Theory: Passive Performance

tl;dr Passive performance is a theory of performance which accepts that gender in Western society is interpreted through a binary lens and so refuses to engage with the practice of manipulation that would reinforce the gender binary.

 

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Photographs by audience members, you can see them all here

 

If you can’t tell, the past few months have been a transition for this blog. As I have been moving out of an educational setting into an attempted professional one, I have been finishing up my reflections on my course, tying up some loose ends I’ve wanted to discuss for a while, and am now repositioning myself as someone outside of an institution. Ouf.

As part of that, I am adding a more theoretical component to this blog. My art is deeply linked with an artistic and academic theory-building. It is an important part of who I am and how I make. So, I intend to start monthly discussions of theory I am developing and try to demonstrate how it informs my work. These may be a little bit longer and more academically inclined than my more personal writing, but I hope I can still make it accessible to anyone who is interested.

I’m going to start with the theories I developed for my independent project, “Construction Zone”, and  we’re going to start with passive performance because it’s a great way to just nip the inevitable Judith Butler tangent in the bud before it happens.

Performativity

“Performativity” was developed by Judith Butler, very well-known in gender theory (and quite often strongly hated by trans people, I can’t say I love her at all). She uses the term of “self-stylization” to describe how individuals build their gender, as opposed to having gender as an innate, essential trait (1990/2004, p. 94). More interestingly, she discusses how interpretation is part of this construction. Someone’s gender is as much about how it is perceived and interpreted through social constraints as how it is presented. From there, it is possible for someone to manipulate another’s perception of their gender. We can make choices to navigate and control the limitations of gender interpretation.

However, an unavoidable limitation in Western society to gender interpretation is the Gender Binary (ew). Butler suggests that a nonbinary gender is impossible, because gender is interpreted by society and society only sees two genders (Butler, 1987/2004). I’m, of course, a nonbinary person sitting here and going “how the hell do I exist then?” and that’s kind of where the whole theory falls apart.

Performativity is an extremely flawed concept (I highly recommend reading Julia Serano’s “Performance Piece” and “Julia Serano on Judith Butler”  which both discuss Butler and the ways she’s been misinterpreted in a sympathetically critical light), but it is useful because it recognizes the role of interpretation in gender presentation and allows for us to consider the possibility of manipulation.

Passive performance/non-performance

So, if nonbinary people aren’t recognized in Western society, how can a nonbinary person manipulate others perceptions of them in order to perform a nonbinary gender?

The usual way this happens is by “mixing” gender presentations – drag, not-quite-drag, someone in a suit and high heels, cute boys in dresses, etcetcetc. The person takes bits and pieces from each side of the gender binary until they’re significantly “between” enough to not belong in either category.

While I recognize this does work to an extent, I question its long-term impact. Simply put, this manipulation is completely dependent on the Gender Binary, so it is still, in many ways, a binary expression, just in between the two points on a sliding scale instead of in the polar opposites. It reinforces the Gender Binary just as much as it challenges it.

My first reaction when faced with this dilemma was to say “fine then, I won’t perform anything at all”. But, the bad news is that, no matter how much you try not to perform, people and society will keep interpreting anyways. So, an absolute non-performance is impossible. However we can consider a response in terms of passivity instead of negativity.

Passive performance is refusing to actively manipulate interpretation. We cannot keep people from interpreting, but we can refuse to take part in the process. This is not something I do every day, manipulating people’s perceptions of me is as much about survival as it is about comfort, but it is effective in staged and presented performance. As soon as you make something a “performance”, questions of performativity and performance and interpretation become exaggerated because the manipulation and the interpretation processes become conscious as opposed to learned, subconscious behavior dictated by society. Removing a significant part of it, the manipulation that pressures the audience to interpret in specific ways, opens up possibilities for the audience to interpret, re-interpret, and consider their interpretations in a different way.

