Documenting the Ace Discourse: February 16 – 28, 2015

All right, time to continue a look through the history of the Ace Discourse. We’ve made it all to the end of February 2015. Wow. We’re going to fast /end sarcasm. If you’re playing catch-up, you can see all three installments of the project here.

 

Now that I’m starting to collect material regularly and have a stronger base, I’m changing it around a little bit – instead of simply doing a survey of what happened during a time period, I’m going to look at the BIG topics over a period of time. This means I’ll be doing a bit more back and forth with time. For example, I’m holding onto some of the discourse arguments and examples (including that old nonsense of whether or not kinky is queer) I found in this second half of February to see if they grow in March. Then, I can cover it all together, deeply, instead of briefly mentioning each thing multiple times.

 

So, this time, we’ll be looking at two things – an old article I was featured in that was published late February 2015 and specific kinds of ace humor that seemed to be happening in late February 2015. Like a lot of what I’ve looked at so far, neither of these things are explicitly Discourse, but they relate into the Discourse and give us a sense of the conversations and culture we had back then.

 

However, I do want to note one contextual thing – late February is when I started my personal campaign against “cisphobia”. Basically, I discovered I was following a whole bunch of people who unironically believed “cisphobia” was a horrible, terrible thing, and I went on a spree of blocking and gently reminding people that “cisphobia” was not a thing. At all. I think this is important because a lot of the Discourse I see nowadays seems to forget that there was (and still is) controversy over the word cis. It’s also interesting to compare timelines. The use of “cis” dates back to the 90s and people were complaining about “cisphobia” in 2015, a good twenty some years later. “Allo” dates back to 2012ish. That means we’ve probably got at least another ten years, if not more, before “allo” is a vaguely accepted term in queer and lgbt+ spaces. And honestly? I just did an incognito google search for “cis” and the first relevant result was Urban Dictionary which claims it is used derogatorily and the second most popular definition says it’s “Typically used by whiny tumblr users who complain about not being accepted for who they are and yet bash these “cis” people for being born and being okay with the sex they were born with.” (does anyone even use Urban Dictionary anymore? I haven’t touched it in years, I’m surprised it came up).

 

It definitely puts the Discourse into perspective, both in terms of how exclusionists seem to forget this when they are off complaining about the term “allo”, and in that it makes me a little calmer. Us trans people deal with cis bullshit every day. Us acespecs and arospecs can deal with allo bullshit. I’m just living a different moment in that trajectory than I did when it comes to the term “cis”.

 

An Article

 

So, a big idea I want to talk about here is this article that was published late February 2015. Young, sophomore (2nd year) me is featured down at the bottom. People that know me will probably recognize the hat. It didn’t really take off through tumblr, but it does makes the rounds now and again and I get that weird out-of-body moment of going “oh right, that’s me!”

 

I want to share the article because I believe it shows the overarching context we were in at the time. I was asked to participate because of my role as the ace representative at my university. My main involvement in asexuality was in-person interaction, away from any online Discourse that may have been happy. Mark Carrigan, who wrote the article, is not asexual, but one of the leading academics studying asexuality in, as far as I can tell, a non-invasive or pathologizing way (disclaimer: I have not read all of his work). Even while some of it definitely reads as outdated and a bit confused, I still feel good about the experience of the conversation and photo session I had with the photographer and the final product. That’s big. We talk a lot about visibility and representation, and I think we have an example of what was good representation back in 2015. That’s not now. I’d be pretty unhappy if this was published today, but I’m glad it was published, and I’m glad it still exists and is still accessible.

 

There are two particular quotes I want to pull out from the article and link into Discourse. Our first one is simply,

“The problems faced by asexuals have more to do with invisibility than they do with phobia, though.”

 

This is interesting because it shows a pattern I’ve witnessed in the acespec community a lot in which we downplay the discrimination we face. As this article exemplifies, for a long time, it was understood that invisibility was completely different from discrimination. The terms “acephobia”, “arophobia”, and “aphobia” did not exist. More importantly, acespec invisibility and erasure was not considered systemically in the way that we are able to see acephobia, arophobia, and aphobia in relationship to amatonormativity and heteronormativity.

 

While it’s frustrating to realize how long we’ve been lessening our own discrimination for so long, it does make me happy to be able to point out this change. Nowadays, I see conversations about how acespec and arospec invisibility is part of a much huger oppressive system. I see young acespecs and arospecs identifying and calling out their discrimination. And, while the Discourse sucks, I am really happy to see how our community knowledge has shifted to be specific about the harm it’s doing. I’m not sure if it’s a direct response to the Discourse, but I feel like this change is possibly related to increased visible hate towards acespecs and arospecs.

 

And then Carrigan asks, “For instance, what do we call people who aren’t asexual? I’ve tended to switch between saying “non-asexual people” and “sexual people”, despite the former feeling clunky and the latter strangely broad.”

 

Huh. So, when I started this series, I did point out there was a debate going on about the use of “allo” in this general time period. More importantly, allo is a term that was accepted and used by the ace community in 2012. It has been a huge point of contention throughout the Discourse. And yet, a researcher who has spoken with many acespecs seems to have no idea that the word exists. Why is that? Was it a term that was only common in certain circles of ace communities? Or, did aces not share the term outside of ace spaces regularly? I know I definitely used the term back then, but I can’t remember if I used it during this interview or when I presented an Ace 101 at my university.

