Lebanese American University


Transcending transgenderism

Presented in New York, Director Lina Abyad’s latest play explores the boundlessness of sexuality and identity.

Amahl Khouri performing.

Dr. Abyad and Khouri share thoughts with the audience.

Click on any photo above for larger version.

Director Lina Abyad has just returned from New York where she presented her latest play at Between the Seas festival on August 25.

Founded in 2010, Between the Seas promotes the representation and understanding of Mediterranean identity and culture in North America. The one-week festival, which includes performances in the fields of dance, music and theater, aims at engaging North American artists, scholars, and audiences in a discussion of the region’s culture and identity.

In I.D. Abyad comes to grips with the emotional and physical struggles that transgender people in Lebanon experience in order to search for and embrace their own identity.

“Transgender people endure a great deal of suffering, starting with the sheer fact that society, deliberately or otherwise, rejects them,” says Abyad. “Undergoing sex reassignment surgery also engenders a different kind of hardship, although emotional distress could very easily outweigh physical pain.”

Written by LAU alumna Amahl Khouri and directed by Abyad, I.D. is both an informative and aesthetic enterprise that sheds light on the harsh and stringent realities of transgender people in Lebanon. The script, which the duo started conceptualizing in February 2012, is the result of a poignant reinterpretation of various interviews conducted by Khouri with several transgender people in Lebanon, culminating in a theatrical performance that brings Khouri on stage as the sole performer.

“There are many important transgender stories and developments happening in Lebanon that never get discussed in the mainstream. There is a kind of erasure, or shame, or denial. Trans people are very marginalized and invisible here,” says Khouri, adding that I.D. helps transgender people to be in the spotlight for the first time.

“I think that visibility is a very potent and political thing, and this is precisely what I.D. brings. Bringing visibility means bringing humanization,” she explains.

One’s identity, however, is not restricted to sexual orientation, stresses Abyad.

“Gender is a dynamic construct, and transgender people are just people who want to be themselves. I.D. is not just about sexuality. It’s about what people have to go through to stay true to who they are,” says Abyad.

While transgenderism generally remains a taboo in Lebanon, Abyad is very excited to stage I.D. in Beirut for local audiences in the near future.

“This may not be an easy topic to tackle, but the function of theatre is to crash boundaries and question preconceived ideas, and to get to know the Other,” she says.

I.D. is a work in progress, and the duo plan to include more interviews and theoretical work (particularly that of American feminist author Judith Butler) as they develop it further. I.D. will also be performed at the Dancing on the Edge festival in Amsterdam.

Dr. Lina Abyad is assistant professor of communication arts (theater) and fundamentals of oral communication at LAU.


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