All the world is a stage and all the people merely players.

In the end, you have to produce yourself.  Create your own venue.  Build your own audience.

Performance requires performance.  Fake it until you make it is the key advice.  Even George Washington found his beat by following a book of rules about roles.

Howard W. Campbell Jr would tell you that we are who we pretend to be, so we better be very careful about who we pretend to be.

For so many people, the line between performance and presence is so thin to be invisible.   The only way they can tell who they might be is to be aware of their backstage moments, when something erupts to disrupt their assigned role.  Theirs is not conscious and considered performance, it is habit and training.

The only way we lift ourselves out of repeating the past is by performing the new, making new choices.   Which comes first, the thought or the choice?  Does acting in a new way change the way we see the world, which changes the way that we think, or does changing the way we think change the way we see the world, which changes the way that we act? It’s a cycle, whatever.

Only performance can break through the clutter of the routine.  By changing our expression, we change our interactions.   We influence other people by our performance, whatever component of that makes an impact with them.

People respond to performance over content.   Performance is the emotional trigger, while content is just the mental payload.  Pushing the buttons opens the other for engagement.  For women, especially performance is usually at the heart of power, from costume to eye contact.

My sister has learned performance.  I watch her when she switches into that mode.  It leaves me cold because it feels internally separated, cold.

Performances play out based not just upon the behaviours, but on the total package.  For example, the same behaviour may work on a teenager but not for a senior.  This means that behaviours can’t be evaluated in isolation, but rather have to be seen in context to know how they can be made effective.  Do they appear to be part of an integrated and “authentic” character?  This makes it hard to try new techniques in isolation, and that makes it hard to test new behaviours, to try on a new performance that is significantly different from what you have tried before.

Performance is about managing focus. What do you choose to focus on and how?   Once you know where the focus needs to be, you also understand where the focus should not be, what is either unimportant or misleading.  Performance is how we cut through the noise in the world to convey what we see as important, laced with what we see as intriguing, novel,  compelling and arresting.  Performance always asks us to set priorities.

Continuity of performance always enhances focus.  We are always better at well practised performances, where we know the possible variations and pitfalls and know how to handle them.  This is one reason that rehearsal is vital, but only rehearsal with feedback and challenges.  We are always better at consistent performances, because when we are forced to context switch, moving from boss to battered wife, for example, we lose focus and power in our performance.  If we are thinking about having to switch gears, rather than just being in the moment with assurance, we will not have the focus to be as potent as we might be.   The potential “gotchas” can cripple us.

Performance is in the details.  Humans grasp details that they could never verbalize, and it is the harmony or dissonance of the details that carry the nuance of performance.  Details, for example, illuminate the line between polished and fake, because when too many details seem to camouflage we worry about authenticity.   The human must always exist alongside the practised for any performance to be seen as authentic.

There is nothing more important to performance than attitude and belief.  When you have the attitude right, the details tend to fall into place, but getting the details right is no guarantee of getting the attitude right.  Correct attitude also lets performance flow, removing stutters, hesitations and breaks that can come when the performance is mechanistic and surface.  Attitude is assurance, and assurance is authenticity, so being assured is the key to attitude.   When you are comfortable in your own performance, your performance is part of you.

Performances can play into the character or against it.   Do you want your past to be lost in the character, so the character is the primary vision, or do you want your past to be visible inside the character, so that you show another facet or aspect of yourself?   Costume oriented characters are usually constructed just to highlight a bit of our own persona that is usually invisible, to play with a performance that is inherently one dimensional, while daily characters are usually meant to be more seamless, more robust, more detailed and more authentic.   This is one line between drag and daily, a line which we all know is not hard and fast, because we never reveal all the facets of who we are at one time anyway.  Women clearly fold multiple roles into their lives, which requires a range of performance (and related costume) that cross and connect but that also diverge.

