For me, the false duality is authentic vs performative.
This is something that many transwomen who want to see themselves as sincere, earnest and honest put out there. Their trans expression is authentic but drag is performative, just a not-real put on which mocks women, especially transwomen.
They want their choices to be seen as real and so minimize more stylized and symbolic choices as just performance. Aren’t they, though, just performing an expression they see mimicking normativity? Does that make their performance more real or just make it more manipulative, buying into expectations and assumptions which marginalize other transwomen who don’t have the capacity or desire to “femulate” the normative?
How does it serve those who have different cultures where the normative is more flamboyant and dramatic? Don’t they use their own expression to communicate their truths in the vernacular which they inhabit.
What do you think the opposite of sincerity is? Where does that exist in your context?
To me, the call to the ordinary is the denial of the extraordinary. Ordinary means normative, which I always doubt as a value.
Ordinary therefore often turns out to be a pretense, a pose, intended to give a kind of down home, standardized credibility which is difficult for normative people to question.
We need our mystery.
We need to be able to express what isn’t simple, mundane or normative. We are transcendent, so the transcendent is always in our reality.
For me, that power of expression is in the space between symbol and meaning, between performance and essence. “I am the shadows my words cast,” as Octavio Paz wrote.
When people try and reduce me with a fundamentalist view of what I am working to communicate, when they impose their own binary, black and white version of reality, they squeeze out the meaning I offer to replace it with a flat meaning they apply.
The only way humans can convey their authenticity is through performance. Performance is always striving to convey some authentic essence which resonates with other people. The notion that the authentic is so real that it is beyond performance is hollow; there is no there there.
Oprah’s authenticity is contained in a carefully crafted performance of self, designed to resonate with an audience. She doesn’t use critical thinking to remove the twists in belief, rather she performs those twists by asserting emotional reality over purity, calling that performance authentic.
To decide that there is an authenticity which is beyond performance, a flat-footed and earnest assertion which cannot be challenged because it is “real” or to decide that there is performance which doesn’t require a basis of authenticity, becoming powerful when we move past venal manipulation to strike chords of truth misses the point about the challenge of a finite human life lived in the context of social interaction.
Asserting that pure authenticity transcends performance or that performance does not demand revelation & truth seems to me to miss the point.
I live in the shadows between my truth and my performance. I couldn’t get to transcendence without emergence, but emergence is always less than completely true. Pure truth is always beyond the expression of one person in one moment, whatever symbols and choices they show.
It takes a world of tension and diversity to hold the truth which exists beyond the needs of the flesh and the possibility of personal expression.
It is not inauthentic to convey only a part of us, only a sliver of us, only an attempt to reach higher and communicate social effectiveness. There is truth even in our lies, for they hold our desires and what we believe we need to do to achieve them.
The assertion of “authenticity” beyond questioning, of some kind of perfected, received truth that makes our choices of expression so true as to not have personal desires and manipulation wrapped up in them, is popular with a fundamentalists on college campuses who use the idea to resist any obligation for assimilation, cooperation and complying with social conventions. They are real and others are performative, so they will not sell out their authenticity to perform the social roles expected in corporate, community settings.
Their truth is beyond challenge, while the performative expressions of others can only ring false, being easily dismissed.
Courtesy, decorum and graces are part of a performance of self designed to most effectively communicate in the moment, even if that performance isn’t bound up in some flat footed assertion of real reality, an authenticity which demands that others accept and value your assertions while you dismiss their falsehoods.
The only way to get to authenticity is by performance, accepting we are Trafalmadorians, not just one moment of human but rather a snake which slithers through time and reality, full of desire and essence.
It is important to be authentic, yes, but it is also important to master and understand performance, both how ours contains all the facets of who we are and how others code their authenticity into their performance of self. Applying our fundamental meanings to that performance removes the mystery, the many shimmering meanings which exist in all human interactions.
So when people argue one side of the equation or the other; that authenticity is vital or that performance is power, what I take away is that any idea that authentic vs performative is a false duality; they exist together for finite creatures who are always required to choose against something when they choose for something else.
If we are to perform our authenticity here, before God and man, before Sun and Moon, we must give it our unreserved sincerity. Trans ordinariness aims at this.
If sincerity is the highest value, how are we ever to transcend the mundane?
As someone who has found enormous power in speaking in voices, in satire, in revealing absurdities, if I was forced to present only as sincere rather than as whimsical or sly, I would feel like my voice was silenced.
We know ourselves as mystics in the world, even if we also know that we are just human. The power of pageantry often calls to us, the encapsulation of mystery in rite, ritual, art and invocation. How is that unreservedly sincere? Are Lutherans more sincere than Catholics because they are more plain & ordinary?
The anti-theists demand that only the language of science can explain the world, so many have changed their creation myth and nomenclature to appear scientific. Belief in Biology, Belief In God (1999)
This is a fraud, of course, just another attempt to speak in the language of the time, which often gets us lost in the political trends. After reading Stargardt who talks about the use of religious iconography by the Nazis, I am very aware of the cost of this. No human can come to terms with the enormity of sin in caused by Hitler, so we look for some way to contextualize the horror of those atrocities.
The issue of how we search for a canned kind of identity is a key to understanding.
Most people are issued an identity like a set of coveralls and they just choose to accessorize it a bit from the five and dime. Very few have to go through the process of getting naked and rebuilding an identity out of whole cloth. It’s so much easier to buy off the shelf, and that means you get what is in fashion, what other people like.
Being authentic and performative is to me the fundamental challenge of being wild and tame. We need to be ourselves, we need to assimilate.
Owning the performative aspects of gender roles, whatever they be, isn’t easy, but it is useful. Sure, women can run around in slacks and a top all day, but some contexts call for a gown and all the accoutrements. Trusting our performance seems to be a way to be more effective, to take power in the world, to have people respond to us with authority. To lead, you have to care about performance, no matter if you are leading because you want to or because you understand that you have a calling, one that makes demands you leave your comfort zone.
If becoming powerfully ourselves is a gift to creation, honouring and polishing what we were given, respecting our mission, how do we do that without performing our role in the society we need to be effective in?
We need to be more performative, taking more high value roles and being more effective with people.
We need to be more powerfully yourself, finding and trusting your own unique expression in the world.
It’s not one or the other.
As you learn social skills which might appear normative, you gain skills that help you be exceptional. communicating your truths more powerfully in the world.
Don’t turn your back on tame, being a part of the team, leading and sharing.
Don’t turn your back on queer, being so beautifully and brilliantly yourself.
Gender is always a collage. We take components we see in the world, ones that we master, and assemble them together in a new, powerful and uniquely individual way. What seem to be conventional ways of taking power easily meld with traditional but lost ways, and with our own poetic, mysterious knowledge to create someone bold, new, classic and effective in the world.
To find your centre you have to swing the pendulum wide. You can’t just creep up on balance, you have to move past it and then come back a bit to find it. Never pushing past what feels comfortable means never feeling revelations or blessings, at least in my experience.
The challenge isn’t wild, authentic & individual vs tame, assimilated & team.
The challenge is wild, authentic & individual and tame, assimilated & team at the same time, in some kind of dynamic and thoughtful balance.