“Oh, oh. Here it comes! Miss Davina is about to read you out!” says a character in “Transparent.”
Davina is played by the amazing Alexandra Billings, whose story you can get a glimpse of in “Schoolboy to Showgirl.” Coming out of the Chicago theatre world, Ms. Billings has been standing up, proud, beautiful and trans for decades now.
Reading out, well, that is what we queer shamans have learned to do in the world. We tell the truths that most want to keep invisible, doling out the hard, hard won wisdom of a life spent crossing boundaries.
Accurate mirroring gives you permission to feel what you feel and know what you know—one of the essential foundations of recovery. As transpeople, we have always had to build our own mirrors, not only coming to understand and own our own knowledge and awareness, but also to pass our learning on to others around us.
When we read people out, we shine the white hot spotlight of our experience out into the world, decorum and discretion be dammed. The traditions were not about being catty, pointing out style mistakes, rather they were about revelation, pulling back the curtains and revealing what lies beneath.
Seeing through the smoke is required to claim a life past the normative. We have to learn to navigate the dark corners between, those spaces between this and that, the places most people are too scared to pass through.
You learn a lot in that process. You learn to tell the difference between voices, cutting through the babble to find some kind of essential truth, contradictory, powerful and all connected. The world is no longer this or that, it is this and that, complex humanity always peeking out from behind the most sanctimonious façade.
It takes a long time to get over your own damn self and claim the wider view, that clear eyed understanding that every drag mom in the world owns. You become part of that clan of feminine seers, the witches and gypsies and crones who scare the pants off of men who want to pretend to be only what they claim to be. The games of compartmentalization just become transparent, the emperor having no clothes.
I write to read out my own life, scratching for revelation that didn’t come from the fractured and occluded mirrors I found around me. In the process, I read out those around me, striving for grace, but always seeking truth. For those who are trying to read out their own lives, I can be useful, but those needing or wanting to stay in the fog, I am someone to be avoided or silenced.
In a world that loves either/or oppositions, much of our work is learning to speak in tongues, trying on masks to see how the work in the world, then integrating the best parts of them and throwing away the rest. Some of us perform those persona, others write them, but we all need the kind of exploration which lets us walk in many different shoes. Through that, we learn what fits and and what pinches, what outfits reveal and what they conceal.
Learning the power of lies in telling truth is at the core of reading someone out. The truth isn’t in the facts, it is in the legend, the way we shape the story to present a face to the world, to hide our mess from the world. Meaning is obscured, existing in the shadows, the liminal where only we change eaters tread with impunity.
In the “Transparent” world, Davina reads people out, including Moira. There is good reason Ms, Billings was cast in the role, able to show credibility with one flash of her gorgeous eyes. She has been read out and she knows how to read out, scraping away artifice to reveal truth as easily as she, as a transwoman, creates artifice to reveal truth.
Doing the work to read yourself out, discovering your authenticity, has always been at the core of the transgender process. Moving beyond social expectations and conventions, stripping away the imposed and assumed, must come before re-imagining your own possibilities beyond demands. The confidence to destroy your own assumptions to find rebirth beyond them means you have the power to challenge others.
We may be born with the seeds of x-ray vision, but between the requirement to read people to stay safe in the world and to read ourselves to get past barriers and grow usually leaves us with the power to read people out.
The goal is rarely to be brutal, so laughter is part of the process, funny anaesthesia to cauterize the cuts. Being read out funny is makes the healing afterwards much easier, as we have all found out the hard way.
Reading someone out is a gift to them. Turn the lights on, show them the lay of the land, remind them that they aren’t as hidden as they think.
Accepting that gift, though, is a challenge. It’s fun to see someone else read out with wit and precision, but when we are on the receiving end, we have choices to make. Do we do the work, looking inward to get clear, or do we callous up, digging deeper and maybe even striking out to silence the voice that read us? Do we let the gift help us grow or do we run from it, desperately trying to run from what others see inside of us?
Getting read out is getting a peek into mirror that has been polished to a professional shine by someone who has learned to see below the surface, has learned to read hearts. They offer their hard won talent to you and you decide what to do with it; reject it and hold onto your illusions, or embrace it and get more self-aware, more present.
If Miss Davina ever offers to read you out — or, if you are astoundingly lucky, Alexandra Billings offers — you get to decide.
Personally, I would advise accepting their wisdom, trusting their magic and using it to own more of your own power.
But the choice is up to you.