Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Stranger


I’m having a lot of trouble articulating my thoughts, and I’m fairly certain this has nothing to do with my writing skills and everything to do with a swell of confusion clouding my thoughts. I started writing late last night...

Smile big. That blissful arcing mouth betrays nothing—a life finally beaming with rapturous felicity. Recently I’ve seen so many pictures of astoundingly beautifully trans women and girls, their faces filled with that radiant ecstasy that only accompanies a feeling of becoming. They take off the mask and, well, they don’t particularly blend into the rest of the world. Unlike much of the world, these amazing women stand out because they are unabashedly authentic. That smile betrays nothing because there are no dirty secrets to hide. Instead that smile conveys a palpable sense of self-belonging: a manifestation of the true self that transcends any physical realities or assumed limitations therein. That smile...it speaks volumes.
“Why don’t you smile?” We’re sitting on the couch, playing picture slide-show with photos from facebook—she’s every friend I’ve ever had, the Fin from orientation, the random faux-hawk- sporting dyke from GLBTA—she leans over my shoulder to get her face right up next to the picture and remarks, “You never smile in your pictures.” And it’s true: I don’t. The absence of facial expression betrays me. My face is a transparent facade, a mask my “transition” could not dislodge.


I am a stranger. To this culture and to myself, I am an outsider. I feel invisible in a crowd, like no one can see me. They see the tattoos. They see the height. They see the awkward body, hidden under the baggy clothes. But they don’t see me. Maybe I cannot blame them, though. Looking in the mirror, I don’t see me either.

I want to be the girl I am in my head—in my imagination—but that seems like an impossible task. What kind of girl are you? How do you relate to yourself as a girl? How do you relate to yourself as a girl in your head—a character constantly pitted against a physical and social manifestation that, seemingly, can never be merged? How do you take off the mask and become this other person?

These questions, for me, first manifested as a feeling of disconnection with femininity. I’m feminine, even though I nothing about my appearance seem to coincide with that. I’m tattooed, I’m tall, and my body has few curves (well, few curves that I’m proud of)—I’m awkward and I’m tough, punky and queer. I remember when I was in high school I used to subscribe to a trans youth email listserve and one day I asked, “How can I begin to feel like a girl when I’m so lodged into a male reality?” The replies came back: shave your legs. So many sources tell us that femininity is something to be bought or manufactured. Feeling too masculine? Well, pluck those eyebrows, shave those legs, and put on a dress from Meyers. Peep-toe pumps, I hear, will really do the trick. Have you tried makeup?

Since when is femininity a commercial commodity? Since when did gender come packaged and mass-produced for consumer consumption?

But it’s more than just commercialized gender. Talking to a telephone counsellor tonight we discussed how many non-transgender women, like me, feel awkward in their bodies compared to other women—how many of them, like me, look out of place in traditional feminine attire and therefore gravitate towards more masculine or androgynous gender expressions. At the end of the conversation, I asked my counsellor, “How do you relate to yourself as a woman?” She paused for a while and said, “I don’t know. I think it’s a bit like an attitude. It’s how I go about in the world, it’s a part of my identity. It’s always been a given.” I think that’s part of it. It’s not a given for me, and so in finding ways of relating to the girl in my imagination, I have nothing to build on. It seems like all the givens—all the assumptions—work against me; I feel like everyone—even I—fails to “read” me—to see me—for who/what I really am.

And that’s it. I feel alienated from my own gender because of an inability to perceive my true self in any clear fashion. I feel further alienated when, in an attempt to find some superficial facet of femininity, I am met with an unattainable commercialized standard of what femininity is—a commercial definition that does not become me. How do you relate to yourself—to your true self—when it becomes progressively difficult to find a clear expression of that self? When you become a stranger to yourself and to others?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dream

