fbpx Making Space for Thriving Queer Communities Through Applied Theatre | HowlRound Theatre Commons

Making Space for Thriving Queer Communities Through Applied Theatre

With Guest Dr. Jesse O’Rear

Nicolas Shannon Savard: Welcome to Gender Euphoria, the Podcast, a series produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide. I’m your host, Nicolas Shannon Savard. My pronouns are they, them, and theirs. I am thrilled to be returning to your podcast feed for the second season of this series.

Before I dive into the interview for this episode, I want to give a brief overview of what you can expect for this season, or from the series, generally, if you’re listening for the first time. Gender Euphoria, the Podcast is an interview-based series, which aims to amplify the voices of trans and gender nonconforming artists and explore the cultural work that trans-queer performance is doing in the United States. The first season, featured conversations with trans and non-binary artists, including Joshua Bastian Cole, Dillon Yruegas, Azure D. Osborne-Lee, Siri Gurudev, Jesse O’Rear, Maybe Burke, Rebecca Kling, D’Lo, and Scott Turner Scofield.

We talked about their work in and around the theatre and queer trans community. In that first season, I wanted to build a collection—an archive—of conversations about trans performance in dialogue with the artists creating that work. In the second season, I want to pick up and weave together a couple of the major threads that came out of those conversations and bring in more artists whose work is in dialogue with those themes.

The idea I pitched to HowlRound back in October was a two-part series. The first half focused on the theme “making space, claiming space,” exploring the intersections of community-building and social justice–oriented activism, in and through performance by collectives, led by and centering trans and queer of color artists. Then the second half of the season would focus on “queer intimacies.” Artists would talk about how their work explores relationships between characters, actors, audiences, bodies from an intersectional queer-trans perspective, interrupting that cultural narrative of the lone trans character in any given story.

Then I started recording the interviews and I found the content of our conversations wasn’t so easy to divide into those two clear categories. My initial questions, exploring queer-trans intimacies and multiplicity in trans narratives, couldn’t really be considered without taking into account the much broader social and political context we’re living in.

By the American Civil Liberties Unions count as of this recording in May, the 2023 legislative session has seen forty-five states introduce a total of 490 bills restricting trans and gender-nonconforming and queer people’s access to healthcare, to education, and more generally to public space. An all-time high of seventy-three of those bills have been signed into law. As trans and queer artists, we don’t have the luxury to separate the personal from the political or the relational in our cultural organizing and political activism.

Part of what I admire about the artists I’ve talked to is the way that they’re able to hold both the personal and political together, illuminating the connections, the tensions, and the messiness of creating art and community in the face of hostility. So the conversations you’ll hear this season with playwrights, applied theatre practitioners, advocates, activists, organizers, educators, intimacy directors will explore both of the original themes and where they overlap. We’ll explore questions like, “What does claiming space as a transgender nonconforming artist look like when your very existence is an ongoing legal and cultural debate? What kind of support does it take to continually show up?”

“How are transgender nonconforming queer artists making space for one another in a theatre industry that is often hostile to us? How might that translate beyond the fourth wall?”

“How can and how do these spaces we create for and with each other function as sites of solidarity across multiple marginalized groups?

“What can intimacy directing practices teach us about building more queer and trans-affirming rehearsal rooms? And what are queer and trans artists bringing to the emerging field of intimacy direction?”

“What role does vulnerability play for visibly queer and trans artists in developing onstage intimacy in its many forms?” And, “How do racialization, exoticization, and traditions informed by white supremacy and patriarchy complicate that process?”

“How are we establishing intimate connections with live audiences? How does that level of intimacy between performer and audience change across different spaces, whether they be architectural, community, geographical, political? What kind of transformation might that relationship building invite?”

For the first episode of the season, I’d like to return to a conversation I had with Jesse O’Rear. We recorded the interview back in January of 2022. Half of that conversation aired in season one, episode seven, titled “Trans Theatre and the Autobiographical Assumption.” To briefly reintroduce him, Dr. Jesse O’Rear is an artist, scholar, applied theatre practitioner, and educator currently living and working in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He holds a PhD in theatre from the University of Texas at Austin. His scholarly research focuses on live performance work using autobiographical material by transgender artists.

