Gender Euphoria, Episode 5: Queer of Color Devised Performance, Disidentification, and Spirituality

siri: Yeah. So as I started my spiritual journey, I started to feel that I needed to unify myself because one persona that I had was this performance artist that is a little edgy, that does striptease and stuff like that. And then I had this other part of me that was like a monk. And so I was doing very deep rituals and spiritual, less embodied things. And I was just like, “This seems very separate, but it’s not. I need to just find the place where it just comes together.” So I started doing work, performance artwork that were mixing the two of those things.

And then I was just like, I want to do research on this. I want to see performance, in Latin America and the US mostly, where people are combining spirituality and performance, but it’s not like the classic anthropological thing where you go to an organized ritual and observe. You literally… art that has spirituality embedded. And that, for me, when I see the pieces, I feel like a spiritual something going on. And so I’m really interested in that place where those interact. So that’s what I’m researching on.

Nicolas: Cool. What sorts of things have you been looking into? Are there particular artists, companies?

siri: Yeah, I have some case studies with artists, and then I’m very interested in their methodologies and how their spiritual background sort of comes into play. So, just to name one, I’m looking at Asher Hartman, which I’m obsessed with. And he learned from the spiritualist church and the Fox sisters, so to be like a medium slash channel, and so he puts that into his work scripted and his devised practices and everything. And so, I’m like obsessed with him and his company, and that’s one of the examples that I’m studying right now.

Nicolas: Cool. How does the sort of ritual and spirituality and healing practices show up in your own work? Because I saw that quite a bit in your performance with Karla. How does it show up in your other work?

siri: Yeah, I feel that it’s in different ways, in the form of the performance it does come in, like the ritual part, but actually in the intention to create a piece it’s already my spiritual intention there. So for example, for Karlathere was a spiritual attempt to put forward my codependency and my romantic not healthy patterns and put them on display to transform them, right?

And so that was the force that gave me the impulse to create the piece, plus the other things. And then in the performance itself, you can see some ritual going on. And so I feel like other works I’ve done also have this intention of, with humility of course, like what do I want to transform here? So that would inform how do I create this piece and how I invite people to join me in this journey, of this ritual slash performance that I’m creating.

Nicolas: What are some of those ways that you find to invite people in to join you in that journey and transformation?

siri: So I’ve been trying different things. And I feel like when I was younger I was a little less aware of the impact, but I’m really interested in moving people’s emotions, and especially I connect a lot with sadness and despair. So one of my first pieces that we mixed spirituality and this was like six years ago or something, and I invited people to do a sort of a choreography where they would do a movement or a phrase remembering one of the wounds that they have from the patriarchy. And we would mimic their gesture back at them trying to put it out and, again, heal it. And so—but that is huge, like, if you know? So—and they can use words as well. And so, one of the moments where like, “You’re a bitch,” or something, and we were like all screaming out, “You’re a bitch.” You know, so strong.”

And I remember feeling like I have this responsibility that I have put these emotions here and I have to be aware and know my limitations because I’m not a therapist… yet, maybe in the future. And so, I feel like that was a little more like taking this risk. And I think now I’m a little more subtle maybe, or I’m more aware of the care process and the care that I can offer to my audiences. But I still feel like I’m getting [an] emotional release, which is funny because it’s like the most classic notion of theater is just catharsis, right? But it’s been a long way, and it turns out it might be something real.

And so I remember with the piece that I did for the festival that you organized, I think Penny [Sterling] was saying, “Yeah, like I was really uncomfortable at moments and like seeing you dealing with this like penis-serpent-kind-of-thing.” And you know—so it’s like a lot of how can you really be present and aware of what you’re doing, when you’re dealing with emotional stuff? So yeah. I feel like it’s a fine line there, but I’m trying my best for sure.

Nicolas: Yeah. I think that is something that comes up in a lot of queer, trans, and queer of color performance, is that we are kind of also in this space of healing and also processing trauma in performance because we’re just—unfortunately, we live in a world where that is a lot of our experience, and that is what’s reflected back to us on stage and on screen and in pop culture.

And you talked a little bit about how you’re not a trained therapist and yet leading people through these emotional journeys in your work, because this is something that I struggle with too, in my own work and devising and applied theater working, especially in community and the closeness like this, how do you kind of balance and draw those boundaries? Like, this is something that we’re equipped to deal with in this space and support each other through versus this something that is beyond me?

siri: That’s such a great question that I think it should, well for me, it should be the one that guides my practice. If I had that question in my mind things would be better than if I don’t have it, right. And so I feel like for me, there is some sort of a spiritual conceptualization of a piece, where I see that there is a moment where I emotions put the invitation to the to come up, and then I design myself ways in which I am hoping to offer some sort of transformative feeling, or some way of “going to the light” kind of thing. And it sounds linear and it might be but I feel… when I’m creating a piece I’m having this awareness that we need both, and it’s a balance. Sometimes we’ll start with the light and end with the darkness, to say. And sometimes it’s the other way, but I feel like I have to bring both.

