Transgender, Non-Binary & Gender Non-Conforming - Let's Talk About It

We speak to Aitch Wylie (they/them), who is an actor, singer, and trans inclusivity consultant in the performing arts. 

In this episode we cover some of the basic definitions and language used when talking about gender constructs and challenging them. We also discuss the importance of the arts in driving social change and what the industry can do to be more aware and inclusive when it comes to transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming performers.

53 minute listen or a full transcript of the episode can be found below.

Episode Transcipt

Ilayda Arden:
Hello, and welcome to the Spotlight podcast. My name is Ilayda and today's guest is Aitch Wylie. Aitch, who uses the pronouns they/them is an actor, singer, and trans inclusivity consultant in the performing arts. In this episode we cover some of the basic definitions and language used when talking about gender constructs and challenging them. We also discuss the importance of the arts in driving social change and what the industry can do to be more aware and inclusive when it comes to transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming performers. It's a really interesting chat full of depth and nuance, so I'm excited to share it with you.

Ilayda Arden:
Aitch, hello, welcome.

Aitch Wylie:
Hello.

Ilayda Arden:
Thank you so much for coming onto the podcast.

Aitch Wylie:
Thank you for having me.

Ilayda Arden:
I know you as an actor, a singer, and a consultant. When you meet somebody new, how do you introduce yourself?

Aitch Wylie:
I think that depends heavily on context. In any professional setting I always go, "Hi, I'm Aitch. My pronouns are they/them," and let that hang in the room. I don't know, in personal life - just generally Aitch and let people be slightly confused because they've never heard that name before.

Ilayda Arden:
As someone with a fellow slightly different name, I can attest to what a wonderful feeling that is when you drop the name and everyone's like, "What?"

Aitch Wylie:
Then everyone goes for the, "What's it short for?" I go, "Nothing." Mind blown.

Ilayda Arden:
Is that the name that was given to you? Have you chosen that name for yourself?

Aitch Wylie:
It was my chosen name, was not my birth name.

Ilayda Arden:
Brilliant. Is there a story behind the name that you chose or is it just something that you really liked the sound?

Aitch Wylie:
It's what I started going by. I spelled it out with letters.

Ilayda Arden:
I love that. If you are in a rehearsal or an actual professional setting and someone misgenders you, how do you handle it? What do you say? What do you do?

Aitch Wylie:
Generally when I'm working with people for an extended period of time, I'll say at the beginning of the process, "If someone misgenders me in this process I will just interject with the correct pronoun." Just correct yourself and move on. Normally if we're trucking along and someone says the wrong pronoun, I'll just interject with a little, "They," and then someone will go, "Oh, sorry, they," and then carry on. If it's an audition scenario where I've just met people or this kind of thing, for example, I might ... It's always different in auditions because there's a little bit of a power thing going on there. It depends in the context. If it's the kind of thing where we're all in a rush and I don't have time to say anything without explaining beforehand, because if people then go on a five-minute apology rant, that's worse.

Ilayda Arden:
Yes, yes.

Aitch Wylie:
I did recently an audition. The accompanist misgendered me. I thought, "You know what? Okay, don't worry, because I personally don't want to pick that." If someone else had wanted to pick that up, they'd be well within their own right. I was like, "I don't want to pick you up in this scenario." Then later on, one of the panel misgendered me and I went, "Sorry, it's happened twice now. They. They/them." Everybody just went, "Oh cool, sorry," and carried on, which is great. They handled it really well. I think it does depend on situation and your own personal moment, because it's exhausting to do.

Ilayda Arden:
Of course.

Aitch Wylie:
I don't do it every time. I do it most of the time, and especially if I'm in a room with the same people for an elongated period of time.

Ilayda Arden:
It also sounds like you have to make a judgement call on where your emotional bandwidth is at..

Aitch Wylie:
Yes. Absolutely.

Ilayda Arden:
... at that point in time.

Aitch Wylie:
That can make a big difference in a rehearsal room where you're like, "Cool, we all know each other and we're all on the same level," and then being in an audition room where you don't know the people and they don't know you. It changes with each situation.

Ilayda Arden:
That makes sense. I get the sense that it's handled differently by everyone who might encounter it, because it is a very personal thing. People have different preferences about how they want to handle it when they present themselves and their gender to a room..

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely.

