A good journalist always has to have a “why now” to justify a story (and a paycheck). Why this story, why now? “Why now” is used in white Western culture to quantify stories by timeliness. And I could spin you a good story, no doubt; give you an angle that might lift your heart or devastate you: because x amount of hate crimes have happened this past year, or because this trans or gender nonconforming actor or author is finally being recognized, now is the perfect time for a series on trans and gender conforming (TGNC) artists in the theatre.
This series isn’t “timely” in that way. American Theatre has existed since 1984, as the AIDS crisis was on the verge of reaching its grim peak. It has been around for shows like Kate Bornstein’s A Hidden Gender, David Harrison’s FTM, and Taylor Mac’s Hir. It’s lived to see milestones for TGNC theatre artists as well as their erasure.
So let’s flip it. “Why now”? Why not then?
TGNC people are here, have always been here, and will always be here—and that’s worth writing about, worth celebrating, and worth showcasing. There isn’t a reason that TGNC theatre is more pressing or relevant now than it was a year ago, or even 10, because there never was a time it was not. I choose to hope that institutions are taking steps to be more inclusive of TGNC artists now because they realize it should have been then. To the credit of the AT team, there was a realization that if they are going to do this issue now, then it could not be done the way it might have been done in the past.
This series called for a different approach, and AT, with the immense support of TCG’s Director of EDI Initiatives, Elena Chang (she/her), ideated a new process. What resulted was a direct collaboration between American Theatre and TCG’s EDI Initiatives Department that explored what a more community-centered approach to journalism could look like. I’ve worked with and written for American Theatre before, and worked with and in TCG’s EDI Initiatives department. I needed my experience from both to work on this issue. In TCG’s EDI department, I worked with my colleagues to approach representation and community engagement with intentionality, creating affinity spaces for underrepresented communities and building relationships and trust through constant inquiry and my hunger for theatre to move toward equity. That’s the approach I strive to take when writing or creating any type of art, and that’s the approach AT felt was necessary to take with this issue.
Elena and I worked with AT to expand and go deeper into what could and should be done to center TGNC artists, who are not only the subjects of this special issue but comprise its authors and its cover artist, the masterfully talented Wriply M. Bennet (she/her/hers/queen/goddess/sister/my liege). With support from LGBTQ-led arts initiatives across the country, we got a record number of nominations for a TGNC-focused edition of Role Call. Most importantly, we created an advisory of leaders and artists from the TGNC theatre community to help curate story topics, recommend writers and designers, and nominate candidates for Role Call. They also advised us on ways to move closer to a “by, for, and about” approach toward engaging with TGNC theatre practitioners.
This issue would not have come to fruition in this way without the work of this sensational advisory: the radiant Regina Victor (they/them/theirs), bubbling with creativity and ready to lend a smile; the eagerly inquisitive Mashuq Mushtaq Deen (he/they), whose fresh perspective pushed us to continuously challenge norms; the jovially steadfast Kasson Marroquin (he/they), whose dedication and grounding heart is a force within itself; the revolutionary Rad Pereira (they/them), who passionately inspired the imagination of our hearts; and the dazzlingly dynamic Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi (she/her), who was always there to advocate for artists and equity. This issue is more theirs than it is ours. They enthusiastically leaned into their role as advisory members to, in their own words, “queer and trans the shit out of” this issue in the most beautiful way.
It’s impossible for one TGNC person to represent the entire community—and it’s ridiculous to even ask or expect that. This single issue is not meant to represent all that TGNC theatre or its practitioners are; TGNC theatre is not a monolith. You’ll see that in every single contribution here. There’s a wide spectrum of emotions, perspectives, and experiences: from pain to joy to hope to empowerment. This is not and cannot be the be-all end-all of the TGNC story, either in American Theatre, or in American theatre.
I personally hope that, if nothing else, your two takeaways from this series are:
1. Pay a Black trans woman. Today. Like, for real. Right now. Open your purse.
2. Think about whatever project, play, initiative, etc., you or your theatre is doing and ask how you can go even further in your representation, support, and centering of TGNC individuals.
Ciara Diane (she/her) is a New York-based free-lance writer, poet, performer, playwright, and arts administrator. She is a Sagittarius, intersectional feminist/womanist, Afrofuturist, devout believer in Black liberation and above all, a storytelling experience.
A just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. If you are able, please join us in this mission by making a donation. As we reckon with the impact of COVID-19, the theatre field needs committed and nuanced journalism. Free and unlimited access to AmericanTheatre.org is one way that we and our publisher, Theatre Communications Group, are eliminating barriers to crucial resources during this crisis. When you support American Theatre and TCG, you support these emergency resources and our long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!