Local trans-comic releases dark, hilarious and personal 30 minute stand up special to benefit local LGBTQ groups
“Laughing and crying are damn near identical, but laughing is socially acceptable,” said local comic Mary Jane French. She’s talking to me about some of the more tense moments in her brand new stand up special, Bearded Woman.
French doesn’t mince words about the first 11 months of her transition from male to female across the 30 minute video. Things like suicide, jealousy, and social anxiety are all up for parody in her eyes.
“I’d give my last nut to not have male genitals,” she jokes in her opening bit.
“When I get to do bits like that, where I’m frustrated and showing so much pain, the way I see it is ‘good, you’re sobbing with me…’ When I do that joke, I feel less alone’… it’s helpful.”
French (pictured below), a VCU student and filmmaker, is unabashed in Bearded Woman. Full of corse language and raw emotion, there are moments where I wondered if I should be laughing.
“When I devolve into screaming and talking about throwing myself into the James River, I get to make my audience as uncomfortable as I am,” she said about one of her favorite jokes comparing men to women – specifically how easy it is when a man gets testosterone, testicles and a penis, and how awful it is when a women gets the same.
And her blunt humor around her early transition has affected some audience members as well. French said she’s been approached more than once by people who thank her for expressing on stage the same feelings they are going through daily.
“Those are the best fucking moments,” she said. “It’s a time when I actively connect to the queer community. Those are the moments when stand up gets me more in touch with people who can relate with what I’m going through – and that’s what I hope to do with this special and putting it online, reaching those people.”
Relatabilty is key to a lot of comedy – being able to bring the audience into your own funny world – but of course not everyone in her audience is transgender. She said she aims to make her situation as relatable as she can, a challenge to say the least, but her themes of isolation, awkward social institutions, and how the average person sees gender can apply to anyone who’s ever felt unsure of themselves.
“As much as I want it to be something for people who are early in their transition, I hope cis people who have never had to to interact with a trans person, or who have only heard of Caitlyn Jenner is… I want them to be able to see not everyone has millions of dollars, can go away for a few months, and come back ‘fully transitioned,’” she said.
The root of this comedic pain lies in the last year for French, back when she first came to terms with the transition she is currently going through.
“I wasn’t performing for a while because when I started my transition I was not comfortable going on stage and acknowledging it,” she said. “But when I wasn’t performing I spent a lot of time shirking commitments and staying in bed all day. But once I started performing, it was cathartic – I would lose the anxiety and frustration I would get.”
In the first few months, she felt like she wasn’t passing as “female enough,” a feeling she admits follows a “female normality” she doesn’t think should exist, but couldn’t help succumb to. The stress and depression associated with this early period are explained with a dark whit throughout Bearded Woman, and as French explained, she often suffered more when those around her, unfamiliar with transgender people, would be visibly uncomfortable with her – a feeling she believes many trans folks go through early in the process.
“I wanted to do this because I want people to know you can have a beard and still be a lady,” she said. “That’s a thing. I’m trying to normalize it for people.”
The special was shot on May 1st, 2015, and she’s since started hormone treatments and said she is in a better emotional place.
“The most blatant thing I can mention is my sex drive drop,” she said, now a month and a half into HRT. “Imagine having male biology and that level of testosterone, that level of sex drive, but anything that would be satisfying is physically impossible… most of all, its not constant, so I’m not constantly reminded of my genitals.”
Much like when I watched her Bearded Woman, I laughed at French’s joke mid-interview but felt a little bad about it.
French said its okay to laugh like that.
“I’m all about people laughing about it,” she said. “Laugher is the right response.”
Have a look at the special below, and if you enjoy it, we’ve put a list of links below for the local LGBTQ groups French is hoping to support with the project, consider donating you cheapskate:
http://rosmy.org (donate at bottom right corner)
We spoke with French a few months back about a short film she (successfully!) crowdfunded, A Nite Out. Detailing the social anxiety felt by a 20-something female experiences ahead of attending her first orgy. You’ll notice a pattern in French’s work.
That movie has since wrapped and will be screened as part of Gallery 5′s Project Resolution the third Sunday in July. We’ll follow up with French around that premiere.
Top image flyer from Bearded Woman via Alexandra Wong
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Every member of the troupe had their chance to shine and they all did.May 31, 2016
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