Be the wind, or risk becoming the sail.
Last week I gave three back-to-back shows at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. I was their “Diversity Speaker” for orientation, a product of some of the orientation leaders seeing me speak at a conference. I’ve said this a bunch: I loved doing those shows, and I heart FIT. What I haven’t said enough is why.
I want to get into that, but to do it I need to address the difference between gender expression and gender cueing.
First, let’s do some show and tell.
Below (and above) are a few photos of me on stage over the past year. Something that most people would never realize is how intentional I am about how I dress, depending on the audience, the content of the talk, and where in the country I am. These three photos are helpful in demonstrating the full range of decisions I’ll make in this regard, so let me talk about them for a moment each.
(Sidenote: the nice thing about these photos is my hair/grooming is about identical in all three, so we can just focus on the threads)
The first photo is me during my keynote at the National Sex Ed Conference.
What I’m wearing: this is a fairly masculine expression for me (super important distinction). I’m wearing a dark blue blazer, lavender v-neck, solid dark-plum pants, and cap-toe brown shoes (not pictured).
Why: I dressed more conservatively/traditionally because I wasn’t sure what to expect at this event, and I didn’t want my clothing to conflict with my message (which was fairly serious, direct, and provocative). Further, I wasn’t going to be spending much time addressing my own gender, or perceptions of my gender/sexuality (something that’s a part of my show), so I didn’t want people to be pondering that while I was talking about other things.
The second photo is me performing S.E.X. (yeah I was…) in my hometown Austin, TX
What I’m wearing: I’d consider this outfit to be a bit more androgynous. I’ve got the typical mainstays of man-fashion on — the jacket, the button down shirt, the pants — but with a twist. The jacket is glittery silver. The pants are a muted leopard print. My shoes (not pictured) are the same black step-in moccasins as in the third picture, and my socks vibrantly striped in cool colors.
Why: this was a show I put together with a friend (Karen Rayne), and people were coming to see us. Like, on purpose. This, combined with the material I was performing (all super personal & anecdotal), made me feel comfortable pushing things a little bit more out of Handsometown toward Prettyville.
The third photo is me last week doing one of my shows at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC
What I’m wearing: This is one of the most feminine outfits I’ve ever gotten onstage wearing (and by onstage I of course mean “on-mean-girls-esque-gym-floor”). Same shoes and pants as the S.E.X. outfit, but sockless and rolled a bit. And combined with a dark-plum scoop-neck shirt and a warm-color medley summer scarf.
Why: because I could. This is the Fashion Institute of Technology, folks, and I assumed (correctly) that I couldn’t go too far in any direction with how I wanted to dress. The audience members presented a wonderful array of gender expressions and styles, so I was just one of the bunch in this instance.
Why any of this matters: Gender Expression vs. Gender Cueing
For a brief understanding of gender expression and gender cueing, the way I use and distinguish between the two terms is in these ways: gender expression is the various ways you intentionally and unintentionally display gender, through your dress, actions, and demeanor (based on the traditional expectations of what those displays mean); gender cueing is the various ways you demonstrate your gender, through your dress, actions, and demeanor (with the intention of helping other people gauge or understand you as a gendered person).
Gender expression is sometimes gender cueing, but gender cueing is always gender expression. Or, in non-words, like this:
Both can be thought of as performances
For some folks, they aren’t aware of the fact that they’re constantly playing a [series of] role[s] in the play called Gender! They don’t hear the director’s calls, realize they’re reading a script, or pay attention to the stage they’re sharing with other actors.
But if you’re as aware of gender as I am, it’s hard to not be cognizant of the idea that you’re constantly performing gender. I am aware of this on some level constantly, particularly when I’m literally on a stage.
Neither can be truly avoided
If you live in a society that relies on gender as a social construct, whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re constantly expressing and cueing gender. Even by choosing to try not to express gender, for example by wearing more neutral clothing or behaving in ways that you might think of as non-gendered, you’re marking your gender by unmarking it.
Now, to be sure, in our society’s Play feminine-presenting people, and women in general, are much more often “onstage” for their gender. If this is an idea that you don’t immediately grasp, read this amazing article by Deborah Tannen: Marked Women, Unmarked Men.
