Read about NYC's best theatre and dance productions and watch video interviews with innovative artists
Mashuq Mushtaq Deen shares a unique perspective on his gender transition
In 2005, Mashuq Mushtaq Deen embraced his true identity as he began transitioning from female to male. Unfortunately, his conservative Muslim Indian family wasn't as enthusiastic. In fact, they refused to speak to him for two years. "I was busy saying, 'Why can't you accept me? This is discrimination, you should accept me for who I am,'" he recalls. "And I think underneath that, it was me saying, 'Please don't leave me. I love you and I'm afraid you are going to leave.'"
Spoiler alert: Deen's family drama had a happy ending. But the playwright-performer chronicles the complicated journey there in his autobiographical solo show Draw the Circle, currently running at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Over the course of 90 minutes, Deen inhabits his parents, his partner, his friends, his sibling, and his niece. The only crucial character he doesn't play is himself.
While that might seem like a strange decision, Deen says he didn't find retelling his story from his point of view artistically interesting since he had already lived it. "When I write I want to discover something, or learn something, or dig deep into something that I don't understand," he explains.
What excited Deen about creating Draw the Circle was imagining what those closest to him were feeling during that period. "For a long time when I was transitioning, I thought my parents were ashamed of me, and that felt horrible," he says. "But in writing the play, I really understood that my parents were afraid for me. What I was doing was foreign to them in many ways. It helped to know that, because I can understand that being afraid for your child means you love them."
Deen started working on the piece in 2009, and while there has been a tremendous increase in trans narratives in popular culture since then, he says those stories are still seen as alien. "I think people are more familiar on one level with what transgender means," he says. "But the specifics of the journey you go through is very foreign to some people. We're not hearing it on the news; it's not humanized in a really in-depth way."
At a time when violence against trans individuals continues to proliferate, and transphobic laws are being passed, Draw the Circle shows how fear can turn into acceptance, and eventually love. "We're at a fraught political moment, and we're at war with each other sometimes," Deen observes. "Sometimes I feel like what's radical about the piece now is it's about empathy."
The show's title is a plea for viewers to open their minds and their hearts. "How will the people in the audience make their circles big enough so that when people like me come, will they be someone who will give me a smile or give me a hug?" says Deen. "Even those who are confused and don't understand, if I make room in my circle for you, will I actually be able to make you an ally and help you realize that this is not something to be scared of? It's the layers of circles you can draw. Each person will have to do that on their own and figure out what they're capable of."
And of course, Draw the Circle's universal central theme -- parents struggling to accept the adult their child has become, and the child yearning for that acceptance -- also helps break down barriers. "There are specifics about being an immigrant in the country and a kid being transgender," says Deen. "But at its heart, it's about parents and children."
Top image: Mashuq Mushtaq Deen in Draw the Circle . Photos by Russ Rowland.