Keynote: How to do The History of Sex

Friday 26 May 2017 
Hunter Lecture Theatre 
Edinburgh College of Art

What You See is What You Get: Visuality and Trans Performance

 '"I suggest constituting transsexuals not as a class or problematic 'third gender', but rather as a genre—a set of embodied texts whose potential for productive disruption of structured sexualities and spectra of desire has yet to be explored." 'The Empire Strikes Back: A Post Transsexual Manifesto, 1991

Since the late 1970’s Autobiographical performance has been an important form in which LGBTQ and other ‘Othered’ identities can become ‘visible’, share our stories and bring awareness to issues affecting our lives. These performances have also always run the risk of essentializing identities and entrenching narratives - thereby losing potency - particularly in our 21st century neoliberal identity culture. My research asks “what can the Trans bodily identity do onstage when it does not talk about the Trans condition” and I take my jumping off point from Sandy Stone in The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto (1991) when she suggests constituting Trans “[…] as a genre—a set of embodied texts whose potential for productive disruption of structured sexualities and spectra of desire has yet to be explored.” To this end I posit and explore the differences between ‘visible’ identity-based performances and what I establish as my own ‘visual’ (naked) Trans identity-based performance.

I explore here the idea that narrative ‘visibility’ in performance places the emphasis on the optical and the ‘viewed’ (the subject), and examine the foreclosure of possibility that I contend this can create. I will contrast this with the way performance that works with an idea of identity ‘visuality’ could redirect the emphasis onto the viewer and the haptic, and, in refusing to allow narrative to entrench, may incite Stone’s ‘productive disruption’. I will contextualize these ideas and findings via sections of my current Practice Research performance Trans-O-Graphia/Dance Me to the End of Love.

International Federation of Theatre Researchers (IFTR) Queer Futures Working Group Presentations: 

2018 Belgrade: What You See is What You Get: Visuality, Erotics and the Disruptive Trans* Body

2016 Sweden: Stripping my way through the Box

2015 Hyderabad: Traitorous and Treacherous Trans Performances: Resisting the Normativization of Trans Identity Narratives

2014 Warwick: Kisses Cause Trouble, Le Vrai Spectacle: Queering the French/Frenching the Queer

2013 Barcelona: ‘Dissemblage’ and ‘Truth Traps’ Methods of Resistance in LGBTQ Autobiographical Theatre

Paper: Meat Magic: Grotesque-ing my Transbody at “The Box”

In popular culture ‘Grotesque’ is most often considered synonymous with ugly, disgusting, and monstrous; the abject Other against which we define the Self. However, what most intrigues me about the Grotesque are the ways in which what it signifies, according to Sarah Cohen Shabot, is not a rejected other at all, but the postmodern subject, the actual ambiguous nature of existence itself: “interconnected, intertwined and total,” and at the same time “plural, heterogeneous, dynamic, fluid and changing.” Can the/my Transbody onstage function as a theatrical illustration of the intersubjectivity of all bodies? All bodies and identities are double, hybrid, between living and dying, between and among genders. Could the Transbody, as the Grotesque, have the potential to create a heightened representation or experience of something that is, in fact, universal?

Presented at: Bodies: Flesh, Performance, Media, Disgust and Desire
June 21 2012, Birkbeck College, London

The body and the way it is represented is the focus of continuing debates about beauty, desire and disgust, respectability and reality. The mediation of bodies and the ways in which it is increasingly possible to refashion bodies through a range of technologies is a source of concern to many. The body in a state of transformation or transgression or as a site of self-control is the focus of many popular texts. Some kinds of bodies have come under particular scrutiny; those of fashion and glamour models; porn performers and 'perverts', showgirls and burlesque dancers. Ideal and freakish bodies excite intense fascination. This seminar investigates presentations and representations of a range of bodies and examines how we might read them. It is organized by the Onscenity Research Network and funded by the AHRC.

Paper:  Stripping Bare and Telling Lies:

Looking at my own practice-as-research, this paper works through Michel Foucault’s ideas of bio-power and Judith Butler’s book Giving an Account of Oneself to then detail and explore the subversion of confessional culture via the use of the nude transsexual body and the technique of telling lies in “autobiographical” performance. As a female-to-male transsexual performer, there are expectations of me. Because I am using my body and my self as theatrical material, it seems I need to confess my identity, to give an account of the road I took to get to who I am. If I don’t confess, I am told, my audience won’t ‘understand’ my ‘other’ identity, and this must be the ultimate goal of performances by non-normative artists. But I don’t want to confess my identity, and I am not interested in making work about genders or sexualities. In this paper and in my performing work I use my naked transsexual body and the expectations of my trans identity to explore how the surprise of my body’s “truth” and the veil of the lie could be modes of generating experiences outside of, and indeed confounding to, confessional culture, experiences of intersubjectivity in my spectator-participants.

Presented July 5th, 2012 at a Conference on Confessional Culture that took place over two days (5th n 6th July) at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia:

Dolan Cummings, the editor of Culture Wars, describes confessional culture as "an increasing blurring between public and private, and a concern to expose and reveal our "true selves". Though the act of confession is nothing new, the rise of reality television and web 2.0 means our culture is increasingly publicising the private, and using the media to expose ourselves and others. The conference looked at the effect of confessional culture on a range of media and discourses, in order to understand and unpack the manifestations, history and impact of this growing and evolving phenomenon.