A new play titled “Dear Texas” — inspired by interviews with transgender people nationwide and an actual custody battle in which a transgender woman lost her parental rights — will show on Sunday at Cal Poly.
The theatrical performance, with an ensemble of six, scripted by 25-year-old Oakland playwright and activist Jane Eisner, includes transgender actors.
The production is part of a three-day conference called “Your True Gender” at Cal Poly this weekend, featuring talks, networking and events on transgender issues.
The “Your True Gender” conference is organized by Jessica Lynn, a Santa Maria resident who is the focus of Eisner’s play.
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Lynn lost custody of her son after her ex-wife moved from California to Texas with their child in 2009. Lynn transitioned after her ex-wife moved.
After a protracted legal battle, a Texas judge ruled against Lynn’s parental rights four years later, saying in part that she was a danger to her son as a transgendered person.
Eisner said she spent about a year gathering personal insights to help craft her play.
“I’ve been interviewing transgender people all over the country for well over a year,” Eisner said. “The stories I’ve heard are the inspiration for this play. They tell many facets of different experiences and identities. There’s authenticity in each of the character’s lives.”
Eisner said she hopes the play will help bring awareness to the transgender community and encourage tolerance.
She previously worked at FourTwoNine Magazine, writing about the LGBT community, before dedicating herself to the play.
“There are great lengths to go for the transgender community to gain tolerance and acceptance,” Eisner said. “Twenty years ago, we might not have thought it was possible for gay marriage to take effect, but it did. I think the transgender movement could be the next big movement.”
Eisner said she reached out to people willing to talk about their transgender experiences on Facebook and through transgender forums.
One of the people she interviewed was “completely in the closet and hadn’t told a soul.”
“He hadn’t told his wife,” Eisner said. “When nobody was home, he’d try on makeup and women’s clothes to make him feel good about himself. I asked him, ‘What’s holding you back (from coming out)?’ He said ‘My life would fall apart. I’d lose everything.’ ”
Eisner said celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, and “Orange is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox, have “gotten the mainstream media to pay attention” to transgender topics.
But her play is meant to relate to anyone, particularly those who don’t have the same access to finances and publicity as Jenner — even those who aren’t transgender.
“This is about what it means to be who you are,” Eisner said. “I realized these stories are relatable to everyone, to be seen as yourself and honoring yourself for who you are.”
The “Your True Gender” conference runs Friday through Sunday.
Speakers include James Green, president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health; Dr. Marci Lee Bowers, a renowned transgender surgeon; and Janet Mock, a New York Times best-selling author.
If you go
The play “Dear Texas,” written and produced by Jane Eisner, shows at 1 p.m. at Cal Poly at the Chumash Auditorium in the University Union. The show is free and open to the public.
For information about the “Your True Gender” conference at Cal Poly, go to http://yourtruegender.org/slo-conference-2015/