Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

FAMILY MATTERS: A Trans Comic, Writer, and Performer Gets Real about the Complications of Family, Culture, and Queerness

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

FAMILY MATTERS: A Trans Comic, Writer, and Performer Gets Real about the Complications of Family, Culture, and Queerness

Article excerpt

Of writer, director, actor, and comedian D'Lo's many talents, one seems to be the ability to turn pain into laughter--which in turn, heals.

"I think there's so many ways to tell a powerful story," says the queer, transgender, Tamil-Sri Lankan-American performer. "But comedy for me is the medicine.... the way that you crush a pill inside some orange juice to give it to a kid. It's that same thing, it's that conduit for the medicine."

"I believe it is a sacred art form," he adds. "I think that if you can laugh about something, it shows you have graduated from the pain." D'Lo feels he may have inherited some of his comedic chops from his funny father, and explains that being clever and witty in the Sri Lankan community "is recognized and almost revered."

But for him, comedy has not only been a form of self-expression and storytelling, it's also been a survival skill. D'Lo says growing up queer and gender-questioning in the desert community of Lancaster, Calif.--dubbed "Sri-Lancaster" due to its dense Sri Lankan immigrant population--wasn't always easy. Comedy became "a way to deflect those questions that might be coming at me, around my sexuality and gender presentation."

D'Lo's story first gained attention when he was the subject of the award-winning 2013 documentary short by Crescent Diamond, Performing Girl--which is now receiving a second wave of attention since its recent release on Amazon. Despite the film's success (it won Best Short at both the Sacramento Film and Music Festival and Albuquerque's Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, and the Grand Jury Award at Outfest 2013), D'Lo was initially hesitant about working with the filmmaker.

"Crescent's white," he says bluntly. "And I'm tired of people of color's stories being told by white folks." Despite this being his initial reaction, D'Lo says after getting to know Diamond, he was eventually able to put his trust in her and move forward with the project.

"We had talked about just a bunch of political stuff and got to know each other throughout the process, and I liked her. I felt like this was my friend."

The heart of the story in Performing Girl is D'Lo's relationship with his very traditional Tamil-Sri Lankan parents, which he confesses isn't a perfectly accurate reflection of their family's true dynamics. "I think that they represented themselves in how they wanted to be seen ... even if they weren't actually there," he says of their appearances in the film.

In fact, D'Lo admits that his parents's subtle sugarcoating was a critique he'd expressed to Diamond about an early draft of the film. "I was like, "Yo, I feel like this is all like frosting on a shitty cake, you know? How [can] I show up in a more vulnerable way in this piece?' So, Crescent was open to that. If I wanted something flipped, she was like, 'OK, fine!'--but she would do it."

Although his relationship with his parents is still a work in progress, D'Lo says there has been some major milestones, thanks in part to the film--but also to his partner, Anjali, who has become like a daughter to them. He says despite their differences at times, his family is very tight due to their shared pain over his sister's sudden and tragic death in a 1991 plane crash.

"We might be a family [whose] foundation has been cracked with devastation and loss and grief," he says, but, "Anjali has definitely been that glue that has spilled into the cracks and made us feel whole again."

D'Lo says that, right or wrong, the fact that Anjali is feminine has helped his parents in their acceptance of his gender identity. …

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