Ilayda Arden:
... or perhaps end up correcting people.

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely. I didn't know that I had this reputation until a couple months ago, but I was filming a showreel with a friend, and they sent an email to the people filming it beforehand saying, "Here are all our pronouns. Myself and this other person are likely to politely correct you if you're wrong. Aitch is likely to smash your car windows in." I didn't know I had that reputation, but I love that I do, because it's that whole thing of saying, "What are your preferred pronouns?" My instant response is, "They are not preferred. My pronouns are they/them." It's not a preference. It's not a choice. I am hard as nails on that. Which is where I think the reputation has come from. I think when people think they have a choice to respect you, and calling you by the right pronouns is respecting you, if they think that there's a choice or that there's leniency in that, people will just take the piss. I'm not lenient with it, but I am nice about it.

Ilayda Arden:
I like that. I like the idea that it is possible to be firm but fair at the same time, because you're totally right. I'd never even considered the concept of the preferred pronouns being actually quite reductive and insulting.

Aitch Wylie:
It's weird. There's loads of little phrases that have been really caught onto by cis people who want to do well, but have not actually done any research into how to be an ally. That is coming out at the minute with preferred pronouns and phrases like ‘female-identifying’….

Ilayda Arden:
Okay, yes.

Aitch Wylie:
Which is like ... I'm very baffled as to how people cannot hear how reductive and slightly aggressive those phrases are, because it's not a preferred pronoun, it's just a pronoun. It's not female-identifying. If you are a female, you're a female. Trans women aren't female-identifying. They're women.

Ilayda Arden:
They are women.

Aitch Wylie:
If you've got a casting call that says female-identifying people, just say women. Trans women are automatically a part of the bracket of woman. If you're looking for trying to include nonbinary people in that, saying female-identifying actually takes nonbinary people out of that. So what you could say is if you're looking for someone who looks like a woman, presents as a woman, you say female-presenting.

Ilayda Arden:
Female-presenting.

Aitch Wylie:
Then you've got nonbinary people who present femininely and then audition for that role. It's all that kind of thing. If you look at the casting call, you go, "Aw, this person is trying, but they are wrong."

Ilayda Arden:
Look, let's do a slight backtrack, because I'm not entirely sure how well versed the Spotlight listenership will be on a lot of the terms that we've already just used. Let's do a little glossary. We've already had the mention of the word cis, which I think now most people probably have a good handle of, but for anybody who has heard that and been like, "What the jazzy fizzle does that mean?" Let's give them a little rundown. We've got cis, which I've got as an adjective describing any person who identifies with the gender that they were assigned at birth. Is that correct?

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely, yes.

Ilayda Arden:
Perfect. Then we've got transgender or trans. You're probably best placed to explain what that is.

Aitch Wylie:
I think it's just anyone who doesn't identify with their assigned gender at birth, any bracket of any nonbinary or binary trans person.

Ilayda Arden:
Then nonbinary, I've got down as a trans person who is not aligned with the binary identity of man or woman.

Aitch Wylie:
Yes, absolutely.

Ilayda Arden:
To anybody listening, a transgender person can also be a nonbinary person.

Aitch Wylie:
Yes. I am transgender nonbinary. I don't identify with my assigned gender at birth. I am not my assigned gender at birth. I am not a man and I am not a woman. I am nonbinary.

Ilayda Arden:
That's why of course your pronouns are they/them.

Aitch Wylie:
Although there's a lot of nonbinary people who don't use strictly they/them pronouns or even they/them pronouns at all, because pronouns don't necessarily align with how we think the spectrum of gender should be. If we're thinking that gender is on a line, man at one end, woman on the other end, nonbinary in the middle, just explode that. That's not how gender can be. You might have a he/him nonbinary person, a she/her nonbinary person, or someone who uses neopronouns like ze/zir, so there's a whole concoction, or even mixed pronouns, which I love, people who use they/she and they/he or he/she/they. It's such a power move. I wish I could do it. I want my gender to be he/she/they, but we don't get to choose our genders unfortunately. My gender is they/them.

Ilayda Arden:
I love that you described it as a power move.

Aitch Wylie:
I think it's so powerful. It's like, "You cannot misgender me." It's great. It's great.

