Try and take your eyes off of Ms. Sutton Foster when you watch this. Just try. I dare you.
There aren’t any costumes or wigs, no theatrical lighting cues, no orchestra, no camera cuts, and not even any amplification. There is just precision, energy and immense talent.
Some people weren’t meant for the chorus. Some people were meant to be stars. Everyone has someplace where they are excellent, but when you can grab all the eyeballs in the house, well, that’s star power.
Big and bold and brazen, stars are larger than life. They hold the story and carry us through it, bing, bang, bong.
The hardest part about star power, though, is finding people who are happy that we have it. Star power sets us apart, makes us a focus, challenges others who also want and need attention. Being a star, in other words, is a lonely place, full of responsibility.
As much as some transpeople demand their right to be boring, I am not sure that there is any other way to do trans than to let out our inner star. We need to go against the crowd, make our own choices, claim our own power.
Once we do that, though, we are immediately deluged by the pressure to get back in line, to settle down, not to challenge people.
This struggle, in which we have to claim our own star while really desiring to just be one of the cast, blending in and shying from the spotlight, is one of the key challenges thrown upon us when we realize that being transgender is the only way to be true, whole and healthy in the world.
We never dreamed of being trans, we dreamed of being one of the girls, one of the guys. And now, somehow, we are thrown out front, an object of difference that others feel free to judge, usually harshly.
Sure, that nastiness may well come from the “crabs in a barrel” thinking that the world will be better if we just stop other people from being big rather than having to do the hard-ass work of claiming our own uniqueness, our own power, our own bigness, but it still hurts.
When the only way out into the world is to claim your own star power and you live in a world of people who resist claiming theirs, who supports and affirms you?
The only way out is claiming your own star power. You need to do it smart, like Drama Queens In Recovery, who let other people shine, letting themselves be supporting players until their solo moment when they bring down the house, but starring is the fate of those who are just a bit too big to be held in the assigned and normative expectations assigned early.
For many of us, that moment when our trans expression is no longer just performance, just crossdressing or drag, and becomes real is the toughest time. How do we both be appropriate and powerful at the same time? How do we carry out our dream of fitting in even while we know there are always reasons that we will stand out?
How do we satisfy the people around us that we understand, respect and value their choice to be one of the crowd while also having to support our own need to stand proud, to walk out of normativity and enact who we know ourselves to be, to embody who we have always known ourselves to be?
When our authenticity demands that we own our own unique stardom but being seen as authentic demands we deny that uniqueness and be like other members of the group we want to assimilate into, how do we negotiate that paradox?
My trans expression has always been about my work. It communicates something vital and important that I need to show in the world. I just, however, don’t need to show it every time I go to the mini-mart, just like Ms. Foster doesn’t have to put on eyelashes to get milk.
As much as I want to stay in the shadows, doing my cloistered work, I am aware that part of me is a star.
As a transperson, though, I sabotaged my own energy to avoid the spotlight, played it down in the process of serving others. Living in the public eye just seemed too difficult for me, without support systems and with the damage from being raised by Aspergers parents.
I love doing television, knowing early that was my medium (I will never be a musical theatre diva!) People were surprised by how compelling I made cheap, 1980s B&W TV.
There was no way, though, that I could succeed in conventional expectations of broadcast TV. They were looking for interchangeable players, not diverse and intense voices. I wasn’t going to play the role required because it would demand more compartmentalization and denial.
My own star power, though, doesn’t really go away. And the only thing that will get me out of here is what got me here; being the best me that I can be, only in a visible way that creates connection, understanding and attraction.
Stars grab the energy and focus it back into the space. They are compelling and they are terrifying. We want more of them and we want them to stand aside so we can get some more attention.
But dammnit, they are stars. Watch the video again. Ms Foster and even Mr. Grey, compel you. They own their own power.
You cannot both be invisible and be seen at the same time. Performance is required, even if it always hides some very hard work and messy humanity behind its sheen.
Producing that, though, is hard, especially if you aren’t what people expect.
That energy, though, is a crystalline gift to the world.