Listening, learning

22 April 2019

Nathan Dunn reflects on the representation of trans stories in Rotterdam and BARRY

I enjoyed Rotterdam. I think it perhaps deserved more credit than it seemed to be getting. It had some standout performances and for all its controversy surrounding the choice to have it, the set was visibly impressive to me. There were problems – particularly with projection, transitions and some tracks, but I did my best to not let this detract from my interest in their handling of the issues at the heart of the play: specifically matters of trans and queer relationships.

I enjoyed BARRY. I found it formally bewildering yet I was equally admirable of the intelligence of their interrogation. Though I struggled with some elements of the seemingly fractured narrative, it was theatrically innovative in many ways. Again, trans matters were the crux of the work – specifically the issue of visibility and history’s care (or lack of) of the unjustly marginalised.

I thought both pieces handled their topics with great care and honesty. I would go as far to suggest that neither of them were inherently problematic. However, discussions I participated in following both shows enlightened me to a discourse I’d never been involved in before – one that was emotionally and intellectually complex and difficult to navigate.

Some things seemed objectively simple. Importantly, they also seemed conquerable. As someone whose dialect deals heavily in colloquialisms, I am aware of how problematic pronouns can be. Growing up in a particularly politically incorrect environment naturally means my speech patterns are pattered with words inconsistent to some of my principles. I never intend harm, but ultimately I would be responsible if harm was caused. Rearranging your own linguistic fluency takes time but is something I’ve adapted to. He/him, she/her and they/them are things I’m aware I occasionally slip up on, but I make the effort, which I think is important, and will do so until I continuously get it right.

More complex is the relationship trans people have with visibility and the concept of tokenism. Who can tell what story has a ferocious pertinence for members of the trans community. Understandably so. Though aware of their minority status, they combat history’s poor representation of their brothers, sisters and siblings and challenge today’s incompetent commentary of this. Interestingly, it is this exact example of overlooking the presence of trans people that makes the argument over who has a write to tell a story so painfully important. One individual who is passionately involved in these sorts of discussions openly admitted that tokenism, though principally an unsatisfactory mode of faux ally-ship, is necessary as a first step towards an honest representation full of integrity. It was confusing, refreshing, concerning and exciting to hear this, and I’m still not sure what to think about it. What is abundantly clear to me, however, is my desire to support trans people in the most appropriate and effective way possible.

I know my place in society, but not in this conversation. I suppose this is more of an open letter to anyone who maybe has an answer to that. Or maybe even another question. What can I do to help the trans community? What has this article failed to address? What isn’t being talked about? Whatever there is to say, I’m listening and willing to help – whether that involves my silence (responsibly accepting my own privilege) or utilising my voice and said privilege for the greater good. Tweet me @NLD96 – I want to be educated.


@noffmag / [email protected]

Photo credit: Beatrice Debney