I had a pretty awesome dream last night—or, at least I think it was (generally speaking) awesome. I don’t really remember most of it, but I awoke with a real happy feeling, so I assume it was a good dream. I was a punky, androgynous boy (approximately high school age). An unnamed childhood friend and I were hanging out in my bedroom, which in this dream was in the attic of an old Victorian house. Together we sat on the large, soft ultramarine comforter of my bed as thin, blurry slivers of light came through the partially-drawn blinds. Drawings from my art classes cluttered the walls, juxtaposed with various album art from my favourite bands. The room had an early-morning feel to it—a golden ambiance, like the Robert Frost Poem (Nothing Gold Can Stay). I told my friend I had something to show her as I turned away from her. I slipped out an amber tube of pills, shaking two glossy red capsules into my hand. Covering my mouth with my hand, I tossed the pills down my throat, forcing a dry swallow. I could feel the pills grating down my throat, hard and smooth like stones, feeling as though they would easily become stuck somewhere between my guts and my mouth. My friend gasped, not sure what the hell I was trying to show her. Then, out of nowhere, it happened: I had suddenly transformed into a shy-looking girl with a mischievous smile and shaggy, dirty blonde hair. I don’t even remember what clothes the boy me had been wearing, but they had likewise been transformed into a lacy white dress. It was like a cartoon version of the Jekyll-Hyde transformation; like the hazy daydreams of a closet trans girl.

The dream has had a significant influence on my thinking today—in large part it has affected me in ways I can’t quite discuss yet. I like it when my subconscious speaks to me in such a blatant way, though, and I figured I’d share it with you before it became a lost memory.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Doubt, privilege, and nagging questions

You should know by now that I don’t shy away from controversy, and this post may well be another example of that. For this reason you may want to be wary about reading this specific post (as a couple of controversial elements are briefly touched upon). Also, if this is redundant (and if redundancy offends you) I’m very sorry.

It’s been a while since I wrote my opinions on the use of the word “cissexual” or “cisgender” or (as a shortened/prefix version) “cis(-).” Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) you can no longer read this post; I took it down because I felt it was a tad divisive. Overall, though, I don’t care to rehash my opinions on the use of the term. I really don’t. My general opinions are pretty solid on this matter and the idea that any huge debate even exploded over this issue is, in my opinion, a little more than disconcerting. However, I recently read an argument against the use of the “cis” terminology (in all its forms) that made me stop for a second. Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a woman I high respect and admire, wrote:

But cisgender, used in the same way, shuts out our allies, our friends, our partners. Rather than levelling the field, it further sets transgender apart from the whole, and creates a dichotomy that honestly is not needed.
This is something that the transgender community, and frankly many other communities, does on a regular basis. At one time it was "crossdressers" versus "transsexuals", then it was "transsexuals" versus "transgender". There have been some who have adopted even more baroque terms such as "women born transsexual" or "Harry Benjamin Syndrome" to further distance ourselves from each other.


I somewhat disagree with the hypothesis that the use of the term “cisgender” sets transgender people further apart. Further, I think Gwendolyn is dead wrong in her argument that the cis/trans terminology creates a dichotomy—the dichotomy already existed. Gwendolyn is spot on, however, in her assessment that this dichotomy does not benefit us. The reality of the situation—if we can allow ourselves to be divorced from socio-political constraints—is that no person (at least no person I’ve ever met) can fit into a strictly “cisgender” mold at all times. Culturally-based gender restrictions tend to be so rigid and so extreme that none can really conform to them continuously in all aspects of their lives. In a sense, everyone is transgender. Really, this isn’t a new notion—this is the kind of chic idea I heard bantered around a lot of transgender forums back when I first started exploring my identity—it’s kind of in the same vein as the “everyone’s a little gay” idea (although, maybe not a good analogy seeing as the bell curve model of sexuality would suggest that a small number of people truly are 100% gay or 100% straight, and perhaps the better phrase would be “everyone’s a little bisexual/pansexual/queer”). The idea that everyone is a little transgender has also been repeated recently in talks of trans-inclusion in LGBT legislation as well as in efforts to unify the LGBTQ community. And theoretically and idealistically, I am completely behind this outlook. Only one
problem: there is still a hell of a lot that separates people classified as “transgender” from the rest of the world, not least of which is the pathologization of trans people within the mental health community. Gwendolyn also wrote:

Many years ago: I learned a proverb: It's not what you call me, it's what I answer to. Those who are transgender, myself included, are all too familiar with being labelled with identities we ourselves do not accept. Why should we, therefore, feel we can so easily label others?


