Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The art of pretending.

I wouldn't say that I'm an actor in the professional sense of the word. But by the standards of a young theatre geek, I have willingly (though I will admit, looking back, some are noteworthy of ultimate cringe) acted, danced and sung in my share of school musicals and productions. Everything about it is so appealing; the excuse to slather on mounds of makeup, COSTUMES, the virile shot of adrenaline upon curtain call, the ephemeral sense of pride during the final bows and the chance to pretend to be someone you’re not for an hour or two. I think that's the most satisfying part.

I read this interview with acting coach Larry Moss in which he made an interesting point about the application of pretending and acting in everyday life. He says, ‘we often don't say what we feel, and a large part of life, necessarily, is lying. You hold back the truth in order to save feelings… we act all the time’. I began to wonder if this pretending thing outside the theatre was just plain sad and miserable or if it could be justified.  I was never conscious of it at the time but I utilised acting in my life as a tactic for survival.

Knowing that you are gay from a very young age and attending schools with faith-based education -Evagelical and Catholic, forces you to shroud yourself in secrecy and lies. You get used to pretending, but not in the liberating sense in the context of performance but in the social arena of the schoolyard. I was blatantly different; I had effeminate mannerisms both physical and vocal that I was bullied for. Subsequently, mostly in primary and middle school, I pretended to have crushes on my friends who were girls, or I would take part in objective conversations with my straight peers about girls we found to be ‘hot’.

When I came out at 16, I thought I was done with this game of pretend. I wasn't. As an innocent young gay dude fresh out of the closet, your new found openness inclines you to look for relationships. And because there is unfortunately a stigma surrounding stereotypes in the gay community, and the desired masculinity trait or ‘masc-only,’ tends to supersede the content of ones complex character; I mustered all my manliness (or at least tried to) in social situations, where I was surrounded by mostly strangers. I projected that like a true phony, and a try-hard. The undertone of my demeanour in conversation went something like this, “Look I’m here-I’m clearly gay- but not too stereo-typically gay- so I’m your type- and I’m single if you haven’t gathered by my obnoxious loudness- but not loud in that flailing the arms and wrist kind of way- NOTICE ME!”

I carried on this facade for a long time because it was safe. I didn't visibly react or recoil from homophobic comments that were either indirect or directed at me. I even felt uncomfortable when a gay couple were unabashed with their love for each other. But when my eyes reverted, my heart was telling me that there was nothing wrong with that. In actuality, there was something wrong with me. I was totally unprepared coming out of the closet, that all of a sudden another one closed. And I was ashamed at that.

I wasn't sure if I was disgusted or disheartened when a straight peer said to me ‘I don’t normally like gays, but you’re cool, you’re different’. He had a point, I am different. But I’m different just like every other person in the gay community. I guess I happen to fit the general consensus of what gay men are stereo-typically like and that’s okay but I’m also complex, multifaceted and beautiful in a human way, so don’t dehumanise me.
It was clear that this boy didn't understand the intention of his words, so I let it slip. But it was at that point I realised that I was too conscious of my inherent effeminate qualities that pretending was an easy escape and embracing them was much harder to do. I am beginning to take control of this art of pretending as it can be destructive when it compromises the authenticity of self. Now, I tend to laugh at myself/cringe/face palm, at those moments that I put so much effort in to look ‘cool,’ even if ‘cool’ meant sacrificing every essence of who I was for people that were insignificant to –excuse the cliché – the entire landscape of my life.  

Last week, I took part –along with 7 other students from across Victoria –in Top Class Drama, a concert for the highest performing drama students from the previous graduating year. I have never felt more like myself around these people that I just met. We came from different places, cities and small towns; each of our stories crafted by our urban or rural upbringing. But we spoke and laughed in our shared, animated, eclectic, flamboyant and over the top personalities backstage. And we pretended with great conviction on stage. 

No comments:

Post a Comment