Shakespeare offers insight into trans struggles, experience: scholar

The Canada Press published in the Vancouver Observer, 18 March 2016

The struggles of a gender-bending spirit servant in a Shakespearean classic offer unlikely but valuable insights into the experience of life as a modern-day trans person, argues a British Columbia scholar.

Mary Ann Saunders, an English professor at the University of British Columbia, said she was struck after watching Julie Taymor’s 2010 Hollywood interpretation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” by parallels between the antics of Ariel and her own experience as a trans woman.

In the play, the spirit Ariel, who is an indentured servant to the protagonist Prospero, is directed by his master on multiple occasions to take on the form of a woman.

Saunders described an academic article that referenced Ariel’s female depictions, with male features and a woman’s breasts, as a grotesque and impossible horror.

“I thought, ‘Now wait a second. This body looks an awful lot like the bodies of a lot of trans women I know, and it looks an awful lot like my body, and our bodies are not grotesque and our bodies are not impossible,’” Saunders said in an interview.

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