Performer, writer and transgender activist D'Lo is performing the world premiere of his latest solo-play, To T, Or Not To T, at New York City's annual HOT! Festival through July 22. Speaking with unbridled sincerity in the show, D'Lo addresses his transition, his decision to take Testosterone, feminist politics, and the ability to pass as a straight, cisgender male.
Candidly discussing his transition from female to male, To T, Or Not To T naturally wrestles with gender and how it is perceived and performed. "I think that what gender should be is whatever the fuck you want it to be," D'Lo says. "Unfortunately, not everybody feels that way." Yet, in the show, D'Lo tells audiences how, as a young girl, he gravitated toward masculinity. He wore boy's clothes and presented as male, except when his Sri Lankan mother would require traditional Tamil female clothing for important family events and photographs. D'Lo briefly abandoned his masc presentation during puberty, when he felt forced to accept a feminine identity.
Through the narrative of To T, Or Not To T, audiences also get to know and love D'Lo's father. Despite his conservative values, his father is always presented as compassionate and loving--even when he is confused by D'Lo's journey. "My dad's love is far reaching, but I don't think that he has ever been allowed to be fully free as a man," D'Lo says. "I don't think that he has ever been afforded moments of understanding what freedom fully feels like." Yet, it is abundantly clear that D'Lo's father desires for his son to have unparalleled access to that freedom and happiness.
Through his life, D'Lo came out to his parents multiple times, first as a lesbian and later as transgender. It is in these intimate, familial moments that D'Lo's father, as a character, really shines. And this is true of him in real life, as well. "When I watch my apa [father], I know that he is the most free with me and Anjali, my partner," D'Lo says. "You can see how he blossoms when he is allowed to live and soar in his love. For him, that feels like the most amount of freedom that I think I've ever been witness to."
Unfortunately, we don't yet live in a world where the trans members of our community have equal access to rights, freedoms or role models. This makes creating and performing a show like To T, Or Not To T all the more necessary. "My goal as an artist is to create more understanding in this world," D'Lo says. "I often think about--especially with the trans community--how toxic masculinity, misogyny, and patriarchy are what keep killing trans women." For those fortunate enough to pass as women, and even as men, their identities and bodies do not come under the same scrutiny. But, that doesn't mean that passing alleviates everything. "Passing makes the depression go away slightly," D'Lo says. "But you're still living with the traumatic past of walking through this world as somebody who doesn't feel safe."
One of the most profound aspects of To T, Or Not To T is that this unique strain, stress and anxiety is made relatable and palpable for all viewers. "It has been proven that the more specific you are as an artist, the more universal your message is," D'Lo says. By shedding light on his individual struggles, D'Lo exposes how ugly the world can be for everyone. "We create disgusting environments for people to try and thrive in," he says, putting these issues in the spotlight to allow his audiences to learn and grow. From growth comes empathy, compassion and love, and from sharing his story, D'Lo truly only wants one thing. "I just want more love."