By M.J. Moneymaker Bechdel Board Member
The Bechdel Group is one of my volunteer positions in addition to the work I do as the digital communications manager for an LGBTIQ human rights organization called OutRight Action International. I find time to create in between these two things while participating in a weekly writer's group. I write a lot on NYC buses and trains.
Lately, I've been musing a lot about my writing and who, realistically, will read it and see it.
From Downtown Community TV to public access stations to nonprofits, I've been creating community media for over 10 years. Somewhere between producing stories about activists around the world fighting for their human rights, and writing screenplays for my MFA, I realized I wanted to tell stories that reflected me and the community I understand and know.
I tested writing these stories a few times during my MFA at Lesley University. I know I’m 'other'. I've checked that box since my abuela asked my mom who's the China man, my dad, that's been coming around to see her.
But being, other, wasn't more apparent to me than when my writing got workshopped.
A memorable moment for me at Lesley University was my first short play that centered around a transgender nurse who had to face the moral dilemma of saving the bigot who has a heart attack while cursing her out for being trans. Yes, I set it up to be a piece that triggers discussion, but what I didn't anticipate was how people didn't believe that a trans person could be a nurse. It threw me so far sideways that I snapped, rudely, at the ivy league white man sitting across from me. It made no sense to me, isn't the promise of America opportunity? After that, I stuck to love stories... everyone seemed to be okay with those and there was a lot less strange comments about people's abilities to work and live their lives.
This leads me back to who is reading, performing and listening to my writing. My stories are different, but only because they come from my lens of seeing the world. And it doesn't make the stories 'experimental' or 'Avant Garde' or 'tragic'. I'm not trying to be different, I just am.
I can't tell you how many times I've been asked if I'm going to add subtitles or I don't believe that's possible. And my favorite that comes inevitably from a white man in the group, "If I don't understand it, then how can you expect an audience to understand it?" Or others hone in on what isn’t conventional as a flaw in the storytelling or structure for a three act play because they can't find anything to contribute.
I’ve heard these comments so many times that I've thought it's my problem. Maybe I'm not a good writer. Maybe I shouldn't be trying to be a script writer. Maybe my stories aren’t worthy.
Then events like The Bechdel Group's 24 Hour Writers Challenge for writers of color writing for women of color happens. And I'm reminded how it feels to work with actors who understand the language I written and don't have to be explained the culture of the characters I created. And I'm reminded that there are audiences that can appreciate a play, not feel 'left out,' and even find the humor and joy in the work. Cause honestly, it’s probably how they had to learn to watch media in the first place.
There's an ease to experiences like this that I didn't get on a regular basis through school and don't get in writer's group. Maybe it's an inherent trust between the writers, actors, and audiences that I'm sensing. A freedom to fully play? Whatever it is, that unknown thing, it's like a breathe of fresh air.
There is a "Heights" reunion video of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast I found online recently. I think it may explain what I'm trying write here in a more clear and succinct manner. I'd recommend checking it out.
P.P.S. Tune in next week from excerpts from the script!
The Bechdel Group
Working to challenge the portrayal of women in film and on stage.