Documenting the Ace Discourse: January 2015

Tl;dr Looking back at the Ace Discourse in January 2015 has shown a number of themes including discussions around the term “allo”, definitions of asexuality and identifying acephobia. There also appears to be a large changeover in people.

 

The past while, I have been writing some thoughts on how to go about looking at ace history and managing some of the problems that arise. Most of that was about having touch with older ace history, before the contemporary ace community was built. However, I want to look at some more recent ace history now.

 

As I started on a new project that’s looking specifically at acephobia on tumblr, I started realizing how little has been documented about what has been titled the Ace Discourse™. This is a huge problem because a lot of people now involved The Discourse were not there when it started on its current trajectory, especially the younger acephobic people who have now become a sort of “mob” primed to attack acespecs (let’s talk about how disturbing that is, shall we?). Additionally, many of the acespecs who were part of earlier Discourse are no longer active or, like me, wade in now and then, but have pretty much blocked and ignored anything particularly exhausting. And this has left younger acespecs without historical background or connection with those “early” acespecs.

 

I’m not the only one noticing this. There’s been a recent uptick in conversations around history of The Discourse. In particular, I recommend reading this beautiful reflection from aro-soulmate-project and some of the links in it.  The thing is, when I read other people’s histories, I realized that my memory of events didn’t always line up. For example, a common thing I hear from others is that the term “cishet” was created by trans people. My first memory of seeing the term was from an allo cis person using it to exclude acespecs from queer communities. I also have many memories of me and other trans people asking cis people to stop using cishet because so many cis queer people were using it to separate themselves from other cis people and justify their transphobia. I don’t know where the term came from, but my experience with it, as a trans person, has always been negative. Whether or not it was made by a trans person, it has outgrown that history and has been no good for me and other trans people.

 

The nature of tumblr allows for multiple histories to exist. Even with the Ace Discourse as a single concept, depending on who we follow, block, and interact with, even that experience can be completely different. I’ve had a strange, outsider relationship with a lot of ace culture, so I know my experience may not be what is commonly accepted as “normal” by the community as a whole, but it still is part of the history. So, I’ve decided to look back through posts as best I can and document one perspective of the Ace Discourse from someone who was around near the beginning of the current Discourse (there were discourses before then that I wasn’t part of). I am looking through my archive, trying to pinpoint which major posts and themes crossed my radar, and I’m using this space as a chance to share what I’ve found and reflect on it.

 

My own memories

 

Memory is faulty as fuck, but it’s a good starting point. While, there is clear record of the term “discourse” being used earlier than 2015, I do not really remember the term being fully put to use as “ace discourse” until about 2016 (going through my archive will offer interesting answers here). Now, of course, we have the beautiful #ace discourse tag.

 

I joined tumblr in 2012 (important because I was not in any asexual circle or community during the creation of the term allo/allosexual). From my perspective, there has always been attacks on acespecs. However, it tended to be one of many different kinds of conversations going on. A lot of acespec conversations I was part of in the 2012-2015 period was about AVEN. Tumblr, in particular, was the place that acespecs went when they didn’t feel comfortable with AVEN’s vibe and that meant that a lot of us were aroace, trans aces, and aces of color (I’m happy to talk more about my personal feelings with AVEN, but it tends to boil down to “every time I go on those forums, there’s no one particular thing that bothers me, but I feel icky afterwards, so I’ve decided not to interact with it”).

 

Yes, there were people claiming that aces weren’t queer, and the great allosexual debate would come up every few months (more on that later), but we were also a kind of ace “counterculture”, people who didn’t fit into the “main” acespec culture and were having conversations around intersectionality and queerness. Whether or not they were thoughtful, I have no recollection, we’ll find out when I look back more.

 

And then, January 2015, the allosexual debate started again. For those who do not know, “allosexual” is a term created by the acespec community to describe people that experience sexual attraction, just as we have “straight” to describe people who aren’t gay, lesbian, or bi, “cis” to describe people who aren’t trans, etc. When it was created (and every few months since), it has been pointed out that French Canadian queer folks use the term “allosexuel” to mean “queer” due to tight restrictions on loan words in the language. The argument was that aces were “appropriating” the term, but, of course, the underlying message was “how dare straight cis people use the word queer!” There’s a little more complexity here (who uses allosexuel, how terminology crosses languages), but it does show us already how much acephobic people wanted to rip away our right to normalizing terminology, and our presence and validity in queer spaces.

