The Uses of Trans in Art
by J. Bryan Lowder, a Slate assistant editor.
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The chamber opera As One, composed by Laura Kaminsky with a libretto by Mark Campbell and trans filmmaker Kimberly Reed, makes use of the genre’s tendency toward sung self-revelation to sketch out a somewhat broad psychological profile of the transgender experience. The piece comprises three parts that follow a fairly predictable coming-out-story trajectory: stirrings and initial self-awareness; exploration, societal challenges, and community affiliation; and finally, self-acceptance and pride.
As One’s intelligence lies in the decision to cast two performers as Hannah, the trans woman protagonist: male baritone Kelly Markgraf as “Hannah before” and female mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke as “Hannah after.” Importantly, the libretto does not split the run time in half as the names might suggest, but rather has the performers elegantly weave in and out of prominence, arias bleeding into duets and back again. This, to be clear, is not some clichéd “battle” between the sexes inside one person, nor is it an uncomplicated progression from man to woman. Instead, As One humbly acknowledges that gender is both central and mercurial, a thing of delicate, intricate, and somewhat arbitrary construction that nevertheless exudes a massive sort of gravity.