In practice

I developed this theory directly for “Construction Zone” which was, because of the passivity, an installation. Since I couldn’t manipulate the audience’s interpretations of me (and, instead, invited the audience to make their interpretation without my input as part of the installation through the use of the odious genderbread person’s scales), I couldn’t “perform” in any way: I couldn’t speak, dance, move, even my “costume” was designed to turn me into the genderbread person instead of an attempt to manipulate people the way I do in my everyday clothing choices. The night before, I had still not decided what to do with my hat, a particular characteristic that most people attribute to me (and I have purposefully encouraged, a form of manipulation). I eventually decided not to wear it, but to use it to hold the clothespins which the audience used to interpret me, presenting it in the space, but leaving it up to the audience’s interpretation, just as I was presenting myself. As for me, I simply sat, passively finger knitting (building the social constructions, that’s another theory topic), not engaging the audience members as they (mis)gendered me.

I also included written texts. These encompassed anything from my frustration at cis people to reflections on my own gender to discussions about the theories driving the work. You could argue that the texts were an attempt at manipulating my audience. However, they were placed passively in the room, similar to the hat. I did not have any power over whether or not the audience chose to read the texts while they had the ultimate decision-making power in terms of what they got out of the installation or what they learned or decided about me. I’m a control freak, so this level of passivity was terrifying and made me realize exactly how active I am in manipulating my audience’s perceptions in most of the work I create.

I’m not sure if this is a particular theory I’m going to return to immediately, as my interests are currently more movement-based, but I do think it flags up a lot of the issues that come with being a nonbinary performer. We cannot avoid binary interpretations of our performances, but we also don’t have to actively engage with the gender binary in order to perform. There is room for challenging the audience without having to reinforce damaging stereotypes of gender. That’s a particularly optimistic thought worth exploring further and could open up so many fascinating inquiries into performance.

Works Cited

Butler, J. (2004). Bodily inscriptions, performative subversions (1990). In Salih, S. (Ed), The Judith Butler reader (pp. 90-118). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Butler, J. (2004). Variations on sex and gender: Beauvoir, Wittig, Foucault (1987). In Salih, S. (Ed), The Judith Butler reader (pp. 21-38). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

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In search of a new gym (ie. community centers are great!)

Tl;dr In my search for a gym after I moved, I ended up finding a community center and regaining some faith in humanity.

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A few months ago, I wrote about some of my complicated feelings about fitness and working out and how I had managed to find a system that worked for me . I wrote it with the knowledge that I was about to lose access to my school’s gym and that I was also about to change countries. I was scared and worried that I was about to lose everything I had built up so carefully to forces beyond my control.

 

It was one of my first tasks when I moved in with my dad. I arrived at a funny time – most dance classes in Boston were closed for a summer break, so I felt the lack of movement in my life even more keenly. I forced myself back into my home workout a little too quickly (and was rewarded for my poor decisions with a sore body) because I was bored and had to be doing Something.

 

I searched the internet for some place small, calm, and cheap (I did not have a job at the time either) and got more and more stressed out. Gyms are scary for me. Gyms are places where Big Strong Jocks do Big Strong Things and are secretly judging me. I had managed to avoid those fears at my school because there was, at most, seven other people in the room with me and they were dancers. So, even if they were more fit than me, there was at least a commonality among us, we had a similar goal.

 

The thought of going into a completely new strange place with completely new strange people that would know nothing about me, but still have the ability to judge, petrified me. I kept writing “try Gym X” or “go to Y pilates class” on my schedule and then…not going.

 

And then, I was flipping through the brochure my dad got from our town’s community center and read that they had a “cardio fitness room”. It turns out that these two rooms in the basement of my local community center, one full of cardio machines, the other mainly full of weights, were completely free to use for town residents, and was a ten minute walk away from my house.

 

It wasn’t all the equipment I was used to (I also struggled to convert my treadmill use from kilometers to miles), but the main people that shared the space with me were much older than me and usually there to get out of the house, do exercise because it made them feel good, and maybe even socialize a bit, no one in the extreme weight-lifting region. It was relaxed, non-judgemental, and I could go off and do my own thing with no worry.

 

 

I had to adapt, but in doing so, I learned that my priority was not as much what exercises I was doing exactly, it was that I felt safe doing them.

 

More importantly, I realized that, even as we’re bemoaning how capitalism destroys everything, we still have beautiful little pockets of community-centered activity. I mean, I came home to discover my local library now lent out sewing kits as well as books. And this community center, paid for by tax dollars, exists to serve my town – it gives us a gym, ping-pong tables, classes specifically for to get old folks out of their houses, classes specifically for children and families, a job center to help residents get the work they need…I’m slowly getting to know the people and communities built around this gym, from the parents who come to run on a cardio machine every morning after they’ve sent their kids to school to the folks who come to deplete the weight room for their morning class and like to stop and chat while I stretch. We get to enjoy this wonderful service together.

