Back in the summer I had a pretty intense dream about a male friend of mine. I woke up paralyzed with fear. Followed by a pretty intense confusion. Was I afraid of men? I hadn’t ever felt consciously afraid of men, but the feeling that resulted from that dream seemed to offer a different insight, at least making it clear I was afraid of masculine energy (if you believe in such things). As I was trying to sift through this while simultaneously lowering my heart rate, another friend of mine texted me saying, “Hey want to dress in drag some time?” as if to say, “Discover the masculine in yourself.”
Now I want to sway away from the topic at hand to make it clear that I don’t think masculine and feminine are gendered terms. Rather, they’re divine mysteries to me and the longer I’ve thought about them, the less I’ve understood them. In my initial exploration of these concepts however, it was easiest for me to ask myself about the masculine in me by creating a male character. As I kept going, it became less about the masculine and more about just that - creating a character.
I’d spent the summer fasting in woods, dancing under full moons, and bowing to the sea. New York City was the complete opposite of everywhere I’d been. It was fast, loud, forward, and direct. There was no sitting and contemplating the gait of your step, you just went. Right at the end of my transformative, meditative and increasingly ecstatic summer, I stepped into the bewildering ocean wave that is New York City. There, Damian was born.
Late into the night, where the early morning becomes your new bedtime, my friend and her drag queen roommate helped me dress in drag for the first time. Some things translated from a queen to a king, but mostly it was “Oops, I was doing on your face what I’d do on mine!” And then we’d have to retrace the steps and try to make my nose bigger, my cheeks more defined, my temples darker, my forehead broodier, my eyebrows thicker, my jawline more defined, etc. All those techniques would take time to master, but the name was immediate.
“Damian,” I told them.
As I began dancing around the apartment in my make-up beard and black eyebrows, I began to feel who Damian was.
Deviant. Destructive. Fiery. Seductive. Furious.
The next morning riding the subway, I saw “Awakening in New York” by Maya Angelou posted above one of the windows. A single line jumped out:
I, an alarm, awake as a
rumor of war.
I smirked. Or maybe Damian smirked - because he knew that’s exactly who he was.
Leaving New York wearing men’s skinny jeans my friend’s roommate gave me and a new-to-me pair of black converse, Damian grinned and slyly wiggled his eyebrows (that’s how he shows excitement). Once I was back in Colorado, though, he seemed to shrink. It was harder to understand exactly who he was, but I kept asking. It was less crafting of a character and more stumbling upon all these things I didn’t like to admit about myself. Somehow though, it was easy to see those things in Damian. So I kept shoving them there. Overly sure of self? Damian. Hell-bent on destruction? Damian. Likes to show off muscles? Damian. Cares about appearance? Damian.
See, for all those years, I would shy away from ever making it look like I cared about appearance. It used to seem vain to me, but Damian could care. Through Damian I could acknowledge that the way I presented myself could be an art. The way my body and clothes looked were all part of the message. Personally, I don’t quite care enough to carefully decide that art everyday - I feel more expressive through other mediums, but my physical body can still be a mode of expression, even if I don’t always like to admit that. Thus, Damian could care about such things. And how hilarious it was that the first time I ever bought eyeshadow and eyeliner was with the intention of looking more like a man.
Then there was the urge to destroy. Through all my creation and healing, I would judge myself when I dreamt of fire, when I could just as easily see a beautiful building in ruins, when I could just as easily get fascinated and excited about watching the world burn, like finally seeing the ends of a tragic play. Perhaps I am still uncomfortable with that side of myself, but Damian devours these things.
Damian is unpredictably wild. You might catch his piercing eyes through tree silhouettes, confusing it for flame. He wants to shake the tree branches and tremble the earth. He is unasked, unheeded, rumor of war. At his best, he wants to tear down the structures that no longer serve us. At his worst, he is furious and tears it down without the discernment. He wants to stomp and swoop, careen across a dance floor and make all the girls swoon. He also happens to want to do all of these things without messing up his make-up.
It was another few months before I got to perform on stage as Damian, appropriately to “Teenagers” by My Chemical Romance, during which Damian corrupted my roommate (who was also dressed in drag). Oddly enough, I never felt sexier than when I was performing on stage as a man. I’ve come to attribute this more to the character and the culture of a drag show than anything else, but I’m always seeking truth.
In truth, there is no differentiation. Damian is me is me is Damian, but carving out a specific space where I could exaggerate these facets of myself that I sometimes ignore allowed me to appreciate them. Crafting “Damian” allowed me to acknowledge and even be grateful for the moments and days and sometimes weeks I would feel like him. Damian is one of the ways I honor the son in me.