All part of the gender
11 April 2017
he she they manages to tackle gender identity in an inclusionary way without breaking a sweat, says Florence Bell
Gender labels and pronouns are really just words. At the end of he she they, the words of body parts that define how we think of ourselves and how we treat each other are left torn up on the floor. The show is a celebration of the human body outside gender. The sound of skin against skin and skin against the floor is very much part of the audio aesthetic, joining with the words and music in creating something with real driving force and power. As a piece of dance, he she they is elegant and rhythmic, and the music is stunning: I want it all on Spotify now, please.
I love theatre but I never considered that I would see a play in my lifetime that approached gender identity in a completely non-problematic way. Representation matters and I feel real joy in seeing issues that face my friends and myself on stage for the first time. In mainstream theatre, there is a total absence of trans representation and of proper consideration of the issues that pin down gender. While plays such as The Vagina Monologues discuss the female body and the female experience in detail, he she they embodies an inclusionary, intersectional feminism.
One of the most poignant moments is Megan Peacock’s tap dance, which begins as a comedic comment on the language we use to joke about sexuality and gender and increasingly becomes less and less funny. The power of the piece hinges on the relationship between dance and words: Peacock intersperses horrifically sexist jokes with tap dances. The dance becomes more and more frenzied and aggressive until Peacock’s shoe actually breaks.
Although there are some wordy bits, there are themes in the show that are expressed almost entirely through movement. Ideas about the clothes that we wear are almost entirely expressed through a dance in which we see Diogo Silva tangled in clothes, almost strangled by them or drowning in them, with only one line to summarise the topic: “Have you seen my shoe? It’s just like this one but for the left foot.”
The nature of the show means that I hesitate to label anyone in the ensemble. “When this woman did this…” doesn’t really fit here because to write that would be to throw the whole show out the window.
The repetitive listing of body parts and gender identities becomes rhythmic and part of the background noise till the audience just gets used to it. Without disrespecting the gender identities people have, this becomes part of background noise. The words we hear and the things we see everyday that we never question. The show asks questions (literally) of the audience, constantly tripping us up, reminding us of our unconscious biases.
Two of the ensemble repeatedly use the phrases “as a woman” and “as a man” until the meanings of those words are completely broken down. What we are is the beauty of our bodies: he she they is a show that celebrates the beauty and athleticism of the human body.
All we can do is try not to judge, respect the words people use to describe themselves (be it he, she or they), not be divisive and treat people equally regardless of what they wear or how they look.
The only problem with he she they is that it’s too short: I want more.
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Photo credit: Giulia Delprato