*Note; the following essay was written for an 'Immersion Essay' as part of a university assignment. I decided to re-post it here along with the subsequent photos and part of a video I made accompanying it. Pretty much every line you read should be read as a question, not a truism. I hate putting disclaimers in front of things but I'd rather not offend anyone with this account.
Our Story (as we tell it to ourselves):
I started my day without a shower. Considering I’m dressing up as a boy/Drag King (whichever’s more convincing, really) that’s pretty legitimate, right? I’m really nervous. I’ve been jotting down my feelings building up to applying my ‘boy’ make-up. I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t know why, this was exciting a few days ago. It was funny when I did my practice run in my bedroom to see if I could make a convincing boy, but now I just bloody don’t want to do it. Most of my housemates are out, but still I have to go outside or this just isn’t going to work.
Talking this through with my housemates the other day I requested, as a joke, that they call me ‘Allen’. I’m thinking about this while I contour my face and apply my beard. I’ve looked up several girl-to-boy and ‘Drag King’ tutorials online. They all seem pretty convincing. One trick I learned was to use a mascara wand to apply the beard. So far it’s working. I add furrow lines to my forehead, bags under my eyes to change the shape of my face. Oh god, I look like a twelve year old boy who has taken hormone tablets. I feel like I should have forgone facial hair. I call my sister and she agrees, I will look like a twelve year old with a beard. Why do I get myself into these situations?
I check my ‘boy’ look in the bathroom mirror. It’s actually pretty convincing now, at least on the ‘Drag King’ level. Cool. I have an urge to hold my face in a particular way, all screwed up and full of a bad attitude. I need to slouch or something. For my outfit I’ve found the baggiest track pants and a massive men’s jumper I bought from Rivers the other day. I’m hoping this will give me more of a guy’s body. I’m wearing a few shirts and another jumper underneath so that should help bulk up my top half.
Alright, now for some reason I’m dancing like a gangster (or, well, my impression of a gangster) in front of the bathroom mirror. Still too scared to show the one housemate at home what ‘Allen’ looks like. Keep laughing. Jesus Christ this is weird.
According to my housemate Justin I am a very convincing looking boy. Also, I look like I’m supposed to be working on a fishing boat. In my opinion I look like I’m trying to dress as Justin Bieber for a Halloween costume, I also look a bit like a guy I know and that freaks me out.
Walking to the Lake:
It amazes me how much effort it took to talk myself up enough to leave the house. I head towards the lake, which seems like a non-threatening place right now. I pass a middle-aged woman and her son, no weird looks. Okay, cool. I want to laugh out loud but that’s not going to match my ‘tough guy’ face. I’m overcompensating because I know I’m a girl and I’m worried I’ll be caught out. Gender distinctions are a weird place to visit in your head. This whole situation is strange. Why do we even have gender distinctions? Is there a place that exists inside ourselves where we think ‘whoops! I’m not acting like a girl, I better stand in this way or speak like this’ and the same for men? Does it go that deep?
I wonder if this is part of an inherent logic we have recreated in place of some minor cognitive reflex obliterated during the social evolution of the human race. Maybe the spot in the hippocampus that used to identify what dodo tastes like was replaced with the ‘gender is who I am’ cell. How do we work out that we 'believe' we're men or women, or intersex, and then craft a persona based on that? It's very, very strange. Humans are just odd people.
One continuous line of thinking I’m having is, ‘In my head I’m a girl, this just isn’t working. This just isn’t me, beard or no beard.’ Changing my appearance didn’t change me as a person, although I’m sure it changed the perception of the people who walked past me – particularly this one little kid who stared at me for a while with a very confused expression on his face.
So how would I become a ‘boy’, really? To properly immerse myself in this activity would I not have to dissolve that part of my brain that has created my personal interpretation of the gender role and replace it with something new? Something which accepts the socialisation messages of the world which are most easily transferred into the minds of young men…
Some rude kid on a bike is giving me a strange look. I wonder if this is insulting in any way. Transgendered men and women cop a lot of crap.
