(by Shannon Summers)
In a recent conversation, a good friend referred to Shannon as being a ‘character’. She meant it as a compliment, that the whole of myself is greater than the feminine persona I created. Nonetheless, I was a bit taken aback. I consider girlself to be very real, perhaps as real my guyself. Maybe more so. I found her comment to be a challenge to my sense of self, and it got me thinking.
I suppose in many ways, Shannon is a character. When I first started presenting my girlself to the world, I made a lot of conscious decisions about who Shannon would be as a person. What kind of clothes should she wear? How would she present herself in social situations? Would she be fun loving or conservative? Sassy or demure? Would I incorporate my intellect and ideas into my presentation (I have a masters in science), or would I simply play the ditzy blonde role?
These, I felt, were important decisions, comparable to the identity crises most teenagers go through. As people, we are defined by such things.
I also started pondering the nature of ‘characters’ in pop culture. One of my favourite pop culture icons is a rocker formerly known as Brian Warner. At one point in time, Brian was described as a shy, sensitive college student majoring in Poetry. He was hardly noteworthy or controversial. When he started up his band, however, Brian adopted the pseudonym Marilyn Manson. His reasons for doing so were not so dissimilar to our own. As the entertainment editor for the school paper, he wanted the opportunity to write reviews about himself.
At first, the persona of Marilyn Manson was little different than Brian himself, a sad poetic clown reminiscent of Alice Cooper. Over time, however, the character of Marilyn evolved. Brian began incorporating more of his ideas and images into the act, ranging from pop culture affections (even his name is an amalgamation of supermodels and serial killers) to his distaste for his strict Christian school upbringing. This, of course, sparked a firestorm of criticism (mostly from the religious right), which served as a catalyst, forcing him to refine the character of Marilyn with greater clarity and purpose.
Nowadays, friends say they can no longer see Brian Warner in Marilyn, that he has been entirely subsumed into the character. In fact, Marilyn takes great offense being referred to by his former name, saying, “I earned my name. I earned the right to be called Marilyn Manson. It’s not like I’m Brian Warner in the closet and wear my Marilyn mask when people can see me.”
I’m also a huge comic books fan, and it’s hard not to notice the similarities between comic book characters and tgirls. In addition to the secret identities and double life, there are the secretive costume changes, the larger than life personalities, and the enhanced sense of empowerment. We simply are more powerful as gurls. Oh, and the fact that I can still pull off a head high roundhouse kick in 4” heels doesn’t hurt either. Hahaha.
Spiderman has long been the marquee character of Marvel comics, and the strength of any Spiderman story is his alter ego, Peter Parker. Petey was the protagonist that all comic book fans could identify with. He was naïve, bullied, insecure, and just a little too smart for his own good. A smart aleck geek who acted like he knew better because, well, he always did.
As Spiderman, however, Peter became powerful. Inwardly, he was still the same, but no longer was he content with a mere wry smirk to himself. Now his insights were manifest, an in-your-face taunt to the villains, often driving them over the edge and into his ready hands. Over time, the character of Peter Parker changed, as it became harder to hide his growing confidence and personal strength. Even when walking along in street clothes, he knew who he was. He was Spiderman. No amount of costuming could ever change that.
Throughout the course of my life, I have been very blessed to have known quite a few people who could only be described as ‘characters’. Quirky oddball sorts who made no effort to fit into mainstream society; in fact, they gave up trying a long time ago. My life has been enriched by each of them in many ways.
People prefer it when we fit into the preconceived notions. It makes life easier for them, simpler to understand. Thus, we live in a world of judgment and expectation, and the march of conformity continues unabated. Even in our own little community, there are social pressures to conform, to fit into the standard model of what a ‘true’ transgender person is supposed to be. We have norms of expected behaviour, and people who are all too ready to communicate and enforce those expectations.
We hear it all the time, and I find the concept to be so diminutive. To be a ‘true’ TS you have to be x, or you should be y because that’s what ‘real’ women are like. Well, it’s occurred to me that there’s diversity within the female population. Not all women are the same. Some are dainty and proper; others are wild, fun, and out of control. Likewise, even in our own community, should we also not allow for the same tolerance of individual differences? Not all are going to fit into the same mold. Why should they? That’s what makes each of us special and different.
So in answer to the question, is Shannon a ‘character’? Gawd, I certainly hope so.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
(by Shannon Summers)
Posted by Shannon at 12:36 AM
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