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


Figure 3., Dora Arreola lifts Maria Vale in the “Quinceañera/Maquiladora Waltz” at New WORLD Theatre’s Summer Play Lab., Amherst College, 2005. Photo by Ed Cohen
Figure 3., Dora Arreola lifts Maria Vale in the “Quinceañera/Maquiladora Waltz” at New WORLD Theatre’s Summer Play Lab., Amherst College, 2005. Photo by Ed Cohen

The journey of the play thus becomes a journey to voice and agency, in which only an encounter of queer possibility, of deviance from the norm, lights the way out of patriarchal oppression. In the final image of the performance, the women connect in a moment of intimacy, at last arriving at a true encuentro, a possibility of transgression, and begin to transform their pain into hope, together.27

The Complications of Cross-border Collaboration
What is on the other side?

is the contradiction of this side
a subaltern river.
un río subterraneo.
Just the old with a new dress
the masquerade of contemporaneity.
El pájaro está en otro lado,
pero las plumas caen aquí
where little of me
donde un poco de mí
. . . remains.
. . . permanece.28

As Rosa Linda Fregoso suggests in “Gender, Multiculturalism and the Missionary Position in the Borderlands,”29 the political position of México in relation to the US is one of submission to a “masculinist colonial fantasy that authorizes and privileges the white man’s access to brown female bodies.” México itself is feminized as the “bottom” that must submit to the US position of domination. How, then, is it possible for artists from the United States and México to collaborate equitably? Does this power relationship change if the two subjects in question are both woman-identified? Mohanty states that “Sisterhood”—or, to queer this metaphor a bit, perhaps partnership—“cannot be assumed on the basis of gender; it must be forged in concrete historical and political practice and analysis . . . Feminist discourses, critical and liberatory in intent, are not thereby exempt from inscription in their internal power relations.”30

One might argue, as Marxist Jazz scholar and poet Fred Moten has, that equitable cross-racial collaboration is impossible given the brutal inequities of our shared global histories. Yet creating—which is to say, inventing and constructing—equitable processes, and means of working together in mutual support, is in fact central to the project of feminist activism by women of color. As artists, we are constantly inventing new structures. Our approach was to confront the inherent power relationships in the creative process, and invert them in relation to patterns of historical disempowerment. For example, the director is generally the most powerful collaborator in the artistic process, having the final decision in the ultimate representation of images on stage. For this collaboration, therefore, it was significant that I—a Mexicana from the border region—was the director of the performance. Assaf’s texts, informed by a community-based process, were approached as raw material in the construction of a world on stage.

As professional artists conducting workshops in marginalized communities, we also had to be conscious of power dynamics, and to be very clear about our practices and intentions. As Butler advises in “The Question of Social Transformation:”

Feminists as well must ask whether the ‘representation’ of the poor, the indigenous and the radically disenfranchised . . . is a patronizing and colonizing effort, or whether it seeks to somehow avow the conditions of translation that make it possible, avow the power and privilege of the intellectual, avow the links in history and culture that make an encounter between poverty, for instance, and . . . writing possible.31

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