Monday, May 21, 2012

Thirty-One: Originals

Judith Butler famously described gender as "a copy for which there is no original". Gender is now described as purely a performance. One does one's gender.

I'm fond of the phrase--- "a copy for which there is no original" ---though not because I'm fond of Dr. Butler and her work. I like the phrase just for itself. It's wonderfully Borgesian, and I'll always like for that reason alone, without relating it to Butler's ideas of gender. How can you not be fascinated by something that's a copy with no original?

I know that I perform a role when I'm with young companions. The Older Admirer, the gentleman, the figure who talks about books and ideas while flirting. I can do that without thinking; there's no difference between mask and face.

Now I will admit that I don't always feel so secure in being simply male, in performing that role. I suppose no one male ever does. Being male, being "a man" is about being judged and accepted both by other males and by desirable women. There's no definitive moment when you're given the title, and it's never once for all. The criteria change over time and across societies, but every society has them. I suppose there's something inevitable there. There's no clearly physical moment to become a man, no menarche or childbirth. It's something that has to be shown over and over. It can't be achieved; it can only be lost.

I do think about that. A sense of social recognition as "a man" is always temporary, and no one keeps it into his later years. Age takes away all the things that enable you to have that temporary victory. The list of criteria here in this decade and this culture isn't long; you can't miss more than one or two.

I suppose I'm a bit gloomy tonight. I have been reading about what gender is about, and I've been following discussions on the web about what it means to be male, about what it implies--- and requires. I have been thinking about mortality and about the sense of possibilities being foreclosed.  I'll go on performing as long as I can. There's really no choice about that.

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