Red Durkin’s journey to adulthood hasn’t been an easy
one. Her mother passed away at an early age, and her stepmother
had her in and out of therapy for dressing like a girl. For a
young artist growing up transgender in North Carolina, finding
a sense of community was difficult, but finding an outlet for
trans expression proved to be nearly impossible.
Then the Tranny Roadshow came to town. Co-organized by Jamez Terry,
23, the annual show combines the talents of a core of traveling
artists—as well as a handful they pick up along the way—in
a “multimedia performance art extravaganza.” It features
an eclectic mix of trans humorists, bands, poets, and visual artists,
some of whom have been rejected by “mainstream” theater.
The mission, Terry says: “Make the vague and abstract personal.”
“The show isn’t about gender; it’s about us,”
Terry adds, shortly after finishing a 30-day, 26-show tour in
April, which made stops at community centers, colleges, churches,
libraries, bookstores, and theaters around the country and in
Canada. “Everything you do as an artist comes from who you
Durkin, 22, agrees; her material doesn’t deal exclusively
with gender. “[The Roadshow] shows us as multidimensional
people,” Durkin says. “Gender is not the only thing
our lives are based on.”
For Trans youths like Durkin and Terry, the Roadshow provides
a sense of community that can be hard to find. Terry didn’t
see his first trans person until he was 18. Durkin remembers joining
the Roadshow “to find other people like me in the world,”
and participation in the group has given her a better sense of
self-image, she says.
Terry and Durkin joke about the difficulties they’ve faced
trying to cross the Canadian border with IDs that don’t
match their genders. Or the occasional confused-looking cashier
at Burger King. “It can be nerve-racking pulling into a
truck stop,” Durkin says.
After last year’s inaugural tour, which included 47 stops
in 66 days, some performers felt like they were spread a little
thin. So this year’s tour was shorter and focused on cities
east of the Mississippi. But Terry promises that next year’s
tour will be “bigger, better, and more organized”
and will be out West.
Terry, who lives in Alaska and works there seasonally as a sled
dog handler, hopes that he can one day, perhaps this year, lead
a mini tour there. And in between tours, all the members of the
theatrical troupe will be writing new material while continuing
to “educate people about gender issues with a display of
real trans talent,” Durkin says.