 

I didn’t realize at the time that the January 2015 argument was any different, but then, months later when that conversation appeared to have devolved into your average “aces aren’t queer” garbage, it started to feel like a bigger problem. A year later, the conversations were still happening at an alarming rate, but had completely shifted to queerness and away from the term “allosexual”. That’s around when I started to completely cut out. I tune in every few months now. Some conversations I do remember from tuning it were: trans people asking cis people to stop using cishet because it allowed them to separate themselves from their cis privilege, the claim that queer was for “SGA [same-gender attracted] and trans” people only, the constant suggestion that ace people aren’t oppressed (and some very reactionary responses from acespecs), the growth of the term “exclusionist”…and, of course, moments that should have been historical, but really just became another excuse for an argument, such as the Trevor project recognizing and including asexuality (which many have cited as a huge instigator in The Discourse and I definitely agree with.)

 

And now, we have people proudly identifying as “exclusionists”. And while “exclusionist” has become a term for someone who excludes acespec and arospec folks, it’s also used when referring to excluding certain types of trans folks (usually the nonbinary ones), bi folks, and basically anyone who isn’t “truly” queer. Yuck.

 

January 19th – 31st, 2015

Preliminary Thoughts

 

So, this a slow-going project because there is so much material to sort through. It takes a long time. But I do have some very early, preliminary findings from this small period of time which can hopefully set some groundwork for the future.

 

The one thing I noticed immediately was how many blogs were deleted. By my count, at least 10 of the acespec blogs which were consistently blogging around The Discourse and acespec and arospec themes back in January 2015 have been deleted. This does not necessarily mean that the person is gone or that there’s anything suspicious in this decrease. People do change their blog names regularly and tumblr’s been on a decline for a while, people are leaving for many reasons. There’s no real way to tell without a lot more data, but I do think it’s worth noting.

 

For one, a lot of acespec folks have mentioned and discussed discourse-related burnout. It is not an isolated problem, many acespecs burnout when it comes to managing the discourse, and that can lead to someone deleting their account or moving to a new one.

 

Secondly, some of these blogs are what I would call “cultural hubs”, as in, they were center places for acespecs on tumblr to go for information, for community, or to rant/discuss acephobia. This includes http://ace-arophobic-quotes.tumblr.com/ and, while the glorious Asexual Alligator still stands, it is inactive. As these hubs dropped off, new hubs had to form, which has altered the landscape of acespec culture on tumblr. During this process, arospec-specific cultural hubs have started to emerge separately from acespec hubs as well, completely altering the way acespec and arospec communities interact, perceive themselves, and perceive each other.

 

Finally, the amount of folks dropping out of the discourse between January 2015 and now suggests that the people involved in The Discourse at the beginning and now are different. This makes sense considering conversations around burnout – an acespec engages until they burn out, but there are always new, younger acespecs to start engaging. More importantly, a lot of the acephobic people on the other side of the discourse are currently 17/18 years old. While it’s possible they were around during the beginning of The Discourse, it’s much more likely to consider that a similar phenomenon has happened for acephobes. The acephobes perpetuating The Discourse now are not necessarily the ones that started it.

 

Notable Themes

 

Even in such a short time period, I did pick out some common themes. What was being discussed in Acespec Land back in January 2018?

 

As noted, the conversation around the use of “allosexual” was a hot topic, not just in terms of claiming aces were appropriating it from queer French Canadians, but also the general fight to have a term for non-acespec folks. (For any trans person who has had to deal with the “cis is a slur” nonsense, this is a very familiar conversation with a new coating of paint, wheeeeeeeeeeee!)

 

Another post that blew up was around the definition of asexuality. This particular post caused so much commotion, the original poster eventually made a follow-up post to admit being wrong in some ways and look at the topic of libido and asexuality with more nuance.

