'Improv Masculinity', by Em Size

Was it a set up or a punchline when you accused me of being a fuckboy? We’d been dm’ing for a few days when you said something kind of serious, I responded with you’re pretty sexy when you’re angry, and you responded with the allegation that I was a fuckboy. I knew that what I’d said was a tacky nod to rom-com, frat-boy fuckery but I thought that between us it would be read as both ironic and sincere. I thought it was obviously an eye roll that ends with a wink – a flirtatious lampooning of cliché hetero-banter that passes as critique which, especially in a dm thread that includes admissions like omg you’re such a flirt! … it’s working?, is also underscored by the residual flirtatiousness still associated with such a silly come on; when straight vocabularies and straight grammars of courting, however ridiculous, come into queer language, whatever eroticism can actually be found in heterosexuality still remains–albeit fractured and reset through displacement. Het-erotics and their politics short circuit into something a bit different when they’re bent by queer contexts of pitching and catching meaning. Or at least that was what I latently believed when I threw out you’re pretty sexy when you’re angry. I only had to consciously think about how I used language after this passing comment became a landmark conflict in our conversation—and in my public/private performance of identity.

CUT BACK TO—MY CYBER PERFORMANCE OF MY FORMER DRAG KING/CATFISH ALIAS, GERRY PRIESTMAN


LINE UP YOUR GROIN TO A KALEIDESCOPE’S VIEWFINDER TO MAKE DE-, RE-, UN-, NON- AND POST-DRAGING GRIND AND TESSELATE

GERRY PRIESTMAN V.O. I came into my cyber alter ego, Gerry, as a university-educated feminist without a (conscious) queer prerogative. But Gerry grew alongside my growing understanding of my lifelong inability to perform desire and gender according to standard protocols. As I performed Gerry online, and then in person using my dad’s old clothes, I felt myself forming new relationships to masculinity that were predicated on criticality, theatre, instinct, familiarity, distance, resentment, suspicion, disgust and sympathy.

CUT FORWARD TO—A MONTAGE OF ME “SINCERELY” BUYING THE SAME COLOGNE AS MY DAD, WEARING MY DAD’S OLD CRICKET KNIT, BUYING THE SAME DEODERANT AS MY HOUSEMATE’S BOYFRIEND AND HAVING MY HOUSEMATE GIVE ME THE SAME HAIRCUT THAT SHE GIVES HER BOYFRIEND

GENDERLESS V.O. It took me so long to understand that I didn’t have to pathologise or deny the anxiety and exhaustion that I felt in, or after I was in, certain spaces and situations—sometimes it actually surprises me, now that I live the way that I do, that I was able to metabolise so much discomfort, so rapidly and continuously, for so many years. It’s not that now I have no discomfort but it’s discomfort of a different kind: now I am aware of the way that being in public space demands your participation in an unending, unstable series of internal and interpersonal reckonings.

CUT TO—A DRY RUN, BREAKING A LEG, SAYING “MACBETH” IN THE THEATRE

ME Yeah, thanks but I don’t do that! I’m a woman.

HIM [laughs, believing we’re laughing together and relating as a woman and a gay male feminist ally]

CUT TO—ME WITH A WIG ON, IN DRAG AS MY FORMER FEMME-PRESENTING SELF, MIMING GERRY’S V.O. SLIGHTLY OUT OF SYNC

GERRY PRIESTMAN V.O.
I made a joke about being a woman specifically because I knew you would misread it as a performative declaration of cis-womanhood when in my head it was a joke about how you think I’m a woman.

CUT BACK TO—ME DRESSED AS GERRY PRIESTMAN IN A GALLERY AND SOME ART PERSON’S KID YELLING “THAT’S A GIRL! YOU NAUGHTY GIRL!”


THEN CUT TO—A MONTAGE OF EYES WINKING AND SPHINCTERS TIGHTENING

GENDERLESS V.O. Instead of being annoyed that you conveniently forget all the times that I’ve alluded to the fact, or directly told you, that I don’t feel like a woman, I use humour laced with dog-whistle meaning to keep skipping through all the gender replays. Some things I say are only for me to hear; I might be speaking in public but that doesn’t mean that I’m always speaking for a public. I have in-jokes with myself in order to keep rolling through your corpsing.

