Trans rights and stories have become more prevalent in media and public policy over the past few years, but representation for the community in entertainment remains slim – GLAAD’s 2017/18 report on LGBTQ+ inclusion noted just 5% of LGBTQ-identifying characters in film and television are trans-identified.
That need for more trans stories adds a element of destiny to Toronto-based writer and producer Hanlon McGregor’s journey. As he wrote his own gender transition narrative, he was actually beginning the first scenes of his deeply personal play, Unexpectedly Trans.
“I came up with the idea for the play by writing about my experiences and the experiences of folks I know in the trans world and trying to make sense of them on paper,” said McGregor. “This turned into monologues. Then rehearsing with Mishy [co-star, writer and director Mihály “Mishy” Szabados], it made sense to pull the monologues apart into scenes with multiple characters. That lead to writing a play.”
Rooted firmly in McGregor’s own experience, Unexpectedly Trans is the story of Gina, a mother of two who gender transitions to identify as Dan. It delves into more complex elements of the experience, including coming out to his partner and children. McGregor shared his story with Szabados, who was eager to get it in front of an audience.
“I got inspired by this amazingly brave soul, Hanlon,” said Szabados. “I think there is a great lesson for all of us about love and acceptance and making friends, taking care of each other, being in the unknown.”
McGregor and Szabados received a 2017 General Rainbow Grant from Community One Foundation, which helped pay for a professional costumer and music arranger for the show, and also became a motivator for the duo. “It was really great feedback for us as artists, that what we are making is really important and unique,” said Szabados. “It gave us a huge positive push to work harder and make our project the best it could be.”
And work harder they did. After a run of preview performances in Toronto during the summer of 2017, they headed out east to perform in the Halifax Fringe Festival, where one reviewer warned “prepare to get misty-eyed” at the heartfelt production.
“Everyone that came to see our show, they said it was a cathartic and transforming experience,” said Szabados. “It was like an emotional rollercoaster – made them laugh, made them cry, made them more compassionate and caring for trans people.”
“The key success for me was having trans people – both those I know in Toronto and those I don’t in Halifax – stay and thank me for writing this play,” said McGregor. “It moves me almost beyond words that people said ‘I didn’t think this was possible! It’s me! It’s US!!!’”
McGregor and Szabados are developing Unexpectedly Trans into a short film, and are also working on a new play with artist, activist and 2012 Steinert & Ferreiro winner Syrus Marcus Ware that focuses on the experiences of Black Lives Matter and Trans folks.
“We met so many amazing artists and people and made connections that I feel will last into the future,” said McGregor. Szabados adds, “We have so many ideas; we’re trying to build up a community of artists and create more and more plays and films, telling stories that have never been told before that are inspiring and important to tell right now.”