Why I loved FIT so much is encapsulated in that third picture
Whenever I get on stage I’m putting on a gender costume. I’m not a snowflake in this regard — we all do it. As I commented above, I’m hyper-intentional about that costume, what it might mean, and try to control, as much as possible, the ways I express gender and the cues the audience receives.
But what most folks don’t realize is that this costume I’m wearing is 99-times-out-of-100 a more masculine representation of gender than I would prefer to express, and is generally not cueing how I feel as a gendered person. That is, the costume I wear is toning it down, not dressing it up. And this is a weight I bear when I’m performing, because I’m aware of how I’m doing several performances at once (a performance in a performance — the Inception of stand-up comedy).
A lot of folks asked me if I felt the pressure to dress more fashionably at FIT after they saw that photo on Facebook or Instagram. Don’t get me wrong, I did spend [an embarrassing amount of] time thinking about what I’d wear, but that question is working from patently-wrong assumption about why.
The why that led to me dressing how I did that day was a special feeling, and one that I had, until last week, never experienced leading up to a show or talk. It was something I rarely experience at all, despite my wants for it.
In truth, I didn’t feel pressured to dress in any way for that show at FIT: I felt liberated to be myself.
I’m currently in the process of finishing two books, starting another, publishing two new sexuality models, three new live social justice comedy shows, running half a dozen volunteer-based initiatives, building I’m-not-even-sure-how-many websites, and the list goes on. It’s a lot. And as I type that, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But I’ve found a way to make sense of it all, to not lose any of my little ducklings, and to retain a semblance of peace of mind.
It’s just a matter of coming up with a way of not losing track of ideas before they develop into things.
I want to first say that I’m not very good at this — I’m just good enough. And if you’re a notebook/physical thing person, you’re not going to like this, because I’m all digital, baby (in the cloud! disruptive! innoventive!). I keep track of ideas, actions, and creation using [mostly] Evernote, Wunderlist, and Google Drive. I also have a pile of external hard drives. Below is how I specifically use each.
All of these things are [or can be] free, other than the hard drives. They are great for collaborating. And they work on my phone, tablet, computer, and web browser.
To remember ideas, I use Evernote
Evernote is amazing, but it can easily get unmanageable. The trick is to effectively use tags and journals.
I have different journals for different ideations within Evernote (e.g., a comedy one, an IPM one, one for my forthcoming EP, one for each of my books, etc.) but use the same universal tag system for everything. That way, everything has its own place, but with the tags I can draw connections between otherwise unrelated projects.
For example, I originally wrote my gender TEDx talk to be a song, so I tagged it “lyrics” and while it changed from there, it still comes up when I’m looking at “lyrics” to see all the songs I’ve written, which I like (cuz it could be easily changed back).
To remember actions, I use Wunderlist
Wunderlist is almost as powerful as Evernote in its ability to organize, but it far surpasses Evernote’s ability to push me to get tasks done. You can have separate lists for different projects, assign tasks to people, or just have an inbox of incoming assignments (I use this feature a lot with my manager & project coordinator, Chum and Bethany, where we assign tasks to one another on share lists).
I have about 60 – 70 Wunderlists going at any given time. I have one for each of my live personal projects (things like IPM site, Jack and/or Jill, etc., which is about 30ish), one for each of my collaborations that are still ongoing (like the Safe Zone Project), for every freelance gig I have open, and then I have some general life ones (e.g., “Rainy Day in Austin,” “Things I Need to Buy”).
Some of the tasks have due dates, which makes it easy to know what I have to get done today, if anything (by browsing the due “Today” tab). But if that’s not absolutely necessary, they don’t. And I just open a list and work through it when I’m inspired to work on that project.
I also recently started doing “pre” and “post” lists for speaking/shows/trips, and I’ve really liked that idea. “Pre” is things to pack, print, buy, etc. “Post” is all follow-ups I accumulate while I’m there. And I have those forever until they’re complete, like the one from a trip I did back in January that is still not complete. Gotta get on that.
To get started on writing and creation, I use Google Drive
Google Drive is amazing because you can create, share, edit, and publish [limited, but not bad] all from one place. It’s as much a shared drive as it is a studio, and because of the universality of google accounts, it’s perfect for collaboration.
