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.

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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.”

 

Documenting the Ace Discourse: February 1-16, 2015

tl;dr: The early half of February, 2015 shows some clear cultural shifts in acespec tumblr, from the first February Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week to a number of popular posts promoting solidarity between acespec identities and other queer identities. While the Discourse isn’t full-blown at this point, underlying structures for the discourse, including the beliefs that the “A” stands for Allies and that aces aren’t oppressed, as well as the use of the term “cishet” are starting to poke their heads out. 

 

Two months ago, I started looking back the history of the Ace Discourse and, once again, I’ve mostly been hit with how slow this project is going to. I got through sixteen days worth of information this time. While that allows for more specificity (and information moves fast on the internet), it does mean that some of the big picture stuff may get lost. For the moment, though, I’m finding some interesting firsts and themes, so hopefully I’ll be able to consolidate and start looking big picture as I continue the project.

 

First of all! In my general plugging and research, I discovered this post and subsequently, this awesome blog. Another example of how different everyone’s experiences are, I never knew this blog existed back when it was active. I’m so excited to find it now! Not only does it hold lovely affirmations for us acespec folks, it offers a new perspective on acespec history. Woohoo!

 

I also want to mention one thing that I’m not going to discuss at length this time: fandom. Keep in mind that this was before Jughead, before the disaster of Riverdale, before Bojack Horseman, before any of the (paltry) asexual representation that we now have (Sirens might have been a thing back then, but still…) A huge recurring theme I noticed in my digging is acespecs expressing their desires for fandom and representation. It’s not necessarily in headcanons, although it sometimes is, it is very much critically looking at popular media and vocalizing wishes. It’s not directly related to The Discourse (although I believe acespec involvement in fandom and The Discourse are very linked), so I’m not going to look at it this time, but I do want to be very clear that this was going on at that time.

 

The Numbers

 

Like before, I want to start by just recognizing how much is lost. As I followed and traced posts, I discovered 20 deleted ace blogs. Only 4 of these included directions to a now active blog. Strangely, 2 of these blogs had been turned into classic tumblr porn spam blogs (in case you’re wondering what happened to that blog you abandoned three years ago…). Like I said before, it’s also possible that people from some of these blogs changed their username or made a new account without leaving a redirection on their old blog, but that’s still a lot missing. Just saying.

 

Notable Posts: Solidarity

 

There are two really notable posts I want to touch on this time. To be clear – these posts existed before February 1st, but they first crossed my awareness in that first half of February 2015. They are important because of their cultural impact, but also because they discussed and promoted solidarity between asexuality and other queer identities. This is something that has now become a point of contention in the discourse – many acephobic and arophobic people claim that this solidarity was purely created by deluded xyzphobic acespecs (I’ll be writing about tactics used by acephobes and arophobes at a later date, but if you want a sneak peak, I highly recommend checking out that person’s username).

 

All or Nothing

 

All or Nothing came about from a clever person realizing the joyous wordplay that could come from something portraying an asexual and pansexual character together. It inspired the original artwork in the linked post, a lovely scammy debacle, a decent number of fics, and fanart beyond the one “original” one. The asexual/pansexual roommate connection has become an underlying cultural thing that’s referenced outside of All or Nothing related things, such as in this fun short film.

 

The Trifecta

 

What I’m calling The Trifecta post (for lack of a better name, not for any strong reason), was a recognition of the shared invisibility of ace, bi, and pan folks, with aro folks then pointing out that they were also part of this shared experience. It’s been shared around a lot with various artwork and discussions coming from it, but, most importantly, it has helped cement bi/ace and pan/ace solidarity within tumblr asexual culture. The post still circulates today and, as noted above, is threatening to acephobes and arophobes, who are actively trying to divide acespecs and arospecs from other queer identities.

 

 

Cishet

 

I discussed my memories of the use of the term “cishet” in the last installment of this series, so I think it’s important to note that this is the time period when I saw the first mention of the term on my tumblr (ie. In my world). Before that moment, I had seen people discuss “cis and straight” people, or similar phrases, but this was the first time “cishet” itself was used.

 

The post is quite innocent. It discusses how uncomfortable it is when “cishet dudes” talk about queer people and how cis/straight people being uncomfortable with how queer people discuss them is a very different situation. The author does not appear to be ace-or arophobic. I haven’t yet found another post that uses the term, so I’m wary of drawing any conclusions, but it definitely lends itself to the theory that “cishet” was created by queer folks (possibly trans folks) and has since been appropriated and twisted by acephobes and arophobes.

 

ASAW!

