A transgender's world

22:45, Aug 07 2013
Robert Gilbert
DIFFERENT VIEW: North Canterbury's Robert Gilbert has written a play that explores the world of transgender Kiwis.

Lexie Matheson, who "transitioned" from a man to a woman 15 years ago, knows the discrimination transgender people can face.

"There are a lot of understanding people our there but there are some cruel people too," she said.

"Some of my transgender friends have been really discriminated against."

Lexie Matheson
TOUGH TIMES: Lexie Matheson "transitioned" from a man to a woman 15 years ago.

Matheson hopes a new play, written by North Canterbury playwright Robert Gilbert, will help change people's perceptions on transgender people in New Zealand.

Gilbert is seeking funds to develop his new play, Trans Tasmin, which explores the world of transgender Kiwis.

He needs to raise $6000 by August 11 to turn his draft into a reality.

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In Trans Tasmin the issues of gender and transgenderism in modern society are ''seen against a backdrop of an ancient Greek tragedy", Gilbert said.

''There are very few theatre plays that look at transgender issues which is curious when themes around cross-dressing, androgyny and transgender have been around for thousands of years.''

In the play, character Simon Greenwood is a first-year university student with a transgender girlfriend and a cross-dressing stepfather.

Greenwood examines his own experiences with gender against a play he is studying, The Bacchae.

Matheson, a former Cantabrian who now works as a lecturer in Auckland, knows how hard it can be coming to terms with gender issues.

Matheson transitioned ''from a heterosexual man to a homosexual woman'' in 1998.

''I had a health scare and while I was in hospital I realised I had some issues I needed to work through and with the help of a councillor I realised gender was one of them.''

She was ''terrified'' about coming out to society as a woman.

''It's terrifying coming out and telling people you want to be another gender. You don't know what people will say or how they will react."

Luckily, Matheson said most of her fears proved to be unfounded, as people were "really supportive".

However, Matheson knew many people who weren't so lucky.

''I know some transgender friends who can't get jobs because of who they are. Sometimes people don't understand or are just fearful of saying the wrong thing.''

Gilbert said people ''still freaked out'' about transgender people and many saw men becoming women as ''slightly comedic''.

''We live in a pretty tolerant society but we still think it's okay to snigger at a transgender person. I wanted to explore why that is in this play.''

Trans Tasmin could help audiences gain a ''greater understanding'' of the transgender community, Gilbert said.

''Where there's ignorance and fear and misundertanding and I hope this play can change some of that,''
Matheson agreed.

''Robert has really done his research and produced a great play here that I think will make some people think differently.''

Gilbert is using the Arts Foundation's boosted.org.nz, a philanthropic crowdfunding website for arts projects in New Zealand, to raise the money.

''Robert would struggle to get mainstream funding for a play about a small sector of society, so it's a really good way people can help,'' Matheson said.

With three days left, Gilbert is 43 per cent of the way to achieving his funding thanks to 48 donors.

''People have already been incredibly generous,'' he said.

Visit boosted.org.nz/projects/trans-tasmin for more information.

The Press