Monday, January 23, 2012

mad men (make me)

oh my god, i want this.
and by 'this' i don't mean 'him' (tho i want that too, obviously). i want everything about him. i want his style, his body, his eyes, and the way he uses these to interact with the world.

just like i want daniel craig's casual grace (can't get off the masculine grace thing).

and johnny depp's humor and lightness.

and jgl's unapologetic confidence in his performance being enough.

i want to be able to pull off this kind of swagger,
but my body won't cooperate with me. i could never look like that in a vest (tho god knows how much i want it) because even when i bind them, my breasts aren't flat. my jeans will never hang on me like they do on d. craig (above) because my hips and thighs (and butt) are a lot bigger (thicker, rounder) than his.

my chest will never be concave like james mcavoy's is here
because i'm not willing to cut off chunks of my body. i'm not ready to completely reject parts of my self. but i gotta tell you, it hurts.

it hurts to look at this masculine beauty and know it's not something i can attain. and yes, i know many other people have the same thoughts without the GID (tho maybe just as much body dysphoria) when they look at someone skinnier, or taller or more handsome or what-have-you. but the physical pain of wanting something that you feel should be yours, something you see in yourself tho no one else (or few others) do/es, something you actually forget that you lack until it's pointed out to you by a mirror, can be exhausting.
the envy is extreme. and then jealousy joins in the game too. it's not just about being fascinated by (and sometimes resentful of) celebrities, either. this happens with men i know and ones that i run across in my everyday life too. and the feeling quadruples with some transmen, knowing they have felt these same emotions and did something physical and irretrievable about it.
but there are things i'm not willing to give up. identities i refuse to deny. functions my body is capable of that it seems ungrateful to dismantle. but is this reticence to change just rationalization for my inability to make any kind of permanent decision in my life? or am i too enamored with the concept of fluidity and too married to a concrete view of reflecting flux and grey areas in my own self? and/or am i seeing the choice to avoid physically invasive changes in the wrong light? maybe doing something drastic is actually a way of staying in flux. maybe being my genderqueer self without boobs but without testosterone is actually more gender-bending than the way i present now.
and who's to know, except myself? and how can i know when my thoughts and feelings on the matter are never in the same place twice?

all i know is that this

feels a lot better than this

but if i could pull off this,

i'd be a very happy little fox.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

boy, girl, girl, boy.

i assume we have all seen this routine. or if not this one, maybe something like it. men dressing and acting like women is a standard comic device that has been used in popular media for a long time. if you've never seen the classic version like some like it hot, you've at least seen bosom buddies or tootsie, or mrs. doubtfire, or, god forbid, big momma's house #whatever. in all of these examples (except for bing and kaye) at least one man tries to hide his identity by dressing up and acting like a woman.

this situation is 'comic' for three reasons:
1) it subverts social convention (which was more true when women weren't wearing pants, but still applies because very few men would be caught dead in a dress)
2) it creates dramatic irony (where the audience knows something that a character doesn't--namely that those who interact with the cross-dressing character are unaware of his true identity and therefore treat him differently)
3) it banks on the belief that a man in women's clothes is funny in and of itself because what man would want to demean himself by dressing as a woman? (sentiment not my own)

now, i'm all for subverting convention, and i think dramatic irony is one of the most compelling ways of bringing tension into a scene, but there is a fine line between laughing because someone thinks they are dealing with a woman when in fact they are interacting with a cross-dressing man, and laughing because the idea that a man to would want to be treated as if he were a woman is absurd.

and god help me if i'm going to sit here and let you tell me there is something inherently amusing about a person dressed in the clothes of the 'opposite' gender. i'm not even going to address the fact that i do it everyday, mostly because at this point in history, it's not in any way outrageous for a woman to dress in men's clothes. (also, talking about the transphobic consequences of this sort of 'comedy' is more than i can handle right now. i'm just gonna stick with the misogynist ones here)
however, society has some really strong negative feelings around men putting on women's clothes. why is that? is it because most men would find it absurd to dress in revealing and uncomfortable clothing only so they could be thought of as attractive by other people? if so, why do those same men want nothing more than for women to do so for their enjoyment? (and why are we still having this argument 50 years after second-wave feminism started?)
if you were going to make a show about such a thing in this day and age, i feel it would be highly irresponsible to not consciously address this double standard of gender stereotypes. (among other things)

