Yesterday I saw an excellent production of Tara’s Crossing by the Houses on the Moon Theatre Company at the University of Connecticut Law School. Written by Jeffrey Solomon and directed by Steven J. Satta, the play tells the story of Tara, a transgender woman in a man’s body, who flees Guyana to seek asylum in the United States.
The United States recognizes that persecution based on sexual orientation can be a ground to receive asylum, but it is never easy for the asylum seeker. The law is harsh—the level of proof it requires is very steep. Harshest of all is the humiliation and horrors the asylum seeker must disclose, repeatedly forcing him or her to relive what s/he has been fleeing. The play makes this harshness palpable.
Tara’s Crossing walks us through Tara’s life. In Guyana, she had to hide who she was, yet she was still constantly tormented and harassed. Her understanding mother left because her husband, Tara’s father, beat her mercilessly and was unfaithful. Although as a teenager, Tara became friends with a coworker in a video store, her small circle of safety was shattered by someone who at first seduced her, and then arranged to have her horribly beaten by a gang of people in a dance hall. She was banned from the market and threatened with arrest for being who she was. When she came to the United States, hoping for sanctuary, she was incarcerated in a detention center, though she was no flight risk, and spent months in solitary confinement to prevent attacks from other prisoners.
The frame for the story is provided by Tara’s attorney who asks her to write down what has happened to her. But the facts are so harrowing, she invents a happy ending for herself. “You have written a melodrama,” he tells her. “What we need is a horror story.” Tara looks at him. “And I am the victim.” Only when she pretends that her story happened to an imaginary friend is she able to fully describe the violence she endured.
The acting was wonderful. Aundre Chin in particular, the actor who plays Tara, provided a brilliant performance. Never over the top, you felt the woman in the man. You sensed Tara’s humiliation when she was treated like a man rather than a woman. And you believed in her hope that, although life in the United States as a transgender woman might not be easy, at least she could have the freedom to live as she is, and she would find others who would respect her.