I saw this handout (for art class) sitting on my office printer and giggled to my colleague that this should be the title of my autobiography. She joked back that she thinks the opposite is true – I am deeper than I appear to be. I cultivate the impression that I’m more shallow than I really am.
I guess I do let people underestimate me sometimes, ‘ All the better to see you, hear you and eat you,…My dears.’
Sometimes having a persona that doesn’t totally match who you are is helpful – passing, for example, means I overhear so many conversations that latent homophobes would never have in front of me, if it occurred to them that I might be queer. That’s when I slide into the conversation.
Sometimes it’s for self-preservation – it maintains a buffer.
It’s true. It’s raw being an open vein, walking around feeling everything and thinking the dark thoughts. Plus people don’t tend to appreciate getting blood on them when all you were actually asked is, ‘How are you?’
People tend to want stock answers.
Not – the Trump administration is bumming me out; I’ve been contemplating the death of god; I just dealt with a teen suicide attempt; I am worried about rape culture; I’m not sure how I will pay for our fertility costs and am harbouring a deep feeling of rage, mixed with self-pity that so many thoughtless people are easily reproducing without actually actively wanting to have and raise real human beings.
Nope. I play up the light and rosy hued. Today I’m wearing a sweater with appliqués of popsicles, cacti and bananas on it. I wear bright lipstick. I talk about Instagram and Beyoncé. I often use teen slang – awkwardly for students, to emphasize our age difference while using it without irony with my own friends. Why?
It has occurred to me before than I present differently, depending on the company. But it wasn’t until G said this that I realized there is a method to the madness, and some people are wise to it.
I add a softer edge to the part of me that is bold and outspoken. It’s the spoonful of sugar that helps my truth go down. It is apparent to me, after at least two decades of dumb comments made to me, like ‘wow, I never realized how smart you are,’ or ‘you’re so pretty for a lesbian… are you sure you are one?’ … usually followed by some implication that mascara and brains don’t tend to go together. Right? We can’t be more than one thing.
I have been told some people find me intimidating, even though I spend half my life laughing and smiling. I get it, I have big feelings – but I am deeply fair. As loving as I am fierce.
This works to my advantage. It means I can stop a room full of teenagers from talking (or throwing chairs.. really) with one word and sometimes a look. Or send them into fits of giggles. It means my friends, in stressful moments or high pressure work gigs, have told me they say to themselves ‘channel Alison’. But it also means that when I care about something enough, my anger makes me cry, like twice in the last week, and that I can come across as one of those ‘ angry lesbian feminists,’ which says a lot about people and their attitudes about what should make people angry. Legitimately. My own feelings wreck me sometimes. No wonder I’ve learned to costume them.
I blame my parents. They have always supported my right to own my own feelings. They never dismissed me with the typical adultism we all experience.
But it’s hard, too, when you realize the lipstick and floral dresses are also your armour, as much as a passion for adorable prints, because society is conditioned to accept and welcome nice packaging. The Trojan horse. While they might recoil at a woman in full armour and battle gear, they invite me to sit and never see the double agent coming; so we wear ourselves under our manicures, ready to ‘speak daggers, but use none’ (shakes).
Is it impostor syndrome or a survival instinct?
Anyone else ever feel like they cultivate a persona that lets them navigate the world less perilously?