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Gender Euphoria, Episode 1 Part 2: Transgender Legibility: Have We Really Reached the Transgender Tipping Point?

With Joshua Bastian Cole

Nicolas Shannon Savard: Hello, and welcome back to Gender Euphoria, the podcast. I’m your host Nicolas Shannon Savard. This is Episode One, Part Two. Continuing my conversation with Joshua Bastian Cole. We start off with the “transgender tipping point.” First thing that I really want to dive into with Cole is this idea of the “transgender tipping point.” So, as I mentioned before, back in May of 2014, Time magazine declared that that trans people had made it in Hollywood. We had reached this critical mass of representation and visibility in the media. Laverne Cox was on the cover. That supposedly signaled some sort of shift in representation. We are seven years past that now, and I want to chat about how have we seen this manifesting in representation on TV and film? And how has this bled into the theatre?

Joshua Bastian Cole: Wow. Well, thank you, first of all. I’m really excited to have this conversation with you. Yeah, what a great topic to sort of sit with and critique, really. And I do think the “tipping point” and the idea of the “tipping point” has been a controversial idea. Particularly from trans media makers and artmakers who have preexisted Time’s declaration of, “here we are.” And I think I was one of those people. In fact, I don’t even know if I am an authority to have a particular, well-informed critique of it because I didn't even read that article. I was so uninterested in that because I had been around, as have many of my peers and other sort of artmakers in the world that I had known for long, long times. I mean, decades before that.

Certainly, they were talking pretty specifically about, I think television. I would assume given Laverne Cox’s rise to fame being on television. And yeah, there were certainly more trans actors becoming visible enough to have careers of their own, recurring character roles, things like that. But it was sort of presented in this way as if suddenly, there’s just this burst of, “Everybody’s there.” But that doesn’t happen overnight. And it’s certainly tied to a very long history of trans storytelling, meaning trans characterization that has been present in visual media for many, many, many years. Before that, of course, they weren’t cast with trans actors in them. It wasn’t a new concept in any way. And that goes way back.

Nicolas: A major theme of thesis really of this podcast is trans people are everywhere. We have always been here. We did not just appear in 2014.

Cole: Right. I think there was a shock. I think the idea of the “tipping point” being the shock of actually seeing the actor and the role aligning in this particular form of embodiment that people weren’t quite ready to recognize as a real phenomenon and a real thing that is incredibly common. That it had been exotified or exoticized and spectacularized. And it was a costume role that a cisgender actor could play and receive an Academy Award for, and that was it. When you start to see it as a real thing and not just a character in a story that is either a horror, a tragedy, or a comedy, right? There no just like sort of regular role, like “This is the person, and they’re not the love interest. And they’re not the hero.” There’s certain roles that they’re still not allowed to have, right?

Nicolas: Mm-hmm.

Cole: So, it’s been seen before, what do you do? What happens when that role changes? The only roles that the trans character was allowed to have, what if that gets shifted into a new type perhaps? And are they allowed to? And I don’t think at the time of that claim of the “tipping point” that had yet happened. The roles were so really regimented. There’s still spectacularized images. There’s still the trope, the kind of back stories for them, which we will expand on, I think when we think about tropes.

And Laverne Cox had not risen out of that at that moment. She was still playing roles that you would imagine are just the sort of stereotypes of the things that happen to her as a character and as a person, related to violence and other sort of related more tragic storylines perhaps. I think afterwards she started to get more diversified roles. But then, I don’t know. I haven’t really followed her career very closely, but there was certainly a lot of things missing in that moment. And I didn’t buy it. I was like, “I’m not going to read this. I don’t even know who said this. It doesn’t even make any sense.”

And it didn’t feel like there was an explosion of visibility. It felt like a really steady stream for a long time that has still not risen to a level that feels appropriate or in any way equitable compared to just everyone else. And I think we’re seeing that. I mean, very, very recently I think we’re starting to see that in number of other marginalized communities, who are starting to now become central characters in a variety of genres. I think there’s numerous series and films now that are looking at those absences and taking them seriously.

