Reading the “Always Be Optimizing” chapter of Jia Tolentino's Trick Mirror is helping me articulate, even just to myself, the ways in which the intersection of capitalism and patriarchy kept me from coming out, beyond the obvious of overt challenges.
Even while chafing, identifying as a woman was optimization for what features I had. With long permed hair, my mother extoled the benefits of taking advantage of my youth and femininity; “It will help you get ahead,” she said, with the confidence of someone whose career had genuinely benefited from beauty. As someone without a career to speak of, yet, it seemed foolish to throw away what tools I had to work with.
But, beyond the rewards of being willing to work on the system's terms, I was unwilling to bear the friction and tension of not working on its terms. My contrarian instincts never manifested in meaningful divestment from the system; instead, they took the form of token protest: a lasting resistance to spending time on clothes, make-up, and hair, as well as an unwillingness to optimize my digital presence, despite how necessary it seemed for my desired career.
I feel I'm still caught in its maws: coming out in furtive spurts, only in safe circles; finally making a website, as a concession to the precariousness of our current existence in which I may need to scramble for more work, who in bloody hell knows...
But, to answer Jia's question at the end of the chapter:
| “What do you want—what desires, what forms of insubordination, would you be able to access—if you had succeeded in becoming an ideal woman, gratified and beloved, proof of the efficiency of a system that magnifies and diminishes you every day?”
I haven't succeeded in becoming an ideal woman (too fucking lazy for that), but my act of insubordination is opting out of the womanhood I've been cast into. Opting out of either/or gender identity.
But, finally, with that small act of resistance, it feels as if I've wedged my foot in the door. Though it's just a personal symbol of resistance, it's helped me finally feel like there is enough of myself in alignment that I can speak without feeling like a fraud. It's helped me cast off some of the self-loathing and depression that seems baked into modern living in the U.S.. I'm now able to enjoy my own company, which translates to spending less time anesthetized by the creative outpourings of others (who are better, more authentic) and more time with my creative self, which, in turn, finally allowed me to start what feels like a sustainable daily art practice.
I've long wanted to establish artistic discipline; I didn't realize that what I needed first was to feel like a genuine human being.