I look at the kid and feel embarrassed, not because I’m dressing up. Well, maybe a little but I think: If you were to walk around feeling completely uncomfortable and fraudulent because of your appearance, what might that cause you to do? How might that cause you to act? And why, why does appearance matter so damn much? Why can’t I introduce myself as ‘Allen’ my male alter-ego even when I’m dressed in head-to-toe pink with long hair? Why would people be less ready to accept me as a man if I were to identify as one, but not dress like one? Why, when looking from a distance, do strangers assume ‘that’s a woman’, rather than ‘that’s a person’?
I think it’s probably time to head back now. I snap a selfie because I am in no way immune to the addictive feeling of feeding the ego. Pics or it didn’t happen. That one is going on Instagram. I look like my friend Evan. Weird.
After strolling back home (there were no weird looks after the rude kid on the bike had disappeared) I think about that anxious knot in the pit of my stomach which preceded the act of putting on my ‘boy’ make-up. I felt my stomach lurch the same way it might as a roller coaster crests the first hill in its tumultuous path: We fear the roller coaster, but do we recognise exactly where our fear stems from? No. We only recognise it as the stomach-churning feeling that comes with detachment. We are no longer in control of our personal speed, the man pulling the levers below is. He jerks us through our uncomfortable paces, we scream and laugh, we have abandoned a controlling aspect of ourselves - but we know the ride has to end at some point, and it's not so bad right now, the wheels are staying fixed to the tracks. We haven't died. We're not going to. But there remains that feeling of detachment. Why? Because we have abandoned something in allowing the man below to direct our lives.
Unlike the way gravity and good engineering team up to keep the roller-coasters wheels on the tracks, there's really nothing physical at all holding us to what we perceive as the 'self' but belief. Belief is our anchor, it's what guides our decisions and calls toward us the omens we follow. Belief is what we accept as right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable and how we act in accordance to these things.
Our beliefs are formed by education, experience, surroundings and our various failings and successes. People tend to be intrinsically tied to their beliefs. We use them to provide us with not only a more ordered sense of self-image, but an image of the world which we use referentially.
To me it sometimes seems that we are constantly (subconsciously!) double-checking every decision we make to see if it matches up with our beliefs, and often when our actions don't adhere to our perceived (or desired) self-image we categorize these things as 'mistakes'. As my twenty-one years of empirical experience have decided to tell me, this is all part of the natural path to forming 'self-identity'.
Is there really a part of our brain, so finitely carved by social roles and human distinctions, that it forces us to walk and talk in a certain way so as to appear to be a man or woman? I think that is a part of belief, to suggest we know who and what we are based on what we believe. Yet what would happen if we threw away the idea of identification? What if we let go entirely of belief - at least in one aspect of our lives, and we did not replace it with something new?
Can the human mind even accomplish such a feat? What would change? What would we become?? Would the dissolution of belief bring us back toward Nietzsche's theory of the Dionysian Overman and well away from the 'Will-to-Power'? And if so, how do we achieve this?
What would happen? Would “we” begin to systematically disperse? First the thoughts, they'll begin to spin, round and round, like the discus in the Ancient Olympics, before being flung toward the gods.
We would have to on some mental level, because with no real belief, no matter where it stems from, there is no sense of self. The ‘self’ is our story as we tell it to ourselves, that constant and most overriding of the internal dialogue whirring through our minds.
It’s incredible how many of us have managed to escape from one story, back to our own, yet never realise the repetitive narrative we are crafting – now of our own volition – in this world. We turn it into an extravagant piece of fiction, where what is ‘good’ changes according to trend. Where normalisation occurs easily. The quality of normality is illusory. Look at hummingbirds and bumblebees, who can’t exist but do – maybe they have slipped through the crux of a Venn diagram of universes. Though, what was to stop them existing, apart from the fact that they don’t fit into certain ‘rules’ in this universe? How can we possibly ‘define’ or compartmentalise people based on appearance? It’s a strange idea that seems to have begun with the attachment of gender roles. I want there to be some kind of rationality based on the socialisation of people behind their actions. I don’t know why, maybe because I feel like I can understand that. Isn’t that how people work, right? Hopefully one day it will mean I have half-decent characterisation if I ever get a novel published. Here we go, I’ve reached our street.
I need a shower. All this brown eye shadow is making me feel a bit gross. I don’t know if I actually ‘immersed’ myself in this activity. I feel like I was in my head the whole time.