Right now, I have 22 top level folders in my Google Drive. As you’re starting to likely get the sense, I use these separations to help me stay organized. But for Google Drive, I don’t separate just by project, but also by collaborators. I give Chum and Bethany access to all of my personal projects, so there’s just a “CHUM & BETHANY & SAM” folder. I share access to that folder with them once, then they have everything inside, which includes everything from new articles I’m writing for a variety of sites, to bios, to show schedules, to contracts, to budgets.
Some of my other top level folders are more broad, but all with the same goal of making the sharing easy. The only reason I’m writing and making things on Google Drive instead of my laptop is because I can click a button and allow someone else access (to edit, provide feedback, take over, etc.). So it’s with that in mind that I choose how I will organize what goes where.
To finalize and publish, I use my laptop
Granted, I’m using my laptop for a lot of the things above as well, but here I mostly mean Adobe Creative Suite (for all the design and print stuff) and Sublime Text 2 (for programming web stuff). And I back up all of the finished products of everything on external hard drives.
To organize my computer, I created a new top level folder (on the same par as “Documents” and “Movies”) called “Projects.” In Projects, I have a subfolder for everything I’m currently actively working on. Everything finished or dormant stowed away on an external drive. The nice thing about the Projects folder is that now I can still use the Documents folder for what, I think, it was meant to be: a hodge-podge of personal things (like tax returns) and other files you’re not sure where to put (like resumes, animated .gifs of Ellen dancing, etc.).
As far as backing things up, I have separate external hard drives for three different divisions of my work: photo/video (all on one hard drive), design, and organizational. So I know that if I need the raw video clip of a testimonial from a keynote that I gave three years ago, I plug in my blue hard drive where it’ll be organized hierarchically by type and date, and I can find it in 2 minutes. Ditto with a poster I made four years ago and haven’t thought of since (just happened as I was redesigning Dear World). Or an organizational structure and position descriptions for something I did in 2012. All on separate hard drives, waiting to be resurrected.
Each of those hard drives is backed up as well, of course. And my computer (with all of my live projects) gets backed up every couple of days on a separate hard drive altogether.
This is how I do it, not how you should
The above system works really well [enough] for me. But I came to it through a ton of trial and error. And the best advice I can give to anyone is exactly that: try things, try different things, then try some other things.
You can start with the things above, but don’t stop until you’ve found a system of techniques, software, writing on your hand, pinning notes to your shirtt, whatever, that feels right. You’ll know when you find it. Or, rather, you’ll know when you haven’t, so keep experimenting until you hit your stride.
It’s gotten far easier to allow ourselves to hate than it is to choose to love.
We’re getting it from all sides. Controversy sells better than sex, and when you combine the two you have pretty much every magazine you see in the grocery store check-out line. We’re told to be terrified by our news people, that message is reaffirmed by our Facebook friends, and then we bring those messages into our social circle echo chambers and bounce them around. Don’t rinse. Repeat.
If you’re “conservative” you’re reminded on an hourly basis how the “liberals” are evil and actively working to undermine civilization. If you’re “liberal,” ditto the opposite. The actual ingredients of the message change daily, weekly, monthly, but the recipe has been the same for over a dozen years: exploit ignorance using fear, reintroduce fear byproduct to perpetuate ignorance. Create distrust, and through that distrust breed dependence on You as the Sole Trustable Message. Create a small “Us” and emphasize how big and nefarious of a “Them” we’re up against.
We need need to make a bigger Us, and a smaller Them.
We need to stop exploiting and demonizing ignorance, and start celebrating it as an opportunity for learning, expanding one’s perspective, and increasing one’s connection to others. Ignorance isn’t a bad thing. We’re all ignorant about a lot of things, and all started out entirely ignorant to whatever we think we know so much about now. Willful ignorance, something we’re encouraging with our demonizing of ignorance, is dangerous. If you beat someone back into a hole enough, they’ll stop trying to come out and start realizing how nice it is in their hole.
You Have a Choice
It’s comforting, sometimes, to think of the world as black and white, easily understood, where there is one “right” and one “wrong.” If someone does/is/believes X, then they are Right, they are on my side, we’re buds, I love them, let’s hug. If someone does/is/believes Y, they are Wrong and I hate them and wish they were dead dead dead. This is a nice, dualistic, simple way of thinking about things. Unfortunately (and fortunately!), the world allows for a mangled, cognitively complex, complicated way of thinking about things. And, among the myriad choices in life you have, one of them is whether you’ll embrace the comforting, misleadingly simple white/black of dualism, or the uncomfortably accurate grey of cognitive complexity.
