Photos: Renata Shaffer-Gottschalk, 2009
From fears of being ridiculed — or physically attacked — to the disturbing sensation of getting your period when you feel like a man, to telling your straight, unsuspecting girlfriend that you weren’t born a bio-guy, being transgender can definitely have its downs. This Valentine’s weekend, a play at the Bedlam Theatre explores the heartbreaking lows as well as the joyful highs of life, love, and sex for transgender men and women.
Playwright Tobias K. Davis, a transgender man, wrote “The Naked I: Monologues from Beyond the Binary” as his senior thesis at Smith College. Davis conceived of the idea around Valentine’s weekend 2001, after seeing Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues with a trans friend. “What about us? We have vaginas, too,” the friend said. And Davis was off to write about it.
We have vaginas, too. That simple observation becomes the source of shame, pride, and painful rejection throughout the performances. Like Ensler, the playwright takes his inspiration from real people. Davis, who is in town for the run of the show, says the monologues of The Naked I come from conversations with hundreds of transgender people as well as the results of an online survey he created.
There is the heart-wrenching tale of a woman born with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome — no uterus and a malformed vagina. More painful than the diagnosis is the way the character is treated — as a medical anomaly, whose feelings are ignored.
A transgender woman bemoans the hair removal of her scrotum required before the tissue can be remade into a vagina. She talks at length of the painful hair removal process, then exclaims that her family refers to her “lifestyle” as if it were a choice.
The play’s culminates with “The Best Boyfriend,” a powerful piece about a messy, emotion-ridden collision of a person whose body and gender identity don’t align with a world — and a lover — not yet ready to understand.
The Naked I moves from sad to funny to poignant. Several characters play with the possibility of an idea of gender unconstrained by the rigid, binary formulation of modern society: male or female, nothing in between. Their exploration is both thought-provoking and thoughtful.
The cast makes the show, and Remy Corso, who performs “The Best Boyfriend,” and Katie Burgess, who stars in “Electrolysis of the Balls,” are the darlings of the performance.
Claire Avitabile, Davis’s friend from Smith, produced the play and directed several of the monologues. Avitabile runs the 20% Theater Company Twin Cities, which focuses on female, transgender, and gender-queer work. It’s not your typical cheesy Valentine’s fare, but it’s far more enlightening, and well worth the price of admission.
At Bedlam Theatre, 20% Theatre Twin Cities, true to its own defiant sense of gender inquiry, will perform the regional premiere of The Naked I: Monologues from Beyond the Binary, by Tobias K. Davis, who wrote the breakthrough FTM transgender play Standards of Care.
For those of you new to transgender terminology, the term “binary” is central. It refers to either/or, male/female, north/south, left/right, etc. Consider that opposites are relative, and that lots of ambiguity in between can be messy and scary, or resplendent and empowering.
One of Naked’s directors, Max Gries, shares, “I am especially impressed that the stories in the show are not just about bodies, sex, and sexuality. They’re also about relationships, family, and gender identity and expression in a dazzling spectrum, with common human themes to which everyone will relate.”
Davis’s script focuses on bodies and experiences of transgender, gender-queer, and intersex individuals. You will hear stories about men with vaginas, women with penises, and women born without vaginas, among other differences.
20% Artistic Director Claire Avitable, on the heels of her directorial success with Judith Thompson’s A Perfect Pie at Minneapolis Theater Garage, is turning this performance into a broad-based community event with approximately 40 different artists.