Transgenero Performance: Gender and Transformation in Fronteras Desviadas/Deviant Borders

In our creative process, we explore the sources of creativity, ritual structures, the “internal pulse” and the creation of actions (as described by Thomas Richards).6 We work from the impulse of the performer that comes before the manifestation of an expression or movement. Impulses have no gender, and are not confined by realism. This is significant because to break the paradigms of traditional Western theatre, and the Euro-American concept of realism (which has dominated theatre since the mid-1800s, and typically re-inscribes a ‘reality’ created and controlled by men) is to break the social constructions of gender and representation, and to begin a process of decolonizing our creativity. Thus, interdisciplinarity is profoundly important in the work of Mujeres en Ritual. We often devise our own texts, re-interpret plays, or use no text at all; we employ poetry and prose, narrative and abstraction, evolving our aesthetic through a seamless exploration of diverse forms. We do not subscribe to divisions or categories of form, discipline, or genre, which create artificial “borders” between human modes of expression.

Further, the company pushes the boundaries of sexuality and gender representation by performing a spectrum of identities, including male, female and transgendered characters. When women perform male characters (an act historically considered “deviant”), several things happen: catharsis, parody, political commentary, and discovery of the freedom of transgressing assigned gender roles or taboo gender expressions. Our practice, then, becomes an embodied testament to the performativity of gender, as described by Judith Butler:

The various acts of gender create the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis . . . Gender reality is performative which means, quite simply, that it is real only to the extent that it is performed.7

Theatre critic Sergio Rommel8 describes the work of Mujeres en Ritual as fitting “in the frame of hybrid and trans-genre traditions,” such that the company’s “transgression of borders in multiple ways” constitutes a form of transgenero performance—meaning both transgender and trans-genre. In an attempt to provide a deeper understanding of transgenero performance, and its aesthetic and political significance, this chapter explores in detail the creation and production of one of our representative works, Fronteras Desviadas, or Deviant Borders, with special attention to how transgeneridad is manifested in those processes. Because Fronteras Desviadas/Deviant Borders involved collaboration with US-based, Arab American writer and performer Andrea Assaf, this exploration also reveals the complexities of such border-crossing collaborations between queer women of color from two very different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.9

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