 

Allo has always been a point of contention because of the claim that we’re appropriating from french canadian queer folks (even before all the other arguments). While I compared it to “cis” at the beginning of this, I think it is worth rethinking that – from my perspective, while “cis” has been fairly accepted in use by trans folks (even if cis people are still struggling with it), allo has not been as unanimously accepted by acespec and arospec folks. There have been pushes to change it, there were pushes to use “zed” instead. Even a year ago, I felt the need to look through other acespec blogs before using “allo” because I didn’t know if it was the accepted community term anymore. So, I do think, in this context, it’s very interesting that, while it’s completely possible and logical for Carrigan, an allo person researching acespec folks vaguely respectfully in 2015/2016, to know the word “allo”, he seems to have never had access to it. Where access was cut off was unclear, but it does show us a bit more about how closed off “allo” has been in terms of use.

 

(side note: if you read the article, you’ll noticed I identified myself as agender. I did that for a little while before realizing the word made me uncomfortable. You can see my full reasoning of why I am not agender here).

 

AroAce Humor

 

While the article shows us some context and some of the external environment, what was actually happening in acespec communities on tumblr? The big trend I saw in this time period is the growth of ace humor. Now, completely honestly, I am always late to the game on things like that because I’m always a bit on the outskirts. So, we can safely assume that ace humor had already been growing for some time, and that it hit the point where it reached folks on the outskirts in late February 2015.

 

Of course, the big pun that started showing up (and has diminished recently, which makes me super sad) is that of “aro” and “arrow”, a good example being here. That then allowed for the “aroace arrow ace” type jokes which cropped up all over the place. I experienced them a lot within fandom – Fraction’s Hawkeye was just wrapping up, it was beautifully purple (and, thus, ace), and so there was definitely a subgroup of folks claiming Clint Barton as the ultimate “aroace arrow ace”. I have also seen that outside of fandom contexts, that just happened to be my entrance into aroace puns.

 

We also see the growth of using humor to comment on stereotypes, like this example. This tells us that, even if there’s still an overarching inability to name systemic oppression/discrimination, acespec and arospec folks were very aware of the stereotypes, prejudices, and assumptions made about acespec and arospec identities.

 

I also want to recognize that both of those examples were aro-focused. As I previously noted, this is the period of time when arospec folks started to build a distinct identity and community outside of acespec identity and community. While I’m looking at both, and The Discourse affects both, it is wort noting how we do have aro-specific posts, building up that distinction.

 

The Otherworldly/Ace Problems

 

And then we get to something that I can only class as humor, and I’m going to call it “otherworldly exaggeration”. Here is a great example of what it looks like. The general idea of this otherworldly exaggeration is that acespecs and arospecs claimed the invisibility forced on us by manifesting it into a surreal, otherworldly, empowering form of expression. Yes, we’re invisible. Yes, that makes us magical, godly, otherwordly, incomprehensible, etc.

 

This may also be part of why dragons are such a notable part of acespec culture. I fucking adore it.

 

There are a great number of examples of folks posting this kind of humor, but I fell particularly down the rabbit hole of Ace Problems and want to do a brief spotlight on that particular blog. Ace Problems would list out the “problems” that came from being asexual and, thus, having magical powers, continuing an building on this brand of otherworldy exaggeration. This and this are some examples of the problems that come from have ace powers.

 

I went back through the archive a little bit and discovered that Ace Problems hasn’t really published an actual problem since February 2015. Instead, it shifted into an ask blog – first, continuing the otherworldly exaggeration by answering asks specifically about ace powers and other “otherworldly” asks and then, moved towards real life advice around friendships, coming out, accepting ace identity, etc. The blog has now been inactive for about a year, purposefully left up to remain an archive of everything it has held.

 

This pattern – of creating posts, having questions and posts solicited through asks and engagement instead of creating them, and then slowly transitioning form the original intention/style of the blog into an advice blog is interesting and one I want to return to once we get into that moment when advice blogs became popular (I’m curious to see if the timelines line up).

 

It’s not enough information to give us a full landscape of a longer timeline, but it gives us one possibility that has existed.

 

More importantly, it suggests that late February 2015 was probably a time of peak for this otherworldly exaggeration – it had been building previously and then, not only was it so popular that it reached outskirts folks like me, it was then able to self-sustain from engagement, without making any new posts. I’m not sure if the lack of new posts is due to this increase in engagement (or the engagement a result of the lack of posts), a personal change of interest on the part of the moderator, or the beginning of the decline of otherworldly exaggeration. I don’t have that information, But hey, otherworldly exaggeration sure was popular back in February 2015.

 

Conclusion

 

To wrap it all up, late February 2015 has shown us a few things – 1) Acespec and Arospec folks did not really claim discrimination or discuss invisibility in terms of systemic oppression at this time. 2) While a hot topic, the term “allo” did not seem to make it very far outside of specific ace-controlled circles and specific anti-ace circles, it was very insulated. 3) Aro identity formed distinctly away from ace community space in a strong way throughout February 2015. I expect this will continue to grow with time. 4) Ace humor was big back then (and still is now), particularly the use of “otherworldly exaggeration”, which was a way to reclaim invisibility forced on acespec and arospec folks.