And when I was doing this [when I was] younger, I would just put out all the shit, right, and not be responsible for that. And now I feel like I’m trying to see both, also knowing, again, that we have limitations, and that sometimes people just need to cry and there’s nothing else, right. I cannot make you laugh afterwards and feel great. So like it’s a little bit of feeling that this bubbly, like [woo sound], is not necessarily the spirituality that I’m looking for; it’s not all roses and sky. There is a lot of spiritual work in actually acknowledging what people call their shadow or their hard stuff. So I feel like it’s a lot of, for me, a lot of personal work needs to be first. Then, after, I would offer. Right? So I need to really work on myself and have this clarity and then I would create, so that’s kind of how I see it. Yeah.

Nicolas: Cool. So something that is striking me here is we’re holding queerness and transness and spirituality at the same time in a lot of this conversation. That doesn’t really reflect a whole lot of our cultural narratives, which tend to frame queerness and transness and spirituality as really adversarial. How have you found working with those two things in conversation with each other?

siri: Well, I feel like one of the things I’ve done, especially in my last piece, In the Name of the Father, was criticizing the organized religion, in this case Catholicism, that has condemned us. And so there is a work where, if I’m going to offer spiritual connection to my queer and trans folk, I’m telling you also I’m aware of how much this has hurt us, and that’s not what I’m doing . This is not the Catholic religion thing, you know. So to show that we all as humans, and this is my belief, we have a connection with the divine, we have a connection with whatever it is [that’s] bigger than us. And it doesn’t have to be connected to an organized religion or ritual. And so I feel like part of it has been for me to criticize and acknowledge where I’m coming from. I was raised Catholic and these [are] the problems that I have seen. And this is other stuff that is good, that when I’m scared sometimes I recite psalms from the Bible, right. And a lot of spiritual churches use the Bible. So it’s this way in which, again, disidentification, right, we’re taking what is good and leaving what is not. And so that you can have a responsible offering to others that are hurt by religion, let’s say. So I feel it’s different, very different; spirituality and religion, two different things.

Nicolas: That’s a good distinction to make, I think. Right. So before I let you go, I’ve got a couple of questions that I like to close with. So one of the main theses of the series is trans people are everywhere, and we have always been here. So would you like to take a moment to shout out someone who is part of your queer-trans-artistic family tree, someone who has inspired you, supported you, helped bring you to where you are?

siri: Yes. So I mentioned kt shorb and I will re-mention them. Definitely a really important figure in my life academically, artistically, and a friend. And Sharon Bridgforth is also a big, big one for me. I’ve met mermaid’s work and cry and laugh with them. It’s really healing. And so I also feel a little bit connected to Sharon Bridgforth, for sure. I think that was my two picks for now. Well Asher Hartman, I was also telling you about Asher, and although it’s a recent discovery I’m so into him and his work that I feel like it’s already informing my own practice for sure. So those would be my picks.

Nicolas: Fantastic. I will link in the show notes where you all can find all of those fabulous artists. All right. And finally, could you leave us with an image of one way that you experience gender euphoria in performance or in everyday life?

siri: Mmm, that’s a good one. Yeah. So my connection with femininity, as for many of us, is really complicated. Sometimes we’re like, “I am not whatever that is.” And then it is, “Well, wait, how, what, maybe I am a little bit—what parts of me feel connected to femininity?” And lately for me with this persona, Karla, this drag persona, I’ve been experiencing femininity as I grew up knowing it, with I am deciding to, not I’m forced to, just those ideas of femininity that are a little more mainstream. And I’m enjoying that so much. I feel that is safe, that I can just play with it, and so I’m having my long hair, my lingerie, and all those things. It feels weird because it’s like coming back from whatever assigned me to at birth, but it’s not, it’s like a whole different turn with a different perspective that feels pretty healing. And so I’m having my time with Karla, and that gives me gender euphoria. Yes.

Nicolas: Karla and healing; playful femininity. I love it.

And thank you all for listening. If you’d like to learn more about siri guruduv’s work, you can follow them on Instagram and also check out their website, which is linked in the show notes, along with links to more information about the various artists and performance collectives and books that we’ve mentioned throughout our conversation. In the next episode, I’ll be talking with Rebecca Kling about the ways that her work as a solo performer has informed her career as a trans educator and advocate, and her rather unconventional, evocative—well I find it hilarious—approach to the postshow talkback. I won’t say any more about that now, you’ll just have to listen to find out. Until then, this has been Gender Euphoriathe podcast.

Gender Euphoria, the podcast, is hosted and edited by me, Nicolas. The voices you heard in the opening poem were Rebecca Kling, Dillon Yruegas, siri gurudev, Azure D. Osborne-Lee, and Joshua Bastian Cole. Gender Euphoriathe podcast, is sponsored by HowlRound Theater Commons, a free and open platform for theatermakers worldwide.

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