EDITOR'S NOTE: With this first episode of TeaTalks, TheaterJones is proud to host a new monthly column. In TeaTalks, Seth Johnson and Olivia Grace Murphy, the founders of Flexible Grey Theatre Company (which just announced its second season) and guests discuss issues important to the LGBTQ+ and other under-represented communities in the performing arts world. As with this edition, it is a podcast with excerpts from the conversation in print.
TeaTalks will run on the fourth Tuesday of the month.
Welcome to TeaTalks, a monthly interview series where we, Seth Johnson and Olivia Grace Murphy from Flexible Grey Theatre Company, dig into the hot topics in the DFW theatre community and spill the tea. Usually these topics will revolve around the LGBTQ+ community or other marginalized groups in the arts. In this inaugural TeaTalks, we discussed the inclusion of gender fluid and nonbinary individuals in the arts, specifically in theatre.
If those words are new to you, that’s okay. You have come to the right place, and in 2019 it’s definitely time that you are aware of genders beyond the binary (yeah, we’re looking at you, local casting directors #ThatsTheTea). As local theatre artist, Gazelle Garcia, puts it, these are “umbrella terms” for a wide range of gender identities.
In fact, before we get into the interview, it may be helpful to familiarize yourself with some for these umbrella terms. We found a succinct resource for terms called http://mykidisgay.org/ that broke terms down quite nicely.
According to them, “‘Non-binary’ is a gender identity under the transgender umbrella. Someone who is non-binary does not identify as exclusively male or female (also known as the gender binary) and does not identify as the gender assigned to them at birth.”
Confusingly enough, the term “gender fluid” was more difficult to find a definition for. We had to go to a non-queer website, verywellmind.com to find this. They define gender fluid as “Someone whose gender moves around, either along the female-male binary or outside of it.”
This same website recognizes “genderqueer” as “Another catch-all term for individuals with non-binary gender.”
Mykidisgay.com recognizes they/them pronouns in “these words make it easier to have a conversation without constantly saying the name of the person we’re talking about. While ‘they/them’ pronouns can be used to refer to groups, many people have begun using these pronouns for themselves in place of ‘he’ or ‘she.’ This use is commonly referred to as “singular they.”
We sat down with Cameron Casey (they/them), Gazelle Garcia (they/them), Mies Quatrino (He/she/his/her), and Danett Flores (they/them) on a lovely Sunday afternoon to get some insight. Beverages of choice included an English Breakfast tea, a Moroccan Mint tea, and Gazelle Garcia went against the tide with their Coke Zero.
Note: These are just excerpts from the conversation. For the full TeaTalks experience, please listen to the link below.
TEATALKS: So, would you like to kind of explain what the current DFW climate is theatre-wise, especially in regards to nonbinary and gender fluid?
CAMERON: I don’t think there really is an environment. I don’t think there’s a lot of discussion outside of... well, I mean once in a while you get some show come up where people will talk about it. But like, on the last few things I’ve done, you know, barring involvement with Flexible Grey, like... I’ve had to do the big speech of, you know, this is what I’m about, this is what my pronouns are, like, let’s, you know, let’s all have an educational moment about you know, what the deal is with gender theory. And I kinda hate that we have to do that. It’s just kind of living life in 2019.
GAZELLE: That’s something that I tell my friends all the time is that the difference with gender identity vs. like, other comparative intersectional things in our community would be that like, we come out of the closet every day. We have to. We have to on our resumes, we have to on any applications we fill out and then if we want it to be respected we have to at the first day of rehearsal. But it’s like, every day is just driving that point and that reminder. And usually when a director is aware enough to like, introduce the idea of like, go around the table and mention your preferred pronouns, then usually you’re the only one. Everyone else either forgets to even say theirs or like, they kind of laugh awkwardly because it’s such a different concept for them whereas we know that it’s a survival thing for us, that we have to mention it day one.
OLIVIA: So what can we on the other side of the table do to just alleviate some of that pressure?