 

And there was regular discussion around identifying and challenging acephobia and arophobia. This example I find interesting because it reminds me Steven Moffat’s famous “asexuals are boring” quote (and may even be a response to it) and I have a vague memory of “asexuals are boring” being a much more common form of discrimination in the past. Now, it’s devolved into a general “acespecs do nothing, what’s the big deal?” on top of other forms of acephobia.

 

 

Conclusion

 

This is just the beginning of a very long investigation. Hell, this is the kind of thing that someone with time devoted to the project would take years on. I don’t have time, I’m just doing this for fun, so it goes slowly and carefully and I’m taking a lot of detours. But, this history needs to get detailed and archived. It’s so easy for things to get lost on the internet if they are not carefully filed and I refuse to allow more acespec and arospec history to be lost.

Advertisements

“Learn your history”

Tl;dr Asking younger queer folks to “learn our history” without really understanding the depth of the question easily becomes a form of gatekeeping instead of an invitation into queer culture.

 

So there’s this thing that happens that I feel very strongly about because it’s one of those things that appears really clever on the outside and actually is super harmful to young acespec, arospec, and nonbinary people (and, being a young aroace nonbinary person, I might have a personal stake in the issue). It’s this thing where older queer people look at us younger queer folks and tell us to “learn our history”.

 

Now, if you’re not aware, I love history. I love studying history. I love learning history. It’s one of my absolute favorite things. It’s so meaningful to me, as a queer person who does not always have touch with my culture, to have a history and a culture I can write myself into. AND, as a traditional dancer, I experience the importance of history and lineage every day.

 

Every queer person should be able to learn queer history. Queer history is our touch with our long erased and invisible community. Taking that back what has been erased is an act of power.

 

But, I bristle every time an older queer person tells me “you young folks need to learn your history” because what I hear isn’t an invitation into the community, what I hear is a door. What I hear is, “if you don’t learn our history, you don’t get to be part of queer culture”.

 

For some people, it’s even “if you don’t learn our history the way I tell it, you’re not queer like I am.”

 

Historical knowledge has become a condition for queerness and I’m not ok with that.

 

Let’s talk about how difficult it is to access information on queer history. Especially for young queer folks who may not have regular, safe, private access to the internet, there’s really no way to know queer history. And even for those with internet access, a lot of our history is in books hidden in academic libraries, in oral history projects that sometimes only exist in one place or context, or in incomprehensible papers on “queer theory”. It’s not easy for a young person, especially ones who don’t have support (and thus, are the ones most in need of our community), to “learn our history.”

 

Let’s also talk about how the people most faced with these demands are young acespec, arospec, and trans folks and how those are identities that have been most denied historical record. Yes, we are still talking about how Stonewall has been whitewashed and turned into an emblematic moment for cis gay men (what?!). Yes, we are talking about how discussions about the AIDs crisis still mysteriously forget about the trans women harmed (and still facing harm) by HIV/AIDs in favor of stories about (you guessed it) cis gay men (certainly, cis gay men were deeply, deeply destroyed by AIDS, but to simply ignore the trans people who were part of that story is a different kind of destruction). Those are the two big examples that are thrown around by older queers the most, but let’s not stop there.

 

What about Magnus Hirschfeld? This is the guy who performed the first modern gender affirming surgery. Or, Alfred Kinsey, creator of the beloved Kinsey scale? Both of these people also included asexuality in their research. Hirschfeld even used the term “asexual” (Kinsey just called it group X, but hey…it’s there). How have we forgotten that?

 

And what about nonbinary identities? Isn’t it interesting that when nonbinary people in the western world are expected to justify the history of our identity, we almost always end up using non-western examples? Non-western examples that couldn’t possibly be nonbinary because the concept of nonbinary exists because of the Western gender binary. Instead of recognizing that history and culture exists in context, instead of having examples within our own cultural context, we have to drag other cultures into a Western lens and use a vaguely orientalist method to have touch with our history.

 

And through all of this is painful, obnoxious whiteness. Queer people of color are either ignored or used to support white queers. And that’s not a way to do history.

 

History isn’t neutral. The people being told to “learn our history” aren’t necessarily the ones who have access to it. Often, it’s the ones being denied a history and then told to learn the “mainstream”, whitewashed cis gay allo history.

