For those who don’t fit into the gender binary – between the narrow definitions of what’s only male and female – the world can feel like a lonely place.
Ariel J. Mahler, an NYC-based LGBTQI+ advocate and gender-nonconforming individual, has created a new web series to fill that void. The show – Façades – centers on the love story between a man and a “they,” a person who takes the gender-neutral pronouns “they, them and their.” The fictional couple’s story shows the audience what life is like for those who don’t fit into mainstream categories.
The seven-episode series first launched with its pilot episode in November 2015. After a short Kickstarter campaign, the series relaunched two weeks ago and will be released weekly on YouTube and Vimeo every Monday.
Façades, with an 18-person crew and 43 backers, was crowdfunded by those who believe in the importance of sharing the stories of this section of the LGBTQI+ community – those who don’t fit into black-and-white gender identities. National focus centered on the growing popularity of those who identify as gender-nonconforming has continued in recent years as well.
Façades stars gender-nonconforming New York actor Maybe Burke. Mahler explains it was important to them to have a non-binary actor play the leading role of Rhys, a character who is beginning their own journey of accepting and expressing gender.
This month, Brooklyn’s Trans Theatre Festival will air a screening of the first six Façades episodes at the Brick Theater. The screenings will run Saturday, June 18 at 2 p.m. and again Tuesday, June 21, at 7 p.m. For more information, visit bricktheater.com/transfest.
About the director, writer and producer
Ariel J. Mahler, 28, is a Massachusetts native who moved to New York City a year and a half ago after working first in Bar Harbor, Maine as a theater director. Ariel also has a Master of Arts degree from Emerson College, where they studied Theater Education. Façades is Mahler’s first web series project.
Between shoots and editing sessions for the show, Mahler also works at the LGBT Network as a Community Educator in Bay Shore, NY. As a person who has struggled with their own gender identity, even as a nonconformist teenager growing up in a conservative suburban town, it is especially important to them to connect with LGBTQI+ youth.
“I’ve definitely learned much more from the youth I work with than I could ever learn from any adult, book, or article,” they said. “It’s so important that we work to empower LGBTQI+ youth, and to create safe spaces for them to authentically be themselves so they can keep teaching us.”
Mahler hopes the series Façades, while at times humorous and at times serious, will help its audience question ideas surrounding gender and identity.
“So many people don’t understand so many of the things that people who exist outside the binary go through on a regular basis,” adds actor Maybe Burke. “Façades is addressing those issues and making them accessible to all.”
Mahler can be reached with questions at email@example.com.
“I am so sick of people refusing to see me the way I want them to,”
“Well, how do you see yourself?”
So begins your typical boy-meets-they love story.
It’s the unlikely relationship between Phinn and Rhys, the two central characters in this new web series. Phinn (aka “Fantasia Fabulous,” his drag alternate - played by Russell Peck) is a talented drag performer who wants nothing more than to compete on the hit reality TV show, “Continental’s Newest High Fashion Model.” But Phinn’s ideas of femininity are shaped, and therefore limited, by existing stereotypes and unrealistic expectations.
He soon meets Rhys, a male-assigned-at-birth and gender-nonconforming individual (played by Maybe Burke). The couple’s relationship becomes complicated as they each struggle to define what gender means to them.
Will Phinn be able to let down his walls and push beyond the most surface-level ideas of gender? Will Rhys be able to comfortably express their non-binary identity, in a world where the definitions of who’s a “man” and who’s a “woman” are “horrifyingly narrow?”
The relationship between the leading couple in Façades is intercut with campy excerpts from the faux fashion model competition series Phinn dreams of being on someday. Contestants on “Continental’s Newest High Fashion Model,” led by the ever-glamorous hostess Tiara Anderson-Anderson (played by Raquel Nicole Jeté), must compete in various challenges that force them to define femininity.
This comedic point of satire pokes fun at society’s expectations regarding what it means to “be a woman.” It provides a contemplative contrast for the non-binary musings of both Rhys and Phinn.