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Giselle Byrd on the ongoing fight for trans visibility in the arts

OPED Theater Offensive Giselle Byrd Boston
via The Theater Offensive

The Theater Offensive's new Executive Director - and the first Black trans woman to lead a regional theatre company in the United States - on breaking barriers, championing trans visibility, and challenging system inequities in the arts.

I haven’t done well with saying goodbye to the people I love.

It’s always challenging to imagine how life will continue without them being visible in mine. Their memory, whether retold stories, photographs, videos, letters, clothes, and much more, will be all that I rely on to keep them seen while they have left this physical realm. My mind continues to go further: what happens if, one day, those memories, whether large or small, are erased?

On Wednesday, November 15, 2023, I walked into Moynihan Train Hall, carrying my tan wool trench coat and lavender duffle bag, preparing to begin my life’s next chapter. After nine years in New York City, I was making way for change: moving to Boston as the new Executive Director of The Theater Offensive. As I looked up at the glass ceiling of the train station, sunlight beaming through, I realized that I’d finally broken it. With my appointment, I was becoming the first Black trans woman to lead a significant American theatre company, something my ancestors and trans-cestors fought for in their lifetimes, but did not get the chance to see their dream fulfilled.

I now carry their torch.

Sitting in my rideshare on the way down from Washington Heights to the train station, I fixed my attention on the Hudson River and the piers. I thought about how special it was that in those areas, so many of our families found one another, providing belonging, shelter, and unconditional love. I then felt pained. While these were places of community growth and evolution, they were also spaces where we saw the final moments of our trans foremothers and fathers.


Marsha P. Johnson’s body was found in the Hudson River on July 6, 1992. At one point, Sylvia Rivera, another mother of the movement, called the piers home amidst many others facing housing insecurity. Gentrification and re-development would then displace our community from some of our few sacred spaces, putting many in fight or flight mode, with many fighting until their death.

This wasn’t the first time trans and non-binary folks were displaced in this unjust world. It was happening all around them: in the arts, the workforce, literature, and medicine, among many others. As I have acknowledged and sat with what it means to be deemed a first in the art world, I knew then and each day how my mission must not ever trail from the torch I now carry.

Trans life and trans artistry are sacred. Sing the songs of those we have lost that have gone unsung. Provide space for those still here to sing theirs for themselves. Our humanity is essential. Erasure is not evolution.

Many performing arts institutions worldwide find what they deem as inclusivity powerful when, in fact, it is mediocrity. Simply providing a trans artist a one-time stint at your space is no commitment to them. It is performative. Sharing a play about trans folks and not engaging with the community is performative. Building tables with a one-time seat for us is not how you will move the needle forward. Providing us with half the budgets as our cis-het counterparts is counterproductive and the perfect picture of inequity.

OPED Theater Offensive Giselle Byrd BostonShutterstock

Suppose you’re an arts leader who believes this is the best you can offer regarding visibility. In that case, you, my dear, must get thee to a doctor for a vision test because that is not it.

However, with all of the inequity across many stages, there is hope. At The Theater Offensive, we firmly believe in the torch’s mission to present liberating art by, for, and about queer and trans people of color. Art that transcends artistic boundaries celebrates cultural abundance and dismantles oppression. For TDOV this year, and for the first time in the theater’s history, we provided expansive programming around TDOV that reminds us and our fellow arts institutions to commit to all of our trans and non-binary siblings who have a voice.

With each event, we have also provided space for our family to pay homage to newly transitioned angels with an altar outside of the future theater, the world’s largest theater owned and operated by queer & trans people of color (QTPOC), and a soft place to land for not only queer and trans artists in our Boston community but across the globe.

Consider this article your exclusive invitation. We would love to have you.

OPED Theater Offensive Giselle Byrd BostonSusan Collings

In New York, the incomparable Jordyn Jay of the Black Trans Femmes in the Arts is taking over the city with performances at The Brooklyn Museum, Times Square, and The Leslie-Lohman Museum. In the DMV, Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi founded Black Trans Women At the Center in partnership with Long Wharf Theater while being an icon of it all: director, playwright, actor, choreographer, priestess - there’s really nothing that my sister cannot do! On the West Coast, Cece Suazo, a co-founder of TRANSLAB, is a trailblazer in the ballroom and onstage, forever fighting for our visibility in all facets of the performing arts industry.

While in Washington, DC, for a private event, I witnessed the triumphant return of a young trans boy to his art form. From Mississippi, he had a passion for dance. However, amidst his transition, he lost comfort with being on pointe. It was seeing him perform at that moment that my hope grew.

We have the next generation that will carry the torch.

So, if you ask me about trans visibility in the performing arts now, I will tell you: The sea is parting. We are steering the course. And we are far from done. Our trans-cestors are blessing us on the other side. Get on board or jump ship because we are not going anywhere, whether you like it or not.

OPED Theater Offensive Giselle Byrd Bostonvia The Theater Offensive

And in the words of Pose’s Elektra Abundance, “We look too good not to be seen.”

How’s that for Trans Day of Visibility?

Giselle Byrd is the Executive Director of The Theater Offensive, a Boston-based arts organization.

Equalpride, the parent company of Out, is proud to partner with The Theater Offensive as part of our Community Partnership program. Learn more about our initiative at

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