In the glory days of Hollywood, when movie studios were fantasy factories, cranking out product to entertain the country, every soundstage was a different world.
In one would be the drama of ancient Rome, in the next would be the thrills of the wild west, in another a swank drawing room, and one might even hold a world where girls in spangled costumes broke into elaborate dances.
In the shared areas between these worlds would mix, a cowboy and a gladiator side by side. They would share space and services, standing in line next to each other at the commissary, for example.
The world is more like this than most of us care to admit. On the streets of Manhattan exactly the same thing happens, people coming out of their own unique worlds to be shoulder to shoulder with other people from very different worlds.
I have heard transwomen tell me that women never wear dresses to the mall, but when I dress like I am ready for work, nobody notices or cares. Everyone understands the notion that we live in our own worlds and come together in shared spaces. The Amish gal in her long dress and bonnet who was waiting to use the stall after me at the WalMart in Macon wasn’t out of place, it was just two worlds passing in public space.
Our challenge, it seems to me, is how to be comfortable and confident inside our own world. Once we can do that, we can present ourselves with grace and authority, wherever in the shared world we are. If we live in a world that calls for wearing a sari, we need to wear it like we own it and just let other people get a glimpse of our world.
This is very different than trying to enter the worlds of others in a way that makes us invisible and assimilated. It is impossible to blend in with the shared world because by definition, the shared world is always a place where multiple worlds exist side by side.
The secret to the success of magazines is in creating a world you want to enter and inhabit for a time. No one lives in a pure Vanity Fair or Martha Stewart world, but when we visit those worlds we experience things that we want to invoke in our world, bits we aspire to include in our own world.
The power of owning your own performance, your own choices, no matter how distinctive you may be, is the same. You bring your own world, the one that you inhabit, the one that you own, with you wherever you go. Your world is both unique and common, allowing you to connect with other people in a special way that draws them in, is attractive and compelling.
My challenge is to own my own world, inside and out.
My tradition has been owning my place in my parents world, the rational attendant to a special world. I have been the protocol droid, the concierge, the interpreter.
That performance isn’t getting me what I need. That performance does not embody my own world, the one I have worked so hard to own. Yet, because I still end up living in my parents world for many reasons, I feel like I need to always be ready to snap back into that old performance, which leaves me uncommitted to presenting my own world.
Change for me has to centre around me believing that my own world is good in the share space we inhabit between our different personal worlds. I need to believe that my world is good, valuable, integrated, compelling, attractive and even, well, beautiful.
The hardest part about this for me is one of the hardest parts of everything I do; I need to do it alone. I don’t have a galaxy of others around my world, reflecting, affirming and supporting my own approaches, techniques and choices. There isn’t a world I can just enter and make it my own, rather I have to have the energy to maintain my world’s integrity in the face of lots and lots and lots of social stigma and pressure.
Invoking another world, another planet and inviting people into it is the only way to claim your own space in the world. When we walk in the shared world with the confidence that in our own world we are skilled, we are brilliant, we are loved, then we offer our strength rather than slouching towards shame.
What is the world that I want to live in, the one that reflects my own images rather than just being the world of my family, the world of others with very different vision? How do I let go of my old world, put it into the chest, and instead manifest a performance of bold confidence?
We each bring our own world to the shared street and that is not only acceptable, it is also the strength and wonder of human cultures.
To do that well, though, we have to be able to let go of the tension to become invisible.
Doing that on your own, well, that’s hard.