Ilayda Arden:
This is fascinating. I think these discussions are slowly, slowly starting to come into the mainstream. I think that what happens is when people identify themselves as being on the margins, they're very, very good at being able to create safe spaces for themselves, but it then takes years often, years and years and years for the mainstream to ... Inverted commas (you won't be able to see this, listeners, but I just used air quotes), it takes years and years for the mainstream to catch up, as it were. When it does, there's obviously change that happens very rapidly, and it's very fast. Language changes very quickly. Terminology shifts. What was once deemed as acceptable can very quickly become unacceptable. I would say I know that personally I've been a bit nervous about just saying the wrong thing and upsetting people when it's changing so rapidly, because I know that I come at it from such a position of privilege that I don't ... I just wonder, for you, is it better that someone tries and vaguely gets it wrong and then owns up to it, or is it ... How would you prefer people to go about taking on this wonderful change that's occurring but that can be I think stressful for some people?

Aitch Wylie:
Bear in mind that I speak on this in a position of someone who is a white and slim trans person. I don't necessarily pass. What is passing? I don't look like a man or a woman. A lot of people get it wrong with me. I have a lot of experience with this, but my experience of it comes from a white perspective. My personal opinion is that I would much rather people try, and get it wrong. If you are going to try, and get it wrong, you have to be aware that you will get it wrong. It's not a question of IF you do, it's WHEN you do, this is how you should react or how you should accept what you have done. If you do misgender someone, in my opinion, and I'm going to say that everything in this is for me personally.

Ilayda Arden:
Of course. Of course.

Aitch Wylie:
I don't want anyone to go, "Oh my god, I'm so sorry. It's so hard. I'm trying really hard and I've done all of this Googling," and present me with their little folder. Just, "Yes, I got it wrong. Sorry. Thank you." If you are trying to ask questions to educate yourself, don't make me your first point of call. There's so many people on the internet. I don't mean cis people. I mean trans people on the internet who are constantly putting out educational resources, all free, which is incredible. And they're so easy to find. Don't make the trans person that you know, or the few trans people that you know, your first point of call. Always try and find the answer yourself if it's to a question. If you're just in a room and you've got something wrong like a pronoun, apologise, correct yourself, move on.

Ilayda Arden:
I think that that level of candor in workplaces is actually really nice. It would be really good if people could adopt that idea of frequent and constant feedback, and instead of catastrophizing it, being like, "Okay, cool, I've learned a thing."

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely. This is the thing that I say a lot, which is if you've got ... For example, with these big shows that have no trans people in the room, and then there's people will be like, "Oh, but it's really scary the thought of having a trans person in the room, because what if this happens and what if this happens? What if this happens?" The sooner you get a trans person in the room, the sooner you will realise that's not scary at all, because trans people aren't scary and they're just humans living and existing the same way that you are. Addmittedly, with more stuff thrown at us by certain people, but if you are scared of that, that is very much an internalised thing that you as the cis person need to work on and figure out and deal with. I think the important thing is if you find yourself at that point to know that you can work on it, you shouldn't work through it with a trans person. You should work through that on your own with other cis people, going, "I'm really uncomfortable with this. Why is that? Can we exchange thoughts on this?" Then once you unpacked that, taking that out into the world, because I think the last thing that trans people want to do is listen to cis people's fears about trans people.

Ilayda Arden:
Of course. There's enough of those floating around at all times anyway unwarranted-

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely.

Ilayda Arden:
... and unsolicited. I think it touches on this quite interesting thing of, and I think this applies to not just trans people, but anyone who is, again, perhaps a minority, where they're thrust into positions of educators unwillingly or unknowingly, and expected to do the emotional labour of teaching their otherwise well-meaning but quite privileged peers how to navigate these social changes.

Aitch Wylie:
Definitely. I think that it's very common in, for example, with this particular industry, of having a trans character. You're hiring a trans person for the trans character. Good start. Well done.

Ilayda Arden:
Amazing.

Aitch Wylie:
We've had a couple instances of that not happening in the past year. If you are needing a consultant for that show, the actor is not the consultant. If you are asking them to consult, you need to pay them to be a consultant as well as being an actor. If it's, for example, new writing and you're needing consult on the script, you need to hire them as a consultant or hire a consultant with them in the room. If you're working with work that's transphobic, as in there's a transphobic scene against this character, you need to make sure that you're taking responsibility for the well-being of the trans person in the room. Maybe have a trans consultant in for that day. It's similar to, you know how we have intimacy coordinators now? We didn't used to, [but we have them] because work might not be safe and because also you can't expect the actors to do the job of the intimacy coordinating, because they're doing the acting already and those lines get blurred.