 

In a time when we talk about individualism, about “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps” and the American Dream, and the terribleness of capitalism, I am so glad that community centers still exist. We haven’t lost everything.

 

Libraries always do this for me, but it was nice to find a gym too.

 

We are still a community. There is no reason to lose hope in our world yet.

Some September Readings

tl;dr here are some interesting things I’ve read this month!

One of the things I’d like to start doing is providing a short list of some interesting things I’ve read. Trying to make a difference is as much about sharing what other people are saying as it is about saying your own thing. All four of these articles are things that link to me personally through my interests, identities, or struggles, but are said in ways I could never do and written by people who can write these perspectives. This is super important. I don’t want to make long lists because I find them overwhelming and because I am a strong believer that really spending the quality time with one good reading is much more effective for learning than glancing over huge amounts of lists, but I hope, for anyone that wants a little more reading from a new perspective (or to just have an idea of the things I read that are stewing in the back of my mind while I write my blog posts), this can be a small, useful list of good reading.

 

It’s time for goth culture to embrace the identities of all of its members

http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2017/06/23/goth_culture_needs_to_embrace_the_gender_identities_of_all_its_members.html

 

“An aesthetic built on subverting gender norms also reinforces those same norms by constantly referencing them, and whether one’s gender presentation is read as subversive or subpar still depends on how digestible it is to mainstream society.”

 

As one of those trans people that found their gender presentation via the goth community and aesthetic (and then kind of left the space? I’m still not sure where I stand in terms of gothiness at the moment), this was a super important and meaningful read in my life and I figured it could be interesting to anyone else who happens to share even a little bit of gothiness.

 

Self love, body acceptance and other ways to get famous

https://www.scottee.co.uk/single-post/2017/08/27/Self-Love-Body-Acceptance-and-Other-Ways-to-get-Famous

 

“Whats often ignored by the cis, white, middle class, able bodied elite who make up the bulk of body bloggers is the ability to be body confident is often majorly affected by privilege, capitalism, access and hegemonic masculinity.”

 

Scottee is someone I’ve secretly admired from afar since I discovered his existence (and got a tiny one-week workshop with him, nowhere near enough time), so I highly recommend going and reading everything he was written ever. This particular post stuck out to me from my own experiences in how “trans visibility” on social media has often turned into a similar phenomenon – white, able-bodied, skinny, masculine-leaning, afab folks in sweater vests claiming they’re challenging gender by making people ask them if they’re a boy or a girl. It’s well-meaning, but reinforcing the gender norms they’re trying to challenge and has always made me feel like an outsider. As Scottee says, it’s time to up the game.

 

 

Refusing to tolerate intolerance

https://medium.com/@juliaserano/refusing-to-tolerate-intolerance-f24c1bff513f

 

“Calls for ‘more speech’ also suffer from the misconception that we, as a society, are all in the midst of some grand rational debate, and that marginalized people simply need to properly plea our case for acceptance, and once we do, reason-minded people everywhere will eventually come around. This notion is utterly ludicrous. Prejudice and discrimination are not driven by rationality or reason.”

 

Julia Serano is another one of those people that I deeply admire (and have not had the chance to meet, sadly…someday…I can only hope). This is a response to conversations around “free speech”, particularly with awareness of Charlottesville and Milo Yiannopoulos and general current events (and our increasing failure to condemn hate speech). Serano has a remarkable ability to take things I know  and turn them into things I can explain. So, if you’re like me and sometimes struggle to explain things like “Nazis are bad” because it seems so absolutely obvious (I mean, seriously?), this can break it down for you, deepen your comprehension of the issue, and give you fuel for fighting back.

 

 

Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies as reclamatory fan work

http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/1032

 

“By reframing these earlier works of literature as part of a longer history of women’s writing that also involves the works being done today within modalities of fan writing, and by reconsidering fan works as part of a historical continuum of women’s writing, we, much as de Pizan herself did, create a theoretical space that historicizes, contextualizes, and indeed valorizes women writers of both fannish and nonfannish works.”

