Can I be entertaining enough?
The line between religion & theatre has always been very thin. We enact our beliefs through poetry, vestments, ritual, architecture and more in order to bring people to first to a delight, then to a comfort and maybe eventually to an understanding of what we believe about the line between the physical & the spiritual world.
We wrap our theology in smells & bells, making it engaging, compelling and enjoyable to sit through the symbolic rigmarole and the teaching sermon. Fun & engaging is how we break through the pull of the everyday world, the need to work, the desire to sleep, the will to play.
They come for the fun and stay for the nutrition, are attracted by the shiny and slowly come to value the content. Only by transporting people to new worlds, be they worlds of quiet calm, wild creativity or overwhelming passion can we reveal why lifting out of the mundane is so important.
For transpeople, though, with our cultural history of being marginalized as entertainment, in side shows and drag events, paraded as freaks on television, open to mocking and the intrusive queries the normative feel entitled probe the disabled with, well, one of the first things we want other people to know is that we do NOT present ourselves for their entertainment. We are not clowns, not just people in funny costumes, not only travesty for condescension.
Yet, if our presence draws attention, opening up some kind of atavistic connection and primal understanding, shouldn’t we use that spotlight for our own higher purposes? Entertaining is often the beginning of opening, of being able to communicate to people who are enraptured and enthralled.
I want you, though, to laugh with me rather than to laugh at me, to see me as a leader rather than a clown. Inviting attention, going to the front of the room is something I know how to do as a guerrilla — I had my own damn daily TV show, after all — but being in the spotlight feels exposed and risky as a gal.
One amazing event at my first Southern Comfort Conference in 1993 was connecting with the incredible TBB. We took the stage together after just a few hours, keeping each other focused and safe. In front of an audience of transpeople, we were able to be seen for our content, not our strangeness as distorted freaks.
Being able to stand up, alone, without cast, crew, director or producer, seems crucial though to standing up and having my voice heard in the world. It is past time for me to speak for myself, as my father reminded me on his deathbed, but to do that, I first have to engage the crowd, have to be entertaining enough to draw them in and keep them coming back.
My voice is the tool I use to entertain. That Jonathan Winters energy, the queerness I knew even before my transness resolved into focus, is always with me, bubbling out with sound & poetry. To bound that voice to feminine, sweet and mannered, though, cutting off the edges that reveal a trip through male puberty, feels like surrendering the intensity and range I have always used to speak for myself.
I have no interest to be entertaining just to be entertaining. I don’t have that kind of ego, that kind of need for applause & attention. Using humour & drama to leaven lessons, to make them more accessible and enjoyable, well, that seems like a useful and reasonable approach.
The willingness to take the risk to appearing a fool, to stand up & stand out, emerging from the background and allowing yourself to be examined, with all your faults, trusting that people will get the joke, will see beyond, will respond with warmth, will focus on what lies within and not on the shell, well, that’s a tough splat to recover from if things go amiss. Young, resilient people with plenty of latent inhibition, sure of their attractiveness, well they bounce back quickly, but some of us aren’t as robust anymore.
The evidence shows that in the past, I have been seen as entertaining, that I have the presence to capture an audience’s interest.
The question today is if I can muster and maintain enough of that energy. I am a serious person, with serious thoughts who has lived a life full of serious challenges, and I know that transpeople still face serious struggles in the world.
Having to negotiate other people’s fears while they resist doing the work just feels like more abuse, more denial, more pain that I have to eat as others act out their own shit.
What I need from other people is deep mirroring and understanding, need them to be able to enter my world to be present for me, not just to use my concierge skills and empathic heart to enter their world to make them feel better.
None of that happens, though, unless I first connect with other people mind to mind and heart to heart. I gotta be someone they want to spend time with, want to listen to, want to see as valuable enough to be worth their scarce caring and resources.
Can I be entertaining enough? Can I scrape together enough wherewithal, get over my scars, be present enough to win hearts & minds? Can I do that alone, like I have had to do almost everything in my long, queer life?
Is there a version of me that moves beyond the deep thoughts and deep pain to engage an audience, to win them over so they open up, come back and start to give me what I need?
Can I be entertaining enough?