 

While we’re at it, let’s also talk about how older queer folks don’t have a fucking clue about the culture us young queer folks have been creating. How “learn your history” has become shorthand for “I’m too lazy to learn all these new words and ideas you’ve been making, learn mine instead”. How this is specifically used to attack acespec and arospec communities (who have been building models and creating words and defining our identities pretty damn well, in my opinion). How I often find myself biting my tongue as an older queer person completely misuses a term, rants about how they didn’t have to deal with pronouns during their time, or describes gender in terms of how someone looks, thus completely disregarding and ignoring my own transness.

 

Older queer folks are gems. They hold a living history that academia and official historical records have denied us. They have built our community for us and given us our culture. I am forever in awe and eternally grateful.

 

And honestly? Most older queer folks don’t tell me to learn my history. They tell me how excited they are to see a new generation of young queer folks being badass and epic. They tell me their stories. They tell me our history. Or they help me find it when I ask.

 

But there are the gatekeepers throwing around their age as an excuse to judge young queer folks. I cannot respect any older queer person that demands things from me in the name of “respect” who can’t be bothered to get to know my community and my culture.

 

So, here are the questions I now consider whenever an older queer person thinks that younger queer folks need to “learn our history”:

 

  • What history exactly do you want me to learn?
  • Where can I learn this history properly and truly without whitewashing, orientalism, or erasing trans, acespec, and arospec identities?
  • Will you take some time to learn about my queer culture and what it means to be a young queer person in 2018?

 

Most answers to these questions will be honest, open, respectful and allow for dialogue, so it is easy to know when someone is being an asshole and when someone truly wants me to learn queer history.

 

So “learn our history” isn’t a bludgeon we get to use on each other. It’s not even a command or a request. It’s simply an acknowledgement that we have been denied history for so long and we are taking it back. Let’s not twist it into a way to gatekeep.

Some August Reading

August is HOT (so were June and July). I’m not one for the heat, but I did get some good reading done. We’ve got some conversations around trans representation (and how to do it right), asexuality, and queer history. And a small tribute to the incredible dancer, Angela Bowen.

 

Lost this Month

 

Silva, Galway, Ireland

A friendly person who enjoyed cooking

Read more

 

Casey Hoke, Los Angeles, CA

Trans activist, artist, and speaker

Learn more about his work

Donate to the Pride Center at Cal Poly Pomona in his memory


Dancer, Professor, Queer Activist Angela Bowen Dead at 82

 

“Most recently a professor at California State University, Long Beach, Bowen taught in the English and the women’s, gender and sexuality studies departments. Bowen was a beloved fixture on campus who passed on her organizing and activism to her students. Bowen’s career in higher education was just one of many acts in her 82 well-lived years.”


 

Reading

 

‘Interstate’ Proves that Trans Inclusion Makes Better Musical Theater

 

“So I think it proves that, when people say, “Oh, there’s nobody who can fit this role” or “Oh, you’ll never be able to cast this,” you just have to try a little bit harder. You just have to be committed to doing that, because they’re out there, and it’s important to cast somebody who is a trans person in a trans role.”

 

This Guide to Trans Inclusion in the Media May Change Hollywood As We Know It

 

“According to TRANSform Hollywood, 80 percent of Americans say they don’t personally know a transgender person — not at work, not at school, and not in their families. “That’s where Hollywood comes in,” says the guide. While many Americans might simply be unaware of trans people in their lives who aren’t publicly out, or whom people assume to be cisgender, those who say they don’t know a trans person will likely learn everything they know about trans people from film and television. That’s why it’s so important that the people they see in these roles are trans and represent the reality of what that means — and ideally, what being trans could mean in a world free of transphobia and rampant discrimination.”

 

Ace Jam created a space for games with asexual characters

 

“Ace Jam, then, was an important step in bringing attention to a-spec people, and creating more respectful media that reflects them. The jam page curated helpful resources for developers wanting to create well-rounded characters without resorting to tired tropes. It also encouraged developers of all skill levels to take part without pressure or judgement, empowering many developers who are themselves asexual or otherwise a-spec to take part.”

 

“Bi Ace… is that a thing?” 