In this part of the interview, we talk about Jesse’s work in applied theatre with LGBTQ students on college campuses. One of the ideas that’s really stuck with me and has pushed me to keep thinking about the moments where the structural and the intimately interpersonal collide is his articulation of a practice he calls “kinesthetic allyship.” Around that idea, we unpack some of the tensions between the drive to develop performance-based bystander intervention and DEI trainings rooted in lived experience, and asking students who are already marginalized on campuses to reenact moments where they have experienced discrimination often for, or even with, the same community perpetuating that harm.

Jesse describes some alternative models of facilitated embodied learning, which make space for LGBTQ students to step into positions of leadership rather than re-victimization and for audience participants to actively practice embodied modes of allyship. Without any further ado, here is my conversation with Jesse O’Rear.

Rebecca Kling: Gender euphoria is:

Dillon Yruegas: Bliss.

Siri Gurudev: Freedom to experience masculinity, femininity, and everything in between.

Azure D. Osborne-Lee: Getting to show up—

Siri: without any other thought but my own pleasure—

Azure: as my full self.

Rebecca: Gender euphoria is opening the door to your body and being home.

Dillon: Unabashed bliss.

Joshua Bastian Cole: You can feel it. You can feel the relief.

Azure: Feel safe.

Joshua: And the sense of validation—

Azure: celebrated—

Joshua: or actualization.

Azure: Or sometimes it means—

Rebecca: being confident in who you are.

Azure: But also to see yourself reflected back.

Rebecca: Or maybe not, but being excited to find out.

“Ally” is a verb. It is an action. You have to actually enact allyship, and you don’t just get to slap that label on yourself and then just be happy because you understand something.

Nicolas: In my own experience, I’ve found kind of compared to mainstream commercial stages, at least, there seem to be a lot more trans and gender-nonconforming folks gravitating toward applied theatre, theatre for social change, social justice performance, that kind of arena of the performance world. That’s been true for myself. That was not what got me into the theatre, but what kept me there. So I’m wondering, could you talk a little bit about how you came into the applied theatre realm?

Jesse O’Rear: First of all, I’m so happy to be here. I just have to say that I’m very excited to be talking with you today.

Nicolas: Happy to have you here!

Jesse: So my work in this area started really seriously when I was in graduate school. I was in the Performance as Public Practice program at UT Austin in the Department of Theatre and Dance. I did my master’s and my PhD through that program. And they have a sister program called Drama for Youth and Communities. And so there were incredible instructors and professors in that department, that program, who were doing some really wonderful work at the university with workshops and facilitations around bystander intervention training for domestic violence and for campus climate issues.

And so through that program, through Dr. Megan Alrutz, I met Dr. K. A. Hogan, who was the education coordinator at the UT Austin Gender and Sexuality Center. And Dr. Hogan was working on a program called Peers for Pride, which is a peer-facilitation and education program that is a two-semester course where in the first semester the students study queer theory and social justice techniques through both drama-based learning and also a social work lens. And then in the second semester the students develop an interactive workshop around issues of LGBTQ discrimination and oppression specifically on college campuses.

And so I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Hogan as a teaching assistant for a year on that program. It was such an incredibly influential and exciting sort of mind-expanding experience to see the ways in which the practices of creating performance, creating characters, diving into hypothetical fictional situations was able to get students to deeply understand different scenarios.

And the really cool thing about Peers for Pride is since it’s not housed in the Department of Theatre and Dance, the student population that engages with it encompasses so many different departments of the university. So it was a highly interdisciplinary group of students. So by the end of it, the students that we had getting up on stage or in front of classrooms and performing improvised scenes of conflict, dialogue, and resolution, those students came from social work; they came from the School of Education. None of them were theatre majors, and none of them really had an expansive experience with performance, but they were up there doing some of the most incredible convincing and life-changing performance work that I’ve ever seen.

So the model that Peers for Pride uses, that I’m now using in my work at Texas A&M is Michael Rohd’s Theatre for Community Conflict and Dialogue.

