transVersing: From the Stage to the Page

transVersing: From the Stage to the Page

From acclaimed stage production to groundbreaking anthology, transVersing is one of the first trans-authored traditionally published books in Newfoundland history. 

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Described as “Shakespeare meets slam poetry and the fiddle meets soapbosquirex rant” by its publishing company Breakwater Books, transVersing is possibly the first trans-authored, traditionally published book to come out of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The collection is timely, as March 31st  was observed as a national Transgender Day of Visibility.

Local trans youth

An anthology of work by local trans youth, transVersing was published in late 2018, and features content from Violet Drake, Daze Jeffries, Fionn Shea, Perin Squires, Taylor Stocks and Dane Woodland.

transVersing began as a stage production by Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland and For the Love of Learning. The play premiered in March of 2017, selling out the Barbara Barrett Theatre in St. John’s.

Three of the six authors – Woodland, Drake, and Squires – spoke to The Herald in 2019, nearing the two year anniversary of the play’s debut. Woodland recalled seeing a call for submissions for the book, but didn’t feel like he had the capacity to be involved.

Though experienced in public speaking, “the idea of expressing myself in an artful manner was intimidating and seemingly beyond my scope.”

Growing as a writer

For The Love of Learning’s Gemma Hickey encouraged Dane to submit a monologue. 

“From there, I grew into myself as a writer through the interactions we had in our collective and creative space. Now I have written several poems and have ideas for even more,” Woodland said. “I attribute much of this growth to my experience with the cast and crew of the production.”

Perin Squires, based in Ontario, was working on Artistic Fraud’s tour of Colony of Unrequited Dreams in London, Ontario when they learned of the book. 

“Patrick Foran and Robert Chafe have been very supportive of me writing, even though I had doubts in my skills as a storyteller. I am forever grateful for their faith in me,” they shared.

Drake came to the transVersing family by way of the original director, Berni Stapleton, she explained. “She scouted me after hearing me speak at a local Trans Day of Remembrance event at the end of 2017. [Stapleton] introduced herself to me and believed that my voice was important and that I had the talent for a greater stage.”

‘Our perspectives’

The trio of writers recounted opening night. “One particular thought that played on a seemingly endless loop was this fear of being vulnerable and being misunderstood,” Woodland shared. 

“The pieces we have produced are deeply personal and provide an intimate look at our lived experience through our perspectives. As we know, much of the world is currently challenging those perspectives – in many places, those perspectives are being erased, pathologized, and mocked. I was so afraid that my words would be without impact, or that they would not serve myself and my peers in the way that I had hoped.”

Squires was still in Ontario, but appears as “a disembodied voice.” They hope to join the cast in their “corporeal form one day,” they joked.

“On one hand, it was a dream come true for me,” Drake said. “On the other hand, it was something I had no prior experience with. When I began writing at age 13, I never would have imagined that I would be doing theatrical poetry for a crowd of over a hundred. I always get nervous right before any performance, but it felt unreal the first time I stepped out on stage for transVersing. Exhilarating and nauseating, incredible and insecure, grateful and shocked all at once. I’ll never forget it.” 

‘Hugely surreal’

“It felt surreal,” Drake said. This particular adjective would show up in each of the contributor’s responses, especially when asked about how it felt to finally hold a copy of the book.

“It is hugely surreal to see your name attached to something so physical. For myself, due to the dissonance I have with my body, I often live a lot inside of my head,” Squires said. 

“To see a story you have replayed within your mind or, pushed back to the darkest corner, to see it on a page, on a stage, or on a screen … It feels really good to have people interested in an aspect of your life that you had been previously shamed for, and encouraged to hide.”

“Given the historical erasure and subjugation of transgender authors in this province, it felt very strange when I finally held the book in my own hands for the first time,” Drake added.

“The entire constellation of experiences this show has given me has allowed me to express myself in a way that I kept hidden as a child due to fears of inferiority. transVersing has given me the opportunity to take my creativity seriously and pushes me to grow in ways that were never possible for me prior to the show.”

“Attending the fall book launch for Breakwater Books was so surreal. I felt like a celebrity,” Woodland laughed. “It is incredible to consider that we have contributed to trans activism and history through this work,

“I had never imagined I’d end up becoming a published author as a result of this process. It’s amazing what can happen when you work at something you really believe in.”

Trans activism

When asked what they hope readers take away from this book, each writer had a similar yet unique response.“The sole takeaway I hope to send through this, and all of my trans activism, is that we are not THAT different from everyone else,” Woodland said. 

“Yes, we have different needs and a desire to be understood by a world that doesn’t accommodate our existence, that is indeed true. But, we are also people, and we share common human qualities like dreams/ambitions, a need to belong, love and loss, fear, joy, and success.”

“The truths we as a cast share are important and powerful,” Drake stated. 

Squires offered a directive: “Read more stories, see more plays, and watch more movies about people that are not like yourself. See and acknowledge the everyday humanity in people.”

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