Testosterone – Looks Masculinity Square in the Face and Asks it to Dance

Testosterone Cast. Photo by Luke Forsyth
Testosterone Cast. Photo by Luke Forsyth

We first meet Kit, the extremely likeable protagonist of the play, one year after he’s received his initial injection of testosterone. Kit has transitioned from female to male, but with this actualization of gender comes the question of how he fits in with other men, and with masculinity in all its forms.

Testosterone—a playful, physical comedy by critically acclaimed Rhum and Clay and writer Kit Redstone—explores the intrepid adventure of navigating the unfamiliar, and forging an identity for oneself. It’s hard-hitting and hilarious. Plus, there’s music. Testosterone is playing at the Cultch theatre until October 13th.

The lights come on with Kit alone on stage, singing: “You’ll have to forgive my terrible singing,” he says, “but I haven’t had this deep voice for very long and I can’t resist using it.”

“I wanna be a man, mancub

And stroll right into town

And be just like the other men

I’m tired of monkeyin’ around.”

Kit is about to do something truly terrifying. He is about to enter a men’s changing room.

The changing room is a closed, sweaty space – something like a boxing ring. Three other men slam lockers, flex, and strut. Kit, already the smallest person in the room, has to shrink into a free space.  Masculinity confronts him on all side—sweaty, confident, swaggering.

This is a show about a trans protagonist navigating the world. But make no mistake; Testosterone is much more than a story about “brave little trans soldiers” finding their way. As Kit Redstone pointed out in an interview: “This show is about identity and men.”

And who better to undertake a comedic exploration of masculinity than someone who has spent time on both sides of the gender fence? This gives Kit a rare perspective. Indeed, the inspiration for Testosterone comes from Kit Redstone’s lived experiences and was born out of a kitchen conversation between the writer and Director Julian Spooner. “Whilst laughing about all the odd things Kit had noticed about being perceived as male they hit upon the idea of making a show about masculinity” (Testosterone: Press Release).

The play explores masculinity through a series of musical vignettes, interspaced with Kit’s direct address to the audience. We get dance numbers involving sports heroics, bow-legged cowboys, and even an operatic diva (William Donaldson). For the most part, being male seems like a good time: there’s a good deal of fun, confidence and physical capability on display. In all of the dances, we see Kit trying mimic the other men, often falling a step or two out of sync.  It’s clear that movement director, Matthew Wells, and Director, Julian Spooner, choreographed this to a polished gem.

But Testosterone also explores the negative aspects of masculinity and what Kit has lost, perhaps irretrievably, by becoming a man(If you cry in the men’s washroom, don’t expect anyone to ask if you’re ok).

The play explores those rare spaces where men can display a full range of emotions: the pageantry of sports, for example. The goal here isn’t “to bludgeon men about the head”, as Kit Redstone explained in a Talkback afterwards. The intent is to explore masculinity, celebrate it, but also to investigate the problematic aspects—the domineering, the entitlement, and the recurrent threat of violence.

Viewers will also appreciate how the feminine isn’t dismissed or belittled. We never see Kit disdaining women’s clothing or women’s spaces, because Kit wasn’t running away from being a woman. That was never the intent of his transition. Indeed, Kit is self-aware enough to reflect on what he misses about being a woman: that there was space for expressing emotion and the feeling of being held and protected.

The controversial author, Norman Mailer, once wrote that  “Masculinity is not something given to you, something you’re born with, but something you gain. And you gain it by winning small battles with honour.” Kit has no shortage of obstacles to overcome and does so with bravery, but also, and this is crucial, he triumphs with humour and with imagination—singing and dancing with football players, bad boys, and bedazzled drag queens.

“We need more trans comedians, trans actors, and trans heroes,” Kit Redstone said after the play, “not only victims”. While Testosterone doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, and even violence, the focus here is on good fun. If you’re lucky enough to catch this play at the Cultch, you’re in for a boisterous, slightly surreal, and hilarious evening.