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Trans Writer’s Play Exploring ‘Rape Culture’ to be Performed June 5 in Houston

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Trans nonprofit AFTER Houston helps bring MJ Kaufman’s ‘Sensitive Guys’ to Rec Room

By Donalevan Maines

A free, staged reading of Sensitive Guys, by transgender playwright MJ Kaufman, is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 5, at Rec Room, 100 Jackson St.

The reading will be presented by Horse Head Theatre Company and the American Foundation for Transgender Excellence and Recognition, or AFTER Houston.

Dee Dee Watters
Dee Dee Watters

A talk-back will follow the performance, allowing the audience “an open line of communication” with the director, cast and AFTER Houston founder Veronika Simms.

Per the script’s instructions, “All the characters are played by people who identify as women or gender nonconforming.” The actors are double-cast as five male and five female characters who attend separate group sessions designed to eradicate sexual violence at Watson College, a fictional, small liberal arts college.

The exception is Dee Dee Watters, a Houston spoken-word artist who identifies as female, in the role of the college’s admission officer, who also reads the stage directions.

“She’s our guide through the process,” says director Jacey Little, a professional dramaturg who is the artistic director for Horse Head Theatre.

The “process” dares to probe the “rape culture” on today’s university campuses, alternating scenes between a men’s peer education group and a women’s survivor support group, and peeking into a dormitory room where a sexual assault may or may not occur.

“Sensitive Guys” comes at issues from a lot of different angles and confronts how we all are contributing to the rape culture in different ways,” says Little.

Veronika Sims
Veronika Simms

“We decided that, being so complex, the script would be best served by a staged reading. The audience should come, sit up straight, and pay attention.”

To cast the reading with some persons who are gender nonconforming, Little says that Horse Head enlisted the aid of several outside groups, including AFTER Houston, which was founded in March 2016.

“AFTER Houston is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that seeks to recognize, celebrate, and employ strength in the great diversity within the transgender community,” explains Horse Head actor and public relations/social media manager Tasha Gorel. “This coalition illuminates the importance of artistic and social action collaboration we move into a world where artistic and social expression may be not be as accessible as it once was.”

Simms adds, “Our organization spreads a message of optimism.” Its dozen or so members try to help transgender people “get past whatever hurdle they’re facing.”

For example, she says, “In trans men, testosterone lowers your voice, but something [female] hormones don’t affect is your voice, so we have to learn creative speaking habits to train our voices.”

Simms graduated from high school in Pasadena and now works in the technology field.

“I have only read the synopsis for the play, and even though it doesn’t seem to be centered around a transgender [person], I hope the talk-back will be very positive,” says Simms.

Sensitive Guys was developed in 2016 at InterAct Theatre in City Center, Pennsylvania, and PlayPenn in Philadelphia. Horse Head is funded in part by the Houston Arts Alliance on behalf of the City of Houston and is a participant in the resident incubator program supported by the Houston Arts Alliance.

Admission to the staged reading is free; however, because Rec Room seating is limited to about 80 people, seating is on a first-come, first-served RSVP basis at www.horseheadtheatre.org.

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John Wright

John Wright is the editor of OutSmart magazine. He has spent two decades in the mainstream and LGBTQ media. Most recently, he served as senior editor of Dallas Voice, and covered LGBTQ issues in the state Legislature for The Texas Observer. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Wright earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He resides in the EaDo area of Houston, where he is currently remodeling a 1930s row house.
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