 

Basically, some interesting finds. I find the humor one particularly interesting – of course I was there when we were all talking about surreal, otherworldly nonsense (it was beautiful), but I had forgotten exactly how big it was. It really was an important part of ace tumblr back in the day, and I’m glad to have found it again.

 

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On the uncomfortable question of money

Tl;dr I have a donation link now in order to emphasize the importance of recognizing the value of the work I do and to emphasise the importance of funding queer artists.

 

I wrote this a year ago, put up the donation link, and was too nervous to post the actual writing. But, after a year of multiple jobs and struggling to earn enough to make my life vaguely sustainable, I’m forcing myself to publish this. I’m not asking you to donate if that puts any kind of burden or pressure on you (I’m ok, promise.), but I put a lot of work into this blog alone and I believe I owe it to myself to encourage people who can to support my work.

 

In rereading this, I do want to recognize that I’ve strayed from the trans focus of my blog this year and have included many more conversations around aroaceness, but the concepts still remain the same, even if there are some places where I wrote “cis” and now mean “cis and allo”.

 

Yeah, so, this is a hard one to write and it comes from an even harder decision, but please bear with me because this is a really important reminder about our economy and the importance of queer artists.

 

You may notice that my blog now has a donate link. It’s a small one. I’ve been toying with a lot of different options for a long time, and decided I wanted something small that asked for something small, because I’m not ready for anything larger, and it matches what I do. This blog is small, so I ask for something small.

 

When I first started this blog, I was not intending to make money from it, and I still don’t actually expect that that will happen. Freedom of information is important to me and, if I can help it, I do not intend for any of my writing to go behind a paywall. There are many reasons why someone could not pay to read something and none of those should get in the way of reading what I have to say. And, of course, a huge reason I created this blog was to find other trans dancers and people like me, which is something that should not require money. And, to trump all of that, I am under no illusion with this blog (even if I act like it most time) – I am well aware that most people who read it are my friends. I have no intention of asking the amazing people in my life who already give me so much of their love and support to give more.

 

That said, a number of different arguments, both big and small, have come up and led me to believe that a donation link belongs on my blog and that those who are reading and learning regularly from me should consider a small donation to my work. It comes down to a single story:

 

When I worked at a summer camp and was coordinating support for lgbt+ campers, some of my fellow staff members got frustrated with me because I would take myself off of other duties. At the same time, I was so emotionally exhausted from being constantly and visibly out, and then using that to guide cis and straight staff members to helping the campers, that I was not capable of doing much else. In a better situation, I would have been able to clarify that to others and clear it with the head of the camp and then gone and done the work I needed to do, but that particular camp had yet to build the support structures I needed, so I did what I could with what I had.

 

On the last day, after our campers had gone home, it became apparent that staff members that had worked with me to support LGBT+ campers and lead inclusivity by example, had not quite gotten the implications that I was also a trans person. They didn’t realize that they still had to not be transphobic. I then had to manage their transphobia. They got to turn off and relax when the campers went home, I was still doing the same work I had been doing for weeks, amidst a growing level of casual transphobia, because my cis coworkers had decided to stop doing the work they had been doing to protect trans campers. Apparently, I wasn’t worth that work.

 

The point of this story is not to whine (ok, it is), but to point out that the conversations I have and the advocacy work I do is hard, unrecognized, and, as a result, unpaid or underpaid. I put a lot of work into this blog. I put a lot of work into educating cis people outside of this blog as well. It is a lot of emotional labor. It takes time and energy, and then even more time, to restore my energy. It is easy to look at the final output of something and not understand what went in and I get that, so it’s up to me to value my own time and energy.

 

That donation link is recognition of the work I put into this blog.

 

These past few months being out of school have been hard. I worked for a transphobic boss who often forgot to pay me, I have been patching together various part-time jobs, I finally got a job I wanted, only to be informed that the organization had not quite pieced together all the details and that I would have to wait two weeks to even know my start date. Even with my more reliable (if patchwork) jobs, the money I make is just barely enough to cover rent and living expenses. I can get away with this, because I have savings, but it has meant that blogging is less of a priority. It is important to me that I keep doing this and the best way to do that is to start reframing it as part of my work, instead of an extra thing I do when I have time. In other words, by placing it as something that is work with value, I intend to make blogging part of my patchwork job situation instead of in addition to it.

 

There are also two other HUGE ideological reasons why I am doing this:

 

  1. I really need cis people to recognize and value the work I’m doing for them. I write this blog for trans people, but I know most of the readership is cis, and I do write some things specifically on allyship for cis people. So, this blog more or less provides a free education on trans identities for cis people, not a 101, but an extension and a chance to reflect on concepts beyond 101 level. Education should be free for everyone, but education providers should always be paid, as recognition of the amount of work that goes into their teaching. I get paid to teach French to children, why shouldn’t I be paid to write about trans-specific struggles for cis people? I have had so many situations when a cis person goes “oh, you’re trans? What about…?” and expects an education right then and there. I need cis people to understand that the education they receive from me is a service and not a right, and by suggesting they pay for it, I hope to clarify that.

 

  1. I refuse to be an excuse not to pay other queer bloggers, artists, and activists. Art, in general, and especially queer art, is severely underfunded. Many queer artists rely on online donations to live. They have to put things behind paywall, use Patreon, crowdfund ideas, and beg for enough money to pay rent. For someone who doesn’t understand the work that goes into art, it’s easy to think that the people not asking for donations are somehow morally better. So, I am putting a donation button as a model, not just a recognition of the value of my work, but as emphasis that queer artists are allowed to ask for money (and should be asking for money).

