Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture
My rad friend Kate had an art show last night. "If I were a boy..." was the theme. It was fascinating, light, thought-provoking. Mini-cupcake strewn. Intimate, personal; perfect.
And that would be Austin and me doing our best boy-girl impressions at left. He rocked the suspenders and a fedora; I wore a kicky dress and carried a clutch. We played our scripted parts - at least, to all outside appearances, we did.
A few of us had dinner after and talked queer theory and yoga and what-have-you. And that, coupled with the wanky biodynamically-farmed wine and night air and ridiculous cashew cheese (ohhh, San Francisco) made the whole evening just that much richer, more contextual, more real. But what really struck me about the whole experience was the getting ready beforehand. Never before have I been so aware of the performance art involved in being a chick. I mean, I've written pretty extensively here about performativity and fashion and dramaturgy and all that Butlerian-Goffman-esque sociological self-presentation shit before; the whole radical-yet-surprisingly-obvious idea that life's one big theater, that we're always performing, sculpting a character, that we're all always in drag, that given the utter lack of essential anything attributable to existence in a postmodern reality, we're always putting on and taking off new identities, new constructs, new forms, regardless of gender or sexuality or whatever.
So there I was at 7 0'clock, fresh from Bikram, sweaty as hell, out of the shower, so highly aware of all the contrived art that goes into the self-presentation of womanhood. And in its own way, the whole process became a strange kind of meditation, a deliberate practice of sorts; I was present in the experience, aware of it, mindful of every detail, in ways I've not been in some time. The shampoo and conditioner and pink razor and wet tangled hair and hairdryer and mascara and eyeliner and I tell you, I've never been so damn conscious of the heavily-laden irony of every tiny bobby pin as I swept my hair up out of my face (hands knowing exactly what to do, how to do it, unthinkingly, in five minutes, due to years and years of practicing at this "being a girl" thing) and clipped on two vintage earrings and slipped on that chunky blue bracelet and found my rings on the kitchen counter where I'd left them on washing dishes.
This "being a chick" thing, it's theater, of course, on the small-scale stage that is our daily social dance; it's no different than when I put on my Cinderella stage make-up or my Polly Baker tap shoes; it's slipping into a role, playing a part, being something that is a product whether the careful packaging process involved is conscious or not. I'd argue, of course, that most of us go about this daily drag-doing utterly lacking in self-awareness, not thinking deliberately about the shoes that "make" us men, or the tights that "make" us women. And as much as I've done it a bazillion times, as much as I grew up learning so well, too well, how to be a girl, what it means to wear clever accessories and sparkly make-up and tousled hair, how early-on you develop the curling iron agility and braiding skills that are part and parcel of being a chick, well, for the first time last night I really, really felt present in the process, aware of it, aware of the irony of the fashion I was choosing, aware of the implications, aware of the intentions. And how cool it was to know I was about to walk into a space full of other people who were conscious of these implications, who perhaps would not just take that dress and those earrings at face value, but might consider the possibility that there were more complicated intentions behind them.
And I guess that's my pet peeve with people who aren't willing to engage with queer theory and its emphasis on performativity, or perhaps, more accurately, people who are afraid to engage with it, afraid to tackle the big questions it proffers about essentialism and identity and reality and meaning. Because so few people I know really do take the time (or make the potentially destabilizing effort) to step back and say: well, why do I wear that? What does that make me? How does that make me feel? What does that say about my spirit, my sexuality, my body, my self? How might this potentially color my interactions with the people in my world? And how is what I do everyday when I get dressed really just a practice in being someone, the same way we practice yoga or piano or tennis or being kind?
It's so easy to float along with the current, to not even question the flow, to just go with it and assume that since you're a chick you have long hair and wear heels and since you're a dude you buzz your head and wear sneakers, and at some point it's kind of like, well, seriously, people: engage, already - engage, be present, be mindful, be courageous, be what you are, tell everyone else and Prada and Chanel to fuck off, be your own, set your own standard, shape your own fashion, tell the Christian Louboutins that they can suck it, that their ridiculously-overpriced red-soled high heels aren't worth crap, that it's all a bunch of bullshit marketing, that you can't buy personality, you can't buy spirit, you can't purchase prana; it's there or it's not, and you're what you are, and whether you shape that consciously and wear your own shit and be your own creation or whether you follow the crowd and buy the $300 sunglasses because some part of you capitulates to the myth that they'll make you "hip" and "desirable" is really up to you.
I sat at Gracias Madre last night and talked and laughed with these three radiant living loving striving working people, and I looked at them and thought, my god, how refreshing: these folks are trying, they are conscious, they are alive, they are mindful, they are their own; and what a release, what a refreshing change, what a breath of fresh air it was. And I was reminded once more - as one can never be reminded frequently enough - that it's not about some false externally-mandated notion of "cool" or "fashionable;" it's not about the shit you wear or the car you drive or the hair product you use; neti-neti, my loves, not-this, not-that. You are not your overpriced Louboutins. You are not your ugly Louis Vuitton handbag. You are not the pink or blue onesie your parents dressed you in at six months. There is no essence. There is no gender. There is no "there" there. You are you, you are what you decide you are in the moment, you are this breath and those shoulders and this particular pair of burgundy shoes that you spray-painted with a can and that particular low-cut 50's dress paired with the ballet wrap sweater and the onyx earrings and the Brigitte Bardot updo.
So be you. Don't be anyone else. Why bother? It's so little fun. And it's all just theater, anyway. So play a little. Loosen up a little. Laugh a little. Chill out a little. Life's too short to offer away all your creative agency to the commodity fetish that is a pair of branded heels. Be your own. It's ever so much more clear. And ever so much more queer.