My Gender is Hot Fire

The Birth of the Non-Binary Monologues Project

In their HowlRound piece titled “Don’t Call me Ma’am: On the Politics of Trans Casting”, playwright MJ Kaufman eloquently expresses: “The bodies we see onstage make our experiences visible. For invisible people, like trans and gender nonconforming people, it is necessary that we use ourselves to tell our stories.”

I was recently asked if a resource for non-binary monologues existed. When I realized one didn’t exist, I decided to build one.

Within the hour, The Non-Binary Monologues Project was born.

I started with a simple WordPress template and frenetically started blasting my social media with the call for submissions for monologues specifically for non-binary actors. Submissions swiftly started rolling in. The Associate Artistic Director of Village Theatre started to follow one of the Facebook threads and the Chair of the Theatre department at Cornish College of the Arts said he would share the link with all of his acting instructors.

I posted the call for submissions in The Official Playwrights of Facebook group and received invaluable feedback from Asher Wyndham, who helped me craft the guidelines so they more closely fit a playwright’s expectations of a call for submissions.

In the two weeks since the site has gone live, over 1,200 unique visitors have visited it. I have posted monologues from twenty-eight different plays with monologues from non-binary, gender fluid, genderqueer, asexual, trans masculine and trans feminine characters.

If our goal as actors in the audition room is to show a piece of our soul, to let the director see who we truly are, having access to these monologues is a crucial part of the equation for non-binary actors.

We need a resource like the Non-Binary Monologues Project, because acting is still an industry very enmeshed in the gender binary. When was the last time you were asked your pronouns on an audition form? Have you ever seen a non-binary or gender-neutral dressing room backstage? How many times has a director asked for the pronouns of all actors in the cast on the first day of rehearsal?

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Non-binary actors simply cannot do their best work in an audition room if the audition piece they select doesn’t align with their gender.

By creating a free, online non-binary monologue database, my hope is that non-binary actors can more easily access pieces that align with their gender. If our goal as actors in the audition room is to show a piece of our soul, to let the director see who we truly are, having access to these monologues is a crucial part of the equation for non-binary actors.

This need for non-binary representation in theatre extends far beyond the audition room. As a genderqueer, non-binary actor, I crave the opportunity to explore both male and non-binary roles onstage. This is a seismic shift from the twenty plus years I spent playing almost exclusively female roles. My gender has evolved, and the roles for which I want to audition have evolved as well.

And it shows. I recently had a colleague who commented that upon meeting me for the first time, he didn’t feel as though he had the vocabulary with which to accurately describe my gender. “I thought, that person’s gender is just—hot fire.”

Non-binary actor and director Eddie DeHais had this to say to the theatrical community at large earlier this week:

Please actively seek out trans and non-binary actors for roles that have nothing to do with their gender/transness. They are not being hired because they are being limited to roles that only center on their marginalization. If you are a producer, consider how you can produce plays with that goal in mind.

One such play is Deers, by Seattle-based playwright, Marcus Gorman. My new favorite monologue is from this very play and can be accessed here.

While writing the play, Gorman created character descriptions and stage directions that were as inclusive a possible—it is a piece with infinite permutations of gender and casting. To me, this is groundbreaking work and we need more of it.

Three actors in stage makeup
L-R: Maggie McMuffin, Jackie Miedema, Lauren Skelton in Deers. Photo by Dangerpants Photography.

Folx have asked me where this project is headed. They have indicated an interest in publishing a book of monologues, which I’m open to, provided I can find the proper partner in crime.

For me, the next steps are creating a “classical” category where the database can start amassing monologues from Shakespeare, Behn, Moliere, Chekhov, Ibsen, that, though imperfect, will help non-binary actors complete their audition package.

A long-term goal is to create not only a list of musical theatre repertoire that might be attractive for non-binary actors, but also to compile a list of composers who will transpose songs gratis so that they may hit more authentically in the vocal range of non-binary and trans-identified actors.

The Non-Binary Monologues project cost nothing but my time to create and signal boost into the wilds of social medial. The lesson here, dear reader, is that if you have an idea that can be of service to marginalized voices, do not wait for permission. Screw your courage to the sticking place, if you will, and go forth.

There is no need to pay for a domain name or a theatre with which to align your work. You and your ideas for diversity and inclusion may be exactly the change the current theatrical landscape needs. If you need help, I’m here for you. Contact me at nonbinarymonologues (at) gmail (dot) com, and I’ll gladly give you an hour of my time.

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Wow that is offensive. Why on earth do you think you know better than Woodzick what their colleague meant? They were there and you weren't. You have no idea what took place besides what Woodzick related in this article and assuming it was nonsense or or a form of sexual harassment says a lot more about you than about Woodzick, their colleague, or what what said in their exchange.