The idea behind that being that you don’t present audiences with situations that have a clear-cut, Yes, no, this is the right thing, this is the wrong thing. You present audiences with multifaceted, highly complex, realistic situations of conflict, and then you ask them to participate as performers alongside your facilitators to generate ideas for how to move the dialogue forward. So we’re not coming into a situation and saving the day and fixing the problem. We’re not coming in turning bad people into good people.

We’re coming in understanding that everybody is a human who is going to make choices. When you are in a situation of conflict, that’s what you have is you just have choices. So asking audience members who have varying degrees of background and history, both in performance, but also in understanding the LGBTQ+ experience, asking them to come up and be vulnerable with you and say, “Step into this moment with us and see what it feels like to be in this moment and see what it feels like to try to move through this moment.”

I really appreciate that model of acknowledging just the multitudes that exist in human experience. And I think that that’s at the core what performance is: it’s a demonstration of the human experience. And so then also for LGBTQ students to lead that facilitation process also feels so much to me like a chance for them to step into a position of power in situations where previously they were not feeling empowered.

They may have been in that situation as the receiver of some kind of discrimination or oppression. And so making them a facilitator, asking them to guide others through that experience, is, I think, very reclamatory and healing in a certain way.

Nicolas: First of all, I want to take this class.

Jesse: It’s a really wonderful class.

Nicolas: That sounds so great. Yeah, that program sounds a lot like something that I worked on my first year at Ohio State with Elizabeth Wellman. We had a program called InterAct, which sounds like it worked on a fairly similar kind of model, creating these fictional scenarios and having that moment of interaction and facilitation.

It was adapted from, but definitely not still— kind of within the same realm as Boal’s Forum Theatre. But yeah, really this idea of engaging both the performers and the audience in dialogue about these very human issues and unpacking: Where are these people coming from? Why is this happening? And I think that provides a really great kind of counter to a lot of the sort of diversity training, lecture-based things that I’ve experienced as an educator, as someone who is now in a position of power, at least within the classroom, where it’s like, “Here’s what to do,” or, “Here’s a paragraph of a scenario,” but you don’t get to see the people behind it.

There’s always a very clear bad guy, a clear sense of: What do I do? But I think one of the places that performance ends up being really useful is we can really work through what are all of the different dynamics going on here. And then queer folks get to speak back afterwards and don’t have to just sit there and be like, Oh, this poor trans student getting misgendered all the time.

Jesse: Right, exactly. I’m so glad that you brought up the juxtaposition with sort of the generic DEI trainings of: “Here’s what not to say, here is what not to do.” And so much of that is so passive, it’s so inactive. It’s also, so… I’m not quite sure what the word I’m looking for is… It’s a list of warnings rather than an exploration of, again, choices and decisions.

Nicolas: “Here’s the words to use.”

Jesse: Right. “Say this, don’t say that,” and that’s it. But these opportunities to actually put things into the body is something that I’ve mulled over as I reflect on my work with Peers for Pride, and I’m still kind of formulating some of this language, but this sense of kinesthetic allyship, how you actually physically use your body. And I don’t mean in a violence context. But how you use your body to put into practice allyship, right?

Because this is the constant conversation that we have about marginalized groups is that “ally” is a verb. It is an action. You have to actually enact allyship, and you don’t just get to slap that label on yourself and then just be happy because you understand something.

And so performance uniquely gives us that opportunity to say, “Hey, see what’s going on in this situation, what do we think are some ways that we could respond to what we’re hearing or make a different choice? Okay, come up and do that. Actually put that into your body and know what that feels like. And understand that, yes, this is technically a hypothetical because it’s not actually happening, but one day you may actually witness this happening, and until you actually put that into your body and do it, you’re going to feel that fight-or-flight response. So practice it right now with your body. Get up, stand up, stand next to this person that is being spoken to disrespectfully.” And then also how that centers the actual physical presence of if somebody is going through something difficult, just literally being next to them and them knowing that you are a comforting presence, just phenomenologically.

Nicolas: Quite literally standing in solidarity.

