Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Twenty-Seven: Performativity

There's a great deal of contemporary sexual theory that holds that gender is performance, that one does gender rather than being or having a gender. Gender is defined as a series of reiterated performances that mask the instability of all ideas of gender--- "a copy for which there is no original". I do read things by authors who position themselves in various niche sexual worlds where they talk about how they do gender for a given night, a given lover, a given fetish, a given game.

I do know that on a given day, dressing to go out into public, whether to an office or to someplace where I might find myself flirting with a lovely girl, I stand there in the mirror and prepare for a performance. I do think of it sometimes as an arming ritual. I'll be tying a necktie in the mirror or putting on a jacket and I'll imagine myself being fitted into armour or a matador's costume. I'll imagine being fitted into ritual garb, whether that's a breastplate and helmet or a bishop's robes. Going out in public is assuming a role, taking up a character.

In gender theory terms, I'm taking up a particular variant of being male. I'm taking up a role that is carefully constructed. What's being created there in the mirror is a character, and one with specific semiotics. When I go out into public, I am performing a role. I want to be read, I suppose. I want my performance to say that I'm of a certain class and background, to suggest my affinity for certain places and roles. I've never been a peacock male; that's not what my character would do. I'm presenting myself as educated, as someone of a certain age who still defines himself as sexual, as someone who has a trace of anglophilia and a hint of darkness. I don't do male peacocking, mind you. The goal is understatement, and the sense of security that goes with it. But I am always in character when I go out anywhere. I may tweak things a bit for different venues, but the presentation is always the same.

I also see certain writers about sexual issues and sexual politics talk about how one does sex--- not in the sense of techniques and positions, but in the sense of negotiation and presentation. There's a hint of suspicion in how that idea is invoked, a hint that to do sex is somehow to be inauthentic and attempting to put something over on a particular partner or potential partner (inevitably, a male attempting to somehow defraud a female).

I'll be upfront about it. I do see sex as something one does, as its own set of performances. Though they have their originals--- scenes and lines in books and films. I ask myself, inevitably, whether the kind of character I'd be in a favourite book or film would do something; I ask myself whether I've done all the things my character would do. And, yes, I measure myself against the things characters in books and films do. My goal is always to give pleasure to a young companion, but whatever I do, I'm doing in character, and I want her to construct her own character, her own scenarios as well.

I don't think of what I do as inauthentic. I am what I do. I am the character I create. I am a gentleman of a certain age and a certain background. But the things inside that description are things I've taken up as being what I really am. Sitting at a cafe, sitting at an office desk, talking down the bar, I'm always doing a character. Kissing a young companion, taking her into my arms, I'm hoping that both of us are inside a story with scenes we want to be part of. I'm asking myself what I'd be doing at a given moment if I were my own character in a novel or film. Be very clear: I am made up out of characters and scenes I've liked. Romance, seduction, life--- the narrative arc, the crafted scene. Those are the things I like, that I've created myself inside.

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