William Glick's play, Kin Folk, proposes a trio of sisters on the brink of major change. Following the death of their parents, the plan is to sell the family house in the suburbs and follow their respective blisses in glamorous Chicago.
Mary prepares to launch her homemaking website, offering advice on creating the perfect household. Eleanor has recently transitioned from male to female and looks forward with undiluted eagerness to life in the city. Lucy is caught in the middle of an identity crisis, though, her ambivalence arising from the prospect of leaving before completing her initiation into the world of "Otherkin" — a community of once-magical creatures now forced to live incognito among human beings — when she will be re-baptized as the mighty dragon, Kreeka. Of the three, only Eleanor remains confident and steadfast as she faces a new future.
Once upon a time, this role would have been played by an exceptionally tall and/or brawny female actor, or a male actor in drag. For this New Colony world premiere production, however, Eleanor is portrayed by Alexia Jasmene, herself a transgender actress whom audiences may recall seeing in Step Up's 2015 holiday production of Mia McCullough's Temperance vs. Tolerance, where she also played a transgendered child of a family at odds with one another's life choices.
"Every trans narrative is different, but for myself, I knew I was a girl when I was four years old," Jasmene confided. "My femininity was pretty prominent until I was nine, when — let's say, an individual new to my life — began to harangue me so that I hid who I was from the world and myself. At the age of 24, I was living in China, teaching English and trying to make inroads into music and acting, when I finally had my moment of complete self-acceptance."
China is not a country that comes to mind when listing enclaves of non-conformist behavior, but Jasmene said there was no overt hostility while undergoing transition: "I had steady employment, a small amount of savings, an apartment, a group of supportive friends, and my uncle is a doctor who has helped trans women through their transitions. Even on the other side of this planet, I had knowledgeable people to assist me." She added, with a slight frown, "I didn't factor in the 'all-white-people-look-the-same' attitude of the local population, or being stared at for both my height and my complexion — but I never encountered the hate and violence that I might have met here in the States."
The family in William Glick's play may have problems acclimating to their relations' adopted identities (both intergender or interspecies) — but Jasmene has nothing but praise for those witnessing her re-entry into U.S. society.
"I have been insanely lucky compared to most trans individuals," she said. "My new name and pronouns were a hurdle at first, but although there are still a few slip-ups, my family and long-time friends are trying their hardest to adjust. Most trans folk don't have this kind of network. Fortunately, there are organizations that can help trans people in crisis, like Trans Lifeline (the only trans crisis line in the country), or Trans Tech, which finds them employment opportunities. Their budgets are minuscule compared to the demand for their services, though."
In both plays featuring Jasmene in their casts, her character has been designated "transgender" in the script. Does the actress anticipate a time when she can play, say, Dolly Levi or Lady Macbeth, rather than roles custom-tailored and labeled "transgender?"
"I'd like to expand my range to include cis women, but I also would like to continue rewriting the 'pathetic-man-in-a-dress' stereotypes. I'm looking to break into film and television where I can portray strong, capable, individualized trans women. This is especially important at this time, because we are severely underrepresented in mainstream media — accurately represented, that is — and these stories, and plays, and films and television show influence society's perceptions of who we are in real life."
Her transgender character's adaptation to new ways of viewing the world proves the most successful over the course of the play. Does Jasmene think the playwright planned it that way?
"I think all cis writers should take a page from William Glick's book, especially his including people from the trans community in his research. Eleanor is more sure-footed than her relatives because she already had to go through so much in her quest to live authentically, and that's a process that usually forces you to find the core of who you are and what you want. The play is about extreme attitudes and how they can turn on themselves, but Eleanor can pick up the pieces and keep forging ahead even when things get tough. It has been a joy to play her."