Title: Stage Dreams
Gillman, Melanie. "Stage Dreams." Lerner Publishing Group, 2019. Print.
Grace is a transgender woman living in the South during the Civil War. She escapes her home in the hopes of not joining the Confederate Army and finding a place where she could live freely in the Wild West. The stagecoach Grace is riding gets robbed by the notorious Ghost Hawk, a notorious outlaw. Ghost Hawk (aka Flor, who is Latinx and genderqueer) takes the stagecoaches money and decides to kidnap Grace so as to ask for a ransom from her family. Once they get to Flor’s campsite, she realizes that Grace is trans and left the Confederacy so asking for ransom from her family might not work. They talk about their current situation. Grace convinces Flor to let her help them get into a Confederate dance in the New Mexico Territory so they can steal the war plans. Then Flor can sell them to the Union Army which has a base nearby. Grace and Flor go to a nearby town to get Grace a nice dress from Flor’s tailor friend. The tailor is incredibly nice to Grace, noticing the budding relationship between both runaways. Flor and Grace get into the party after deceiving the host but almost get caught before they are taken into the room where the Confederate generals are meeting. Grace notices her father is there and tries to avoid being recognized. Flor gets hit over the head with a bottle when found to be taking the battle plans from a desk. Grace’s father helps her escape with Flor, just happy knowing that his child is alive. Back at the campsite, Grace tends to Flor’s wounds and reveals that she was able to get the plans during the fight that broke out. Flor and Grace realize that they have romantic feelings for each other and decide to stay together, hopefully settling down with the money they get from the Union. Flor can live comfortably and Grace can follow her passion of become an actress.
While the story Gillman wrote is fiction, she is basing certain elements of the story on real history and how certain transgender people were able to live full lives, without being caught, in the West. This research is included at the back of the graphic novel with really interesting information about the possibly lost queer histories that exist in the U.S.A. (I do not have current access to this book so I sadly can’t include those facts here, but they are worth looking at before telling this story to an audience.) I think that because this story takes place specifically on land that had been recently taken by indigenous peoples that a land acknowledgement statement is necessary for wherever the story is being told.
This story can span many age groups, from elementary school children up to adults. I can see it being told as a book talk in a school or public library and in a museum or historical society for programming around LGBTQIA+ representation in history. For child and teen audiences I would focus on the action and adventure aspect of the story, while for adults the focus may be around the relationship between Flor and Grace and their general acceptance of each other.
I want to avoid having any cowboy imagery, like a hat or boots, when presenting because of the colonialist implications they hold. The tone of the story should be adventurous and uplifting, with a couple of moments of suspense around Grace being discovered for being trans. The way I would make this story more of my own is extending the end of the story past what is in the graphic novel. At the end of the book we see Grace and Flor go to the Union base but nothing else. I’d like to explore how Grace and Flor settle down and Grace’s career in theatre. Very little of queer history has been saved and passed down so I see even this type of revisionist attempts help fill in the gaps by making educated guesses.