As a non-binary actor, I rarely walk into an audition thinking that I will be seen as anything other than my assigned gender. Getting parts is hard enough without further “othering” myself; plus not knowing if I’ll see these people again, I don’t always have the emotional energy to go through explaining what I mean when I say “I use they/them pronouns.”
We have made progress, but we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of widespread understanding. Seeing gender as a binary is at the core of the vast majority of peoples’ beliefs and those of us on the vanguard are challenged daily on our very existence.
And let’s be clear – stating what pronouns you use is one thing, being sure that people understand that that short phrase means “I am not a woman” or “I am not a man” (and all the beautiful personal messy nuances within that) is another. And now I find myself in the role of Romeo in a soon to premiere play Romeo/Juliet, where both characters are portrayed as female. Groundbreaking as that is, it still puts me in a challenging position as an actor and a person.
The very first rehearsal I had with Sharone Halevy, director of Romeo/Juliet, our conversation turned to the topic of what Romeo’s gender identity was. The playwrights, Matt Minnicino and Hailey Bachrach, had originally intended for both Romeo and Juliet to be cisgender lesbian women.
Sharone, aware of my own gender identity, wanted to have an intentional conversation about Romeo’s gender, not only her sexuality. After much thought, I decided Romeo would be cisgender, and now that I’m writing about it, I’ve hit a few obstacles as to exactly why.
The best answer I could find to why is unfortunately one that doesn’t make me a very good artist. It was just easier. I struggle to define my non-binary identity and I may never (nor do I think I have to).
Being non-binary comes in so many different forms that I don’t know that I would be able to create a Romeo that was non-binary in a different way than I am. Separating myself, Jules, from Romeo in that way meant that my personal internal struggles with gender are safe for the moment. I also know that my own experiences of gender inevitably come through in my interpretation of Romeo.