Whether you Like it or Not
(it’s that time of year again, folks!)
Happy Pride Month. Queer language has shifted over the years, and surprise, surprise. We don’t all agree on things like:
who and what belongs at pride, what language we use to describe ourselves and each other, who has ownership over what stories/moments/words- and Hedwig is no exception. If I may be frank, I refuse to let a single person ever gatekeep this show away from me again.
Hedwig has been around for nearly as long as I’ve been alive. A lot has changed. And a lot hasn’t. Queer people and people who say fuck you to gender have always been part of the rock world, the language has just shifted. Both at the time and now, Hedwig and the Angry Inch hasn’t fit in with the language most people use. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; diversity of thought is a gift.
Recently, both its creators, Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell, have posted about being nonbinary. That is terrific and fitting since Hedwig is one of the most nonbinary stories there is.
Hedwig and Yitzhak, the characters, are not trans. They’re also not cis. You see, there’s a new binary there, and I firmly believe there are queer people who do not fall within it.
“Six inches forward and five inches back” is a lyric used that somewhat directly refers to Hedwig’s surgery, but I think it’s also true in terms of progress of thought of how we categorize ourselves.
“The Origin of Love” is a song about Plato’s Symposium/how love has always been more than men and women. But to me, it also speaks to how some people have more than just the essentialist binary of “man/male” or “woman/female” innately within them. The seemingly straight example of the “children of the moon” could refer to TGNC people is a nice thought and is one of the many reasons I opted for Sahar, which means “crescent moon,” when picking my new Hebrew name.
Again, it was the 90s, so “Ladies and Gentlemen” was a standard phrase to start a show, but right after that, there’s this idea of “whether you like it or not” to introduce the concept of Hedwig. Some people do not neatly fit into boxes, including those of cis and trans. Those labels are not up to anyone besides those people. And the song “Tear me Down” is incredibly binary rejecting as well.
In 2021, we are at a point where one does not have to be a man or a woman. We are at a point (at least in the US) where a medical transition is an option, but should not have to be a requirement for all people who do not adhere to their assigned sex. And gender variance does not have to equal a medicalized experience of gender. Hedwig and the Angry Inch was already diving into that in 1998 with a character who was forced to physically transition for safety but may not be a binary trans woman or a cisgender man. That’s also complicated by the many cisgender men who have played Hedwig. Yitzhak, of course, is often played by a cis woman in drag, which also raises a lot of eyebrows, but I don’t have as much to say about him since his character doesn’t have a ton of air time.
It’s an ongoing conversation. The entire show is a struggle for understanding and reconciliation of identity, and where it generally lands with “Midnight Radio” is a sense of “Does it matter? Just be free.”
I’m already having more nuanced thoughts about the show since I saw it in 2015, (granted, I was 17 and drunk,) but time will continue to make this show open to discourse and I look forward to it as long as it is considerate.
I will say this, too, though. There is no better time than now to be a trans person who is a HedHead.