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  • Writer's pictureKatie Burdette

On Hedwig Being a Trans Story - Katelyn Kendrick

When Julia announced that she was looking to put together a group of queer individuals to inform this production of Hedwig, I jumped at the opportunity. Hedwig has always held a special place in my little queer heart. It all started when I was 11.

Imagine...I'm 11 years old. In a hotel room. In Vegas. Alone. My parents are downstairs gambling. I have unsupervised access to HBO. Hedwig (the film) happened to be on. And I watched. And I felt. And I related. And I cried.

At age 11, I attended an Evangelical school. For the first time in my life, I was in an environment that was explicitly unwelcoming to queer people. I hadn't known the world to be unkind to queer folks prior, so I owned my identity as a bisexual (very gender ambiguous) 5th grader with pride. To me, it made perfect sense to be attracted to everyone. I didn't understand that not everyone was.

Seeing queer representation in media - and messy queer representation, real queer representation - as an adolescent changed me. I wish I had a more articulate way of expressing the impact the film had on me, but all I can say was that I was changed.

When Julia approached me with the opportunity to assistant direct the piece, I wept. A part of my inner child was seen. But I insisted that it be done right. Hedwig, both as a piece and a character, cannot not be insincere. It has been to real and raw. We have to connect with the community and ensure that this production does justice to the story. As dramaturg, I wanted to ensure we were telling the story that the authors intended to be told. To conclude, here is my dramaturgical statement:

"Hedwig may not be a trans woman, but she experiences dysphoria due to circumstances. Hedwig may not be a trans story, but it is a story about feeling disconnected. Central to the story is disconnect. Disconnect between mind and body. Disconnect between what we wish to be perceived as and what we actually are. Disconnect between expectations and reality. Hedwig, despite what she may wish, is disconnected. Her disconnectedness leads to discontent. And without her discontent, we would not have a story. The allegory of the Berlin Wall makes for an illustrative, real world example of this conflict, both external in the real world, and internal within Hedwig."

To quote an article that said it better than I ever could:

“All in all, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about personal identity. What Hedwig wants above all else is to feel seen for who she is. Not as the person others made her be, both physically and emotionally, but for who SHE wants to be. In that respect, Hedwig’s story is one of the best in the overarching trans community because deep down, isn’t that what we all want? Trans woman or not, Hedwig is an unclassy masterclass in gender expression, perseverance, and identity, and deserves the spot she has earned in the hall of fame for trans characters.” - Harmony Colangelo

John Cameron Mitchell on Hedwig being a trans story:

  • “The trauma wasn't really a trans choice of finding yourself and defining yourself because the character was raped and mutilated and forced into a gender reassignment against their will, which is not exactly a trans fairy's more like someone having a forced medical procedure from a communist government."

  • "The character does go on a gender journey, but it is sparked by a coerced, non-consensual surgery," Mitchell and Trask said in their joint statement. "A young fem gay boy is bullied into a gender assignment by his boyfriend and his government in order to preserve the sacred binarchy."

  • "She's more than a woman or a man, she's a gender of one and that is accidentally so beautiful. [Her operation was] not a choice. Hedwig doesn't speak for any trans community, because she was…mutilated."

Interview: John Cameron Mitchell Explains Why He Believes Hedwig in Not Trans

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