Every time Olivia Wilde came on screen in a not very good movie I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Her face rippled with thought and emotion that brought life to a very weak script.
Ms. Wilde has the goods, of course. She is so astoundingly beautiful that she is featured in Revlon ads, and the characters she plays have always benefited from her acute intelligence. Her looks are not so much pretty as intriguing, beauty pulled from a surprising place.
Every woman is an actress, of course, at least on some level. She wants to communicate her emotions, become compelling, be attractive in her own unique way. In the lovely Jane Wants A Boyfriend, Louisa Krause plays a young woman with autism who watches movies to rehearse her own romantic skills, desiring the kind of luminous appeal her actress sister, played by Eliza Dushku, has already claimed.
Playing our part in the world demands a bit of acting, assisted by the right costumes and great lighting. It’s the way we invoke emotions, creating moments where sparks pass between us, showing and claiming the best part of us. We ripple with unspoken communication, drawing people into our presence, using all the tools we have to share experience.
To create a scene, though, you need partners, part audience and part co-performers who mirror you, concentrating the energy, letting you feel it bounce back and invigorate you.
Straight women have had to develop relationships with guys from the earliest days when they first appeared to be sexually maturing. They naturally had something that straight guys wanted, so they had the attention of those guys. Not all of that attention was wanted, was gracious or was even healthy, of course, but the challenge was to use that interest to form good and beneficial relationships.
It’s hard for transwomen, especially slim and beautiful transwomen, to explain the very different responses straight guys have to them.
The key word here, of course, is “straight.”
Even rumpy old me has had a guy start loudly declaiming how unattractive I was after he found out that I was trans, which to me was a good indication that he was kind of interested beforehand. He needed to make clear to himself and the world that he was straight, normal, not queer. (The phrase “not that there is anything wrong with that” was added a little later.)
Women turn my head, but I have no doubt that if straight guys had paid attention to me in a way that I didn’t think would shatter the moment they found out my birth sex, I would be a very different woman. My issue was never about being a woman in the world, rather it was always about being busted as being a guy-in-a-dress, or really, just about being busted.
When I saw the stunningly beautiful Candis Cayne play Billy Baldwin’s mistress on “Dirty Sexy Money,” and knew that even she couldn’t easily date straight guys, I knew there was no room for me to encourage and trust that attention, however baffling that may be to women who think they know how men will respond because they know how men respond to them. That changes some, though, as they age and the responses become different.
I know my gender neutral self to be an introverted theologian. I am safe, stable, sensible, appropriate and full of service.
My feminine self, though, well, she is an actress. She performs and captures a room, at least in her dreams.
I have invoked that performance aspect when I hosted the TV show, when I gave presentations, even when TBB and I stood up as “The Drama Queens.” It never worked, though, when I tried to play a straight guy, a masculine role. The best I could pull off is a kind of butch lesbian partner, though my eyes gave me away.
(If you want to tell if a lesbian woman is butch or femme, look just at her eyes. If you can see everything she is feeling flash through them, she is femme. If they don’t tell a story, butch. Les Feinberg figured this out after recovering Minnie Bruce Pratt’s sunglasses one too many times, realizing that femmes have trouble communicating if their eyes are covered.)
I have met a few people in my life who can read the feminine in my eyes, but they are advanced queer people who look for heart and soul over bodies. Most people see the body and make assumptions, and since I never was swish — how many power femmes do you know who are swish? — they miss the codes. They “can’t hear over my penis.”
Even when I do characteristically femme things, like sailing out of the room in a huff after I have been insulted, people often don’t get it. “That was such a guy thing you did,” one person told me, ignoring the fact that guys usually stand their ground, while actresses expect you to chase them.
I have long known that I just don’t have the goods, don’t have the basics to make it through an audition call. Guys just don’t want to pay attention to me in that way and gals don’t see me as competition.
That doesn’t mean I don’t dream of creating a scene. By that, I don’t mean going ballistic, screaming and throwing a drink, I mean playing with the sparks, throwing lines back and forth, invoking provocative energy that brings out the essence in another person.
Trusting, though, that you have the attention of your partner, that the audience is seeing the details of your expression and not just projecting their fears and assumptions, well, that’s something you have to learn. There are no small parts, only small women, and small women are the ones who do not trust their power to persuade. (2014)
Kate Mulgrew was interviewed in “The Captains,” telling how she told her father she wanted to go to university in NYC even though she didn’t care at all. She said that she wanted to be an actress. I believe that she knew that she was an actress and knew she had to get to where her talent could be seen, polished and valued. For transpeople, though, we never knew where our inner knowledge could be affirmed and harnessed.
My power of performance — my actress power — is the flame that I have banked much too deeply, burying it deep to stay effective in my role as the sensible concierge playing to a family rooted in Aspergers who needed verbal tricks, not subtle and nuanced emotion.
When you get typecast for long enough, well you lose the flexibility and fire you need to let loose, as TBB reminded me when explaining that her Drama Queen performance was supported by a long stint in community theatre just before, and that now she feels a long way from that heat.
If the director doesn’t realize
what a courageous thing the actor is doing
by touching on some emotionally tender spot,
then the actor will be wary of doing that.
— Arthur Penn, Director
Learning to be wary, well, it’s pretty much all I have seemed to do while waiting for the third gotcha. No director is around to see, respect and foster my courage. And that means I have no one to help with feedback, polishing what works when I play it across the “instrument” my creator gave me. Typecasting is brutal to a tender heart.
I know have long known that I have to write my own role in the world. I can’t just wait to be cast in someone elses script, playing out what they project onto me.
The challenge is that I have to be my own star, too, playing the lead role with bravado and gumption. I need to bring the actress out, seeking the spotlight and learning how to cultivate a coterie of fans. I need to shine, letting my inner self play across my body and inviting the gaze of an audience.
I have known this for a long time, of course, and I have been stymied in my attempt to claim my inner actress for all that time. Instead, she just informs my concierge role in a way that is all but invisible.
But I need her, need her to take the lead soon. Acting “as if” is an old human trick, faking it until you make it, and I need some of that.
More actress, please, though, well that isn’t what most are expecting to hear, nor is it what they feel comfortable supporting.