DANETT: Be informed. Because, it is very much of a hassle because you’re having to come out every day to new people. Um, and then on top of that you kind of have to become a teacher for a minute and explain it to them and then they have a bunch of questions, and you know, sometimes it’s fine, but you just do it enough and it just becomes very tiring.
MIES: And then don’t feel embarrassed if you get it wrong. ‘Cuz a lot of times people, like especially with Danett, whenever we’re hanging out they’ll be like “oh, she said this” and then we kind of just look at them and they say “oh sorry” and correct themselves.
DANETT: And it’s worse when people make a really big deal out of it too because that’s like, really drawing attention to it... If you’re trying that’s good enough.
GAZELLE: I think I usually feel more comfortable if going into an audition process something on the form says something where either it’s “gender and a blank” as opposed to like, “circle male or female.” The language in audition notices makes me, you know, I’ve gone out for auditions just based on like, holy crap they’ve included the option of “hey, we’re looking for people who identify this way” or they use language that’s a little more open or they don’t say in the breakdown what gender they’re looking for.
OLIVIA: So do you see the DFW theatre scene getting better about that, from maybe just even from a few years ago? Is there more knowledge surrounding that verbiage on audition notices or is it more of the same thing that you’re seeing?
MIES: I mean, every place that I’ve auditioned for has had the option of like, uh write down your gender and your pronouns and everything, which I’ve been grateful for, but I don’t really think it matters after that. Like, they don’t really hone in on like, “oh we want like, nonbinary actors or people who identify like this like we want to include them” it’s more just like, if you want to put your pronouns there, go ahead.
GAZELLE: For me it’s been depending on the person... In my situation I’m always bouncing between San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth, and Dallas shows and it seems like I’m running into some better practices here. But at the same time I did two shows with a director in San Antonio where she upfront was very like “were going to do some non traditional casting choices and I’m making it consciously. That it’s not colorblind or gender blind, it’s, you know what this person being the way they are actually helps the character in this way and I like that...” And then for like, Men on Boats in Fort Worth ...in our cast it was the first time ever where I was in a show with two people who are genderqueer. And both of us were Latino. And that just blew my mind and I don’t know if that opportunity would have come up, though, if a playwright hadn’t taken the initiative to say “this is what I want in my show.”
TEATALKS: So, we’re realizing that playwrights are a large aspect to why there is a space in theatre for trans and gender non-conforming actors, but I feel like we can do better. Why do we need a specific play telling us that we need to cast a trans actor to consider these performers for our shows? Even the shows about trans people seem few and far between, so where are the opportunities for these actors?
OLIVIA: Diving a little deeper, without stating any names or companies, have you all received backlash? Have their been bad experiences that have really just colored your opinions on what to audition for or the kind of theatre you want to do?
CAMERON: I would say it’s less organizations and more individuals and it’s the leadership within them. Because I think everybody at this point knows better than to make that a point within their theatre that they don’t want to make space for gender nonconforming people. But I think there are just a lot of folks who just don’t have it on their radar at all. There’s been a lot less malicious intent and a lot more just lack of willingness to educate oneself and that’s frustrating.
OLIVIA: So, laziness?
CAMERON: Yeah. Definitely.
DANETT: Cuz for some people they’re just like, “oh that’s too much of a hassle, like is it really that big of a deal for you?” That kind of thing.
CAMERON: And there’s nothing worse than that. Than when you’ve had a one-on-one conversation with somebody and like, introduced yourself and your pronouns and they’re like “yeah, absolutely!” And then the next week, you know, they’re back to using she/her and it’s like, why is this happening, I know you don’t mean to do this to hurt me but it’s not cool.
GAZELLE: It is, and it’s like you said, I don’t think a lot of people think it’s malicious. And sometimes it is laziness, or it comes from a place of ignorance. To be honest if we all grew up in this society, I acknowledge that you’ve been taught certain things and we have to unteach ourselves these things. But I worked at a theatre where three shows in a row somebody intentionally went in and changed my bio and re-wrote my pronouns.