CUT BACK TO—ME POSTING ABOUT SOMETHING REAL THAT HAPPENED TO ME AS “EMMA” ON MOTHER’S DAY LAST YEAR


LAUGH-CRY INTO—SLOW MOTION SHAKKAS THEN CUT TO—LOCKING EYES WITH TWO DUDE BROS ON THE STREET AND ONE SAYS “HEY I THOUGHT THAT WAS MAX” WHILE MAINTAINING EYE CONTACT WITH YOU AND YOU KEEP STARING AT HIM BUT RAISE YOUR EYEBROWS LIKE REALLY DUDE YOU WANNA SAY THAT IN THAT TONE OF VOICE WHILE LOOKING AT ME AND HE JUST SAYS “NO?” OUT LOUD WHILE LAUGHING AND YOU ROLL YOUR EYES AT HIM AND KEEP WALKING THEN LAUGH OUT LOUD TO YOURSELF ONCE YOU’RE OUT OF EARSHOT

(Beat)

THE FLUORESCENT LIGHTING OF SOCIAL GRIEF FADES INTO THE MOOD LIGHTING OF A CRUSH BURNING WITH THE EXTRA INTIMACY OF QUEER ‘BELONGING’—THEN THE CAMERA BLINKS AWAY THE HYSTERIA OF A BELLY LAUGH AND RE-FOCUSES THE LENS ON AN IMESSAGE THREAD BETWEEN TWO TRANS*-Y DYKE-Y ACTORS

I wanna send [explicit] pics not provocations that incite tears or something […] Also it’s funny, for me I think as we get to know each other a bit better, even though we still talk about gender heaps as something that mediates our experiences of the world, when I’m talking to you or with you I think about gender and sexuality less and less. It fades more for me and words don’t mean much and that’s a real relief and a special experience for me […] But also at certain points after leaving u or whatever I’m like woah why do I feel completely dysphoric when I was just feeling so good. N then I’m like oh it’s because I’ve been talking abt shit that I know is fucking triggering or whatever and trying to digest like …… my place in a matrix of layers of violence and misunderstanding and invisibility

ASK YOURSELF WHY SHARING YOUR LIFE WITH A LOVER CAN FEEL LIKE YOU’RE THROWING A PIE IN THEIR FACE THEN DISSOLVE INTO—THE HISTORICAL SPECIFICITIES OF “LESBIAN CULTURE”

I think all the time about how the practices of feeling and expressing intimacy and desire can never be ahistorical or acultural, purely interior or instinctive. I think about how libidinal protocols, courting behaviours, genres of desire, and modes of being in a ‘sexuality’ are bundled up into bouquets that are tossed up in the air for the next generation to catch.

REGRESS INTO A MONTAGE OF YOUR INFINITE COLLATORAL ANCESTORS AND THEN CUE A BLOOPER REEL FOR THE LABOUR ASSOCIATED WITH BEING DENIED THE HISTORY THAT LIVES ON IN YOUR BODY AND THE WAY OTHER PEOPLE LOOK AT YOUR BODY

In the elasticity and forgiveness of two people coming together under the premise of romance there’s space and budget to reshoot scenes, real-time dub over each other’s dialogue and reimagine what you calling us ‘dykes’ or ‘butches’ means in my own director’s cut of the action that’s still rolling,

CUT TO—TRANS-NESS TRIPPING BACKWARDS TO AN OUT-OF-TIME LOONY TUNES FOLEY SOUND OF A PUNCH


What if an awareness of the historical and cultural specificities of gender performance doesn’t undermine transmasculinity but instead give it more power?

INFINITE CLOSE-UP ON TRANSMASCULINITY AS SATIRICAL PRACTICE FORGED THROUGH SINCERITY, TRANSMASCULINITY AS ALWAYS BOTH ON AND OFF-STAGE, TRANSMASCULINITY AS CRITICAL COMPILATION MIX, TRANSMASCULINITY AS POLITICO-JOKE COLLAGE, TRANSMASCULINITY AS ULTIMATE PISS TAKE AND SITE OF MY FIRST WATERSPORTS FANTASY, TRANSMASCULINITY AS THE MOST NECESSARY, MILITANTLY SINCERE SELF-REFLEXIVE FARCE, TRANSMASCULINITY AS CONSTANTLY INTERROGATED AND NEVER KNOWABLE, TRANSMASCULINITY AS HAVING TO QUESTION BOTH ITS OWN VIOLENT POTENTIALITY AND THE VIOLENCE OF ITS SOCIAL REALITY, TRANSMASCULINITY AS RADICAL POSSIBILITY GAGGING FOR REAL HARD HOT INTERSECTIONAL TAKE DOWNS, TRANSMASCULINITY AS LOOKING AT A WATERFALL NOT AS FUGITIVE DEFECTION TO A MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL GENDER WITH A SINGULARLY TOXIC POLITICS


I left the room to cry when we went through old photos because I remembered a time when total body anxiety didn’t overwhelm and redefine the feeling of being naked.