Things that have been dismissed in Hollywood for the century of Hollywood’s existence saying, “Oh, nobody’s going to go see that movie. And there’s only a certain audience who’s going to buy the tickets,” and blah, blah, blah, blah. And they said that about Black Panther, they said it about Wonder Woman. They said it about any number of things. And then the box office shows that there’s a wide audience, and there’s a demand to see other people in the heroic center roles and the romantic roles, and not to be on the outside or supporting, or the whatever terrible thing happens, happens, you know? Yeah. We’re the butt of the joke. Yeah.

Nicolas: It’s cool to hear your experience of actually knowing about the trans representation in film and theatre before the “tipping point.” Because I came out in 2015, so was experiencing this sudden visibility with the rest of the country. Because it was the first time that I was looking for it, that a lot of things just hadn’t come across my awareness until then, because I was actively like, “where are the people like me? Now that I’ve figured out who the people like me are and who I should be looking for, and what those words are.” And I think that was also a moment where trans-specific vocabulary was actually entering, like, mainstream consciousness. So, I think we’ve seen a change in just awareness that we exist as a population. I think a lot of the representation, like… we’re still seeing a lot of the same tropes, occasionally pushing back against it as more trans creators are getting into some positions of power.

Cole: Yeah. The nuance has not really found itself yet. And that’s simply something that...that’s a claim that Rhys Ernst had made. He’s a director and one of the producers I think in showrunners for Transparent. But I remember him being concerned about feeling boxed into those tropes and expected to tell, as a trans filmmaker, writing trans characters and directing these very specifically trans runways. That he was going from something more complicated, and the audience weren’t ready for it. And they didn’t like it, because he was challenging what is acceptable material and it’s unreadable, right?

Like the nuance is lost on cis audiences because they don’t know what else there is to say other than monster, tragedy, comedy. That’s it. So what happens if you have something more complicated going on in the storyline for that character just as it might happen for any other cis character? Audiences aren’t ready for it. And I don’t think we’ve really gotten there in sort of just having trans characters whose storyline has nothing essentially to do with transness other than that’s just their way of existing. Which is of course important.

Nicolas: And also, like a very specific type of transness. Like they’ve got to be binary for the most part. Mostly we’ve got trans women. Very rarely we’ll see a trans man. And like some of the tropes that we’re seeing like, to be even legible as a trans narrative, you either need to be revealed as trans—most of the time non-consensually. I think it’s never your plan to do that as the character. It’s got to be violently non-consensual. There’s so much focus on the medical aspects of transness.

Cole: Mm-hmm. And the interpersonal. It’s not really about the person’s identity. And so, everyone else’s struggle to understand and reconcile their feelings of loss and grief with the person that they thought they knew, and they’ve been lied to, and all of that garbage. Yeah. I mean as for the...Yeah, I do think there’s a legibility issue, because you know, trans men at large who are post-transition, medically transitioned, are hard to read. There’s a passing...Some people might refer to it as a privilege. It is certainly easier in some ways to pass, based on a number of physical factors, that trans women are a little bit less likely to be able to overcome things like height and voice and things like that. Those are sometimes harder to reverse.

Nicolas: Janet Mock calls it conditional privilege. Where it’s like, you can pass as a cis person, so maybe there won’t be as many interpersonal things going on. But also you have to hide a huge part of yourself.

Cole: Yeah. Or, I mean, even like myself, for instance, I’m very out. But that doesn’t mean someone’s going to recognize what that is, and it happens all the time. It’s just a part of it. And I can be out, and I can say so. But that doesn’t necessarily sink into somebody’s recognition if they don’t know what a trans man even is. And that’s a problem when we think about representation. And it is a problem that has to do with casting, and the storytelling, and the idea of the “tipping point.” I think they’re all related. It’s interesting that you came out post-trans like “tipping point,” right?

