Bullish and Testosterone, two shows that look at gender fluidity and transitioning, play down the road from each other in London this month. Samuel Sims talks to creator of Bullish, Lucy J Skilbeck, and co-creator of Testosterone, Kit Redstone, about the productions and their experiences around gender:

Bullish, Milk Presents‘ headlining show of Camden People Theatre‘s brand new Come As You Are Festival, is taking gender – with its many supposed restrictions – and dismantling it once and for all. At the same time,  just down the road in the New Diorama TheatreRhum and Clay‘s co-production of Testosterone explores the issues of masculine identity from the perspective of a trans man.

“It’s about taking control of dysphoria, grabbing it by the horns, finding a sense of who you are and feeling a power and calm within that”

I spoke to the writer and director of Bullish, Lucy J Skilbeck, as well as co-creator of Testosterone, Kit Redstone, about identity and the explosive effects of masculinity:

Kit Redstone (image courtesy of Daniel Regan)

Why create a show about masculinity? What does masculinity mean to you?

Lucy: As a gender fluid person, identifying as masculine and assigned female at birth, I am interested in masculinity and its problems. I am interested in female masculinity and masculine femininity, in blurring what we mean when we say ‘man’ or ‘male’. For some people transition might mean one set gender to another set gender, but for me it’s not clear cut – there is no end game. 

Kit: To me, a show about masculinity is as relevant to women as it is to men. Women are often marginalised by the patriarchal structures in our society, so we can only change the things that need urgently to be changed by addressing masculinity. As an ideal it looks like clichés and cardboard cut-outs, but in reality – and I learn this more every day – masculinity is an enormous, infinite spectrum. Male vulnerability is something that I think is very important.

It feels like the conversation surrounding gender has come out of nowhere.

Lucy: We hope that our work responds and contributes to the shift in perceptions around gender identity. I feel invigorated by the growing dialogue, but I’m not sure it has come out of nowhere. For me, this isn’t something new or some sort of ‘interesting subject for the world to ponder and look in on’ – it’s an everyday thing. We’ve been making work around gender for the last seven years; there are artists who have been exploring this for decades; before them individuals have been mucking around with gender for centuries.

Kit: Gender is so much a social construct that I find it absolutely fascinating. Beyond biological differences, the expectations we put on both men and women to conform to certain behaviour codes, dress codes and dynamics is really strange. Having transitioned from female to male I guess I have witnessed firsthand the differences. I suppose I can say with a little authority that it feels safer to be a man than a woman and that there is an immediate respect inherent in being perceived as male.

Bullish looks at ancient and new territories in trans-masculine gender and identity. What distinction has been found between the past and present?

LucyQueerness is nothing new. Take the genderless Ain Sakhri Figures of 9000BC, or the character of the prophet Tiresias who changes gender for part of their life – our history is rich with queer people and characters. Yet we have this idea that history is a linear narrative towards becoming more ‘civilised’ or more ‘educated’.

A show about masculinity is as relevant to women as it is to men

Will the gender rule book ever be rewritten?!

Lucy: I believe it will be rewritten over and over, shredded and turned into glitter confetti. Some ideas run deep, but everything is malleable. A gendered world benefits capitalism, existing power structures and ensuring we police ourselves appropriately. However our language is already bursting at the seams – when people get a taste for the freedom living without gender, there is revolutionary potential.

Do you think that trans-gender individuals are pressured to conform to society’s strict binary expectations?

Kit: Yes, absolutely. There is a lot of talk of ‘passing’ amongst the trans-community. But then a lot of trans folk live in places where it’s dangerous to be read as trans – so for some it is a matter of life and death. I am incredibly lucky, surrounded by liberal friends and family, so it is easy for me to declare myself trans without repercussions. 

Some ideas run deep, but everything is malleable

What can an audience, particularly one not used to either theatre company’s work, expect from the productions?

LucyMore than anything we aim for our audiences to have a good time with us. There is a story in Bullish, which takes place over the course of a night – there will be songs, gender mash ups, glitter.

Kit: Our aim was to make a show not about the act of transitioning, but to explore identity through the eyes of a trans-protagonist. What we shared with Testosterone was a playful, comedic approach to making work. We really wanted a show that balances the gritty stuff with humour.

I want the audience to think about their identity rather than it being something they just accept as rigid, to think about the toxic behaviours that we are all complicit in allowing to happen. I would like a more right wing audience to realise that trans people are not delicate snowflakes, but as complex and ridiculous and silly as everyone else.

To read more about Bullish, which plays Camden People’s Theatre, London until 30 September 2017, follow the company on Twitter (@MilkPresents) or visit the website – www.milkpresents.com

To read more about Testosterone, which plays New Diorama Theatre, London until 16 September 2017, follow the company on Twitter (@rhumandclay) or visit the website – www.rhumandclay.com