 

The one cultural movement I really want to acknowledge here is the growth of the aromantic community. This is not explicitly discourse-related, but I am curious to see if growth of aromantic visibility in tumblr is something that impacted the discourse. Similarly, this completely altered the cultural landscape of tumblr because, before then, aromantic folks were pretty much a footnote to asexuality, as opposed to a distinct community with a distinct identity.

 

February 2015 was not the first Aromantic Awareness Week (name later changed to Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week). The first one was held in November and I completely ignored it, as I pretty much ignore anything in November that isn’t TDoR. They then organized a vote, and, since then, ASAW has held steady on the week after Valentine’s day. This was the first time ASAW was held in February.

 

Alongside ASAW, there appears to be a growth of conversations around aromanticism and aromantic community building. Like in the asexual community at the time, there was a lot of dispelling stereotypes, conversations about Valentine’s Day, and introductions to allyship.

 

Unlike the asexual community, most of these posts were made by the same, tiny group of people and were a lot less fleshed out. The arospec community is smaller and has less community resources and support. It also is younger. All of these things are clear in this period in which the arospec community is starting to build a unique identity outside of asexuality despite the challenges

 

The Discourse

 

We finally made it to the topic of the post!!!

 

The two main ace/arophobic discourse points I saw in this period of time used to exclude acespecs and arospecs from the queer community were the “A is for Ally” and “asexuals aren’t oppressed”.

 

These are two vaguely separate arguments – the A is for Ally conversation is one that doesn’t usually happen between acespecs and acephobes, it is usually something used by big name or larger lgbt+/queer organizations that are simply ignoring or erasing asexuality and aromanticism. For example, GLAAD’s #GotYourBack Campaign occurred in this month and garnered a lot of frustration from acespecs and arospecs. Reframing the “A” to stand for “Ally” instead of “Asexual” and “Aromantic” is a subtle form of legitimizing acephobes and arophobes which erases acespec and arospec involvement in LGBT+ space. Happily, this trend has slowly been changing – GLAAD now includes a definition of asexuality in their Media Reference Guide and shared some decent things for AAW 2017 while AAW 2018 garnered a lot of big name recognition. That said, I do still see these conversations pop up and it is an effective way to erase acespec and arospec folks from queer narratives before we even have a chance to say “hi!”

 

And then the “acespecs aren’t oppressed” thing. I want to gather more information on this one before discussing because it’s a BIG one. BUT, I do want to note that that was an argument I saw a few times during this time. It’s still a huge argument today. I have seen acespec counters to the argument shift over time, so I’m curious to see what that looks like when we start to zoom out and look at that.

 

Conclusion

 

To wrap it all up – I think I was right in my instinct that starting at the beginning of 2015 was a good idea. A full-on heated Discourse hasn’t started yet, but the seeds are definitely getting planted. There are also clear cultural shifts happening – from the first ASAW/growth of a separate arospec community to the use of the term “cishet” to conversations around acespec solidarity with other queer identities. These shifts may or may not be directly related to the growth of Discourse power, but they do represent a change in cultural landscape at a moment which we know preceded this growth and are worth noting.

 

A lot of what I feel while doing this, however, is sadness. I’ve discussed before how The Discourse has effectively silenced quite a lot of complex discussions around asexuality and aromanticism in favor of simplistic answers that will win over the undecided and get acephobes and arophobes to shut up. From the ace-firmations that I noted in the introduction, so quite a large number of discussions around asexual stereotypes and community identity (examples here and here), I feel like we’ve lost a lot of our depth of thought due to the Discourse. I hate that. I hate that we have been under attack. I hate that that has not allowed us to grow.

 

Trans Day of Remembrance 2018

tl;dr TDoR is hard. So, let’s mourn in the way that is right to us.

 

Yeah, Trans Day of Remembrance is hard. I went to see if I wrote anything about it last year to help me write this one and found nothing.

 

I’ve avoided writing about TDoR mainly because it is a day that is very much not about me. I am trans, but I do not face the terrifying violence other trans people face. All I can do is sit back and honor our lost to the best of my ability. My heart breaks at every name read, at every candle lit, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing enough, if I’ll ever be able to do enough to counteract this horrendous violence.

 

The first TDoR was held simultaneously in San Francisco and Boston to honor the death of Rita Hester, a trans woman from Boston who was murdered in 1998. It was founded by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a member of the Boston trans community. In Smith’s words: “This day we mourn our losses and we honor our precious dead — tomorrow and every other day, we shall continue to fight for the living.”

