On the illusion and shaping of reality.
“You have a very active imagination.”
That’s what my dad said to me. We were sitting in the car (where we have most of our important conversations these days) on a rainy day, talking about my genderqueerness, and what my dad saw as the reasons I started identifying that way.
He was referring to the fact that I never grew out of playing pretend, and even as a child I took it very seriously. I put on a costume and I would become that costume. I would allow my outward appearance to transform my behavior. According to my father, my active imagination had led me to choose genderqueer as an identity I had wanted to put on. He wasn’t saying there was no internal basis, but he was using my imagination as an excuse. In essence, he was saying that what I thought of as my Real Self wasn’t ‘really’ real.
This is not a foreign concept to me. I’ve always been drawn to media where the protagonists are stuck on the question of whether their reality is ‘really’ reality. It’s why this is my favorite play and this is my favorite film. It’s why my favorite character from the ‘Battlestar Galactica’ reboot is Gaius Baltar. It’s a big part of why I’m so enamored of Stephen Moffat’s work as the head of ‘Doctor Who.’ His episodes often deal with the spaces between real and imaginary and all the ways they can blend.
I don’t pretend that this in itself makes me unique or even different. I might even go so far as to say it makes me the norm among my generation. Lady GaGa, Mother Monster herself, pop music’s current mega superstar, said it herself in her most recent video, Marry the Night:
It’s not that I’ve been dishonest. It’s just that I loathe reality.
I highly doubt GaGa would be so popular if a large number of people didn’t feel that same way. I also think the first part of that quote is just as important as the second, and that’s where we get back to my father’s argument.
The idea that there is a complete dichotomy between real and imaginary is a fallacy. Nothing of our own creation can become real until we conceive of it. And again, Dad wasn’t saying that my identity had no basis in reality, just that it wasn’t the Real Me.
In many ways, I would agree with him. In Gender Outlaw, Kate Bornstein talks about the illusion of the Real Self. A person can strive to become an ideal version of themselves, but no matter what they do they will never not be their real self. When someone says, “I wasn’t myself,” what they really mean is “I wasn’t the person I want to be.”
So, upon reflection: yes, Dad, you were right. The image I’m currently striving to project isn’t some essential expression of realness. Still, the lack of a real self doesn’t negate the drive to identify an ideal self and work toward that.
All this came out of me thinking back on 2011. It seems as though this whole year has been about me trying to be more honest: about what I want out of life, and about myself. For me, this has meant reaching back into my mind and plucking out those things I’ve kept hidden, bringing them out and seeing how they look in the light of reality. It has meant seeing what I can do to bend my life toward my inner desires, to make a usually harsh and dull reality a little less loathsome – more of a place where I’d like to live, rather than one I long to escape. I’ve met with varying degrees of success, and it can often feel like an uphill struggle. But it is, in my mind, worth the fight to find what makes me happiest, most willing to get up in the morning and just exist.
I have a very active imagination. If I want it to not only survive, but thrive, I have to work to shape my world to it – not allow the world as it is to limit it. I also – and this is the part where I still run into trouble – have to be proud of it. To not shrink back from or apologize for it simply because it clashes with somebody else’s version of the world. Perhaps this should be my mantra for 2012:
“I don’t live in your reality, but you’re welcome to visit mine. It’s a lovely place.”