Sunday, July 17, 2005

Characters

(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.

9 comments:

Dee Femina said...

Interesting ideas and concept Shannon.

In my case "Dee" is not a different persona...I am me and Dee is me. At the same time I am able to express myself more fully and holistically as Dee. I don't feel some of the inhibitions I may have as my male alter ego and I definitely speak my mind more honestly and freely. Something that interests me is that I am living and behaving as Dee in the manner that my astrology chart says I need to develop into.

Am I a character? Not in terms of being substantially different or playing a character actor role.

Is there anything wrong with being a character? Absolutely not. I see no problem with people using this side of them to explore different aspects and characteristics.

I also agree with you that we, as a community, should allow for tolerance and acceptance of individual characteristics and styles. We are all individuals with our own individual and unique characters and outlook on life. That should be encourages and accepted...let's face it, that's what makes people and the world interesting.

Jenna said...

"In my case "Dee" is not a different persona...I am me and Dee is me"

That's I before me, except after Dee.....

Michele Angelique said...

Thank you very much for contributing this insightful article, Shannon. This is a very interesting discussion piece.

Character is defined by Oxford Dictionary as:
n. 1. all those qualities that make a person, group or thing what he/she/it is and different from others. 2. a person's moral nature. 3. moral strength. 4. a person, especially a noticeable or eccentric one. 5. a person in a novel or play... "

Characters are unique because they don't fit the common mold; they stand out because they are different. Shannon wants to be a character, not a conformist, even within the scope of the "norms" of the TG community.

I am a character as well, in fact, I am a myriad of characters. I have many facets and social personas, and I decide which to put on depending upon my mood, situation and environment. While my characters may not be as radically different in outer appearance as a M-to-F transition, they are nonetheless each finely crafted and based upon many years of growth and introspection.

I use a certain character for business relations, one that is logical, forthright, unemotional, down-to-earth, diligent, and quite male in demeanor. I have another character that is a fun and flirty party girl who likes to dance the night away. I have a sweet little baby girl character, and yet another who is a commanding dominatrix bitch. I have a spiritual seeker, philanthropist, nurturer character, and I am host to a haughty prima-donna character as well. Ideally my characters would live in total harmony, although regretfully this is not always the case.

I am a character that is being refined continuously as I strive to reach wholeness, totality, completion as a human being. I am more than just Dominess/Michele, yet she is intricately woven into the fabric of myself, and inextricable from the larger me. You are saying that Shannon is a character that has been built quite strategically, rather than a random haphazard compilation of traits resulting merely from circumstance. You are putting conscious thought into developing Shannon as an identity based on aspects of your real self. She is the shell you wear to outwardly express an aspect of your true nature. I can totally relate to this.

I love the creative expression that goes into character building. With the simple changing of external adornments, mannerisms and language, it is possible to switch between the choice of a huge spectrum of available personas. We can appear to be whatever we choose to display. Generally it is assumed that our outer shell is a reflection of who we are inside, although this is not always the case. Perception is often deceiving. Many nuances go into building a persona/identity/image, from personal beliefs and preferences, to the social environment and intention of the message.

I enjoyed your examples of characters who transition from the mundane to larger-than-life. In both cases, a process or journey is inherant in the change, with the goal of becoming something much more brilliant than the original self. I can certainly see the parallel between gender transformation and your examples. Your message here is to encourage people to break the mold, and be characters in their own right. You are saying that even within alternative communities there can still be "mainstream" judgementalism, expectation and pressure to conform. You prefer to be a character because you appreciate diversity and creative self-expression.

Thanks again Shannon, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this interesting topic.

Karen Reeves said...

I'm still getting up to speed on the blog after a long difficult summer.

I just read Shannon's long and very thoughtful piece. In my mind it covers all the bases indepth. I'm not going to try to reinvent the wheel here. She covered it all very well.

I agree with what Shannon wrote. When we "morph' into our female personna we are, in effect, reborn. We start out in the other gender and go thru the growth development stages.

Did you ever notice beginning CD's dress trashy and/or ultra sexy ? These are girls going thru adolescence. I see it in adolescent girls and also see the same parallels no matter the Tgirl's biological age. It is their new "gender mental age" in play.

