I only realized in the past couple of years how dreadful many adults are about articulating what they really desire – also how dreadful I am at saying what I desire. Superficial desires might be easily expressed, but what someone really wishes to experience or become is often much harder to put out in the world because its buried under years of socialized behaviour. It's much easier to conform to expectations and slot into a category. In this short, powerful memoir “The Surrender”, Esposito describes his lifelong journey to giving into his desire to dress as a woman. At a certain point in his childhood he learned that his compulsion to dress girlish wasn't compatible with the masculine image imposed upon him so it remained secret and dormant for many years. Only through a surprising identification with Kiarostami's film Close-Up and gradually admitting to others his desire, does he begin to dress in a feminine way outside of the private sphere. This provokes Esposito to formulate a strikingly original meditation on the meaning of identity and desire in the modern world.
I was really struck by the profundity and beautiful simplicity Esposito has for articulating how burying what you desire is a grave dishonesty. He discovers “My needs were not compatible with the logics bred into my mind, and it was up to me to change them.” It takes a lot of patient reasoning and difficult confrontations with himself to truly understand why he fears his transvestitism being exposed. It also takes a lot of trust to confide in someone how he really feels, but how surprising and wonderful it can be to get a positive response to such a confession. He describes with heartrending emotion the feeling of being observed and why dressing openly as a woman was so difficult: “If personality is a performance, then there are certain parts of it that one only experiences in the presence of others. Shame, affection, desire, vulnerability; these are quantities whose experience in solitude is like the sound of a sonata heard by one faulty ear.” It takes many years for him to build up the certainty of character to allow his private self to be seen publicly.
One of the most touching things is the way Esposito describes the evolution of his identity in sync with the theory, literature and films he consumes. He meaningfully enters into a dialogue with those whose ideas feed into his experience helping him to better articulate his own desires. It made me aware of why reading feels like such a vital part of my life and how all the feelings produced from the things I read aren't just abstract concepts, but things that apply directly to my day to day life. I think this book makes a perfect companion to Maggie Nelson's “The Argonauts” which I only read recently. Both reflect strikingly on the dynamics of gender in a deeply personal and intelligent way.