February 22, 2021

QTBIPOC Representation in Action with Assigned Female at Birth

by joeyphoenix

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Another Country Productions’ Assigned Female at Birth (AFAB) challenges perceptions about the queer and trans and BIPOC community in bite sized episodes. They released episode 5 this past week, “The Non-binary peeps at the Potluck.” Episode 6 is scheduled for release in March. 

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by Joey Phoenix
Images provided by Another Country Productions

Lyralen Kaye (they/them/theirs), the founder of Another Country Productions and the engine behind Assigned Female at Birth, is a gender-fluid, pansexual queer artist and jack of all things. As a multicultural arts activist, award-winning writer and solo performer, professional actor, and story and poetry slam winner with 30 years of experience in the arts, there isn’t much they can’t do. 

And even in the midst of a global pandemic, they’ve continued to write and produce work like Assigned Female at Birth that’s representational and challenging of the norm, and they “don’t give a fuck” if anyone has a problem with it.

“I don’t write to please at all. I write to find the story that’s inside of me to tell,” they said, a devilish smile on their face with the admission. 

And with AFAB, they aren’t just telling their own story, but the story of 32 others. 

Assigned Female at Birth (AFAB)

Lyralen started Another Country Productions in 2003. Since its creation, Another Country has developed a reputation for telling untold, and sometimes difficult stories, and providing a platform for underrepresented voices – particular those from Black, Brown, Queer, and Trans communities, and their various intersections (QTBIPOC). 

In October of 2020, Lyralen and the team at Another Country started releasing episodes of Assigned Female at Birth, a web series based on thirty-two interviews with trans and nonbinary individuals as well as cis women of all identities, races, abilities and ages. The webseries features 23 characters based on 32 real-life people. 

And you can watch them here.

Some of the themes represented in the web series include the stories of an agender trans man who throws zir family into chaos when zi decides to wear a dress to zir wedding, a black lesbian struggling with her mother’s death and her trans husband’s new penis, and a non-binary disabled therapist’s struggle to be intimate with their partner. 

“I am an auteur on this project,” Lyralen said. “And while I haven’t done everything, I wrote it, I’ve run every aspect, I’m directing it, I have one of the smaller leading roles in it – a multiple and non-binary therapist named Daire, and I really feel like I was made for this.”

Lyralen Kaye as Daire in AFAB

One of the reasons that Lyralen has chosen to wear so many creative hats is because they want to tell these stories in a certain way. And so, the best way to avoid a “too many cooks” situation, is to keep other decision makers – particularly those who are cisgender men, away from the metaphorical soup pot.

“I hired two cisgender men, one lasted for 10 days, and the other for 11,” they said with a laugh. “They just didn’t get it.” 

It’s not that the non-binary, trans, queer Black, Indigenous, Person of Color experience (QTBIPOC) is new, but it just hasn’t been well represented in the media, and it’s hard to know about that experience without being a part of the community.

And so, while these narratives are slowly entering mainstream awareness, Lyralen is trying to make sure that the story gets told correctly, especially when that source material is coming from actual humans with actual human experiences that are difficult to grapple with. 

Assigned Female at Birth, a web series by Lyralen Kaye: Interview with Alex Alexander: Bailey

“I interviewed 32 people and they trusted me to tell these stories,” Lyralen said.”I’ve been working with and in diverse populations for a long time. People told me stories they’re never willing to tell to a white person, and they would never have told somebody who wasn’t also non binary.” 

For them, this sacred space wasn’t just an opportunity to tell stories that hadn’t been told previously, but also created a responsibility to tell them authentically. . 

“I’m not going to let somebody else represent the people who talk to me,” they added. 

Each episode of Assigned Female at Birth deals with the details of what it means to be QTBIPOC in a world that doesn’t always make space for these individuals. And it’s told in a way that doesn’t reduce these stories to inaccessible concepts, but to living, breathing human beings that viewers can empathize with. 

MJ Bird as Zander in AFAB

My Preferred Pronoun is We

After 30 years in the industry, Lyralen isn’t new to telling complex stories. Prior to Assigned Female at Birth, they wrote, performed, and produced My Preferred Pronoun is We. The show was directed by Nina Groom, Alexandra Dietrich, and Caitlin Inglis and was the winner of the “Best in Fringe” and “Techie Best in Fringe” in San Francisco and a finalist for the “Soaring Solo Artist Award” in Hollywood. 

The show – which had originally been scheduled to make its North Shore debut at Marblehead Little Theatre in March of 2020 before being postponed indefinitely due to COVID – is autobiographical in nature, inspired by Lyralen’s panicked reaction and attempted move to Canada in the wake of Donald Trump being elected president in 2016. 

“He was elected and the next day I called a realtor to come take a look at our condo to sell it,” they recalled. “I was in Canada for the inauguration.” 

Unfortunately, Lyralen’s attempted escape to the Northern border was thwarted by Canadian immigration lawyers and the famous “medical inadmissability” question, which made  Lyralen’s PTSD diagnosis a reason for rejection. 

“It’s so ableist to turn somebody down for their disability, as if people who are disabled have less to offer,” they said. “Because in some ways, we have more [to offer], and on my able days, I’m super able.” 

So faced with this reality bestowed upon them by the Canadian government, Lyralen wrote about it, all of it. The work would eventually become My Preferred Pronoun is We, a hilarious and compelling revelation of how failing to emigrate led to Lyralen’s acceptance of their own personal intersections of mental health, queerness, and identity. 

Devised Theatre in the Age of COVID

But while performing radical, comedic shows like My Preferred Pronoun aren’t currently possible in a world restricted by COVID, made for screen shows like AFAB are. And the medium is giving Lyralen a way to tell complex and compelling stories that represent a group of people who, up until now, just haven’t been given enough screen time. 

“I thought I was woke before I did those interviews – but I missed things.  And people felt safe enough to say you’re missing things, and I took that as the biggest compliment,” they said. “I learned about aging, I learned the details of what’s in front of me, I learned about all different kinds of ways of having sex and struggles to have sex when you don’t feel like your body belongs to you or that it’s not your gender.”

You can watch Assigned Female at Birth on Another Country’s Youtube Channel or find out more information on their site at https://www.anothercountryproductions.com/assignedfemaleatbirth/

But most importantly: the final episode of season 1 is being released in March, with season 2 to begin in April. So stay tuned. 

Joey Phoenix (they/them) is the Director of Brand Strategy and Innovation at Creative Collective. As the resident storyteller and town crier, they encourage you to send story ideas, inspiration, or pictures of adorable critters to joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com.

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