[this was written as a blogspot blog entry, fall of 2011]
things most people pay very little conscious attention to in a day:
the length of your fingernails.
how far apart your feet are when standing.
the way you put on lip balm.
how much you smile.
how long you hold eye contact.
the way you hold, light, and smoke a cigarette.
the way you ask for a light.
who you choose to sit next to on the train/bus.
how you take off a coat or sweater.
how you check your pockets.
where you keep your wallet.
the length of your stride.
how you rub your eyes or scratch your head.
how you jam out to music on your headphones.
how you hold and touch your phone.
where you keep your phone.
how you lick your lips.
how you touch your hair, neck, face, chest….
how you shake hands.
how you take a sip of a drink.
how you hitch up your pants.
how you hold your shoulders.
how you lean on something like a wall or a railing.
but the thing is, i actually do. at one time or another in the past month, i have consciously thought about and made choices about each one of these things. cuz whether you know it or not, each of these things contributes to how people assess your gender. i spend time wondering whether or not i do these things in a way that would be perceived as at all masculine. i think the reason i pay such close attention to actors is that i understand how they feel when they take on a role, trying to translate their ideas of how a character feels and thinks and functions into the ways in which they express themselves thru their bodies. cuz it’s not so much about saying the line right as it is about moving your hand, or tilting your head, or leaning in as you say it to get the desired affect. it’s body inflection. and we do it unconsciously, or semi-consciously all of the time. however for me, it’s not unconscious cuz i haven’t been inflecting the same way my whole life. and changing the perception of my gender isn’t just about wearing men’s clothes, growing facial hair and speaking in a lower register. it’s about how i ride the bus: do i let the woman get in line ahead of me? do i sit next to a dude instead of boxing in a young lady? do i stand up and give my seat to an older lady? do i keep my knee or shoulder from brushing against the guy next to me? do i say ‘excuse me’ instead of ‘sorry’ when i bump into someone while exiting? if yes, then i’m most likely seen as a young man by virtually everyone on said bus. and at this point, in this place (sorry, midwest, but you are more dichotomy-based than the coasts) that identification is preferable to double-takes and confused (possibly hostile) looks. i play a part to balance feeling most like myself and keeping my day hassle-free. cuz not being socialized as a boy/man, i’ve had to learn this role–like a second language. or, to not mix metaphors, like a period piece. i study the culture and customs of men in order to be true to my character.
hence why, when i see johnny depp with long hair, wearing a silk scarf and eyeliner, i study every other aspect of his being to figure out how he is seen as a hot man as opposed to a fucked up freak. cuz it’s all the other little things he does while wearing the eyeliner. the long practiced, and therefore automatic, ease of lighting a cigarette with a zippo. casually propping a hand on a bent knee. these things ‘read’ well. it plays.
but i am never sure this is actually true for me. that people don’t see me as a fucked up freak. so i pay attention to every little thing i do. not that i always change how i function to fit other people’s gender prejudices, but just to be conscious of these semi-conscious tells and decide if i feel comfortable with how i’m being perceived while doing them. which means that i live my life in public (and sometimes in private) as an actor working to embody a new role. to use a clearer image, this means that i feel always like a guitarist who has just learned a song and is playing it for an audience for the first time, still looking at the music and watching my fingers, instead of functioning like a traditionally socialized 32 year old. he would feel like a musician who is playing one of their old favorites for their listeners, with the lyrics memorized and their hands finding the chords on their own. my problem (if i want to call it a problem, maybe a conundrum, or simply a situation–just the place i am on this journey) is that i don’t have the muscle memory of being a man. this really shouldn’t be called a problem because i actually welcome the chance to practice my performance and improve upon it with more and more attention to detail. it’s a craft i enjoy perfecting, if only for the practice it gives me as an actor. (and to be clear, this role i ‘play’ feels much more comfortable than the one i practiced my whole young adult life, one which i also felt the need to study because it sure as hell didn’t come naturally.)and now, this weekend i will literally ‘take the stage’ (it’s really only a script reading) as a man for the first time. i guess i ‘read’ well enough at the bar this weekend for the folks to cast me as a young man in real life (i assume) which led them to cast me as a young man in their play. now we will see how it feels to not just perform this role on the street, but actually make the practice work in an artistically performative venue. i must tell you i’m totally intrigued to see if my performance can hold together on ‘stage’ for an hour and a half as well as it does on a bus for 15 minutes. wish me luck, i guess.