February 7, 2017
Makers Conference: Transcript
Terranea Resort, Rancho Palos Verdes, California
"We’ve had so many amazing, rousing speeches in the past couple of days, I’ve been very roused and very inspired. And as you know, from hearing me shouting TOPPLE THE PATRIARCHY at the Emmys, I like to rouse.
But I thought that today I would talk to you guys about something a little more personal -- and that is the body, our bodies. I’m gonna talk a little bit more about what I said about taking white male privilege, taking privilege, and trying it on and wearing it throughout our day. So you may have looked at the video and thought, where did that girl with the long brown hair go? Who is this much dykier looking person onstage in front of me? #DRESS LIKE A WOMAN.
When I got that phone call from my parent coming out I definitely was, as I said in the video, empathetic -- and I definitely also had the little voice in my head which was like, “This is gonna be a great TV show. I have my thing, I finally got my thing!” But I also started sort of babbling to my parent, to my Moppa. Yeah, the real life Moppa! I said so many things to them like, God, it’s so weird that my whole life I’ve also felt like maybe I might be in the wrong body, like I don’t really understand my gender. Sometimes I’ve felt so much more like a guy than like a woman. And I don’t know if that means I’m non-binary, or if it just means that when women approach and I hear them say to each other, “Cute shoes.” I’m just like, I will murder you.
“Oh my god, thank you!”
“No, thank you. Cute shoes!”
“Cute shoes!” as a greeting did not work with my gender identity. And I noticed other things that were clues to me that I didn’t necessarily connect with the gender “WOMAN.”
I would be getting ready for like a big party, like the HBO Emmy party. In the bathroom just getting my Spanx on, hair and makeup and all of it, and then I would walk out. And if my husband didn’t say to me immediately, “You look amazing” -- if it wasn’t the first thing he said -- if he said something, anything else like “the babysitter,” anything other than, “Holy shit, you look amazing,” I would begin to get this feeling that I was gonna cry. And sometimes I did cry. Sometimes we were in the car on the way to the HBO party and had to turn around and go home and cancel the party ‘cause I was so upset in my shape wear and my makeup and my hair. I was near tears.
And then a couple of months ago I was in Germany and we were doing press for the release of Transparent. I was in a bathroom and there was a delightful gentleman who had come to do my glam. We were in the bathroom and he’s coming at me with the liquid liner like THIS. I just found myself backing away from him. Just kept backing away, and he kept COMING AT ME. At one point I’m against the wall in the bathroom in this hotel room in Germany, and suddenly I’m like, GET AWAY FROM ME!
And he’s like, “Am I doing something wrong? Very sorry.” That’s my bad German accent.
I just started to feel like here I was, going downstairs to speak to a bunch of people about business, about creativity, about television and yet here was a man who was sent to draw a new face on top of my face, so that my words would be heard. And I just got really offended. I just felt like, why do I need a whole different face on top of my face in order to speak?
So the glam man got away from me, he backed up. And I had this thought in that moment. I thought, What if I never ever wore makeup again? I know what you guys are thinking -- Alicia Keys said it first! And I don’t think people would have cared if I had made the announcement, the way they did for Alicia. But when Alicia Keys said she was gonna stop wearing makeup a lot of women said, Well if I looked like that, I also wouldn’t wear makeup.
And I ask us to question this -- If I looked like that, if I looked like her. The question is, WHO is looking at her? And what automatic arithmetic do we employ when we accept that LOOKED-AT-NESS as part of our gender?
I am absolutely jealous of how men have this default invisibility. I often wonder if the layer of beauty that we add before going out in the world creates a very subtle but symbolic consent to be taken in aesthetically. Aesthetically first, intellectually second.
Now as someone who’s very connected with the trans world, I have to take a quick sidebar and talk about trans women. For them, an hour of hair and makeup is not just about feeling beautiful. They’re trying to quote unquote “pass” out in the world because it’s a matter of life and death. It’s about being safe when they go to the ATM, it’s not just about self-actualization or feeling like they love what they see in the mirror, it’s about feeling safe.
I started to sort of obsess on this question, why women bother with the extra layer of looked-at-ness. I was talking to a trans woman named Our Lady J who is very glamorous and writes on Transparent. I said to her, “Do you really, really like that?”
And she said, “Yeah, I love it.”
For her, sitting at the vanity, putting on her makeup and her hair and her mascara, was a permission structure to relax. It was time spent feeling like an artist, slowing down time and saying, “I’ll be there in a minute, I’m in a relationship with my face and my body, my beauty, and it’s fun for me.” And I realized that for her being feminine and being glam was a permission structure for relaxing.
