On a pastel stage of dressing screens and make-up mirrors, blues and pinks interweave and combine in illustrations of Pablo Picasso’s peace sign and the international drag queen RuPaul. The seamless mixtures of these gender-colours, in Harry Feiner’s smart stage design, form the backdrop to testimonies of transgender people in Paul Lucas’s Trans Scripts project, with this chapter presenting the experiences of transgender women (male to female).
These found stories are entrusted to a dutiful cast, and pose alternatives to the dominant narratives of brutality (three delegates of the European Transgender Council were attacked in Dublin in 2012) and regeneration of a celebrity’s image (Caitlyn Jenner). We learn that apathetic doctors and expensive surgeries sent some to the black market for hormone therapy and silicon injections. Whether reassignment is a necessity poses an existential question. For the fraught figure played by Rebecca Root, holding a harrowing a story of receiving a sex change as a child (the father wanted a son), the answer is indelibly yes. For the free-living persona played by Bianca Leigh, throwing daring flirts to handsome men in the audience, it doesn’t matter what you have between your legs.
It also points to transgender people’s role within the LGBT rights movement. The tongue-popping, streetwise activist played by the suave Jay Knowles recalls meeting Sylvia Rivera, who along with Marsha P. Johnston was a veteran of the Stonewall riots. Despite the bricks thrown by transgender fighters on that day, the greater LGBT movement seems to have left the community behind.
It’s most affecting in its stories of acceptance, whether from personal struggle (Catherine Fitzgerald sensitively relays truths of masculine hang-ups and self harm) or from others. A pageant performer (the wonderful Carolyn Michelle Smith) is visited by her pastor asking why she hasn’t been to church. During a service, he powerfully commands the congregation to welcome her on her love of God alone. She hasn’t had any problems since.
Where political organisers in the community try to tote the line that transgender people have lived from birth the gender that they express, this seems to whitewash the revelatory journey undertook. The jittery, friendly councilor played by Calpernia Addams suggests that taking possession of the process of renewal is crucial. That bespeaks the strength of the most powerful people on the planet.
Trans Scripts runs at Pleasance Courtyard (Upstairs) until 31 Aug. For more information and tickets, see the Fringe website.