The following is a write-in from Kai Magee ’18. Kai reached out to us after his concept for a Showtunes Sideways performance was rejected. We decided to publish his statement (modified from an open letter to the Showtunes Sideways coordinators) in order to give a voice to someone on campus who felt like they weren’t being heard, and to hopefully address issues of trans representation and inclusion in our community.
The following views are the writer’s own.
Showtunes Sideways and Its Lack of Trans Representation
About two months ago before Showtunes Sideways, I approached one of the coordinators with an idea for a performance for Showtunes. It was a performance representing the way that my parents had disowned me for being transgender, and harassed me in impossible ways when telling me that I was no longer welcome in their family. I hoped to do this through a reimagining of “And Then There Were None” from Spring Awakening; I would replace the letter addressed to Moritz with emails from my parents addressed to me. The reasons for rejection that he gave me were these: that Spring Awakening had been performed this semester, that he did not want to downplay my struggles by placing it in a performance alongside silly musical numbers, and that my performance would be potentially triggering.
I understood why he was uncomfortable with showcasing a song from a musical being performed during the semester; I did not want to step on anyone’s toes either, which is why I talked to an organizer two months before the performance to begin a discussion.
The other coordinators wrote an email to me with their concern about downplaying my story by placing it amidst “raunchy showtunes.” I am afraid I do not believe that it was their place to tell me whether my trans narrative was fitting for a show for the LGBTQ+ community. I knew what I was getting myself into; I have previously participated in Showtunes. Furthermore, I trusted in my ability to create a performance piece that is both appropriate for the environment and representative of my trans narrative. I was confused about why they did not choose to facilitate a conversation about creating a piece for Showtunes.
I am the most disappointed with the fact that they found the reality of my life too triggering for their show and their audience. Not only did the coordinators shut down a trans narrative to be told in a space for LGB(T)Q+ folks, but the show ended up lacking any trans representation at all. No matter that the coordinators asked me to come to them with a new idea (which, please note, is different than opening a discussion); they made it clear that anything “highly personal” about my life was off the table because it is “possibly triggering.”
What I gathered from their response was that they were not interested in sharing a story about this transgender person’s life because my struggle was not appropriate to be heard. Yet, this is the reality of my life. I could only conclude that my presence and existence was not welcome to be performed in Showtunes Sideways. I believed that I already beginning a conversation by speaking with one of the coordinators two months beforehand, and as a transgender person of color, I am tired of having to be the first one to reach out to be heard. The Showtunes Sideways coordinators’ lack of effort is representative of their neglect for trans narratives and trans people of color in the theater community at Wesleyan.
All I can say is that I wish they had found the time to sit down and talk with me about my idea for a performance, instead of simply sending an email and never following up. If Showtunes is truly meant to be a “safe space for LGBTQ+ identifying folks,” I am perplexed as to why I feel so excluded, abandoned, and unwanted. I do not understand why I was not allowed to express my trans-ness on an LGBTQ+ platform. I hope one day that my life will be as glittery and gay as the lives represented at Showtunes. Perhaps then my existence will not be unsafe for others.
–Kai Magee ’18