 

TDoR is not a day to fight, it’s not a day to push for change, it’s our day to mourn. Grief looks different on everyone and the grief that comes with this amount of community loss is overwhelming.

 

We have lost so much brilliant members of our community this year. The list is here.

 

But, grief and mourning is self-serving. We can’t bring back the dead, but we still have to learn how to live with the loss. So, let’s take this day to mourn the loss of every bright member of our community however works best for us – at an event, in our own private ceremonies, making art, sitting in silence, reading all the names, honoring a specific person…this is your day to do what you can. This is our day to try to manage the horror of loss.

 

And, if nothing else, we have community. We have each other. Never forget the power of the trans community.

 

Trans women of color, I pledge to do my best to keep you safe. I refuse to let this number grow.

Trying to do better at challenging racism

Tl;dr I need to work harder to include anti-racist work in this blog and in my life. As a start, here are some of the things I’m thinking about and working on in case it is helpful for other white folks. I hope I can keep growing and getting better as I take on this work.

 

Note: This post is specifically for white people about how we can be more active and effective in anti-racist work. People of color, you are welcome to read it, but I do not expect you to put any emotional labor into this. This is me and other white people trying to figure our shit out without doing you harm.

 

So, I recently took a class called White People Challenging Racism: Moving from Talk to Action. I highly recommend it to any white person in the area – check out the organization here.

 

I need to completely own it – I’ve been super wary about talking about race on this blog, and in my life, because I am so terrified of making a mistake.

 

But, of course, what that means is that I’ve just been bopping along in my angry queer rants without ever making it explicitly clear how much race plays into everything I write. Yes, I am an angry queer, but I am an angry white queer and so, I am allowed to perform anger. I still put up with a lot of bullshit because of my anger, but that is never because I am white.

 

That needs to be explicitly clear here, and everywhere else I share my opinion.

 

I like to think I’m a good white ally, but, the truth is that I’m probably not. So, for me and other white folks who want to be the good white ally, here are some things I am working on in myself, both small and large, which may be useful for all of us to hear:

 

  • Not interrupting. Living with my family, I learned that the only way that I would be heard was if I interrupted and basically outshouted my family members, so it’s now a habit. Except, when a white person interrupts a person of color, that is no longer me saying “I want to be heard”, it’s me saying “what I have to say is more important than what you have to say”. I’m working not to interrupt at all, even with my family, and to cut myself off and apologize when I do.

 

  • Talking to other white people about race. This is challenging because many white people in my life are work colleagues, some of whom are supervisors and managers. But it is really important to do, not just because it helps white people to Not Be As Terribly Racist, but because it’s a form of prevention. If I can have a conversation with a white person about racism now, maybe that person will be less likely to ask a person of color to perform emotional labor.
    • This is also about challenging White Fragility before it becomes harmful. Us white people are super sensitive to conversations about race because we never have to do it. If I talk about race with another white person, we’re both challenging our sensitivity and, hopefully, becoming a little better at managing conversations about race.

 

  • Embracing discomfort. The result of my particular brand of White Fragility is running away. I defend myself and avoid ever being challenged for my racism by simply running away or avoiding the conversation. I like to think that I still learn from the encounter, but then I think about what I want from my cis allies. When they run away, all they’re telling me is that they aren’t willing to face the problem. If they stick around, even when making giant mistakes, I know we’re going to get somewhere eventually. I’m trying to stick around a bit more and embrace my own discomfort in being called out and challenged2 in discussing race.

 

  • Encouraging and supporting people of color in leadership and decision-making positions. Sadly, I don’t often have the power to do this, but one of the things I’ve been working on is building my personal lists of local trans artists of color and local queer artists of color and local people of color who are good at XYZ thing. That means that anytime anyone asks me for a recommendation, I’ve got a name at the tip of my tongue. It means that if someone asks me to do something I can’t do, I can refer them to a person of color. If (when) I am in the position to do so, I can use the list to hire and consult with people of color in my work. If I am in a position to speak with white people in leadership and decision-making positions, I try to ask how people of color are involved in their decision making process and (if it is relevant), why there aren’t people of color with decision-making power.

 

  • Listening to people of color when they speak. This also includes reading anything they write. I love blogs because it is someone making a choice to share something. I know that I’m not demanding emotional energy from a person in the moment. They have written that when they are in a position to write it and have left it for me to read when I am in a position to read it. But beyond blogs, when people of color have something to say, it’s my job to sit the fuck down and listen, whether or not I’m in a position to hear it (this goes back to the not running away thing too).