Jesse: It’s so strong. And the students get to experience that with each other too. When you do this kind of work, you have to spend the first quarter of the time just getting the students to trust each other, just developing a sense of, “I know you’ve got my back. I’ve got your back. We’re a team. If I forget what comes next, I know you’ll step in to help me. I know that if I make a different choice, you’ll follow me.”

And that is another way of solidifying and highlighting and reminding them that presence of being together actually on stage is its own form of, I think, this sense of kinesthetic allyship. Just knowing that you can look across the stage and see your scene partner or see your facilitation partner and go, Okay, I know you’re up here with me.

And then dismantling that fourth wall between you and the audience I think also levels that sense of power. They’re no longer in that voyeuristic space so much anymore. They’re going to come up and also come stand next to you. And that helps the students, particularly the students that aren’t as familiar or comfortable performing. They feel less like they’re being just watched and more like they’re just participating with the other people in the room.

Nicolas: I love this phrase, kinesthetic allyship. I dig it.

Jesse: Thank you.

Nicolas: I like it.

Jesse: Thank you.

Nicolas: I think—to tie back to what we were talking about—I think part of my frustration with those other models of diversity training aimed at building allyship kind of live entirely in the theoretical a lot of the time and get divorced from the body. And what you’re describing seems like just a really lovely way of just acknowledging bodies and space and the much more active connection to the community that is literally right in front of you, and not just in the abstract, “Should I encounter X kind of person, here is what I should say.” It’s a literal practicing of, again, standing in solidarity with other people.

Jesse: And to bring it to, specifically—because the Peers for Pride model and the work that I do in terms of in the classroom is not centered solely on trans identity, but LGBTQ identities more broadly—but to think specifically about transness, this sense of kinesthetic allyship, I think is really key because I think so many of the ways in which cis people need to enact allyship for trans people is about literally having a body next to you.

Somebody to go to the bathroom with you in a public space if you’re not sure that it’s safe, somebody to be with you as you go through TSA at the airport or something, right? So much of that is about the literal physical presence of somebody there and about the physical presence of your body in spaces and not knowing sometimes if those spaces are going to see your physical body in that space as threatening. And so to theorize, to make allyship of trans people or the experiences of trans people solely theoretical is… And we could do it, we could go on a whole other tangent about Cartesian dualism and how it’s— Can I swear on this?

Nicolas: Yes, you can. You know what? Trans people have intense experiences, and sometimes we need to use intense language.

Jesse: Well, I could say this another way, but Cartesian dualism is bullshit. So I think that that sort of reinforces, again, that false binary of what is or isn’t physical. Our experiences are always of the mind and of the body. That’s why I love working with theatre as a trans person, with trans people.

Our experiences are always of the mind and of the body. That’s why I love working with theatre as a trans person, with trans people.

Nicolas: I took us down a little bit of a rabbit hole for a few minutes, so I am going to drop you back into our conversation where Jesse tells us a bit about how that work with Peers for Pride at UT Austin has translated to his work in his new position at Texas A&M.

Jesse: I was hired at Texas A&M through a faculty pipeline program that is administered by the Office of Diversity that’s called the Accountability Climate Equity and Scholarship Fellowship. It is a two-year faculty pipeline program that aims to increase recruitment and retention of faculty from historically marginalized groups. Getting into that program, I was asked to propose a project that I would complete over the two years.

And so I proposed bringing an applied theatre drama-based facilitation program for LGBTQ students or reflecting the experiences of LGBTQ students at Texas A&M. In the fall, this past fall, I taught the first section of a course called Performing Communities, which is a brand new course at A&M, and it is a core requirement course for a newly introduced certificate in social activism, which is a very exciting thing to exist.

So Performing Communities is a course that is designed to be sort of performance practices with a focus in some different form of community-based theatre learning based on who’s teaching the course. So mine was asking the question and using community-based practices to explore the question of “What do thriving queer communities look like at Texas A&M?” And that’s a question that Dr. Hogan and I developed.

