tl;dr The dance school I went to two years ago was pretty bad, but I am bringing back the incredible installation I made there, something which was almost worth the awfulness. I do need your support in whatever way you can, if you are able. You can learn more about the project and donate here.
This time two years ago, I was about to submit a formal complaint against my school for allowing a TERF to speak unchecked in a class in which there wasn’t a single staff member from the school present. I had already had a sit-down meeting with the people who had invited the TERF to come speak, heard a lot of bullshit about valuing different opinions, and had been told an apology would be made to the class. Some weeks later, I received an email informing me that the same people who had told me they would apologize had decided that it wasn’t necessary. End of Story.
I nearly dropped out after our Christmas break.
Instead I came back, dropped the class, and submitted my complaint. It was HELL. Let me tell you, not only did no one know or understand the complaint process, everyone actively attempted to convince me to have another sit-down conversation. I finally did relent and request a sit-down conversation with the same people and they refused. I felt a little vindicated, but the fact remained that information regarding what I needed to submit, when, and how, literally changed by the day.
It was obviously apparent that no one had ever submitted a complaint like this before and no one was quite able to admit it to me.
It was also obvious (including emails that literally documented and dated it), that the people I was talking to were lying to me, manipulating information, and actively avoiding transparency. I only found out halfway through the process that the original TERF speaker had, in fact, been contacted and had written a letter in response. When I asked to see both letters (to her and from her), I was granted a single paragraph from her letter, retyped.
In April, I received the response of my complaint – while everyone’s behavior while I was submitting the complaint was wrong and led to nominal attempts to revise the formal complaint procedure, they decided that the TERF’s language (ie. saying, “trans women aren’t women, they’re something else” and then going on to quote Germaine Greer, yuck) was not discrimination or harmful in any way, and was completely fine.
I asked if a trans person had reviewed the complaint. The answer was no.
I resubmitted the complaint on the grounds that it was not complete until a trans person had reviewed it or provided consultation.
In May, I was told that the complaint process had been managed perfectly without trans people that weren’t me. If I wanted to push the matter further, I would have to go to the citywide review board.
I chose to drop the complaint. By that point, I didn’t trust any review board to actually talk to trans people and I was submerged in work for my classes. I had an installation to put on, choreography to make, choreography to learn, and no time to continue pushing against cis people.
But I still live the results of that complaint every single day.
Now, I refuse to have Important Conversations off email unless I am recording it. I know it’s scary and invasive to be recorded and I know some people communicate better in person than in email, but I had also learned that trusting people to stay good on their word wasn’t enough. I become incredible anxious without that accountability. Without it, I am distrusting, nervous, and I definitely won’t speak my mind. This has major consequences in how I communicate and self-advocate (or don’t), and impacts my ability to be part of a work environment, because so many work and office conversations do happen in-person without recording.
Even now, I am scared to write something this detailed and incriminating about this complaint, even though I have never been told to keep this information confidential (and honestly, I think people should fucking know this school lets TERFs loose in their classes and then defends them). I’m writing this now because it’s now been two years (thank everything ever) and because I’m diving back into that world.
That’s right. I’m taking something out of my time at that school.
One of the results of my experience with this complaint was an installation. The installation itself wasn’t about TERFs, it was about the (im)possibility of nonbinary performance, but my anger at the school fueled me to be brave in a way that I would not have if my time there had gone smoothly. I demanded space and respect in that installation in a way that still astounds me – it was ungraceful, it was blunt, and it was blatant reclamation of my humanity. I am so proud of myself for doing it. And, facing out of the glass-walled room was a series of statements – things that had been said to silence me during the complaints process, generalized and anonymized enough to avoid incrimination.
Halfway through the installation, I noticed one of the people who had provided me with many of those words, settle themself outside of the room where they could read their own words back at them. It was fittingly symbolic – they only saw the outside of the problem instead of experiencing the world I had built. It’s easy to defend a TERF when you’re on the other side of a glass wall and think the side you see is objectivity.
This time, the installation will be a little bit different. I am thinking more about the who – who is involved, why are they involved, how can use my very tiny platform to make the biggest impact?
I have a grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts to do this and I am so grateful to see a foundation put money towards nonbinary art.
But, the inevitable, I do still need money to make the installation happen. I have launched an Indiegogo Campaign. If you have a few spare moneys, please pass them my way. And, if you don’t, please share this around so we can built a stronger community.
And, if you’re in the Boston area, mark your calendar for the afternoon of June 15th. I am so excited to be bringing this back in a more thoughtful (ungraded) way and I want all of you there!