Audio interview with Able, transcribed by Stephen Davidson and Ariel Cardoso Albuquerque
Stephen: Hi there! So, what’s your name as you’d like me to write it down and what’s your gender as you’d like me to write it down?
Able: Okay, my name is Able and gender is difficult. I have a hard time picking a label for myself. Sometimes I say genderqueer; sometimes I say transgender; other times, unicorn. I don’t know.
S: Any or all of the above are absolutely fine. Okay, cool and remind me what city you’re in.
S: Oh beautiful. You’re my first Oakland person. So how long have you been improvising? What do you do? What’s your improv story?
A: I’ve been improvising since…Oh, man, what year was that…2007, I think, and I started in college. They actually had an introduction Improv class through the theatre department and then I started taking community classes and ended up in my first troop script-tease. Script-tease Improv is sketch comedy and high-risk Improv because it’s short form and when a player breaks the rules the audience yells “strip” and the offending person has to take off an article of clothing.
S: I’ve never seen a show like that! So how does being trans/ non-binary influence your Improv?
A: I feel like it gives me a lot of freedom and, you know, at first I only wanted to play the male characters just because it felt affirming and now I’m fighting that and I’m more gender fluid than I am masculine. So yeah, I feel like I got to be a lot more playful and flexible.
S: Do you ever play characters who are sort of explicitly trans non-binary or anything in that area?
A: No, I also find it difficult, because for whatever reason people have a hard time gendering each other as something other than how they perceive the person without really actively making an effort to do otherwise.
S: How do you feel about cisgender actors playing trans or non-binary characters in Improv or elsewhere?
A: It depends on their intention; if they’re going to try to play it from an intelligent point of view, or if they’re just going to rely on stereotypes to do their character. Because if they are ignorant of what they’re talking about, but they’re doing it with good intentions, that’s fine, but if it’s really playing on those stereotypes, that’s when I get uncomfortable.
S: Does your local Improv community know and/or understand your gender and if so, what are they like with that?
A: They understand, to a degree. I feel like some of them know that my gender goes beyond the transgender umbrella of things, but mostly they think in a binary and lump me into the male category, but regardless, I feel like they still are non-judgmental and support me no matter what so it’s a great community.
S: Oh, that’s amazing. So what are some things that teachers, directors, or even just other players, can do to make sure trans and non-binary players feel welcome and heard?
A: A big one that people would hopefully get is pronouns, and also I guess, making an effort to, if you’re starting a scene, that person starts you off with a character that they know you’d feel comfortable with; because if a person sees you as female, but you’re non-binary, they might have a hard time not gendering you as female with the characters they endow you with, so just being open to a dialogue.
You know, you’re a team so you should all be supportive of each other. I know that I appreciate when my team genders me as male, but also like allows me to be female without that colouring their perception of me; like, just because I’ve done a female character, does not mean that I want to be gendered that way all the time. I’m not sure if any of that’s coherent. *laughs*
S: Absolutely. Thinking about the bigger world, can you think of any examples of Trans or non-binary characters in any media, TV, movies, comic books? Wherever you think they do a really good job of portraying that character.
A: I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the Canadian show, Degrassi. One of the newer iterations, they have an FtM character. I feel like they do a pretty good job of showing what that experience is like, and especially growing up and coming out as trans and navigating life before transition.
I’m watching a telenovela right now *laughs* and it’s very progressive. There’s a trans woman on there and she was formerly with one of the main characters; they were married before she transitioned and came out, and now under certain circumstances, she’s back into their lives and they really do a good job navigating what it’s like to have been in a relationship during the coming out process and what it’s like navigating meeting with your family again and how that pans out, as far as coming back with a different appearance and with your new identity. It’s called House of Flowers [La Casa de Las Flores].
S: Ah right. I’ve never heard of it. I’ve got such a long list of things to go watch and read after asking everyone that question. Kind of a related one: who do you look up to or admire as a trans/non-binary person in the world?
A: I guess I look up to a few comedians out there. I do mostly stand-up comedy. So I’ve been following Maria Bamford for a while, I really like her quirky sense of humour and her willingness to share her personal life with people, and not just be about the jokes all the time.
I like Iliza Shlesinger, for her stage presence. She doesn’t even have to be doing anything and she still funny. So, you know, if you can just stay in there on stage and make a face and people are just laughing, you’re doing something right, I guess. *laughs*
In Comedy, those two women are the people I’m watching right now.
S: Amazing. What’s something special that you think you and or trans and non-binary performers have to offer?
A: I’d say for a lot of us the unique experience of having been raised as one gender, but socially transitioning to another, so we have the perspective of both: the gender we were raised with, and also the one that we’ve chosen to align ourselves with.
I feel at least for me, I’m able to get inside the head of different genders and play those genders on stage with an informed sense of how that person might carry themselves or speak or the things that they might be interested in. So again, I feel like it gives people the freedom to really explore because we’ve had to do that research as far as coming into her own chosen gender identity.
S: Amazing. Cool. Thanks so much. Is there anything else that just comes to mind that you’d like to say about gender and Improv or broadly?
A: I hope that diversity spreads more, because at least in- even in the San Francisco Bay Area- it’s still a very cis straight male-dominated field. So I feel like I know literally just one other trans / non-binary person in all the Improv communities that I’ve been in, so I’m not sure if that would require some education on the part of the Improv schools and what they’re putting out there to attract new members. But yeah. I’ve had to do some educating for sure when I joined a new group.
S: Amazing, cool. That’s everything I had to ask. Thank you so much for talking to me, I really appreciate it.
A: Thanks for the interview.