You don’t reeeaaallly need to talk about this, do you?

tl;dr It’s necessary to recognize the affect gender has in spaces where it might not appear relevant, such as in a technique class. Sometimes transness, or other “irrelevant” things can deeply affect class experience and are worth noting. 

September 2016

One of the things I get a lot when I talk about being trans in dance is this sentiment that it’s really a silly thing to bring up in class. Like, a technique teacher doesn’t really need to know my gender in order to teach me proper technique, right?

Wrong.

Cis people, as lovely as certain individuals might be, do not realize how ingrained gender is in everything. Technique class isn’t just receiving technical training and corrections. It is receiving gendered technical training and corrections. Teachers expect different things from differently gendered dancers. Sometimes they even change their exercise for different gendered students.

For example, I know I constantly shock ballet teachers with my jumps and battery because I’ve been at an intermediate level for more or less everything and then suddenly I can do something that usually only advanced male dancers do. No one knows what to do with that because they’ve been too busy gendering (and not expecting an Irish dancer in ballet class). Sometimes also, these teachers put the people they consider men in front of the class, or don’t even set the same jumps on the people they consider women.

That’s just an example. But the point is this: Making a dance class unsafe for trans people can be as simple as an offhand comment about how the “men in the room” might have more difficulty with a certain movement. Saying gender isn’t important in a technique class is like saying it isn’t important in a Finnish class – we may be operating with a gender neutral vocabulary or movement that fits every body differently, regardless of gender, but as long as we, as a society, desperately cling onto binary notions of gender, it’s going to be an ever-present element to what we do (my old Finnish teacher was hilarious to be honest, I’d be quite happily taking advantage of the fact that it’s a gender neutral language to talk about a person without mentioning their gender and her first question would always be “is it a man or a woman?”).

My ballet class the other day was a good example. First, the very weird administrative system put my preferred name on all the induction registers, but not on class registers, so I was tricked into relaxing and then suddenly heard my legal name and had to go back to correcting teachers. From the teacher’s comments that it was strange that I went by such a drastically different name, I emotionally moved to the defensive. I felt like i had to protect myself in case comments that were a lot less neutral were coming.

Happily, nothing came of it. But there is a very vague thing that I can’t quite explain – I can tell when people who are interacting with me are perceiving me primarily as female or as a person. This teacher definitely perceived me as female and it affected my class.

It’s nothing new. It’s not even that horrible. But it does affect the way I move and interact with my body in class. And that affects my technique.

And I think it’s even more important in technique class than in the more touchy-feely-talky dance classes because there is no chance to dialogue in technique. If a teacher misgenders me and I correct them, I am disrupting the class with something that has no relevance with what I’m trying to learn.

So yes, it’s important for me to be out to technique teachers before class starts. And, on an even broader scale, it’s important and necessary that i can communicate with my technique teachers about things that might not directly link to the class, because those things are still relevant.

 

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