 

So, long story short. I have a donation button here and I’d like to encourage you to use it if you are cis, not a personal friend (and thus already giving me so much and being so amazing), and have the means. In the big picture, I hope everyone considers this every time they see a queer artist asking for money and try to put a little aside to value our work the way it should be valued. This also goes towards artists of colors, disabled artists, and any artist who is already marginalized from systems of support. Being an artist is hard.

 

Some December Readings

So, uh, I read so much in December that I had to hold some things for January (so, I promise my January reading list is going to be incredible!) The new exciting thing is that I discovered the incredible Yasmin Benoit, a UK-based asexual activist (that’s the first video linked here). She’s suuuuper cool and I highly recommend keeping an eye on her work. This list also includes lots of great thinking around art, gender, expression, and representation. All the usual subjects and a great way to round out the year.

 

2018 has been hard, but 2019 is going to be great. Woohoo!

 

Video: Asexuality is not a ‘white thing’ | Asexual activist Yasmin Benoit

 

Does Abstraction Belong to White People?

 

“Who has the right not to explain themselves? The people who don’t have to. The ones whose subjectivities have been naturalized. It enrages me. No, it confuses me. I’m all for being confused, for searching, for having to do a bit of work. But the absence of explanation is somehow … somehow … somehow what?”

 

Personal, professional and deeply political: On being femme and non-binary

 

“In addition to this, as an ‘AFAB’ (Assigned Female at Birth) person who strongly identifies with the label of ‘queer femme’, I have to work hard to find alternative strategies for self-affirmation. Usually, I communicate my gender identity through fabulous drag-informed fashion, writing, and performance.”

 

21 Queer Jews on Why We Love Being Jewish

 

“For this round table I asked Autostraddle staff and readers, A-Camp staff and participants, and a few of my close friends who I hope will become avid Autostraddle supporters: What do you love about being Jewish? I’m going to be honest, I thought I’d get a bunch of bullet point lists about food and summer camp – and don’t get me wrong, food and summer camp are definitely strong themes in this roundtable – but instead I actually received 20 thoughtful, joyous, resilient, and beautiful short essays about what Judaism means to the folks in this roundtable.”

 

Becoming Anne Frank

 

“These public relations mishaps, clumsy though they may have been, were not really mistakes, nor even the fault of the museum alone. On the contrary, the runaway success of Anne Frank’s diary depended on playing down her Jewish identity: At least two direct references to Hanukkah were edited out of the diary when it was originally published. Concealment was central to the psychological legacy of Anne Frank’s parents and grandparents, German Jews for whom the price of admission to Western society was assimilation, hiding what made them different by accommodating and ingratiating themselves to the culture that had ultimately sought to destroy them. That price lies at the heart of Anne Frank’s endless appeal. After all, Anne Frank had to hide her identity so much that she was forced to spend two years in a closet rather than breathe in public. And that closet, hiding place for a dead Jewish girl, is what millions of visitors want to see.”

 

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore Talks Coming of Age As a Genderqueer Person in the 1990s

 

“Growing up queer in the ‘80s and ‘90s meant many things, but in particular, it meant looking for images of yourself — your life, your desires, your fears — in imperfect mirrors. It meant investing a lot of time and energy in mentally re-writing the books and movies you encountered to create a narrative that even came close to representing queerness.”

 

Inside the “Yes on 3” Campaign’s Hidden Transphobia and Disorganized Politics

 

“Watching the results trickle in from each district on Tuesday night, it was hard not to notice that even though the Yes effort had succeeded, a full third of Massachusetts voters still mobilized to oppose my rights. (Worcester towns ended up skewing heavily conservative, with Oakham being one of the few areas in the state to register a majority “no” vote.) For as much as this referendum has sent a message to the country that trans rights can be defended, it’s also been a grueling reminder to trans people in Massachusetts that there are large pockets of hostility to our presence, and that organizations supposedly dedicated to our protection can easily be harmful in their own way.”

 

Boys Don’t Cry and Hollywood’s Ongoing Obsession With Trans Suffering

 

“What does it mean when one of the only major films with a transmasculine protagonist is about a character who is killed because of his transness? What does it say that the most celebrated thing about Boys Don’t Cry is Swank’s performance, and how the “bravery” of a heterosexual, cisgender actress in drag has overshadowed that of the slain real-life man the film is based on?”

 

Accessibility: A Rant

Tl;dr Even when there are barriers to making spaces fully and truly accessible, the fact that so few dance spaces don’t even meet the bare minimum is frustrating. We need to start making space for accessibility in our creative work instead of treating it like an external obligation that’s holding us back.

 

Let’s be honest – this is just going to be a frustrated rant with no cohesion.

 

It’s the most regular pattern I’ve seen in dance worlds I’ve been part of – the assumption that dance spaces do not need to be accessible. OR the awareness that the space needs to be accessible, but it is prioritized so low, that the space remains completely inaccessible.

 

I’m researching dance space options in Boston right now – for a project I’ll hopefully be putting on in 2019 (keep your eyes peeled) and for the Queer Dance Workshops I’ve been organizing (for those who care, we’ll probably stick to the same studio for a few more workshops and then we’ll see if we can try out some other spaces). And, all I can say that is that it is ridiculous how impossible it is to find something with step-free access.