After the first year that I worked on Peers for Pride with them, we retooled the curriculum a little bit and we shifted it from a broad overarching addressing oppression to this very specific: we are going to attempt to answer or explore this question. So for Peers for Pride, obviously it was thriving communities at UT Austin. So I took some of that language and adapted it to this course. I think it’s so difficult to talk about any of this stuff without addressing being in the moment that we’re in right now, which is so wild.

But the course set out to ask this question, “What do thriving queer communities look like at Texas A&M?” And the students got the opportunity, and I think there’s so many ways in which being mostly in-person with some hybrid elements— We were able to actually speak to, I don’t want to say maybe a wider variety of people than we normally would have, but people were able to just Zoom in and speak with us, which was really exciting and a lot easier for a lot of people’s schedules.

So I had a small but very mighty group of five students in this course, mostly all performance studies majors, some performance studies minors. We didn’t have the luxury of a two-semester chance to get to know each other. Everything was sort of jam-packed and fast tracked. But we spent the first couple of weeks building that trust.

So I love to lean on storytelling. I love the ways that storytelling just really brings us closer together as people, as colleagues, as friends. And so I use an adaptation of an exercise that was introduced to me by artist and musician D’Lo.

Nicolas: Who you heard from earlier on this podcast!

Jesse: Yeah! So D’Lo led an exercise in a writing workshop with an organization in Austin called Allgo, which is a queer people of color organization. I was very lucky to be part of that workshop. And in that workshop D’Lo led an exercise where participants told a story about a personal experience that they had had in their past to a partner.

And then as you listened to your partner’s story, you were instructed to watch very carefully and listen very carefully to their body language, their tone, intonation, the words that they used to describe the experience. And then we swapped partners and had to then perform the story that we had just heard with as much truth and authenticity to how it had been presented to us.

And it was one of the most impactful experiences that I have ever had as an artist, as a facilitator, as a participant in a facilitation, the way that listening to someone’s story and then having to essentially perform it and retell it, but put that into your body and into your vocabulary—and I have a tricky relationship to the word “authentic”—but really the most authentic to what you just experienced was just incredible.

And so I’ve very gratefully been using a version of that in some of my courses. So for this past semester, students shared personal stories that they recorded themselves telling, and then I asked a partner to take that recording of that story and create a short work of digital storytelling. And I really have Dr. Megan Alrutz to thank for introducing me to digital storytelling. And the Center for Digital Storytelling out of California has just done a really incredible job of having a lot of resources on their website.

So students had to listen to another person’s recorded story and then put that into a video using imagery and pacing and music to represent that story in a visual way. My intention behind that was to develop this sense of trust between them as they moved forward in their work. So we did that. We were very, very lucky that at the same time that the course was happening, the Cushing Archives and Memorial Library at A&M was also simultaneously mounting an exhibition called Coming Out Together to Share Our History.

And it was a collection of donated resources from the Don Kelly Collection, which is one of the largest single-donor collections of material and archives in the entire nation. And it makes A&M actually hold, I think the largest, if not the second or third largest, collection of materials related to LGBTQ history, which is just an incredible privilege to have access to that work.

And so there was an exhibition at the archives of the Don Kelly Collection, and then also from other personal collectors around the Bryant-College Station area and Houston. So there were a number of materials from the personal archives of folks who were close to Monica Roberts, a lot of documents related to the life of Phyllis Frye, the first transgender judge who was a graduate of A&M.

So the students got the opportunity to work in the archive, visit the exhibition. Dr. Francesca Marini and Rebecca Hankins, who were the curators of the exhibit, were so gracious with their time to take us through the exhibit, answer questions. And so I had students work with some of that material. I am a huge fan of archival research. I think that, again, going back to this sense of the kinesthetic, I think being in the room with documents that have made it through time that were physically present at some of the most historically exciting and also historically mundane moments in people’s lives is just so transformative.

How much more accessible I wish these things were to the general public. And so getting the chance for my students to have that experience of being in the room with these objects was very important to me. A) Because it gave them more of a context to what they were working on. So we’re talking about A&M’s campus and the experience of LGBTQ students, staff, faculty, affiliates, etc.

