by Mara Sherman
I’ve recently begun reading Life and Death – Stephenie Meyer’s companion piece to her earlier novel, Twilight. (I promise this has a lot to do with Brave Spirits upcoming production of Henry the Fourth. Hang on, we’ll get there.)
For those of you who are unaware, Life and Death is an experiment in re-gendering. Meyer has taken her existing characters –Bella and Edward- and changed both of their genders. Bella is now Beau (short for Beaufort) and Edward is now Edythe. The plot points and characters of the story are the same- Edythe is a 104 year old vampire who thinks that Beaufort’s blood is her “own personal heroin”. They fall in love, make kissy faces at each other, they play baseball (not a euphemism) and then defeat the bad guys and gals.
So far, I’m really enjoying this book- not because the writing is any good (it really isn’t) but because it is revealing some of my own gender biases and inconsistencies to myself.
I remember being sort of bored by Bella when I read Twilight as a teenager- but I find her male counterpart sort of charming. He’s sensitive! He reads! He’s mature! He cooks! These are all traits I find much more interesting in male characters (and frankly, real life men) than I do in female characters or real-life women- possibly because awkward, introverted women who read and cook make up the vast majority of my social circle. (Hello, ladies.) Those traits in a woman are just what I expect – but in a man, I find them refreshing, even surprising.
Similarly, I remember being absolutely horrified by Edward the first time around. He’s condescending, he’s rude, he’s aloof, he’s a freaking stalker– but that same behavior coming from a woman is pretty compelling (so far.) Instead of rude, she seems “sassy,” instead of “condescending” she seems “sarcastic,” and instead of “aloof,” she seems “complicated.” She’s also strong enough to lift a car, which is impressive. (That is a euphemism.)
All of this obviously says far more about me (and all of the culture that went into making “me”) than it does about the books, the characters, or Stephenie Meyer’s intent. I’m not going to speculate too much aboutwhy I had such different reactions to these regendered characters — but whatever my reaction was, the important thing is that I had a reaction at all. This is why I think that re-gendering is a valuable tool for theater makers. Regendering forces artists (and normal people, too) to re-examine their expectations about gendered behavior- and it can teach us about ourselves.
In conclusion- you really need to come see Brave Spirits Theatre’s upcoming production of Henry the Fourth, Parts One and Two- because our source text is way (way) better than Twilight. The themes of honor, family, religion, and monarchy- not to mention the fat jokes and the sex jokes- that is, everything that makesHenry the Fourth what it is- are intact. It’s all still there; we’re just looking at it differently.