abc, however, seems to disagree with me. they just started airing a new show called work it which is described on the website as a "high-concept comedy [that] centers on two unrepentant guy's guys who, unable to find work, dress as women to get jobs as pharmaceutical reps. Not only do they pull it off, but they might just learn to be better men in the process." yes, we are back in the 60's, folks. in the pilot episode one of the women who works in the office, when asked by the main character if he could apply for a job, says, and this is a direct quote, "we're kinda just looking for girls...we've had some guys, but the doctors seem to want to nail them less." and this, friends, is supposed to be funny.
it's 'bosom buddies' all over again, except one of the guys is latino and their boss is an african american woman (at least they can do better with race than they can with gender, which isn't saying much).
the main character, lee, is a straight white male with a wife and daughter both of whom he doesn't really understand--thinks taking his wife to the bar with his drinking buddies is 'going out'--you know, standard network sitcom man.
the best friend, angel, who also dresses as a woman for work, is a single, blue-collar latino man who, of course, is billed as "a hot-headed ladies' man" (direct quote from abc website).
there is not a round character in the whole bunch. (granted, two 20 minute episodes doesn't give one much to work with in character development, but still) the wife has a nasal voice and is usually annoyed with her clueless husband, the daughter freaks out when they have to shut off her cell phone to save money, the women at the office fall safely into the 'bitch', 'ditz' and 'nice one' categories.

the main dramatic arc of the second episode is lee trying to figure out what kind of saleswoman he is. angel knows nothing about the drugs he is selling but is good at flirting with the doctors and does just fine. lee knows so much he lectures his clients, which they can't handle coming from a woman, so he tries the sexy approach (which includes a red bra and thong), which also fails. finally he goes for promising good customer service--always answering the phone, always 'being there' for his clients. which means we have gone from being too smart, to too slutty, to too maternal--the last of which, for a male doctor/client is just right.
and you guessed it, no analysis of the 'sex sells' situation. in fact, his wife even tells lee that when she asked for a raise at her job (she is a nurse) she didn't wear a bra. of course, angel's flirting bites him in the ass when a doctor wants to take him out to dinner because they hit it off so well. he says yes, and is squirming about how to get out of the situation without it getting intimate, when lee comes sweeping into the restaurant and pretends to be angel's boyfriend. yep, the man saves the day once again. we are going backwards in time, people. not to mention the jokes about food (lee brings a huge sandwich to work while the other women are eating salads) and fashion (the 'ditz' wants to help lee with his frumpy and outdated wardrobe) and size (the 'bitch' harps on lee being an 'amazon woman').
but i guess this is just what network tv is like. i forget. i've gotten so spoiled with bbc and hbo shows and miniseries that i have lost track of what advertisers feel 'middle america' is ready for when it comes to social conventions. which seems to be nothing but stereotypes. excuse me for saying so but i don't think "i guess there really *is* more to being a woman than makeup and high heels" is a legitimate family sitcom lesson to come away with.
thank god for subscription based and nationally funded programming that creates things like 'queer as folk' and 'hung', the latter of which actually cast a trans woman to play a trans-feminine role in at least one episode. (btw, hung is about a regular family man (sound familiar?) resorting to prostitution to support his kids. why? because he is, ahem, 'well hung'.)

but i digress. 'work it' is only one of many shows/films that have used this device for laughs. the thing i'm trying to get at is that it's not funny. or shouldn't be. if there was a mistaken identity situation and it led to both romantic mix-ups and teaching moments between people in different gender roles, without all the crazy misogynistic societal baggage, then we would have something interesting. actually, then we would have shakespeare. which is why i love twelfth night, or what you will so goddamned much. of course, it helps that the story is of a woman dressing up as a man and not the other way around. takes the 'absurdity' factor out of things. (in fact, movies like Shakespeare in Love and victor/victoria aren't thought of as comedies at all. think about that one for a bit.)
cuz the common theme of all of the men-dressing-as-women performances that i mentioned above is that the cross-dressing situation only happens out of desperation. the premise is set up that no man in his right mind would do such a thing unless absolutely necessary; that he is stuck in this predicament against his will (or at least against his preference) and he has to figure out how to deal with the consequences of this action. it's a 'fish out of water' routine, really. and of course, through learning how to make it as a woman, the cross-dressing characters learn how to be more sensitive men, which is a 'walk a mile in her shoes' routine.
all of these are old hat, sure. and you can argue that tired shtick is still shtick and can still get laughs. but at what cost? because the part that really upsets me is the undeniable yet disconcerting fact that once you get to 'a man dressed as a woman is inherently absurd' you are spitting distance away from saying 'women are inherently absurd'. and that, my friends, is what this is really about.
cuz again, if it was just a 'fish out of water' routine coupled with a 'walk a mile in their shoes' routine, without all the gender baggage, i would be entertained. however, that insidious third reason up top, the one that you can prove is fucked up because scenes where women dress as men are not as 'hilarious' somehow, that reason does not make me laugh.
this image below, however, this makes me smile a mile wide.

