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Performing Possibilities: Trans-Healing in Activist Performance


I argue that healing performances are an important site of activist practice and urge performance-based healing (including applied theatre, dramatherapy, and social justice theatre) to engage in decolonizing critiques and methods, integrating performances of healing and activism. By studying the work of transgender artists of color and analyzing their healing intentions and methods in activist performances, I theorize the possibilities of change incited by the performances—both utopic social change and individual healing for audience members and performers. As this project formulates it, trans-healing is a term I utilize to address the particular needs and experiences of people who self-identify as trans to heal themselves and their queer and trans communities. “Trans-healing” does not suggest that trans identity or trans people need healing, but rather, that society does.

Three case studies are presented to examine the possibilities of trans-healing in performance. To open even the possibility of trans-healing, it is important to recognize all the artists in this dissertation as cultural and knowledge producers who perform a valuable labor.

I examine Sri Lankan-American queer trans solo performer, D’Lo, arguing that performing in a trans temporality, alchemizing tragedy into comedy, and “transing” tradition can yield trans-healing possibilities for the performer and audience members. In the case of the group, Living Mythologies, consisting of five multi-ethnic trans and intersex femmes of color, I argue that their performance opens an Anzaldúan borderland space where tensions between dis/ease and healing, death and life perform activism and healing possibilities. Through decolonial projects such as resisting colonial closures, reclaiming mythological figures, and rebuilding a community space through a “hermeneutics of love” (Sandoval) that centralizes (and thus reframes) the narratives of trans people of color, Living Mythologies performs a trans-healing. Finally, I argue that the South Asian American (former) spoken word duo, DarkMatter, performs possibilities of decolonizing the neoliberal university. I refer to their workshop/ performance as a “pedagogy of failure” (LeMaster), finding the theoretical site of “failure” in the context of the neoliberal university, useful for threading important connections among healing, performance, pedagogy, and decolonial activism.

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