 

  • Consuming and supporting art made by people of color. I’m actively trying to prioritize going to see shows by people of color. I also make it a point to watch movies and tv shows by and centering people of color. Unlike some of the other points here, this is EASY and it’s FUN because artists of color are damn good at what they do. Have you watched Dear White People yet? Luke Cage? What about Crazy Rich Asians? Black Panther? Away from the big names, what about incredible queer artists of color such as Black Venus, Kit Yan, and Billy Dean Thomas? Queer artists of color get so much less visibility, but the work they are making is so worth the extra effort to find it. I could wax poetic about that forever.

 

I want to end with that point because it’s so easy to look at anti-racism work and go “that’s SO HARD and takes SO MUCH WORK” and yes, that’s true, but it can also be an absolute joy. Yes, fighting racism is about arguing with your racist family member over Thanksgiving (UGH), but it’s also about positivity, it’s about celebrating success, and it’s fun. I find that so energizing and am trying my best to hold onto that when I find my energy flagging.

 

So, that’s a list. There’s probably about ten thousand other things to do and things to think about, but that’s what I’m working on now. It’s hard, I haven’t figured it out yet, but I am working at it. But I hope the list looks a little different in a year as I grow and keep doing better.

I think the most important thing I’m learning is that I’m never going to be perfect, and that’s ok, as long as I keep getting better, apologizing for my mistakes, and moving forward. I want to include anti-racism as an underlying theme in this blog. I need to do better. We all have to.

Some (late) October readings

I know, I know, it’s not October anymore. I’ve been hit with a whole slew of overwhelming things, so this blog has been sitting dormant for a little while. I did compile this list a little while ago, so keep in mind these are things I read and looked into in October, from intersex awareness day (woo!) to gender in Zouk dancing. We’ll hopefully get back on track in November.

 

Maybe, no promises. But, in the meantime, lots to read!

 

Lost this year

 

London Moore (North Port, FL)

Read more

 

Nikki Enriquez (Laredo, TX)

One of four victims murdered by a Border Patrol agent targeting sex workers

Read more

Statement from the Transgender Law Center

 

Ms. Colombia (New York, NY)

An integral, cheerful part of her Jackson Heights community

Read more

 

Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier (Chicago, IL)

Part of Chicago’s ballroom scene

Read more

 

 

Reading

 

How to Support Intersex People on Intersex Awareness Day — And Every Day

 

“Since the 1950s, intersex people have been the targets of nonconsensual medical interventions in attempts to fit our bodies into a false sex binary. The first time intersex people took a stance and demonstrated publicly against our medicalization was on October 26, 1996 in Boston. We celebrate that act of courage annually on Intersex Awareness Day, and on every other day of the year.”

 

Searching for a Place to Call Home While Queer and Trans in America

 

“The queer and trans organizers and artists I most admire are those who stay and build; those who do the difficult, unsexy work of holding space in their communities, creating and maintaining resources for those who do not or cannot leave. I survived that night in Birmingham because of those folks, because of a thriving, loving community that exists as the result of their tireless organizing.”

 

The Superstition that LGBTQ+ People Are “Contagious”

 

“Within a few short years, suburban folks went from wanting to believe that nobody they knew was queer, to wanting to know who was queer or who was not. This may have been for the worst possible reason. But for the first time in my isolated, suburban life, people began acknowledging the reality that queer folks lived amongst them. And being queer suddenly seemed like an actual possibility to me — not merely a slur, but something that somebody could actually be.”

 

Gendered Roles in Brazilian Zouk: An Interview with Bruno Galhardo

 

“Yet even dance is not something so common for the society. Myself, I started dancing because I wanted to feel part of something. When I was a teenager, I didn’t feel like I was part of anything. I wasn’t good at playing sport, so I found something that could make me feel that I am good at something.”

 

Hamish Henderson

 

“His work in folklore revival helped change the cultural landscape of Scotland, and his poetry and songs are well known. It would be easy to dismiss his social activism and fight for gay rights in Scotland and focus on his writings, but that would do him a great disservice. His politics were intrinsically tied to his identity as a queer Scottish man from an impoverished Gaelic background and he drew from his experiences to raise the voices of those who were often silenced and devalued.”

 

The Importance of Not Drowning

 

“You don’t know the term “asexual” yet. And when you learn about it, thanks to social media and fanfictions and other asexual friends, you push this idea away. This is not you. You are gay, right? And you have spent too much energy being ashamed of it, so it is too late to change your label now. You are just not ready for sex, not interested yet. You may be ace for now, but things will change. They always do.”