Irma looks between the faces of her reverend and her husband Roy, and it becomes clear that her marriage is entering a new reality.
A mother of two and wife for 25 years, she thought she had been through it all.
But with Royâ€™s confession â€“â€“ that he was in fact a woman, one ready to begin the transition to correct her physical gender â€“â€“ her world appears to have crumbled into a fiction. The question is: How to continue?
In this opening scene of â€œLooking for Normalâ€ at Bas Bleu Theater in Fort Collins, Jane Anderson presents an average family at its weakest moment â€“â€“ the start of a husbandâ€™s transition into womanhood.
It is a story about more than transgender transition but also a familyâ€™s reaction and a communityâ€™s hesitation to understand something so far from normal.
Ultimately, â€œitâ€™s about love,â€ Lenny Scovel, who portrays Roy in the play, said. â€œItâ€™s about a love that transcends the stereotypical or the culturally imposed roles and labels that we put on each other.â€
Hope for acceptance
â€œThe play is asking us to consider the possibility that one can, in the context of being an ordinary person, accept a situation like this,â€ director Jonathan Farwell said.
And while this extraordinary revelation rocks the familyâ€™s foundations, it also forces each character to decide which is more important, the look of the person they love or the soul within.
â€œItâ€™s who do you love,â€ Scovel said. â€œDo you love this package that contains a person, or do you love the person beyond the package? If thatâ€™s the case, why does it matter what the package is?â€
In their bedroom after speaking with the reverend, Irma grapples with Royâ€™s decision.
â€œDid you feel like a man when you married me?â€ she asks, desperately trying to discern how he could have made this decision.
Not entirely, he says. So she asks whether it was the man or the woman who made love to her.
â€œI make love to you as myself,â€ he replies, unable to explain any better his understanding.
It is a true intimacy that Roy feels for Irma, one that Ann Foorman, Grandmother Ruth in the play, would argue is most important.
â€œTrue intimacy will draw the truth of you out,â€ Foorman said. â€œYouâ€™re free to be yourself, with nothing to hide.â€
And it is this genuine truth that Roy holds to throughout. Having suffered terrible migraines and internal discomfort for years, he is sure of his choice.
â€œI felt that God had given me his blessing to make myself complete,â€ he explains to Reverend Muncie.
So now his dedication was set toward making this transition complete, the only choice that would allow him to keep living at all.
Easier said than done, though, especially when he has to approach those he loves with this truth.
â€œHe always sees how hard it is for everyone around him,â€ Deb Note-Farwell, or Irma, said. â€œThatâ€™s the beautiful thing. He has tremendous regard for those around him.â€
And despite his assurance that this is the right choice for him, the potential disapproval from his community and church and especially his wife and children haunts Royâ€™s decision.
â€œHe loves his life with Irma and the kids,â€ Farwell said. â€œItâ€™s not that he thinks heâ€™s totally miscast in life, he is just the wrong gender.â€
â€œI donâ€™t really need advice,â€ Roy says to his reverend. â€œI just need to know that youâ€™ll still accept me as a member of your congregation.â€
A harsh reality
The â€œguardian angelâ€ of the play, Grandmother Ruth speaks to the audience about her own past and her familyâ€™s present.
Ruth abandoned Royâ€™s father at a young age, unable to accept the role of farm wife, and instead travelled to France to be a nurse during World War I and later part of the resistance in World War II.
â€œWhat can I take responsibility for?â€ Grandma Ruth asks. â€œI removed my free-spirited motherly presence from my sonâ€™s life. â€¦ There wasnâ€™t room to express himself.â€
â€œIt would be better for her to exit stage left than to be there in his life,â€ Note-Farwell explained. â€œShe knew that much about love, that it was better for her child that she leave.â€
Though ironically, it is her self-expression and capacity for love that links Grandma Ruth to Roy, ultimately making her the inspiration for Royâ€™s name as a woman.
â€œIâ€™ve had many different kinds of lovers,â€ Grandma Ruth tells the audience. As what many would consider a pansexual today, Ruth enjoyed the freedom Franceâ€™s society gave her during the early 20th century.
But Ruth remains confused, even as a spirit, â€œwhy itâ€™s more acceptable for a woman to wear trousers than it is for a man to wear a dress.â€
Citing the $41,000 of surgery Roy will endure, it is this inequality that she finds most absurd.
â€œAll this,â€ Ruth says, â€œso my grandson can wear a dress to the market without being killed.â€
And in this stark reality, the transgender piece comes to a head.
â€œTransgender is at the center of the exploration,â€ Scovel said. â€œObviously Roy/Ruth is on this journey and he comes to terms with that. Everyone else is finding their authentic selves reflected back from whatâ€™s going on, and thatâ€™s where the strength really lies.â€
Finding the love
As he reads the letter his father sent him about his decision to transition, Royâ€™s son, Wayne, canâ€™t believe what it says.
â€œIâ€™m reading this letter, wondering if this is maybe some bizarre joke someoneâ€™s playing on me,â€ he says.
A guy traveling with a band on their tour, Wayne is a son moved away from his family and is working toward making his own life.
Royâ€™s letter finds Wayne in the midst of his own personal doubts and possible impotence â€“â€“ he canâ€™t comprehend how this too could be happening. But if his rigidity on gender identity resides on one end, his sisterâ€™s acceptance stands at the other.
Patty-Ann, the teenager just beginning puberty, finds her fatherâ€™s change unusual but welcome, something that brings him closer to her as they both begin hormonal changes together.
â€œIt allows her to relate to her father in a way I donâ€™t think she imagined she would,â€ Note-Farwell said.
But it is Irmaâ€™s acceptance that takes the most interesting path.
With Roy out of the house, Irma shows her colors as a still passionate and sexual being but unwilling to cheat on Roy with his boss, Frank.
â€œHer world is so upside down,â€ Note-Farwell said. â€œWhere is my life in this? Sheâ€™s on the outside.â€
Through talks with the reverend and Frank, it becomes clear again who she loves.
â€œBut heâ€™s my heart,â€ she finally realizes about Roy. â€œMy heart.â€
And from that point, itâ€™s love that will give Irma strength to embrace his transition.
â€œIrma figures out that love portion of it in a way that she probably couldnâ€™t imagine love could exist,â€ Scovel said. â€œThereâ€™s something so genuine in the end in the way her love lands in the play.â€
â€œAt the end of the day, love is about being there, staying through the mess, and knowing itâ€™s going to be messy,â€ said Foula Dimopoulos, a consultant for the play and the director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center at CSU.
â€œShe has found herself more clearly,â€ Note-Farwell said, â€œand her capacity for love is bigger than she realized.â€
Design Editor and Copy Chief Alexandra Sieh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.