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TDR: The Drama Review 45.4 (2001) 94-105

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Performances of Self-Disclosure
A Personal History

David A. Garrick

[The Observer]
[from At Odds With Church Over Sexuality]

In my everyday life and yours, we perform our personal relationships by making and marking the identities that we use to name and recognize our own persons and the persons of each other. We do this in the rituals of everyday life that fortify human relationships, and in traditional rituals of identity transformation or augmentation. Set in reverse, performance can undo previously defined roles, previously established identities. It can work these changes in service of truth or falsehood, good or ill. Performance is not sufficient unto itself. Without good sense, goodwill, generosity, and love it can go awry into triviality or enormity.

An identity is a name that accurately--or inaccurately--spells out who and what we are as individual persons. As pointed out by David A.J. Richards, human identity has a moral dimension. It has to do with the rights and responsibilities that we have freely taken on, or that have been thrust upon us. Though human identity is informed partly by such physical realities as our size, sexual anatomy, state of health, and inherited temperament, identity does have, at its core, the quality of being chosen. Central to our identity is the fact that we have freely chosen it as a decision of conscience, or that we have been freighted with it by an "impersonal script" that our society requires us to parrot (Richards 1999:67).

I studied the powers and limitations of performance first, and then went on to discover its truth in my identity crises of the last decade. While absorbed in working for my PhD in performance studies at NYU from 1985 to 1993, I was meanwhile and separately coming to terms with my identity as a member of the minority sexual orientation. As a Catholic priest, I found this especially challenging, since my Church currently holds out only an attenuated hope for gay people who desire to live the kind of ordinary family lives that are available to straight people.

The power of performance has never been so clearly revealed to me as it was on 25 September 1987. In the morning, I had given a brief presentation at a performance studies symposium at 721 Broadway. At five o'clock in the afternoon, I went uptown to the Paris Theatre and saw the Merchant/Ivory film Maurice, based on E.M. Forster's novel. It is no exaggeration to report that I went into the dark auditorium with one identity, and came out with [End Page 94] another. I went into the dark with a false identity of being an invalid, a patient--that is, I embraced the idea that I was fundamentally ill because I was a homosexual. Then a drama unfolded on the screen about gay relationships at Cambridge back in 1912.

For me, it was almost a "mystery" drama, very close to being sacred. By happy chance, and without any fuss, the drama was turning into the truth-giving dream that my own unconscious had been unable to fashion about my true identity. A performance by others who knew nothing of me had become, for me, a performance of self-disclosure. In other words, I unconsciously appropriated their theatrical, film performance for my own transformative ends.

From a performance point of view, this is what had happened: an "as-if" film performance of human relationships had shifted from the theatrical effect of entertainment and began to have an efficacious, ritual effect--for at least one audience member. Probably this shift at that performance occurred only for me. I may have been the only one present who needed and reached out to the performed relationships not as entertainment but as form and content for a disclosure of myself to myself. While other spectators learned about the relationships among the characters and were entertained by their engaging complexity, I found myself witnessing my own true relationship to myself: that of a gay man.



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