Mimicing Women

We were talking about The Prince. . . .

I also had a copy of “How to be a Woman Though Male” –
but was never really comfortable with it.
It seemed to alternately glorify and objectify women
(of course, it was intended as a handbook for mimicking women).

You know, this is one of the most difficult challenges I have with crossdressers.    Many know that they can’t be a woman — they have to stay a man for their relationship, their job, their family, whatever — so the best they can do is “mimic women” by “alternately glorifying and objectifying women”

To me, this is the same as The Muppets Swedish Chef mimicing Swedish.  We know his “blah, blah, blah” probably doesn’t mean anything in Swedish, but it’s fun to see him blather on and pretend to make sense.  For crossdressers who are committed to mimicing women, it’s about some kind of externalized at that a native woman speaker would never understand as anything but gibberish.

Now, that’s OK.  It’s the classic model for men in dresses, clowning as women, athugh many of these crossdressing men don’t understand their act as clowning, don’t understand their performance as full of tells that they aren’t really women.  After all, they don’t really speak woman, don’t really speak Swedish, so how can they tell?   This performance is comfortable for women, because the men stay men, just as drag queens who make it very clear that they are really gay men rarely offend women, because they locate their own manhood clearly.

The problem comes not in the choice to mimic women, or to do gay drag, but in the assumption that others are trying to do what you are trying to do.   I may have spent decades understanding what it means to be a woman, respecting that culture and experience, but all too often crossdressers assume that I’m just real good at mimicing women, erasing my work.

Of course, all this tends to come out of locating truth in biology: If you were born with a penis, you always stay a man, no matter what.  This is a comforting belief to both gay men and crossdressers, who need to stay located as men no matter how much they express femininity in their choices.  They want to believe that their choices have no meaning, that their gender cannot be undermined, that their birth sex is determinant.  They want to believe this as much as some transsexual women want to believe that their current genital configuration is determinant, that now they have no penis, they can never be seen as men.

It’s when we hold others to the expectations that comfort us that we become the oppressor class, denying others to keep our own power in the world.

I understand why people want to not have to engage the messy bits of becoming real, holding onto their own fundamentalist belief in what defines reality, and what lines can’t be crossed.

But boy, a “Swedish Chef” crossdresser who just assumes that others can only be mimicing women, like they are, well, I find that bad magic.

Then again, that’s always what will set me off, people who don’t open to the possibilities of others, who just assume others must be like them, with the same limits and boundaries.  GB Shaw was quite clear that was why he didn’t like the common Christan version of the Golden Rule; “Don’t do onto others as you would have them do unto you; their tastes may be entrirely different.”

It’s the older Jewish version of the Golden Rule that I veneate   Hillel, when asked to speak the law while standing on one foot, was reported to have said “Do not do onto others what would be hateful to you.  This is the whole of the law; the rest is commentary.

If you want people to accept you as a unique indvidual with your own experience and your own story, you need to accept others as unique indviduals with their own experience and their own story, not just as people like you.

But, to me, that’s why honoring queerness is honoring a committment to exploring reality, and resisting it is the assumption of determinism & mere mimicry.

Of course, my openness sometimes makes resisters crazy, because I listen to hear their personal truth even in their ersatz Swedish, and often find it there, the last thing someone who just wants to mimic while staying fixed wants to happen.

Exposure is hard, but is their any other choice in the long term?

Super Trouper

“Don’t you think Oprah would love to meet you?” Lezlie asked.

“Probably not,” I replied.  “She holds some thin views and I think I would probably challenge them.”

“Well, yes.  To do her show, she has to be flexible,” Lezlie agreed.

The idea, though, that anyone would love to meet me seems baffling.  I’m just a, just a, just a. . .

I know, somewhere deep inside, that my real skill is my deep viruosity.  Anyone can read my stuff, my poetry, but what they cannot do is synthesize and come up with connections & considered responses in real time.  They just have never been that immersed in my way of seeing & thinking, and truth be told, they never will be.

Now, on some levels that is a benefit.  They also don’t carry the baggage that I carry, don’t have the welts, scars and open wounds. They can just be missionaries, oversimplifying, rather than visionaries carrying the experience that got me the wisdom on their back.

But Lezlie, you see, well, she sees fascinating stuff that is of value.  She doesn’t have a lot of time and energy to engage it outside of our occasional hours, but she sees it. 

She sees a style, black with a splash of color.  (“It’s clerical,” I said, “but I’m sure in another time another place you would have been put on the priestess track.”  “In another time, another place, I was on the priestess track,” she retorted.)

Lezlie talked about a new stage, a more public stage in my life, and while I resisted it, I know that it’s out or down for me. 

It is surprising to have someone who is excited about what I can offer the world.  Being excited & proud isn’t really a family habit here.   The idea that I am that good, good enough that people would want to meet me, or make a movie about me, well, that just seems off.

“Were you really called ‘stupid’ as a kid?” Lezlie asks me, after sharing her own bête noir.