 

“For a while, I thought I was exclusively into men. Then, for two years, I thought I was only into women. Fast forward a bit, I discover that I’m into no one physically, but I do like the way certain faces look, both male and female. And that was confusing at first. We’re conditioned to associate the acknowledgment of a nice face to sexual attraction. It’s a part of heteronormativity that is taught to us and projected onto us from the time we are born until we die. I’m still working on convincing my friends and family that you can like someone’s face and never want them to be anywhere near you. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

 

Hugh Ryan Recounts Our Forgotten Queer History—And Makes Us Remember Our Past

 

“I think the importance of queer history is both seeing actual queer people, like we are today, functioning in the world and understanding how their lives and their actions and their identities changed all of history, but also seeing queer people who are not like us and that show that what we think of as the way sexuality and gender functions has not always been the case.”

 

Exhaustion

Tl;dr Performance and work and living as an adult is draining, but I am refocusing and using this as a chance to pinpoint what’s important to me and what I want to be doing.

 

I have not made art that I am proud of in over a year.

 

That, in itself, is not necessarily a problem. I have gone years before without making art. The problem is that I know why this is happening and it’s all kinds of frustrating.

 

Put simply – I do not have the time to make good art.

 

This comes because I am currently working three and a half jobs on top of creating, going to dance class, trying to stay in shape, and performing. I don’t have time to make art simply because I am busy, but also because I need emotional space to work as well.

 

My usual creation process includes hours of self-reflection and mind-mapping and reading and research that’s completely outside of the practical piecing-things-together I do in the studio. It doesn’t just require time, it requires energy and brain space that I don’t have when I am also teaching and organizing and being an adult. When I have more stressors around without the protection of being a student, that also adds to the load my brain is trying to manage.

 

Currently, I work one night a week at a single-screen movie theater. So, I have a huge rush right before the movie, and then an hour or more off. My first few weeks there, I would bring my choreography notebooks in hopes that I could use that built-in downtime to do some of the processing I haven’t been doing recently. But, having to switch from customer service mode to art-making mode and back was impossible.

 

Performance itself has also been draining for me. In all honesty, I thought I would perform once, maybe twice, this year while I got my feet on the ground. Instead, I have performed in five different productions for a total of eight shows since January. That’s not a lot, but it’s a lot more than I was prepared for. I did all of my own work for these shows, so, since January, I have had to direct my creation towards making presentable work instead of a rigorous process.

 

Performances themselves are draining. I have to manage my eating, I have to manage my sleep, and I have to manage all the anxiety that comes with going in front of people. Performance pulls up all my insecurities about not being a good enough dancer, even when I try to own the way I dance. And, to top it all off, I am a morning person, and shows tend to be at night and go late.

 

It takes me a week to recover from a run of performances, even if I manage myself well, because of who I am, and it only takes a week to destroy my momentum in working out, technical training, and creativity. I have to go back and start again. The cycle is getting frustrating.

 

All of this is really to say a few things:

 

Most importantly, I’m realizing that I have been unfair to a lot of artists. I talk a lot about lazy or thoughtless art. I still don’t like it. But, I am realizing how easy it is to make it when we are stuck in a cycle of creation and performance that is focused on production and doesn’t allow space for reflection and patience.

 

I’m also learning the power of “good enough”. I have not presented a piece of work I’m proud of in the past year, but I have presented work and it has all been good enough. I have to lower my standards for myself because I will have nothing otherwise. I hope that someday I will be able to have the time, space, and energy to make thoughtful work again. But, in the meantime, I will settle for good enough, because it’s a whole lot better than nothing.

 

And finally, the really obvious thing, I’m learning how much work performance is for me. I know a lot of performers love performance, they live for it and eat it up. Now, I like a good performance, especially when I’m showing work I’m proud of, but it’s not something I need. And realizing that has allowed me to back off the pressure to create and perform constantly and think about what I want to be doing.

 

What I want to be doing is making. I want to return to the installation I made last year because I miss it. I want to teach children because I love working with children and I want to teach queer folks of all ages, because I have seen time and time again how powerful it is when queer people dance. I want to do Irish dance as a community-oriented dance form, not as a competition or performance-based dance form.

 

I want to build a whole generation of trans dancers so that I don’t have to be the only one.

 

So that I don’t have to perform (but can if I want).

