Like performer Becca Blackwell, it’s hard to define They, Themself, and Schmerm as a specific “type” of performance. Like a stand up comedy special, it’s funny, observational and at times, oddly insightful; but, unlike a regular gig, Blackwell’s narrative highlights scenes from their entire life, like a cohesive, revealing, well-told memoir.
Blackwell’s performance is an attempt to connect the dots in their sexual identity, both for themselves and their audience. They questioned the origins of their queerness (“I wasn’t aware I was a girl between ages 0 to 3” “What makes a man? I acted like a boy, I looked like one, the only thing I didn’t have was a penis.” ). They prodded at their impressions of binary gendered people (“before I took testosterone, men were just shades of grey, obstacles that got in the way of women”). They broke down their insecurities in public life (“I hated the men’s room- there were all these unfamiliar sounds and sights–I had to turn my feet this way and that to pretend I was peeing standing up”). And they shared their various roles in other people’s lives, like when Blackwell was cornered into a mother figure for a niece because the rest of the men “blanked out.”
Blackwell’s delivery is raw and honest. One of my favorite parts of the show was Blackwell’s use of “Blerrgghh” (while jutting out their head and wiggling their fingers) to refer to her femininity. It’s an honest portrayal of the interwoven confusion, annoyance, lust, unpredictability, and fear of the vagina and female hormones. It’s also a metaphor for the confusion that comes with figuring out who we are, who we love/lust, and why we love.
After a dive into their engaging stories, I came out with a better sense of the complexity of gender identity as well as its salience, in the form of socially awkward and even dangerous moments, for people who don’t conform to the binary standard. And it’s resonant, not only with people who are involved in the LGBTQ+ community or remotely identify themselves as such, but also with those who claim to be part of the more mainstream identities. The innocent questions that were brought up in Schmerm were definitely in my head at some point of my life, but I didn’t have enough of the curiosity nor the courage to follow it up even further. And I’m certainly not alone in this. Schmerm is a call to acknowledge, appreciate, and question without fear, the uniqueness of our own identities.