Transgender Bible Characters–The Power of Narrative
by Peterson August 11, 2009 by p2son
I’ve been listening to a great podcast–Mandrake Society Radio and in particular to an interview with Steven G. Fullwood, founder of the Black Gay/Lesbian Archive, located in the Schomberg Center for Black Culture in the New York City Library. One theme that comces up more than once in the interview has to do with the power of narrative and with it the critical work to gather our stories, store them and especially to share them. Take some time and check out Mandrake Society Radio’s host JW Richard’s blog. Lots of good stuff there.
Today I have been organizing details and promotion for the upcoming fall tour of Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. I will be all over the place including Seattle, WA, Hartford, CT, Highlands, NC, Chattanooga, TN, Phoenix, AZ and a bunch of others in the works
Although my play is about transgender and gender-variant Bible characters, it is grounded in real life modern narratives I received through interviews with dozens of transgender people. The first transgender people I really got to know where through my Quaker channels and then through academic conferences. I sat down with individuals and said, “Please tell me your story,” then I attempted to listen deeply without interrupting much or asking too many questions. I let them tell me what was important about their stories. What struck me was the humor many of the interviewees included in their narratives, even some very difficult accounts that included the worst kind of rejection from family and friends. Many communicated a life force, a commitment to living their lives honestly and opening in spite of the obstacles.
These narratives I wove together with well-known and lesser-known Bible stories. I won’t tell you all of them now (you have to see it for yourself) but in this video I give you a little idea of my perspective:
Recently I began working with other artists around these transgender/gender-variant Bible stories. Mila and Jayna of Trans-Ponder Podcast (a really super, informative and FUN podcast) are both comic book/graphic novel artists. They have begun the first few drawings of Transfigurations–The Graphic Novel (and it is looking hot!) I have also begun working with the musical theater king (queen?) and grandfather of queer blogging Steve Schalchlin on Transfigurations–The Musical! He has already sent me a sample song for my character Hegai to sing.
In discussing the play with these other artists, I received helpful and at times difficult questions about the characters, the visuals in the stories, and the backgrounds of the players. These questions have helped me to flush out the story more fully. In considering Deborah, the warrior poet, and her body type, I didn’t see a typical comic superhero woman svelte with a mini waist. I thought of some of the strong full-bodied woman I know–healthy and big exuding a powerful presence of mind and body. In considering the daily life of Hegai, the gender-variant eunuch servant in King Xerxes’ (and Queen Esther’s) court I imagined what Hegai’s personal quarters might have been like in contrast to the other parts of palace where Hegai worked. I wondered about Hegai’s role in the palace, the complications a eunuch might face and the games one might be expected to play. I wondered about how one might feel about the expectations that others place on someone who very well never wanted to be a eunuch, and how one might have to present in order to be seen as harmless by others in the court.
Of course we never know for sure, and that is what makes art important and difficult work. We draw on narratives as we attempt to capture the essence of a person, a place, a story.
If you want to see Transfigurations yourself, check out my performance schedule. If I will be near you and you would like to see about booking a talk or something, let me know! Stay tuned for the other Transfigurations projects coming up over the next year!