 

I am tired and drained and that probably won’t stop for a good while. But I am also readjusting and refocusing. I am learning how to account for my exhaustion. And I dream of a day when I can finally make work I am proud of again.

 

For those who do follow my in-person work, I’ll be tapping out of performance for a little while (at least until I’m actually make good work again), but first I’ve got one more thing coming up in September, as part of the Dance Complex’s Tiny & Short: A Drop in the Bucket.

CDA for Dance: Nexial connections and shoes

Tl;dr The hard shoes used in this particular piece (“Breakout” from Lord of the Dance) highlights the nexial connections of performer-sound, performer-movement, and movement-sound.

Ta-da! Here is a continuation of my analysis of this darn video to continue to look at how CDA methods can be applied to  movement and dance with a little help from choreological structures. Previously, I have looked at the textual framing and the strands of the dance medium in part 1 and part 2 .

Now that we’ve gone through all of the strands, it’s time to connect them because nothing actually stands on its own. The connections or relations between space, performer, movement, and sound are referred to as nexial connections. In choreology, there are six connections that are considered particularly notable:

performer-movement

performer-sound

performer-space

movement-sound

movement-space

sound-space

Instead of going through each of these pairings separately, like I did with the different strands, I want to recognize that these nexial connections are suuuuper interconnected to each other as well. So, we will look at two elements of this video that we haven’t quite spent time with yet and use these nexial connections to tease out some analysis. First, we’ll discuss the role of the shoes in the piece and in my next post, we’ll look at the piece’s moment of change, which I have already discussed, but not in terms of the interconnected nature of the different strands.

Shoes

Hard shoes, or heavy shoes, are a pretty common element of Irish dance. Not all of Irish dance uses these shoes (there is also soft shoe dance), but they are characteristic of and specific to Irish step dance.

The most surface nexial connection with these shoes is performer – sound. Shoes are part of a dancer’s costume, and so they are considered part of the performer and are a visual choice that changes how the audience perceives the performer. Putting on shoes effects the sound of a piece, as even a simple step is accompanied with noise because of the make-up of the shoe. Costume choice here is also a sound choice.

Not all Irish dance is performed in hard shoes, so there was a very clear choice to use hard shoes instead of soft shoes in this piece. I would posit that pseudo-ballet element of the ridiculous amount of toe stands in the piece is part of that choice, showing a performer – movement connection. While we don’t know whether the choice to echo balletic movement or the choice to use hard shoes came first, what we do know is that it would be impossible to do this piece without this particular type of shoe (not just the toe stands which could technically be done in a number of types of shoes, but also many of the heel-based movements).

The movement is specifically dependent on the shoes the dancer is wearing. Finding this history without really going out and talking to people is hard, but I did find this very quick look at the evolution of the hard shoe. It’s interesting to note that toe stands have been an important consideration in the actual construction and design of hard shoes. The connection between shoe and movement exists even outside of specific dance or choreographic choices, it’s driven Irish dance evolution.

And then, of course, shoes highlight the movement – sound  connection because, once the shoes are on, movement creates sound. Movement choices thus also become sound choices. Here, as noted before, the movement follows the music (a treble jig and then a faster “traditional” jig), a standard choice for Irish dance, but still a choice. The sound of the shoes creates a secondary sound that accompanies the dance (I find this particular trait most noticeable when watching those videos when the sound goes off the movement. It’s so much easier to notice something when it goes wrong.)

A final important element is silence and that silence becomes even more pronounced when the dancer is wearing a loud, clunky shoe and we expect noise. This brings us (again) back to toe stands and also the rocks (that thing where it looks like the dancer is about to break their ankle) – these are fairly quiet movements. While they still hold rhythm and sound quality, it softens the feeling of the piece by not making as much sound. These particular movements are mostly used in the first half of the piece, when we have a “sweet, innocent thing” dressed in white copying balletic movement. The second part of the piece, in which everyone has undressed and are trying to be risqué, is louder, with less space or softness. The consistent sound of the shoes adds to the risk and edginess of the second part and the softer, quieter movement allows a certain amount of naivity for the first part.