You obviously have more choices than that. In fact, the choices at your disposal are limited only by your imagination and caffeine intake. But in the spirit of embracing the comfort of dualistic thinking while nudging toward cognitive complexity, here are two BIG choices we all have in how we act toward others:
We Can Keep Allowing Ourselves to Hate
The people we don’t understand; the people we think we disagree with; the people we know we disagree with; people whose belief systems are different from ours, or harmful, or wrong, or weird; people who have done bad things; people who aren’t nice to us, or don’t love us, or hate us; people who are part of Them, not one of Us.
Or We Can Start Choosing to Love
The people in the last paragraph, as well as everyone else. We can recognize our power of choice, understand that understanding can be more fruitful than willful ignorance, and start to believe that it’s possible that if we allow and encourage people to come out of their holes they might like it more out here (even though it will be scary at first, but that’s why we’re here to help).
Everyone doesn’t need to have the same beliefs, we just need to start believing in everyone.
Choose to Love
If this is sounding like something you want to get onboard with, here are the sometimes-daily steps I run through in my effort to choose to love more, and allow myself to hate less:
- Remind myself, first and foremost, that I do have a choice. “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react that matters” or however that Epictetus quote goes. No matter how horrible, nefarious, or Disney-villain-evil someone seems (or is), I choose how I will make sense of that an act.
- Try to find the good. And I mean actually find it. Don’t trick myself into believing something about the person is good “Well, they said they hate gay people but that’s only because they love families — families are cool.” There’s likely genuinely something about this person you’ll deem good, if so, great! If not…
- Try to understand the bad. This requires asking the person questions and actually listening to the answers, not just listening for your cue to jump in and destroy them. Sometimes just asking those questions (a lot of “why?” questions — that they may’ve never been asked with genuine curiosity) will be enough, and the person will realize how dualistic they were viewing things. But even when it doesn’t, it’ll help you realize how dualistically you’re viewing them.
- Now, forget about all of that and remember what your goal is. Your goal is to choose to love this person, and the goal of that is to create mutual understanding of one another, your differing perspectives, and hopefully replace fear with respect (or at least unfear). To do that it doesn’t matter if you can’t find any Good and you can’t understand any of their Bad.
- Replace the Courtroom in your head with an Elementary School Art Teacher. We are so often the prosecuting attorney, defense, judge, and jury in these elaborate cases we play out in our heads when determining someone as Good or Bad. Instead, be more like your art teacher from elementary school and give the kid who painted a beautiful, almost photorealistic sunset the same grade as the kid who ate glue and created a color abomination that only makes sense to a kid who is super high on glue.
- Choose to love. It’s usually harder to choose to love than to allow yourself to hate, but like with other hard choices (“Should I get up after my first alarm or stay in bed for the rest of my life forever until I die?”) it’ll do you more good. And it gets easier if you work to make it a habit.
“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Incidentally, my friend slash wonderful person I look up to a great deal, Kevin Wanzer, named his LLC “Choose to Love” after a poem he wrote (that he published as an illustrated book). Please don’t consider this article to be affiliated with or an endorsement of Kevin and his work — it’s just coincidence in phrasing and a shared philosophy we have. But please consider this is an endorsement of Kevin and his work: buy his book, bring him to your campus/org to speak, and tell everyone you know about both.
Intentionality, Mindfulness, and Minimalism are all you need, beyond basic biological requirements (clean water, nutritious food, human touch, etc.), to live a happy existence. This is what I’ve come to believe. I’ll define what I mean by all three, and talk about their relationship to one another, but first I want to talk about “happiness.”
I don’t aspire toward being happy all the time, nor do I recommend it. I don’t think of happiness as existing at the opposite end of sadness, nor do I think that sadness is inherently bad. All emotions have value.
Think of happiness on a continuum with lack of happiness on the other end, sadness on a continuum with lack of sadness on the other end, and so forth. Experiencing happiness doesn’t necessarily make you less sad — The Barenaked Ladies kew this: “I’m the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral.” Continue reading → “The 3 Ingredients to a Happy Existence”