No Gender Left Behind | Chicago Fringe Festival 2011 review

Artist Rebecca Kling uses her own experience of getting fired from a teaching job because she's transgender as a jumping-off point to explore—with a good deal of humor—what exactly we're teaching our children about the gender spectrum.

Last October, artist Rebecca Kling got fired from a gig teaching theater to kids because she’s transgender—despite the fact that Illinois is one of 12 states outlawing such discrimination. But a principal didn’t care for Kling, and she now appropriates the bigot’s words to deem herself a “bringer of uncomfortable conversation.”

Kling may be many things, but we wouldn’t say “uncomfortable” is one of them. A naturally disarming performer, she’s friendly even before her one-woman show begins, challenging the audience to name five films or TV shows featuring transgender characters before she’ll begin. Gags about gender, like Tootsie, didn’t count. It took us a few minutes to name five, and the silence while we pondered spoke volumes.

Kling only becomes more likable as the 50-ish minute show unfolds, whether quickly assuming new personas—grumpy gym coach, smarmy news anchor, hostile cop—or deftly negotiating tech glitches. But mostly Kling plays her brave self, in between snippets (eventually overused) of trite black-and-white “educational” films for teenagers that drove home rigid gender roles. Addressing the audience directly, Kling reads passages from a recent report on anti-trans bigotry and violence, Injustice at Every Turn, then balances that out with humor about Barbie and Skipper.

Most effectively, she makes a salient point about sexism when she questions the state law that won’t allow women to expose their nipples. “How can it be legal,” she asks, “for me to be topless five years ago, and illegal now?” (To drive home the point, she even takes off her top.) Kling raises a lot of questions and lets her audience divine answers for themselves.

More from the Chicago Fringe Festival 2011

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)