Being Queer, Performing Queer, Studying Queer

Courtesy Of Jo Michael Rezes
Welcome to the inaugural class of '29. We've selected 29 graduating college seniors, entering the "real" world in 2018, to write about the state of their lives. What are their hopes, dreams, fears, stressors, failures, and successes as they leave school behind? We will be releasing new entries on a daily basis. If you would like yours to be considered, please email classof29@refinery29.com.
I exist on the backslash between and/or. Or else, my gender exists on that line. Or else, my performance of gender exists on that line. And that’s how I like it. And/or I like performing, and/or studying performance, and/or creating performances that reflect everyday performance. Mine, hir, your, their, zir, her and our performances.
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This essay was written by a nonbinary, queer, soon-to-be Ph.D. student, and I’m glad you’re here. You might be here to partake in transphobia or genderqueer erasure, or support, or “good” allyship, or respectability politics, or curiosity, or for a laugh, or for social capital, or because I shared it, or because my partner did. Maybe you are intrigued, or you are questioning your own gender identity, or you hate me, or you bullied me, or you want to fetishize me, but you want to read this, or not, or now you’re already this far into it, or you cannot escape the pull of anaphora, or you don’t even know what that is, and/or what I am, and/or what I am trying to write about.
My name is Jo, and I just received a diploma with a strong, or sturdy, or biblical and/or kindly given name that is no longer mine. He is not me anymore, and that’s the way I like it, and/or that’s the way I need it. Exploring that need is what my future doctoral studies are all about.
I am dedicating my life to the study of transgender performance, artistry, and liminality. And/or my life is going to be a game of being “in between,” finding support systems for the identity I discovered during my undergraduate career. Right now I am undergoing the process of changing my name, “for publishing,” I say, “for anonymity, and/or to crush the dysphoria I feel every day.” For someone who has not chosen to hormonally, physically, and/or medically transition, my metamorphosis from musical theatre male lead to trans* stage director was quite distinct.
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illustrated by Paola DeLucca
Tenor-built, cast in baritone roles, I started college assuming myself to be cisgender (and straight, but that’s another story). I played Seymour Krelborn in the campy, violently androcentric, Little Shop of Horrors. Performing masculinity felt good. It felt powerful. It felt unfamiliar, unknown, and/or external. But internalized transphobia pervading my writing, speech, and/or jokes lead me to assimilate into the gay male culture of my school, which I found to be toxic and limiting. My newfound queerness still wasn’t the queer I knew to be at my center. Theater became my outlet to experience what it meant to be a man, which, at my core, I knew I wasn’t.
In one fateful semester, plummeting my academic grades, I acted two roles simultaneously: Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show and/or Charlotta Ivanovna in The Cherry Orchard. One man, one “woman,” one me. Some anaphora. Over the course of my rehearsals, Brad became farcical, misandric in portrayal and therapeutic. The parts of my body I detested were thrown into relief and/or shadow, and I began to understand why such manhood was my inside joke. Charlotta allowed me to explore femininity. A wig, softly blended eyeliner by my partner’s own design and slightly overdrawn lips of the mauve variety sent my heart aflutter. This was not drag. The character I created was genderqueer, and I made sure the team and my castmates knew this transgender Charlotta to the best of my abilities. This trans* narrative and/or existence was for Charlotta, of course, not me, no. While my character wielded a firearm, it was never fired, and thus my gender was Chekhov's gun. That semester instilled in me a respect for trans* narratives (whatever those may be), but I still failed to pass as either a man or a woman in my own mind.
Now that I have begun to appreciate my daily performance of liminality, the desire to create theater that reflects queer experience has grown exponentially. While I may exist on a backslash, I want to bolster the stories of other transgender people above asterisks, hyphens and/or footnotes. Moving toward my Ph.D. as a first-generation college student, in an inherently privileged artistic craft, consumes me. My gender is suspended within my perception of the world, so too are my desires found floating prone in the imminence of academia. Graduate studies will allow me to find coalition with colleagues regardless of identity, and/or offer me the platform for activism and direct action, and/or introduce me to students whose struggles emulate my own and/or support me in the creation and direction of new theatre that features the stories of queer existence. Pursuing a Ph.D. immediately after undergrad may be daunting, but when my cause is the representation of trans* people in performances and the support of queer lives, what other choice do I have?
Jo Michael Rezes (they/them/theirs) is a recent graduate from Vassar College with a B.A. in both Drama and English with queer studies and stage directing concentrations. They will begin their M.A./Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies at Tufts University in the fall. jmrezes.com
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