Ilayda Arden
Yes.

Aitch Wylie:
If you're asking the trans actor to come in and, one, educate cast that might not know, especially with, for example, they/them pronouns, which a lot of people struggle with more, if you're asking them to do that, educate the cast and crew on the pronouns and then tell a story that might be hitting really close to home, and also doing their jobs as an actor, and then also correcting people who get their pronouns wrong, you're asking a lot of one person there that you're not asking of anyone else in the room who's cis.

Ilayda Arden:
There's the rub.

Aitch Wylie:
Yeah.

Ilayda Arden:
That makes sense to me in a lot of ways. I think it's a conversation that I remember started creeping up around Black Lives Matter as well with a lot of people of colour saying, "Don't turn us into your educators."

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely.

Ilayda Arden:
"We're already doing a job. Don't stop us by the water cooler at lunch and ask us to explain civil rights to you."

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely. It's one of those things of racism and transphobia not being in any way the same thing, but the way that people treat marginalised communities having overlap.

Ilayda Arden:
Exactly. There is a Venn diagram where that overlaps, 100%.

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely.

Ilayda Arden:
In recent years, there's been an increase in the dialogue about gender equality and equity in the performing arts community. How important is it that transgender and gender-nonconforming voices are in those discussions and why?

Aitch Wylie:
In my opinion it is imperative that transgender and gender-nonconforming voices lead those conversations, because our society lives on sexism and white supremacy, misogyny and white supremacy. It is built on those things. If either of those two things didn't exist, our particular little society on our silly little island would crumble completely. If we centre Black trans women in these conversations, quite frankly, they're sorting out every single problem that exists in that scenario. White cis women obviously have various prejudices against them, undoubtedly. If white cis women are fighting to have equality for them by talking about the prejudices that they experience, they are not fighting for anyone past their experiences. We see that happen all the time. It's sometimes malicious, but it's sometimes not. It's just that they don't know, because they're going, "This is what I've experienced. It's horrific." Yes, it is. Jesus, I'm so sorry that that happened. If you're not able to see past your own experiences and see that actually centering this voice is going to do so much better for everyone, I think that's where these conversations fall down quite a lot. If you are putting someone in the circle who has completely decolonized gender and torn gender apart completely, that person's going to have so much of a better understanding of, one, why the gender pay gap exists, and two, how to make it not exist.

Ilayda Arden:
Yes.

Aitch Wylie:
If you are still thinking in terms of men are this, women are this, nothing else exists, and that's the way that our society views it, you're still thinking along the same train tracks. You're running parallel, just with a different opinion. You've got someone else coming in at a complete right angle and going, "Smash this train off the tracks and let's completely rebuild this, in a way that means we have true equity, true equality." I personally think that's the only way that these conversations will expand, because we know that sexism exists. We've known for hundreds of years and it still exists. As I say, trans is not new, but the conversation surrounding trans is new to some people. I believe that that conversation has the ability to come and smash the train off the tracks and set gender inequality straight, for want of a better word.

Ilayda Arden:
No pun intended. I think that that's, in its essence, what we're talking about or what you're saying is this idea that the people who have already been doing all the talking have done the talking.

Aitch Wylie:
We've had white cis straight women talking for many, many years, very, very well. They have done incredible, incredible steps. At this point, these other voices have so much more to bring from their lived experience of this world. If we are ignoring them, or worse, denying them, we simply are not going to take any more steps forward. I spent 19 years of my life on this earth presenting as female and being read as female. I still often am read as female and experience misogyny. If people aren't going to take into account those experiences, they are also missing a massive part of the conversation. Things like the gender critical comment of ‘if you have a womb you're a woman’, and I was saying I really thought that feminism had taken womanhood past having a womb. I thought that was a whole thing that we were trying to do for women. Now it's in the hatred of all the unacceptance of trans people. We're taking steps back in feminism, especially with trans-exclusionary radical feminism.

Ilayda Arden:
It's such a shame that it's been given the title of radical feminism, because I think it's ...well. Exactly.

Aitch Wylie:
It's trans-exclusionary. That's it.