First off, Woodzick isn't female, they tell you in the article that they are genderqueer. Secondly, apparently you can't tell the difference between an audition piece and a role given in an actual production. There is no contradiction there.

Excited to see more coverage on this project! I'd definitely be interested in seeing this project expand into the world of "classical" pieces as well. It could be worth putting the word out to the dramaturgical community for a curated collection of public domain monologues that are either particularly well-suited for non-binary performers, or that have been adapted to contain updated language suitable for performers anywhere in the gender spectrum.

In browsing the monologues, they appear to all be about identity. Is this what non-binary theatre will look like?

You state that non-binary actors cannot perform well with binary work. You also outline that all facets of theatrical production should address gender identity, from rehearsal greetings to dressing rooms to monologues to audition forms to subject matter.

Do you not think this sounds terribly prescriptive and will require top down authority to achieve? In what way will this facilitate equality, much less creativity?

Hi, Theo. Thanks for reading the blog piece. Can you clarify how the monologues seem to be more about identity than cisgender monologues? I'm honestly not tracking that, but perhaps it's a matter of taste.

To your other point about my suggestions about including actions that have the intention of being more inclusive of gender diversity in theatre being "terribly prescriptive," I'll respond by saying that personally, as a director, my number one priority is making everyone feel safe in the room. If building in extra time to re-label restrooms and include pronouns in initial introductions helps one or more actors feel safe, in my opinion, that is not an impediment to creativity, but instead actions what will empower all in the room to do their best creative work.

I am really digging the respectful conversation in this thread, so with respect, I offer my gratitude to K. Woodzick for increasing access to monologues for performers who may be looking for something specific to their gender identify. If a non-binary performer feels perfectly comfortable doing a monologue from Neil Simon, then go for it, break a leg! But if others are searching for something more reflective of their identity(ies), isn't it great to have a website where they might find one that suits that purpose? There are all sorts of reasons to seek out all sorts of monologues, and anyone who's gone on a monologue search knows how grueling it is. I love that K.'s helping narrow down the search for anyone who needs or wants that specific focus on their two minutes of show-casing their talent and their instrument.

The monologues often deal directly with being non-binary. Some don't, but most address gender identity or pronouns, manner of dress, etc.

"Cis" monologues are about...everything and anything. Pluck a monologue out of any play and it is usually not about being a man or a woman. It could be, but they are usually about relationships, the character's past, their philosophy, their inner life, the conflict at hand, all without dwelling on gender identity.

I would like to see non-binary characters that aren't completely defined by their gender identity. These monologues and the prescriptive actions I referred to foreground gender identity. I think the goal of equality would be better served by creating work about non-binary characters that isn t simply about their gender.

I think we would all like to see more non-binary characters in all of the dramatic arts that aren’t solely defined by their gender identity. However, that doesn’t preclude the desire and need for works that ARE about gender identity primarily. You seem to be claiming that these monologues lack value because the works you envision are rare. That’s just false logic. And I didn’t see anywhere that Woodzick claimed these should be the sum and total of all non-binary theatre.

I also fail to see how the actions suggested to make the theatre production world more respectful and welcoming to non-binary genders are prescriptive in any way. Welcoming non-binary people into a community shouldn’t inherently make people with binary genders unwelcome. Furthermore, I can’t see how opening arms and opening minds to gender identities previously unknown or unwelcome could do anything but increase creativity and variety.

I did not say they had no value, I'm saying they are too similar. We are talking about what non-binary work would look like, and from here it all looks the same. I'm stating that we should have diverse work with these characters, and that is somehow not inclusive?

And yes, I find top down changed to every aspect of theatrical production less than welcoming to...anyone. It is entirely possible to welcome artists without calling attention to gender identity at every turn. There's nothing wrong about incorporating some of these changes and supporting work solely about identity, but what I'm seeing is theatres adopting all of them to the point of, well, sanitizing practices and content.

Edit: And I've been banned from Howlround and can only post via a VPN. Please tell me more about how our new tolerant, welcoming philosophy is in fact welcoming and tolerant. I'm an old school liberal, and what I'm watching unfold is something neoconservatives only dreamt of.

Since I am now banned, allow me to state that I refuse to treat people differently based on gender identity. I will not do it, nor will I go along with any system which forces me to do so. It's wrong. It's unreliable to judge people this way, it is antithetical to liberal, Enlightenment values, and it will not produce anything other than more censorship and tribalism.

Actually, I don't believe Woodzick is talking about "what non-binary work would look like" and instead saw a lack of representation and is trying to fill that hole. You are the one trying to say that this collection must somehow represent the entirety of what non-binary theatre should look like.