 

For the purpose of this particular rant, I’m really talking about step-free access. There are many other forms of accommodations that dance spaces are failing dreadfully at, but I can’t get into all of it. Personally, I believe that step-free access into a space is bare minimum and the fact that so many dance spaces can’t meet the bare minimum is frustrating, especially when it is what most people mean when they say “accessible”.

 

Dance spaces all seem to be up very long staircases. Now, I get some of this is because Boston is an old city full of old buildings that can be difficult to renovate and make accessible, but, even so, it is still frustrating that the main dance spaces here all require stairs. (To be clear, this isn’t just a Boston problem either, I saw the same patterns when I was in London and in the few times I took class in Finland too).

 

Some spaces even include flights of stairs into their performance space.

 

And let’s not even get started on the HUGE number of inaccessible studios.

 

There are two things I hear constantly as justifications for this:

 

  1. A person who can’t walk up a flight of stairs probably can’t take a dance class anyways.

 

Bullshit. A dance class is flexible and adaptable. When have stairs ever said “all right, we’ll adapt to your physical needs, do as much of this as you can at your level”? (Good) dance teachers say that all the time.

Also, climbing stairs is different movement from dancing. We can’t make a direct, logical comparison there.

AND, if someone already has limited energy, they have to budget – Maybe they might be fine with a dance class, but not a dance class and a flight of stairs (spoon theory is a good way to understand the importance of rationing).

 

Basically, we don’t get to decide what a disabled person can and can’t do based on hypothetical assumptions. What we should be doing is creating spaces that disabled folks can enter, so they can make their choices about what they can (and want to) do, same as everybody else. I also know folks who struggle with stairs who would love to be dancing, so it’s not like we’re talking about a completely hypothetical situation. We’re talking about real people facing a real barrier to dance and that is unacceptable.

 

  1. Dance has no funding. We can’t be like those well-funded theaters with elevators.

 

Yes. True. Dance has no funding. And, to top it all off, dance, with our (stupid) mirrors and fancy floors and other various strange needs, is expensive. I get it.

 

But, that stops being the whole picture when accessibility is consistently and regularly deprioritized. This isn’t about one event when it just wasn’t within budget to rent the building that had a lift. This is about cultural centers for dance hosting performances in inaccessible spaces for YEARS. And when I say inaccessible, I don’t mean a few steps, I mean giant flights of stairs, I mean people placing furniture in front of “accessible” toilets, so they’re completely impossible to actually access, I mean bathrooms being labelled as accessible when they aren’t actually accessible (like seriously, come on, at least be honest…)

 

And, I do know we’re talking about it, but, what is the point of a conversation that is always, “not yet”? At what point does “not yet” become an excuse instead of a promise?

 

Dance spaces are strapped for money, dancers are strapped for money. But, at this point, it’s starting to feel more like an excuse.

 

 

As I look for a space to do work, I am prioritizing accessibility. I have specifically budgeted extra money, cutting out some material costs, so that I have the flexibility to say “no” to an inaccessible space and “yes” to a more expensive, accessible space. The work may be a little more sparse than I’d like, but I will be able to make it available to more people. As I go forward in planning funding, space, and teaching, I want to continue making these considerations part of my process.

 

As an example for other folks in my boat, some other low-budget ideas for building accessibility into my work which I am toying with at the moment include recording an audio track of written texts that folks who struggle with reading for any reason can download and listen to, creating stimuli that are not just visual, but also tactile and audible, making sure there are easily accessible exits, not just for folks with mobility impairments, but also for folks who may need to take time and space away from the presentation or performance, making all forms of participation opt in instead of opt out, and clearly communicating the access boundaries that are still in my work (because nothing will ever be perfect and I am far from it when it comes to accessibility) so that folks can make informed decisions about if, how, and when they enter the space.

 

We need to stop seeing accessibility as an external requirement placed on top of our work, it has be necessary and integral to the work. So, to my fellow able-bodied dancers and to all that are neurotypical, how are you building accessibility into your creative process? Can we do better in opening up our space, our events, and our work to more people by increasing access?

 

(the answer to that last question is YES! So let’s do it!)

 

For folks who are ready to take a step beyond bare minimum, I highly recommend the Pacific Alliance for Disability Self-Advocacy’s Resource List. Relevant to our work, it includes a comprehensive guide to accessible event planning.

 

CDA for Dance: Action and Body

tl;dr The action and body in this piece from Lord of the Dance tell us a lot about how the choreography was structured to safely challenge Irish dance norms and how women are presented in Lord of the Dance as a show. 

We did it folks! In this long analysis of this piece from Lord of the Dance, we made it through all the strands of the dance medium and their nexial connections! Want to catch up? You can see all the past posts here.

Before we get too excited, there is another model to look at. While the strands looked at the overarching elements of a performance, the structural model specifically analyzes and breaks down movement. This can be any kind of movement, not just dance, but we’re still looking at the same video and the same dance.

So what is the structural model? Here is a great image of the model and explanation. The structural model breaks movement into five parts – Action, Body, Dynamics, Space, and Relationships. The five are interconnected, so each choice or change in one element of the structural model will affect the others, like pulling one strand of a spider’s web. This makes it very difficult to know where to start. The most important thing about the structural model, which I will repeat over and over and over again, is that this is about what we see. It is not about the reality of what a movement is or how it’s done, it is only about what is sign from an external/audience perspective.