ps--if you want to see a good, non-comic movie about a man dressing up as a woman (but with slightly too much of a hetero-hollywood ending for my taste) watch stage beauty. billy crudup treats his female role as the pinnacle of artistic expression. totally worth a viewing. or better yet, there is a phenomenal movie directed by neil jordan called breakfast on pluto about a transwoman in the u.k. and cillian murphy kills it in the role of kitten.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

the spiderman effect

so, let me paint a picture for you. well, a moving picture, actually. but let me just bring this image to mind real quick:
spider-man is crouching down, perched on the edge of a building, high above the city streets. most likely on a cornice, or the rounded tip of something that reaches to a pinnacle, so his feet and hands are all occupying the same 2 sqft of space. he looks around and finds a building across the way to shoot a web at, then does so.
and then comes the brilliant part: he launches himself into mid-air. now, attached to his web, he begins swinging directly toward the side of a skyscraper with 20 times the momentum of a kid on a swingset, cuz his pendulum is 20 times longer. the velocity with which he is approaching a large expanse of metal and glass is extreme and nothing can stop it. however, halfway thru that arc, he has spotted the next edifice on which he can attach his web, and he shoots, letting go of the first web the moment the next one can hold his weight and redirect his path. now he is hurtling at nose-bleed speed toward the next massively large and incredibly durable building against which he could easily dash his brains if he didn't find another pivot from which to swing. and this happens over and over till he's home, or has overtaken the bad guys, or has landed in the alley around the corner from the diner where mary jane works.

it must be a hairy business, this sort of travel. takes quite a bit of knowledge of physics, i'd expect. at least the kind that pool players have--angles of incidence and whatnot-- it's just that in this case it's about changing something's course by pulling in a different direction, not pushing. and that 'thing' happens to be one's own body, of which, i can only assume, one would be terribly fond and not want to mangle or destroy.
it is, however, one of the most exhilarating ways of getting around possible. or at least, i can only imagine. and extrapolate. and that's what i'm going to try to do here. because i would like to posit that many of us have actually felt the exact same feeling that spider-man has when he is swooping thru midtown manhattan on his web strings.
it's the feeling you get when you are in the middle of a performance and you stretch out past your self, and maybe even your abilities, to a place that has only two options: complete success or complete failure. you have made a choice bold enough to realize there is no going back, and if the audience doesn't come with you, you will land with your face smack against the glass of some board room 73 stories up.
these are the greatest moments on stage ever. this is where the tension of live performance comes from. you don't have to crowd surf to feel it, tho that is theoretically this same thing, in physical form.
you can argue that succeeding in this 'spidey launch' is a major triumph for the performer, but i think success is as much due to the behavior of an audience in one of these moments. cuz we've all seen it, that moment when you are sure everything is about to fall apart, and then it doesn't. musicians do it, actors do it, circus performers do a really good job of making you think they are doing it, and comics definitely do it (some with more success than others). and i think it says a lot about a person individually, and an audience as a group, by how they respond. if they see the jump and reach out to the performer, or wait and see if the performer can reach them. i've said before that i'm a generous audience. if i like a performer even a little bit, i'll do what i can to make that jump successful, but i'm only one person in a crowd.
cuz i'd argue that the scariest thing about live performance is the fact that each audience has a different length of arc to the pendulum swing, a different distance between pivotable buildings, and you don't actually know how dangerous your jump into mid-air is, how far you are going to have to reach out before the next pivot site is visible and even then you can't be sure whether the web you throw out will stick to it.
we have prolly all seen a performer fall apart. maybe they land one or two swings after the first spidey launch, but at some point they make the fatal error of misjudging a distance (which happens to be the distance between themselves and the audience) and they slip. there isn't a laugh where there should be, or the reverse. and that first grazing of a building can make the performer lose confidence in their next swing. if that happens, it's the death knell. soon, not one of the webs they shoot will hit their targets and eventually the pendulum will swing them into a brick wall of derision. which is the roughest of all places for a performer to be. there is a way of saving the performance after that first miss, but it requires not showing fear, and throwing things--lines, jokes, melodies, webs--out with confident belief that someone out there in the house wants to help keep you alive. that somewhere there is a friendly building that you can attach to and pivot from. cuz when it comes down to it, not many people would prefer to see a performer bite the dust. that is, until the crowd mentality kicks in, and the survival of the fittest concept of weeding out the weak and sick takes over. that's how people get booed off stages. cuz fear on stage is like blood in the water. and it will cause a feeding frenzy.

