On March 18, 2021, the Diversity and Inclusion Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Committee of Actors' Equity held a dialogue on sex and gender, hosted by Gender Consultant Josephine Kearns and Equity's Diversity and Inclusion Strategist Bliss Griffin.
Kearns began by outlining definitions of terms, beginning with gender. She discussed what gender means in Western culture, and how it is different in other parts of the world, and has changed throughout history. She explained the difference between gender and sex, and how even biologically there are more than two discrete categories. She discussed the concept of gender identity, how it may align directly with the one a person is assigned at birth (cisgender), or it may differ (transgender) or fall outside a false dichotomy (nonbinary).
Kearns outlined basic ways to respect someone’s gender identity, including using the pronouns they use for themselves and not divulging their identity to others without their consent. She also explored some of the obstacles and forms of oppression transgender people face, such as a wage gap, and ongoing governmental legislation aimed at taking away their rights. This is also evident in entertainment and theatre, where very few roles go to actors who identify as trans.
Kearns then gave guidance on how to learn how to refer to someone with the correct pronouns, and led the group in an activity to practice using nonbinary pronouns.
Kearns spoke about gendered spaces, such as public bathrooms, how trans people risk harassment or assault when they need to use facilities in public places. She spoke to how theatres often create these gendered spaces, not only bathrooms, but dressing rooms and auditions.
Griffin added that the union negotiates many aspects of how auditions are run, and that the union can push for change when contracts are up for renewal, asking anyone with suggestions about how to make those spaces more equitable to contact their business rep or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"You are not in competition with other people with marginalized identities. You - together with them - are pushing against a system that believes that there's not room for more than one of you."
Kearns spoke more about gender inclusivity in theatre workplaces, including a reminder that the workforce goes beyond who is onstage or a creative team, and not putting an undue emotional burden on people from marginalized groups.
“A lot of times, there’s an expectation that someone who is a member of that group will do free education in addition to their work,” she said, adding that gender consultants like herself are paid for their work of sharing resources with the workforce on a production.
Kearns spoke of ongoing trends in the theatre that are damaging to trans people, such as having men dress as women for comedic purposes, and putting trans characters onstage to have them suffer as “trauma porn.”
Kearns spoke more about her role as a consultant, and the ways she can inform theatre work, from reading over scripts, to assisting staging, to helping write language for press releases. She spoke about the notion of actors from marginalized identities playing roles that share their lived experiences.
Griffin added how oftentimes when producers seek to diversify their companies, they don’t think expansively reducing opportunities for one type of marginalized to make space for another, thereby “creating a world where the people with marginalized identities feel like they have to compete with one another.”
“If you find yourself feeling like, ‘Well, you know, I've been marginalized forever. And so-and-so hip, new marginalized identity is taking my spot,’” she said. “You are currently in the process of being bamboozled by an exclusive and white-, young-, cis male-supremacist structure. You are not in competition with other people with marginalized identities. You - together with them - are pushing against a system that believes that there's not room for more than one of you."
"It is important to say something in whatever way you feel capable of doing it."
Kearns concluded the dialogue by emphasizing the importance of speaking out when you see unfairness in the workplace:
“Anything that we can do to just say, ‘Hey, this is a thing that I've noticed,’ the more people are noticing a problem. And the more that they're hearing, people are noticing a problem, the more attention they'll pay. So even if it doesn't feel like you accomplish anything, there may be someone several steps down the line, who raised, who's the fifth person who raises that issue with them. And suddenly something changes, and it wouldn't have if you hadn't brought it first. So it is important to say something in whatever way you feel capable of doing it.”
Members can access a recording of this dialogue, as well as a transcript, in the member portal.