Having the zest to really commit to a performance — from a turn on-stage to chairing a business meeting to just being a mommy — depends a great deal on how safe, understood, affirmed, mirrored and protected you feel when you are backstage.
A place where you are out of the spotlight, the pressure off, hanging with people who understand you as you and not just as you role is an important part of being balanced and healthy in the world.
For example, women go to the powder room together to get backstage, out of the gaze, into a place where they can share feedback, do their private duties, adjust their costume, and basically just get a breath in a not-quite public space.
Men retire to clubs or man-caves for similar reasons, executives have their own refuges, and on and on.
A public persona is useful but it is also limiting. Sports stars may want to provide a role model for kids, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need time to sweat, time to curse, time to release and just time to be an human.
For me, this backstage time has always had to be alone.
As a kid, facing Aspergers parents, there was no safety or encouragement at home. I had to enter my own world, using my own thoughts, fed by the shards of information I gathered from reading and watching TV, to be out of the danger zone. I didn’t have peers, didn’t know how to explain my homelife, didn’t know how to get into the place the kids around me were.
As a transperson, facing a world of gendered expectations, there was no safety or encouragement in the world. I was never just one of the guys and certainly never one of the girls.
I was an individualistic iconoclast, an aberration, a freak standing on my own rather than one of the gang, one of the team, one of the cast. That left me without any backstage space where I could be protected and polished.
My favourite work experience was being part of a team of very bright people in the early days of writing commercial software for PCs. (I actually worked on a DOS 1.25 Columbia PC that had a hard drive without directories in the file system.) At least I could be one of the nerds, even one of the top nerds, bringing smarts, vision and communication to breaking new ground.
Today, nerds and genderqueers are not uncommon, but that wasn’t the case back then. I was alone.
Becoming a goddamn guru wasn’t my dream, but it seemed to be my only choice, moving beyond fitting in to a kind of heightened awareness. I learned how to perform guru, becoming a concierge who helped people move through doors, seeing beyond their conventions.
There isn’t, though, a little guru’s room where we all go and let the human behind the persona hang out. Asking people to help me to become a safer, better and more energized guru just left them baffled. They wanted to show me what made them better, more denial, discipline & detachment, while what I needed was more humanity, more release, trust and childlike playfulness. (2006)
Having only the vacuum of a backstage, a place alone, left me to write and write and write, all very creative but not very nourishing. Instead of getting the kind of engagement I needed when sharing, I got a kind of mastery of expression, so detailed, so thoughtful, emotional and intense that it has formed a further barrier to getting the kind of mirroring and affirmation that I have always needed.
Experience in the meta has made my performance as concierge, as door handler and guru much more effective, allowing me to enter the worldviews of others to offer new perspective and encouragement, but it hasn’t made that performance more satisfying and bountiful to me. The costs are clear, the rewards just dried in the hope of gaining them in another life.
To become product, creating an accessible face that others can value, I have to be more engaging of the spotlight. For me, that doesn’t involve mastering more performance skills, rather it requires more backstage capacity, finding spaces where I can be seen, safe and supported after I do my gig and perform my role.
This is always difficult for transpeople. The backstage bits that most people take for granted, like being one of the girls or the boys, is something that takes work for us to police inside ourselves, modulating our performance, always tensed and ready for the terrifying “third gotcha.”
While I may know how to help others move past this fear, that knowledge stays conceptual until I have the practice, the rehearsal, the safety that comes from knowing you have others backstage who will be there for you, working together to create the best outcome, watching each other’s back.
For me, even support groups are work, a time for modulating my performance rather than letting down my guard and having my instincts & skills recognized and affirmed. Often, I even have to help train the clinical professionals.
I end up being more the parent, the facilitator, the guru than being another human with their own problems, because I have addressed the standard issues I carry, leaving the tough and difficult to solve challenges, the terrors that can easily freak others out. I do know why most start to read my most recent post and quickly move on.
Denying the safety and empowerment of backstage support has always been an effective way of enforcing stigma. We were taught to fear being identified with those who look perverted, sick or marginalized, so rather than helping with what we share we focus on how we are different, how we are not like them. Our identity becomes based around what we are not, what we deny and reject, rather than who we are in our shimmering, complex and nuanced beautiful humanity.
Too much of what should get processed backstage in my life comes to the top, blocking my performance and limiting my potential. After long decades of having to take care of myself, living in scarcity and fear, I know that.
Finding a safe backstage to handle my ragged humanity, though, is something I have been unable to achieve.