This proverb pretty much underscores my frustration. Someone may not identify a cisgender (or cis-whatever), and their identity ought to be respected. But, as a trans woman, I never really wanted to be identified as transsexual/transgender. It’s not my primary identity...or even my secondary identity. However, think back to when Gwen Araujo or Angie Zapata was murdered, and all the victim blaming that went on—how many people started asserting that it was a transsexual’s responsibility and obligation to disclose their transsexuality. Think about how transsexuals are described as deceitful when they don’t disclose, and how they are frequently then relegated to some third gender category when they do. It’s a catch22, no matter how I identify (or don’t) my identity is belied by my transsexuality; while it might not always be the case, I often find myself feeling as though my identity as a girl is undermined by my transsexuality—as though people treat me differently or view me as something “other” because of it. Furthermore, this message of othering has been internalized, such that I feel like I am something “other,” and it’s true: I do have a different background from the majority of girls my age. The question at play is simply does this different history negate my gender identity and am I defined by my gender history, forever marked as transsexual/transgender/other? There are two answers. Individually, from a queered perspective of the world, the answer is no. I am not marked, identity is fluid, and my identity as a girl—more importantly my identity as Sonia—trumps my now somewhat absent identity as trans-. However, socially speaking, yes, my transsexuality trumps all other identities and washes away other aspects of who I am. Socially, I’m still labeled as something other than how I, particularly, care to identify. Socially, it’s not what I answer to, it’s what you call me.

What I have just described covers much of what has come to be called “cisgender [or cissexual] privilege,” and it is one of the main causes of my anger around gender. It’s not to say that non-trans folk should be shunned for their ability to have their gender and (potentially) their identities recognized and respected—everyone deserves that—my problem is that trans identities, even “men/women of trans experience” who may not primarily identify as trans (or identify as trans at all anymore), frequently do not have their identities recognized or respected. And, if you’ve read my last post, you’ll know just how much this issue has been eating at me lately.

The reality of the situation is that trans people are different. We have different socializations, different biological histories, and we have different cultural issues. I often hear people compare, as Caroline did, transsexuality to any other living condition (where you were raised, childhood religious indoctrination, parental political affinity, etc.), and to a degree, Caroline is right. My transsexuality has profoundly affected me—beyond mere gender, my transition brought me into the queer community and opened my eyes to a lot of the privilege and power hierarchies at play along with a lot of the systemic oppression that exists in our world. Transitioning pushed me to a more progressive frame of mind and made me question things—without it, I’d probably be more conservative, more narrow-minded—more Christian (I know! Scary thought!). The point is, however, that while my transsexuality has served me well over the years, I don’t really want to identify as trans anymore. I don’t want to deny that history, and my desire for separation doesn’t really have anything to do with any conformation to the “self-hating tranny” stereotype. I didn’t transition to be queer or to be progressive, though; I transitioned so I could be a girl. So I could be Sonia. So I could look in the mirror and be happy in my skin—so I wouldn’t want to kill myself every time I was reminded that my body controls a fair amount of who and what I can be. Ever since my surgery with Dr. Bowers I’ve had a little slip of paper declaring me, Sonia, to be a female (which in our “sex = gender” world would mean I’m also a girl, right? Heheheheh). I may have gained a lot of things over the course of my transition, but one thing I’m still missing is that “cisgender [cissexual] privilege.”

What makes me angry the most? What still has the ability to make me cry with rage and sorrow? It’s the knowledge that because of this disparity, my identity may well never be realized. I hate saying that transsexuality negates any other valid gender identity (and supersedes all other identity)—academically, politically, intellectually, I don’t agree with this statement. However, at the root of a dark, emotional side of my brain, this idea has been internalized to some degree.

“It’s not what I answer to, it’s what you call me.”

Gwendolyn is right in many ways, but I’m not sure how her ideals (and my ideals) can universally extend in the real world. How do I balance a transsexual history, a drive to educate and advocate on trans issues, and simultaneously pioneer an identity separate from these things? Or, how do I accept that my (past?) transsexuality will continue to define me in ways I don’t necessarily desire—define me as something other than how I define myself?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Back down the rabbit hole we go.

You know, before the whole incident with Ron Gold’s post on Bilerico I was actually considering shutting this blog down. It’s not so much that I don’t enjoy writing about gender from a transsexual/queer/theoretical perspective—I do enjoy it quite a lot, and moreover intellectualizing is one of my mean of coping with the insanity of the world. However, the particular absurdity of life as a transsexual woman has been getting to me a lot lately. Let me see if I can articulate this properly, and to do this I must first distinguish between the intellectual side of my brain and the emotional—the irrational—side. Intellectually, I know damn well that being transsexual does not in any way invalidate a person’s gender (i.e. trans men are men 100% just as trans women are women 100%). The emotional side, however, feels the very real impact of trans representations in the media that illustrate, quite effectively, that trans men and trans women are distinctly different from men and women respectively (though to the media’s (possible) credit (?) it also says they’re different from women and men respectively). This representation persists even in those depictions meant to be supportive of trans people—the constant use of stereotypes and clich├ęs makes the audience acutely aware that the girl they are watching is not really a girl—she’s a trans girl. What class. The intellectual side of me says that any representation of a trans person in the media that also focuses on that person’s gender is probably disrespectful in some way, as their transsexuality really ought to be fairly irrelevant to most plots (However, the intellectual side of me also says that if that is the case, we end up treading the line of erasing trans existence from media which, well, is pretty much what we have now).