Yes, well, yes.  I wasn’t ever thinking like others, and to them I was being stupid in not taking the easy way, in not just going along to get along, in standing up for a unique vision. 

Lezlie noticed because I declared that I wasn’t stupid, that old deep seated fear still well entrenched.

It was years and years ago that I started telling my sister that she is gorgeous and brilliant, asking her to kiss my cheek.  I knew how much I needed to be supported in being beautiful, so I support her, and others; you get what you give, after all.

That kind of affirmation isn’t so easy to get.  I may know that I am very good at what I do, but believing that others see that is very hard.   My life is so inwardly focused, without much play — no one to give me outfit tips or warn me when I have lipstick on my teeth — that I don’t trust connection.

When TBB asked me to help host that first talent show at my first SCC, so many years ago, after having met only a few hours before — “I always knew you wanted to be a mistress, but a mistress of ceremonies?”  — we knew something about each other that would be proven again the next night when the Atlanta Gay Men’s Choir didn’t show and she pulled me up to vamp.  What we knew is that we had the bond of the trouper, the eye of the performer, and on stage we would protect each other by giving a good show.

I suspect that Lezlie & I know that about each other too, that we both can see man behind the curtain, both can figure out a way to make sure the show goes on by taking care of each other in the spotlight.

This, at least in my experience, is a rare understanding.  “You have so many skills,” Lezlie tells me, “speaking, writing, poetry, networking. . .”  How does she know that, and why should I trust that she knows that?

I suspect it’s because she has the eye of the performer, honed by a few trips around the world, that lets her see what isn’t quite obvious to the rubes who think it is all magic, who think that it’s about just letting the natural happen, and not about concious, calculated and constructive choices.

It’s all about the preparation, as any trouper knows, not just the rehesal beforehand, but the years of learning & seasoning.  That’s what lets you just get out and get naked and trust that your performance will touch people.

That’s not something I’m good at.  Who would want to meet me?  Who would find me attractive, and if they do find me attractive, what the hell is wrong with them?  Do I really want to join any club that would have someone like me as a member?

All very woman fears, as Lezlie reminds me, telling the story of how her high-school daughter is overstuffing suitcases for a two day trip to check out colleges.  What will she wear, how will she look, what if people aren’t entranced?  Worse, what if they are?

Yes, I note, but she has a mother telling her that she looks fabulous.  Sure, she dismisses that support with “You have to say that because you are my mom,” but she also needs to hear it again and again and again.

Can I be attractive?  Can I bring people to me and leave them wanting to see & hear more of me?

Or are my family right, I’m just a pile of poop that should make something out of myself?

Ah, being human.

Alien

I have known since I was very young that I was an alien.  Heck, from the age of four I have had a card to prove it, a green card marked “Resident Alien,” along with a requirement to report every January. 

My family explained that I was from the planet “Stupid” and that I didn’t really belong here because I didn’t think like a normal Earthling.  This made coming back to my parent’s home; since I didn’t fit in, my existance was only tolerated with a wary distance.  This home was about my mother, and that was the context of all my actions, how they reflected on her, how they made her life difficult.

Home may be where they have to take you in, but that doesn’t mean it is where you feel safe, loved and valued.  And when you feel like you have no safe home, no place you can let down your guard, be seen and valued, understood and accepted, well, that can feel, what, lonely & long-lost?

Garry Marshall’s key piece of acting advice to the kids he worked with on Happy Days was simple: act like you belong in the room.   Believe that it is your home, a place where you can open up and relax.

When you don’t feel at home in the world — when you feel like an alien — the world is a very different experience.   Alienation is alienation, safe to say.

This experience of home is something that I have been looking for over the past month or so.  I know TBB has found it by being open, and I know HollyFairy creates it by building walls — walls that she is very clear I belong on the outside of.    Frank’N’Furter’s last cry echoes in my ears:  “I’m going home.”

This dream of community, of knowing, safe and supportive audience, is the dream for so many.  As I spoke about in 1995,  the Coke commercials have been effective when they evoke a connection to community, a world of happy Coke drinkers, all together.

I have been pondering the long cold drive to Burlinington, VT this Saturday to see if there is community there.  Are there femmes there who will get the jokes, who will smile and affirm what is invisible to so many?  Or will it be like that orgasm workshop where Barbara Carellas read ironic bits of a suicide piece as affirmation, while I stayed invisible on the floor in the midst of a room of panting college kids?

In other words, will there be people like me, or will I be a alien there too, out of synch with age and size and birth sex and history and all the other bits that seem to create more separation than connection?   I do know it takes time to create connection, but I also know that someone who isn’t even close to getting it today probably won’t be close to getting it — getting me — next week.  After all, it’s not like I don’t reveal myself here, but that revelation hasn’t caused an outpouring of connection, although I do value those like Gwyneth, Yarrow, Ruby and Inland.Dreaming who have shared; thank you.

This metaphor of alien seeking a home is older than the uigly duckling, and as current as The Riches.   

But it is one I feel acutely everyday.