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Such a New Thing

Stages of Resistance
Avi Roque, shown from their shoulders up, looks into the camera with a neutral expression. They are to the right hand side of the frame, set against a maroon background.
Photo by Ian McLaren

This piece is part of a blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich, called "Stages of Resistance." The series welcomes reflections on themes related to making work for live performance in political and aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this salon hopes to serve as a space for considered, thoughtful, polemical articulations of practice and theory on the subject of resistance, the multiple meanings of political art, and the ways in which progressive, wholistic cultural change may be instigated through artworks. Stay tuned for more articles and reflections in this series throughout March and April 2017!

I recently wrote a blog for The Chicago Inclusion Project tackling the topic of being an ally and what that means to certain individuals, and there was an additional thought looming over me when thinking about allyship, which was: if you don't know, ask.

I bring this up, because it was recently brought to my attention some people are afraid of offending me in terms of casting or considering me for specific acting roles. They are therefore resistant in inviting me to read or audition for those roles or parts (specifically male identified, trans masculine roles). Now, I would rather have someone reach out and take a chance of being wrong, than allow fear to dictate their decision making.

I would rather have the opportunity to be seen.

Yet, fear. Fear is the culprit. I still see fear at the core, at the root of humanity or human interaction. In some shape or form many people are scared. Scared of losing someone, scared of dying, scared of not being able to pay rent, scared of not being insured, scared of being denied rights, scared to walk out the door, scared to speak up. And then, there’s the fear of making a mistake or being wrong, or being told you are doing something incorrectly. It seems often times people are afraid of being wrong or afraid to offend.

So, if anyone has questions about who I am or how I identify: ask me. Yet, not everyone is like this. Not everyone is as open as I am, as candid, or as out, vocal, or visible as I am. This is strictly personal, but for me, asking, leaves out assuming or avoiding stuff all together. To answer some questions: yes, I will play Latinx roles, I will play Gender Non-Conforming/ Non-Binary/ Genderqueer roles, I will play someone who is Transgender, on the side of Transmasculine, I will play Transmen, I will play Male-Identified characters and I am open to Female-Identified roles but there needs to be a conversation and I need to review the script to see if I am comfortable with it. What I will not take on are any other cultural ethnicities or races that I do not identify with, such as, Indian, Persian, Middle Eastern etc. and I will not play Transwomen or Transfeminine roles.

Again, I have a desire to talk about it. I want to be visible and I want to continue to work as an actor. Give me an opportunity to advocate for myself. On the flipside, it’s a lot of work to always have to be advocating for myself, making myself visible for others, so I can be seen and respected, valued and affirmed. It’s exhausting. Yet I also feel it is a responsibility and duty I have. Along with that comes learning about boundaries. Having an internal gauge that is aware of when to say yes, when to educate, when to explain and then, when to say no, when to let it go, when to walk away.

A friend of mine, and I quote, said, “Trails don’t blaze themselves.” And what an exciting time and an equally challenging/ difficult time to be alive. I am a trailblazer, I am carving a path not only for myself, but for others. And I am fortunate to be surrounded by a community of artists, activists, performers, and theater makers who want to learn.

I exist as a very imperative piece and part in this movement, by nature, by fighting every day in whatever way I can to broaden people’s perspectives. That is not to say I know everything, or that I have all of the answers and solutions. My voice is representative of where I am at now. It is also important to note I can only speak for myself and I am not representative of every Trans voice. My attitudes, feelings and opinions are mine; my trajectory, journey, and path are mine – all deriving from my own experiences.

However, even though I surround myself with a community of woke folks I can still find myself in the thick of it, braving slight forms of push-back from a society and industry that has grown too comfortable and refuses to push themselves beyond their comfort zones.

That said, I pride myself on being kind, patient, understanding, and compassionate, but sometimes I just want to be petty as hell. It looks like this: when the idea that gender is a spectrum is introduced and that gender is also a social construct, that it’s not just male and female or man and woman, I will allow someone the space to process and respectively listen to, “Hmmm, it is such a new thing, it’s such a wild concept, I’m just not used to it, it’s really challenging,” etc.  Rather than gently guiding them through it, which is a typical response, what I really want to say is, “Stop making this about you and how hard it is and just do better and try harder the next time. Your Cis privilege is showing.”

In the spirit of resistance, I will share one last anecdote.

Discussing My Pronouns With An Acquaintance:

It all began with the individual party referring to me as “she” when speaking about something I needed to do. In the moment, I made the correction, which felt more like a gentle reminder that my pronouns are not she/her/hers but rather they/them/theirs. We then experienced a second of fumbling with our words, both feeling apologetic. I witnessed this panic, a freeze and the discomfort of being caught off guard in the other person. That fear I mentioned at the beginning of this all. We let it go, but then it developed later into a deeper dialogue of me explaining myself to where the response birthed was, “Well, you can't technically, really force someone to do something." Following a brief pause, I turned to my friend who was accompanying me, a woman, and asked her if she would be offended if I started using he/him/his pronouns for her and she said, yes, that she would be offended and then I asked why. She said, “because I’m not a man, I don’t identify as one and those aren’t my pronouns.” So, technically, is she not “forcing me” to use the pronouns she wants?

I have been in these situations before and I find it fascinating that when I say these are my pronouns, people defy accepting and applying what I am asking for and choose first to argue and retort with, “Well, it’s so hard because of grammar, you know, they is plural.” Well, then, I invite you to challenge yourself, if you want to evolve as a human being. Stop meeting your fellow humans with such resistance. If you see me, value me, and respect me then you will just do your best, because, yes, my goodness, I do recognize the process required to rewire your brain, to use the correct pronouns! But just as I am doing my best to survive and exist, I ask in return, that if you have any compassion, understanding or empathy, you will do your best as well to do better and try harder.

As difficult as these moments have been, there is also hope, growth, and progress. The other day I went into the bank and the teller casually asked, “May I ask what your pronouns are?” My face brightened up and I said, “they/them/theirs and thank you so much for asking.” To which the teller replied, “I’m learning.”