She He Me

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She He Me was one of four works developed during hotINK at The Lark 2015.

Dramaturgical Support

Lina Abyad
Jocelyn Clarke

Special Thanks

Catherine Coray
Lark Play Development Center
NYU Abu Dhabi

Synopsis

She He Me is a documentary play based on interviews with several transgender people in the Arab world. Witty and affecting, and in many ways, surprising, it focuses on the challenges encountered and discoveries made by three unique individuals who “just want to be themselves,” in the words of director Lina Abyad. “She He Me is not just about sexuality. It’s about what people have to go through to stay true to who they are.” The production contains Vines (short videos) and images created by Omar.

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Characters

RANDA – 42, a male to female Algerian trans woman living in Sweden.

OMAR – 28, cis-gendered, gay, Jordanian, big man, very handsome, living in Amman.

ROK – 28, female to male, Lebanese, slight build, with a beard, also very handsome, living in New Jersey.

The actors will play multiple parts.

 

SCENE 1

(Somewhere in Sweden. A bare stage.)

RANDA

(Shook up) I just had my first female orgasm. That was an hour ago and I’m still shaking.

(Blackout)

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SCENE 2

RANDA

It happens to me here in Sweden all the time, at parties especially. I’ll be standing there, in a corner, holding my cocktail napkin, and someone I don’t even know will come up to me.

ROK as ASSHOLE 1

Um, hi.

RANDA

Hi.

ROK as ASSHOLE 1

Are those boobs real?

RANDA

The other day I was at a friend’s house. There were loads of people. She had cooked amazing food and afterwards they put on some music and a couple people were dancing. I was sitting on the couch.

OMAR as ASSHOLE 2

Oh, hey, can I sit here? Is this place free?

RANDA

Sure.

OMAR as ASSHOLE 2

Cool party huh?

RANDA

Yeah, great!

OMAR as ASSHOLE 2

You’re trans right?

RANDA

(Wondering where this is going)

Yeah.

OMAR as ASSHOLE 2

Yeah, Svetlana told me there were going to be some trans friends of hers here. Are you, you’re not from here are you? You have this cute little accent.

RANDA

I’m Algerian.

OMAR as ASSHOLE 2

Oh wow. A trans Algerian! That’s amazing. And your Swedish is amazing! Can I ask you a question?

RANDA

(To audience) They always start it this way. “Can I ask you a question?” But they never even wait for me to answer yes or no.

OMAR as ASSHOLE 2

Can I ask you a question? How do, how…have you had the operation? Or are you still physically, you know, a guy? Or do you have a vagina now? What do you have down there?

RANDA

The other day, I was at the Mayor’s–

ROK as ASSHOLE 3

Can I ask you a question?

RANDA

I was at the Mayor’s off–

ROK as ASSHOLE 3

How do you do your eyebrows to make them so feminine? But I’m sure it must have been a pain to get rid of all your facial hair.

RANDA

(Starting to get upset) The Mayor’s office–

OMAR as ASSHOLE 4

Are you a gay bottom? You’re getting a sex change operation so you can get fucked, right?? That’s what all this is about, right??

RANDA

(She’s had enough) Do you ask cis-gendered people how they have sex? Or if they have breast implants? Why doesn’t anyone ask me what I do for a living? Or what my favourite book is? Why doesn’t anyone ask me where I do my shopping? Or what my favourite city is? Ask me about my activism. Ask me what made me an activist. (She waits, or prompts the audience to ask her.)

AUDIENCE

What made you an activist?

RANDA

(Enjoys the moment) Wow. Thank you. You see, how hard was that? (Pause) I’ve wanted to be an activist since I was 16. I grew up in the Algerian civil war in the 1990s. I was drafted into the army and worked there as a nurse. That civil war–may it be remembered but not repeated, as they say in Arabic.

Trans women had it very bad in the war. I remember the story about one trans woman back then, she was a sex worker. The men in the street got a hold of her. They beat her and beat her. The police did nothing because it was a war and they could get away with that. People gathered to watch. They beat her in front of everyone, in the middle of Martyrs Square, the biggest public square in the whole country. No one raised a finger to defend her. No one said a thing. They beat her for two whole hours before an ambulance arrived. By then it was too late.

