Shuckin’ & Jivin’

Sometimes, it was difficult to be a black person in the south.

So some black people developed a kind of role to be adopted in the presence of threatening people that played into stereotypes of blacks being stupid & lazy, while simultaneously offering ironic humour to other blacks around.

The roles combined the appearance of deference with the secret language of the oppressed to code multiple layers of meaning.

This performance was called shuckin’ and jivin’, and has long been held with ambivalence in the black community.

For example, starting in the 1920’s Lincoln Perry created the character Stepin Fetchit,  “the laziest man in the world,” playing out this schuckin’ and jivin’.   Was he just carrying on old stereotypes, or was he subverting them, honoring the survival strategies black people created to handle a living world of oppression and racism without losing their wit?  The debate goes on.

Maybe, we of the trans population need to think about the survival strategies we employ to handle living in a world of oppression and heterosexism without losing our wit.

TBB says that she just wants to be seen as normal in the world, and that’s the same as all her transsexual friends.

To me, that says that they all feel limited by the survival strategies — by the survival performance — that they feel forced to adopt.

These strategies may fall into categories, but in the end, we each build our own survival performance, our own version of schuckin’ and jivin’ that fits our needs.

We build these performances out of standard expectations, but tailor them to our own personality.

We may take a bit of “dragface,”  the “I only do it for the show” idea, and mix it with some “WBT,” the whole “I had a birth defect and now I am cured.”   Throw in some “HetCD,” where we only dress to play, and some “gender queer,” the idea that my expression is rebelling against authority, and you get another kind of performance.

Others offer the “off the grid” performance, just being out of time, while some just are rich enough to get away with “eccentric.”

For me, I knew the cost of being visible as trans in the world is the cost of adopting and maintaining my own survival performance.  And I have done that enough to know the limits of such a performance, the cost of being not seen as normal in the world.

Our survival performances give us the cover we need to walk in the world as transpeople, but they also limit us, crippling our freedom of expression and of claiming.

They free us and they hurt us.

And that’s why, I think, we need to understand them rather than just to wear them as shells that are somehow real.