But this context of these communities extend more broadly beyond this immediate microcosmic sphere that we’re in right now. And in doing that work, my students became absolutely enraptured by the story of Phyllis Frye. And it’s a testament to one of the things that I love so much about applied theatre and devised theatre is the way that you follow—this is a phrase I am absolutely lifting from Dr. Megan Alrutz—is you “follow the heat.” You follow the thing that comes up, that you go, I can’t stop thinking about that. I feel that right here in my chest, and when I think about it or when I read about it, I can feel it in my body. And you follow that as your North Star.

So the students were so moved by Judge Frye’s story that every time she came up—and of course she came up frequently because she was an A&M graduate and she’s still an active member of the community, though, that’s not without a history of being rejected by the university, by the core of cadets, which she was a member of when she was here. But when she transitioned, the university’s relationship to her changed. Therefore, her relationship to the university changed.

So I was so grateful that they had the opportunity to do that. They spoke with some staff and faculty about their experiences and what they reflected about the experiences of LGBTQ students on campus.

By the end of the semester, the students had engaged in a couple of different projects using different forms of hybrid and virtual performance methods. And what they came to at the end of it all was this sense of: There is such a rich history, rich and complicated history, of LGBTQ life on this campus, the story of Judge Frye, and then the story of the legal battle for the university to recognize the gay student services group back in the seventies, which was the first legal ruling stating that LGBTQ students were legally able to gather as a group and be supported, both not just ideologically but financially by the university that happened at A&M.

And those students fought for nine years for that to happen. And that really set the trajectory for other universities to begin to recognize that their trans students deserved a place to find each other.

Being in the room with documents that have made it through time that were physically present at some of the most historically exciting and also historically mundane moments in people’s lives is just so transformative.

Nicolas: In the seventies! That’s really significant because, I mean, Stonewall was ’69 when it was still really common for police to raid queer bars and essentially make it illegal to gather in public as LGBT people. So I think, one: the history is going back a long way. This is almost fifty years ago at this point that we’re looking at, and also: that is really close to other landmark moments. And what a shift!

Jesse: And so that was, the GSS organization was denied their recognition in ’76, and then it wasn’t until ’84 that the US Court of Appeals overturned that decision. And so that’s also right, what a significant year for that to have happened. I mean, really what a time and for that to have been something that happened at one of the largest public institutions in the nation, let alone in Texas, is so significant.

And what struck my students about that was— So A&M’s history now has not only this enormous landmark court case, but also the nation’s first transgender judge, and none of them knew about it. Some of them were seniors who had been there for four years. Some of them had family who had gone to A&M who they considered themselves to come from Aggie families, and they had no idea that any of this history existed.

And they were baffled by that. And so it led us to having these really rich conversations about visibility, about history, about what is hidden versus what is ignored versus what is forgotten and why those things might happen, and what it means to realize that there is a history that is potentially being hidden, certainly being ignored, generated an intention, I think, in my students to not forget.

So they ended up creating a fifteen-minute video documenting, essentially, these pieces of history that they learned about and then reflecting on what it feels like, what they heard that it feels like, from our community members to be a part of the campus LGBTQ community. And they made these wonderful connections between how the history, the foundation of that history, sort of leads to what the current environment feels like. And something that one of our community members said to them in a conversation was—we asked everyone that central question that we were working with, “What do thriving queer communities look like at A&M?”— and one of our community members, which was then reflected by some other community members, was an answer that we didn’t expect, which was that he felt that there wasn’t a thriving queer community on campus. And that wasn’t a reflection of anybody who would identify themselves as a member of the community. It was about the environment in which the community is attempting to thrive.

The word that he would’ve used instead to describe the community was “resilient.” And what a complicated relationship marginalized folks have with that notion of resilience and what it means to be resilient, and that it’s so often used as a compliment or a phrase of victory. And how that also means that if you’re needing to be resilient, that there is something working against you. And so we just got the opportunity to explore so many different facets of this one singular question and this history of this one particular place through these performative creative practices. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

Nicolas: Let’s see. I saw that you talked to Shakina Nayfack for your dissertation. I also got to talk with her about her One Woman Show. And we also talked a bit about this idea of autobiography, and to use your term, “the autobiographical assumption.” And she said— Something that really stuck with me was that when she was specifically performing for an audience of large majority cis people within the Broadway community, she felt so much pressure to just really kind of exploit her own story and her own trauma.

