If you are so mired in cold, cool, crisp thought that the freeze overtakes you, is there any better remedy than hot, warm, fuzzy performance? Finding people who not only gets the joke but also delight in it, willing and wanting to open their hearts and minds to kind playfulness seems a lovely way to thaw a chilled soul.
Like so many things, though, authenticity and performance are almost always seen as connected by “or.” One is either authentic or performative, never both.
Many transpeople loudly reject any suggestion of performativity in the expression because they don’t want to be seen as fake, as a put on, someone in costume and hiding their real self. They have seen too many examples where trans is made to be about concealment, deceit and manipulation and they don’t want their own expression to be invalidated, dismissed or demonized.
For women, though, who live with omnipresent scrutiny, performance is often the most effective and genuine form of expression. Her mask is full of revelation, allowing her to show facets of herself that would be invisible without the tools of performance. Every woman is, on some level and in some moments, for her safety and for her power, an actress.
There are many, many reasons why I have resisted the power of performance even though I have the skills and the inclination, but clearly the most important reason is the lack of a primary audience. If someone isn’t delighted with your performance, how can you ever hope to delight a wider audience?
Finding that primary audience, the “Yes! And…” person, the producer, the editor, the partner, the encourager has been the real search of my life. Rather of anyone being delighted, my primary experience has been having to negotiate their fears and issues as they wanted me to shape my own exuberance to the bounds of their comfort. The divine surprise was too challenging, either in its challenge or in its divinity.
With fractured mirrors trusting my performance was always tough, so I learned to only offer it in shards anyway, small doses that I sneaked into serving the expectations and needs of others.
Without really committing to performance it tends to quickly start to shred around the edges and a frayed kite will never catch the wind and fly. It is very hard to open a safe, welcoming and transcendent space by yourself, harder still to keep that space open in the face of people who don’t want to do the work.
Constructing effective and groundbreaking performance isn’t easy or simple, as dramaturge Jack Viertel explains in “The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built.” Merging the classic & comfortable with the innovatve & challenging always takes a kind of sharp wit and conscious process.
The kind of performance I can imagine for myself is not theatrical but rather clerical. Like any transperson, my persona comes with a huge hitch in it, a time when the received had to be torn up, searched for salvage and then reconstructed using found gender bits, components striving to both reveal and hide, tamping down noise without hampering truth, So hard.
Standing in the front of the room, nay, making anyplace I stand the front of the room, inviting scrutiny with supreme confidence in my simple, open and compassionate message, well, this is the archetype of clean, commercial, successful healer today.
Combining a smooth and inviting sheen with the torrential raggedness of stark vision, the kind easy polished front with the scarified mind of a wounded healer demands the demonic forces of a Victorian experimentalist. This role does not come out of a playbook, can’t be cribbed from the canon, requires moving past fear to alchemical transformation. Back to passion, Eros and stirrings, teasing out atavistic responses to healers with a modern, trendy façade.
Tough stuff indeed, but for me, the stuff of salvation, the persona unlocking social power, taking my furious brain droppings and and melding them with the performance of wisdom & beauty which slides graciously past kneejerk defences and into souls.
Intensity plus ease makes compelling presence, enough to command attention and engender comprehension. Pulling that performance off, though, takes a kind of enervated transcendence which doesn’t come with a frayed and waning life.
Sweetened crackpot isn’t generally on the menu, but it is the only thing I can ever imagine selling, no matter how much that stirs fears of those who want to maintain their own walls, defences and plaintive yet cracked wishes implanted early by marketing control.
The enervating joy of performance, an energy charge of trust and exposure, moves past the daily blandness, the encroachment of decay and the spiralling loss which life always entails to a shot of pure life, recharging desire and injecting fresh momentum and a new, enervating breath.
Charm, charisma, seduction are scary forces, especially when built on transcendent belief, for they are not easily deflected, divided or even analyzed. They are, though, supernaturally human, reaching below social engineering to unlock flowing, emotive energy.
Capricious. venal or manipulative intentions are not for me, rather I consider performance salvation as maybe the only way to get me out of this hole, get me back on the grid, back into a life where I touch others and they can touch me.
The intimate relationship of performer and audience looms threatening and coercive to me, the force which has made me resist for so, so, so long. I kept small and earnest, constrained and guerrilla, just sneaking my essence into modulated expectations for safety, for effectiveness.
Trusting my own skills, trusting that voice so loved on my first day back, trusting my wit and smarts means trusting my performance. Trusting my performance, then, means trusting my audience, trusting that I can take them beyond the petty, vindictive, small minded fear, the imposition of nasty walls and the deficit of compassion so easy to see on the internet.
Can nuanced performance survive in an age of Twitter and reality queens? Is there anyone out there who wants to kiss me? How much can I bear away from the cave? Where is the intersection of light and love?
Heat and warmth are mammalian requirements. Humans, though, perform a story to spread essential truths, to move hearts and open minds.
Where is the affirmation that such performance can not only save me, it can also serve others? Where is the love?