Edinburgh Fringe

Cerys Bradley: It is complicated to be a trans performer at Edinburgh Fringe

Cerys Bradley. Copyright: Steve Ullathorne

Another show about gender and being trans and putting myself on a little stage for other people to evaluate and adjudicate.

In the last one, I wrote a show about being non-binary. I said, explicitly, that I was non-binary on stage, multiple times, and I got misgendered in a review and by multiple audience members who were, very kindly, recommending or praising this show that they maybe had not actually quite understood.

Nice people trying to do nice things whilst inadvertently watering this little seed of doubt that I carry around in my chest, that nobody takes me seriously or sees me as I see myself. Pushing a little more on the wedge that is levering my body from my soul.

At times like this I really reflect on the characterisation of autism (that thing that I've got) as a communication disorder. I worry that people do not understand me and will never understand me because of it. That I'm having connectivity issues or there's a technical fault my end of the line. And then I remember that communication is, always, a two way street and I'm very tired of doing what feels to be all the heavy lifting here.

This year, I spend half my show on stage in just a pair of boxers and a binder (you're welcome). Yes I wear a dress at the beginning. Yes I have a massive pair of fake tits. But I take those things off. I never want to be the kind of comedian who overexplains the joke but somehow a strip routine and 50 minutes of me referring to myself as a Wife Guy has got audiences coming up at the end to say that I've made such a lovely show about womanhood or she-her-her-ing me all the way out the building.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the bums on seats and I am beyond grateful that I'm experiencing a clueless but kind kind of transphobia and not a physically violent one but I'm also very, very tired.

Cerys Bradley. Copyright: Steve Ullathorne

Well then, Cerys, why are you going to Edinburgh Fringe if all you're going to do is complain about the people who pay their hard earned money to see you? Why are you making yourself miserable?

Because Edinburgh Fringe is the largest arts and culture festival in the world and I have met more trans and autistic people there than anywhere else. I have been to trans festivals and conferences and disability protests and workshops and I've still met more genderqueer, neurodiverse people in the basements of the worst pubs of that city than at events and nights designed specifically for us.

I go to a lot of festivals and there are definitely places I prefer to gig than Fringe but only at Fringe can you get a fresh new audience of people who do get it actually, who laugh at the little joke you put in for yourself or wait after the show to excitedly tell you that they also did this or that thing that you thought only you did, every single day.

And Fringe is the only place where you can see trans performers every day. Every year, we complain about there not being enough of us but it still feels like there's more here than anywhere else in the world.

The Edinburgh Fringe is the first place that I saw a fat person wearing a binder and I realised that you could look masculine with big hips and I could stop holding myself back. It's also the first place that I got invited to do a trans themed night and maybe I'm embarrassed to admit how validating that was but it's still true.

And there are meet ups and mentorships and lists upon lists of shows you should go see and so, if you want to, you can create for yourself an entirely trans fringe.

But it's very far from perfect because Fringe is a place for everyone and lots of everyone don't like trans people. You can turn up on Day 1 and find out that your venue has booked a show which is all about how you are a pervert who shouldn't exist, and then from Day 2 people are vandalising your posters; You can do a show about being misgendered in a bathroom and then immediately be told to get out of the bathroom because the venue that you're in doesn't have gender neutral toilets and people yell at you on the street or on buses or write cryptic reviews about how you should have been transphobic in your show and because it's Fringe you don't really have a choice not to be there.

You've paid all of this money and the aim of the game is not to make a profit but to claw back some of those sunk costs that you couldn't really afford in the first place, and this is something that you have always wanted to do, so why should you let them stop you now? And so you go, even though that means supporting an event that either directly or indirectly supports specific people who are working their actual damn hardest to make it so that you can never legally exist, and pretend that your thing is separate to their thing and take heart from the fact that there's a trans kid in the front row who seems to be having a nice time and then someone in your audience calls you a sweet girl and you go home wondering if it was all in any way worth it.

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