On the illusion and shaping of reality.

Image by vassiliki at sxc.hu

“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.”

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Posted on December 31, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. disturbinglynormal

    I can’t quite get to the point where I can come out to my parents as genderqueer. I’m trying, little by little, to introduce them to the idea of a gender spectrum rather than a gender binary, but… well, it’s a delicate balancing act.

    I like the idea that, no matter what, we cannot be anything other than our real selves. However, I think that, for me, being genderqueer is not about needing to create, or try on different identities to find one that fits. I think, for me, being out about being genderqueer is about stripping away all the layers of things that hide me from myself and from the world. Because while I can’t be anything other than my real self, I can often project an image that is simply a mirage.

    And I don’t want to be loved for being a facade. Not anymore.

    • See, I get that thing about stripping away layers, too. But it’s such a tricky, twisty thing to think about. I don’t know about you, but the longer I dwell on the question of what’s real and what might be a facade, the more I can feel myself getting pulled down into a existential spiral. But let’s see how I can do here…

      Genderqueer is the identity. How we present and perform the identity – *that’s* the choice, and that’s where you start to run into the tricky questions. It’s especially difficult (often interesting, but difficult) discussing it with my own father, because he doesn’t get the idea of using clothing or appearance to express an identity. At all.

      This generation, though, is extremely image-conscious. We’re aware that gender is a social construct and a performance, and we’re aware of the language used in that performance. So when we (the general we) fine-tune our presentation to look a certain way, people on the outside might assume we’re merely being superficial. But we’re not. The superficial is a *tool*, used to communicate inner desires and identity. It’s creating an image *in order to* communicate as clearly as possible. Which is the same as stripping away any unnecessary noise that gets in the way of being understood. It’s putting on a costume, but it’s also stripping away layers.

      “We are all born naked, the rest is drag.” – Ru Paul

      Good luck coming out to your parents, by the way. I was in your position… almost two years ago now, yikes.

  2. disturbinglynormal

    Ah. That makes more sense then. My experience has been that, the more honest and open I am about my genderqueer identity, the more comfortable I am with the fact that I naturally present very femininely. If I were a girl, I’d have won the genetic lottery. No matter what I’m wearing, people who assume I’m cis will identify me as female. I like to present androgynously, even masculinely if possible, sometimes, but worries about presentation have started to fall by the wayside, for me, these days. I am who I am, and I look how I look, and the more out and proud I am, the more I am okay with leaving it at that. But, that’s just me.

    Except when I see my parents. And thanks for the good luck wishes. I think they’ll eventually just sort of figure it out, or stumble across the blog I don’t even try to hide, and we’ll go from there.

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