Conclusion

While I was hoping to also discuss the moment of change in this post, I’d rather take this shorter post as the build-up to the next post due to time constraints. So, in conclusion, the choice to wear shoes impacted both the sound and movement of the piece, but the choice of movement also allows for distinct changes in sound throughout the course of the piece. Next up, we’ll get to the dramatic ripping off of clothes! Promise!

We need to stop doing this

Tl;dr there is absolutely no justification for a cis man to play a trans woman in a film, even if it is “well-done” and I am disappointed to see the same patterns of cis-centered dehumanization and obsession over transition in the film “Girl” as I see in every other trans film ever. 

 

I cannot write this without first mentioning that there is work happening that is the exact opposite of what I’m discussing here. The new FX show Pose has multiple trans women playing trans characters and a storyline that digs deeply into existing culture (and even dance) that belongs to trans communities. So, while I rant about the negative below, I would encourage you to honor, support, and encourage the amazing work that is being done about this nonsense. 

 

So someone threw this article on my radar recently and I honestly don’t even know where to begin. In one breath, the writer both blames Hollywood for all terrible trans representation ever (ok, not really, but it gets close) and tries to justify the practice of having a cis man play a trans woman.

 

Ugh.

 

Here’s the deal: I wanted to be excited about “Girl”, a new film about a trans ballerina. I really really really wanted to. I’ve actually found much more support and home as a trans person in ballet worlds than modern dance worlds and I was totally rooting for ballet to go out and get a nice film about it before the rest of dance caught up.

 

But I’ve watched as bits and pieces fell into place and then I saw it win an award and then I read this article.

 

I really don’t care how “well-done” a film is or how good the actor is, there is no reason a cis man should ever play a trans woman (and no reason a cis woman should ever play a trans man).

 

Confusingly, this article’s argument is that, because trans people should be able to play cis roles, we should be striving for everyone to be playing everything and obviously this actor was the right person for the role. That makes no damn sense. Additionally, the author  quotes Jazz Jennings’ mother, a cis person who is apparently more of an expert on trans representation that Jazz herself or any other trans person, to support this argument.

 

Yeah, I’d love to see trans people in cis roles. Trans woman should be playing roles of cis women and trans men should be playing roles of cis men. That is because trans women and cis women are both women and trans men and cis men are both men. When a cis man plays a trans women once, maybe that’s ok (maaaaaybe, that’s getting into conversations about crossdressing in performance that are really well beyond the scope of this simple blog post), but the constant pattern of casting cis men in the roles of trans women is simply representative of the belief that trans women are still men.

 

If, for some strange reason, we had to cast a cis person in the role of a trans woman, then it should still be a women.

 

It’s that simple. If this writer was really arguing that it should be acceptable for a cis person to play a trans role because trans people should be fine to play cis roles, then we should consider who is playing which role and why. As long as cis men (or boys, in this case) are cast as trans women (or girls), all we are saying is that trans women (or girls) are really men (or boys). And, if you don’t think that’s wrong and disgusting, then we have a major problem and I don’t understand why you’re reading this blog. (Have I repeated this enough to get my point across yet?)

 

My other frustration with “Girl” and this article is, as always, the obsessive fixation on transition and trans bodies. Why the hell would any film about trans people need a shot of a trans girl “standing naked before a full-length mirror, staring at her penis as tears form in her eyes” if not to satisfy cis curiousity about trans bodies? I literally cannot think of any other reason to include such a shot. Cis people aren’t comfortable unless trans bodies are dehumanized – exposed in a way that cis bodies are not, treated as horrific and Other, and then rounded off with the reassuring message that the person in that body will be following the standard, cis-sanctioned steps to change their body (I talk about cis-sanctioned transition here ).

 

And it’s that much more horrifying when we remember that, in the film, it’s not even a trans body. Apparently, that would be too scary for the cis people. /end sarcasm

 

I know a lot of trans ballet dancers. There are SO MANY stories to tell about transness and ballet. Why take the classic “young trans person coming of age through their transition” story that has been told so many times already and shove it into ballet? (side note: the number of narratives that replace character development with transition is ridiculous and that just needs to stop).