As Shannon so aptly describes, where do you go from that starting point ? Do you grow socially beyond this stage ? Who do you become, mild or wild, or in between ? How do we want the world to perceive us and how do we want to perceive ourselves ?

That's the $64,000 question in life !

A great piece of writing Shannon !

Respectfully,

KAREN :-)

Shannon said...

Hey Karen,

Thanks for your comments. Nice to see the article connected with you.

I am still thinking lots about this topic. I agree that 'newborn' tgirls do go through a bit of an adolescence phase. I have often joked that I am quite immature for my age, and that Shannon has the emotional maturity of a bratty, lovesick teenager. *grin* I think that's why most crossdressers, when they first start going out, are so quick to adopt the slutty/saucy look and presentation. What preteen/teenage girls don't?

However, unlike most teenage girls, we don't have moms and big sisters around to shape our behaviour. We've all heard young girls being reprimanded, "You aren't going out like that!". It happens all the time. Girls are simply taught the norms of appropriate feminine dress and behaviour, directly and verbally and with consequences. Consequently, there is a socialization process in place that happens with young women that's unfortunately absent in our tranny culture.

Now in truth, I have experienced some of this since my coming out. Older tgirls and drag queens, perhaps those who overseeing our groups/organizations, have *suggested* that a manner of dress or course of action might be more 'classy' or 'passable'. But nothing even close to the refining process that happens with young women, I'm afraid. Much of what I've learned I've picked up on my own, gleaning little bits here and there wherever I can.

This is where I think identity comes in and where a lot of new tgirls get stuck. Famed psychologist Erik Erickson identifed several developmental phases or crises we go through throughout our lifetime. During adolescence, he described going through the challenge of Identity vs. Role Confusion. Either we came to be able to define ourselves as a person or not. A good friend of mine conceptualized it well, that ego identity was like this sticky ball of tape, bouncing through our life. It picked up pieces here and there and added them to ourselves. Are we a musician? Athlete? Artist? These things are added to ourselves and came to define us as people, especially at an early age.

Those who fail to pass through the bottleneck of adolescence were described in later years by Erickson as experiencing an "identity crisis". This is often characterized by the inability to choose careers or settle upon further educational pursuits. We often hear of those in their early twenties still trying to "find themselves".

I wonder ...how many of our sisters on URNA might be experiencing some form of "identity crisis". That we should have some sort of 'finishing school' for wayward tsluts seems rather obvious, but perhaps the problem is bigger than that. They/we are still trying to find ourselves ...as women. I know this is a refining process I have been going through and am still going through, defining my feminine persona with greater and greater clarity.

Anyway, there's a few more thoughts. Thanks for the feedback.

-Shannon

Karen Reeves said...

Once again Shannon has spun her verbal web and left me with very little to say except, "I agree !"

I especially enjoyed the phrase she wrote that we need, "a finishing school for wayward tsluts ". I assume she meant Tgurl adoloescents. Only a small majority are sluts :-) Yes, read that CAREFULLY, I did not make a mistake !

For some the female personna is seperate from their male role but for many of us our female personna is our true self. It depends on situation and circumstance.

Shannon please continue to come up with those catchy phrases ! I truly enjoyed the read.

Jenna what can I say about your comments ? My mom always told me if you have nothing nice to say about someone or something then don't say anything at all !

Respectfully,

~KAREN~

Karen Reeves said...

HA HA HA Jenna ! You know I was only joking ! I really enjoy your witty remarks. Please keep it up :-)

Truly Respectfully,

~KAREN~

Karen Reeves said...

Hey I like seeing my picture up here ! ! ! *Giggles*

Karen Reeves said...

Now I do a complete 180 in thought. I just READ Felica's contribution regarding Bubba. I'm glad I did not read it first before responding to Shannon's thoughts.

Felicia's article is VERY POWERFUL stuff ! It is well written. I am not adverse to such items being posted here. The bad comes with the good in life.

I am always ready to discuss this matter with any one here and not sweep it under the rug.This has more relevance to me than the theoretical my loving sisters and friends, for you see I HAVE BEEN RAPED !

Respectfully Submitted,


KAREN :-(