Guest post: This fluidity in all of us

Originally a comment by Tim Harris on A woman is whoever wants to be a woman.

‘Childhood pretending’ – I am reminded of doing mask-work while doing acting training (which can be alarming – some odd things come out, and the emotions called forth can be overwhelming), and of the way a Noh actor (the shite – which is pronounced, roughly, ‘shte’ and not the way you might suppose, though it may be there are some real shites among Noh actors, as there are among all actors), having put on his mask, looks into a mirror to allow the spirit of the character to enter him. And I feel that when you are acting well, it is as though you have a kind of second skin an infinitesimal distance from your actual skin, and that this leads you. It is like a mask. You are no longer in control – though there remains a constant sort of double focus, since you know the role is leading you, and allow it do so. I have come across some actors, in nearly every case, poor ones, who so lose themselves in what they suppose to be their role that they will behave violently towards other actors in rehearsal and then excuse themselves, first of all, usually, to themselves (since they feel this loss of control shows that must be good actors) and only then to others if they do so at all.

The Danish anthropologist Rane Willerslev has written very interestingly on Siberian hunting tribes, whose members enter the animal world in dreams and are given tips by the Mistress of Animals where to go on the following day or in a few days’ time. The hunters, if hunting an elk, will, after spotting an elk, so move that the elk supposes they are an elk and will at times come towards them. They have, while retaining human form, as it were put on the skin or mask of an elk and allow this to guide them. At the same time, however, the hunters told Willerslev, you must not allow yourself to be too caught up into the world of animals, for you will eventually lose your humanity, and, it seems, this occasionally happens, so someone will actually become mentally deranged. There is a sort of double focus here, too, which it is important to maintain.

This kind of thing is profoundly connected with all the arts – and very obviously in the case of imaginative literature, where a good playwright or novelist or poet enters deeply into the skin of a character, whether of the same sex as the writer or not. I recall the composer and violinist George Enescu speaking, concerning the composing of his great opera ‘Oedipe’, of struggling to to build an almost unbearable tension in order to depict the victory of Oedipus over the Sphinx. Ah, I’ve found the place in the book: ‘To describe the howling of the Sphinx, he had “to imagine something unimaginable.” “When I finished that scene,” recalls the composer, “it seemed to me that I was going mad.”‘

But he didn’t go mad.

There is this fluidity, if you like to call it that, in all of us, and it is a great part of what makes us human. And, particularly in youth, one’s imagination can seem to be all too real – particularly if it is in part a defence against some traumatic experience, as in the case of that poor young girl quoted in a thread here some days ago, who, having experienced abuse at the hands of a cousin, and having discovered that she was attracted to someone of the same sex, declared that she was a boy called ‘John’, and absolutely denied that she was a lesbian. And, certainly, there is something called gender dysphoria which may be connected with this fluidity.

Which all seems to me pertinent to the case of claiming to be a sex other than you are, particularly in the case of the behaviour of the most vociferous of the trans-females, a number of whom sport beards, wear male clothing, and who behave like bad actors and real shites.  

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