Known for his accessible theatre work featuring interactive projections alongside live performance, queer and transgender artist, Sunny Drake, is confronting the politics of relationships in 'Transgender Seeking...'.
Growing up in Brisbane, Sunny didn't meet another person he knew to be trans* until he was 23. “Without any reflections of my own story around me or sense of possibility, I grew up with a pervasive sense of something wrong which affected many parts of my life.”
With strong feelings towards expanding concepts of gender and also what it means to be trans*, Sunny's one-man show 'Transgender Seeking...' is an exposing, funny and tender look at queer and trans* relationships. Including the run-ins with anti-monogamy police, online dating mishaps and figuring out whether to throw out or reinvent mainstream relationship ideal, Sunny's show looks at relationships in a political way.
“The way we treat each other, learning to take responsibility when we mess up, understanding how our behaviour is shaped by bigger systems of privilege and oppression – these are some of the political issues explored in the work. Oh, but it’s funny and light hearted too!”
What is 'Transgender Seeking...' about?
The show explores queer (and other) relationships, asking questions like: what do we keep versus reinvent from mainstream relationship models? It looks at that sometimes deep chasm between how we wish we were in relationships and how we actually are – the very human challenges of jealousy, coping with being alone, how to be responsible when we mess up and finding intimacy in an age of online connections and social media.
What social situations are explored?
So many things! From non-monogamy, to dating as trans* or queer people, to being responsible in relationships to unpacking how both our personal histories and bigger political systems affect how we treat each other…
Fav scene in the show and why?
Probably the scene where Jimmy (the main character) is arguing with his own online dating profile which is projected onto a big puffy wedding dress. I love the audiences responses to how precisely timed and snappy the interaction with the video is and how many people can relate to the arguments many of us have in our own heads.
© Tania Anderson
Would you consider adapting your show from one-man to having a large cast to delve deeper into different subjects?
Funny you should ask this, because after I finish this three month touring block across Canada, Australia & Rome, I’m going to be writing a play and/or screenplay for a larger cast! Although I also enjoy the challenge of playing multiple characters myself. Many people have said this doesn’t feel like a one-man show because of the ways I interact with the video projections.
You see relationships as political, how so?
Many of us have a tendency to think of topics like the environment or unemployment as political, but think of our relationships as somehow private and beyond politics. How does growing up in a racist country with a colonial hangover affect how we do (and don’t) love each other? Why are some people consistently seen as more desirable than others? How are our relationships affected by growing up in a society where we use police and prisons to solve problems? We learn from an early age that the only options when someone messes up are either to minimise the situation (“it wasn’t really that bad”) or to punish them, for example by socially ostracising them. What other ways are there to create transformation and healing beyond these two options?
© Tania Anderson
Do you hope to change people's opinions and outlook on something in particular with this production?
I hope people will leave questioning their own relationships, and with an excitement about continuing the lifelong work of transforming the ways we love each other. I also want to crack open people’s ideas about trans* narratives – it’s time we start recognising the galaxy of gender options and stories and make space for a whole array of different ways of being trans*.
How do you approach making your work accessible, when it so often has deeply personal themes?
The strange this is: I find the more specific a story I tell, the more a broad array of people seem to be able to relate to it! Beneath the specific details there are a lot of commonalities between many of our experiences. For example, Jimmy (the main character) is a queer trans* man and talks about having a complicated relationship with his body, loving some of his body and not liking other parts – I know many non-trans* people who feel similarly! Of course, there a lot of differences too between our experiences and it’s important to not erase those differences. For example, in the show Jimmy acknowledges his whiteness and how that shapes his experiences.
© Tania Anderson
Your inspiration for 'Transgender Seeking...' stemmed from heartbreak, how did your emotions influence and shape the production?
The original short version seven years ago stemmed from the heartbreak of being in love with my best friend (again) but this longer version has moved more into fiction. My own personal experiences have certainly influenced the work, but at the end of the day, I’m very clear on the difference between my own personal process versus the creative work I put on the stage. I have to do a bunch of personal transformation to make the piece, but that doesn’t necessarily end up in the piece itself. I make decisions about what goes in the work based on what I think will make strong creative work that says what I want it to say.
It's also a lighthearted and amusing look into queer and trans* relationships, are you ever worried you'll step on someone's toes with certain humour?
Over the years I’ve learned that humour goes down best when it’s either directed at myself (ie, the jokes on me) OR making fun of people who have more systemic power than me, rather than making fun of people who experience more hardship than me. For example, I make fun of the way non-trans* people can get so incredibly confused about trans* people’s body parts and genders, but personally I think that joke is fair enough - I could either laugh or cry about it and I choose to laugh! And I make sure to poke fun at people in way that ultimately draws them in to rest of the story by creating lots of connection between our different experiences, rather than simply calling people out.
© Tania Anderson
Growing up, you didn't meet another person you knew was trans* until you were 23 – was there a reason?
There was a complete lack of stories or representations of trans* people, beyond awful jokes in movies about trans* women, which we unfortunately still see today. I didn’t have any sort of role models for who I could allow myself to be. And without this language, I didn’t know where to look to even figure out that I was trans*. By the time I hit puberty, I’d pretty deeply buried any sense of myself as trans* and it only emerged later when I started to meet other trans* people. Even then, it was a little confusing because I don’t fit the narrow ideas many people have of a trans* man. For example, I’m actually very effeminate. I love pink frilly things! So for a long time I didn’t think I was a “real” trans* person, which cut me off from a lot of community. I’ve since discovered that a lot of other trans* people have felt similarly, and there are an infinite variety of ways of being trans*.
How do you suggest trans* people go about meeting others like them, and embracing and loving who they are?
In terms of loving ourselves, it profoundly impacted me to learn about trans* history. Read books like “Transgender Warriors” by Leslie Feinberg. It’s deeply healing to know that trans* people have existed all throughout time and in pretty much every imaginable culture. What’s more – most cultures have had at least an era at some point where trans* people have been accepted and often seen as sacred, healers or leaders. Learn about trans* people in your own cultural backgrounds – it’s awesome!
Finding other trans* people to hang out with is also deeply nourishing. There’s a bunch of social groups and services now, like 'Open Doors' in Brisbane, Facebook groups and online stuff. Google amazing trans* people like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Miss Major, Syvlia Rivera.
© Tania Anderson
Brisbane's LGBTIQ community has grown substantially in the past few years – are you proud of your home city for the support?
When I found out that Melt Festival was happening I actually literally squealed! It’s amazing to see a Brisbane queer arts and cultural festival spring to life and I’m thrilled to get to be a part of the first festival. Because I spend a lot of time overseas, it’s always a delight to return home and see the incredible transformations that are happening in Brisbane. Go Brissie!
Anything else readers should know?
I do a bunch of writing using personal experiences to explore queer and trans* politics. After such a strong response to my blog (over 70,000 views in the last year), I’m writing a book.
Sunny Drake will be performing 'Transgender Seeking...' on a national tour along with workshops.
TOUR DATES27-31 Jan – Midsumma Festival (Melbourne)
8 Feb – Melt Festival (Brisbane)
19-21 Feb – Centre Of Contemporary Arts (Cairns)
27 Feb – Sunshine Coast Pride Festival
1 March – Hervey Bay
6 March – University Of Southern Queensland Arts Theatre (Toowoomba)
13-15 March – The Old Courthouse Theatre (Townsville)
27 March – Earl Arts Centre (Launceston)