 

Yeah, that quote is a lot of academic gibberish, but, truth be told, I found this article decently accessible in terms of language. As the nerd I am and the fan I am, I absolutely love the Journal for Transformative Works. Not only is it free academic articles about fanwork, which is pretty damn, it’s pretty radical in how it works to avoid the gatekeeping that  is inherent in most academic work. I also have a weakness for women writers, particularly ones that go “fuck this man-thing, I’m going to write a better thing now” (someday maybe I’ll write out all my love for the original fairy tale authors of 17th century France). So, having never actually heard of Christine de Pizan (a travesty, I blame my terrible teachers from my undergraduate degree), this was probably the most exciting piece of academic literature I read this month. And, what this paper argues, is that applying new modes of study to look at older works by women offers a new perspective that we wouldn’t have otherwise, which is super important when we consider how many older models were developed to specifically look at male authors.

 

Memories of trying to be a cellist

Tl;dr I started to remember my old cello teacher recently and revisited the guilt I felt when I stopped playing cello. However, I also discovered this year that I haven’t really left my music training and that it is still feeding my art. There is more than one way to reach a goal.

[CW: mentions of cancer and death]

symphony hall
Teenage me and my cello, Lilly

Since I’ve been in a period of transition, I’ve been going through a lot of the old stuff that’s collected in my room over the years and trying to make the entire room slightly more clean. And, out of these old things, I found a whole bunch of my old cello music. And I found some of it was labelled with my old cello teacher’s name. It had been her music, and either through my own purposeful forgetfulness or because she had actually given it me, I still had it.

 

This was one of the best teachers I had ever had. She took me on as a student after my first cello teacher left the area to pursue a new life, which eight-year old me did not understand at all, was incredibly patient with me when all I wanted was my first teacher back, and really was the person to grow my learning skills and my cello skills and my kindness skills.  That is to say, she played an integral role in my life at a time when I was lonely and miserable and needed people to see me, care about me, and believe in me.

 

I had known she had cancer, but I hadn’t ever quite wrapped my head around what that meant until I got home from summer camp and my parents sat me down on the couch and told me she had died. I was still in middle school then.

 

And that was the beginning of the end for me. I went on to another teacher, one that had been a friend of hers and understood where I was coming from. And he taught me well, but I was never able to trust him or felt as supported. I moved onto another teacher, and it became clear that my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I couldn’t get myself to practice more than fifteen minutes a day, I resented a lot of what I was doing, lessons became painful exercises in repeating things I should know, and so I finally asked my teacher, “is there a point for me to come to these lessons any more?” and we both agreed that there really wasn’t.

 

Even when I did not enjoy cello, it took me a long time to put it down and admit that it wasn’t for me because I felt like I was letting this first teacher down. She had believed that I was capable of so many things, and I was constantly failing her at every bend – I wasn’t practicing, I wasn’t committing, I wasn’t enjoying myself…I wasn’t the musician she had thought I could be. I felt like a complete and utter failure, which made the whole thing that much less enjoyable, and yet I still felt tied to keep going, to keep trying to be that musician.

 

When I did finally stop lessons and then stop cello altogether, I felt so relieved and I hated myself so much for it. It was the ultimate failure.

 

I had set goals for myself when she had been my teacher. Ridiculous, overreaching goals. But, on the trajectory I was going, they would all be eventually reachable with work. One I did succeed in – to play the Brahms sonata in E minor. It was never a brilliant performance, but it’s a piece I worked hard on and could play all the way through. Another goal, to play through all of the Bach cello suites, was one I kept aiming at, even promising myself, at one point, that I’d stop cello once I had completed that particular goal. Very few student cellists actually do more than the first few suites though, and I was on the third one when I stopped. The final goal, I never even started – the first Shostakovich cello concerto. I stopped listening to any of those pieces when I left cello because it made me feel so guilty.

 

This year, in the midst of working on my choreography assessment, I had a moment of pause and realized that the first movement of the Shostakovich might work for my concept. I didn’t completely commit at the beginning, I downloaded the music and kept “experimenting” with it (while not “experimenting” with anything else). It wasn’t until I first shared a rough draft of the piece and realized that most of my classmates didn’t know the Shostakovich that I realized how attached I was and committed to using it.

