Where we must, we break laws. Everyone knows that. Where we must, we conceal. So many people I have known have broken small laws in order to stay or go where they need. We figure it out. We are rats and cockroaches, just trying to survive. Under/next to/despite the benevolent hand of government who would like to manage our bodies, keep track. For some of us, some stones do not need to be overturned. Some truths need NOT be let out. This leads to raids and deportations, fines and imprisonment for crimes of survival. Secrets save some people, lying saves people. Cloaking saves us.
And yet, from right to left, cloaking leaves us shaking. I venture this gets at something very deeply human in us — the fear of being tricked. That someone is not what they say they are, what they appear to be. That they are behind a mask that we cannot recognize as a mask. So much of the whining about “political correctness”–whining which can be heard in both conservative and liberal circles–seems to reflect this same fear– that though some of us may learn the “correct language” it may say nothing of our true character. (I think this fear has been used to scapegoat the responsibility we all personally share to take a look at our own language, and simply, to learn and engage in a process of waking. Thus it frustrates me, especially when I hear it in so-called leftist circles) But regardless of what it mobilizes, I see this fear as something perhaps we can all relate to–and its important that we try to understand each others’ fears. Perhaps it is one of the most important things we can do.
Essentially–the fear of pretending. And to an extent, I agree — and broadly the Left as well — that I/we would not want a person merely to speak a language they do not believe. We do not want “virtue signaling” or “white-splaining” or “pandering”. I do not want to be, to interact with, a culture of racists in woke clothing. I do not want to be, to interact with sexists in feminist clothing. And yet this might shed light on the fundamental problematic of this line of thinking–we are/who is/ A RACIST, A SEXIST? Who among us IS a rapist, a molester … when what we are speaking of is not an identity, not necessarily a singular incident that can be marked and “criminalized”, but a structure of violence, perhaps even a series of vague insinuations. A structure of shaping identities, a process of interaction and inter-relating that may not “fit” any one of us at any one particular time and yet may be yet still always shaping and re-shaping us and our interactions. Always there.
And yet still we all feel the need to cloak sometimes, we need our secrets to be able to do what we want, even to survive. So we survive through secrets, all of us do it, many of us do it. So why haven’t we made laws that don’t make us break laws to survive?
Transwomen in women’s toilets breaking laws. Queer outlaws. Migrants who enter without work, without intention of leaving, poor migrants ARE transgressors of the capitalist system of migration law. Savvy Chinese millennials with a VPN, hackers, leakers. Anonymous profiles on the internet who don’t follow the rules. These may seem incidental but when we look at nanopolitics of rule following it is not incidental. Not all people feel entitled nor free to make up avatars and identities, especially if they understand they are not allowed. Even fewer feel free to make up and act out fantasy in real life, as arts and queers may feel more free to do, to dissociate expected gender norms from performed ones. Some of these are — revolutionary acts of undoing and disconnecting the “sacred authentic” — but some “are not”.
Performers has always been the domain of the conceal and reveal, the morphing of shape from one to another. The strip tease, the metamorphosis, the shape shifting, the drag. High to low art it’s all the same. Look! Look how fabulous I am. I actually am or … I am when I’m up here. This is the real me–or this could be me. Either way–what does it matter, its the same effect in the end. Some performers say they become something else when they become their characters. Others say the stage asked them to be more real, more true. Either way, it doesn’t actually make a difference. When it comes to performance.
And what comes with this idea of “performance”–concealment, cloaking, pretending, masking. Who has right to this privacy, what is scary in the pretending and who gets to decide when to be concealed and when not in these times when every truth hiding under every stone is brought into light? This relates to the project of Foreign Bodies. This relates to the right to conceal, to reveal, or to avoid revealing. This relates to the everyday performance of concealing and the right to be “inauthentic”. Who has the right, or rather, as seldom are rights given to be something “one is not”–who simply “takes the right” ?
And what if we think about performance differently? Not as cloaking, but as practicing of one small sliver of dynamic self? Will we accept this–in ourselves, in others?