If the country's not ready for a dialogue about transgender issues, then a monologue will have to do.
From the Audience
Testimonials from the crowds from "Spy in the House of Men." Basically: Everyone who sees it says everyone should see it.
Woody Battaglia (Rochester, NY) Penny Sterling’s A Spy In The House Of Men is spectacular and you should put it on in your town.
Rev. Scott Austin (Rochester, NY) Penny’s show is funny, poignant, and well-written, as anyone who knows her would expect it to be. But for those of us who care deeply about our world and want to see dividing walls broken down, marginalized people embraced, and differences celebrated, Spy in the House of Men offers a path toward deeper understanding and real empathy. This show is as important as it is entertaining, which is to say “incredibly”. In this way, it is like all good art, inspiring not just admiration but transformation.
Colleen Williams (Buffalo, NY) There was a full house tonight at the Boulder Cafe for the performance of “A Spy In The House Of Men.” Perhaps I shouldn’t call it a “performance” though, since that would suggest something intended as an “act,” a “come-on.” This was anything but. Penny was real, transparent, authentic... at times funny, at times angry, at times sad, at times hopeless, at times afraid... Surely it was poignant ... but always very real. I cried, I laughed, I was educated, but most of all I was moved. Thank you for sharing your story Penny. I am honored to know you.
Ada Cheng, Ph.D. (Chicago, IL) I used to teach gender and sexuality at the university. I enjoyed Penny Sterling's performance and found the overall experience to be very informative. In a highly vulnerable performance, Sterling documented her journey as a transwoman. What I appreciate the most is that, through a series of personal stories, her performance is able to answer some important questions that people might want to ask yet are afraid to because they do not want to offend or burden people in marginalized groups. I truly appreciate this educational experience. I find it highly valuable as a former university faculty.
Joe Mock (Cincinnati, OH) I cannot say enough positive things about Penny Sterling.
Penny is unique in that she speaks about the Trans community from her personal experience, in a way that is insightful, heartfelt and intelligent. In my Facebook review of her Fringe show, I wrote. "At times heart wrenching, often hilarious, but always gut-punchingly heart-felt and true, Penny makes you understand what you thought you knew maybe wasn't totally correct."
Yeah, that's Penny ..... giving people a new way to see herself, and by doing so helping them see themselves and others in new ways they didn't understand before. That's what happened to me when I met her, when I listened to her, when I got to know her and understand her better. I am now able to meet people in the Trans community where THEY are, rather than where I used to think they SHOULD be. That's powerful stuff.
Also, I should mention that a few months after I met Penny, my nephew let me know she was transitioning. I gave her Penny's contact information so that she could talk one on one with Penny. That's how much I trust Penny. You should too!
Mary Rita Domenic (Cincinnati, OH) As her story unraveled, I got caught up in the sadness of this little boy who didn't want anyone to know how much he longed to be something different yet how much he really wanted someone to acknowledge his uniqueness. The storytelling weaves from bittersweet tales to snappy punches, and takes the audience on a wild ride. I felt as though most of the audience was holding their breath. Close to the end when we find out his mother's feelings about her son, we are close to tears. Then we laugh again and we clap! For her bravery, her well-crafted writing, her intense delivery, and for her Cinderella tale.
Doug Stafford (Philadelphia, PA) What’s the one word that I would use to describe Penny Sterling; relatable. And for me that is saying something as sitting down to watch her show I am faced with a generation gap, an experience gap, and the obvious gender gap. She is able to take her experiences as an older transgender woman and ultimately make it relatable to me as a younger cis-gendered male.
She is funny, there is no question to that. Her comedic timing and stage presence are perfect for who she is. Unlike most modern comics she doesn’t need to litter (in fact I don’t think I have ever heard her curse on stage) her show with profanity and curses to make it enjoyable. But that ability to be relatable still is the most powerful quality of her show. I can laugh and smile at her joys and wince at her sorrows in the same way that I can at my own. In our modern era we have lost a lot of our ability to cross the gaps of gender, race, experience, age, and so forth.
