process. Never ever she. As actors, we are asked to be vulnerable and I can’t do my best work if my pronouns aren’t being respected.”

In my experience, I have found that the process of doing some legwork with the leadership team before you get in the room often goes a long way to create a smoother ride throughout the rehearsal process. And I also want to acknowledge that trans and non-binary performers shouldn’t have to do that legwork.

And, honestly, sometimes even doing the legwork that you shouldn’t have to do doesn’t have the desired impact. Sometimes people will offer excuses–because excuses are a lot simpler and cheaper than doing the complex work of critically examining and making meaningful changes to the culture of their institution. And in these situations, again, you get to choose how and if you will further engage with that company.

A dear friend from high school recently shared this sentiment:

“People come where we feel welcome, and stay where we feel valued.”

It is challenging for me to take up space in regards to advocating for myself as a non-binary actor. It’s a skill I’m still learning and honing. But I try to never lose sight of my goal: which is to make the theatre industry and its training programs more inclusive of gender diversity.

Because we all deserve a space where we feel welcome and valued.

As with any advice column, this is one person’s opinion–if you’re a member of the trans and/or non-binary community and would like to offer advice that differs with that given above, please post in the comments section!
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