Because I was out well before that, but I came out also after a major moment in terms of visibility, made aware on large scale through a media format. Which, yeah, my sort of generation, so to speak, of the trans man who came out at a certain moment were heavily influenced by the recognition with one particular media object, which is Boys Don’t Cry. And that was like, I guess we could call it a “tipping point.” It was a massive change in cultural knowledge in a really big way. It really was very influential, and it was really in that moment. And I’m not the one to sort of explore that kind of...that moment has a historical era in terms of representation, in terms of mediation. Cael Keegan is someone who writes about this as well.

That there’s a sort of cultural…like transgender sort of marks itself as a community around the nineties. That’s where it sort of starts to shape itself with that word. As a group of people who can identify each other and come together, and conferences started to happen. And meetings started to really take shape in a much more self-aware and a community-seeking way. As opposed to sort of individuals floating around trying to access resources that are gatekept by the medical industry, which is still the case of course. But that was the only way into anything was to sort of go through finding your own medical means, and then just like disappearing into the cis world.

Around the nineties there starts to be a shift in like, “Okay, no, we’re a whole group of people. A lot of us are here. Let’s recognize us as a community. Who are we? What do we have?” Susan Stryker is sort of coming into prominence at this moment too, in terms of identifying the language around how to identify what this even is. And a different way of being that is related to, but not the same as the queer community, right? There’s a certain relationship, but also, it’s sort of distinctly its own group, right?

Nicolas: Mm-hmm.

Cole: And then we start to get media happening that either is trans, like Boys Don’t Cry, or we have other media that’s readably trans. And this is Cael Keegan’s work in media because he was writing about, and still writes about, the work of the Wachowskis. So the Wachowski sisters are making films at that time that are obviously queer and trans and sort of demonstrating trans desire and erotics without naming it as such. And then decades later they come out and transition. Well then you go back and think, “Of course, they’ve always been telling that story.”

It was there. So, it was there in the nineties. We have trans movies in the nineties. Some of them know that they are, like Boys Don’t Cry. And some of them like Boys Don’t Cry. And some of them are, and they don’t know it. Like Bound and even The Matrix and all those things, that’s Keegan’s work. But it’s already there, and I’m seeing that. And I immediately recognize Brandon Teena as the sort of icon of a life changing recognition moment. And it’s an unfortunate one on a number of levels because of course it is a tragic story, a real story of a real person.

And it’s awful. And to sort of recognize yourself in someone who only received violence, that’s an unfortunate thing to identify yourself next to. And then of course, as important as it was for the critical recognition the film received, Oscar-winning film. And Hillary Swank’s performance was received these accolades, and I think well deserved. Still a cis actor, you know? And there we have another trope, right? The thing about legibility. So, I recognized this, I was like, “Oh, that’s me.” Other people are like, “What’s that? Oh, trans masculinity is a thing? It must look like this.” Which is only then castable with cis women actors. And that’s always sort of been the case for trans women as well; it’s cis men, right? And that rarely changes.

Yeah. I think the only exception is probably Transamerica where we have a cis woman in the role of a trans woman. So you maintain the sort of integrity of womanhood throughout, rather than this, and then that. And I’ve always argued that trans men are men before they transition. And that the casting needs to reflect that. And so, if you cast a cis woman, it is absolutely the wrong choice in every way. And nobody has figured out how to do that.

Nicolas: but never get like post-medical transition stories—

Cole: Right.

Nicolas: —of where they’ve been living their lives as trans. We can have a coming out story. We can have a tragic ending. Or we have...” it’s funny because they don’t pass. And we all know—"

Joshua: Right. And then there’s high jinks about, “Oh, you couldn’t tell? It’s obvious,” and you know, whatever. The audience knows and the characters diegetically—or in the world of the play, or however you want to describe it—the characters don’t recognize it, but we all can tell a mile away that somebody’s having the wool thrown over their eyes or whatever. This is a man in a dress. You know, this is ancient, I mean literally, like Roman comedy—

Nicolas: Actually ancient.

