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TranStyX, The Genesis of a Tunisian Queer Project

Before starting out the writing process of a play, a song, a poem and the like, the first thing I do is decide on the title. The effort I make to find the appropriate title is inversely proportional to my research and writing endeavors. I have always had a feeling that titles fall upon my head as in the story of Newton and the apple, cherishing the hope that they make my Adam›s apple shudder when I first utter them aloud.

TranStyX occurred to me before the Arabic title Eubour (crossing, transit or passage) while I was driving back home from downtown and listening to Diamanda Galas singing “The Litanies of Satan” by Charles Baudelaire. Was the title whispered in my ear by the Devil? On that night, I met a trans woman, a person whose sense of gender identity (woman) does not correspond with her birth sex (male). The meeting was part of the fieldwork that had preceded the formulation of the project components, which was intended as a response to the mediocre local media treatment of the trans people’s cause since the revolution in 2011.

The interview was decisive and influential because Tesnim settled her inner conflicts and reconciled her body with her gender identity. She told me she was not ready to wage another battle against a society that has very little consideration for diversity and inclusion and so she made up her mind to immigrate to Europe and not ever come back.

Sonia Hedhili, TranStyX Official Photoshoot

When I got into my car, I had mixed feelings: I was happy with the interview, sad though because the Tunisian queer community was about to lose a cultured person who could have been an influential leader in the struggle for human rights, haunted by a desire to write, using a Nietzsche-like tragic quill that bravely stands before reality with neither optimism nor pessimism and eventually determined that a theatrical work would be at the very heart of the project.

Whenever I drive at night on the highway while listening to Diamanda Galas’ haunting voice and poignant piano, I become feverish, I sweat profusely, my head starts to spin and then I trip out… That night, I went into a trance and, once I reached great heights, it crystallized into a word: TranStyX! In a split second, the word carved the gist of the future play. Trans is a Latin prefix meaning across, beyond, through, or on the other side of. It is also a clipping of transgender in both English and French. Unfortunately, in the Arab-Muslim world, the commonly used word to refer to a trans person is mutahawil which can be translated as a mutant. The Styx, according to Greek mythology, is a river that forms the boundary between earth and the underworld over which Charon ferries the souls of the dead. One of the moons of the dwarf planet Pluto was named after the river. Pluto was excluded from the solar system as its inclined orbit crosses inside Neptune›s without achieving gravitational dominance… Greek mythology features protagonists with non-normative genders and bodies some of whom are androgynous; Hermaphroditus, for instance, has the features of both sexes while others experience sex change all along their existence because of a curse or a wish they made just like Caeneus.

The neologism TranStyX has a plethora of interpretations; it may suggest to the reader that the play depicts a voyage across the Styx that would end by unveiling what lies beyond the mythical river. If the voyage is a sort of Homeric odyssey going against the Styx currents, it can lead to its wellspring. The wayfarer can be a trans person crossing the river Styx located in her head, under her skin or on her way to work each day. It may be also an outer space odyssey to Pluto's cold and dim moon.

Tesnim, in gender identity terms, successfully crossed her inner dark river and reached ataraxia. She decided afterward to cross the Mediterranean deadly murky waters that do not offer - unlike what the Styx waters gave to Achilles- powers of invulnerability to those who dare sail them clandestinely.

In TranStyX, three letters are capitalized:

  • S as in Stella, a Latin word meaning Star. Stella is one the play’s protagonists.

  • X refers to the only sex chromosome Tesmine and the majority of trans women wish they had.

  • T as in Tessnime and Tina, the main protagonist in the play. It also refers to Tunisia which has been going through a transition period since the 2011 revolution.

For one second, I felt as if a geyser were springing in my head, excavating years of life experiences, reflections, and invaluable readings to give birth to TranStyX, a title I have adopted at its birth. It is coded and it gives clues meant to expose the substance of the play that has been devised to be open-ended with eight (8) possible interpretations… or maybe more! After all, readers have always had the last word one way or another, haven’t they?

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