I am Everything
By Bailey Soika
Five months ago, I received an email from a film director looking for someone to play a nonbinary character in an episode of a series he was producing. Of course, as a nonbinary actor, I was stoked! How often had I gotten the chance to portray a nonbinary character? The answer was never, so the opportunity felt like a gift.
Since coming out as nonbinary almost three years ago, the audition process has been even more taxing. Before each audition, I run myself into the ground asking what I should wear. If I should disclose my identity. If telling them would cost me the job. When I first came out, it took the people around me some time to adjust. And when they inevitably misgendered me, I high-tailed it back into the closet out of guilt and shame. I wanted to apologize for making them accommodate me. More than almost anything, I am afraid to feel I am a burden. I am afraid to be a bug in a jar, both disturbing and fascinating to the curious eye.
Naturally, when I was asked to audition to play a nonbinary character, I replied back with what I’m sure was an excessive amount of exclamation points, and he sent me the script. At the audition a handful of days later, the casting director misgendered me while reading me the lines—but whatever! I buried the discomfort, smiled for the audition tape, and I booked the part. I was just happy to be there, so I passed it off as a small blip in the process.
Then came the final rehearsal, when I’d brought in a bag of clothes the director had asked me to gather from my own closet. I interpreted him allowing me to contribute to the costuming as an attempt to make me feel validated and comfortable. Instead, I held up shirt after shirt, each one rejected. He said he was looking for something a bit more “tight-fitting." He said, “maybe the character is beyond being nonbinary,” as if to say this story took place in some utopian society where labels were irrelevant. He kept using the words, “feminine body.” I became nauseous. And then, that night, as I was going over the script, I realized something: while all stage directions and character descriptions referred to my character as nonbinary, there was absolutely nothing in the dialogue that said as much. The audience would never know.
So what was the purpose of it all, really? Ambiguity is not representation. Look—I didn’t need the story to be about being nonbinary, but I at least wanted it to be real, for my presence to make a difference. Instead, the director took an eraser to the script and quite literally erased my character’s identity, and me, in the process. Every fear I’d had about being an out nonbinary actor had come true.
With my return to acting school imminent, the question of what to do with my identity weighs heavily on me. But as I write this, I am remembering that I grew into myself as an actor using methods from such exceptional artists as Anne Bogart and Uta Hagen—artists who taught me that the only way to create from a place of honesty is to be aligned with one’s self. And how do I honor that advice while shrinking myself into something more palatable, more comfortable to digest? I am always asking myself if being who I am will limit me as an actor. Or rather, if a director will believe it limits me; because I know that not to be true. I am not girl and I am not boy. But I am both and I am neither—I am Everything.