Performance expresses ownership.   When we perform the queen, in royal robes, we show how much we can own our own regal nature.   What we choose to own expresses our priorities and our mastery, which is compelling.  The performance of gender roles, for example, is a kind of adverting that displays what we have mastery of, what we are prepared to perform in relationship.  The advice to dress for the job you want rather than the job you have is the same, showing that you have the ownership and mastery of the skills needed to take on more responsibility, to get more reward.

Performance is always of the moment.   As we can never step into the exactly same river twice, we can never give exactly the same performance twice.   Part of this is that we are never exactly the exactly same in any two given moments, as we learn and feel and focus differently, and part of this is the fact that there is no performance without an audience, either real or imagined.   We adapt our performance to suit the audience, the real audience and its responses, or the virtual audience we are communicating with as we create our own art.  How are/will people see or hear or sense what we are putting out?  If a tree falling in the forest may have challenges about being heard with no one around, imagine how an animal as social as a human can do almost anything without some awareness of how an audience may see it.

The relationship between performer and audience is intimate because an audience has enormous power to shape a performance and so to shape a performer.  Fred Rogers said “the gift of gracious receiving is one of the greatest gifts we can give anyone.”  By receiving what others bring to us, by being their engaged and gracious audience, we encourage them to explore and extend their own expression, to gain confidence in their own performance.  The only way to graciously receive is to be open enough to allow ourselves to be changed by what we receive,  changed in thought, in feeling or in spirit.

Performance, at its heart is transformational.   We perform to change something.  That something may be the attitude or emotion of those we interact with, may be the intention, may be the awareness, or whatever, but we want a response to our performance, a response that is a change.   That change may be just an affirmation of the status quo, as in many ritual and service based performances but that is a change.

Performance is about choices.   Being free to select from a wider range of choices deepens our performance.  The more we feel like our choices are constrained, the less we will be able to embody the role that feels right to us.  Social pressure is usually about constraining choice, for a range of reasons, but mostly to force group assimilation.  When we have to limit our performance so as not to threaten group affiliation and group retaliation, we end up short.   Making choices that feel risky is the only way to explore and extend our own performance.    It is the requirement to leap and not fear looking stupid, knowing that play is the process to new performance and mastery only comes with practice past failure.  Try, try, try again.

The way you do anything is the way you do everything.  When your performance is centred and considered, you can be gracious and tolerant, helping others to better their own performance.  When you are settled and assured, then trying something new is just part of the process. Choosing again, even in untried ways, deepens the relationship rather than threatening it as long as you are secure and calm enough not to feel threatened.   A better performance always demands relationship, and a better relationship always lifts performance.

Performance is about respect, like so much of life.    When we respect the audience, our performance gets better.  When we respect ourselves, our heart and our limits, our performance gets better.  When we respect those we interact with, our performance gets better.  When we respect our craft and the craft of others, our performance gets better. When we respect other performers by being a great audience to them, allowing ourselves to be moved and transformed by their performance, our performance gets better.  The original notion for the drama queens was drama queens in recovery, and the big breakthrough that had to be made was finally allowing someone else to take the spotlight, not needing to be at the centre, but just doing our part with excellence and respect.

Performance is empowering.  Changing our performance is how we change our life.  It is how we communicate ourselves better, how we take power in the world, how we make more connection with others.   As social animals, changing our relationships with others is how we change our experience of the world, and we change our relationship by changing our performance.

Performance requires exposure.   To be credible and authentic, we need to be willing to expose what makes us human.  Show some skin.  Get naked.

You are who you pretend to be.  So be very careful who you pretend to be.


The only things I was ever sure that I owned was whatever was in my head.

Beyond that, my mother owned the lot.

She wasn’t very good with boundaries, my mother.  My sister was often angry because my mother took ownership of her stories, for example.

I was never very good with ownership.

In the past, I have said that I regret not building a home, a world, that I could invite other people into.

My sister does own a house — she closed on it on my fiftieth birthday, taking any focus away from me — but it’s not somewhere inviting or welcoming.  It’s her workplace, her refuge.

My mother, you see, never ran a hospitable house.  In fact a friend when I was a teenager noted that my mother’s house was the place he would least like to be at Christmas.

