Friday, February 16, 2018

The Resistance of My Skin has the Hard Conversations For Us All

One of the biggest buzzwords since the 2016 presidential election has been "resistance"



More people are feeling disenfranchised and activated than ever, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. People have energy and they need to channel it somewhere. But what does it really mean to resist?

The Resistance of My Skin, a lovely new play written by and starring Shannon TL Kearns, reshapes the idea of resistance from one of aggression or anger into one of loving acceptance and empathy. It's a beautiful transition that comes just at the right time and couldn't have a better message to send into the world.

On an overly simplistic level, The Resistance of My Skin is simply a dialogue between two budding lovers: Ayden, a transgender man who has not had a sexual partner since his physical transition; and Jess, a fat woman who struggles with self acceptance amidst bad past relationships and societal pressures. There is so much more encased in this show, however, than that one sentence can grasp; just look at this list of subjects that are covered in this brief 70 minute performance:
  • Abuse of transgender people as they transition, especially from their partners and families
  • An explicit, beautiful, continuous demonstration of the importance and act of proactive consent in sexual encounters
  • White privilige within the trans community
  • White privilege within the female community
  • The practical implications of "bathroom bills" against trans people
  • The practical barriers to traditional intercourse with trans people
  • Healthcare implications for trans people 
  • Healthcare abuse by medical staff towards fat people 
  • The idea of reclaiming words like fat into something descriptive and empowering rather than lazy or denigrating
  • Pervasive violence (like the Orlando shooting) against the trans community
  • Religious "conversion therapy" forced on trans people 
  • Fearing violence as a woman
  • Sexual violence and abuse against women in relationships
  • Generating confidence in yourself 
  • The importance of creating and maintaining a truly open dialogue in relationships
  • Vulnerability in relationships
  • The effect of family members' criticism on your self esteem


And so much more. The effect is the creation of an organic, heartfelt, therapeutic conversation that not only demonstrates the beginnings of a healthy relationship but presents a slew of really difficult, fraught issues to the audience in an empathetic and accessible way. It can be a little off-putting to be told how to believe about an issue, especially when you've been indoctrinated to certain beliefs, but it's a completely different thing to hear someone speak personally and specifically to how those issues directly affect the quality and safety of their lives. Kearns' writing does a great job of navigating that line; if only all of the fraught conversations we are having (or shouting, really) as a nation right now were conducted with the same astute care.

I really enjoyed the performances from Ashley Hovell and Shannon TL Kearns as Jess and Ayden, respectively. They share such a fresh, innate chemistry that sparks off the stage. Their budding romance and genuine interest in each other never feel forced, and they both infuse real feeling into the difficult subjects they discuss. Both start the show in their skivvies and get dressed in front of us, clearly demonstrating the amount of trust and comfort they have in us and each other, and it's a simple but arresting opening. Much attention to detail has been paid by the production team - including Director Shalee Coleman, Stage Manager Allison Knauss, Lighting and Sound Designer Martin Sheeks, and Community Engagement Coordinator Courtney Knoll - and it shows at every level, from the educational pre-show introduction and post-show talk backs to the lighthearted clapping games the actors play to the disheveled bed and "remote controlled" mood lighting in Jess's apartment. The love and good vibes really flowed between everyone involved in the project and it was clear that this was intended to be an inclusive, compassionate space, something that struck me from the second I walked through the door.

A couple pro tips about the space to just help ease your experience: It was my first time seeing a show at the Crane Theater and it was a little hard to find; make note if you haven't been that you need to go to the back (looks like a warehouse parking lot) of the building to get in (a colorful sign stating this facing the street would also be helpful!). Also, wear some good layers - it's a large area and it got a little chilly! This was easily offset by the warm atmosphere presented by all of the people involved, but good to note for future performances.

Overall, I was so impressed by The Resistance of My Skin. It's a great testament to the importance of always trying new things - I'd never been to the Crane Theater or seen a show from Uprising Theatre  Company - and I will most definitely be back. Considering the absolutely heartwrenching events in Florida (this week and two years ago in Orlando) and just the general indignant milieu we seem to be perpetually stewing in as a country these days, there is no better time to immerse yourself in a story between two people who are genuinely interested in - gasp! - actually listening to each other. Jess and Ayden have a lot to learn about each other's respective hurts and experiences, and they make missteps as they talk - but their willingness to grow and really hear each other overpowers what could otherwise easily disintegrate into a brutal shouting match. Bravo to Kearns for a beautiful piece of writing; I hope you keep telling your stories and teaching us more. The Resistance of My Skin opens tonight and runs through February 24. I hope the seats are packed for their short run; I definitely encourage you to check it out by clicking here for info about tickets and the show.

And by the way: if you're interested in learning more about these issues from some truly terrific queer, trans and fat / plus size advocates, here are some great people you can follow: