This week, we had the honor of sitting down with Maybe Burke. Maybe is a New York based actor, writer, and human rights advocate interested in telling the stories that haven't been told. Their work has been seen at Joe's Pub, Lincoln Center, Cherry Lane Theatre, Ars Nova, New Dramatists, HERE Arts Center, The NYC LGBTQ Center, and more. Read below to learn more about Maybe!
Why do conversations matter to you?
I often tell people “sometimes you don’t realize the power words can hold until they’ve been used against you.” But I think that power can totally be used for good, and conversations can be very healing. I am a storyteller at my core. I am constantly telling my stories and talking with people about shared experiences. I am constantly having conversations around identity, trauma, marginalization, you name it. It helps me to understand the world around me. It helps me to be understood by the people around me. It helps me understand what people around me need from me. It helps me understand how we can work together. It helps me feel connected to others. Conversations make me feel less alone, and remind me why I’m doing the work that I do.
How did you get involved with acting and human rights advocacy work, and what do you hope to accomplish with your platform?
I grew up performing, but never considered it to be what I would pursue in life. When I graduated High School I was going to college to major in Psychology and minor in Theatre. My plan was to be a Guidance Counselor and direct and choreograph the musicals at my school. While in college I realized my passion for theatre was too strong, transferred schools, and flipped my major and minor. I was still focused on social issues and helping people, but I saw theatre as the best avenue for me to do that. Right out of college I started working with Honest Accomplice Theatre, a company that explores topics that are often silenced, seen as shameful, or portrayed as one-dimensional through the lens of cis women and trans people. Before long, they had me performing again, and I became their Artistic Associate. We created The Trans Literacy Project, which took my passions for storytelling and advocacy and combined them into one project that could educate and entertain.
How did you find your voice and how can other Gen Z-ers find theirs?
When I was in College, a reacher at my High School asked me to come to his class and talk about being queer. I told the story of my coming into myself, as much as I knew at the time, and helped some younger folks to understand an experience outside of their own. Through college, I discovered time and time again that through telling stories about my life, it was helping other people to learn more about people who lived differently than them.
I think the most important part of my finding my voice was acknowledging that my experience is mine alone. I like to be clear what is my opinion or my perspective, as opposed to information I have gathered from community. A large part of this is being accountable for my privileges. I am trans, I am queer, but those are the only things that leave me marginalized. As a white, neurotypical, able-bodied, skinny, cute person who grew up in a financially stable household I take care to not speak over people who don’t have the privileges I do. But I try to use my platform to uplift voices that aren’t being heard as often.
How can we, as young adults, start more conversations about body image and gender identity?
I currently actually have a very positive relationship with my body image. (Which I fully acknowledge is rooted firmly in my skinny privilege.) But as a kid, I was constantly mocked and shamed for being “too skinny.” I was always naturally skinny, and people would constantly jokingly diagnose me with eating disorders or tell me how easily they could hurt me. When I realized I was non-binary, I actually got a lot more comfortable in my own body. First, stepping into a brand of femininity meant being skinny and small were more widely acceptable and celebrated. My body is close to the frame designers have in mind when designing for women. But second, and more-so, not having a gender also made me not have to deal with gendered expectations for my body. There are beauty standards for women, there are expectations for men, but there’s no way genderless people are “supposed to” look. (Which, again, was a much easier conclusion for me to come to as a skinny, fit person.)
I think I’m actually more interested in talking about body image without the conversation of gender. I feel like too many people can’t talk about their body image without their gender identity taking a major role. I think through deconstructing expectations of gender we can also lessen expectations on bodies. I think that the less rigid our conversation of gender get, the more easily all people can feel comfortable in their bodies.
How can our audience get involved with all that you're doing?
You can watch episodes of The Trans Literacy Project on YouTube for free! If you want to learn more about trans and non-binary experiences or are tired of having to be the educator in your life, these videos are here to help you!
If you’re in or work at a college, I can come to you! I have a college program called All Signs Point to Maybe, which centers a conversation about my finding my identity as a way to shape a better understanding of trans and non-binary people.
Follow me on Social Media! I definitely have tried to curate an Instagram that has some more serious and vulnerable conversations about my identities and experiences.