Having trouble focusing today, so I decided to stop fighting it and just write it all down without putting it into essay form, and to start with I am thinking about a moment from Hedwig, the recent Broadway revival, in which the actor Lena Hall emerges for the first time en femme.
Lena played Yitzhak, the brow-beaten lover of Hedgwig who is repressed throughout the show, forced into a servile role dressed and acting male, but toward the very end of the show Hedgwig gives Yitzhak permission to put on female clothes, and when Hall emerged she was a radiant vision of feminine joy. I can’t possibly convey to you the eruption of responsive joy that brought forth in the audience and in myself, and it remains one of the great moments of live theater I have experienced. I once saw Hall in Hell’s Kitchen, and she was with some fans who wanted a picture. She was looking around for someone to take the picture, and I almost offered, but I was so overcome with emotion remembering the scene from the show I worried I would embarrass myself and instead turned and hurried down the street.
A counter to that moment occurs in Kinky Boots– I am referring to the musical here– where Simon first appears dressed in male clothes. He seems shy, self-conscious, diminished, and he shares with Charlie that he has always felt more confident and assertive in women’s clothes.
Clothes, and what they mean and do to us. I suppose that emerges as a theme. In many of the TG books out there, especially in what I think of as the old school categories, clothes were used as a means of punishment, particularly in the genre where some disobedient boy is forced to dress as a girl.
We live in an era now where the lines are more blurry than ever, at least in the Western World. Jeans and t-shirts are worn by both sexes. More than once women have told me they only really feel like “women” when they are dressed for the part, made up and all that. Recently I saw a post from Sarah Silverman where discussed feeling that she was suffering from the female equivalent of being emasculated, and wondering if there is even a word for that.
Consistently, the most violent cultures have the most rigid notions of gender. The leaders always seem to have minds that believe things should always be in absolutes, male female, right and wrong, and they ruthlessly seek to punish and destroy anyone who doesn’t fit into their simple categories, which of course is everyone. No one really fits entirely into these categories, so the best such a culture can ever achieve is to force people to act the part in public, which leads to all sorts of rage and frustration, people blowing each other up.
Have people evolved to the point where they are now able to embrace the reality of fluid identities? Or will the barbarians eventually win out, as they have done in the past, wiping out this era from existence and possibly even history?