 

I want to know about the huge number of older trans people that find home in ballet as adult beginners (and then adult intermediates and advanced, etc…). I want to know about the retired professionals who only transitioned after the end of their career. I want to know about the people that walked away from ballet and I want to know about the people that have embraced it. There is so much more in this community than a story that’s already been told a bajillion times in a slightly different way.

 

So, I’m disappointed, but not surprised. If I have a chance to see the film, I won’t see it. I refuse to watch any film where a cis actor plays a trans character and that won’t change even if it is about dance (and apparently done slightly better than some other films).

 

And, I hope the next time around, ballet does better, because I KNOW it can.

 

Some July readings

Another busy month of lots of reading, including something that quotes me (not that I’m surprised and vaguely pleased with myself or anything)! I’m pretty pleased with this collection – it’s eclectic and a bit random, but all worthwhile reads that I do highly recommend.

 

 

Lost this Year

 

Roxana Hernandez

Honduran immigrant, died in ICE custody in New Mexico

Read more

 

Cathalina Christina James, Jacksonville, FL

Loved to travel and dance

Read more

 

Keisha Wells (Pokey), Cleveland, OH

“Loved the most expensive high heels and stilettos”

Read more

 

Reading

 

The Tumblr bloggers building a canon of asexual history

 

“Combing through archives, bloggers have claimed historical figures like the 17th-century French poet Catherine Bernard as one of their own. Queer historian and dancer Jo Troll depicted Bernard as “an outsider looking in on relationships and find[ing] it easiest to see the negative messiness of a relationship.””

 

How White People Handle Diversity Training in the Workplace

 

“Despite its ubiquity, white superiority is also unnamed and denied by most whites. If we become adults who explicitly oppose racism, as do many, we often organize our identity around a denial of our racially based privileges that reinforce racist disadvantage for others. What is particularly problematic about this contradiction is that white people’s moral objection to racism increases their resistance to acknowledging complicity with it. In a white supremacist context, white identity largely rests on a foundation of (superficial) racial tolerance and acceptance. We whites who position ourselves as liberal often opt to protect what we perceive as our moral reputations, rather than recognize or change our participation in systems of inequity and domination.”

 

Disability Tales: PRIDE

 

“Pride season is here, and is love really saving us? Or is it saving the lives of the cis, white, and able bodied world that Pride caters to? Convincing others why we don’t care, want to, or feel comfortable celebrating “Pride Month,” Is a laborious process. More than likely these heavy conversations will lead to burn out, and feeling isolated. Our friends and family who are able bodied and neurotypical can’t seem to recognize why we don’t feel like going out to our local “Pride” themed events.”

 

The joys of being overdressed

 

“What happens when we stop worrying about what other people think and start dressing for ourselves, or for the person we want to be? It might not be the answer to all our problems, but I’m not going to pretend that the idea of being a bit unsettling because I’m not dressed the way I’m “supposed” to isn’t appealing. I refuse to become invisible to pander to someone else’s idea of “normal”.”

 

As de Corazones: Does Sex Really Matter in a Relationship?

 

“Uplifting perspectives and representations that challenge normative sexual expectations in society is important in altering how the public perceives the role of sex in relationships. It’s also crucial to acknowledge the origins of the films production company Meraki Films. Being based in Peru, Meraki is providing an often unheard perspective on the field of representation and (a)sexuality in As de Corazones through addressing the issue of sexual expectations in relationships and society overall.”

 

The Political Provocations of Asexuality

 

“One pernicious outcome of this kind of thinking is that it implicitly derides the notion that asexual expressions of intimacy might be just as good as sexual ones. While “critics of asexuality warn self-identified asexuals not to pigeon-hole themselves as sexual too soon,” writes Chasin, “nobody seems concerned if non-asexual people pigeonhole themselves as sexual or non-asexual too soon.” For Chasin, sexual freedom can never be truly achieved until every person is free to be sexual… or not.”

 

Why the British Media Is So Transphobic

 

“And we’re actually being expected to be really highly specialized in a lot of things, like gay history and feminism and endocrinology and the history of the LGBT movement and politics — and sports science, I’ve never cared about sports and then I had to look up the rules about trans women in women’s sports because every time I would do a panel someone would ask about that. You’re forced into being more and more of a really specialist expert just to defend the fact that you’re existing in the world.”