this exact thing is why i hate, with a towering passion, when anyone says "i'm sorry" on stage. no matter what it's about, it's like signing your death warrant. even if it's cuz you broke a string and have to take 5 long minutes to change it mid-set, it's not worth it. don't say it. just do not say "i'm sorry". ever.
cuz i wasn't sorry i was watching you on stage until you thought to apologize for being there. my time wasn't being wasted till you said it was. and if you are going to betray yourself like that, what's to stop me from betraying you too? it's basically shooting a web out into the ether without the thought of trying to attach it to something. and it kills a performance on contact. or, on the lack of contact.

there are, however, some performers that have no concept of apology in them. ones that have almost completely fooled themselves into believing that a spidey launch has no chance of failure. that the only way to interact with an audience is to throw themselves as high and far as humanly possible, knowing that there is no other way even though there is no certainty of a place to land on the other side. some people make their entire careers out of jumping into the thinnest of air and either being given support by the audience who will follow them anywhere, or by falling, crushingly, into glass or concrete.

now, this post was originally inspired by a conversation with my friend ed who is working on a piece that describes r. kelly as having this sort of career, even when he turns something like the slow and sexy r&b song 'feeling on your booty'(which normally goes something like this) into an opera. like so. (please, god, click on the second link. it is so worth it.) he knows he has the audience eating out of his hand, and then he just goes off on the most random trajectory possible, and they are all right there with him, totally led by the nose wherever he wants. it's a brilliant moment of stage performance. it's a spidey launch of epic proportions. and i gotta say, it makes me kinda love him.

cuz the true triumph for a performer in a spidey launch situation is knowing how to feel for that sweet spot when the audience is most receptive to your reaching out and are ready to open up the opportunity for you to jump. sure you might not know what it will look like to swing along their rooftops, but you can judge the right time to start the pendulum swinging. and, as in the case of r. kelly above, you can give them a heads up. in fact, he even asked permission first, smart man.
and yeah, since i've practically already said it (must be r. kelly's influence), this process is kinda like having sex with your audience, so you best be doing whatever you can to make them feel good and be paying attention to when they are ready. and for god's sake, don't you dare say you are sorry in the middle of it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

