You may not know his name, but you’ve definitely seen D’Lo’s face. The actor, writer, and comedian D’Lo has popped up in your favorite episodes of shows like Looking, Mr. Robot, and Sense8. But now, he’s taking center stage in a solo play about his transition and navigating a new terrain of masculinity.
“Having been politically raised by everybody from people in the Revolutionary Communist party to queer women of color, and being mentored artistically by queer artists of color, I feel like I was constantly searching for a masculinity that fit all the responsibilities that were put on me as a queer politicized person,” he tells Out, noting that transitioning from someone who walked the world as a gender nonconforming person to someone who passed as male created its own set of challenges.
“People don't talk to our communities about the grief of transitioning, and that journey,” the queer Tamil-Sri Lankan American continues. “You can get all the things that you want to get, like every damn surgery, every medical procedure, but much of our self-love comes from doing deep reflective work.”
That’s the basis of To T or Not to T, D’Lo’s show now running at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre through Oct. 27th: It is an intimate reflection on his experiences transitioning and taking testosterone (T). “It’s just a journey through all of those things that could be potentially a hot mess, but so many queer and trans people navigate and come out better human beings in the end,” he says.
“I want to honor our collective journey as queer and trans people of color, because I do believe that we are the ones who are allowing for everybody else's freedom. I believe that the more that queer and trans people do this reflected work, the more we get to free other folks.”
Ahead of his first show, Out spoke with the performer about To T or Not to T, storytelling using comedy, and trans masculine representation in the media.
What do you think is the utility for you in sharing this story using comedy and storytelling as opposed to some other medium?
I think that I've always loved live performance, probably more than any other field that I work in. There's something magical about the theater. There's something beautiful and powerful about storytellers. My offering as an artist is I want to make people laugh and think. I would say laugh and think in no particular order. But also, there's so much shit going on in this world… but where's that moment where we don't have to be bombarded with all the negative news, and then move on to another piece of negative news. Where are those spaces where we can just come in and enjoy art and be hit in a different way, like on a heart level? Art has that power to just spin in your body in a different way, and release you from things as well, and remind you of everything that you are.
To me with audiences, yes, I want to give you a good time. Yes, I want to entertain. But especially now, I want you to come in and know that you're going to be witnessing a really great storyteller and… I'm gonna take care of you. I feel like the responsibility of the queer artist is to be vulnerable and walk with integrity. I take this job of entertaining very seriously. As much as I'm going to be talking about deep stuff, I'm also going to be sharing the lightness as well, and laughing, and crying. We're going to have a good time.
Do you get a sense of a difference in reception of your stage work from LGBTQ+ audiences versus non-queer audiences?
There's a huge difference. I remember the last time we [did another play, D'FunQT,] and there would be somebody coming up to me who was white, and cis, and I think heterosexual like, "Oh my goodness. I've never met anyone like you,” and thanking me for the story because they had never heard from anyone even close to my communities. And then the person right behind them was somebody who is me, who was transmasculine and masculine of center and just crying and saying, "I've never seen my story being put out there." It was just mind blowing.
And while I don't want it to seem like I am talking shit about the Center, because it's been a complete fucking blessing to be able to do this work… but who people usually associate with the Center tend to be gay and white men. While it's a blessing, I am also very aware of the audiences that come to these shows. When I did D'FunQT [back in 2015], it was like, all of our people was coming out the first and second week. By the third week and the fourth week, there's like a mixed bag of people up in there, people who would never come to my show had I self-produced it. The piece is for everybody, but who this work is supposed to be honoring are queer and trans people of color, and then the circle extends. Obviously anybody can come up in there and have a good time and get something from the story, but I'm not making this specifically for people not from my community.
You were on a panel at Outfest’s Trans Summit earlier this year with Scott Turner Schofield, Brian Michael Smith, and other masculine of center actors. I’ve been thinking alot about trans representation and how, in 2014, Time said it was the “transgender tipping point.” But there wasn’t really much, if any, trans masc representation in that moment. That seems to be changing, from Hollywood to fashion runways.
I feel like there's been a shift. I've seen it personally in what I've been getting sent out for, and there's just definitely been a little bit more of a bump this year for sure. Something that I think the transmasculine community kept talking about, really anybody who has grown up in community with queer women, and then has now identified somewhere on the transmasculine spectrum, is how there has been a lack of seeing us. Because once you 'pass,' the assumption is that you're no longer fighting for women, and queer people, and all of this. I think our community has been like, "Actually, no. We have been and we continue to."
It's kind of odd that we lose the communities that we came up in just because we decided that we needed to do something that would make us happier. I think now people are willing to have those complicated conversations in TV shows and in various spaces. As far as just overall transmasculine visibility, it's kind of beautiful that we’ve been putting transmasculine folks, or masculine of center people, front and center. It seems to be that the majority of the people that were getting some shine were activists already. What we're seeing now has been kind of like a work in progress from that initial tipping point. I'm grateful for my community, and I'm grateful for everybody, whether they were transmasculine or not, who helped move that needle.
Also on that panel, you spoke about the importance of community, particular around trans masc folks.
Being a part of transmasculine community has been like — we might be doing it because we're trying to collectively push forward on our goals for representation, and the brilliance in these community. But I'll tell you, and I got to be honest, sometimes I'm just enjoying being with other transmasculine people just because it's the first time I'm having like-experienced people around me. Being able to just talk. We could talk about our jobs, and then inevitably we start talking about love, and life, and all of these things, and our experiences as transmasculine people.
With everything that I do as an activist and advocate, community's your lifeline. It's so telling that we had to be so deliberate as transmasculine people to create community. Because the minute that you get into the flow of being a masculine person in this world, you start internalizing all that stuff that gets put on masculine people. Which is you don't talk about your feelings, you don't have community in the same way. And I'm not saying that queer folks do that easily, but I'm seeing that it can happen easily by accident.
In what ways do you think To T or Not to T upends that expectation of internalizing some of those things you just mentioned?
Without giving too much away about the show, I was pained and worried about losing my queer identity, and losing community, and losing family, and just a whole heap. Oftentimes, queer people, we are so grateful whenever somebody gives us the time of day that we suddenly start believing that our worth is based off of our utility factor; we put our heart on the back burner. I think that for a lot of people who are just making decisions to better their own lives, there's so much around, like, "Well, what are people going to think? And what are people going to say? And how is this going to affect your relationships. I've seen that this person lost family. I've seen that this person lost community.” This piece takes the audience on a journey, that for me was years and years and years of constantly negotiating what freedom could look like for me. I hope that people will come out of this show going, "Why does any of this matter?" Like, no matter where we are in life and whatever decisions that we're making for ourselves, we should be doing it for our own freedom, and our own happiness. Because that's all we got.
Purchase tickets for To T or Not to T here.