DANETT: The grammar argument always gives me such a headache and it’s such a common one too. I’ve definitely had pronouns changed but in my case had the person come up to me and go “this doesn’t make sense, it’s going to confuse people who read it, um, that’s not worth our time.”
TEATALKS: That’s so hurtful. “This is not worth our time.” As two cisgender individuals writing this article and doing this interview, that really struck us to our core. It seems like as a group of artists who considers ourselves a “theatre community” we need to do better about respecting everyone in our community.
SETH: I know we’ve already talked about it, but is there anything else they can change in the audition room or in the audition notices? On stage, what can the stage manager do to help prevent these things from happening?
CAMERON: Just ask. Just make it a practice of every time you meet a new person to ask what their pronouns are because it’s so much better for somebody to ask me than for me to have to like, derail the conversation for a minute. Like, hold on, I’m not done, I’ve got this whole other part of introducing myself that we’ve gotta talk about. It’s probably going to be a conversation.
DANETT: Because you ask a cisgender person and they’re like, you know, oh well... why? And you’re kind of reminding them that things are changing, that that’s not everybody. And then when ask a gender fluid or nonbinary person, and they’re like YES. THANK YOU.
GAZELLE: The few times that someone has specifically asked it’s been like, a huge relief.
OLIVIA: So, education is the thing that’s important. So, should we maybe have a little bit of gender theory 101?
GAZELLE: Honestly, it’s different for everybody. I know nonbinary people who it’s the absence of gender or it’s the existence of any gender or all of the genders. So it’s hard to say ‘cuz a lot of them are umbrella terms. And it’s funny because I constantly hear this and I read this and I think about it too, but the idea of like, “well wait if it doesn’t matter then why label it, and aren’t you against labels?” And the truth is that because of the internet and because of labels this is the only way we’ve been able to educate ourselves on “what this means, what am I feeling, who else is feeling this”. But again, those labels can mean totally different things to totally different people. I reclaimed queer before I came out as trans. And for me, it was kind of this, because it’s an umbrella term, it was this all-encompassing thing of like, great, it’s not specifically one or three or you know, a single box. And so when I saw the world genderqueer for the first time, I don’t even know if I got through the first sentence of the definition before I was like “this explains so much!” And I think it’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it, but just the realization of like, I don’t need to keep trying this hard to fit into something that never felt right.
TEATALKS: So, Gazelle has so eloquently put how it is important for them to have these labels in daily life, but how does that apply to theatre?
GAZELLE: But also, for like, being nonbinary and genderqueer, it means for me that anything I do is not dictated by my gender and yet in many ways dictated by my lack of gender. And especially as an actor, it’s odd because the system of typing is so specific and there’s not anything one theatre can do to fix it I think, it’s a cultural thing and we all have to kind of abide by it. And my decision to even cut my hair off was a huge thing of, you know I’m going to see what this does for me.
CAMERON: And it does things! It really makes a big difference in a way that it shouldn’t.
GAZELLE: ‘Cuz yea, ‘cuz sadly I think it honestly gets me more respect as someone who identifies as trans-masculine whereas if I had long hair or if I was wearing makeup it wouldn’t be taken as seriously for some absurd reason. And so for me like, being trans-masculine I feel a more trans-masculine energy, a more masculine energy that I don’t really care if someone else picks up on. But at the same time it is frustrating to constantly be like, “ah, I am female-presenting and nothing I do can ever change how people look at me. They won’t take me seriously because I’ll always have hips. Nothing I do will flatten my shape” and so that’s why these labels become stronger because it’s like, you know what, I am still what I say I am no matter what you see. So that’s why to me it’s super important.
TEATALKS: Our hope for 2019 is that the theatre community does become more open with our talented genderqueer theatre artists. These four had so much more to say in the interview. We dove into dream roles, what would make the perfect genderqueer-friendly theatre season, the importance of asking questions, and so much more. We would love if you listened and joined us for next month’s TeaTalks, which will be on an entirely different topic. Until then, #ThatsTheTea.