the big easy is really hard

...mostly on my liver. also, on my heart.
i have a good relationship with my liver. we are not the kind of friends where i ask him to come out with me every night, but i know when i need him he will show up and be a trooper. and he is a really good pinch hitter. there for me in the clinch, doing workmanlike service for as long as i need him. which is never very long. i'm a drinker by circumstance. i can go a month without having a beer, tho if i do it's prolly cuz i've become a hermit. but when i'm hanging with my drinking friends (of which i have plenty, all over the country) i'll put away anywhere between a few and many every night for a week or more. and whether my liver feels put upon and/or annoyed by my asking of favors after long silences, i will never know. that guy is cheerfully up to his task precisely because i don't wear him down day-in and week-out. my liver is not like a muscle that needs training to stay in shape. he doesn't ever become a light-weight when i ignore him. (or maybe it's that he never becomes a heavy-weight when we are attached at the hip) either way, there is no falling off, and his consistency is a blessing.
the reason i mention this relationship is because i just spent a week taxing it and i'm trying to decide if i need to apologize for my behavior or chalk it up to circumstance.
because, in case you weren't aware of this, nola is a drinker's paradise. or inferno. depending on how you look at it. there is no law prohibiting the drinking of alcohol in the streets, nor is there a law about bars needing to be closed for a certain portion of the day. so you could conceivably spend all day walking around town (and when i say 'town' i mostly mean the french quarter, cuz this is where the drinkers congregate) with a beer in your hand, stopping in at a 24 hour bar whenever you need another one, and they will put it in a to-go cup and send you on your way. or you could sit down and spend the *entire* night on a bar stool swilling abita amber or whatever your poison is (and i use poison literally btw, cuz if it weren't for our helpful liver friends, we would die from drinking alcohol) and not think to go home until the sunlight comes pouring in the doors. without a 'last call' to alert you to how much time you have spent shooting the shit with your friends and messing around with your liver, you can easily have a moment, at what feels like the middle of your night out, where you look up at the clock and it says 4:53am, and then catch the bartender's eye and order one last beer. and after that, one for the road. easily. it's kinda scary.
this is why the idea of the vampire is set so strongly in the minds of new orleaners (nawlinsians?). it's totally possible to never see the sun. i became one for a few days, drinking till 5:30am, going to bed at dawn, and leaving the house as the sun set to head to a bar for 'dinner' and drinks. one thing that saved me from oblivion was staying at a place 3 miles away from where i was drinking most nights, cuz i was walking to and from, which sobered me up and helped me burn off the large number of empty calories i was ingesting.
thing is, like i said, i'm just a product of circumstance. and i was only in nola for 4.5 days. if i lived down there, i would have to rethink how to function. since i don't, however, i just worry about my friends who do. and this is where the heart trouble comes in.
i have 3 good friends down there. the first has been there for a couple years and seems to do fine, except that the week i was in town he had taken off work for a holiday vacation (read: bender) and i only saw him for a short time one evening cuz he had been drinking all day and it was past midnight and he was falling asleep in his chair. the second seems to be doing okay herself, she moved down there 6ish months ago and has a good group of friends which, not surprisingly, revolves almost exclusively around this one bar in the quarter. however her boyfriend is having a hard time adjusting to the move--drinking hard and messing up at work, which sucks cuz he was one of the most professional bartenders i've ever met.
and then there is my third friend. who is actually the first cuz we've known each other since he was a freshman in HS and he is one of the loves of my life. he is an alcoholic and i have always been worried about him, to different degrees, since we were young. a year and a half ago he went into rehab and spent 7 months sober in LA and seemed to be doing really well for a time. and then he moved to new orleans. of all fucking places. this is so him tho, to make the strongest, most difficult choice possible. he is one of the more brilliant actors i've seen on stage or screen for this exact reason and i know he has to do things like this, but i wish he could learn to make life easier on himself. if i, who am the exact opposite of an alcoholic, have a hard time regulating myself in nola, i can't begin to understand how hard it must be for my friend to function there.
and it's clear to me that he doesn't function particularly well. we had a night of drinking (one of many) at a bar not too far from his house (1.5 mi) that i enjoyed up until 4am because there was karaoke and a pretty bartender, but which was definitely the night i over-imbibed to the point of actual drunkenness. as did my friend. what i didn't realize was that he had also been drinking hard for hours with friend #1 before he met up with me around midnight, so what should have been dee-runk was actually black-out-incoherent-ragdoll-passed-out-in-the-gutter drunk. but of course that didn't become apparent to dee-runk little old me until he had fallen down the 4 concrete steps outside of the bar and smashed his face on the sidewalk. actually, it only hit home (and by 'home' i mean that spot in the very center of you that tends to shatter and hurl shrapnel into both your heart and your gut) when i knelt down where he was laid out on the ground, rolled him over, and couldn't get him to open his eyes no matter how hard i shook him or slapped his cheek or called his name or threatened to kill him. it was one of the hardest moments i've had in years and i hated him the whole time for not having to share it with me. cuz it lasted a long time. it was a 4 hour long ordeal to get him home. it was a process of propping him up and letting him sleep while i dozed, keeping my spidey sense awake since we were just sprawled on the sidewalk of the garden district, then hauling him onto his feet and getting him to walk a few blocks, all the while looking for a cab and wondering if i could physically get him inside one, then allowing him to collapse again and sleep for a while before repeating the process until the sun came up and we were 8 blocks from his house and i was so fed up and had to pee so bad i just held out my hand for his house key and walked away, telling him to stay right there, i'd be back with the car. (i was finally both sober and coherent enough to think about driving him home in the rental car) when i went out looking for him he wasn't where i'd left him and i circled around for a while before giving up and finding him in his bedroom. i crawled into his bed up against the wall while he curled up near the edge and we slept till 4pm. he started work at 5pm. and afterward went out drinking (not with me) till 6am. lather, rinse, repeat.
my heart is a strong little champ. he's really used to getting bruised and broken on a regular basis, but we have an understanding of why that is important and necessary and he is always up for the challenge. his love muscles are very strong and elastic and i exercise him hard every day of my life. but this episode left him wrung out--sweaty, dehydrated, and frankly, exhausted. in fact, he was still kinda worn out and sore the next day. there are types of love exercises that are good for your heart, and i will continue to do those, especially in relation to my friend, but the kind i did that night were not healthy for my heart, me or him. so the next day i treated my heart nice, as i did my liver, drinking water and hanging with friend #2 and her crew instead of him. but the night after that was new years eve and the other thing my heart is besides strong is loyal.
but not blindly loyal. eyes-wide-open-and-willing-to-stare-you-down loyal. cuz my heart is not a pushover. and my friend may be a fucking good guy and worthy of my love, but he's also an alcoholic who needs the kind of love that comes with a mirror and boundaries.
nola may be hard, but it's not impossible. i plan on making sure of that in february. fyi--that's mardi gras season, folks. yup.