The 3rd Gender is a new play that blends together numerous classic science fiction pieces to make a point about tolerance. There bits of Star Trek, a dash of Logan’s Run, or Brave New World, and even a little Twilight Zone in this show. Although it does an effective job in drawing a metaphor for homophobia, it also has some unintended implications about transgender people.
The protagonist of The 3rd Gender, Manten (Played by J.P. Serret) wakes up with a bad case of amnesia after having brain surgery. This is a good thing because he lives in a very complicated, very confusing world. Luckily for Manten (And the audience) there is a helpful doctor (Victoria Guthrie) on hand to explain everything to him.
Manten has just had a series of procedures intended to cure him of a rare condition. That condition is that he’s “Heteronormative“. Yes, Manten lives in a dystopian future where our puny concepts of sex and gender are gone. Humanity has evolved into “The 3rd Gender”!
Virtually everyone else has mis-matched souls. Meaning that in this future, male bodies have female souls, and female bodies have male souls. Essentially the world is dominated by a malevolent race of transgender overlords.
Manten is quickly revealed to be attracted to a woman named Cassie (Played by Lara Clear) who has the same condition as him, only Cassie has a female body with a female soul. Their way of life is forbidden among the 3rd gender and the pair of “Hetero-Normatives” find themselves on the run in this dystopian, intolerant world.
Although playwright Peter Zachari has put a great deal of effort into constructing his setting, his premise is still filled with internal inconsistencies.
Among the “3rd gender”, male bodies still like having sex with female bodies, and female souls are still attracted to male souls, so it all seems to work out exactly the same as with heteronormatives. Because members of the 3rd gender seem to engage in heterosexual sex for reproduction, just like Manton and Cassie, the show immediately faces the question as to how anyone can even tell the difference.
Despite the assertion that 3rd gender people have a soul of one gender and a body of the opposite sex, they still style themselves just like cis-gendered persons. One character who purportedly has a female soul in a male body still wears a full beard. Other characters who are male souls in female bodies all wear their hair long, while characters who are female souls in male bodies all have short, traditionally male hairstyles. Manton and Cassie are indistinguishable in appearance and behavior from their oppressors.
Perhaps the whole point of these inconsistencies is to mock the absurdity of homophobia. After all, in the real world homophobes have all sort of zany excuses involving pseudo-science, and metaphysics to justify their hatred. In The 3rd Gender audiences simply have to take the playwright’s word for it that Manten’s soul is perceived as different from everyone else’s. It gets the point across that discrimination is bad, however as a work of science fiction it doesn’t hold together.
Then there are the unintended implications about transgender people… Or at least one hopes that this message is unintentional.
The term LGBT is thrown around a lot, and the problem is that LGBT projects will often ignore the “T” in LGBT. ”Transgender”. The 3rd Gender promotes sensitivity towards gays, but it also depicts transgender people as heartless, inhuman, genocidal cultists.
The show seems well-intentioned, and the playwright is (Presumably) not trying to warn the audience about an impending transgender neo-Nazi apocalypse, but the final product is definitely making a mixed message about transgenderism.
The performers are all enthusiastic, and the script makes a statement that is extremely timely. With Russia trying to outlaw homosexuality as an abstract concept, this sort of well-intentioned allegory is very apropos. However the metaphor is about as subtle as that episode of Star Trek where Frank Gorshin is white on one side and black on the other.
The show also ends up depicting gender, sex and sexual preference as neatly divided absolutes. The vast spectrum of gender identity, sexual preference, and even biological sex are all dismissed in favor of a ham-fisted narrative about intolerance. Performances at the show’s climax involve much scenery chewing, and the tale degenerates into sci-fi melodrama where sneering villains wield Abortion Rays.
The 3rd Gender has its heart in the right place (Hopefully), and there is much to like in terms of the staging. However the decidedly mixed message and incoherent setting get in the way. For those interested, it is playing now through August 25th in the NYC Fringe festival.