I was 13 years old when my father took me to a movie theatre to watch "Risky Business." I was certainly too young to understand it all, and I haven't seen it since. But one scene remained with me. In it, Herbert Viola utters his classic line to Joel Goodsen:
Sometimes you gotta say 'what the fuck?' Make your move.
The point of the line is to tell Joel - the main character played by Tom Cruise - to lighten up a little. Joel is trying to get into college and is working very hard to gain admission.
Of course, common knowledge in 1983 was that college is vital to happiness. College is the road to riches, friends, glamor, a trophy wife - and Joel would be a fool not to buy into it.
The rest of the movie is a blur. Wacky hijinks ensue, Joel meets a lovely (and expensive) prostitute who sets him on his Path of Fate, and the movie ends with Joel admitted into the school of his dreams simply for enduring the wacky hijinks.
My work recently has not been about wacky hijinks. I recognize that. I've written a significant volume of somber material recently. I discussed suicide, failing LGBTQ mental health, and finding myself in the depths of depression.
I used to be funny. At least, I thought I was funny. About as serious as a pie in the face.
Indulging our creativity
In a recent conversation, my friend Jen, who was a film major in college, told me she has no time to engage her creative side. Her work has taken over her life, and she has no energy left for creativity.
I believe, however, there is no better outlet to find ourselves than to engage in raw creative activity with no ulterior purpose whatsoever. I reached out to Jen about appearing in a video I wanted to make: the eighth in a series I've made being pelted with pies in the face.
Initially, I only hoped to enlist Jen as a thrower - I wasn't aware of her qualifications in film. Now I hope for a deeper collaboration: if I'm to improve the quality of capturing my face hit by pies, a dedicated expert in film is the person to work with.
And yes...you read that right. While I've worked to establish myself as a serious thought leader in the fields of identity and gender, I also branched out into other media, including photos and film. I'm not very good at making videos, but it scratches an itch I sort of knew I had, but certainly never dared to indulge.
This is a story of indulging yourself. "Risky Business" is right. There is a time for doing all the world expects of you. And sometimes, you gotta say "what the fuck?"
Crushing your child's dream
As a child, I was afraid to express myself too loudly. In my family, expressing yourself too loudly might catch our father's attention, and that might result in physical abuse, emotional abuse, or a linear combination of the two, simultaneous or sequential.
Instead, I learned from an early age not to be too visible, and being transgender only reinforced my training to hide myself. My demeanor alone was sufficient to raise society's hackles - a boy...who thinks s/he's a girl? HERESY!
Hiding who I am was a way of life. A matter of survival.
Does society benefit more from a child pushed to become a doctor or allowed to develop into a poet? As a doctor, that child will heal people, making the world a better place, improving the human race. As a poet, that child will only...poe.
From a purely short-term, Utilitarian standpoint, the world needs doctors. The long-term effect, however, is a doctor who may abuse his wife, beat his kids, kick his puppy. The pain this doctor creates will span generations - it is the pain instilled in Baby Boomers who grew up during a World War and were failed by the growing field of psychology to process it.
Poetry can save the world
My father's frustrations were taken out on four children who went on to interact with and influence thousands of other people. Those four children had children of their own, also subject to my father's abuse - crystallized in our heads as the backward methodology of love as abuse.
Our children, and the children of those we interacted with, were influenced by my father's frustration. Surely, from a Utilitarian standpoint, entire generations of pain is of less value than a child who would only...poe?
My point? Those silly ideas you have - the poem that doesn't make sense, but makes you laugh; the desire to play music; the need to express your individuality - you must go do them. You must find yourself in activities that mean so little to society, but mean so much to you. Because by meaning so much to you, they become vital to society.
I am not a great actress. I never will be. I am not a great comedienne - my wit is simply too slow at times. I will never be a world-class guitarist or harpist. No, my best creative output thus far has been the butt of jokes ending with a pie in my face. In fact, usually several.
A Sticky Star is Born
My pie-in-the-face venture was born in response to a mean email I received June 2023. The culmination of Pride Month, I intended it as a one-off video - something I, at least, would chuckle to watch.
SIDE NOTE: I suspect some of my friends just wanted to see Ami the Scientist in the role of Ami the Stoogette. They wanted me to lighten up a bit or - failing actually to lighten up - to endure a bit of humiliation as recompense. Thanks a lot, "friends."
But something happened to me in the past year since I began gender transition. I found being who I am is...liberating. Being who I am is the greatest gift I ever gave myself. And being who I am is the greatest gift I can give my son.
Part of me wants to be offended at the positive response I receive from appearing completely foolish. But I think back to where I was two years ago.
I made scads of money. I was what Western society considered "successful." Plenty of education, a position in executive management, stock options...and I was a miserable mental health mess. If I can feel like myself and be proud of who I am by becoming a literal mess, is that not so much more valuable? Both to me and to the rest of the world?
My son now has a parent with whom he can relate, a parent who can love him the way he deserves. My wife now has a spouse she need not fear, a spouse who can love her the way she deserves. The world is undoubtedly a better place.
Create yourself in your art
My friend Tucker Lieberman and I had a discussion about art and identity in which we concluded creativity is a method to explore and discover who you are. Tucker described taking photos not to be a photographer, but to clear his mind sufficiently to be a better writer.
Do not make the mistake to think art means museum-quality, pretentious bullshit open only to an elite of artistes. Art resonates within our very fibers of existence. By creating art, we create ourselves.
The unfortunate corollary to creating art is creating an object - one that is tangible, one able to be ridiculed and vilified. By extension, we fear we will be ridiculed and vilified.
But do not let that stop your creative process. You deserve to know who you are, and we of the world deserve the happier person you will be for it.
Hide your art, if you must. Put your art on Instagram, if you dare. But make it. The world needs your art as it needs you.
Sometimes you gotta say "why the fuck?" Say it, sit down, and only...poe.