In this American Film Institute Archive clip, Dustin Hoffman recalls the process of developing the external appearance of Dorothy Michaels for Tootsie (1982) and the concatenating effects of realizing his internal sense of self did not match the external reality of what even the studio’s elite hair and makeup teams could provide.
This clip points to several different personal and cultural questions I seek to explore in The Skin I’m In. We all likely agree at this point that judgments of beauty, femininity, or masculinity are not absolutes but rather culturally constructed. But it is one thing to know this intellectually and quite another to a) feel at peace with these metrics or b) to transcend their use as the driving measures of self or others.
If self is not to be fully found in our tyrannical minds or our ephemeral bodies, then where does it reside? Explorers of nonduality would say this question is itself a trap, as it remythologizes the existence of a singular, finite, knowable self.
Making this film and dividing my identity into multiple personas, each just as real and just as “me” as the next, has certainly helped me to understand the ways in which each of us restricts and binds ourselves through personal and cultural narratives.
But on the flip side, once we see that none of our experiences, diagnoses, personalities, hopes, resentments, possessions, and appearances can fully describe “self,” but rather serve as nodes or mapping points for the experience of consciousness, we begin to glimpse the infinite possibilities for adventure, experimentation, and play in life.
It is this sense of freedom that I think many of us are pointing to via the (albeit feeble) term “spirit”–a realm I held at arm’s length for some thirty years because “spirituality” seemed fettered to religion and dogma, not a path to possibility and play.
‘Tis true that a good play needs no epilogue, but it seems fitting to close a post on gender, performance, and identity with some Shakesepare:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…
–Jaques from Shakesepare’s As You Like It (Act II Scene 7)
A former student of mine shared this great blog post by Simon Moritz, a Paris-based grad student, writer, and queer activist. Entitled, “What I Learned From Gay Sex: Misogyny and Homophobia” it explores the internalized misogyny and homophobia many gay men inflict upon themselves and others in their struggles with performances of “masculinity” and conceptions of manhood. An excerpt:
Typically we say that “fag,” “sissy,” “nancy,” “nelly” and “fairy” are homophobic words, and although they certainly are used to perpetuate homophobia, they are not homophobic in and of themselves; the usage of any of these words as slurs usually targets people with male-sexed bodies who do not act sufficiently masculine. They prize masculinity by demonizing femininity. Read full article here
Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar is under fire for the phrase on his eye black. (Tom Szczerbowski – Getty Images
A John Loomis portrait of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for the August issue of Men’s Journal.
Shortstop of the Toronto Bluejays Yunel Escobar was suspended by his team for three games today for playing with “Tu Ere Maricon” written in his eyeblack. It’s great that the Bluejays took public action to discipline Escobar, but his own apology speaks to a level of continued ignorance: “I don’t have anything against homosexuals. I have friends who are gay…” Then in direct reference to the word Maricon, “It’s a word used often within teams…it’s uh, as uh, it’s a word without meaning in the way [I] used it.”
ESPN video frame of Escobar performing his idea of “faggotry” as he points to the slur ” Tu Ere Maricon” written on his eyeblack.
This coming off the anonymous Fluter Online Magazine interview last week with one of Germany’s leading Bundesliga soccer superstars who says that he is gay but afraid to come out (English coverage of the article in Der Spiegel Online here). The player is apparently out to teammates and team brass, all of whom he says have no problem with his sexuality. But he has a fear of the media frenzy coming out might ignite and the reaction of fans. Some select quotes: “I have to put on a show and deny my true identity every day…I don’t know whether I will be able to take the constant tension between the model heterosexual player and the possible discovery, until the end of my career.” All this told to a 25-year-old reporter for publication in Fluter which is youth magazine published by the Federal Agency for Civic Education.
Bundesliga officials and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel chimed in on the interview, on a weekend where ironically, all soccer players donned jerseys reading “Geh Deinen Weg” (Go your own way) as part of a campaign to promote soccer as a means of transcending religious and racial intolerance. Merkel told press, “He lives in a country in which he need have no fear of outing himself publicly…We have to acknowledge there are still fears when it comes to the social environment [in football]. We can only give a signal: You need not fear.”
Meanwhile in U.S. NFL football, a storyline of another sort plays out as a Maryland state delegate Emmet C. Burns’s attempt to censure Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for supporting a gay marriage proposition on the state ballot backfired, making both Avanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings player Chris Kluwe (who posted a colorful open letter to Burns in defense of gay marriage and free speech) internet heroes of the week.
These stories coming in such close succession after an Olympics in which the number of out athletes was a marked topic of media conversation (only 23 of over 10,00o competitors and only 4 of them male were out at the games), seem like revamped headlines to old news. In May of this year former Redskin player LaVar Arrington said in a radio interview that the first active NFL player to come out would be a “national hero.” Granted he was already retired at the time, but it is sobering to remember former NFL player Dave Kopay came out in Lynn Rosellini’s Washington Star cover story way back in 1975…
What do yo think? Do these three incidents speak to progress and substantive discourse, or are we simply going round and round in mediated cycles of progress and prudery?