Like most complex scenarios, I’m aware that there’s a pretty cool dialectic at play here: transsexual women are simultaneously transsexual and women (no duh!). That’s the intellectual side of me. The emotional side...er, well, the emotional side of me feels things that I’m pretty damn ashamed to say. The emotional side of me sits here and asks questions like, “When will I stop being trans and start being a girl?” The emotional side of me looks at my gender in black and white terms that suggest I can only be one or the other: I’m either a trans girl or a girl. And, most unpleasant of all, the emotional side of my gets sick of feeling like my girl side is devalued by the trans side—the emotional brain tells me I’d rather be a girl than a trans girl.

Last week I was talking to my friend Dan; the man’s an asshole at times, but he’s also probably the most intelligent person I’ve ever met, he’s progressive, and he’s very accepting of all people (with the exception of idiots). We were having a discussion about gender when I came to a point that I felt like I needed to disclose my transsexuality in order to add extra significance to my argument. So I told Dan, “You probably figured this already, but I’m trans gender...” and he nodded, saying, “Yeah.” Those kinds of exchanges kill me. They tell my emotional brain two things: 1) being trans will always be something that negatively qualifies my gender and 2) my transsexuality is obvious and noticeable to others and something that sets me apart from girls.

And this is where I was, emotionally, when I first read Ron Gold’s first and only post on Bilerico. I admit, my emotional state or already feeling devalued by my transsexuality made me much more sensitive to Ron’s disgusting essay; however, reading Ron’s article, the comments associated with it, and witnessing the massive explosion of opposition from the trans community and their allies, I felt that maybe I had some obligation to keep writing—keep telling this trans narrative to whoever may well come across this blog. The thing is, my transsexuality has become...well, a significantly less integral part of my existence. I often ask myself (on a purely personal level), “What the hell does being transsexual matter? If it doesn’t matter to me, why not drop it and just be a girl? Just be Sonia—the musician, the artist, the biologist, the queer spunky ambitious girl, etc.?” But Ron’s post has reminded me that transsexuality does matter, and is in fact more significant than I really wanted to acknowledge.

It’s not a pleasant thought, and I don’t much like the intellectual rabbit hole it down which it leads.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A note on the Bilerico controversy.

I remember the profound discomfort I experienced in a college Women’s Studies course that, for the period of several weeks, attempted to instill in me the hypothesis that gender is a social construct. It’s a common assertion found in feminist and queer theories—and in many ways it is an accurate notion; much of how people negotiate their internal senses of gender are dependent in some degree on their culture, and individual cultures surely have distinct and institutional means of restricting what is and is not acceptable for any given gender. That said these arguments inevitably pissed me off in a lot of different ways. First of these was my knowledge that, as a trans woman, my society had no role in constructing my gender identity. This is really a problem of semantics, in many ways, as any assertion that gender—as a whole—is a construct of any one force (be that social, biological, or otherwise) is bound to be an incorrect and dangerously over-simplifies analysis of the real dynamic situation. For instance, there is considerable confusion about including “gender identity” (thought to be one’s self-identification as a member of any given gender, or a self-identification outside of those terms), but given the inclusion of the term “gender” in “gender identity,” you could reasonably argue that gender identity is a function of gender. I know very few trans people who would agree that their gender identities were socially constructed, however, as our society would rather relegate trans identity to the realm of mental disorders—something to be fixed. But moreover, even the notion that things like gender expression or gender roles/gender-based behaviours are purely social constructs is a woefully misbegotten idea. I know of many people who’s gender expression transcends what is generally “acceptable” in a traditional gender scheme, and I’m doubtful that society helped construct these “gender non-conforming” expressions (though, surely, specific cultures do have often unspoken rules governing what constitutes an “acceptable” gender expression—I don’t dispute that). And yes, we see a culture-based gender role programming in a lot of media—advertisements seem to be pretty congested with this very real social construction of gender. However, anyone who has studied the biology of sex and gender knows that there are many biologically based gender behaviours. Are they universally exclusive to a specific sex? No. But they do exist in a dynamic system, and they act as evidence that a social construction theory of gender is hugely limiting and painfully ignorant of biological realities.

