Trans Designer Femininity, The Double Sword of Expectations

  • Stephanie Lutz

I am a Trans Theatre maker; I am a minority in almost every room I walk into. I am a Student, which is facing the odds to get my degree while out. I am a woman Lighting Designer and know it will be a tough climb. But I know, I am a Butch Trans Woman, and I will not change for anyone. I am tough and worked comedy and concerts for five years hearing every imaginable joke about my community, so the skin is as thick as my leather belts. I have been pitted against more sexist clients for events than I can count, my male assistants being spoken to more than me and jokes on crews that abound. I do not complain, but rather point out.

I attended KCACTF this year, there was very little queer representation there, and I knew immediately during my DTM presentation they read me as queer. I was simply wearing a nice collared shirt and blazer, but I hesitate to say that there may be a connection to the fact I was also in the small minority of women presenting in lighting design, and the only transwoman in the field that the following comments transpired, but I am an anomaly in every section I am ever placed. But I knew in my heart that when they commented on my blouse immediately following my response session, I was judged as a woman, and possibly a queer woman. And when asked if I knew what the words I chose to research with, felt as though for some reason they thought I was dumb or had not read through at least the connotation and denotation of the language, and the pragmatics of how I was utilizing them. There have been many instances of this, and every woman and queer individual has felt this, slight microaggressions against themselves.

However, this article precipitates because I attended USITT 2019 in Louisville this last week, and the conference was a good reminder for myself of where I stand. When packing I was going over my attire for the event and had a choice to make. To pack my work call clothing and masculinize myself quite a lot to be taken more seriously as the technician and designer I am, or to wear feminine clothing and be at least acknowledged as the woman I am. Judith Butler presented an excellent idea base for this, performativity begetting identity and identity begetting expectation in other people.

So when packing, I realized to perform at a goal in one is impossible to perform the other, due to the societal typical discretions of the role and my identity. I decided, this is a conference that is an opportunity for myself to meet people and I want them to know that I am serious about being a technician and lighting designer. I chose the masculine clothing option and began packing. I was set to start my performance as a technician and designer but left the expectations of others about my identity off the table. I chose to show up, smile, and take it.

Over the three days I was there, there were many times I could tell eyes were on me, and I would look around and there they were, poised with a question of “what gender?” Walking around noticing the looks was interesting; however, I do say that these don’t bother me anymore after being out for many years at this point. What did bother me was the over thirty occasions of receiving a Sir, He or Him within the conference center and then the reactions to the corrections. After coming to a place to feel at home with my fellow theater artists, I was left feeling alone as a person.

We have a USITT Queer Nation Network, and although seeing my fellow LGBT individuals there was very affirming, and an "I belong here" moment, I quickly realized the acceptably queer and the unacceptably queer categories’ that permeate even moderately supportive individuals persists within theatre. A pity, as we should be the ones to push the envelope on that and every envelope that needs to be pushed, but I felt throughout the conference and put into words with a fellow trans artist that, “its good we have a network in place and a place for queer individuals in our field, but if every other experience is the opposite of this, how exactly are we even challenging our other members?”

I have a good habit of on pieces such as this to never offer a solution, as each individual will have different wants in the resolution. But this is a question that should be poised at this time. And hopefully, this can start a conversation that leads to collective resolutions, as theatre, our field, and myself are collaborative animals. That being said, could people stare less and just walk up and ask pronouns? I don’t bite.