Casting a Woman

I was moved by this group interview of the five women nominated to win the Tony for lead actress in a musical in the New York Times.

I was touched first because it sounds like a bunch of women who are concerned about being a woman in the world; how do you fit in and stand out at the same time?    What do you wear, how do you show grace and gratitude, how do you claim your own power, how do you manage all those wonderful contradictions of being a receptive person in the world who is also a strong leader?   How do you use the lessons learned from other women and the energy invoked from outside your own ego, the energy that keeps you connected and vulnerable, to move your own bold choices?

These are women who followed their own calling and ended up succeeding, even though they knew the odds of success were very long, the amount of work and pain required was very high, and the negotiations between art and commerce would always be very difficult.  They would be artists even if they never had the lead in a big musical, but the fact that they did end up leading shows changed them, from who they got to work with to the responsibility they had to take on to get the opportunity and the rewards.

More than that, they are women who have to take the audience on an emotional journey that feels genuine and powerful every night of the week, exposing their humanity on stage for the world to see.

I was struck by how much of their own personal journey was shaped by the requirement to slip on characters, to act as one kind of woman or another, be that a role in a show or the role the publicist cast them in as a Twitter user, for example.

While the difference between roles is not as profound for civilians, I suspect that this shaping of self through the playing of different roles is the essential experience women have in shaping their sense of self and their expression.      The mastery of a variety of roles, from good daughter to seductress, businesswoman to girlfriend, gives women the repertoire of choices that allows them to be powerful in a range of different situations.

As a transwoman, I know that much of my challenge is the fact that I don’t own a rich assortment of woman roles, don’t have that experience in my purse.   I never got the chance to undergo that process that casts people as women, taking the raw metal of their lives and teaching them how to shape it into tools that express and empower them in the world.

The constructs of compulsory gendering, the constructs that transpeople fight against, are basically the same constructs as typecasting.   Our roles are assigned to us not because of who we know ourselves to be, not because of our inner nature, but rather based on the quick, external cues that other use to assign us.

Typecasting in shows produced with other people’s money is one thing, but typecasting in life is quite another.     It preys on cheap cultural stereotyping that separates people into opposites based on appearance, on the shape and “colour of their skin rather than the content of their character.”

How does one learn to confidently play the roles of a woman, the ones people assume that women my age should have mastered, at my advanced age?   Is it even possible to get the experience that allows one to manifest with strength and grace, or are the cultural handicaps insurmountable?   How do you both be yourself and be what other people want at the same time?

Many of these questions are the challenges that every woman struggles with, no matter what their history.    For me, though, the questions are very challenging because I have so little left to give.

What are the roles I can own beyond hermit and shaman?   Can I reach for my star, recasting myself in the world?