I know what you’re thinking. She endangered herself! She chose to be a sex worker! You want to stop a trans woman from being a sex worker? Start from childhood. Stop kids from bullying her at school. Stop the teachers, the principals, from mistreating her. Keep her from getting beat up on the way home from school. A lot of trans girls just drop out of school early because they can’t take it anymore. And if you don’t have an education, how are you going to get a job? I mean it’s hard enough for a cis person to get a job, so imagine how hard it is for a trans woman who dropped out of school. You want to stop a trans woman from being a sex worker? Make it easy for her to change her ID to female. Make it easier for her to rent a house. Give her a job. And then see if she still does sex work.

I applied for work as a nurse at a hospital in Beirut when I first arrived. The Head Nurse held up my CV and said–

OMAR as HEAD NURSE

(To RANDA) Honestly, with a CV like this (holds it up) you should have my job, (pause) but I can’t give you work here, because it’s not up to me. This hospital is run by nuns, they would never accept you.

RANDA

(To audience) But yeah, I’ve been wanting to be an activist for a long time. I remember the story of another trans woman during the Algerian war. She graduated with a degree in psychology. The war ruined her life. She left her job because there was fighting and kidnapping and she couldn’t get to work. Many Algerian women stopped working during the civil war because the militias threatened to kill them if they worked. Her brother joined the Islamists and she had to leave the house. She worked the streets to survive. And the police raped her more than once, just because she was trans. In the end she was caught by a terrorist group. Her brother was among them. He slit her throat himself. They threw her body in the street.

That’s what made me an activist. I started an organisation for LGBT rights in Algeria with some friends. It was the first one in the country. We called our organisation Abu Nawas. I demanded that we at Abu Nawas fight for women’s rights, LGBT rights, and children’s rights. We declared October 10th as national day for LGBT people. On that night, LGBT people all over Algeria lit candles in their windows. We also declared an election boycott. Then I realised nobody gave a damn if we boycotted the elections, we were too small of a number (laugh)! So, I designed this ballot that said “I vote LGBT” and we posted it on the internet for people to download and print and put in ballot boxes on election day. At Abu Nawas we also printed out hundreds of these ballots and went to windows above voting stations and we threw them over the doors. I was arrested three times. Questioned.

(Two policemen accost RANDA in the street.)

ROK as POLICEMAN 1

Where you are going?

OMAR as POLICEMAN 2

What are the political affiliations of the members in Abu Nawas?

ROK as POLICEMAN 1

Tell us the names of the people in Abu Nawas!

OMAR as POLICEMAN 2

Who is this guy Abu Nawas? Is he your gang leader? One of your friends? Tell us where he lives!

RANDA

(laughing) He’s dead.

OMAR as POLICE

What?

RANDA

He was a poet. He died in the ninth century. (To the audience) What I didn’t tell them was that he wrote homoerotic poetry!

(pause)

They let me go.

Once, I was arrested as I was getting out of my car. I was carrying a briefcase, which was full of documents about Abu Nawas, it had names, plans, everything, because I was heading to our office. I was terrified. My heart was beating so fast. I thought they would discover the briefcase.

(RANDA is accosted again in the street.)

OMAR as POLICEMAN 1

Tell us the names of the people in Abu Nawas! Tell us! Give us names!

RANDA

By some miracle, they don’t notice the briefcase I’m carrying. They release me. We fight harder. More campaigns. More meetings. More members. More danger. We are a clandestine group after all. We secure hormones for trans members and I start taking hormones. My family starts to notice. My wife notices. The government starts to notice. But it’s my activism that threatens them more than anything. Every time I fly out of Algiers for an LGBT conference, they pull me aside at the airport. They make me wait until everyone else has boarded. An officer escorts me to the plane last. He looks at me, hands me back my passport and says,

ROK as POLICEMAN 2

We’ll be waiting for you, when you get back.

RANDA

When I got back, the threats started. The first threat came by mail.

OMAR as STALKER 1

You fucking cunt, we’re going to slit your fucking throat.

RANDA

One time, someone knocked at the office door. I was alone. When I opened the door, no one was there. But there was a letter on the ground. I opened it.

ROK as STALKER 2

You fucking fucking faggot whore, fucking tranny.

RANDA

Then I got more letters, and more phone calls–

OMAR as STALKER 1

I’ll be waiting for you after work.

RANDA

I thought it would go away. Until my brother-in-law and brother came over to my house one night.

ROK as BROTHER-IN-LAW

Where is my sister? Where is my nephew?

RANDA

They’re asleep. It’s the middle of the night. What’s going on?

OMAR as BROTHER

Are you sure they’re asleep?