Cole: Yeah. But yeah, there’s the issue of the storytelling trope is itself; the transition is the story. And then you therefore have to have a “before” and “after.” And then you have to...like it rationalizes casting someone whose body and voice isn’t passable, right? Or whatever, you know. Whatever the reason is that they choose to do that. Or you just throw the cis woman in like some...you know, cut their hair short and put on some fake mustache/beard. And they can’t do it. The voice isn’t there; the body isn’t there. And they don’t want to. So, it doesn’t work. I’ve seen many iterations of the failure of that.

You know, how obvious it is that this woman actor does not want to...doesn’t want to pass and will not do the performative step to just do it… just be a man. And I think Hillary Swank was the only time I’ve ever actually really seen an actor sit into what the character is. And that character is a man, and that there is dysphoria happening. And like, trying to understand it even though a cis person just is incapable of actually having an embodied understanding of what dysphoria feels like. There is no corollary, no matter what.

But I always felt that Hilary Swank at least made the attempt, and there’d been no precedent for it. And it got really close. Close enough for me to like feel it, you know? But it still failed and had to fail because Brandon Teena ultimately is the recipient of this violence because of the reveal. And that really happened. So, it’s the choice of that story, and that being the story. And it did really happen. And it is important to expose that these real stories do happen. It’s lost history otherwise. But that was the only thing. And it remains actually kind of the...really, the only feature-length that has, like that, the trans man as the main character, driving the whole story.

I don’t know if I can even think of any other examples of anything like that. And even in television, where that’s a main character. And I have a lot of examples where there’s a trans-masculine character who’s amongst an ensemble. Plenty of those, plenty of those in TV. But not so much in film, but certainly not one where it’s like, “This is their whole thing.” And I do agree. I think that there’s a “tipping point” that still has yet to be like trans men meet the trans women in terms of depiction, but I also think that there has been much more of a platform for non-binary characters on TV. Especially that, I feel like we kind of skipped over trans men, you know?

Nicolas: Yeah.

Cole: We got trans women, and then suddenly AFAB non-binary people are present. But where’s the trans men? There’s a few, but we can’t see them. It’s like, even if they identify within the dialogue, they’re otherwise invisible.

Nicolas: Yeah. I think in terms of non-binary folks, I think… yeah, we’ve got a platform for AFAB (assigned female at birth) doing a kind of like androgynous look. And they’re white and very thin and a very specific subset of non-binary people.

Cole: Yes. Yeah.

Nicolas: Which now is in the pop culture imagination of like, “This is the only way that non-binary looks.”

Cole: Right. Yeah, we haven’t really—

Nicolas: Creating new problems of its own.

Cole: Yeah. Yeah.

Nicolas: It’s definitely...I mean, to be clear, I am pro-this representation.

Cole: Yeah. I mean, it’s absolutely important, but it did sort of just...I felt like that just started to appear...as I felt, just a ton...suddenly there’s all these non-binary people, but I am still waiting. I’m waiting to see some trans guys who are get really like important central roles… that doesn’t have the tropes. If they’re in it at all, it’s still going to be the same tropes, which we can still identify beyond just transition. There’s all kinds of other elements that either the cis imaginary maintains a sort of limited understanding of what’s involved in trans life or it’s the limitations of producers who insist that audiences need it to be explained. And so, then you only have this much space to convey a story, and it has to includes these identifiers because otherwise the character’s unreadable, and it’s like, “But does it matter?” And I do think some of those things are harmful.

Nicolas: Mm-hmm.

Okay. So here we got into talking a bit about how this expectation that trans people explain themselves and make themselves legible to cisgender people bleeds over into everyday life. I talked a little bit about my decision when I started teaching at Ohio State to very explicitly make myself readable and legible to my students as a non-binary trans person. And we did talk a bit about how that is a specific choice that I made, that shouldn’t be an expectation put on transgender people.

The reason that I found it so important to be out and to be visible to my students, was partially connected to the time that I began teaching. It was the fall of 2017 following the election of Donald Trump to the White House. It was in this moment where politically there were a lot of attacks against the trans community specifically. So, it felt important to be at the front of the classroom and visible to young people, specifically, and young adults. But also, like there’s a power thing there. Like I am in charge of this room.

