on audiences

March 7, 2011

when i was a kid, there was nothing i dreaded more than having people watching me or listening to me. the collective weight of their expectations was crushing. i famously fainted immediately after giving a reading during my first communion (i believe that makes i second grade). part of what pained me about having an audience was my own sense of awkwardness about being trans. i didn’t have words for it then (i thought i “wanted to be a girl,” not realizing until i was 13 that i was a girl: a girl who happened to be trans), and so no one knew i was trans. no one knew i was a girl, and that made it immensely horrifying to be seen or heard by anyone. they were bound to see and hear (and say!) the wrong things, and they didn’t even mean any harm by it. i felt broken; i was bereft.

once i came out and everybody knew i was a girl, i lost a lot of that shyness and life-fright… i wanted to do big things and i wanted people to see and hear that i was a girl who mattered, who counted, and who was nothing short of amazing. and so i made sure to do obnoxious, annoying, self-conscious things to impress (or horrify) my peers, like insisting (loudly, repeatedly, angrily if necessary) that i was the only girl who could properly play Thumbelina in the drama class play even though i never came to class, preferring to talk about motorcycles with a really cute, leather-clad tomboy who also liked to ditch class. during this period, i also wrote a ‘zine whose title included a lewd word for a human body part (oh, the shame!;).

as a young parent, i had long since mellowed and stopped trying hard to scandalize people (i also didn’t live in the midwest anymore, and west coast people are harder to scandlize). i wanted to be  a great mama. i wanted to be a super mama, a perfect mama, and i wanted people to stop noticing that i was (in their eyes) young for the job and start noticing that i was good at it. i became (and still have to struggle against being) a performance art parent, saying and doing the right things and gauging people’s reactions… i was as insecure as ever, if not more so (enough people sadly shaking their heads and sighing “babies having babies…” when you get on the bus or hassling you about welfare you don’t receive (thank you, Bill Clinton! grr) will do that to you).

by the time my first son was 3, i had collected enough approval from friends, family, and strangers in grocery stores to feel good about my parenting. within a few years, i would even believe i was a good (enough) parent even when i came up against people who vehemently disagreed. i wrote some essays for a couple anthologies (Mamaphonic and It’s a Boy) that vascillated between performance art parenting (in writing form!) and honesty.

when my relationship with my children’s other parent ended, i was very lonely and isolated. i began to do my ‘zine (also called night cookies) with the idea that it was faster to photocopy a ‘zine than to write all of my far-away wonderful friends 24 page letters with original, sometimes funny comics included as a bonus value. i quickly discovered that people who weren’t my friends were also interested in my ‘zine and i started making extra copies for people who sent requests.

i loved that my ‘zine was, as i said at the time, “about what i’m about!” i could write about anything. my audience was bound to be mostly friends who i decided to give copies to on an individual basis and people i didn’t know who were part of the ‘zine community or some kind of radical parenting community or the queer community. i felt like i could write about anything. my ‘zine was thus highly personal and very open.

now that i’m mostly writing on the internet, i feel more cautious (this post makes me feel vulnerable and it is so much less personal than anything i wrote in the 10 issues of night cookies the ‘zine) than i have about my writing at any other time in my life.

i don’t really know for whom i’m writing: i don’t want to limit myself to my friends, but even just taking my friends into account, i know there are teenage members of my family who read this, other homeschooling parents i know in “real life” (off the internet), radical queer friends… and i get nervous about saying too much or too little about everything.

this is the hardest thing for me about personal essay writing, ‘zine writing, and (most of all) blogging: gauging what is appropriate to share with my audience. we live in such a tell-all society… and yet vulnerability is looked down upon and not rewarded. i am of two minds and two hearts (or more!) about what to share.

but it feels good to know that i’m not alone. that was one thing i got out of my ‘zine that i am also getting out of this blog: room to talk and think and hear from other people (i like comments!;) about those words and thoughts i’ve had…

an audience.

(i’m a dork)

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