As far as your comments about top down changes to theatre production, you just sound uncomfortable with having to deal with gender "at every turn". But, change requires disruption and disruption is very uncomfortable with those used to the status quo. If you feel uncomfortable now, think of how uncomfortable non-binary people have felt until these changes? As a binary trans woman I see that the only way we actually make change happen with cisgender people is to CONSTANTLY bring gender up. When we don't they forget we exist and return to their oppressive ways. None of this is new as marginalized communities have learned this lesson over and over and over throughout history. If your creativity feels stifled by including gender awareness in theatre production then perhaps it's time to look inside yourself and examine why a change like that bothers you so.

I have to say I'm not surprised you've been banned. The one thing a tolerant culture can NEVER accept is intolerance. If intolerance is accepted then the culture will eventually cease to be tolerant. Your comments have shown not only intolerance but inflexibility. As far as being an "old school liberal" I suspect you are confusing political liberalism with open-mindedness and compassion to those different from you, something you haven't shown in these comments.

Hi! Just my input.

Current theater does not address gender identity at all, which is divisive and pushes actors who do not conform to pre-described gender "norms" to the margins and out of any main roles. Addressing gender identity can look like a lot of things. A lack of creativity within that is not due to addressing it, but is more due to a lack of diversity in existing writers, especially where gender is concerned. Furthermore, addressing it would allow greater creativity in b oth the writing of roles and the casting of them, as well as breaking down pre-existing notions of gender and helping to further eliminate discrimination and sexism in theater.

Totally just contributing my two cents, here, but, to this person's points: What isn't about identity? We all participate in institutionally gendered/binary (and racial, and economic, etc..., etc...) systems every day. We grow up in them. They're so woven into our daily tapestry that we barely notice them. We live in a society where we just "go" to the "Men's Room" or the "Women's Room" or the "boys aisle" or the "girls" and buy items that say "It's a girl!" or "It's a boy!" This is exactly what Simone de Beauvoir said would happen: the gendered language of Aristotle would become so routine that we wouldn't even notice it. To me, the nature of the non-binary identity is to recognize what is unrecognized. To see and indicate what is past the binary, and open up that space to all. This requires no enforcement, only learning. It is far better to imagine a society where one ponders, "Is the icon on the 'Men's Room' door *truly* representative of *me*?" as opposed to one where there's an officer posted at the door interrogating one about gender whenever they want to take a pee. As Judith Butler indicates, if we can break the binary, we can deconstruct the oppressive systems within it, and part of that also means removing from our consciousness the idea of "rules" where one is either a "rule follower" (which comes with reward!) or a "rule breaker" (which comes with punishment!). This commenter's response operates very much within that binary (with "enforcement" creating two groups of people, the followers and the dissidents). Non-binary identity ideology would actually serve this commenter, as it would allow them to imagine a world where the binary of "oppressor" and "oppressed" is taken apart, and there is just existence that remains, where people are allowed to take what I'll call the Judith Butler Pause before going to the bathroom (and are accommodated and not harassed for doing so) or not.

I’m certainly in favor of a collection of non-binary monologues, plays, scenes, as I think we are all better for broader options available beyond what’s been canonized in Euro and North American drama—primarily white cis-gendered, able-bodied, hetero, humans.

But this seems like a statement which generalizes in such a way as to reduce all non-binary actors to a monolith by implying that in order to play a role at their peak performance, they must match the non-binariness of the role they’re playing.

“Non-binary actors simply cannot do their best work in an audition room if the audition piece they select doesn’t align with their gender.”

We’ve seen binary and non-binary actors play a gender they don’t identify with marvelously—in plays like Signature Theater’s production of Naomi Wallace’s I AND SILENCE, or the “all-female” Tempest at St. Ann’s, New George’s production of Casey Lewellyn’s O Earth, The Foundry’s revival of Good Person of Szechuan, Soho Reps’ production by the Cesar Alvarez + the Lisps.

I believe you can make the argument for non-binary monologues and visibility without making a generalization that non-binary identifying folks will only do their best work with non-binary monologues. I wouldn’t want to limit each person from any range of how they identify and what circumstances bring their best work. Do I think we need more representation for non-binary/gender queer performers, yes yes! And for my part, I’m happy to submit work I’ve made that is either not tied to a binary, explores the binary, or is purposefully non-binary.

Thanks for your insights, Winter. My intention with this piece was not to imply that non-binary actors be tied to any one type of audition material, rather that they need a greater variety of material from which to choose so that they may more easily identify the pieces with which they want to audition, regardless of the gender of the character in the written material. I look forward to you submitting a monologue to the project.