Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Real, or memorex?

Helen and I were having an interesting chat recently about the degree to which we feel "real," particularly as it affects gender and class. I noted that while my family wound up fairly well to do, it started out just the opposite, and when I was young, I was very aware of being kind of from the wrong side of the tracks. Then my father's star rose, and they renovated the old house, and if you saw the place now (my new book is about that house and its ghosts) you'd think: wealth and privilege.

But I never felt that way, and I get all defensive when people talk about my being a person of privilege. My history makes me feel different-- and history, of course is not nothing, even though it's not always visible.

The conversation Helen and I had about class echoes the one I often hear from trans people-- they want to be "real," and yet their history follows them around.

Sometimes I think this is a universal feeling-- that everybody else is "real," and yet we alone ourselves are frauds. When we go on a perilous journey to "become real" it becomes a badge of honor, to have arrived at our "real selves" after such sacrifice. Which is why characters like J. Michael Bailey make people so angry-- after all that, he allows as how we are not who we think we are-- that in fact, he knows us better than we know ourselves.

1 comment:

Richard M. Juang said...

This is a bit of an indirect comment that comes because I've been thinking about what "real" means, recently. But I think it relates.

There are many different types of "real" that we want to feel and that we deserve to experience. I think the dialogues that trans folks, persons of color, immigrants and children of immigrants, and working class folks have had, in different times and places and context, suggest that there are many different "reals" that we want to feel. There's the desire to have our subjective experiences and senses of self taken as real: as serious and meaningful and as not-fraudulent. There's also being seen as politically and socially real: having our needs taken seriously by the society, having our voices heard by government, having our achievements recognized. There's also a cultural real: the fact that we produce art that is meaningful and creative, that our social interactions among ourselves are not just an abberation from the so-called "mainstream", that our self-expressions are valuable and lasting in some way.

As someone who is genderqueer identified, the desire for realness often come in the form of wanting my subjective experience taken seriously. Among other reasons, because I get identified as male and my identity documents fall in line with that, most of my political and civil rights are intact (and I speak English, am a US citizen and am able-bodied, etc). However, it is not uncommon for me, to find that what it means to be genderqueer is not taken seriously either inside or outside of transgender circles-- at times, folks have said things like, "oh, so you're just very alert to gender! that's nice. I think everyone feels that way sometimes."