It was about a year and a half ago when I considered the probability of an endless stretch of boringness that would be my life until I was geriatric and crapulous, and decided that, in the interests of continuing behaviour quantified as ‘young and stupid’, the only sane, bearable, and personally entertaining option was to avoid that looming probability even at the risk of embarrassing social faux pas. The actual practical aspect of this is currently less interesting than the weird, parallel universe sensation that is how I am perceived in different countries.
The luxury of spoken Putonghua Chinese is that he/she, him/her are all pronounced the same: tā, in the first tone, despite being written slightly different: 他 and 她, a feat of language almost totally removed from European languages where even inanimate objects are gendered. This means, when talking about someone in the third person their gender is unknown without the explicit answer to the question, “(他/她是)男的还是女的?”, “(are they) male or female?”. I don’t know if this ambiguity is somehow responsible for the slippery application of personal pronouns by a lot of my friends when they speak English, but it certainly makes for more fun in language.
When I was offered a gig performing in Zürich last year, and knowing I was going to take it, the contradictory issue was how I would be perceived. Some of the reason why I never enjoyed performing or watching much performance, especially dance was the arbitrary and unnecessary distinction between male and female, most notably in abstract, ‘pure dance’, pieces where the delineation served no aesthetic, conceptual, artistic or performative purpose. Getting to play Anne Sexton for an hour or so every night was in some respects my debutante ball, and by the time hell rolled around a month later, performing in a bikini seemed like quite a good idea; the slide across genders being unremarkable.
The same too, in Guangzhou last year and this, which I’ve mentioned before.
On landing in Melbourne though, things conspired to a different end. Certainly part of the issue is that I have a history here, though in the same way I can make spurious and facile claims about spoken Chinese, I can make them about culture here. To be far less obtuse, returning to Melbourne sometimes feels like the nullifying of a year and a half; a return to neanderthalville.
Possibly I’m not clear enough, but among people who have known me for a long time, and have known about what I’m getting up to for up to a year and a half, I don’t know whether to attribute sloppy use of personal pronouns to stupidity, carelessness, or something like a subconscious resistance to the obvious.
In making it clear using ‘him’, ‘he’, and ‘his’ was inappropriate, some people jumped straight to ‘she’, ‘her’, and ‘hers’, which was cool, though I never insisted on it, in fact mostly I find the whole gendered pronoun thing just weird, an unnecessary complication of language. Now though, after the Indian Summer of Zürich and Guangzhou where people seemed to ‘get it’, I think I need to be a little more explicit, viz. you’re really pissing me off when you call me ‘he’, and I think it’s way past time for you Melbournians – because the problem is clearly that geographically specific – to get as modern as those Züricherinnen and Guangzhou-ren and be a little more fucking international, and like everyone else already does, start calling me ‘she’.
Maybe I need to wear a dress.