 

My school was half-dance, half-music, so I walked all the way over to the music half, entered their library, and got myself the score for the piece (the piano redaction as it was easier to read while considering movement).

 

It wasn’t until I held that score in my hands that I was able to start forgiving myself.

 

See, this is the one goal I have successfully reached. I have now presented a piece that engaged with the structural framework of the Shostakovich and required a strong understanding of the music. I may not have played it. I’m definitely not capable of playing it. But I still worked with it. I still used it. I still performed it, in a sense.

 

My music education isn’t something I’ve left in the past.

 

And, now I’ve done some teaching myself, it’s a little easier to see – I would have failed my teacher a lot more if I had stuck with doing something I hated. She wanted what was best for me, not an amazing cellist. I’d like to think she’d be thrilled to see how I was able to use skills I have because of her teaching (because reading music was definitely a necessity for structuring the piece) to create something that was, in my own opinion, pretty damn amazing.

 

I guess what I’m saying is that things come around in strange ways. I may not play cello any more, but it still influences my choices and my abilities. And when you have a good teacher, they’re going to make an impact on you beyond whatever they’re teaching you.

 

And that’s the best kind of teacher.

 

So, I’m still holding onto any sheet music that has her name on it. Maybe someday I’ll have the right project to use it for.

 

*At one point in time, there was an education fund set up in my teacher’s honor that I would have loved to link you to here. Since I cannot currently find the details, in the absence of handy-dandy link, I would like to urge anyone reading this who has some money to spare to consider donating to their local youth music program. What one teacher did for me is what many music teachers are continuing to do for many many children, and while we can’t bring people back from the dead, we can certainly continue to spread the values and beliefs and kindness they brought us while they were alive.

 

**You can see a dress rehearsal of the piece, “How Dare You.” here

Some thoughts on Non-Americans commenting on US politics

Tl;dr There’s a strange sense of superiority that comes from Western Europeans when they discuss US politics. It’s frustrating, misleading, and unproductive.

 

Ok, folks. This is a hard one. And it has nothing to do with my usual themes. But it’s something I’ve been struggling with for a while, so, strap in, prepare to be a little uncomfortable, be ready to challenge me, and read on.

 

I’m American. I grew up in the Boston area and then went and spent five years in London, England. As a language student, I’ve also spent a decent amount of time in France and Finland and have a couple of slightly-more-than-acquaintances from that communal experience of spending too much time in a hostel. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that, even though I’m American, my contact with the world has, most recently, been through Western Europe and Western Europeans, including England/the English.

 

I was in London when Obama was re-elected. I made a pie to celebrate, with a happy face, for one of my new London friends. I argued politics with my flatmate, an American exchange student who had cluelessly voted for Romney. And kind of forgave her? I argued politics with basically anyone in my vicinity. I tried to explain the electoral college (I’m not sure if it’s possible to succeed at that). It was a good time to be an American in London.

 

The general sentiment I got from the people around me, my fellow Londoners was, “Your country sucks, but hey, glad to see it’s not a huge disaster and will probably not come eat us up anytime soon” and “Your country is not as good as ours in terms of XYZ issue, but it’s going ok at the moment.”

 

And it was this particular moral superiority that I would get from almost any European when we discussed politics. No matter what, Europe was always slightly better than the US on all issues. I was fine with it, as long as the US was vaguely salvageable, and I was young and overzealous and hated my country, but there were also signs of how this was a problem.

 

The one moment that still sticks in my mind is a planning meeting for a trans discussion. The trans rep at my school proposed a number of issues to be considered. Young, overzealous me, thinking about two trans women’s hunger strikes in prison that I had been reading about right as I left the US, looked at the list and went “well, what about prisons?” I was assured by everyone present that that was a purely American issue, things like that didn’t happen in the UK. And then, a few years later, names like Vikki Thompson  were being uttered around the London trans community, and my heart ached in horror and confusion because I had wanted so much to believe that the UK was better, not just different. I mentioned the original discussion to one of my now trans friends in London recently, and they looked at me in bafflement and more or less said  that those people had no idea what they were talking about.

 

It’s a cover. When someone is too busy going “oh, well, we’re better than over there”, it becomes so much harder to see that the same things are happening around them, just in different ways.

