As I am sure everyone is aware, TBS Just for Laughs Chicago kicks off this coming Tuesday, June 11. Now in its' fifth year, America's largest comedy event showcases comedy's biggest names, as well as introduces us to many emerging comics waiting to burst onto the scene.
One entertainer being introduced this year is Illinois native Bede.
Bede (prounced Bee-dee), a gender neutral biracial tomboy named Brianna Baker, was constantly on the receiving end of questions about herself and sexuality while growing up. Not feeling the need to conform to anyone's preconceived notions of what she should be, Bede decided to march to the beat of her own drum. It is that decision to standout that has made her one-woman autobiographical show a hit with the audience.
Fortunately, before Bede takes the stage this coming Tuesday, I got a chance to ask her a few questions about herself and her show.
I first asked Bede whether people in her small town had a bigger issue with her biracial or gender neutral identity.
"I would say definitely the gender neutral status. It became more of an issue when I was around 10, because as kids get older, more labels need to be placed on everything. When things aren't easily labeled, that is something that is confusing, sometimes threatening, which usually results in it being a target for bullying. When I was younger, once kids knew I was actually a girl, most kids didn't care. Adults had a difficult time processing what they were being told."
Bede went on to state that even though the gender neutral status got the most attention, her mother has had to explain that Bede and her sister are her biological children.
"This makes me think of the Cheerios commercial that recently got a lot of media attention because there is a biracial child in the video with her white mother and African-American father. They had to disable the comments on the video because of the hateful things people were saying."
Regardless of the public's opinion though, her parents accepted her and allowed her to make her own choices growing up. Bede says her parents even called her "the son they never had." Even Bede's father took her fishing and played sports with her.
"Once my mother realized that I clearly identified more closely with the male gender, she was nothing but accommodating. There were times that she might ask me to wear a dress, but for the most part, she let me be who I wanted to be. I very specifically remember one afternoon I told her I wanted to spike my hair. I had really curly hair as a kid, so this was relatively impossible -- think AC Slater. Flatirons weren't popular then, so my mom tried to use really strong gel. Bless her heart, we sure didn't get it to spike, but I remember her trying so hard. Memories like that mean a lot to me."
Not only were her parents accepting, she says her sister is the one that looked out for her. Not only would her sister defend her against bullies, but when they fought among themselves, her sister would not even bring up her boyish appearance.
"I think for (my sister), she really knew it was just who I was, and it wasn't even something that would come to mind as an insult. Sometimes if she felt stressed out from sticking up for me, she would tell me that she was sick of having to do that. I think it was weird for her when I started dressing like a girl at first, because it was in an instant, and it was like she had a brother one day, and a sister the next."
Though several of Bede's family members appear in her show, one of the biggest characters featured is her maternal grandmother.
"I think because of her being older, and also her kind of 'old-Hollywood glamour,' she had a more difficult time processing why exactly I didn't look, dress, or act the way she thought a 5 year old girl should act. That being said, beyond her occasional comments, she treated me the same as she did my sisters. Nowadays when I go to visit her, I wear the most classic dresses, put on makeup and do hair, because I know she loves it. I figured if it gives her some joy, so be it!"
Bede admits that were it not for her family being so accepting, her childhood would be a very different story. It is having to gauge her family's reception of her true self that made me question whether Bede considered herself a member of the GLBT community.
"If you would have asked me this question a year ago, I would have surely answered no. When I started the process of writing Bede, other than the fact that clearly I looked like a boy, I wasn't sure what story I was telling. I had this moment of realizing that I didn't know why I had been like that. It was just who I was. Then I thought, well I don’t know if that really ever went away. I mean, I remember the day that I thought of growing my hair out, but that wasn't really a change on the inside, but rather just a change to facilitate some sort of assimilation.
"After I wrote Bede, I stumbled upon an artist and photographer, iO Tillet Wright. She had a childhood similar to mine, but what really drew me to her work was her current project called Self Evident Truths, which examines Americans, asking them whether they are 'other than straight.' I learned more about the gender spectrum, and gender identity, and murkiness that can exist there. I started to realize that, while I knew that as far as my sexuality goes, I’m not a lesbian, my gender identity is more broad on the spectrum, and not as easily identified as some. Realizing that really helped me understand so much more about myself, not only as a child, but also as an adult.
"Though I’m not gay/lesbian/bisexual, from a very young age I've identified with that community, because I know that feeling of being four years old and just knowing who you were born to be, whether people understand it or not."
Bede even says that after shows, members of the GLBT community come to her and say how much they identify with her story.
"I think the majority of people identify, on some level, whether it’s them as a child, or even as an adult now, with that sense of wanting to be true to self, but also assimilate. It can be quite a struggle."
To get to know more of Bede's story, and see how you connect with it, be sure to attend her performance on Tuesday, June 11th at Stage 773. Bede says she is really excited to be a part of the TBS Just for Laughs Chicago festival.
"This show is really so close to my heart not only on an artistic level, but also on an a emotional and humanistic level. I’m also really excited to share it with a broader audience."
Bede's show is coupled with Kellye Howard's show for a one-two punch of comedy for one ticket. Tickets can be purchased here.
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