I feel memories doubly, or triply: as a phantom self, as an idea of who I might be now passing as a ghost through my old body, as a foreign body with a hand pressed up against the glass that separates how I can think and feel and live now from what I could understand in the past. My memories are both my own and those of a stranger. And it’s not a split between then and now; I’ve been a million different strangers to myself, estranged in a million different ways, and sometimes I move through it all in one day. Saturn takes 29 years to orbit the sun but I’m always running towards nothing in particular, in retrograde. I’m making it up as I go along, ad-libbing where there’s a script and dress rehearsing a voice over for someone else’s life when we’re meant to be staring at each other in silent montage. I’m re-reading email admissions from my parents like “I have no problem with your life choices and your sexuality” with different laugh tracks and Cate-Blanchet-Oscar-acceptance-speeches superimposed.

CUT TO—LANGUAGE PINNING THE TAIL ON THE DONKEY THEN RAISING THE LIMBO BAR TO AN IMPOSSIBLE HEIGHT

She says, “I actually hate the word ‘cuck’. Why do you use it all the time?”

I think, gender and sexuality are illegitimate social systems but gender and sexuality legitimately orientate and compress bodies; how can I speak about anything just in jest or totally sincerely when these two realities don’t exist in opposition but as relational truths that make each other?

I’m constantly re-metabolising and re-wiring and de- and re- and post- embodying, performing, acting, feeling, joking, meaning and not-meaning words and archetypes like cuck, fuckboy, daddy, lesbian dad, dyke, transmasc, modern man, celesbian, power dyke, bisexual playboy, amateur trans-chippendale, post-gender dominatrix… the list goes on because the show must go on. These ideas are all memes; total jokes made out of the seriousness of everyday dramedy. It’s all serious and it’s all a joke, a riff, a tête-à-tête, a think piece, an innuendo, a skit, a preview, an opening night, an encore, an adaptation, a tour de force, a body of work, an out-of-time oeuvre, the magnum opus of an auteur.

CUT BACK TO THE ORIGINAL QUESTION—THE DISTANCE BETWEEN HOW EASY IT IS TO LOVE IN EMBODIED MODES OF FEMININITY VERSUS HOW IMPOSSIBLE IT IS TO START LOVING PEOPLE AS A MAN

Instead of saying sorry, my dad goes to the bathroom and when he comes back he says, “I’m not as rigid as I appear, Em”. I excuse myself to go to the bathroom and I think about how impossible masculinity often becomes during emotional encounters. Women are raised to be social and work in teams; men are raised to gird their loins and evade taxes.

CUT BACK TO—BEING ACCUSED OF BEING A FUCKBOY

At the time, this unprecedented association between me and fuckboy-ery felt like the car crashing, the leg breaking, and the pain hitting when the inevitable collision and snap happens after the excruciating slow-mo experience of waiting to go ass over tit once you realise that you’re slipping on a banana peel. Seeing fuckboy materialise in my dm’s, as an arrow aimed to bullseye me, felt like finally finding the fire that had, for years, gone unseen but never not felt in a psyche made of smoke. Finally, in my first thrilling, confusing, impossible, meaningful, romantic, queer dialogue from a public position of transmasculinity, here it was: evidence that moving through life nearer to men than women, more masculine than feminine, could only mean getting closer to violence, toxicity, carelessness and suspicious behaviour. With the word ‘fuckboy’, an interpersonal mirror was being held up as a gauntlet thrown: if masculinity is worked out, in, and on me, then I’m not barricaded in a stairwell watching smoke threaten me from the gap between the door and the floor. I am the open flame. I am volatile. And I need to figure out how to play with myself (before I play with others).


Em Size is many things, but a writer of one-line bios isn’t one of them. Follow @genderauteur.