I’ve decided to choose three particular moments from the video and analyze each moment in terms of some elements of the structural model. This means that I can cover all five categories eventually without getting hung up on every detail.

This time, we’re going to start with the first solo moment which starts at 1:11. We’ll look at both the right and left of the step – the part where the dancer dances the step and the part where the other dancers do the step while the soloist waves their arms around.

Action

The structural model breaks movement into clear, discrete actions. While a dancer may perform two or more actions at the same time (ex. a jump that turns), categorizing movement into these actions allows us to identify what we are seeing.

In Irish dance, the most common actions are gestures, travel, jumps, and turns. A gesture is when one part of the body moves while the rest is still. Irish dance includes loads of leg gestures in this sense, often accompanied with jumps and travelling.

A few actions you hardly ever see in Irish dance are opening (moving out from the center of the body), closing (moving into the center of the body), twists, stillness, and leans. That said, there is definitely one very clear instance of opening/closing that is fairly common and many other exceptions to this incredibly general rule.

Our particular moment is mostly gestural. While the dancer is jumping, our eye is still drawn to the leg gestures. That is what we are seeing. In addition to leg gestures, there are also arm gestures here. More interestingly, the soloist does a twist at the moment mid-step when she draws herself onto her toes and places both hands on the same hip. As the group of dancers takes on the left side of the step, the soloist stops her leg gestures and continues the arm gestures. There are a few twists and open/closes, but it still feels highly gestural – the rest of the body is still while the arms wave about.

So, in general, we see hints of movement away from standard Irish dance action, but stay firmly within predominantly gestural action, which is very true to Irish dance norms. Even by breaking the norms by using the upper body, since the movement is still mostly gestures, it remains safe and unchallenging to Irish dance tradition. It is interesting to note that, in this instance, there is also little travelling and turning, two other predominant actions in Irish dance, making the gestures claim this moment that much more.

Body

The structural model breaks body down into visible units, which is different from other ways we look at the body. For example, anatomy is about how the body is actually built, but here, we are looking at what someone with no anatomical knowledge sees looking from the outside. (Have I said “see” enough already?)

In the structural model, the body is 4 large units – the head, torso, arms, and legs. They can get broken down into deep detail, such as the tip of the right little finger, or into broader categories, such as both arms together.

In this moment, each of the four main units is involved in the movement. While Irish dance does usually hold the torso still, the twists and the mini backbend in this moment involves the torso. However, no action here appears to be full-body movement because the actions are mostly gestural. Instead, we get two or three body parts doing gestures at the same time. For example, arms will do a gesture at the same time as the legs, or the head will turn (as a gesture) at the same time as the legs and arms.

One way to conceptualize the body in terms of the visual is to think about what part of the body our focus or attention is drawn to. There are a number of ways to bring focus to body parts that we see here. Since we are working in a world of gesture, a huge method here is to isolate a body part – stillness of some body parts can make the movement of other body parts more visible. Here, the arms and legs stand out against a still torso.

Similarly, we can draw attention by placing a body part in a position, building up the expectation of where it’s supposed to be, and then changing that, or breaking expectation. We see this a lot in this piece in the use of arms. The dancer(s) do regularly keep their arms by their sides, so whenever they move their arms, even if just to place them on their hips, it pulls the audience’s focus. We are drawn to the unexpected change.

Another means to bring attention to a body part is touch. Note here, in the twist in the step, the dancer touches their hip, bringing attention to it. This also happens when they put their hands on their hips. Framing a body part does the same  thing, such as when the dancer’s hands trace down their body in a curvy fashion, drawing attention to it, or basically saying “look at this body that is curvy in a way that is conventionally sexy”.

So, focus is drawn to three main body parts – the dancers’ legs, as expected in Irish dance, but also their hips and arms. Not only does this challenge Irish dance norms, it continues our discussion of this piece’s attempt to be sexy. By actively focusing on hips and curvy (?) things, the dancers are building a piece that conforms to western society’s norms around sexy dance as much as it conforms to Irish dance norms (possibly even more). The focus on arms challenges the standard assumption that Irish dance is only lower-body movement, even while it remains safely gestural, as I noted before.

I also want to recognize the effect of the video on how we see body in the piece. Note, that while we can logically analyze the legs as a point of focus, the camera hardly ever captures the dancers’ feet. This phenomenon in filming has been noted before. Horn pointed out that in the official Lord of the Dance video, the camera focuses on the overarching figures of the female cast instead of their feet during the opening number, while it then focuses in on Flatley’s feet for his introduction” (Horn, p. 6). I went and looked back at that version this piece and found similar patterns (complete with a completely useless shot of a whole bunch of knees and a belly shot of the soloist). I can confirm this with the personal experience of trying to learn the steps from this piece to perform a parody (photos here!) – quite often the video does the top view, only shows the dancer from the waist up, or is zoomed out so far that the details of the steps get lost in the overarching view of the figures.

Horn also notes that this piece, “Breakout”, is the only instance when the whole group of women wear hard shoes in Lord of the Dance (Horn, p. 4). This is a gender thing. Women dancers in hard shoes are less valued. Women are not valued for their footwork and they don’t get to show off their footwork the way men (and Flatley particularly) do. Instead, the value is placed on the “balletic” and “graceful” soft shoe dances and their overall movement is more important than their individual viruousity. Even a woman’s solo moment in hard shoes in the show is balletically inspired (that’s a word now), and the patterns and designs are more important than particular, individual steps. (In this particular example, note the white top and black bottom against a black floor and backdrop – we are supposed to be looking at the dancer’s top, not their feet).

