As the battle over North Carolina's anti-trans "bathroom bill" intensifies, one transgender performer has come up with a brilliant plan to protest this noxious piece of legislation: She'll simply obey the law.
Shakina Nayfack is a Lilly Award-winning actress, director, writer, and producer and the Founding Artistic Director of New York City's Musical Theatre Factory. Her latest production, Manifest Pussy, is an autobiographical one-woman rock musical that tells the story of her gender confirmation surgery along with the memories and musings attached to the event.
While Nayfack believes that autobiographical storytelling is a "political act" all on its own, her efforts to protest North Carolina's Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act—which prohibits the use of public restrooms that do not correspond with the sex listed on a person's birth certificate—won't stop once the curtains go down on opening night. After debuting Manifest Pussy on Wednesday, at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater in New York City, she's taking the production straight to the trans and queer North Carolinians who need her art the most with a crowd-funded "North Carolina Rebel Tour." Once there, she plans to "obey the law" by only using men's public restrooms in between shows, broadcasting her experiences on social media, as well as other acts of political resistance.
"My M.O. since high school has been that I arrive and fuck shit up, and it's only in the wake of my absence that my impact is felt," Nayfack says early on during Manifest Pussy. In other words, Governor Pat McCrory might want to brace for impact.
The central focus of Manifest Pussy is Shakina Nayfack's 2012 gender confirmation surgery in Thailand and the recovery process that followed. But the production also weaves together scattered memories from her childhood to the present. There's the time her mother reprimanded her for trying on a dress at a family function ("the first time I feel pretty is the first time I feel ashamed"), her discovery of music as a tool for self-empowerment while institutionalized as a teenager ("It was very Girl Interrupted… I was Winona Ryder, of course"), her decade-plus retreat from transitioning after being assaulted, and the eventual realization that she had no choice but to "take the chance to feel the pain of being real."
Nayfack told me that she was motivated to create Manifest Pussy—itself a combination of two of the performer's previous solo musicals, 2013's One Woman Show and 2015's Post-Op—after hearing of the Broadway world's response to the passage of House Bill 2 in North Carolina.
"A letter was circulated around the New York theater community urging rights holders to withhold their productions [like Wicked and West Side Story] in North Carolina, similar to the boycotts by Bruce Springsteen and PayPal," Nayfack said in a phone interview last Friday. "So first, [the North Carolina state legislature and Governor Pat McCrory are] going to make this shitty law, and then we're going to take away the arts? Fuck that! Both of those musicals are fundamentally about accepting people who are different than you and learning to live together, and, as a theater maker, I believe in the transformative power of theater."
In reading about the situation for trans and queer people in North Carolina following the passage of HB2, Nayfack said that she was reminded of how she felt living in California when Proposition 8 passed in 2008. The constitutional amendment defined marriage as being "between a man and a woman" after same-sex marriage had been legally recognized in the state for more than four years.
"I was devastated because I felt like my entire state was against me, like I was living in a place where people intentionally wanted to subjugate me as a second-class citizen," the performer said. "I would've loved to have someone swoop in and give me motivation, and now I have the ability to do that for my queer family in North Carolina."
The crowd-funded touring production of Manifest Pussy is a massive community effort, Nayfack said, the proceeds from which will benefit local organizations focused on challenging HB2 and empowering queer people. "It's a one-woman show," she added, "but there are over 225 people participating in it, when you think of the folks who donated to the crowd-funding campaign, the folks who are housing [my band and me], the folks who are feeding us, and the venues that have taken us in."
Since Nayfack's birth certificate lists her sex as male, she is required, by North Carolina's Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act—which U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch likened to Jim Crow-era segregation—to only use men's public restrooms when she's in the state. The performer plans to document her experiences in these facilities with "many an ironic selfie" that she will then share on social media—including the photos she intends to take from inside the men's rooms at the North Carolina State Capitol and the Executive Mansion in Raleigh.
"This is direct action," Nayfack said, "but it's also entertainment and performance art. There are people down [in North Carolina] who are dealing with a whole lot of institutionalized discriminatory practices—not just the bathroom law, but also economic injustice and racial injustice. I hope that I can use this tacky and trashy idea of bathroom selfies to draw attention to the more complicated conversations that we'll be having there."
Nayfack—who will play a 9/11 truther named Lola on the upcoming second season of Hulu's Difficult People—plans to speak with people in every city where she performs in order to gauge the public's feelings about HB2. She will film these conversations and share them on social media. The purpose of these discussions, she told me, is twofold: First, she wants to break down stereotypes that all North Carolinians are backwards, transphobic supporters of the bathroom bill; second, she hopes to signal-boost other issues facing North Carolinians that have been put on the back burner thanks to the bathroom law.
"We're going to…show what's really important to North Carolinians," Nayfack said. "This bill and the uproar it's causing are ultimately distracting us from really urgent global matters that we should be paying attention to. It's fair to assume that the fight to pee freely—while immediate to the lives of trans people—is not the primary concern of citizens of the state. I hope that we can complicate the [stereotypes about North Carolina voters] a little bit by showing that the majority of North Carolinians don't support this bill."
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.