 

Once it became clear that France’s reaction to terrorism was to increase racism, once political figures in Finland were making openly anti-immigrant comments, once Scotland remained stuck to the UK (poor thing) and the UK itself started hurtling down the path to Brexit, I started to notice how much more this superiority was grating on me.

 

See, it’s not just that the US is a mess (it is) and a really scary country to have around when you’re not protected by it (because, well, we’re allowed to have nuclear weapons, it’s everyone else that’s not, *sigh*), it’s this sense of “well, at least we’re not that bad” coupled with, “well, you’re American, so you have to be on and prepared to care about this at all times of the day” while they studiously ignore whatever their own country is up to.

 

The way Europeans talk about the US, it  makes their country sound like a utopia. I had someone explain to me once that there was no racism in their country. At all. I found myself (and still find myself) regretting not saving all the articles I had read over the years that told me the exact opposite. And this person then found it completely acceptable to send me pointed facebook messages about American politics in the middle of the night and then be insulted when I didn’t respond.

 

Some of this, I know, comes from just not understanding the way the US works. States’ rights? The electoral college? The fact that the driving age is different in Every Fucking State? That’s completely baffling for even the best US politics hobbyist. And hell, not even a lot of Americans understand (I wouldn’t claim to understand the whole thing myself).

 

And news of the US is publicized a lot more readily in Europe than European news is publicized in the US. It’s easy to look at the big, dramatic news coming out of the US and go “yup, it’s a bunch of clueless heathens over there.” Everything looks like a giant disaster when you have oceans and time zones and knowledge gaps in the way, even when it’s the same thing happening in different ways right next door.

 

Some of this is the Americans’ fault. In particular, liberal Americans that like Europe have a habit of looking towards Western Europe (especially Norda/Scandinavia) and going “oh! They have everything figured out, it’s so much better over there!” (think of how one of Bernie Sanders’ big selling points was Scandinavian-style socialism, or how obsessed we are with Finnish education, when, in fact, some discussions I’ve had with Finnish parents have shown me it might be a good system, but it’s far from perfect). We look at our medical bills and then look at the UK’s National Health Service and go “oh my! Free healthcare! That’s amazing”,  completely disregarding the way the NHS has been failing due to lack of funding. So, it’s easy for a European to look at whatever particular thing is not quite working out at the moment, take a look at the Americans talking about how great it is, and go, “well, the Americans are still amazed by XYZ thing, so we might not be doing amazing, but at least we’re doing better than them.”

 

And it’s hard to fight that. Even now, the first facebook commentary I usually see on American news is from a European, making a pointed, generalized comment about how all Americans aren’t aware enough of their own current events.

 

Here’s the thing: The US is hard right now. So is Europe. It takes a lot less energy to look at the politics happening an ocean away, process the emotions, make jokes, and have commentary. It was easier for me to process all news when I lived in London because I had physical distance from the US and distance from the UK in terms of not being a citizen. But, especially for any of us that fit one of the groups being targeted by our current “administration”, living this is sometimes enough.

 

No. The US isn’t perfect. It’s currently a shitshow. But so are a lot of other countries, regardless of amount of shitshow. We all have our own shit to live and deal with and it’s hard. We need to learn from each other’s countries and support each other, especially when things are so hairy. We can’t do that if there’s some kind of unspoken competition to not be the worst.

 

(I end this by quietly side-eyeing myself and my fellow Bostonians for turning quite similar attitudes towards other states. We’re really not as great as we like to think…I mean, I still like to think it sometimes…)

The aroace in dance

tl;dr There are strong links between sexuality and dance, which makes it very difficult for the sex-repulsed aroace dancer, but I’ll figure out the complexities of it somehow. 

So, I am going to hold on the usual trans-person-has-opinions post and change it up slightly. Today, the most prominent hat I’m going to wear is the aroace hat (I mean, I wear all the hats all the time…)

 

One thing I struggle with a lot (and have written so many incomplete blog posts about, it’s hilarious) is the obsession with seeing dance as sexual.

 

And this is hard, because there’s also the other extreme, especially in ballet, where dance gets pulled and interpreted so far away from the sexuality in its history to a fake sense of “purity”. I can’t say that dance isn’t sexual. It is. Not just in the way sex work and ballet were historically linked; so much of social dancing is about sex and partnering, or, to talk about humans as if they were birds, showing off to a future mate in a ocially acceptable manner. Not all, certainly, but quite a lot. Enough.

