From: Callan Williams
Sent: Thursday, July 13, 2000 9:01 AM
To: Sparkle Ann Smith
Subject: naked leap
When I leave the house dressed in the clothes I want to be dressed in, I feel like I walk out the door naked.
I am exposed in a way that I am taught that is dangerous.
I am exposed in a way that makes other people uncomfortable when they see what they think I should keep hidden.
I am exposed and feel vulnerable, without the armor I learned to wear very early.
I am exposed in heart and soul, exposing the way my creator made me.
I am exposed, feeling unsafe, ready to bolt or jump at any noise.
It was not always this way.
There was a time — somewhere after the first time I went out and before now — when transgender expression was not getting naked. Instead, it was dressing up in a costume, being a clown. I concealed who I was behind drag queen armor, rather than revealed, heart and soul.
That doesn’t work for me today. It’s the main challenge I have in transgender groups, being with people who are putting on a front — be that crossdressing fun, or the earnest attempt to play a transsexual lesbian. It is an important part of the process, this trying on masks, but the scariest part — at least for me — is when we drop the mask and reveal ourselves in all our messy but beautiful ambiguity.
When I look in the mirror and panic, I want to do one of two things — take a shower and erase the art I have painted on myself that reveals me, or add more coverage to conceal me. This is easy to do in the world of transgender — more padding, a bigger wig, thicker makeup, layers upon layers that we are taught are needed to “pass” as being female at birth.
I don’t want to pass anymore. I never really did. I didn’t spend the tens of thousands of dollars many spend to female their bodies, conceal as many signs of being male bodied as possible. This is the flip side of Almodovar’s view of transsexuality — the more someone creates themselves as what they are inside, the more authentic they are. So many of us choose to work outside in, believing that of we create the exterior, the interior will somehow follow along, eventually realizing that approach leaves us as hollow as when we try to create an exterior that matches what was expected of us at birth.
I know how to work the suit — or maybe I don’t. Maybe I just never surrendered to the suit, let it work its magic on me, freeing me to make the choices that it allows. This is the line between drag clowns, in costumes, and drag divas, who let their personality fill the costume, between people who have to let their everyday self scream forth, and people who surrender to the persona.
We stayed in character all day long,
we had everybody call us by our character’s names . . .
that gave us the creative license
to be as wild or as horny as we needed to be.
Didi Cohn, who played “Frenchy” in “Grease“
Do I take that license? Or do I fear that license as much as I feared wearing shorts when I was a kid — feared that somehow, the exposure of my legs would expose my character, the character I learned early was shameful, wrong, and separating?
Do I believe in the actors credo, and become the person I see myself as being, or do I hold fast to what is safe but unfulfilling, depressing and eventually sickening? Where is the acting coach who trusts the possiblities of my choices beyond the canned and limited? Where is the boldness to get naked on stage and trust in the audience, trust that when audiences see themselves in me, I am affirmed, not erased by their projections — that common ground comes when we see the universal? Where is the trust to give my own art, my own self, to the world and believe that what they will do with it will be beautiful?
The great artists are those
who impose their personal vision
-Maupassant, preface to _Pierre et Jean_, 1887
Get naked and dance. Close your eyes and sing.
sing like you don’t need the money
dance like nobody’s watching
love like you’ll never get hurt
gotta come from the heart
if you want it to work
Affirmed in getting naked, friends to slice off the combover and hold your hand as you walk out naked, letting their powerful belief in you be the seed that moves you beyond your own fears, the nourishment which allows you to bloom, open to the sun.
When in doubt, make a fool of yourself.
There is a microscopically thin line between
being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on Earth.
So what the hell, leap!
A bit of advice
given to a young Native American
at the time of his initiation:
“As you go the way of life,
you will see a great chasm.
It is not as wide as you think.”
Joseph Campbell, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Edited by Diane K. Osbon, Harper-Collins 1991
Sometimes I just have to trust trust.
Sometimes I have to just stick my nose out,
followed by the rest of me,
despite the fact that I feel confident
that something very, very bad could absolutely happen really soon.
I hope it won’t, I pray it won’t, but it really could.
So I grab my good luck charm and I say my prayer
and I do the scary thing trusting that things will probably be okay,
but also trusting myself, my own choice to trust.
I’ve always felt basically like I was going to be okay, no matter what –
that somewhere there was a place for me, people for me, happiness for me.
People will tolerate different people, they’ll tolerate them, often.
Especially if there are other reasons not to write someone off –
intelligence, humor, or beauty being the top three.
What I’ve discovered is this.
If you lay on your back and show your belly,
seven out of ten people will step blindly over you,
one will drop his cigarette butt on your bare skin,
but two will reach down and pet you gently.