Ilayda Arden:
Really, truly. You're right. It's a big answer. It's a big question that I asked. I think that people sometimes don't want to ask the question and don't want to hear the answer, because it is big and it goes right down to the nebulous of what it is to be human even I think?

Aitch Wylie:
The thing is, I feel like, and I do say this a lot, which is if people, say, come with an issue or come with, "This prejudice is happening. Why? What's going on?" it comes back to these points. It comes back to misogyny, it comes back to white supremacy, every time. I've not yet found a single question or comment that hasn't come back to that. That comes from consulting with many different people about many different things, and in particular, transphobia, which always comes back to those two roots. Those… We've really got to work on as a society, as an industry, actively, more actively than we have been in the past, more actively than we are now.

Ilayda Arden:
I think you're completely right. With that being said, in a previous podcast episode I was chatting to the drag queen Veronica Green, who was on Ru Paul's Drag Race. We were talking about the stigma that drag faces in the performing arts, how it's often seen as a novelty act. It's labelled as a one-trick pony, or if you're going to release a song as a drag artist, it's only ever going to chart in the drag category, as opposed to regular charts, etc. I'm getting the sense, and I have done for quite a while, that in many ways the same thing can happen if you're transgender or gender-nonconforming performer. Where your identity can be seen as a hurdle to overcome rather than something to be celebrated and actually used and utilised in an effective way, you know?

Aitch Wylie:
That's definitely true. 100%. I'm very lucky in that I have an agent who pushes me to be seen for things that a lot of people wouldn't see a trans person for, and not even necessarily actively, but subconsciously, they've not included trans people in their category of people that they're seeing for this role. I'm very lucky to have an agent who actively does that. When you think about the shows that have been cast in this last year, the shows that have been badly cast in this last year, where quite two or three have cast cis men as trans women. That's our starting point, that we're still essentially in. You've got these tiny amount of trans roles that aren't being given to trans people. Trans people, it's so hard to be seen for roles that are “written cis.” I did air quotes with that, because what does that mean? What does written cis mean? It's nonexistent. I think it's really hard, because the same people who say, "Why does everyone have a label these days?" love to put everyone in a box, saying, "You can't play this role, because you're trans."

Aitch Wylie:
For me it started right when I was at drama school. I was told at drama school I would never work in this job. It’s boys and it’s girls. I will never work. Since I've left drama school, I have worked, obviously. I've played quite a few nonbinary roles. I've played cis roles, air quotes. Who says they're cis? I played them. They're probably not cis. It didn't matter. The character was the character. The character had whatever pronouns the character had. And I played them. I'm bringing my experience into the room, my lived experience as a trans person, which probably colours the character, because as an actor, your life experience often does colour the character.

Ilayda Arden:
Always does, yeah.

Aitch Wylie:
I say a lot of unconscious bias. I think there's a lot of conscious bias in it as well, of people saying, "Yeah, but this character isn't trans. If we hire a trans person to play this character, that will get this whole play a whole new meaning," blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. It's like, "Will it?" Will it or will it just be another actor playing this role, bringing their lived experience to it the same way that it would be if you cast any actor. We've seen hundreds and thousands of Hamlets. Give me a trans Hamlet, because I want to see Hamlet done differently, because we've seen it done 700 times.

Ilayda Arden:
Yep.

Aitch Wylie:
I find it really interesting how, and I think this comes back to fear, that people are scared of the conversations that will be brought into the room if they hire a trans person, because if you hire me, you hire this trans person, it guarantees that I'm bringing conversation about transness into the room, because that's what I'm bringing to the room, that is probably, in all the rooms that I've been in, unique to the room, because god forbid we have more than one trans person in a show. It is a new perspective. I find it really interesting that this industry in particular is scared of that, because isn't that what we were looking for the whole time? The reason that we see 100 applicants for one role is because we're seeing who can bring something interesting to it.

Ilayda Arden:
Special and magical and different.

Aitch Wylie:
Yeah! If you are narrowing who you're seeing for that role, and especially narrowing from people who have this vastly different life experience, you are losing so much magic. So much magic in your show. Baffling to me.

Ilayda Arden:
I think that's a totally valid thing. I think ultimately, especially if we consider what a lot of the time art exists for is often to be able to tell stories from all walks and planes of life. If you're only working with a specific set of people who come from a specific set or walk of life, then what are your stories missing out on?

