Performing Girl: Gender Narratives and Performance

Jackie Leahy ’14
Arts Editor

Artist, writer, director, comedian and music producer D’Lo will be making an appearance in the Pioneer Valley both in person and on the big screen through his performance “D’Lo: D’FaQto Life” today and through the film screening of Performing Girl, a documentary featuring D’Lo’s life, tomorrow.

According to producer Crescent Diamond, the film, a short documentary about D’Lo’s early life, “focuses on D’Lo’s deliberate transition from ‘tomboy’ to a ‘girl’ in early adolescence and the evolution of his identity.” Using Lego animations, archive footage and stills, Diamond constructs portraits of D’Lo’s personality and of his experiences as a child growing up in the small town of Lancaster, Calif. Clips of interviews with D’Lo and his parents and clips from D’Lo’s performances also show his struggles with his identity and his evolving relationship with his parents over the course of 20 years.

Performing Girl’s story begins in the summer of 2009 with Diamond, Hampshire class of ’99 and current Visiting Professor of Film at Hampshire, “in graduate school at San Francisco State University, working on my MFA in Cinema and trying to come up with a film proposal for my thesis project.”

She then describes her initial encounter with D’Lo after a performance during the Butch Voices Conference in Oakland, Calif.

“He was performing his ‘Amma’ character and then, mid-speech, he took off his costume and played himself,” says Diamond in the documentary. “I thought he was hilarious and also dealing with gender in a way I had not seen before. I approached D’Lo after the show and he was very friendly, down to earth and gave me his card.”

Floored by D’Lo’s “willingness to tell me about his life in such an open and frank manner,” Diamond began building their professional relationship, which would eventually blossom into the Performing Girl project. “He agreed to work with me and then I shot his autobiographical show ‘R-amble-Ations’ at BRAVA theater in San Francisco.”

By interviewing D’Lo as his character “Amma,” based on his mother, Diamond was able to learn more about D’Lo’s childhood, which eventually became the focus of her film.

“I was thinking about how most people in the U.S., when we go through puberty, we go through a transition and we are faced with meeting the expectations of our parents and society about how we present our gender and sexuality,” she said.

Inspired by Judith Halberstam’s description of how “tomboys” are treated once they hit puberty in Female Masculinity and by this weekend’s Queer Gender and Sexuality Conference Keynote speaker José Esteban Muñoz’s Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, Diamond began to conceive of the project that would become Performing Girl.

Among other things, Diamond hopes this documentary will revolutionize perceptions of transgender people and of transgender people of color by “[opening] up a dialogue among the growing number of people who have transgender children in their families and communities, trying to sort out how to think and talk about gender in a new way.”

“Scanning modern cinema and television, it is clear that very few films focus on queer people of color and even fewer transgender people of color, and when they do, they are almost always portrayed as violent, insane, criminal, or ‘bad guys’,” said Diamond. “[Performing Girl] will bring to light the fact that transgender people of color, and transgender South Asian Americans exist and that they can be healthy, vibrant and important members of society.”

According to Diamond, D’Lo’s story is one of humor, survival, triumph and familial acceptance, and has the power to open minds to learning about social injustice.

“[Humor] helps us to identify with people that we may not have a lot in common with because laughter opens up our hearts and shows us commonality,” she said.

“D’Lo: D’FaQto Life” will be held tonight at 7 p.m. in Weinstein Auditorium. Performing Girl will be screened tomorrow at 1 p.m. during the Queer Gender and Sexuality Conference at Hampshire College.

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