I would normally go into a discussion of these biological characteristics, but that is not what this blog is about. See, my problem with the social construction theory that was so frequently flaunted in my women’s studies class has been used repeatedly by queer and feminist theorists (as well as people in my women’s studies class) to argue that gender is therefore in many ways irrelevant—the “logical” extension, as they assert, is that transsexual people are really just queer people that are too uncomfortable in their own unconventional genders, and therefore they “mutilate” themselves to conform to the societal norm. It’s at this point I call bullshit—this is the point that made me resist Queer Theory for so long; I had heard these arguments from the likes of Julie Bindel early in my education of Queer Theory, and I stopped listening. I didn’t need to hear this kind of vitriol—attempts to undermine my identity and erase me. More than offensive, these arguments seemed to ignore a lot of the opposing evidence found so readily in other disciplines. It wasn’t until today, though, that I realized how inexorably linked this view is to the notion that transsexuals are delusional.

I remember when I came out, and several people close to me felt I was delusional, that my gender dysphoria was all in my head—all a mental pathology or a disordered way of thinking, and perverting my body was no way of fixing this problem. I remember hearing that my sister agreed: I must be crazy, because there was no way I could be that good of an actor (she was, coincidentally, trying to become a successful actress at the time). Today, I heard these thoughts echoed in a blog post. Now, I’ve come to expect this from Julie Bindel and her clones (as I’ve said above), but I never expected it from The Bilerico Project. I frequently read posts at TBP because I appreciate the thought-provoking material—that’s where I first heard some really reasonable arguments against hate crime legislation; I still find these ideas push me outside of my comfort zone, but they inspire thought and further investigation on my part, and so I welcome their controversy. Today’s post by Ronald Gold, however, was not delightfully controversial: it was blatantly hateful, transphobic, offensive, and hurtful. He asserted just the kind of arguments I’ve outlined: transsexuals are delusional and engage in self-mutilation to manifest their perversion. To support this argument, Mr. Gold bring up the old issues of deconstructing gender constructs—after all, if social constructs of gender are torn down, there will be no need for transsexuals; they can finally embrace their nonconforming genders in a supportive environment.
The problem with Mr. Gold’s and other’s arguments is that even though they want this to be a reflection of reality, it isn’t. Even Julie Bindel admits her bias (though I don’t think she’d call it such) that, “Feminists want to rid the world of gender rules and regulations, so how is it possible to support a theory which has at its centre the notion that there is something essential and biological about the way boys and girls behave?” It’s almost as good as an admission that they recognize that their proposed theories ignore important facets of reality, but to recognize that reality might undermine their arguments, and therefore they essentially throw out the data they don’t like. (And I’m not saying everything is biology. Far from it). There’s a dynamic mixture between culture, environment, and biology—people like Bindel and Gold, however, seem to be wilfully ignorant of this reality in preference of a misguided assumption that because some of gender may have biological bases, that somehow excuses institutional oppression and privilege systems. Likewise, just because individuals may not have gender expressions that conform to societal standards, that does not preclude them from also feeling out of place in their body. There is a distinct separation between one’s gender expression/behaviour and one’s sense of their sex (and therefore their congruence or incongruence within their own sexed bodies). I effect, my expression as a tomboy or my assertive, ambitious nature has nothing to do with my need to be realized as female. I could also be a complete girly girl—my need to have a sense of security in a female body is a separate issue. People like Bindel and Gold seem to be incapable of understanding these points, favouring more stereotypical assumptions of what motivates transsexuals.
As Albert Camus put it in The Plague, “The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if the lack understanding.” A truly offensive turn of events in this fiasco at Bilerico was Bil Browning’s defense of Gold’s article as having good intentions, even if it was phrased in an offensive way. I’m sorry, Bil, but you don’t have a fraction of the wisdom of my friend, Albert, and frankly I’m in complete agreement with Camus on this one. What we’re seeing in Uganda right now is the product of good intentions. The problem with the Bilerico post is that despite possible good intentions and despite a possible attempt to support the freedom of gender expression and behaviour, this post erased the identities of transsexuals, assumed a greater understanding of what motivates others, and went on to describe transsexuals as delusional and their transitions as mutilation. This said to a population already told they are mentally defective and perverse. This said to a group whose ability to gain social justice is severely retarded by a persistent categorization as a mental disorder, despite abundant evidence that transsexuality is not a mental health issue. Needless to say, this post opened up a lot of old wounds for people. And now, despite Bil Browning’s apology, Bilerico is not a safe place for trans people. It hurts to see people you thought to be allies—to find something you once so enjoyed—suddenly pander in the trade of hateful rhetoric. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to look at this blog the same way again.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Queer Performance

