Grabbing my identity by the throat has allowed me to play with other identities in the space of play and performance. Being more secure in how I identify in terms of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation has allowed me the freedom to explore my boundaries: what I’m comfortable with and how far I can push myself.
Up until two years ago I found the feminine cloyingly repulsive and unnatural. My mother’s attempts to feminise me always left me feeling exceedingly uncomfortable, and I clearly remember the hideousness of my matric dance outfit and how I felt like a drag queen, and yet not, because it was an enforced drag, not the drag that stems from a place of play and a sense of security in one’s own gender.
Since beginning the photographic project of documenting my play with gender, I have experienced conflicting emotions and reactions to placing myself within a feminine frame. Firstly, I found myself approaching the feminine from the space of play, experimentation and boundary testing. The idea of donning the feminine has been more exciting and less frightening, and I’ve truly had fun with and loved the experience of seeing the photographic results. The artistic process has thus been very revelatory and enjoyable.
The physical experience, the experience of my self apart from the artistic process, has been difficult. I’ve been able to perform the feminine to the extent of playing with costume, props and make-up, but have been unable to perform feminine characteristics, behaviours, mannerisms and poses. Along with the wigs, dresses and shoes, I am still visited by those old feelings of intense discomfort, a sense of not being me, of having an otherness enforced on me. Even in the privacy of my own home with only me to witness my transformation, I am unable to express a femininity that stems from me rather than the costume. One interesting thing, though, is that when I’m playing the feminine and photographing myself, I’m able to smile (almost unable not to), while in my other self-portraits smiling feels unnatural and uncomfortable.
In the blurb to this blog I say that, "I approach other spaces through fearlessly exploring inner space." Sometimes the exploration is more brave than fearless. A lot of the time my performances touch a nerve, pointing to something I still need to investigate further, approaching it more carefully in my next encounter with it. Because sometimes, when staring into the looking glass, it's not only unexplored selves that stare back. Sometimes there are demons.
Looking back on these photos and experiments, I’m very happy with the results, because they denote a bravery that was previously unavailable to me; a sense of adventure I never had; and, a sense of playfulness I’m so grateful to have found.
All photographs: self-portraits.
(First published on www.life-writ-large.posterous.com on 22nd May 2012)