Aitch Wylie:
Also how many times can you tell the same story?

Ilayda Arden:
In the same way. With that being said, again, how do you think arts venues, writers, directors, casting directors, and other performers can challenge the understandings of gender through art and performance. What scope is there?

Aitch Wylie:
One, there's so much to be said about your own personal education. That is every individual's responsibility. I think I'm really bored of hearing conversations about trans people that don't have trans people involved in them. I'm really bored about hearing an entirely cis team writing and casting a trans character. I'm really bored of hearing cis people being cast as trans characters. The thing that we need to do to stop this habit is: hire trans people. At every level and every stage, hire trans people. It's a really interesting thing. I had very poor experiences at drama school, as a direct result of the transphobia, the institutionalised transphobia that was there. They could not deal with or teach or understand or even begin to work with someone who wasn't a binary man or woman.

Ilayda Arden:
Very pick a side.

Aitch Wylie:
Very pick a side. This speaks to the point I made earlier about misogyny: I'm still experiencing it as someone who is not a woman. They saw me as a woman because they were transphobic. They didn't know how to cast me because I'm not your typical looking woman, because I'm not one. I got cast as a mum six times in a row, because if you are not the love interest as a woman, you're a mum. That's an issue with the writer, with the director, with whoever cast it. It stems right back. If we're going to change how we're viewing gendered casting and writing and performing, you're a writer, work with a trans writer, if you're a director, work with trans directors. Work with trans actors. Work with consultants. We exist. Just hire us. Hire us and pay us for what we're doing, because we do exist. I set up a whole consultancy because I enjoy making work better and making places better for trans people. Normally when you do that, this is my personal opinion, the show gets better. Because you're expanding it. You're expanding its horizons. No bad can come of that. You can't make a show worse by adding another viewpoint. If you're doing that right from the start, right from the base, then it's in the whole time.

Ilayda Arden:
From the bottom up and from the top down.

Aitch Wylie:
Yeah. Just hire trans people constantly. You don't work with all-white casts. You say, "No, this is an all-white cast and it's 2021. I don't want to do it." Don't work with an all-cis cast. "This is 2021 and I don't want to do it." Don't work with an all-straight cast. Don't work with an all-male cast, unless it's ... Even so, things like, what's the newspaper one, Newsies, there's one woman in that show. She does not all that much for the show. Like Kinky Boots and stuff. You could take her out of the plot and it wouldn't change it. Why have you not got gender-nonconforming people in those shows? Make it less male-heavy. I think that goes for this whole industry of…Men are still so centred in every aspect of it: writing, directing, performing. I think so much conversation of how do we center these marginalised voices, the answer is decenter the voices that are there currently. We don't need to hear more stories about cis white straight men right now.

Ilayda Arden:
If we are going to hear stories by cis white straight men, find a way to make them different by bringing in the voices of gender-nonconforming performers.

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely. My best experience with this was actually one of the last shows I did at ... I didn't complete my drama school training, because they told me that if I wanted to bring my transness into the room I could play a magical creature.

Ilayda Arden
Oh my god.

Aitch Wylie:
So I said, "Buh-bye." Just before I did, I played my last mum. It was in a Chekhov. Chekhov is something that we've seen-

Ilayda Arden:
Over and over again.

Aitch Wylie:
... so many times. It was just another mum and it was in this Chekhov, by this white man. I was absolutely enraged. It was a director who I have so much time for, because she said, "We have to bring everyone's lived experience into the room." Doing that, I was like, "Cool. Why am I sat here wearing lipstick, with my hair done? What's happening? This isn't my lived experience." And she went, "Yeah. Yeah, that's not on. Let's change it up." I changed it up, brought my transness to the character, finally had permission to bring my transness to the character. Everyone who's seen it, and bear in mind these are drama school tutors who see Chekhov at least three times a year, they all came out saying, "I've never seen it like that." They didn't like it and it didn't matter, but they went, "Never seen it like that," which is saying something, right?

Ilayda Arden:
It is, I think. I do, I do think so. Ultimately, one of the things that's often said about creating art in any capacity is it's better to have a quite strong reaction, even if it's a kind of marmite-y reaction-

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely.

Ilayda Arden:
... to the product, than a mediocre, "Meh. There it is again."