RANDA

What’s going on?

OMAR as BROTHER

You need to leave.

RANDA

What do you mean I need to leave?

ROK as BROTHER-IN-LAW

You need to leave the country.

RANDA

What?

OMAR as BROTHER

You have ten days.

RANDA

What are you talking about?

OMAR as BROTHER

Someone from the secret police came by our house to talk. Word on the street is very important people want you dead. They said you’re stirring trouble, getting involved in politics. Meddling in state affairs. Poking your head where you shouldn’t. The police said they can only guarantee your safety for ten days. After that you’re fair game. I, for one, wouldn’t mind to see you dead. But–

ROK as BROTHER-IN-LAW

If you’re killed, it will make the news. The government will scapegoat someone. They’ll say you were simply killed in a hate crime.

OMAR as BROTHER

But then everyone in the whole fucking country will know we have a faggot in the family, it will stain us forever. It will be a scandal on everyone’s lips. You want our name in the papers? (In disgust) A picture of you killed in a dress in an alley? How will I show my face in public after that?? I have a right mind to kill you myself. (Starts to lose his temper)

ROK as BROTHER-IN-LAW

(Calms him down) Get the fuck out of this country or I will divorce your sister. And your other two brother- in-laws will divorce your other sisters. I don’t need to tell you what divorce means for an Algerian woman. All of your sisters’ lives will be over.

OMAR as BROTHER

You bring shame and ruin to all of us. Can’t you just be a quiet faggot? Now you want to ask the government for faggot rights? What do you want? You just want to ruin us! Have you thought of our mother and father? Have you ever stopped to think about them? Huh?? You only think about yourself. People are already slandering the good name of our family because of you. Look at you!

ROK as BROTHER-IN-LAW

I’ve always liked you but I’ll have nothing to do with a faggot brother-in-law, killed in the streets like a cheap whore. You think I’ll stand people laughing at me in the streets? Get out! Pack your bags!

RANDA

I can’t leave, this is my home. This is my country. You are my family. What about my son?

ROK as BROTHER-IN-LAW

You have ten days, that’s plenty.

RANDA

What about my life here? What about my son?

OMAR as BROTHER

You will disappear and never ever make yourself heard from again, is that clear? Ten days, no longer, do you understand?!? I swear I’ll kill you before the government has the chance to make fools of us.

RANDA

Mohammed!

OMAR as BROTHER

Don’t ever say my name again. From now on, you have no brother.

RANDA

I remember I packed my son’s teddy bear. A small stone from the house. Clothes. Two books. My diplomas.

I went to Lebanon because I couldn’t get a visa to anywhere else in ten days. I had never made any preparations. I never thought the threats would become an ultimatum. Luckily I had met a queer Lebanese activist at a conference a year earlier. I don’t believe we meet people by accident. I called her and she said she would help me come to Lebanon. I bought a ticket. I told my wife I was going to a conference. As I was leaving, I saw my son standing there in the corridor, he started crying for no reason. I couldn’t hug him. I couldn’t pick him up. I left the house without saying goodbye. I knew if I did, it would make me weak and I wouldn’t be able to leave. You know, even now six years later, I can’t get out of bed in the morning because I miss him so much. And then I left.

I couldn’t even cry. Too much adrenaline. I was worried I would be arrested at the airport. They took my passport and disappeared for a long time. (Pause) Even when they gave it back and let me through, I was convinced they would storm the plane. Only when the plane took off did I feel safe, did I cry. I cried the whole way to Beirut. I cried because I knew there was no way I could take my son into the unknown, as a mother I just couldn’t endanger him like that. But I also cried because as a mother, how could I leave him behind?

(Blackout)

Bios

Amahl Khouri

Amahl Khouri is a Jordanian theatre maker and writer with a degree in Communication Arts from the Lebanese American University. She is a founding member of Beirut 8:30, a theatre company based in Lebanon. She has worked with Lina Abyad, Golden Thread Productions (San Francisco), and Bread & Puppet Theatre, among others. Khouri is the author of two documentary plays: No Matter Where I Go, a play about queer women’s experiences in Beirut’s public space, and She He Me, a play about transgender Arabs. She is the recipient of a Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellowship from PEN Center USA and was a member of the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab in 2013. She He Me was a featured play in hotINK at the Lark in 2015.

Amahl Khouri

Amahl Khouri is both the author of She He Me and the translator of its source material.

She He Me. Copyright (c) Amahl Khouri, 2015.