March 14th 2018 – The new Saskatchewan-written musical “Us” by playwright Kelley Jo Burke debuted on February 28th, 2018 on the mainstage at the Globe Theatre. It is about a group of queer and trans youth who attend a summer camp, and inspired by real life stories collected from LGBTQ+ youth at Camp fYrefly. When the Globe Theatre invited individuals from the LGBTQ+ community to attend a pre-showing on February 27th, we attended the performance with our hearts on our sleeves, hopeful that the show would accurately represent our experiences on stage.
Since the pre-show we have heard from many LGBTQ+ people from across Saskatchewan about the production. Many were ecstatic to see stories on stage that were similar to theirs, and we saw them, with tears in their eyes, thank everybody involved in the production. Many LGBTQ+ people also shared with us the pain, hurt and trauma that they experienced while watching the production, and we saw them too, as they described, in detail, how some misrepresentations and inaccuracies were going to perpetuate harm against them. We validate and recognize all of these perspectives as important.
After the pre-show, we shared many concerns with the Globe Theatre about some inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the pre-show production, and although time was of the essence, some changes were made that we believe improved the show. We recognize that different LGBTQ+ people request and require different things from allies, and we believe that the Globe Theatre has been working hard to listen to those they are working to ally themselves with, many of whom most likely have opposing perspectives. We do not pretend to share the concerns of all LGBTQ+ people; our job, as UR Pride, is to listen to our membership and bring their concerns forward.
During “Us”, one character, Dr. Molly, speaks often about the importance of telling authentic stories and about how keeping secrets can really hurt people. We believe in providing queer and trans people the platform to tell their own stories, and although we recognize how hard Kelley Jo and the Globe Theatre worked to tell a story, it is important that audiences remember that the story depicted in “Us” about a trans woman, no matter how well-intentioned and real for some trans women watching, was not told by a trans woman, and has also harmed trans women. We are taking a cue from Dr. Molly and reminding our community how important it is to not only allow people to tell authentic stories and to be honest with ourselves, but make space for all of those stories and hold them unconditionally.
We are sharing this statement to urge people who go see the production, to ingest art in a way that is respectful, appreciative and critical. When people watch the show, we are asking that they consider a number of things.
We wish that the womanhood of Carley’s character had been acknowledged and affirmed through the casting of a woman (transgender, or cisgender). We wish that the character who bullied and refused to acknowledge or validate Carley’s womanhood had been held accountable to the violence that this perpetuates against trans women and trans feminine people, and we wish that the character had acknowledged Carley’s womanhood as part of the resolution of that conflict. We wish that the word “tranny” had been explained to the audience as a word that is weighted with trauma and violence and should never be used by people other than trans women. We wish that the placing of a sign implying that trans women aren’t real women over the women’s shower had been clearly identified by at least one character on stage as being violent, and not simply inappropriate or rude. We wish that every character had made themselves accountable to how they failed to provide a safer space, free from transmisogyny, for the trans women in their community. Above all, we wish that Carley had never accepted or excused other characters’ transmisogyny and transphobia as legitimate behaviour that should be tolerated. All cisgender people have a responsibility to not perpetuate harm or violence towards transgender people, and we believe that all cisgender people can be allies in the fight against transphobia and transmisogyny.
We recognize the extreme amount of heart and soul that has been put into this production, and we offer our thanks to those who have worked so hard. We also recognize that the pain that some queer and trans people have shared with us proves that there is more work to be done on behalf of everybody involved, including UR Pride. Our organization has the responsibility to listen to all the voices in the LGBTQ+ community, and to offer our guidance to organizations striving to be better allies, and we promise to do this. The Globe Theatre has the responsibility to take the painful, angry perspectives of the many trans people who were hurt by the stories on stage seriously, in the same way that they appreciate the positive, joyful perspectives of the many trans people who did see themselves in the stories on stage. To take another cue from Dr. Molly – it is critical that we hold ALL stories unconditionally, and we believe that The Globe Theatre can and will do this.
The entire team at the Globe Theatre has been receptive to the concerns that UR Pride has brought forward, and we see the hard work being done to make active changes to not duplicate the pain that some queer and trans people have shared. As “Us” works to teach their audience, allyship means having each other’s backs, and we believe in the Globe Theatre’s ability to be a good ally, and to have our backs, even when it’s hard. We’re proud to be willing to offer them our guidance in how to improve their allyship moving forward.
We are calling on all LGBTQ+ people and allies, even those who were touched by the production, to stand with the trans people who vocalize the violence they experienced, and make sure that they are seen, respected, listened to and above all else: that we uplift their voices. We encourage any people who can to attend the show and urge everyone to reflect on how all of us can do better job supporting each other in a world that does not always love LGBTQ+ people the amount or ways they deserve.
UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity