Parity and Representation of Queer Characters in the Entertainment Industry

Anyone who’s watched TV, movies and/or plays/musicals and paid attention knows there’s an issue with parity in entertainment, especially when looking at how many LGBTQ and female characters exist in leading roles. That’s not really the worst part of the situation though; what’s more troubling than the lack of leading roles is how these two groups are portrayed. Often women are portrayed as submissive and, if they ARE a strong lead, most often they are portrayed in a way that makes them seem…well…like total bitches (though it is definitely improving lately).

It’s worse for those in the LGBTQ group. Too often we are viewed as stereotypes–men dressed in “womens” clothes, flamboyant gay men–and as comic relief, as comedic tropes. Rare glimpses are still the normal, however. As things are improving for representation and diversity in Hollywood, too often the standard tropes and stereotypes continue to be used, because they are easy to use.

Admittedly, queer people like me are–FINALLY!–starting to be recognized. Transgender actors are hitting the mainstream. Pose, Transparent. These are the shows we need in order to boost our profiles. Some TV shows and movies have had prominent Trans/GNC (T/GNC) characters, Orange is the New Black is one such show. The Conners has a gender nonconforming character too. The character, a young boy, wears a dress and likes boys. In this case, the gender nonconforming character is a child, and my guess is that the writers will have them “grow out of that phase” rather than embracing the beauty of being ones self. This is the predicament we face in the LGBTQ community when it comes to parity, to adequate and proper representation on TV, in movies and on stage.

Then there are those working on increasing queer visibility. Pooya Mohseni is fundraising for her Transit: A New York City Fairy Tale. Gabriel Furman and and his crew are shopping around a gem of a show about a GNC child; it’s titled Wonder. Neil Patrick Harris did Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

All this is an uphill battle. As you might have gathered, there is a profound lack of Trans/GNC characters on Broadway. While shows like Southern Comfort, Red Emma and the Mad Monk, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and a few others all have a focused main character who’s T/GNC, these aren’t Broadway. They are off-off- and off-Broadway. Granted, Hedwig made it to Broadway briefly…but it took 16 years to do that. It opened on off-Broadway in 1998, and was revolutionary. It didn’t parody the T/GNC community; it showed them (us) as persons dealing with unique issues. It was revived in 2014 on Broadway. During its run, it won and was nominated for several awards…yet, it was the last high profile play or musical featuring a T/GNC character.

But the times do seem to be changing. There is an increase in movement towards and desire to bring more T/GNC voices and characters to the stage and film.

So that’s good.

But we need more. Thankfully there are advocates like Pooya, Parity Productions, Shakina Nayfack and a growing cast of other diversity advocates in show business who are pushing for equity and parity within the entertainment industry.

I hope we will soon see an exponential increase in work that tells our stories.

If you’re a manager, producer, agent or director interested in reading my work with primary LGBTQ, specifically T/GNC, characters, drop me an email at mygerlparts@gmail.com. We’ll talk. 🙂

COMING SOON: “A Monologue in 7 Parts” (TRIGGER WARNING)

My “A Monologue in 7 Parts” is coming soon.

I’ve existed in the “in-between” my entire life. This monologue discussed that in-between and the push and pull that placed me in one point on the gender binary when I wasn’t even close to either end.

This monologue is intended to be a stage performance.

WARNING: The monologue contains several topics which could trigger memories for the listener. In it, I discuss such topics as my childhood rape, my gender confusion based on what culture and society demand of someone who appears cishetero white male and discuss discrimination after coming out.

 

Thinking Beyond Social Constructs: Examples of How Playwrights Encourage Genuine Discussion

As a queer playwright—I identify as transgender (gender fluid/gender nonconforming) and sexually fluid—I appreciate how theatre allows playwrights to explore topics, particularly a myriad of social and cultural commentaries, especially where those topics intersect one another.

Theatre is fearless. It welcomes and embraces this exploration of intersectionality. In that vein, I write work that is not “safe” or mainstream. All of my work explores such areas as the intersections between sex work, age, disability, race, gender, sexual orientation and “normalcy”. I write it in a comical manner that maintains respect for the subject of the story while adding to the poignancy of the topic. I write from my perspective as a queer person who wishes to present her work in the most accessible format possible without sounding preachy or angry. That vehicle, that method of delivery is comedy. It doesn’t matter if people agree with me or not. The goal is to open a dialog about these topics and to do so in the least threatening of ways: through humor.

BOUND BY LOVE

For example, Bound by Love addresses several social/cultural matters. The most prominent are the intersections between transgender life, sex work, sexuality, race, age and kink. The show looks at how we are all, essentially, the same whether we wish to admit it or not. It considers how we all have private and public lives and that our private lives aren’t all that different. The characters are a rainbow of races and ages and sexualities and genders to show how none of these matter in the grandest scheme. We are all a little bit kinky; it’s true.

The dialog I hope people will have after seeing Bound by Love is about the realization that with the obvious exception of sex trafficking, sex workers choose to work in the field. They fully understand the business. There’s nothing wrong with sex work. It’s simply another job. And sex is something nearly every human has. It’s beautiful. It’s not something we should be ashamed of. But at the same time, I want the audience to realize we also need to discuss the horror of sex trafficking.

FALLING OUT

Another one of my plays, Falling Out, explores age, gender identity and queerness in various ways. Following an older male bodies gender fluid person. The story, based on my life and experiences, addresses the hardships older professionals face coming out. Most older people—40 and up—grew up in a world without the words to describe themselves. “Transgender” is a reasonably old term, but it doesn’t describe everyone. It hasn’t been until the last five or so years that “gender fluid”, “gender nonconforming”, and similar terminology has come to the rescue, allowing older queer people to find the word or words that beside describe them.

What’s often lost in the discussion about the LGBTQ community is how older queer people have a different set of issues than younger queers do. Whereas the youngest generations have significant freedom to express as they wish throughout their life, older persons face bosses they’ve worked with for decades, spouses, kids…lives they’ve built. In other words, those in their 40s and up have a great deal to lose by coming out.

Falling Out addresses the intersection between age and gender and sexual identity by contrasting the protagonists coming out with the lives of their much younger friends, a transwoman, a lesbian, a gay man and a cishet couple. My desire is to open a discussion about the difficulty of not only being “different” but having to admit to the world you’re not who it thinks you are in terms of gender and sexual identity.

TRANSITIONS

Transitions is a story dedicated to Sydney, a transgender woman who also appears in Falling Out. While they are stand-alone plays, together, they make up a genuine work of art that addresses multiple terms under the transgender umbrella. Transitions finds a transgender webcam girl trying to find her way in the world. She is friends with the characters in Falling Out but has her own rich story.

Transitions isn’t about just Sydney’s physical transition, rather it connects to the audience by showing how we are all the same in our lives, we all transition, we all face problems that force us to re-evaluate our lives and make changes, to transition to new ways of thinking, or acting, or doing. It is this intersection of life, whether transgender, cisgender or however we identify, that we all share. Life changes. The death of a child. An accident. A violent crime. All of these examples force us to re-evaluate life and transition. And for Sydney, a former Army Special Forces officer, life is about to be full of a lot more transitions than she ever thought possible.

 

The topics I write about aren’t safe. But “safe” isn’t a word typically associated with theatre; theatre openly explores controversy and places society and culture under a microscope then analyzes it within the frame of a stage and a couple hours. We see Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Kinky Boots, Fences, Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, The Color Purple, Rent, Miss Saigon, and every other stage play ever address some social injustice or injustices. Each address topics that overlap, that intersect other social and cultural issues. That is the beauty of theatre.