But she maintains that ability to cross that divide and brings us there of our free will, undivided attention, and with laughter.
Rick Staropoli (Rochester, NY) I have a few transgender friends, and love them dearly. But seeing Penny’s show for the first time was eye-opening nonetheless . . . because I got to hear from a trans woman ABOUT her life before and after being open as a woman. Having trans friends doesn’t give me that kind of invitation into the intimate details, painful memories, comedic moments. I’ve now seen Spy in the House of Men twice – and I’ve watched audiences gasp, LOL, lean forward, cry, and have noticeable “aha” moments. And I’ve been right there with them. Penny gives audiences a very personal gift. She brings us into her world and shows us around. I’ve learned so much from her, and am grateful.
Lynn Duffy (Rochester, NY) I was fortunate enough to see Penny's show "Spy in the House of Men" as part of the Rochester Fringe Festival. From everything I read on the show, and from seeing Penny in other Rochester shows prior to this, I was spellbound by her courage to tell her story and her truth in a beautifully honest way with some sarcasm and humor sprinkled throughout. It would be SO easy for Penny to not bare her soul to audiences and tell her story. This is one of the things that drew me to Penny's show. I was spellbound by her courage to start living as her true self full-time after so long. I have a dear friend who is transgender, but it's something we've never discussed. I feel that by hearing Penny's story, I can maybe understand a little about what they likely felt like when we were kids. It was helpful for me to perhaps get a glimpse into my friend’s life and how we all share basic things with one another - complicated family relationships, sibling rivalry, etc.
The things you will get out of Penny's story are an understanding of her life. She tells her story in a brilliant and relatable way because, well, humor. She is damn funny and also will pull at your heartstrings because she tells the story of her and her family - especially the parts that some would keep out. These family relations that are explored color Penny's life as only the trials and tribulations of family can, and also give a bit of a historical look at how far we've come as a society. It also delves in how far we have to go as a society. I found Penny's story to be beautifully crafted and told with understanding and sensitivity, and...have I mentioned, some humor sprinkled throughout to remind us all that we share this existence together and can find ways to relate if we let go and look for common ground.
Liza Robbins-Theuman (Penfield, NY) I have always been open minded and accepting of those with lifestyles different than mine. I honestly was not sure what the show was about other than the write up in the catalogue. I knew that I wanted to see this and Penny left me comfortable with the information that was shared. She also made it very easy to have a candid conversation about a difficult topic with other individuals. The one thing that I walked away with was that one can truly not judge a book by its cover. She showed that it is ok to have questions and if one listens one can hear the stories of people who lead a life different from the norm. the one thing that I walked away from this performance was-Penny is both a great mom and dad to her children along with being an amazing role model to a generation who will hopefully be much more accepting to those who do not fit into the square boxes that society makes one uncomfortable with.
Kristine Tenebruso, MD (Penfield, NY) I went to Penny’s show open-minded but with many questions. What is a “transgender?” How does one become transgender? When does one decide? As a physician, I asked myself, is this a clinical problem? Is it medical? Psychiatric? Hormonal? Nature or nurture?
Through my experience with Penny’s show I now understand so much more. I have learned that this is not a decision, clinical or psychiatric entity, or a nature or a nurture phenomenon. It is who Penny is and who Brian never was.
Patrick Sloan (Penfield, NY) Kudos to Penny Sterling for sharing her personal story on becoming a transgender woman. Penny’s unique form of storytelling helps to shed light on an often misunderstood topic. As an audience member, you learn what it means to be transgender and the struggles that go along with it. Penny is both informative and entertaining in her onstage presentation. She helps to educate and draw awareness to gender identity and expression.
John Locke (Irondequoit, NY) "Spy In The House of Men" has given me the opportunity to experience the struggle of Transgenders through one brave soul.
