31 January 2019

MIDSUMMA: The Butch Monologues

The Butch Monologues
Theatre Works and Stage Mom
28 January 2019
Theatre Works
to 3 February

Melbourne cast of The Butch Monologues

I'm still getting my heart around The Butch Monologues.

Butches, masculine women, transmen and gender rebels tell the collected stories of others who identify as butch. There are about 50 short stories in each performance. They have been collected since 2013 by director Julie McNamara (Mac) and writer Laura Bridgeman (Doc), and are from the UK, Europe, USA and Caribbean. Some from Australia will be added after their visits to Melbourne and to Sydney.

They are stories we don't see on our stages, on our tvs, in our books. And if we do, they are peeping in from the edges of the story and rarely seen saving the day or are being fought over for love.

Each city it comes to has a new cast and no one tells their own story. Melbourne sees Fiona Jones, Anne Harris (Dan), Quinn Eades, Jax Jacki Brown and Jacques De Vere, along with Mac and Doc. And there's nothing hotter than people being their authentic selves.

I've said the word "butch" more in the last few days than I've ever said it because it used to be such an insult. In the late 1980s, "butch" was so insulting that butch women were called "trucks" in the club I went to every Sunday night – wearing short shirts, brogues and long hair. Butch women were othered within a community that claimed to be inclusive. We were little shits.

Bridgeman – who has set a new standard for well-dressed even by Melbourne standards – was also around in the 1980s and says in her introduction to the script that she was scared it was going to be "a collection of rage".

Many stories do come from rage, anger and shame, but they are full of humour and a lot of love, especially as they witness how gender expression continues to change – and stay the same.

And the more stories that are told, the more they are not stories of otherness. Ashamed to wear the clothes you love in public? Stayed in a relationship for every wrong reason? Been embarrassed at the gym? Kept secrets from your family? Denied yourself love because you're not meant to like that type of person? One of the many frustrations of being on the edges looking in is knowing that your stories are pretty much the same as those about the people dancing in the centre.

The stories in The Butch Monologues are real, but they're not told verbatim. While their natural voices are kept, the writing is structured and styled to be as poetic as it is natural. Bridgeman's writing and McNamara's direction ensure that the heart of each story is heard, sometimes most loudly in the silent subtext. And while each new show includes different stories, they are ordered and chosen to tell a much bigger story about identity and ultimately inclusiveness.

This ongoing process of collecting experiences and five people reading stories on a stage creates community among people who may never have known they were all together. I hope it has a chance to come back to Melbourne and be seen more widely.

And I will never look at the IKEA logo without thinking of fisting again.

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