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely. I can't think of anything worse than seeing something I've seen a hundred times. Even if I'm going somewhere I'm thinking, "Oh my god. I had such a viscerally horrible reaction to that," I felt something, didn't I? Isn't that what we're all trying to do, especially in this plague-ridden world?

Ilayda Arden:
Yes. It's sometimes to be confused, and to be pushed a little bit is actually exhilarating in its own right.

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely.

Ilayda Arden:
I think that makes a lot of sense. I think we're talking about arts venues as well. I would perhaps argue that the duty of a lot of arts venues to start programming and working with artists and festivals or having whatever it might be, a season, that is dedicated to, and more than just a season, obviously that's ridiculous to just confine it to one season, but I think it's the duty of the top-down decision makers in Arts Venues to be opening the door.

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely. I think something that has been heard a lot over this year particularly, I've heard it more this year, is the, "We welcome applicants who are the global majority and are LGBTQ-plus." That's written on the thing, and then they're cast as this white straight person. I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that it's not enough to say, "We welcome you. Come to us." You have to open the door and you have to say, "Hey, you know what? You might not want to come in this door, because this door has historically been quite nasty to you. So we're opening the door, we have a sorry bouquet for you and some cake." Would be nice. It's so easy to say, "Yeah, of course trans people can apply for this role." But if you're seeing this casting director consistently not cast the trans people in this role, you're not going to play for that casting director, because you're going, "There's no point in wasting my time." We all know how much effort it takes to prepare for these kind of things. If you're taking all that time and you know that this casting director is just not going to give you the time of day, because they consistently haven't with trans people, even if they've gone away and educated themselves now and said, "No, I need to do better and I'm going to do better," that same casting director's just putting out, "Yeah, trans people apply," isn't going to make a difference. You got to see proof in the pudding. I think that's going to take some more time and some more effort, some more work on this side of the cis community.

Ilayda Arden:
I think you're right. I think that there's still quite a way to go. Yet I suppose this is encouraging that the conversations and the actions are being had and taken.
Aitch Wylie:
It was still very much in the time of ... The conversation has just exploded.

Ilayda Arden:
Yes.

Aitch Wylie:
So we're seeing massive push-back to it. I don't know that the conversation is moving forward at this point. I think it's just happening, I think, because there are so many loudly violent people that I think we've got a while, or not even a while. If all cis people pulled together, it could be done tomorrow, but they won't. We've really got a lot of work to do to get the conversation started. I wouldn't say that it even has yet. I would say the conversation has exploded.

Ilayda Arden:
The conversation has exploded and there's lots of people sitting around a fire being like, "We can't talk about that," and then arguing about what they're going to talk about. It's like having the meeting about the meeting.

Aitch Wylie:
That comes back to having conversations about trans people without trans people.

Ilayda Arden:
I think that that is true. I think that was actually the lead-up to the next question that I was going to ask, which is I've already very lightly touched on the idea that when people ... It's very common for marginalised people to form their own safe spaces, etc, and so that they can express themselves and explore and celebrate their identities freely and from a place of genuine safety and support. Then when societal conversations pertaining to these identities start entering the mainstream, those who want to learn and understand can be super excited to get involved, and in all their well-meaning-ness, end up taking over. What would you say to anyone who is a cis heterosexual person who wants to be an ally? What would you say to them in terms of how not to be a jerk about it?

Aitch Wylie:
It goes for cis people who are not het as well. Cis gays have a lot to do as well. I think cis people educating cis people in a space where no trans people are is great. For example, sharing information online that trans people have created, that's a really great resource. You can be the most well-meaning cis person, but if you are taking your idea of gender to a trans person, it's going to be eggy. Make sure that you're centering trans voices in all the work that you do, so that you're never talking over a trans person, you're not talking for a trans person, you are sharing directly from.

Aitch Wylie:
If I've, for example, gone into a consult ... Consult? I said that so weirdly. I've gone into a consult and I have said an exact phrase which then gets passed around to the team. Great.

Ilayda Arden:
Brilliant.