And now, with my sister dropping the ball on getting my mother’s wishes in the will or even starting in probate, well, it’s not clear I own anything.  It’s not a good way to encourage me to reclaim my life by leaving me in the lurch, scraping for pennies, and unable to plan anything.  It all feels very uncertain and unsafe.

I realize this ownership challenge as both a good and bad thing.  On one hand, there is a lot of freedom to only holding what is inside of you, but on the other, it stops me from building structures that give me a base for power, both social and personal.   It has very much defined my life.

A reactive life can always be an introspective life, but a proactive life has a range of different issues.  Issues that have to be engaged if there is to be a future.

A life making the best out of what is available is a simple life, played in the moment.   In it, you own your thoughts, your feelings, your choices.

But a life about own owning things is necessarily a life of desire.   And desire is what can easily bend us into believing that the ends are more important than the means.

“Only the impotent are pure,” as Gough Whitlam said.  Once we have power, choices must be made, and in a finite world, every choice costs somebody something. Making choices, though, is a powerful way to make change.  “Your success is a gift to the world,” as the start up message on my cell phone used to say.

To have dreams is to have desires.   And the possibility of desire seems like something I gave up on many decades ago.

To believe in abundance, you must believe that what you need will be yours.  But if nothing feels like yours, abundance can seem a long way off, and trusting it becomes much harder.

“Want something, Bobby.  Want something.”  Can we be alive without desire?   Probably not.   But desiring our own dreams is different than desiring to give others one more good day. It demands ownership, of dreams, of desire, of potency, of possibility, of humanity.   It demands we be willing to risk, to be heartbroken, to be wrong, to try again, to get better with every choice.   It demands we imagine the better and then strive to bring it into this world.  It demands responsibility and impurity, blood and sweat, passion and pain.  Demands.

What do I want more than relief?   What do I want so much, what hold so much hope, that I am willing to push past pain to try and own it?

I already own my own head and heart.  But is there something beyond that that I must own?

My voice, maybe?


Intellectual Exercise

I know how to enter the world of other people.   I do it through brainwork.

I was speaking to a young lesbian woman who called herself Rex, a smart soft butch, this week.  We were talking, at least initially, about a local transwoman, just about a year past her divorce with her wife.

Rex was remembering her own girlhood, especially the tension she felt between the social processes of being trained as a woman and her own understanding that she would never simply be one of the straight girls.   She was a participant in the pressure for assimilation and normalization, but also an outside observer of the process which could never fit her all that well.  She was woman and not woman at the same time, living in the world of women and also being out of it.

She wondered how our friend would ever learn woman without the kind of intensive immersion she received, with a mother and family and friends and school all playing a part.

It’s worse than that, of course.  Not only do you miss the training, you also miss the permission for exploration.   There aren’t a sea of other kids to practice with and on.  Rex said she often saw transwomen whose appearance was overblown, uncomfortable, and I noted that when a 16 year old goes overboard in trying a new look, it’s always cute, but later that doesn’t work.

The struggle of transpeople to do everything out of time — not being able to assimilate well in gender because we are pushed into a role that doesn’t fit, then having to try again without the social supports — is representative of so much of my experience.   I understand why transwomen often seem like they bull their way through the world, because they feel that they have no other choice if they want to claim their own freedom.

I had to learn how to enter the world of others.  And I did that using my head, not my body, my heart or my spirit.   My technique was always the question, always the doubt, always the mapping.

I know how to enter someone else’s world and map it quickly.  I can turn narrative into understanding by illuminating belief.

The world, though, isn’t centred around understanding belief.

To me, this means two things.

First it means that my exposition can be seen as intrusive, offensive or challenging.   Most people like to keep the drapes closed on what they hold dear, and anyone with too penetrating a gaze is not comfortable.  Touch a sensitive spot, a place where the fabric has to have been folded, and people can get touchy.

Second, it means that my own world, my own life, my own experience can be seen as oblique, opaque and too queer.

And now, I surrender.

This has turned into just another intellectual exercise to explain how lonely and hurting I am, how much of a struggle it has always been to have to transcend my own feelings to do my duty.