Conclusion

I do want to point out that what we pulled out of body and action alone shows something that I would dare say radical, despite the insecurity we saw in looking at that strands of the dance medium. The choreography very cleverly stays enough within an Irish dance scheme of gesture to be able to challenge and break boundaries in terms of adding action and integrating more of the body.

While I’m not a huge fan of the choices made here (wheeeeee, sexy women who don’t get to show off, what?????), the fact that these are very solid, well thought-out choices. This is interesting, because one of the huge things I noted when looking at the strands of the dance medium was intense insecurity. If I had ages and ages and ages of time, I’d want to follow this a little further – why this difference? Does this tell us something about staging irish dance and pulling it out of its original context? I think it might. Sadly, I don’t have the time to follow through on that right now.

And, of course, we’ve got to talk about gender. Simply looking at body alone showed us a lot about how an apparent woman’s body (we have no idea the gender of these people, friendly reminder) is presented onstage in one of the biggest Irish dance shows ever. It’s not just about sexy, it’s about sexy women, and it’s about control – women’s bodies are only displayed (and captured) on film in specific ways which limit their virtuousity, talent, and individuality. Hmmmmm.

Never Enough

Tl;dr Not feeling “enough” of something means I sometimes struggle to claim my emotions around an identity, particularly when facing an Event or a Crisis. Both Pittsburgh and the evil gender memo were good reminders of that. We have to remember that we are all whole people and completely enough of who we are.

 

So, I’m Jewish. That’s a thing about me. My dad is Jewish and so, ethnically, I am Jewish. When I lived in Europe, I “looked” Jewish enough that people would recognize me as such. Someone in France once even stopped me in the middle of a croswalk to pronounce me “not European” (No. Fucking. Kidding.) When I watch shows like Crazy Ex Girlfriend or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, or even Star Trek (because between Nimoy and Shatner and the entirety of Vulcan, that was one super Jewish show), I recognize myself and my family (and my Jewish Manahattan grandmother). I grew up appreciating good bagels and not that nonsense they try to sell you at the supermarket. I don’t know many Bible stories or what have you, but I know the seder part of Exodus like the back of my hand from attending seder as a child (to be clear, this was hosted by a Jewish person, I recently learned that some Christians celebrate seder and that baffles my mind). I have memories of celebrating Christmas by eating Chinese food in a stuffy Manhattan apartment with previously mentioned grandmother. I also remember the one time that she raised her voice at me was when I told her I was studying German. And it never even occured to me that it might be difficult to find blintzes until I left home for college, because I have so many memories of eating them for snack as a child.

 

And yet, when Pittsburgh happened, I felt like I had no right to talk about my feelings. I walked straight into work, had multiple professional conversations with a whole bunch of people (who I don’t think know I’m half-Jewish) about how to best respond to a tragedy on social media, and went on with my day. It wasn’t until days later, discussing some of that response at work with my sister, that I finally broke down.

 

See, I didn’t feel like I had a right to insert myself into the conversation because I didn’t feel Jewish enough. I’m not practicing. I never had a bar/bat/b’nei mitzvah. I’ve been to shabbat a total of twice in my entire life. I only understand the barebones of Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur, even though they are incredibly important Jewish holidays. My family celebrates Christmas (even though it makes me grumpy). My mother isn’t Jewish. Especially in the US, I walk through life as a white person whose culture tends to veer in the directions of those annoying Christian-leaning atheists. I’m not Jewish enough to claim the fear and grief that comes from anti-semitic violence, even as my emotions get the better of me. Even as I write this, I keep feeling the urge to add more to that top paragraph to prove that I am Jewish.

 

In other words: I refused myself the ability to process my emotions because I didn’t deem my pain worthy.

 

A week before Pittsburgh, that beautiful memo from the Trump administration which showed intention to redefine gender (wheeeee!) was leaked. After a brief moment of internal “hah! I told you so!” towards all the assholes that had informed me that Trump loved trans people (seriously, there were multiple, don’t you remember he let Caitlyn Jenner use the bathroom in Trump tower once? /end sarcasm), I experienced a very similar feeling of not enough.

 

See, we’re talking about how the memo effectively erases trans people from legislation, but I was already erased. Nonbinary gender has little to no recognition in legislation and, when it does, it tends to be on identification records, which worries me. And, because of my choices not to medically transition, many of the consequences of the memo that could affect other nonbinary people still don’t affect me.

 

I was caught between frustrated anger on behalf of my trans family and the weird feeling of “well, this changes nothing”.

 

I wasn’t trans enough to be hurt by anti-trans legislation. I’m not trans enough. I’m so not trans that the government hasn’t even recognized my existence, so that anything it does to hurt trans people won’t even get to me. You know all that “We will not be erased”? What about “I am already so erased that any more attempts at erasing me does absolutely fuck all”?

 

And so I didn’t comment. I didn’t comment as discussions from the trans community that failed to recognize us incredibly invisible nonbinary people. I didn’t point out that the entire movement of Won’t Be Erased forgot those of us who had already been erased in ways that were impossible to fight, erasing us even more, because I was terrified of invalidating or delegitimizing those that needed the message. My pain was secondary.

