Trans Inclusive Costume Fittings
Five Tips for Trans-Inclusive Fittings by Ica Niemz.
An audio version of this blog, recorded by Ica, is available here or at the bottom of this post.
I’m on the tube, headed to install a shop window for Trans Awareness Week. It’s been a while since I’ve been in London, so long that as the tube stops, I press the button to open the doors, a classic tourist move. I’m towing a massive suitcase fit to burst with trans flag coloured tulle.
At Studio 3 Arts, set inside Vicarage Park Shopping Centre Barking, the shop window combines the joyous artist soul that is Tabby Lamb with flames of trans remembrance and the power of self-defence classes. On the left window, we rise the names out of the ashes of trans people lost to violence in the past year in bird formation, a trans phoenix from the ashes. The window will stay on display this week from the 13th-19th November marking trans awareness week, and on Saturday 20th, a day-long vigil will be held for Trans Day of Remembrance.
Whilst being a week for trans people and commemoration, this week is also a time where for cis people, self-education is as essential as ever. A time for taking the pressure away from trans people to explain themselves, seek out existing materials and check-in with trans friends.
The theatre industry can be a beautiful place for trans people but also a toxic one. Here are five tips for creating trans-inclusive fitting rooms that you can put in place. This list is not exhaustive and is based on my own experiences as a queer Designer/puppeteer.
Ask before assuming. Make a box for pronouns on your fitting sheet, and be open to pronouns or name changes as your project progresses. If the character’s pronoun is different to the performer, ask them what they are most comfortable with when referring to the costume.
Remember that not all trans people are out in all spaces. If someone discloses to you that they are trans, then you’ve been given a gift, but remember this is not for you to share or disclose to anyone else.
Representation in your research images and costume drawings and, if possible, include the performer in this. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with performers have been collaborative ones about the character and how they present.
Be aware of the spaces your performers can use to change in and out of costume. If you have the luxury of fitting rooms or toilets, check them out beforehand. Consider putting gender-neutral signage up (where appropriate).
Words matter. I once was in a rehearsal room where a costume designer remarked to a performer, “Your hips are a manly shape”, which left the performer in tears. Steer away from this kind of language. Instead of describing a garment as “feminine or masculine”, consider speaking about the flow of the fabric, where it fits on the body or how close or loose it fits. Remember, pink and glitter is for all! Work with your performers and understand what shapes make them feel amazing.
Ica (they/he) is a dyslexic trans designer with a good sense of hummus. They work in theatre, film, installation and puppetry. Currently, they are based in Cornwall, working with Wildworks as Design Assistant funded by the Western Jerwood Creative Bursary Fellowships. They are one half of theatre company Isolation Collective with fellow theatre designer Katy Hoste. Over lockdown, they hosted an online space for artists to ‘survive and thrive’ and shared artworks from over 200 mixed media artists. Alongside their design work, Ica has facilitated and project managed body confidence sessions for people from the LGBTQIA+ community with Ldn Dares.