Cole: Yeah. And you get to make that decision. Like, do you want to? You don’t have to. I always disclose, but I also like explain in so doing that, that I’m am under no obligation to do so. But I am choosing to share that information. Particularly because what I do is directly informed and tied to transness, so it sort of presents its own sort of, I don’t know… I don’t want to say authenticity, but sort of...it’s important to identify that what I’m doing is not appropriative. That I am part of the community talking about my own experiences as a spectator, as a storyteller, and that should be stated. And I think that really should be stated by cis people as well who do attempt trans material. It’s like, “Okay. I am coming from this from the outside. Here’s what I can make of it. My failures should be acknowledged as much as my, hopefully inclusive, goals are,” you know? I appreciate it, too.

Nicolas: Yeah. As a teacher too, like I have been informed by many students that I’m the first trans person they’ve knowingly met, so I’m also in the position where I’m like, “I know that that’s important.”

Cole: Yeah. It is important. Yeah.

Nicolas: They can like actually spend 15 weeks with a trans person, and know like, “Oh, they’re like full complicated people.”

Cole: Yeah. And it’s nice to be also the role model for the students who are trans and non-binary. To see like, there’s an adult life that’s foreseeable in some kind of way, you know.

Nicolas: Also that’s like part of what I’m doing, because I did not have that.

Cole: Yeah. Like there was no—

Nicolas: I could not imagine a future for myself as I was.

Cole: Mm-hmm. Yeah. It’s hard to envision it. And that again, I think that ties back into this concept of the representation and its absences because there is no adult life that we can see that was shown to us.

Nicolas: No… like I think Brandon Teena’s the oldest of the trans man that I’ve seen, and he’s not old.

Cole: No, I mean, yeah—

Nicolas: He was maybe in his twenties.

Cole: Yeah. Yeah. Young twenties. I think there’s been a few...like what’s his name? Oh gosh. The comedian. Ian...Shoot, I can’t remember his name at the moment.

Nicolas: I looked it up after we were done recording. The comedian’s name is Ian Harvie. I’ll include a link to his work in the show notes. Throughout this project I’ll be including a bibliography of all of the artists and works that we reference for each episode in the show notes. As I tell my students, a bibliography is just a list of cool things and cool people that I want you to read.

Cole: He was on Transparent in a recurring role. And then he was on...he’s been on some other shows. He had his own comedy special. He’s been on Comedy Central, I think. So, he’s pretty important as like a visible Hollywood face, especially for trans men. And he’s a little bit older than me. So, I think he’s actually probably 50 now, and he was made visible in his 40s. So like, there have been people. But he’s so invisible that you don’t even know him when you see him as a trans man, right? And there’s a few more now that are starting to get good. But I mean, it’s like right now? And the only other people we’ve seen have been trans youth. And yeah, I mean, it’s really limited, really, really limited. Or they’re very young, either non-binary or non-passing folks who read as youth, but aren’t—

Nicolas: Mm-hmm.

Cole: —Right? Yeah. There’s really very few trans men in their adulthood and like middle age even, let alone elders that we see. Like we wouldn’t see grandpa-somebody who wasn’t always, you know? I do think that the generational stuff will eventually come. But I feel like that stuff has to happen before we get a real “tipping point” that we’re on the right side of. I don’t think that there hasn’t been...it hasn’t been expansive enough.

Nicolas: Like we have more people in the spotlight, but we don’t have like a multiplicity of narratives, or enough different kinds of people that we’re seeing.

Cole: We don’t have the narratives. We don’t have the multiplicity in the roles available. And when they are available, it’s that thing I was identifying earlier, that they are the singular isolated token. Very rarely are there multiple roles that either are related to each other or not? I mean, why is it not possible to have the trans character in the world of this show who has nothing to do with the other person, who’s also trans over there? I’m thinking of even—

Nicolas: Turns out we don’t all know each other.

