The Trans Man and the Theatre
by Bailey C.
At the age of five, I was introduced to the magic of Broadway theatre, when my mother and my grandfather took me to see Cats. I remember being eyes-wide at the actors in dazzling costumes, jumping and dancing around, getting super excited over every new thing happening, and listening to the soundtrack on repeat for months after. I was hooked on theatre from then on, auditioning for my temple’s production of The Wizard of Oz at age eight. I still recall the excitement of learning the songs and dances, seeing the colorful scenery come to life little by little, getting wear stage makeup, and having the honor of going downstage-center to say, “follow the yellow brick road!” in my first solo line.
I’ve already talked about how shadow casting has shaped my life, but my life in theatre goes way beyond that. I’ve always wanted to be on Broadway- an ambition that has never dimmed for a second. Pre-transition, however, I felt that dream never had any possibility of being achieved. I’d never get to be more than an ensemble member, with one or two lines out of luck (or from complaining enough to the director. But I at least grew out of that!). Though I worked hard, I could never get more than a soft and pretty voice with no colorization to it. I’d either overact or underact and there was no in-between.
By the time I came out, I had almost no confidence left. Every time I auditioned, I failed miserably. Nevertheless, I still wanted to perform. It also left one major thing that I was nervous about when I was starting testosterone- would I still be able to sing?
“MY VOICE DROPPED LIKE A ROCK INTO A POND.”
My voice dropped like a rock into a pond. While I used to be able to sing soprano, I quickly lost the head voice and was now left with a deep, baritone voice. One saving grace was that I had been taking formal voice lessons since sixth grade, as well as choir from fourth grade, onward. Because I had auditioned for and had been accepted to a performing arts school for voice, I was required to take vocal lessons with one of their teachers. I met him just before I started T, and with his help I was able to sing a soprano piece a full octave down by the end of my first semester.
Now that my voice is settled more and I’m a theatre major with a clearer mind that can focus on the future, you’d think that I’d be quite happy. Actually, it’s more of the opposite- I face many issues. As the grace period of finally being able to be seen as who I am, and being able to go for roles that fit my identity slowly fades away, I see a lot still plagues me- the fact that I’m still pre-top surgery, and am getting used to my new range and re-training my ear, as well as the most prominent- my height and boyish appearance.
I’m 5’4″. I still have a teenager-like appearance. My frame is lean and it makes life in theatre a lot harder. It’s very easy to be overly critical of myself, when comparing to cisgender actors. Though it’s slightly relieving to see actors like Daniel Radcliffe (who is only an inch or so taller than I am) be able to be in lead roles in Broadway shows, I can’t help but fear that I will never be able to be taken seriously as an actor, and though I try to not let that hold me back, sometimes the fear can be crippling. I’ve considered throwing in the towel, even after how far I’ve come.
“ONE THING THAT SAT ON MY MIND FOR A WHILE, WAS THAT I RECENTLY NOTICED HOW FEW ROLE MODELS THERE ARE IN TERMS OF TRANS MEN.”
One thing that sat on my mind for a while, was that I recently noticed how few role models there are in terms of trans men. While I look up to Laura Jane Grace in the music world, I have no one to aspire to be like in the theatre world. When I had lamented my frustration on Facebook on how there is a “lack of FTM actors”, one friend responded that I should combat that by becoming one.
While I never had any intent to abandon my dream of being on stage, his words struck a cord with me- there always has to be a “first”. Even if not a “first”, there still needs to be a noteworthy name and face for any type of role model. I also stopped and thought about why do I look up to role models of my own, like Laura, in the first place? It’s because she has proven that you can be transgender and still live your life how you want to. It’s because, even in the scrutiny of the music world, she came out and began to live her life, while still continuing making music and touring with her band. It’s because she can tell you her story, and say, “after all that, I did it!” She didn’t have a transgender icon in the punk music scene to look up to; she just decided to be who she is. In turn, that’s made her a role model for others.
So oddly enough, what seemed to be an issue at first became something to drive me forward even faster and harder. Now added to my list of reasons for wanting to be an actor, I want to be an example of being more in my life than just my gender identity. Even if I don’t have my own person to look up to, maybe one day I could be that person for someone else. Now, I don’t necessarily see myself as some big-shot role model (in fact, full disclosure- it kind of weirds me out when I see comments or messages from people on my YouTube channel or in my everyday life saying things like that about me), but nevertheless, I do hope that one day down the road I can at least tell my story of being transgender in theatre and conclude with the words, “After all that, I did it!”
Maybe I’ll be the first openly trans male Broadway actor. Maybe I won’t be. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if I’m the “first.” I know there will be so many challenges down the line, not all of them due to my being trans, but I’ve come so far- why stop now? Role model or not, I will march forward. As they say in this business, “the show must go on!”