Transverse: An Autopsy of Gender, Starring Gloria Swansong
Gloria Swansong and Alex Tobey present a new work in the NY Trans Theatre Festival, presented at The Brick!
Herculine Barbin was raised by nuns as a woman until, at 22, they were forcibly reassigned to male. Before taking their own life at 27, Herculine left the world with the first memoir and first thorough autopsy of a Trans/intersex person. ‘Transverse’ explores how Barbin’s life and body changed the world and echoed a mantra of today’s LGBTQIA rights movement: queer people have always existed unseen, but no longer unheard.
Here is our interview with the star of the show.
What made this story one you wanted to tell?
I discovered Herculine’s memoir right as I was finding words for my gender - trans non-binary. As a trans person (especially as a non-binary individual), people are always telling me that my gender ‘isn’t real’ or that ‘I’m an abomination’ of some kind. That really makes you feel invisible, isolated, especially when you don’t have words for who you are. And that was Herculine’s experience. They lived between two genders in 19th century France! It was infinitely worse.
What makes this story relevant to a modern audience, both LGBTQIA and straight allies?
There’s this idea that the trans rights movement has ‘created’ more trans people and more trans identities. Implying that it’s a ‘fad’ or ‘trend’ to have a gender other than the one you’re assigned at birth. Stories like Herculine’s show us that trans experiences are universal throughout time and place. We have always been here, existing in silence and invisible without words for who we are.
What do you hope audiences take away from the piece?
That gender really is a construction that we have control over. Each of us really has our own definitions of what gender means to us and how we express it. And that drag doesn’t have to just be doing numbers in bars. We can use drag to create meaningful conversations in art.
How do you feel about the current climate for trans stories in mainstream media?
I’m so glad it’s finally reaching a firestorm of activist pressure to portray trans lives authentically - and to let trans people tell their own stories. I have no reservations about people’s ability to ‘act’ like a trans person, but it’s important to not send the message that trans people are just Cis people pretending to be another gender. And it’s important to let trans actors finally have big roles, get media attention, and tell their personal stories of being trans to audiences.
What steps do you think need to be put in place to continue in the right direction?
We need to pass laws so people can legally identify as non-binary on documents. If I died today, there would be no legal records of who I really am. And while it’s important to fight for our rights so we can live freely, we also need to fight to be recorded accurately in legal, time-enduring documents. That’s the only way our stories will be preserved.
Where can we follow you?
Facebook: Gloria Swansong
YouTube: Gloria Swansong
Get your tickets HERE!