Pride Project 2020: What Pride Means to Me – Representation in the Arts by J. A. Pascual

A rainbow logo includes the following title. Pride Project 2020. What pride means to me: representation in the arts. By J.A. Pascual.

Welcome to Pride Project 2020! In this day-long series, a few queer writers share a moment of Pride on the last day of Pride Month. Read all the Pride Project posts (and identity posts) here. This post is by J.A. Pascual.

The first time I came to the revelation that I wasn’t straight was when I was fifteen years old. Read that again. Fifteen. Some might argue fifteen is too young to realize who you are, I felt it was too old by the time I knew who I was. “If only I had discovered who I was back in middle school, I could’ve been happier instead of the miserable, awkward sack of rags that I was,” I remember thinking to myself. While sexuality is already a curious facet to who we are as humans, it’s always something I found was interesting to discover when you are young. 

I first came out as bisexual to my mom because I didn’t want her to worry that I was “only into girls.” Little did I know that was internalized homophobia on my part. I made the joke to her, “You won’t have to worry about me being a statistic for teen pregnancy because I’m mostly interested in girls.”  I also didn’t know I was just one-hundred percent GAY. 

This was also around the time I started to dive into the world of theater. As a closeted queer kid, you’d think I’d have found my confidence with other “stereotypical gay theater” kids (I put that in quotes because a surprising amount of the kids in the first musical theater camp I attended at fifteen were straight), but alas, I was still not super confident. I took part in the “fake it ‘till you make it!” slogan. I wasn’t confident because I recognized that I looked far different from my White peers and friends in the program. I was pretty sure I was the only one of mixed race, and I didn’t want to ask anyone as I knew that conversation is always awkward and quite frankly, irrelevant. 

Being of a mixed race family and someone who now identifies as queer and non-binary, there is a limited amount of roles for someone who looks and is like me in theater. So when I see a role that calls for someone who’s non-binary, you bet I hop on that casting call. 

The first role I had where I was able to identify with the role, which gave me pride in who I am, was Adalaide in Sam Billinger’s play, Six Years Old. Adalaide is a six-year-old human who is going through turmoil over their gender identity. Adalaide was born female, and detests all things related to being a girl. She hates her name, she hates her clothes, she hates smelling like lavender. Adalaide wants to be Han Solo. Adalaide also wants to be a dancer, who happens to be Han Solo. Her younger brother, Dewey, doesn’t think she can be Han Solo because she’s a girl, although Adalaide is fairly adamant about not wanting to be a girl and wanting to be Han Solo instead. The siblings fight over this constantly throughout the play. Adalaide seems to realize that they are not their assigned sex at birth, which puts them in emotional distress. At one point in the play, Adalaide completes a rather dark task for someone so young. They want to “reincarnate” into Han Solo, because one of their friends told them reincarnation would turn them into someone they want to be. Adalaide wishes extremely hard to become Han Solo. 

It appears that in this play, while gender dysphoria isn’t mentioned, I believe that Adalaide was experiencing gender dysphoria. Adalaide only wanted to wear their Han Solo vest. Much like myself, I prefer to wear more masculine clothing and feel uncomfortable in feminine clothing. Even if at times I think to myself “Fuck gender roles!” and try to wear whatever I want. Adalaide seemed to know who they were at such a young age, and I only wish I had known. Although looking back at my youth, I was in a perpetual “tomboy” phase because I hated “girly” clothes as well. So maybe I did know, but it was the internalized transphobia and not having access to language to fit how I felt about my gender.

While I was only able to be Adalaide over Zoom since the pandemic started and live theater wasn’t happening, it was a joy to play Adalaide  To be able to walk in the life of someone so young, feel what they are feeling and strongly knowing who they are inside was empowering to me. I felt connected to Adalaide in a way that I haven’t felt connected to another character before. I typically would play female-written characters. In that moment of being Adalaide, I felt pride. I felt like the world was able to also see me for who I am, and the struggles I was going through as they were mirroring in Adalaide’s world.

It’s already difficult being someone who identifies as a trans individual, and the fact that the roles for trans folk are sparse doesn’t help. We need more representation for trans folks in theater and making sure that trans folk are cast to play those roles. It does more harm when a  cisgender person plays someone who is trans because they will never fully understand the trans experience. 

I feel pride when I see myself in characters on stage and in a script. It’s a strange sense of pride, but representation matters. Young people discovering who they are need to see others who are like them. They need to see that they are not alone, that they are worthy and have value, and theater can help bring light to that. 

J is a social worker by day, gay trash and theater kid by night. J is an activist in their community, constantly promoting LGBTQIA+ and Black rights. J enjoys acting in various genderbent roles to mess with people’s minds, and being a general nuisance to others. J is also a stage manager and a director-to-be. J is the proud dad to their 10 year old golden retriever son, Maverick, and a few succulents respectively named Rhiannon and Beetlejuice. Show your support by sending J a few spare dollars on PayPal. You can also follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

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