By Stephen Torres
Having my education more in the school of life than actual school, I sometimes get tripped up by the people I’ve chosen to run with when they start talking about grown-up things. A lot of my friends and acquaintances have made it their life’s work to fight the good fight in the non-profit field, or to explore the nuance and complexity of such studies as sexuality. The beauty part about living in San Francisco, and about my friends here, is that if I’m curious enough to learn something new, there’s usually someone there willing to school me.
I recently saw the one night only performance of Noise: a (Micro)Biopolitics of Masculinity at Counter Pulse. The title alone made my head hurt. Jesse Hewit, who was putting up the piece as his master’s thesis, took some time to give some explanation in the program, but it was the performance that he and his cast gave that provided the most illumination.
Exploring the intensity and nature of what masculinity is, and how it effects the way we feel in our bodies and how we use them, is pretty tough to power through in an hour. In addition, although the cast was varied in gender and sexuality, it was completely white -- which provides the hurdle of putting yourself out there without sounding entitled. Despite those obstacles, though, it was the honesty in these issues and vulnerability of those involved that made the piece happen.
Each cast member went through how masculinity effects them and who they were ranging from straight female to queer male, female, and trans. (The presence of the straight male was lost during the rehearsal process due to a negative effect on the environment during the evolution of the show.) It was, however, the dialogue between two performers regarding the nature of their relationship during change that resonated strongly with audience.
Naked physically and emotionally, Chase Joynt and Elizabeth Weisbrot addressed love and sometime loss in a relationship when one of those involved is going through a gender transition. It was an amazing exercise on a subject many find difficult to address for fear of sounding crass or stupid. That someone can open themselves up so much and say what its like to go through so much, to truly be yourself and express that to someone despite whatever pain it could entail, left me to consider what masculinity is for me.
What does it do to me and change how I interact? How many times have I lowered my voice or “straightened” my movements because of how I might be perceived? It’s embarrassing to admit, but the truth is many times. Doing it during adolescence in a conservative Southern California may be understandable, but the ridiculous part is that I’ve adjusted who I am even after moving to San Francisco. This learned self–censoring stayed with me long after the fear of repercussions from my teenage peers subsided and interweaves itself into my life in a more insidious way all too familiar amongst gay men. The players have changed, but the fear of rejection stays the same: “Can I date him, or is he too gay?” or “You are so straight acting.”
…. and that’s when it’s nice to remember I live in the city that I do, and know the people I know. A place where I have grown-up friends that like to talk about grown-up things sometimes. Where I can I can learn take a look inside and consider what really makes one a man – and where it probably has little do with a penis or the firmness of a handshake, but more with the ability to take that hard look and ask those tough questions and not turn and run away.
Some interesting definitions from Noise:
Male noise: the uninterrogated taking of space; the waving of arms and voices and the feelings of automatic centrality and accessall that exist for those expressing male gender
Biopolitics: the discourse around how the biological make-up of the body gives it compulsory categorization and forces it to be a constant site of the political
Masculinity: the set of characteristics usually associated with people who identify within the male spectrum