And that has never worked.

Neither did all my poetry work, where I struggled to convey emotion in a way that would let others enter my own experience, my own world.

Any idea that somehow, explicating my life will help people know me seems wrongheaded and futile.

Carol Queen said it.   When queers write, straights assume we are writing about them.  Whatever I do, whatever I say, whatever I write, the best I others can do is know how my expression affects them.  I am just a spark in their movie.

That’s not, not, not, not my experience of the world.  I trained myself early to actually enter other worlds and bridge them.   I was both performer and observer, never just star of my own movie.   Maybe that’s the cost of being an empath, of being the child of needy parents, or maybe it’s just that I am broken in an odd way.  Maybe just doing everything out of time left me broken. Who knows?

Kathy, I’m lost, I said
though I knew she was sleeping.
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.
Paul Simon

It was like that movie Agnes Of God
but I know what happened.
Kiki DuRane (Justin Vivian Bond)

I know how to perform transcendent.  That’s not the same as not being human, though.

Too much keloid buildup.  Too much loneliness.  Too lost for too long.

I can explain it.  Oh, yes, I can explain it.  I know what happened.   But running through all the words in the world doesn’t seem to make it feel better.

I did the hard work, did the hard work, did the hard work, and the hard work did me in.

No matter how smart I was about knowing myself, no matter how hard I worked, the work still did me in.

You know the problem with being the one who crosses boundaries, who does all the work, right?   People always assume that you should have more to give, be able to come even farther towards them.   They rarely value the work that you have already done, instead seeing where they think you should do more,  where they think you should bend more, where they think you should give more.   After all, they are already doing the best that they can, at least in their minds, so shouldn’t you be the one who does more?  After all, you are the queer one, the crossser, the target patient.  It’s your obligation, right?

There are limits.   The cost of taking care of my parents is something I cannot convey.  That’s no surprise, of course.  I am unable to convey anything to people who need to stay in their own world, who are in their own movie, who think everything is about them (or their wife.)

I have been unable to “just get past it.”  My bootstraps are way too frayed to be useful. My words just echo in the hollow caverns of my loneliness.  I am depleted and deprecated.   Replenishment, though I have searched for it, is too little, too distant.  I understand the only way is to keep trying, but the rewards have been slim and the costs high.

My glory and my burden is the way that I carry and connect stories.  I don’t slough easily, have low levels of “latent inhibition” and tolerate very high levels of “cognitive dissonance.”

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Only two?   Well, maybe function does get impaired if the numbers get too high.

I know that I have an amazing gift from my mother in the sky, and she wants me to do my part in speaking for thought, insight and connection.

I also know that I have almost no gifts for creating and maintaining human relationships.  Too much a porcupine, I.  Nowhere to fit.

Everything I consumed, and I thank everyone who offered a bit of themselves to me, is here in my spoor.   Try and leave something useful, eh?

Life is not an intellectual exercise.

Or at least it shouldn’t have been.


More and more I am feeling fractured.

The child of my parents is facing the challenge of family that has other priorities than being there for me, who find just the thought of being with me stressful.

We are coming on the one year anniversary of all the shit; my mother’s diagnosis with lung cancer, my father’s undiagnosed broken back and all the shit that came with it.

I am weak and out of shape from being in the basement alone way too much.  Often, I just want to lie down and not get up.

But sometimes, I still do my work as a transwoman.  And in that work, I can find some strength, but what I can’t find is family, neighbourhood.

These two pieces leave me feeling split, broken, fractured.

I can be wounded or I can be healer, but whenever I am one, the other one weighs on me.  It’s a fissure that runs deep through my soul, cleaving my heart.

Neither one nor the other is real.   Neither one nor the other is good. Neither one nor the other is me.

The line between depression and self-supression has always been a close run thing for me.   When you feel obligated to tamp yourself down, it can look a lot like depression.

But now, today, isolated except for when I channel my duty, my work, well, I feel fractured.

It’s going to be a long summer, I fear.