The idea of performativity gets thrown around a lot in Queer Theory; indeed, this notion of gender being “performative” was, I felt, inherently offensive. Even separating it from the potentially unintentional connotation that gender is simply an act—like a play, a grand farce—the vast majority of transsexuals I know would readily voice dissenting opinions that gender is not merely something you “do.” A very wise friend of mine once said, “Authenticity is not a word in the vocabulary of those who "do" gender. Just sayin'...” Gender, itself, is a more internalized force—the only “doing” of gender is, in fact, via gender expression, and we all know that any given gender expression may not be an authentic representation/reflection of our gender identity.

But the idea of performative identity still holds some degree of merit. After all, if an identity stays locked up inside a closet, away from any other’s knowledge, then does it really exist? It’s a tree falling without anyone to hear it—a single hand clapping in the wind. Yes, it exists. Yes, it is real, authentic, and even palpable to the individual. It is not, however, relevant insofar as interpersonal relationships are concerned. If that identity never sees the light of day—if there is no one to witness it, experience it, or relate with it—then it may as well be dead. This is, of course, because people are social being with a social culture, and our identities require interpersonal contact. It’s why Judith Butler recognized that some “performances” are successful while others fail. The success of our identities, to some degree, is dependent on external forces, and they therefore cannot be sustained for long within a vacuum.

This is a long set up for my story. I have been learning to play the violin for about two years now. Granted I did not practice much over the first several months, and then there was a half-year hiatus. Altogether I’ve probably had about a year’s worth of dedicated violin study, and in my own mind I fancied myself becoming a musician, taking to the stage like Lucia Micarelli or Emilie Autumn, in a band like Bridget Regan or Rebecca Manthe. Alas, over the past two years, I had never played violin in front of anyone—save for my violin teachers—leaving quite a gap between me, alone in my room, and the sold-out audiences of the big-name violinists. For all the people that did hear me play (three teachers, and (muffled through walls) neighbours) I may as well not have been a musician at all—art is a medium to be shared with others; private art loses any tangible, interpersonal meaning—relevance to the world is nonexistent. This, however, came to a smashing end last night as I, for the first time ever, took to the stage and played before an audience of 30-40 people.

As a performance, I sucked (there’s no polite way to phrase my disappointment in my lack of sill). However, the audience was, nonetheless, very supportive, and I even had several people approach me later and commend me on “beautiful fiddle playing.” While I felt each flat note—every over-shift into third position—and ever skipped beat, I still take great pride that I was able to stand up before an audience and play. Regardless of how I feel about the quality of my performance last night, I realize that I just took the first critical step in my musical career: I am now more than just some girl playing the fiddle in her room. I am now a musician. Granted, I may be a shitty musician at the moment, but I am, nonetheless, a musician.

In all fairness, I was a musician before last night as well. I was still studying music, learning different musical keys, working on intonation and rhythm; however, that identity was not actualized. Likewise a similar scenario exists with any identity: the identity, itself, may well be authentic and real to us (to the individual), but it fails to achieve a realized potential for relevance until it can exist outside of isolation. Once it sees the light of day, though, it adopts relevance and it becomes an actualized expression of the self. I disagree with Butler’s assessment that some performances fail while other succeed. Maybe in the narrow definitions of a judgmental society, such a system of “pass/fail” may exist. But in a more queer sense of reality, there are differing degrees of what manifestations become us, and differing degrees of ability within a definite temporal frame. The overall “success” (if it can so be measured) is more dynamic and, ultimately, the only critic who necessarily matters is, once again, the individual. True enough, members of any given culture can write off a performance as a failure, and castigation may be their subsequent reaction. Nonetheless, even a “failed” performance opens up the door of that new self to you. This is the truth that society doesn’t want you to know: your mere perseverance is necessarily your victory. Your bravery to manifest that identity—regardless of its subjective “success”—is your triumph.