This quarter at PSU I wrote a full length play for my Script Development class. Since I’m a grad student, I can do that kind of thing. The play I wrote is called 21st Century Love, and it deals with a former Texas high school football coach falling in love with a transgender woman. My original thought was to write a play about two diametrically opposed people falling in love, and I thought those two characters would make an interesting story.
So I wrote a rough rough draft (obviously there is more to the story than that, but I won’t go into detail), and we read some scenes in class and I got some good feedback, and one of my classmates mentioned that they went to school with a man who has now transitioned into a woman and wrote a series of articles about her life on McSweeney’s. I thought, great, I can send this to her and get feedback not only from a transgender woman, but also from a writer. Her comments would be more focused and particular, which is exactly what I wanted.
She finally wrote back after reading the play and very nicely and gently told me that my play was Not Good, that most of the characters were stereotypes and that a lot of the dialogue between characters (who are all not straight) are not things that people within a queer community would say. She sniffed out that I didn’t have any transgender friends and that I hadn’t really spent time within a queer community. She also said that since I don’t exist or have not been indoctrinated into such a community, that I should focus more on things that I know, rather than trying to access something that I don’t.
She’s completely right, of course, and as of this writing I have no intention of continuing editing or revising or even touching the play. It goes into the Electronic Shelf of Failure. I tried really hard to write characters that weren’t stereotypes but they were. I tried to write about a love story that fails and that didn’t even work. I wrote about what straight people think a gay community is like. It’s incredibly embarrassing, and makes me more embarrassed that I didn’t realize how embarrassing it was while I was writing it.
I don’t exactly know why I’m writing this post, other than I am frustrated by myself and my severe lack of understanding of people. It’s humbling when you think you know something and then people who DO know tell you you don’t. I feel like I write comedy specifically because I don’t know people, and thus I resort to jokes and quips because there is a universality in that. But, let’s face it, I’m never going to know what it’s like to be transgender, or gay, or black, or Indian, or Native American, or anything like that. I can try, I can read books and talk to people and spend time within those environments, but I’ll never really know. That’s why I get mad at white people who say they’re Buddhists. Unless you were born into that culture, you’ll never know. You’ll never be a part of it. You’ll try, you’ll spend your whole life trying, but you’ll never be a part.
And that’s why I’m scrapping this play, because no matter what praises I may get for it (I won’t — it’s still a shitty rough draft, even after the gender stuff is set aside), it doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t ring true to the people it’s about. And that’s really, really awful.
So, anyway, this is a post about a thing you will never read. Just getting some frustrations off my chest.
ADDENDUM: I just wanted to make it clear that the play I was writing was not derogatory or mean spirited in any way towards any person’s lifestyle. I realized that I hadn’t said that before and people might assume that it was. The issue was more that it wasn’t a story I could tell, period. No matter how well I treated the subject matter, it still isn’t a part of me. If that makes sense. It was an experiment that failed. Oh well, time to move on.