March 15, 2014

Trans people and discourse around gender parity

There's a pattern I've noticed whenever trans people are brought up in a discussion about gender parity in theatre. It can be summed up as follows: "men, women, and trans people."

From what the trans people I'm in contact with (most of whom are trans women) have been saying, automatically placing trans people into a third category separate from men and women perpetuates the notion that trans men and women are not "real" men and women. Trans women and trans men have spoken a great deal about the harm that this does. 

Of course, people who don't fit neatly into the categories of "man" and "woman" do exist: intersex people, third gender people, genderqueer people, non-gendered people, and so on. Even so, trans men and trans women have been very clear about the fact that trans women are women and trans men are men. See the links at the end of this post for more resources.

All that said, the "men, women, and trans people" phrasing raises important questions about how we discuss gender in theatre and what it is we're working for when we say we're working for gender parity.

Questions like: How do we make it clear that, when we speak about gender parity in theatre, we are including trans women when we talk about women? How do we include other gender minorities when talking about gender parity in theatre? Is the gender problem in theatre about the dominance of men in general or the dominance of cisgender men in particular?

As with any questions addressing the systemic and structural elements of marginalization, I don't believe there are simple answers to these questions. But I'd love to hear from trans people about needs to happen in discussions about gender parity in theatre.

And now, some resources about gender identity and transgender people.

I have no time to rehash information that's readily available via a Google search for "trans 101." Here are a few links to get you started. Any further investigation, which I hope you are doing, is on you.

March 7, 2014

We've got it all wrong

I'm sorry, theatre.

I've been pretty strident about the need for a more radical approach to addressing racial disparity in American theatre, and I have pointed out a lot of what you were doing wrong.

I take it all back.

What I should have been saying is, "Just add rap music."

Apparently, we've been missing out. Maybe if we simply play rap music, Black people will spring up at the box office like cabbages.

Why haven't we thought of this?

See, that's the real problem. The problem isn't the racism embedded in the institutional structures we participate in. It's not playing enough rap music.

So all this transforming systems of power thing? Forget all of it.

Just blast some rap music.

March 3, 2014

The need for a radical spirit in achieving parity

As we continue talking about diversity and parity in theatre, the running theme seems to be: What are we striving towards? What does it look like?

The need to articulate a vision and define goals has been a kind of zeitgeist for weeks now, and I'm of two minds about it.

The pragmatist in me says, "Yes, we need to define goals and create strategies to achieve them."

But the radical in me says, "We need to focus on the root of the problem."

It goes without saying that I think we need both, but outside of activist circles, calling someone radical is another way of calling them insane. This is unfortunate because a radical perspective gives us a way to analyze and transform power structures, which is where I believe the real work has to be done.

Let's be real. Racial and gender disparity in American theatre didn't "just happen." They have always been part of the history of American theatre. That history has been one that has upheld the structures of patriarchy and white supremacy. Thus, the vast majority of American institutions are built on racism and sexism. I don't mean this in the sense of the personal convictions of individuals, but in the sense of how organizations and institutions plug into legal, financial, social, educational, geographical, and cultural structures that allow them to exist. To put it simply, the vast majority of organizations--all organizations, not just theatrical ones--benefit on some level from the exclusion and disenfranchisement of women and/or people of color. In theatre, this impacts every aspect of what we do, especially when it comes to access to resources like money and space.

Without a radical perspective, there is no way we can fully understand, let alone change, that given circumstance. I will not pretend for one second that this is easy. Power structures are deeply embedded within how society functions, which also means that they find themselves embedded within organizational cultures. However, until we get a handle on how power works within an organization and/or an industry, I don't anticipate any deep or lasting change happening. I can see it happening like those corporations that realize they have a racial diversity problem, but simply hire a few people of color instead of looking at ways they can change their organizational culture so that more people of color would want to work there.

It's not that I don't believe we should figure out precisely what the fuck all of this is supposed to look like in the end. I do believe that's crucial. But unless we place that within a context of understanding and changing power structures, I can't say that we'd actually accomplish those goals we set for ourselves.