Cole: Yeah. Right. I mean, like there can be just multiple different forms of that in a world because the world does have queerness and transness in it. I mean, even the greatest stuff that has been given the space, it’s still fairly limited in its options. I’m thinking of Sense8, a series that did get really...it had a popular reaction and again, produced by the Wachowskis. They have a trans actor in it, Jamie Clayton I think. And it is a great role.

Nicolas: It is.

Cole: And it was really good. And you give her a really healthy and happy relationship, a queer, like lesbian relationship. Multiracial, right? Like it’s super interesting interracial relationship, and it’s sexual. And it’s hot, and it’s not weird. And it’s not fetishy. I didn’t get that. I think most of the trans viewers are really appreciative of it. But it’s still like the only one amongst a bunch of different roles. And then you still get the tropes that are forced in there about...even if there’s a positive relationship with the partner, there’s a negative relationship with the family, right?

Nicolas: Yeah, and they deadname her, and are against her getting her gender confirmation surgery, and she’s having all of this conflict in the feminist communities that she’s a part of because she’s trans.

Cole: Yeah. Yeah. You know, and like, while that’s happening literally right now as well, and it’s there, it’s like, yeah, let’s depict it. But what would it be to just not show that stuff? Because when we see it, we relive it. Or it just sort of presents the hardships in certain ways, and I think those are tropes that can be either resisted or intervened upon more creatively perhaps. And I don’t know if that’s coming from producers. I don’t know… like where’s that enforcement from? Because I don’t think that that’s building complexity. There’s this idea of like, “Okay. Well, they can’t have a perfect life because that’s too easy and it’s not a complicated enough character. Where then is the conflict?” Well, their family misgenders and deadnames them, and they’re excluded from the space. It’s like, “Yeah, all right. Can it be something else that’s not related to transness? Maybe some other kind of interpersonal conflict that has something to do with personalities?” Anything else, anything else.

Nicolas: So, the last couple of questions I like to ask before I let you go is, again, one of the main theses of this series is trans people are everywhere, and we have always been here. Would you like to shout out someone who has been part of your queer/trans artistic family tree, who has inspired the work that you do, supported the work that you do, has helped you get to a place where you are now?

Cole: There are people who I would name who are like scholar practitioners, who are connected to trans community, but are not necessarily embedded within it, as like self-identified trans people. There’s J. Dellecave who is really a director and a choreographer who works in critical dance studies, who was very much like a supporter for me. Insisted on my potential was a performer and cast me in a show, a show that I actually was on stage alongside people like Azure Osborne-Lee (fellow Gender Euphoria guest). And we were in a show together, directed by J. Dellecave. And J. was very much—

Nicolas: It’s such a small world.

Cole: It’s so small, right? And looking at that little pocket of that, and that moment, all the people who were in that show, it’s kind of amazing that I was there, and I was in it. And I wouldn’t have been if J. hadn’t like selected me, and really pushed me to go for it. And also, J. supported my academic pursuits too. Helped me write my applications and things like that. Also Joy Brooke Fairfield who, again, another incredibly supportive director and performer and scholar who’s very much an advocate for trans playwrights and is sort of surrounded by them. Those start to come mind immediately. I feel like there’s a number of people. Again, I feel like I was just sort of...I think I was a witness. I think I was an audience member, a spectator. I was there at the same moment. I was at Catastrophes performances. I went to see Scott’s one man shows. I was there, you know? So I know them. And I feel like that was motivating in its own way.

Nicolas: I think it is a lot of the time.

Cole: Yeah. I don’t know. And then like thinking about like who...what’s my family tree? I feel like I’m the apple that fell off of the tree. Like I’m not actually connected, you know? Like, do they remember me? You know—

Nicolas: I feel like in mine a lot of the people who have influenced my work, I’ve never actually met them.

Cole: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well yeah. I mean, wow, let’s see then.

