‘I, Joan’ Centers Trans and Non-binary Visibility

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‘I, Joan’ is a uncooked and pointed affirmation of trans and non-binary lives. It additionally makes a variety of cisgender individuals, together with some feminists, uncomfortable.

Isabel Thom as Joan of Arc within the Globe theater’s ‘I, Joan.’ (Screenshot)

This 12 months we’ve seen an unbelievable escalation within the warfare on transgender rights. In the USA, over 155 bills restricting or banning basic human rights for transgender people have been launched as of Oct. 2022. And in England, trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) who root gender in biology and reject that trans and nonbinary persons are legitimate are having their second within the solar — lauded by politicians and the press — and are influencing the rise in anti-trans legislation.

In an excellent stroke of timing, nonetheless, Shakespeare’s Globe in London produced a play this summer season that reimagined one in all historical past’s biggest gender transgressors. Inspiring a whirlwind of controversy, I, Joan is a feminist, queer and trans re-telling of the enduring story of Joan of Arc written by Charlie Josephine. It’s also a much-needed respite from the onslaught of transphobia that pervades widespread media in the present day.

I noticed the present in August after I was in London collaborating in a examine overseas expertise with different Oregon State College college students and school.

On this model, Josephine imagines Joan as a nonbinary person — and a queer, nonbinary actor, Isabel Thom, performs Joan. All through the present, we see Joan pushing towards the constraints of gender.

Maybe one of the crucial highly effective moments of the play happens within the first jiffy when a non-binary Joan sporting a chest binder, blue denims with a trans satisfaction flag sewn onto the again pocket, and trans satisfaction coloured socks loudly voices a trans manifesto. “Trans individuals,” they proclaim, “are sacred. We’re the divine.”

Isabel Thom as Joan of Arc within the Globe theater’s ‘I, Joan.’ (Screenshot)

As a trans American within the viewers, my coronary heart swelled with satisfaction and solidarity. I checked out my trans colleagues seated subsequent to me and noticed tears of pleasure of their eyes and heard the loud cheers of queers within the viewers. This was a second of celebration and satisfaction that underlined the significance of reinterpreting historical past in ways in which problem and contest binary and heteronormative expectations.

But, at that second when my colleagues and I had been feeling unabashed pleasure and satisfaction in our neighborhood, we seen that many viewers members had been making some extent of leaving the play, making their disgust identified. It was at that second that Thom as Joan raised their voice and continued with the manifesto in a show of trans energy.

The present is a uncooked and pointed affirmation of trans and non-binary lives. It additionally makes a variety of cisgender individuals, together with some feminists, uncomfortable.

Critics of the play have accused I, Joan of being an assault on girls’s historical past and of pandering to liberal politics. What we see in lots of of those criticisms can be a thinly veiled transphobia masquerading as feminist thought. Paradoxically, those that have made the declare that this play is an affront to girls’s historical past are outright ignoring that Joan was not persecuted (and finally burned on the stake) for being a girl. As Leslie Feinberg identified in Transgender Warriors, Joan was killed for transgressing binary gender.

We will reclaim Joan each as an icon of girls’s historical past and an icon of trans historical past. We don’t have to decide on. 

Moreover, those that critique the play as anti-woman have blatantly ignored the constant feminist themes all through the play. Joan replies to the myriad sexist remarks made about their gender with snarky quips akin to “The lads speak about me as if I’m not right here,” and “Is that this what it’s prefer to be a person? So positive of themselves!” Joan pushes again towards the French noblewomen who normalize their abuse by the hands of males and anticipate Joan to do the identical as a matter of gender.

Time and again, Joan rejects efforts to pressure them into binary gender. The historic Joan did this as effectively.

Court docket paperwork from Joan’s execution element at size how Joan’s insistence on being perceived as male was blasphemous and that Joan proclaimed that they’d relatively die than current themself as feminine. Even after Joan’s execution, individuals gathered to view their bare flesh, “proving” their assigned intercourse at delivery.

What extra proof do we’d like that Joan was an individual who dared to push the boundaries of binary gender, challenged the sexist and patriarchal the Aristocracy who profited from their labor and emerged a feminist hero? In spite of everything, it’s potential to be each a feminist hero and a transgender or gender non-conforming particular person. We will reclaim Joan each as an icon of girls’s historical past and an icon of trans historical past. We don’t have to decide on. 

All through the play, Josephine connects modern-day assaults on trans human rights to Joan’s experiences in feudal France, demonstrating that the pathologization and mock of trans our bodies is just not a product of latest historical past — as evidenced by Queen Marie calling Joan a “beast” and exclaiming, “I don’t know what you might be.” Joan can also be subjected to genital examinations, just like a lot of in the present day’s calls for that trans individuals “show” their gender by bodily examination.

I, Joan serves an essential operate within the preservation of historic icons who dared to transgress gender.

To reimagine Joan as non-binary takes little effort, as we see the historic details of Joan’s story as somebody who rejected expectations of gender and refused to evolve to the day’s social and spiritual calls for of somebody assigned feminine at delivery. The play powerfully embraces the each/and of feminist and trans/queer prospects for understanding and celebrating Joan.

After the play, I walked alongside the Thames with my pals from Oregon State College. We’re a gaggle comprised of cisgender, non-binary and transgender college students. That evening, the solidarity felt palpable. We had conversations in regards to the complexity of gender and the absurdity of assaults on transgender rights. I seen reduction and happiness wash over my trans and non-binary pals’ faces. It’s uncommon that we’re made to really feel supported by massive teams of cisgender individuals.

As a trans particular person, I’m used to seeing individuals like me demonized within the media. Our lives are sometimes represented by tragedy. Whereas I, Joan actually doesn’t have a cheerful ending, this play serves an essential operate within the preservation of historic icons who’ve dared to transgress gender. Critics of this play ought to ask themselves why discussions of gender fluidity and identification are so upsetting to them. Their consternation at a non-binary Joan might say far more about them than it does the play.

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