Built on trust

11 April 2017

Phoebe Graham talks to the cast of he she they about personal expression and pushing themselves to go further


I have three second cousins. I know two of them as well as my own uncles, but I’ve never met the other one. I remember my mum telling me about this estranged cousin at an age when my room was as pink as puffs of fairground candyfloss. I remember being confused when my mum would refer to her as Matthew, but then correct herself to Mathea. But which one is it? They definitely can’t be both, I’d think to myself. I thought it was surely a case of pink or blue, dinosaurs or ponies. But then we come to learn, maybe a little too late on, that we don’t live in the fairy tales of princes and princesses, or at least not the ones from the 1600s.

When Mathea came out as a transgender woman, she was gradually erased from her immediate family. Her mother threw away her school essays and her brothers haven’t seen her for years. And now that I’m old enough to understand the weight of what happened to my second cousin, I feel like there’s something missing. Not just in the form of a missing family member, but also the sense of acceptance in a family that’s meant to be founded upon unconditional love.

And that’s why he she they hit hard. It pierced, blistered, tapped, punched, strummed and ripped its way into the space. O Collective didn’t merely present, but represented gender and how we use, misuse and abuse it, granting empathetic access over barriers of social experience. But there’s no teaching or preaching here, he she they simply but intelligently shows the way a group of individuals express who they are, which boils down to a single question:

How do you feel?

I felt like I wanted to know more. I sat down with O Collective to talk about their process. The company radiate with an electric trust of one another. They agreed during the development of he she they that “whatever we say stays in the room and it doesn’t make a difference to anything, or how we are to anyone else”. It’s as apparent onstage that these guys are just really good friends and it’s captivating to watch.

Faultless focus gives he she they a nuanced authenticity by tackling an expansive social topic in such an intimate manner. “We tried so many different ways which just weren’t working.” The company agreed that once they focused on their personal voices, rather than trying to speak for a wider community, their material started to become more honest.

This honesty cultivates from a collaboration of a diversity of talent. There’s as many words expressed through movement, sound and music as there are written contributions. Words sometimes aren’t enough: “Even if I don’t have the words to explain how I feel, I can express it through my body,” says Gabriella Pollard. “I decided to just create movement and for me it was aggression.”

Lifting he she they to a euphoric level, the band formed the swelling punctuation underlying each personalised section. Diogo Silva, remembered for a breathtaking physical sequence of tearing apart gender layer by layer, remarked that the band “exceeded our limitations as performers. The music would help me to go further. I would find a comfortable space to move around because the music would carry me.” Each creative form organically fed into one another – the band would compose with what they observed and the performers would move to what they were hearing. “[The band] added so much of their personality whenever they were playing, meaning that each time we’ve done it, it was different every time.”

he she they ripples with a rawness that does feel like it can shift and shape along with the company’s own sense of gendered identity. “We did so much research. We didn’t want to misinterpret anything. We didn’t want to make a point and say what gender was.” O Collective want nothing more than to prise open the casual discourse of gender, raising a personal awareness of how our own perception of gender may then tap into our sexuality and our personality. With a startling 40 per cent of the transgender community having attempted suicide, we can’t let towering taboo stop us from not challenging or talking about ourselves at our most (and most literally) naked.

These discussions, which seemed unimaginable in our previous generation, will hold the potential to shatter glass ceilings and teach little blue boys and little pink girls that it’s OK to trade colours. By starting with shows like he she they, I may finally be able to meet my second cousin, and welcome her back into my family.


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Photo credit: Giulia Delprato