And of course, as I started to do my investigations, my scientific investigations that I spend usually by watching the Kardashians, I noticed they do the same thing. They use that time and space, the time in the glam room with their sisters getting their hair done and just feeling beautiful, as a permission structure for relaxing. And I realized that for me, femininity and the presentation of femininity is not a permission structure. In fact, it’s the opposite.
I was raised by a mom for whom femininity was anything but permission to relax. It was, you know, hold it in and hurry, hurry. And it was wigs and lashes and falls, and tight girdles and bras. It was my mom going, Get this fucking thing off of me! It wasn’t, Let’s all get together and put on creamy masks! And just enjoy. There was none of that. It was this, work harder, hold it in, stand up straight, you’re being looked at, and get it right, and hurry, and be a good girl. Hurry, hurry. This feeling that you always had to hurry and get it right and be cute and animated.
And even now, up here with you guys, I sense that feeling of needing to keep everybody’s attention and be a good girl. I just like to imagine… Who would I be if I wasn’t thinking about being seen?
If I was just… just a guy. Just a dude up here, letting the stomach out. Just looking at allllll you beautiful ladies. Not worried about time at all. I don’t even have to talk. I can just look at you… You look amazing. All you guys, you look fantastic.
There’s this director I heard on a podcast. I won’t say his name but he’s a kind of old white guy and I was listening to his podcast and somebody asked him a question, and he went “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...”
Women never do that! We never think out loud by making a noise for fifty seconds and then spend a whole bunch more time waiting until we know what we want to say. We don’t do that!
Okay. So what am I saying, guys? Am I suggesting that you all go to your rooms right now, remove your Spanx, remove your makeup and come down here for a convention of like five hundred Steve Bannons? All of us, just like… No, I’m not saying that! It would be amazing, I would love it.
But I am asking this question, offering it to you -- What do we gain and what do we lose when we frame our days in this holder of making sure we are attractive? Attracting? And I do wonder if it’s a problem in this fight for equality that the space between our indoor faces and our outdoor faces have so much more distance than men’s.
Men get to be wholly un-attracting while still commanding lots of power because, in patriarchy, men see and women are looked at. And that subtle code also implies that the man DOES, the woman is DONE TO. When we continue to offer up these signals and symbols that say we like being looked at, are we consenting to being looked at? Or are we consenting to granting men the privilege of enjoying being the lookers? So, without offending the makeup brand that sponsored this, ‘cause I know somebody paid money to put makeup on all of us. And by the way, FYI, I am wearing a small amount of makeup. Just want to make sure everybody knows. But I always say to the glam person, Only give me as much as you would give a man. Never give me more than you would give a man.
I don’t want to offend anybody who loves their makeup. I just invite you to question these supposed default settings that are not inherent but laminated onto us because of the ways they serve patriarchy and propagate male privilege.
As a TV maker, I often say that protagonism is privilege. But as your speaker today, I invite us to inhabit our bodies with that awareness that LOOKING is privilege.
That the pleasure of SEEING is privilege.
That the fun of being engaged in an intellectual spark before someone comments on your appearance is privilege.
And you get to ask yourself, How much pleasure does your gender allow you? Do you like the time it takes to get ready? If it feels good -- if it’s a permission structure for pleasure -- then keep doing it, by all means.
But you can also use your body to signal that you are the subject, not the object. And that can inspire so much revolution and evolution when it comes to artistic things like directing and writing, professional things like power and leadership, and even legal things, like our bodies and consent.
I can’t say I have found the person I want to be yet, and I can’t even tell you that I know what gender I am, or who I’m hoping to become. I’m just hoping that when Makers decides to also allow men in, I’ll still be welcomed. I may be neither, there may be a third gender, I may be that person, hopefully you guys will invite me.
I’d also like to make a call for Spanx to be worn in equal parts by both men and women. For men they’re called “compression wear” so let’s just call them all compression wear. I also want to say that, from my walks around Terranea the past couple days, I see that golf is a permission structure for wandering and relaxing.
And I offer -- What if all humans equally understood our selves as viewer and viewed? What would this holy balance look like? Because for the coming resistance, the revolution, the evolution, we all need to be as comfortable and as grounded as we can to do whatever it takes to see more, worry about how we look less, to emulate male privilege if we need to -- so that we can march all day and scale walls all night, boundaries and borders, both real and imagined, inside of the places that matter in the world, like Washington D.C. and the whole planet, and the places that might even matter more, like inside of our bodies.