Patrick Quigley (Canandaigua, NY) Listening to Penny tell her story about dealing with “who she always knew she was” from the time she was very little was tough at times, yet heartwarming as well. I have worked in the LGBT community for years as a pharmaceutical sales rep, yet was never aware of what courage it takes to live as someone you know you are not. Penny projects those feelings so very well in her show and lets the audience feel a bit of the pain she felt for so many years, and then she makes us laugh like only she knows how. She has to be one of the funniest people I know and a prolific writer as well.
Although I have only seen her show that one time, I would definitely see it again. And I look forward to seeing her in other such venues in the near future. She is such a refreshing performer!!
David Lawson (NYC) Penny's show is packed with raw, funny, and moving stories about the transgender experience that are so rarely told in mainstream venues. From feeling different from the body she was born in as a child, to transitioning later in life, to having to confront and correct the bigotry in children today, and more.
Matthew Vaky (Washington, DC) While the acting and script were incredibly well done, funny, smart, and professionally produced, the most important aspect of this show was how deeply it moved me and how much I learned. While I consider myself fairly liberal and open minded, I really haven’t thought much about transgender issues. This play opened my eyes to the topic; indeed, I still think about the things Penny talked about. When she spoke of the children who chanted at her, “You’re a boy, you’re a boy.” I began to realize what life is like from the perspective of a transgender individual. It forced me to re think most of my assumptions.
I truly want to thank Penny Sterling for opening my eyes.
Dan Pinkerton (Minneapolis, MN) ...it was highly entertaining and not therapy for you or instruction for me, even though I did learn something. By the end, it was very moving; but along the way, it was funnier than I expected. It was also completely free of self-pity and not at all maudlin. I loved it and recommended it to everyone I met.
Leigh Droubie (St. Paul, MN) I was invited to Penny’s performance by a friend 25 years my junior. She knows that I am open minded, an ally, and have even performed same-sex marriages, but she also realized that this would be an opportunity for me to increase my knowledge and understanding of a situation not so widely comprehended. She was right. Penny’s sharing of her personal struggles, challenges, revelations, victories and adjustments have added to my ability to join with her as an educator, witness and activist for compassion, justice, and equality for all! Penny’s sharing has reinforced for me that we all have the same needs and desires for love, security, acceptance, approval, admiration, encouragement.
Because of Penny’s sharing of her experience, it is easier for me to help make her and other Transgender people’s lives a bit easier. Because of Penny’s openness in sharing, coupled with a Twin Cities Public Television presentation regarding LBGTQ issues, I organized a discussion and sharing forum at our local Y where other Senior Citizens came together to learn and better understand the emotional challenges and bravery of “coming out” and transitioning.
Helen Taylor (St. Paul, MN) Here is what I came away with after processing and reflecting on that Sunday afternoon’s experience. Here are the messages I feel I heard. They are good ones.
Being honest with yourself and the world is liberating and empowering; you at last have access to the energy you formerly squandered on hiding and misleading and doubting and fearing. People in recovery from addictions come to know this and Penny’s strength and confidence on stage demonstrate that she knows it. How nice if everyone would know it.
If some part of your life, even a large part, is just not working for you…you do have the option to tear it down, to blow it up. You will survive the demolition, and a lot of the pieces of your life will also survive and be available to you if you want to incorporate them into your new life. Penny’s show testifies to that.
Have you noticed? While Penny’s story and her journey are most engaging and illuminating, the messages I carried away are not about gender non-conformance or transitioning. Penny’s life experience is unusual, but it speaks to common experiences of pain and struggle and courage. That is one of the things good theater does - it shows us characters who are not us but who are working through issues we can understand and appreciate.
Theresa Zottola Drift (Cook, MN) Watching Penny tell her story was mesmerizing. Her joy at finally being herself was balanced with the pain of hiding for so long. As she shared her struggles, I really empathized with her plight and learned so much about transformation and courage.