Nicolas: Because I’ve been working a lot with queer legacy and stuff like that, which the internet has also complicated. Where it’s not necessarily these reciprocal relationships, but like we find an artist via YouTube, via some online archive. I’ve read everything about the Wow Café and have never been there or worked with anyone who has worked there.

Cole: There’s been trans artists there.

Nicolas: There have been so many trans artists there, and they’ve had so much influence on my work and like artists like Peggy Shaw. I’ve never met her. She has no idea who I am.

Cole: Yeah, I’ve met Peggy.

Nicolas: ...like, “You have inspired so many things that I’ve written and performed and like we’re likely never going to meet.”

Cole: Well, you know, what’s interesting actually in your case, that you’re kind of like the distant relative to Peggy Shaw. Because you have the relationship now with Scott Schofield, and his mentor is Peggy Shaw, right?

Nicolas: Yes.

Cole: And it’s like, you are the descendant down the line. I think, to be honest, I think what’s so hard about the question is that I think in many ways, because of this idea of the trope and the trans narrative, and the limitations of that, and the problems and polemics of casting, right? That in many ways, the work that I have produced has been in resistance to that. And in such a way that I feel like my models and mentors are not themselves trans. All of the objects that I work with in my dissertation, about 99 percent of them are not trans material.

The work I do is about trans reading, like reading trans stories onto storylines and narratives that don’t even know that they are inherently trans. They’re doing narratives that we expect to see. They’re representing; they’re depicting. They’re illustrating experiences, and embodiments, and phenomena that are easily just described as trans, but the story doesn’t identify it as such. Because the storylines that do identify themselves as trans don’t meet my expectations as a trans viewer. They’re reductive and simplified for cis viewers. Or they’re told by cis storytellers, or they’re performed by cis actors. And then, therefore, are uninteresting to me.

Nicolas: Finally, could you leave us with an image of what gender euphoria looks like for you in performance or everyday life?

Cole: Wow.

Nicolas: Again, those questions with straightforward, easy answers.

Cole: I know, I know. I know. So, it’s euphoric for me when I see a character who, even if they have to face these embedded tropes, has found a way to usurp them, has found a way to take control, use them to their benefit, to feel empowered in their otherwise limited framework, to recenter themselves, and come out the other side. They do have to survive it for one thing, and that’s been an unfortunate case. We rarely have trans characters who are still alive at the end. And if they are, they’re not living in a more impoverished state than they started from. That in essence, they are in an improved state. Even if they’ve had to go through loss, overall, they’ve moved into a position of more freedom, and that freedom is tied to their agency.

And you can see it; you can feel it. You can feel the euphoria; you can feel the relief. And the sense of validation, and actualization, and alignment, and attunement rather than its opposite. I know that’s not a really concise answer, but rarely do we see happy trans people, I guess. I think maybe that’s too easy an answer, but I’d like to see a trans man laughing. That would even do it; that would do it. You know, what are they laughing at? You know, feeling happy in the body. Yeah. And there’s many ways to do it. I think we just haven’t found the ways that are nuanced enough. And they seem so mundane, and yet we don’t actually, we don’t even really get it.

Nicolas: Cole, thank you so much for sitting down and chatting with me today. Thank you all for listening. We’ll be back with episode two next week. Until then, this has been Gender Euphoria, the podcast.

Gender Euphoria, the podcast, is hosted and edited by me, Nicolas Shannon Savard. The voices you heard in the opening poem were Rebecca Kling, Dillon Yruegas, Siri Gurudev, Azure D Osborne-Lee, and Joshua Bastian Cole. Gender Euphoria, the podcast, is sponsored by HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide.


View additional show notes and bibliographies for each episode here.

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Thoughts from the curator

Hosted by Nicolas Savard, the Gender Euphoria podcast aims to amplify the voices of trans and gender nonconforming theater artists in the United States and creates an opportunity for trans artists to be in conversation with one another about their experiences working in a field that has a tendency to tokenize them. Each of these conversations will offer a space to share and explore the kinds of cultural work that trans/queer art is doing in the world from an intersectional perspective.

Gender Euphoria


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