To own up to my history outs me as trans and brings up a long stretch of time – the first twenty or so years of my life – that’s at odds with how I see myself now. When I talk with people about Judaism, do I acknowledge my Bar Mitzvah and out myself, or do I say I had a Bat Mitzvah and rewrite part of my life? When a coworker talks about buying suits or ties, do I chime in with memories of my experiences, or do I stay silent? Do I ask my parents to take down pictures from the first two decades of my life? To wipe clean the time before I was 22 or 23? To cover the mirrors which reflect the parts of myself I don’t always want to remember, don’t always want to see?
From Trans Form, my December 2009 show (emphasis added)
My upcoming show is called Uncovering the Mirrors. It’s a reference to the bolded line above, sure, but more broadly it’s a reference to how one holds shiva (a mourning gathering in Judaism): “It is proper to cover the mirrors in the shiva house [because] a mourner is striving to ignore his/her own physicality and vanity in order to concentrate on the reality of being a soul.”
The “mirror” in my performances is a metaphor for something. In Trans Form, it was a metaphor for “the parts of myself I don’t always want to remember.” That is, the “male” parts of me that I was trying to get away from.
The title Uncovering the Mirrors, though, speaks to a desire to not cover up or hide. And so, recently, I’ve been trying to figure out what, exactly, that mirror is.
I’ve never really liked mirrors, photographs of myself, seeing myself on film, hearing myself recorded. It forced me to acknowledge my masculinity and male presentation, something that was painful and unpleasant. I also didn’t like going shopping for clothing, or getting dressed up, or formal occasions, for the same reason: they required the cultural pomp of being a man. The most fun I had getting dressed up as a man was when I was able to think of that clothing as a costume, not really “me,” and when I was with good friends. Prom comes to mind as a time when I didn’t like the clothing I was wearing, but still had fun with the whole experience of getting dressed up and going out.
As I’ve transitioned, mirrors (and photographs, and the rest) have become less scary, more desirable. I’ve discovered that I didn’t dislike shopping for clothing, I disliked shopping for men’s clothing. Indeed, this past weekend I went dress shopping with my mom (my brother’s wedding is the end of August) and actually had a good time. In retrospect, it seems obvious: it was the gender of the experience, not the experience itself. But it’s come as something of a revelation that I’m allowed to like how I look, and have fun with it.
So the mirror I’m (metaphorically) uncovering onstage this September is, I think, a different mirror than I wanted to cover last December. I’m uncovering a mirror that reflects who I am, not who I was. A mirror that lets me see myself as I want to be seen by others. A mirror in which I can experiment, yes, and sometimes fall short of my ideals. But a mirror that does not allow for imposed judgment or gendering at the hands of others.
Returning to the analogy of sitting shiva, mirrors are covered so that mourners are not tempted to focus on their own vanity; thoughts should be turned to the deceased and to prayer. Likewise, from that link above, covering the mirrors “symbolizes [a] withdrawal from society’s gaze.” It follows, then, that uncovering the mirrors is a return to society, and an allowance for thoughts to dwell on appearance and vanity.
I wouldn’t say I’m done mourning my need for transition, the imposed gender and oppression I experienced growing up. But I’m ready to uncover the mirrors.