Had ze lived in 18th-century France, David Lovejoy might well have been one of the unsung superheroes of history. As it is, the gender-fluid actor ( Pronouns: Ze, hir, hirs, hirself ) is playing one at Wicker Park's Trap Door Theatre. In Mark Brownell's comedy Monsieur D'eon is a Woman, Lovejoy steps into the heeled shoes of a gender rebel in the court of Louis XIV.
Centuries before the world had language for those whose very existence proves that the binary is rubbish, D'eon forged a life as a woman who ( in the clothes of a man ) became a high-ranking French diplomat and a decorated war hero.
Assigned '"male" at birth, D'eon knew from childhood that she was a woman. And not just any woman: With no tolerance for dresses or homemaking or other historically female pursuits, D'eon donned breeches and set out to fight for her country. It wasn't until the final years of her life that officials stripped D'eon of her ranking and forced her into petticoats and corsets.
"The cast refers to her as a superhero of history," said director Nicole Wiesner. A superhero whose battles are waged still: "We've been having this discussion about trans people in the military for hundreds of years," Wiesner said. "There have always been people who didn't fit the binary and wanted to serve their country. It was going on in Louis's time, and it's going on now."
At 23, Lovejoy is as fluent in French as ze is adept at rocking a ballgown. Hir gender defies narrow classification. "I'm not a transwoman. I'm non-binary. And with that comes the experience of people not understanding who or what I am. In that, I relate to Monsieur D'eon," ze said.
"The part of her I also really identify with is that she had no interest in conforming to the stereotypes of what a woman was supposed to be or do," Lovejoy added. "She wanted to ... be a soldier and a patriot, and to be taken seriously," ze said.
In Brownell's history-based comedy, D'eon is guided throughout life by a kindred spirit: Joan of Arc ( played by Ty Easley, who is trans ). St. Joan isn't the only larger-than-life historical figure to pass through D'eon's life. Benjamin Franklin, Empress Elizabeth of Russia and Jean Jacques Rousseau also show up in the play ( the last with concerns that Louis's glittery court was becoming altogether too effeminate ).
Wiesner's 11-person ensemble plays roughly 80 roles among them, with Lovejoy at the gleaming center.
Lovejoy grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where ze spent seven years studying at Beverly's Waring School, a bilingual institution where lessons were taught in French as well as English. Ze arrived in Chicago about six years ago, as a theater student at the University of Chicago.
Lovejoy remains fluent in French. But it's not just language that ze shares with D'eon. The solder's struggles aren't so far removed from Lovejoy's own. Take, for example, the fixation D'eon's peers had with what was in her breaches.
"Everyone wants to know what's underneath D'eon's pants. That's still something that happens todaypeople reduce everything in to 'well, you were born a man, right?' Wrong," ze said.
Lovejoy started hir outward journey with nail polish.
"My first step of was when a friend painted my nails. Something in me clicked. I felt more beautiful, more like myself. So I started doing nail designs. People stared sometimes. They'd notice when I was paying for something, for instance.
"But after a while, I started feeling pride instead of fear," Lovejoy continued. "And with that pride, I started wearing make-up and skirts and dresses. The first time I stepped out in a dress, I was terrified. Then, I started seeing my clothes as battle armor. People would stare and I'd stare right back," ze said.
"The first time I introduced myself with my pronouns, I thought I was going to vomit," ze added. "But after it poured out of my mouth, I felt amazing and beautiful. And seen."
Still, the malevolent ignorance of others' assumptions can be harrowing, both emotionally and physically. Lovejoy endured a beating on the El en route to a May performance, pummeled bloody at the hands of transphobic cisgender men. Ze talks about the experience in this issue of Windy City Times.
"No matter how hard we try, people will continue to assume things about other people's gender," ze said. "Plays like this are important in part because they make the audience confront those assumptions."
"I am very proud of my gender and myself," Lovejoy said. "But I still closet myself sometimes because I don't feel safe.
"Regrettable as it is, other people can make you question yourself. We can't help but care what other people think and how we are seen in the world," ze said.
"Being seen is everything," ze said. "I will never forget telling my best friend and she said, 'I see you and you're beautiful,' and I broke down in tears. And we were both much more comfortable because we both knew who I was."
D'eon lived to be an octogenariana remarkable life span for someone in the 18th century.
"It was a long life, and a remarkable one. And a difficult one," Lovejoy said. "It wasn't easy, but it was beautiful."
Monsieur D'eon is a Woman continues through June 30 at Trap Door Theater, 1655 W. Cortland St. Tickets are $20 and $25, two-for-one on Thursdays. Go to trapdoortheatre.com or call 773-384-0494.
Also see VIEWPOINT Dont just stand there by David Lovejoy here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/THEATER-VIEWPOINT-Dont-just-stand-there/63096.html .