“Of Chicks, Dicks and Chinks” showcases transgender alum
“Of Chicks, Dicks and Chinks” delivered exactly what it promised at the Cat on February 20. As part of the APA conference, kt shorb, OC ’02, returned to bring her one-person monologue/spoken word/lip synching work-in-progress to the eager audience. shorb, who identifies as transgender, explored social implications and interpretations of masculinity through the portrayal of five different personas in “Chicks, Dicks and Chinks,” raising the questions “What does it mean to be masculine?” and then “What does it mean to be masculine and Asian? What does it mean to be Asian and queer?”
Uniformed as an academic in an open beige blazer and black dress pants, shorb first stepped into the spotlight as “the doctor.” Despite her relatively short stature and slightly feminine voice, which at its best moments slips into the crevices of androgyny, shorb’s slick black hair and prominent jaw line let her pass believably as male. Mumbling about “castration” and an “affliction,” laughing manically, rocking from side to side and touching her forehead with jittery fingers, shorb began the show as an inaccessible Ph.D trying to deliver a lecture on Frantz Fanon, a scholar who wrote about the phallus, among other things. As the doctor raves about Fanon’s obsession with his own penis, he begins to unravel himself, tearing his notes to bits as he declares “I am nothing. Don’t you see?” through desperate bursts of laughter. Even if, as an audience member, you weren’t quite sure who Fanon was or what exactly it was that he thought about “symbols of phallic power” or “the negro as a penis,” you got the idea.
As the music cued and the blazer was removed, shorb transformed into “Superficial Boy,” rubbing her legs as she swaggered about stage and lip-synched to a song of the same name with such forced confidence that the performance at once felt awkward and inhibited. She quickly recovered, however, with the character “Norman,” a suped-up car boy in a baby-blue athletic warm up suit and headphones. Telling tales of his “posse” and their late night run-ins with “crackers” while preaching “Yellow Power!” and quietly admitting that he “knows gay people, but don’t tell anyone,” Norman is one of shorb’s most entertaining, controversial and memorable characters. As Norman, shorb skillfully hinted at an honest vulnerability beneath an angry, defensive exterior.
Her next character, “Yum Yum Hole,” clad in jeans and a T-shirt, lamented about only being cast as a bottom in his numerous porno films. shorb later explained that this character was drawn heavily from her research of Asian Americans in the porn industry. It became apparent to her through her research that most Asian men in gay porn acted as ‘bottoms,’ and were only cast as ‘tops’ if they were biracial or billed as Latino.
Certainly her most moving performance was as “Dean,” the only female character in the entire show. After stripping down to her undergarments, a white t-shirt and white boxers, she begins to count as she dresses, “14, 13, 11, 8, 5, 1” stopping at each number to explain its significance through poetic narration. With humor, honesty and humiliation, “Dean” recounts the moment she realized she was queer, what it means to return “home,” how she learned to knot a tie and the significance of her eleven former lovers. kt later explains that this was her most autobiographical monologue.
The performance ended with lighthearted lip-synching to Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “Under My Skin,” a song quite appropriate for the recurring theme of essential identity — whether of race, gender or sexuality — which runs beneath the words and voices of all five personas. During the question and answer period, shorb said she first became interested in Asian-American masculinity when she began to identify herself as trans, and found the task of locating masculine APA role models in our culture immensely frustrating and difficult. She began to study out of her “feeling of lack.” When asked who she envisioned as her primary audience for “Chicks, Dicks and Chinks,” shorb replied, laughing “See, you’re not going to believe this, when I was writing this [I pictured the] perfect audience [to be made up of] Oberlin College students...either queer or Asian American or people of color. And those of you who aren’t any of those, I like you too.”