Over the years I have written a number of character sketches of “Callan” in this space. Most of these were meant as a kind of marketing exercise; could I shape a description of someone who would be strong, focused and attractive to connect with?
The art of marketing is oversimplification, as Ries & Trout reminded us, so all of these profiles described a kind of face shown to the world, a public visage that didn’t show all of my tumultuous thoughts, all the struggle of my history, all the raw and still bloody emotions which still drive my work as a wounded healer.
If I could just define such a well defined and transcendent character, I should be able to play that character, right?
What I found, though, is that while I could show the world a carefully edited part of me, an elegant façade, keeping that face up was quite a chore. Without a well developed support system, a backstage area where I could let my hair off, the deeper parts of me bubbled to the top, seeping out as if they were laced with Olestra.
In the well polished concierge role that I shaped to take care of my parents and others around me, a thick skin and a focus on the needs of others is easy, all part of the act. It was just an extension of the breeches role I created to act as a guy in the world, a way to have a feminine heart and a male body while still staying connected with people I loved. Who cares, though, for the care givers?
Revealing more of that feminine truth, though, feels like being very much too exposed to a world that just doesn’t get the joke, a society which has no way to understand or contextualize the contents of my heart.
How can I both serve by simplification while also having my deeper needs met, rather than just having to hide and compartmentalize them? It’s a challenge that even trans support spaces couldn’t help me with, leaving me alone again and again.
I remember a crossdresser coming into a meeting and reading a poem from Yeats.
Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven W. B. Yeats - 1865-1939 Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams. Yes. Yes, I understand that deeply.
Today, drag performance is very much in the public eye. Flaming, genderqueer twisted shows, taking a “let your freak flag” fly moment. Drag characters are fun and powerful, though they are rarely deep, human and complicated. I know this because I first came out as a “guy-in-a-dress,” showing a mixed performance in a quest to perform a kind of gynandrony/androgyny. They remind me of a memory from one ZsaZsa’s husbands, who found it difficult they could not go down to the store or for a walk easily, because she first had to get into full Gabor face.
While drags may brilliantly reveal aspects of humanity, they do it by concealing other parts of their humanity, using the marketing art of oversimplification. It is fun to watch, bringing attention, but always at some kind of cost that needs to stay hidden for the performance to work. Never let them see you sweat, you know.
Drag is what I do everyday in my concierge role, a strong exterior which allows my my woman’s eyes to look out, my feminine voice to sneak out, asking the tough questions with a mother’s love.
For me, even today, it is still too painful to reveal a persona that feels like it allows others to tread on my dreams. How long will I be able to stand strong with a trounced heart and what will it take to heal enough to risk again as I lay all alone in my hermit cave?
Without revelation, though, attracting those who can help me becomes impossible. Revelation through oversimplification, though, showing a loose and open appearance, is not something that feels like I can master; my depth of vision tends to leak through, sooner or later.
So, what kind of character can I present that both is simple enough to be marketing effective and is also not so constraining that it leaves me crippled, gasping for breath? How do I reveal the gifts of my journey without being accosted by others who want to silence me into hiding what challenges and discomforts them?
That question has bedevilled me for a few decades now. It’s why I have written so many character sketches, trying to suss out who I can show myself as in the world to get what I need while serving others.
I have long known both where I am best defended and where my tender, vulnerable spots are. My power may come from a big, feminine heart, from a deep art, but keeping that protected behind a curmudgeon curtain has kept me functioning as well as I have, keeping meltdowns for private places and times.
Growing organically to find balance is definitely the best plan, but at my age and weight — the history, thoughts and awareness that I carry — that is far from a simple process. Young and cute and full of promise I ain’t. People want to know who I am, how they can engage me, how I am like them and what I offer, not feel threatened and overwhelmed by my history and intensity.
I can write an nice Callan. I can even perform her, at least for a while.
But wiping off all the mess from my life, my being, my presence?
That I don’t know how to do.