And I think she’s not alone in that kind of pressure in telling your own story and in the kind of trans narratives that are kind of, I guess, legible culturally. I think that’s something that I’ve run into in my own work is walking that line of, How vulnerable do I be? Yes, this is part of my story, but do I want to repeat it? Or if I’m going to repeat it, do I do it in the way that you’re expecting me to? And how do I kind of do it in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m performing my trauma for these kinds of voyeuristic cis onlookers? I was wondering if you’d come across that additional tension.

Jesse: I always do, and I find that—

Nicolas: Especially in applied theatre, I feel like that comes up a lot.

Jesse: Right, right. Oh, that’s what I was also thinking about too, as you were talking, was that was sort of the motivating factor that was behind Dr. Hogan and I shifting the Peers for Pride format to this thriving community focus was to very specifically use this language, right, of thriving. Because thriving is about growing, flourishing, being sustained, being fed, being resourced. And thriving is not something that is done in a vacuum without conflict, without trauma, but it is also something that implies that through those experiences or because of them or in spite of them, you continue to grow and you continue to exist and exist beyond just survival, but with a sustainability attached to it.

And so that was why we worked with that language specifically to avoid falling into that space of exploiting trauma, of asking people to tell us, our students to tell us, What horrible things have happened to you and what do you wish had gone differently? And then let’s tell people how to help you next time.

Nicolas: Let’s do it for an audience of a hundred people!

Jesse: Right. At your university where you are already entirely disempowered.

Nicolas: Your classmates and probably professors.

Jesse: Right, exactly. Exactly.

Nicolas: Possibly the professor who said this to you.

Jesse: Exactly. Exactly. And so how do we do that? But also how do we make sure that we’re also not sugarcoating and asking you to smile and say that everything is great? How do we acknowledge the different facets, the experience of being queer or being trans in these contexts? And I think it’s complicated. I think it’s complicated, and I think I personally have more of a tendency—not to sugarcoat—but I do have more of a tendency to be like, “I just want joy. I just want trans joy!”

I have had creative collaborators and colleagues very gently remind me, right, to not compartmentalize in that way, and I appreciate those reminders. I think that that’s why I tend to really lean on this terminology of thriving in an attempt to hold that balance in a way that feels healthy.

Nicolas: That seems like a lovely note to end this section of our conversation on. And finally, could you leave us with an image of what gender euphoria looks like for you in performance or in everyday life?

Jesse: I am one of those people—and I have to also credit Dr. Cáel Keegan with this sense of reclaiming the “bad transgender object”— So I think gender euphoria to me would look like getting to play just a mean, horrible, but like delicious villain, really juicy, and not worry about how it’s going to reflect on your audience’s understanding of your gender for whom you clearly speak, as a singular person.

Nicolas: How it’ll reflect on all trans people.

Jesse: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Nicolas: Thank you so much for chatting with me.

Jesse: Thank you. I’m so glad that you’re doing this series.

Nicolas: Me too. This has been Gender Euphoria, the Podcast. Hosted and edited by me, Nicolas Shannon Savard. The voices you heard in the intro poem were Rebecca Kling, Dillon Yruegas, Siri Gurudev, Azure D. Osborne-Lee, and Joshua Bastian Cole. The show art was designed by Yaşam Gülseven.

This podcast is produced as a contribution to HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of this series and other HowlRound podcasts in our feed on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to search “HowlRound Theatre Commons podcasts” and subscribe to receive new episodes.

If you loved this podcast, post a rating and write a review on those platforms. This helps other people find us. You can also find a transcript for this episode along with a lot of other progressive and disruptive content on howlround.com.

Have an idea for an exciting podcast, essay or TV event that the theatre community needs to hear? Visit howlround.com and submit your ideas to the commons.

Bookmark this page

Log in to add a bookmark
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


Add Comment

The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here

Newest First