Gender Spanner is described as a joyous burlesque-cabaret on the labels that just don’t stick but it is so much more than that. For creator and performer, Jessica McKerlie , it is a journey into self, an examination and expression of differences, and celebration of same – it is a personal manifesto about things that matter!

My inspiration for Gender Spanner would boil down to the life I was living in London when I went to the UK on a 2 year working Holiday visa, and the amazing people I met while working on an LGBTQIA circus project called Puffball at The Roundhouse. When I left Australia I’d never thought about myself as queer in any way, I was just a struggling performer getting nowhere is Sydney.

I moved overseas in search of a way of being a performer that wasn’t simply getting an agent, maybe getting a “girl next door” role on Neighbours or something. I literally stumbled into this circus project amongst the most talented people, and without realising it I’d found exactly what I’d been looking for. Puffball was all about acceptance for who you are, celebrating differences, and finding love and tenderness no matter what your situation.

The people I was working with put so much trust in each other, it was an absolute privilege and eye opener to be involved. It was the first time I’d even heard the term “Gender Queer”, or “Gender Fluid”, and as I listened to other people’s stories, a few light bulbs were going off in my head about ways I’d felt different, ways I identified with what they were saying. Things I’d never really given much weight to were finally explained, I started toying with the idea of thinking of myself as Gender Queer and it felt comfortable. Thinking of myself as a girl or a woman had always felt sort of ok, sometimes, occasionally. I’d just accepted the fact that I was a Tom Boy and a Feminist, and that there was nothing I could do to change being treated like a girl, I wasn’t Transgender, I didn’t feel like a man. Not all the time.

Living in London was a really creative period in my life, I think having an expiry date on my time there made me a bit braver and submit myself to all sorts of creative projects that I might have just stewed on otherwise. I joined The Roundhouse Poetry Collective, so I was writing every day. I never set out to write a whole piece about Gender, but that was the world I was submerged in, and you write what you know. Soon I realised that pretty much everything I had written over a 2 year period was about Gender or Sexuality, so Gender Spanner sort of just fell into place.

I would like Gender Spanner to do for audiences what moving to London did for me. Make them a bit braver with life decisions, open their eyes to options other than the ones they might be unhappily living in, and simply introduce them to terms they might not necessarily have heard before. I lived in Sydney for 4 years and the term Gender Fluid never even entered my vocabulary!

Gender Spanner is such a personal story, it’s my coming out story, there’s a few really embarrassing and really awkward bits in there. It’s really fucking honest. But that’s what makes it universal, so I can’t really cut any of the embarrassing bits to make myself look better. All I can do is approach it with a sense of humour, I mean, everyone knows that face palm moment of being told you’re gay by your boyfriend…while you’re having sex, right??

I would like audiences to know that Gender and Sexuality are things that can be fluid. It’s ok to try something out, and it doesn’t need to be the be all and end all major decision that you have to stick to forever. It’s ok to be figuring things out. A person’s Gender is totally up to them, if they want to be referred to as “she” for a time, then you respect that and call her “she” until she tells you otherwise. And people make mistakes. If you mistakenly misgender someone, just apologise, move on, and get it right next time. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, we’re all learning. I would also like to treat the topic as a celebration. There’s this whole world of options out there that general society doesn’t even know about! How did I get to the age of 24 before realising who I was!?

I think I would like the Government and Society to be having conversations about openness, and accepting people’s right to choose who they identify as. A lot of people still don’t understand that gender is in your brain, not in your pants, so a bit of education there wouldn’t go astray. Ultimately it would be nice for men to not be ridiculed just for trying a new type of fashion, like dresses, or girls for doing a labour intensive job. Society is so ridiculously Gendered and it’s keeping people from doing things they love and being themselves.

– To describe Gender Spanner to someone who knew nothing about it, I would say it’s a collection of funny dirty ukulele songs, poetry, awesome dance and a bit of circus that ultimately is about being human and falling in love. If you like having a few drinks and telling sexy stories, these ones have the added bonus of not being your average “boy meets girl” ones. This is more like “boy meets girl, no, boy meets boy…no, girl meets….um…girl and boy trade places and have fantastic time doing it”. Then they all get covered in gravy. Gender Spanner is a cabaret about Gender Fluidity that doesn’t vilify or shame the cis white male, which sometimes can happen. This is just my story, brutally honest and self depreciatingly told through hilarious ukulele songs and badass dance moves (if I say so myself).

– Gender Spanner is my first solo work, so it differs from my past work in that it’s the first time I’ve really put myself and my opinions out there. I’ve been a performer in numerous other plays and short films, I’ve been onstage as part of an ensemble plenty of times before. But this is the first time I’ve actually written something, put my name to it and gone “Hello world! My name is Jessica McKerlie and these are my opinions and here’s my personal life for all of you to judge!”, which is really scary, but ultimately what I have always wanted to do. I’m not big on making work for the sake of making work. I have something to say, I have a voice to contribute to an issue in society, and that’s why this show exists. Gender and Sexuality, and the discovery and exploration of both are what is on my mind right now, and also on the minds of lots of other young people.

I wouldn’t say I was drawn to creating a show themed around Gender, I was just writing and that’s what came out.

January 19 – 23

gasworks.org.au/event/gender-spanner/

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