tl;dr Cis dance teachers can support their trans students by challenging the status quo through role modelling for other cis dance teachers, challenging and working with the organizations they are affiliated with, and creating more opportunities for trans dancers.
This is the end of my series of lists of ideas that cis dance teachers can start to take on to support their trans students. The first part of the list, dealing with the basics, can be found here, and the second part, about challenging your assumptions, is here, and the third one, about how to prioritise trans people is here . This time, we end on ways you can use your privilege to challenge the status quo and make more spaces available for trans people.
It’s hard, but you do have to challenge the institutional transphobia, cissexism, and essentialism that surrounds you. You cannot get comfortable with how things are. If there’s inequality present, there is nothing comfortable with how things are, even if it’s comfortable for you:
- Be a role model. Tell other cis dance teachers about what you’re doing to support trans dancers in your classes. Offer them resources. Explain all the above things to them. Encourage them to make their own changes. Cis people listen to better when it’s a cis person talking. Only the best cis dance teachers are going to read this rant by a frustrated trans person, but you have the power to get the average cis dance teacher to listen.
- Notice the dance organizations you are affiliated with. Are they actively transphobic or do they rely too heavily on biological essentialism? Can they do better? If so, you have two options, depending on the situation – either you can draw problems to the attention of the powers that be in that organization and demand they start looking towards steps to alter this or you can disengage from the organization as quickly as possible, while make it Very Clear why you are doing so (if you just sneak away in the dead of night without explanation, that’s not going to give the organization the feedback they need in order to enact change. It can be exhausting to directly challenge discrimination, so there’s no reason for you to stay and challenge everything all the time, but leaving with an explanation such as “As someone that teaches trans students and wants to create a welcoming space for trans dancers in my classes, I cannot remain affiliated with an organization that promotes gender essentialism in this way” can actually make a huge difference).
- Check with examination regulations before entering students. This is more of a 2.5, but I just want to add this specific action in because it’s something concrete that I know a little about. For people in places where exams are popular, if you have the power to enter people into exams, call up and ask about policies concerning gender before a student flags it. You want to make sure that, not only will you be able to enter binary gendered trans people into exams as their gender, but also that nonbinary dancers will be granted enough options that they do not face the discomfort of having to misgender themselves in order to take an exam. This could either look like an exam that is exactly the same, regardless of gender, or where the options are defined by dancer’s preference instead of gender, or providing a third, “neutral” option. Of course the first option is the best one, but this is something dance organizations are still working on. Just like this guide is in steps, take on organizations in steps. Find what change they’re willing to make, allow them time to get comfortable with it, and then suggest the next change.
- Create opportunities for trans dancers and others involved in dance. Think about it – if dance organizations (and the exams coming with it) are still seeped in their transphobic, essentialist ways, young trans dancers do not have access to the same amount of programming, support, and mentorship that their cis counterparts do. You know all those programs to “bring youth into the arts” or “young choreographers” nights? Those are harder for young trans dance artists to take part in and, if we do get to take part, we are often caught struggling with being the only trans person present, and even sometimes having to compromise our transness in order to get the experience we need to be professional dancers. If it is within your power, make opportunities for us – choreograph a piece specifically for trans dancers, organize a young choreographers’ night for trans (or queer) voices. Training or mentorship programs can say “trans dancers/choreographers/directors encouraged to apply” and then prioritise the trans applicants. Create chances for trans dance artists to receive the same amount of exposure and experience that cis dance artists do without having to compromise their identity in order to do so.
I’m going to leave the lists at this for a moment. I’d love to open this up to other trans dancers to talk about the useful things their teachers have done or things they would like their teachers to do. And, if you are a cis dance teacher, I really encourage you to start thinking about this. You don’t have to be perfect overnight, change takes time. But the sooner you start thinking and processing, the sooner dance is going to be a more welcoming place for trans dancers.
And, finally, I want to bring us back to a point I made well at the beginning of this series: challenging transphobia, cissexism, and gender essentialism in the dance studio doesn’t only benefit trans students, it benefits cis dance students too.