 

And then sex was taken out (ie. “purified”, as I have discussed in terms of Irish dance) or codified into the dance form in such a way that the movements became separated from the actual act of sex.

 

Even with this obsession of seeing sex in everything, it’s probably quite easy to argue that current modern and contemporary dance has less sex in it than most other forms of dance.

 

So what’s the aroace to do? Especially the sex-repulsed one? How do you remove the sex from dance without taking away the dance?

 

I really haven’t figured that one out. My current solution is to neatly sidestep anything related to sex because that’s just not my kind of dance. But I can’t help but worry if all I’m doing is leaving the problem for another day.

 

Then again, does it have to be a conflict? Sex (and romance) is not one of my interests in dance. That doesn’t mean others can’t work with it. All it means is that I don’t.

 

Can I really do that? Or am I just following in the footsteps of the nationalists and legitimizers?

 

I have to believe that there are new options, ones I can make – dance that is inherently unrelated to sex. I have to believe that there are new fields to explore outside the sexual and romantic options available.

 

It’s even less charted territory than trans dance.

 

What does nonsexual dance look like?

 

What does asexual dance look like?

 

What does aromantic dance look like?

 

I have no idea. But I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

On allyship and being enough

tl;dr For my cis allies – you’re doing enough. It might not feel like it, I definitely might not think it all the time, but you are. The only necessary thing is to care. Promise. 

One of the huge things I struggle with is the feeling that I am never doing enough. And this is something that particularly affects me in terms of allyship. As a white person, I am never a good enough ally to people of color. As a trans person that can slip through a lot of cracks by appearing cis, by not changing my legal name (and, in fact, going by said name at times), by being able to argue gender theory with flouncy, academic language, I am never a good enough ally for queer people who are more visible and, thus, more vulnerable. As an able-bodied person, I often overlook issues of accessibility and need constant reminders that what might work perfectly for me does not accommodate everyone and is, thus, imperfect.

We talk a lot about guilt and how, for allies, it’s not about us. Our guilt is simply a way to derail a conversation, it’s inefficient and unhelpful and best ignored. But at the same time, the guilt is still there and ignoring and suppressing it won’t make it go away.

I get so sick of cis guilt and cis pity and the way cis people performatively jumping on “save the trans!” bandwagons without actually having a fucking clue of what they’re doing. It’s tiring. It demands a lot out of me. I hate holding cis people’s hands and spoon feeding them successful allyship while they moan about how guilty they feel about transphobia.

But I’ve also been on the other side of the equation and I know the guilt and the cluelessness and the general feeling of never doing enough. Which, especially for someone with anxiety, can easily spiral into believing I’m a bad person. It’s my responsibility and I’m working on it. Someday, I might be the ally and the person I would like to be. But it’s slow going, and it’s hard and I need to be patient with myself.

I need to believe I am doing my best. And to do that, I need to believe others are doing the same.

So, I usually don’t do this, but this post is specifically for cis people. I’ve written a lot about how you can be a trans ally, I’ve given instructions and lists and ideas of what makes a good ally. But here’s the thing – I know you are doing your best.

Everyone’s best is different.

It’s hard. It’s especially hard for me if your best isn’t what I need to it be. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t doing it. And it doesn’t mean it’s not enough.

I, and other trans people, can’t stand here and hold your hand. It’s a lot of work and we have loads of other work to do, so I trust you’re doing your best, I trust you are learning, I trust you will get where I need you to be when you’re ready.

You’re a person too. So, take your time, take care of yourself, and cut yourself some slack.

Mistakes are forgivable. Distraction or focusing on something else for a while is completely understandable.

The only unforgivable thing is refusal to try and refusal to care. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I do believe anyone who’s read this far is not guilty of those two things.

Just because you can do more doesn’t mean you aren’t doing enough.

You can’t do everything. That’s fine. No one can. We’re all problematic messes of imperfection. It’s honestly kind of beautiful.

Just keep caring. That’s all I ask. That’s more than enough.

(And keep this on hand for whenever you need it, because I probably will never write something like this again).