Contrary to popular belief, there’s something “cute” about snatching edges. To performance artist Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, in fact, “there’s something real civil about it, real dainty, or real pristine.”
“Snatching an edge gives you high femme, honey,” she explains to Out. “But when you have to cuss a mother fucker out, it's because you tried to read a bitch nice. I tried to read you cute and I tried to give you a moment to go and think about the consequences of your actions, but now you want to try it.”
Lady Dane is explaining how she took inspiration from the late Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf (1976) for a choreopoem of her own that she’s aptly titled, For Black Trans Girls Who Gotta Cuss A Mother Fucker Out When Snatching An Edge Ain’t Enough. A reading of the project was recently staged at New York’s Public Theater with the help of actress Laverne Cox and the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.
In coming up with the name for the project, the Baltimore native thought about “always trying to take the social justice route” of accountability and “taking care of you in love.” That’s what she equates to snatching an edge. “But sometimes,” she continued, “we get to a point in our lives when we've just got to cuss a mother fucker out and I believe where we are with our liberation work right now is there.”
Because with the trans military ban, the continued deaths of Black and Brown trans women, the deaths of trans women in ICE custody, “it feels like only us are really, really outraged by it and fighting against it,” she said.
“So, I asked myself, ‘What will be the rallying cry for the Black trans women and femmes?’And that shit is, ‘For Black trans girls who got to cuss a mother fucker out when snatching an edge ain't enough.’”
Following the Joe’s Pub reading, Out spoke with Lady Dane about Black trans solidarity and visibility, the feedback that she’s received thus far, and her hopes for the choreopoem.
I read somewhere that you describe For Black Trans Girls... as “a sword for our living and a challenge to white supremacy, structural oppression, and any who would dare to try to erase us from existence.” How did you come to describe it in that particular way?
Well we're living at a time where it is very blatant. We can no longer ignore that white supremacy is trying to end the lives of Black trans people, period. But this isn't new; it's been happening. And I am tired of people one, tokenizing Black trans people; two, only wanting us to perform for them in this aspect of trauma porn; and three, fuck white supremacy. So, this piece for me was always about centering, celebrating — and through that centering and celebrating — saying that like, "You will not end us. We will go down fighting."
We're in this moment where we're talking about representation and diversity and inclusion in so many different aspects of entertainment. You’re also in the series King Esther, which is executive produced by Angelica Ross, and Laverne Cox assisted with the Public Theater reading. What it's like to be in community with these other Black trans women in entertainment as you all are trying to shift culture at the same time?
It's incredible. I think about Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes and [James] Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry and all of these incredible [Black creatives]... Like when we talk about the Harlem Renaissance, we often forget that the Harlem Renaissance is really about artistic community and family. It is imperative for me as a Black trans woman to be in community, and in conversation, and in celebration with other Black trans people.
One of my favorite collaborators is J Mase III and we're co-editing the #BlackTransPrayerBook and he and I talk at least once a week. Part of all of this for me is that, at the end of the day, white supremacy is trying to kill all of us. The way that we help to combat white supremacy is to be in community with one another. Because I believe it's the job of the artist and the job of art, one of the holy gifts or rotations or callings is that it helps us imagine new ways of being. I'm fighting for liberation not just for myself. I'm fighting for liberation for all of us. In turn, that means that I also must be aware of the needs of my community.
As of now, there have really only been some readings of the choreopoem, but after all of them, there have been talkbacks and Q&As. What are some of the things that have stuck with you from those conversations with the audience?
That this piece is needed now, period and that by not centering white people it actually holds the mirror to them. It forces them to see something that maybe other works don't. That, and I'm about to cry about this, for some Black trans women, this is the first fucking time they've ever seen themselves on stage. It should never be that. We should be seeing Black trans women all the fucking time, telling their own story and being paid to do it.
So, the biggest thing that I've learned is that I have to continue to make art that centers and celebrates Black women and femmes because it is imperative in helping to save lives that I understand the sacredness, the worthiness, the beauty, the joy of what it means to be Black and trans and to show that.
So what is the next stage for the choreo poem? Are you going to expand it into something with movement?
So Woolly [Mammoth Theatre Company] and I are in conversation right now and we are wanting to take it to Chicago and take it to L.A. — so if anybody wants to reach out to us, go on. But also I'm in conversation with a friend about potentially also taking the piece into different cities and actually reaching out to the Black trans community and having local Black trans people read the piece with us. So, it will be less performative and more movement based.
And a thing that also came with the development of book is a desperate need to help community monetarily. So, each of the books that are sold is sold for $20 and $2 from each book is added together at the end of the month and given to a trans person or gender non-conforming person of color for their survival. In June, for example, I sold about 50 books and I gave two different trans people of color like $50 each at the beginning of July. I just divvied up $100 among three different trans people for the July fund at the beginning of August. It was like, "Well I've got to pay my bills, but I also want to help my friends so how do I use my art to also be able to financially help my community?" So this piece is not simply a blimp on the radar. It is also about community.
When I think about the future of it, “How do we get this piece fully produced?,” is the question I ask myself. And then, "How do we get this piece, being experienced by as many Black trans people as possible around the country and the world?" Those are my two dreams, lots of different productions at professional theaters with different casts so that all these amazing Black trans actresses and femmes are hired and working. Then also having the piece go into community centers or special events so that Black trans people who may not want to go to the theater can still experience this for themselves. And how do we sell so many books that the survival fund is so high that it can just continue to dish out money every month.
Find out more about Lady Dane here.