A Transgender Director Who Defies Genres (to France’s Confusion)

A Transgender Director Who Defies Genres (to France’s Confusion)

“Saison Sèche” deals with the violence women suffer in patriarchal societies. The cast will be trapped in a closed white space, under a ceiling that moves up and down without rhyme or reason. “It’s the glass ceiling, and more,” Ms. Ménard said. “That’s what it’s like to be permanently under surveillance, and reprimanded as soon as an action is deemed objectionable.”

In person, Ms. Ménard, who first made a name for herself as a virtuoso juggler in the 1990s, is thoughtful and patient; one senses that her even, articulate tone was honed over years of explaining herself. While the United States has prominent transgender performers, such as Laverne Cox and Trace Lysette, transgender identity is only just entering mainstream consciousness in France. For a long time, Ms. Ménard said, it remained tied to Parisian night life and to a handful of cabaret performers who came of age in the 1960s, like Coccinelle, who died in 2006, and Bambi, 82, who will be in Avignon to introduce a documentary about her life.

There are signs of change: A well-known comedian, Océan, recently came out as a transgender man, and a transgender character was introduced in March on “Plus Belle la Vie,” one of France’s most popular TV soap operas. Still, Ms. Ménard said, French culture’s “macho” Latin roots led to societal resistance, and mainstream depictions of transgender identity can be problematic. Last year, the director Nadir Moknèche was criticized for casting the actress Fanny Ardant as a transgender woman in his film “Lola Pater.” In an interview with the magazine Télérama, Mr. Moknèche railed against his detractors, saying their argument implied “only a rapist could play a rapist.”

Ms. Ménard grew up in the Brittany region of northern France, where her mother was a seamstress and her father worked in the local shipyards. Her working-class environment in the 1970s and early ’80s was left-wing and pro-union, but gender roles were strictly defined. “When you were discovered wearing your mother’s clothes, you were taken to a therapist,” Ms. Ménard said — speaking of herself, as she often did, in the second person. “All the way until my late 20s, I thought I was crazy.”

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