Eli, Art, and Liz.

Last night was my first show with Kings N Things, which went much as the last show I attended, when I was “just” a groupie. I got pre-show set up as my assigned “chore”, and so Cherry had me fiddle with strand upon half-working strand of Christmas lights until they outlined the stage. About one-and-a-half dozen of the bulbs closest to the outlet blinked for the entire night, which drove several people [potentially most especially me] insane. Malcolm ended up taking a pretty sweet shot of the lights, with a short depth-of-field that threw the blinking lights into a wonderful bokeh-haze. I’m glad that at least one person got something good out of those lights.

The big difference between last night’s show and the show two months ago was that I got paraded around on stage. I managed to thoroughly mangle my portion of the opener, which was the only piece I was in [most likely due to my late decision to join the troupe]. Fortunately, there are significantly fewer ways to mangle walking across the stage and smiling after telling the emcee my name, which happened at the end of the show. I’m glad that there was a rule for this performance that everyone had to tell the emcee their announced name;  I met and socialized with most of the troupe [alright, all of the troupe] first as Liz, and so I have to remind myself that they are not necessarily accustomed to calling me Eli.

I’m sure that the difficulty for them is only exacerbated by the fact that Eli is not terribly different in demeanor from Liz. I debated whether I wanted to take on a drag persona that was different from Liz in any significant way. In addition to Eli Swither, I created another drag character named Art Breaker. Art Breaker would’ve been exactly what his name implied, and I found that I just could sustain neither the ‘tude nor the performative vigilance needed to keep Art alive. Although all identities are projected and performative in nature, some identities fall outside of the realm of my performative comfort-zone. And for the same reasons that I rarely wear dresses/skirts/”real” bras, I chose not to go with Art. Sustaining an identity at a place that I see as either of the “extreme” ends of the gender spectrum is too difficult for me.

I started creating Eli more than a decade ago, as a convenient character when one-time acquaintances [single-serving friends] assumed I was a “nice young man”. I’ve always imagined Eli Swither as that nice Jewish boy that his grandmother/aunt/family friend is always trying to foist onto any available individual. I took a really fantastic Contemporary Jewish Literature course a year ago. The instructor liked to point out that Jewish men were/are frequently considered “less manly” than Christian men. Kate Bornstein also mentions this, I believe in My Gender Workbook. While discussing Chiam Potok’s The Chosen in that literature class, though, the professor said that religious study and intellectuality were so highly regarded in Jewish culture that they took the place of tertiary sexual characteristics. I’m sure that in some situations, such as in certain social circles in the yeshiva, they took a much more prominent role. [Example: Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Yentl, whose eponymous character’s drive to study the Torah played a massive role in hirs acceptance/passing in the yeshiva and surrounding town.] By adopting a manhood that is widely considered “less manly” by predominant cultural prejudices [whether patent or latent], I manage to sustain my aversion to performances of gender to either extreme.

Whether I want to sustain that aversion is another question entirely.


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