 

I let myself feel less – I let myself question my transness, treat myself like I was less trans because the government wasn’t hurting me the way it was hurting other people.

 

Once again, I didn’t deem my pain worthy. I wasn’t hurt enough and so I wasn’t trans enough.

 

Isn’t that a terrifying thought?

 

I have this constant complex of not being enough – not Jewish enough, not trans enough, not a good enough dancer, not part of the Irish dance community enough to be an Irish dancer, not holding enough of the right aesthetic values to be a modern dancer, not young enough to be allowed to make mistakes, not experienced enough to be good at anything, not ace enough because sometimes I think that it would be nice to be allo, not aro enough because I adore romance, never working hard enough…

 

It goes on and on and on.

 

And so, when tragedy hits, instead of allowing myself to feel whatever emotions I’m feeling, I punish myself more for not being enough of anything.

 

I wish I could finish this off by saying I’ve now overcome all these terrible, stupid feelings and am living more healthily, but fuck, that wasn’t this long ago and these things take time.

 

But, it is a wake-up call. It’s a reminder of how capitalism and the way it values people by productivity and describes people in amounts has snuck into everything we do – even our movements for self-identity, liberation, inclusion, and art has room for the concept of “enough” and that creates the concept of “not enough”.

 

It’s a reminder of how the most powerful, most-heard voice in response to tragedy, particularly one deeply linked to an identity or community, isn’t the only one, and that that doesn’t make it wrong, simply one perspective on something deeply complex.

 

It’s a reminder of how much we are hurting ourselves and each other when we think in terms of enough. I have a friend that I love dearly who I was always terrified to discuss gender with because they seemed so much more trans than me. When we got closer, they eventually admitted that they had seen me as so much more trans than them. How much more brilliant would our friendship be if we hadn’t had this fear of not being enough get in our way for so long?

 

How much easier would it be to process grief and anger and frustration if we truly claimed our identities and our communities and deemed our pain worthy?

 

It’s a reminder of how we cannot allow gatekeepers to put walls and conditions around our communities.

 

It’s a reminder that we are all enough. I am a whole person. So is every other person. There’s no way to be enough of a person. We just are.

 

I am wholly everything I am without conditions.

 

Some November Readings

November’s been a strange month – Halloween’s over, some people have already decided it’s Christmas, and then there’s TDoR right smack in the middle and, if that’s not enough, Thanksgiving (about which, I have many opinions), and the horror of Black Friday ends the month. That said, there’s been some good reading – a lot around asexuality and white supremacy, and more detailed looks at race. I’ll openly admit some of these made me uncomfortable. Very very uncomfortable. I’m not sure if I agree with all of them. But, I think that if I’m uncomfortable when a person of color talks, that probably means I’ve got more work and more listening to do, and that person is saying important things. It makes it that much more important that we read those things.

 

 

Brookline dance studio opens the floor to people with disabilities

 

“It was hard to find traditional dance spaces for me to dance. Also, there are a lot of different techniques in which there is a “correct” way to demonstrate a move and [presumably] not a lot of room to work through that,” she explained. “So if you’re not able to do it [a certain way], you’re viewed as not having the ability or level to perform a routine.”

 

100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating For People of Color

 

“As someone with very low tolerance for racist bullshit, I’ve managed to surround myself with white people who are cognizant of their privilege and strive to make the world a less terrifying and frustrating place for people of color. This means that I often deal with said white people asking me what they can actually do to affect change. So here, anxious allies of the world, are 100 simple ways to be the change. It’s not nearly comprehensive, but it’s somewhere to start. Go forth and disrupt our harmful racial paradigm!”

 

 

What’s R(ace) Got To Do With It?: White Privilege & (A)sexuality

 

“As a queer South Asian I don’t feel comfortable ascribing the identity of ‘asexual’ to my body. Part of the ways in which brown men have been oppressed in the Western world is by de-emasculating them and de-sexualizing them (check out David Eng’s book Racial Castration). What then would it mean for me to identify as an ‘asexual?’ What would this agency look like in a climate of white supremacy? Can I ever authentically express ‘my’ (a)sexuality or am I always rehearsing colonial logics?”

 

Why Are Asexual Characters Always White?

 

“Generally, it’s assumed that asexuality makes up a tiny percentage of the LGBTQ community. Now imagine that small percentage of people, who do not get enough visibility as it is, and replace every possible person with a non-POC. Taking this into perspective, what the media sees is just the tip of the iceberg, and that iceberg is overwhelmingly white. In addition to the severe lack of diversity regarding race and ethnicity, what is shown is a very general idea of asexuality, which often does not even take into account that asexuality itself is a spectrum.”

 

High Tide of Heartbreak

 

“Tending our wounds is central to loving. Love is richer when it comes with an understanding of pain endured, of mortality faced, of chasms crossed. To love is to face the wound honestly and then let the wound be less than one’s entire truth, to love despite the wound. That is the kind of love, I think, that calls me to express these thoughts today.”

 

Racism is White Women’s Pathway to Power

 

“As this election season winds down, as we see the demographics of the exit polls, we cannot help but notice, again, that white people vote for racism and white supremacy. It’s not a secret. It hasn’t been a secret for a while, yet to hear the media tell it, Black people are deciding these elections, despite us making up 12-15% of the population.”