Sex neutral.

Graduation, Lebanon Catholic High School, June 1999.

In junior year of high school, we took Catholic Morality with Mr. Beazley. Despite the formidable name of the class, Mr. Beazley was a wonderful teacher, one of the best I’ve ever had (and father to six dear friends of mine, as it happens). I remember, at the start of one class, he asked us, “What makes a woman a woman, and a man a man?” This being conservative Central Pennsylvania, there was a predictable chorus of dreadful answers: a woman nurtures and stays home, a man is strong and protects the weak, and so on. I knew these answers were off, but even I, the “class feminist” (not a complimentary title), was convinced there was something essential about Being a Woman and Being a Man that I just hadn’t named before.

Our class debated furiously. Mr. Beazley was grinning enigmatically the whole time. The bell rang and we all looked to him in exasperation. He said, “What makes a woman a woman and a man a man?” He shrugged. “Nothing.”

And just like that, those of us who wanted to be freed, were freed.

Fifteen years later, I’m working on a play about astrophysicists on retreat, and insert the following:

Note on casting: In this play, the sex and race of each character are arbitrary; that is, they are irrelevant to the plot and the to the characters’ actions within the bounds of the play. Therefore, cross-casting by sex is encouraged, and casting a wide diversity of racial and ethnic backgrounds is not only encouraged, but necessary. Questions of diversity in theater aside, the scientific community is extremely diverse, and the cast should reflect that. Names and pronouns can be changed to suit the actor cast in each role.

I get really annoyed really quickly at “traditional casting.” It’s like “traditional marriage.” Traditional since fuckin when? Aren’t we artists? Isn’t this theater? Whose sensibilities are we serving, or protecting? Last summer, I auditioned for a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; my monologue was Launce’s speech from Two Gentleman of Verona; on the audition form I put down that I wanted to be considered for Puck or any of the Rude Mechanicals. I wasn’t cast. A few months later I saw the production. Puck and all the Mechanicals were played by men. I thought, “…oh.” And then I thought about one of the best Shakespeare productions I’ve ever seen, Troilus and Cressida by the Delta Boys, where Achilles, Patroclus, Hector, and Ajax were all played by women. They were played so well that I have a hard time imagining them being played by men. The best person was cast in each role, regardless of sex.

Of course there are instances where the sex of a character is essential—the playwright’s trying to say something that can’t be said without conventional gender construction (that’s the case with What Every Girl Should Know). Otherwise, does someone get pregnant? No?…Well then. In The Pentaeon, I’m continually changing the sex of every character and noticing how tempting it is to rely on sex, alone, to define character; and how much their sex has nothing at all to do with who they can be. It’s wonderful. It’s remarkable. It’s freeing.

One Comment on “Sex neutral.”

  1. Rick Jay says:

    Sex neutral a keen proposition.
    “Kiss Kiss Julie” was an endearing example.
    Your blogs keep me from forgetting the basics.
    My next project is James Baldwin’s “The Amen Corner”, to be performed at Dillard U.
    Wish me luck and the same to you..

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