The Power of Stories- Published in Chicago Theatre Now
The Power of Stories, Seen in Chicago Theatre Now
By: Alexia Jasmene
Stories guide us, challenge us, allow us to see our humanity reflected in others that can seem so different, but also transform us. They can unlock our limitless potential to see, support, and change each other for the better. As a storyteller, as a woman who happens to be trans, I step into the fire for the good of the community so that they don’t have to. Stories are transformative; they are powerful, they inform everything about how we chose to live our lives, and they need to be held accountable.
Stories can uplift a battered and misunderstood community, or they can dehumanize and create excuses to disconnect us from seeing each others’ light. Stories have negatively affected my community, the trans female community, to such a negative extent that echoes of “murderers”, “rapists”, “men in dresses”, “deceivers”, “sycophants”, are firmly rooted in the American zeitgeist and translate into the abuse, rape, exclusion, dehumanization, and murder of trans women that is nauseatingly prevalent. These stories were never held accountable, never held in check, never challenged and still are only barely being chipped away at. Though awareness of trans people has increased, it’s not enough. There are numerous trans actors that get passed and have their voices silenced for daring to tell their own stories. Times when a cisgender writer (cisgender means you’re not transgender) asks for input about problematic issues in their scripts and yet no changes occur, even when multiple trans voices are involved and the play is with a reputable theater house here in Chicago. Misgendered in reviews, auditions, and on sets. Battered with hate on social media platforms that disconnect us from our accountability to other humans. Cis actors playing us and reinforcing negative stories that we “aren’t capable”, that we are actually “men in dresses”, that trans people “can’t play cis roles yet alone tell their own stories”. All of this because we have lost our accountability to our own humanity.
Now this is changing rapidly with various movements from the political to the personal where a realigning with how we perceive ourselves as human will transform everything with the new stories we are forming, but we have a very long road ahead. I know of so many of my sisters and siblings that have suffered through everything I have mentioned and more, but I’ve also seen changes that are allowing my heart to soar. I have been fortunate, in my own career, on every single theatre project I’ve worked on in Chicago. I have had my pronouns respected. I have had the playwrights or screenwriters listen to my input when I point out problematic stereotypes and narratives in projects I’ve been a part of. I have had the opportunity to play an equal number of cisgender roles as well as transgender roles that allow me to embody strong women that aren’t victims but survivors. I’ve gotten involved with a trans inclusion panel at the Goodman that opened the door to all of the theaters in Chicago to seeing trans people as people. This had immediate changes such as having inclusive restrooms in their spaces and making audition rooms comfortable for any trans identity by respecting their pronouns and making them feel seen so they could perform at their best.
I was able to work with Will Davis, a brilliant trans director, on a production of Picnicwith a very American (inclusive) casting at American Theater Company. There I played a 16 year old cis girl, a role that allowed me to heal by living the life I never got to live. I have had younger trans people tell me how much it meant to them that they saw themselves represented onstage as a strong and complete human. This brought tears of joy to my eyes that they are getting to avoid so much suffering I had to endure. Representation matters.
I am doing my best to help rewrite these harmful narratives, to show trans is beautiful, and open loving dialogue so we can all come to see the beauty in everyone. I stand up for my fellow sisters, brothers, and non binary siblings when and where I can, communicating with love that we are no different. I recommend fellow actors for roles, speak to people about how trans people are humans, and stand up in public when I can to show our beauty. Chicago is laying a framework for representing trans stories and can be a model that I hope to one day help implement into Hollywood. This is long and hard work to rewrite, change, and hold accountable people telling and creating stories about trans people and we can’t do it alone. If you’re a writer I ask that you do your research and talk with multiple trans people to gather different perspectives as there is no one way to be trans. If you’re a casting director or director, learn and respect people’s pronouns so that they can give honest and radiant performances. If you’re in production, bring on as many trans people as you can in as many capacities beyond just acting for cis and trans narratives. Get involved if you’re trans because we are transforming our narratives and need as many voices as possible in all capacities. By keeping ourselves and our stories accountable, we can begin to change hearts and minds in order to create a new reality where being human is celebrated in every form that it comes in. We got this.