CW: Transphobia, ableism, death
Deadnamed begins with Dian Cathal bursting out of a real coffin looking stunning wearing a top hat and a shiny waistcoat. He announces that he is a trans man whose new name is still in the post. This is the funeral for the person his loved ones once knew as “Lily”.
Dian holds onto your attention effortlessly. He floats easily between light-hearted, whimsical storytelling and darkly profound moments. At once a funeral and a circus, the joy and pain resonate with the experiences of many trans people.
He introduces the audience to a doll gifted to him as a child by his grandmother, designed to look like he did back then, with long hair and a pink dress. He talks about how it was difficult to connect with. But how it was also difficult to reject because, much like the name his parents gave him, he knew the gift came from a place of love.
He compares contemporary transphobic talking points with the concept of changelings from past generations. He hearkens back to the parents who would profess to love their children but then burn them because they were ‘fae’.
This is juxtaposed against a powerful monologue from the perspective of a mother who believes that her child has been “stolen” from her by the “trans agenda”. This section is incredible, but almost hard to watch. You see love become pain and contort into hatred in the space of a few misinformed and brutally recognisable sentences. I can hardly imagine how difficult it was to perform night after night.
Deadnamed isn’t all pain and heartache. It’s funny and incredibly sweet. Dian uses a great metaphor about left-handedness that illustrates how you just know, no matter how many people tell you what you’re supposed to be, what is actually best for you.
The show as a whole dissects the language used around trans issues. In the Q&A after the show, Dian pointed out that a lot of language used for queer people were initially decided by non-queer people. They were diagnoses, or slurs that have since been reclaimed.
Dian holds up the doll from his grandmother and talks about the inherent violence in the idea of a ‘deadname’. In the idea that coming out as transgender requires death.
Dian handles the emotional maelstrom of the show with utmost grace. His charm and wit seep into every moment. Deadnamed is intelligent and moving; Dian packs a lot into its short run time. It’s an intense and emotional show, but you are safe in Dian’s hands.
The show ends with Dian reading aloud eulogies written by his loved ones to his real deadname. He reads a different one each night and has not seen them beforehand.
The letter he read on the night I saw the show was beautiful. It was lovely hearing someone say such sweet things about Dian and knowing that people care so much about him.
It leaves the show – throughout as heart-wrenching as it is delightful – on a note of hope.
Read our interview with Dian about his show Trans*Atlantic here.