Aitch Wylie:
But if I've gone into a consult and said your team needs to work on their understanding of pronouns, and then the person who I spoke to passes that on as ‘everyone needs to use they/them pronouns for everyone’, which I'm not saying is a situation that could happen! But it's that kind of thing of take the exact information, because what I could've been saying is you need to unlearn the idea that a pronoun means a gender. For example, how we were talking earlier about nonbinary people using he/him pronouns or she/her pronouns. I could've been saying that. That exact information needs to be passed on. If a cis person has taken that and gone, "I understand that nonbinary people don't use binary pronouns, so everyone work on their they/them pronouns."

Ilayda Arden:
Yes, okay.

Aitch Wylie:
Making sure that if you are taking information from a trans person, you are taking that exact information. You are not creating information surrounding trans allyship. You are simply sharing information surrounding trans allyship, because I'd say 99% of cis people do not know how to be trans allies. They are not equipped to teach how to be a trans ally.

Ilayda Arden:
I think that's the crucial point, isn't it, is if they're not equipped to ... If they don't know how to do it, then they don't know how to teach it. In that case they have to properly employ the people who do know how to teach it.

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely, and make spaces for those people. I know there's such a thing in the town where I grew up where parents of trans kids in that area could all meet up.

Ilayda Arden:
That's so cute.

Aitch Wylie:
Isn't that sweet? Be like, "Gosh, isn't the health care system awful," and have that kind of conversation together so they're not burdening their trans child with that conversation. I think that's wonderful. As a group of cis people centering transness, what they need to do is ... I don't know how often they meet, maybe it's once a week, so once a month, invite an adult trans person to join their conversations and pay them for their time. So that they're not just ... You can be the most well-meaning cis person. You might have a trans child that you completely 100% fully support, but because you are coming at it from a cis perspective. You just do not know. Then apply that throughout whatever situation you need to.

Ilayda Arden:
I'm also hearing the idea that it can be brilliant to take the information that is given to you and roll with it to a certain degree, but just because you've had one bit of information off of someone at one point, that doesn't therefore make you a broad advocate ad infinitum.

Aitch Wylie:
Absolutely. Even as a trans person, can't take anything I say ad infinitum. I'm white and I'm slim. You need to talk to the breadth of the trans community and hear every single person. We might contradict each other, the same way that everyone in the world contradicts each other. Empathetic listening. Active listening. I think with allyship in general, how to be an ally, I've seen so many things this past year. The majority that comes out as, don't talk over the person that you're trying to help. Listen to them. And do your own work. That's what it boils down to.

Ilayda Arden:
Love those three. It sounds like a very nice little Instagram infographic.

Aitch Wylie:
I feel like I've probably seen the Instagram infographic and I just spewed it back out. I think the Instagram infographics, for one, I think they're great. I think they show so much incredible information. But I think people think that's where it stops.

Ilayda Arden:
It stops.

Aitch Wylie:
You share the graphic, "Done my work, woo!" We don't actually take the time to go to the trans person's Instagram page, read the post, share that post, and then shut your mouth. The important full stop at the end of allyship is your mouth.

Ilayda Arden:
I love that. Okay, well. I've had an amazing chat. I feel like I've got to know you. I feel like I've learned things. I've said some dumb stuff. We'll see. We'll see. Aitch Wylie, thank you so much for coming and chatting to me.

Aitch Wylie:
Thank you so much.

Ilayda Arden:
It has been such a pleasure to get to know you better, deeper, in all of your nuances and humour. I hope that you have a swift recovery from COVID.

Aitch Wylie:
Thank you very much. Thanks.

Ilayda Arden:
Where can we find more of you, online or otherwise?

Aitch Wylie:
I'm not particularly active on social media at the minute. You can find me on Twitter, Aitch Wylie, find me on Instagram, Aitch full stop Wylie. You can even find me on TikTok, because that is what COVID did to me. Also Aitch Wylie. All of the Aitch Wylies.

Ilayda Arden:
Amazing. It's Aitch Wylie and all the variations. Thank you so much. Listeners, peace out.

Ilayda Arden:
Thanks for listening to this week's podcast. If you have any questions or queries about anything you've heard, feel free to get in touch with us. You can do so by emailing [email protected] or feel free to send us a tweet to @spotlightuk. If you want any more podcasts, news, or advice about the performing arts and casting industries, then head over to our website, spotlight.com, and navigate to the News and Advice section. That's all from us for now. See you next time.

Aitch Wylie (they/them) is an actor, singer, and trans inclusivity consultant in the performing arts and beyond.

Main Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash