Theory: Becoming

Tl;dr Becoming is a framework for looking at and understanding all transitions without prioritizing one over the other.

A lot of my current artistic work engages with transition narratives, particularly how transition narratives are portrayed in media. This article is a good example of the kind of material I’m working with, I’m basically working with anything that obsesses over specific types of binary trans bodies. These materials both dehumanize the subjects in them, reducing them to their bodies (even while giving them an opportunity to talk about their experiences and gain visibility, I’ve written more on that particular balance here) and erases the existence of trans people who do not follow the described pathways of transition (hi!)

 

That second consequence, while maybe not as obvious, causes a huge amount of harm (as does the first, it’s just a little clearer). In preparing to write this post, I spent a lot of time looking through reflections on transition by other nonbinary folks. There were two common themes – 1) every nonbinary transition is completely different, there is absolutely no “normal trajectory” that can be pinned down. 2) A lot of nonbinary people feel pressured into Transitioning or following the patterns of transition laid out to them by society and the media.

 

That first point could become a book. I’m not going there. But that second point is something I have also felt. Quite sharply. It’s a form of legitimation. Nonbinary people are so often treated like  “trans lite” or as if our identities were stepping stones on the way to a “real” identity. Transition is a socially acceptable means to make our genders “real”. I think West Anderson describes it perfectly in saying, “It used to stress me out, thinking about having to prove to people that I am transgender and that I am transitioning” (2017).

 

Trans people have to prove our genders and when we cannot follow a normative transition narrative, we are robbed of the chance to prove an identity that shouldn’t require proof in the first place.

 

 

Becoming

 

While I would like to look at transition narratives in media and say “cool, but no”, that’s not possible. There are trans people that follow those narratives, and this visibility does positively increase access to transition-related medical care. Just because these particular trans folks currently have greater visibility and are able to prove their gender a teensy tiny bit more easily than me does not mean that I can silence them in my own frantic race to be recognized. Instead of replacing one narrative with another one, we need a framework that allows for every single transition narrative.

 

I first wrote about becoming in a post looking at how cis people control transition narratives in the media for their own entertainment. To quote myself, “I’m slowly becoming my gender, learning what that means for me, letting it grow as I grow and change.” I have read other nonbinary people describing similar experiences: Anderson explains, “I feel like transitioning isn’t quite the right word for what I do. I reify my gender through these actions and in my actions every day. It isn’t showy, its components change daily, and it will never be finished” (2017) while blogger Micah describes top surgery as a “doorway” to the rest of a gender journey (2016) and Joshua M. Ferguson explains, “my transitioning will evolve in unexpected ways over the course of my life. I am transitioning without an end.” (2017).

 

Instead of thinking of transition as a journey from point A to point B, I believe we will have more productive conversations about transition if we see it as a process of becoming one’s gender. For some, becoming is a journey from point A to point B, for others it’s a journey that never stops, and for others it’s a journey to point C from halfway between points A and B with a stopover at points Y and Z, and for others it’s simply a journey away from all of these points…

 

The points aren’t that important, it’s the bit in between, the process, the actual pathway of transition. That is when and how we become our gender. It doesn’t matter if we meet a final destination, just that we become.

 

In Art

 

Time is a particular fascination in my creation process and I’ve been exploiting it recently in order to create and develop processes of becoming. I like to stretch time, bringing my audience on a journey with me, through a mini version of becoming. For example, in my piece, How dare you., I originally had my dancer take a full minute in silence to walk to the front of the stage. This got lost due to time constraints in the actual production, but that opening alongside the repetitive movement brought my audience into a process or experience while time was both condensed and extended.

 

Another artistic perspective on becoming goes hand in hand with some of my reflections on “non-human” movement. Becoming is a process of finding the human element, or our honesty. For me, honesty is a key component of my work. It is so easy to lie with movement and, as a trans dancer, I don’t want to do that. I want my audience to see me as honestly as possible. To really, truly find that honesty, so I can be my form of human, I need to become, I need to process and develop what that is for me. And for me, that is a neverending process.

 

 

References/Further reading

 

 

Anderson, West, “Transitioning While Nonbinary”, The Body Is Not An Apology, 2017 <https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/transitioning-while-non-binary/> [5 February 2018]

 

Bernstein, Jacob, “For Some In Transgender Community, It’S Never Too Late To Make A Change”, New York Times, 2015 <https://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/fashion/for-some-in-transgender-community-its-never-too-late-to-make-a-change.html?referer=http%3A%2F%2Fm.facebook.com%2F> [7 February 2018]

 

Ferguson, Joshua, “What It Means To Transition When You’re Non-Binary”, Teen Vogue, 2017 <https://www.teenvogue.com/story/non-binary-transitioning> [7 February 2018]

 

Micah, “Featured Voices: Where Does My Story End?”, Genderqueer.Me, 2016 <https://genderqueer.me/2016/02/29/fv-where-does-my-story-end/> [6 February 2018]

 

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I may be genderless, but I am not agender

Tl;dr While the term “agender” technically does describe my gender experience, it is not a word I take for myself.

 

It’s a conversation (battle) I’ve been having more and more recently. It goes like this:

 

Me: I don’t have a gender.

Someone: Oh! You’re agender!

Me: No, I don’t have a gender…

 

By definition, agender is not having a gender. I get that. But I still find the word “agender” frustrating me. That’s not exactly what I am and I want to pick apart some of the ways it’s used so we can see that more clearly.

 

First off, I’ve seen agender grouped with asexual and aromantic. That makes sense, right? Not having a gender is a similar experience to not having sexual or romantic attraction. I actually often share the elephant analogy of asexuality  in an attempt to explain how all three of these things work for me.

 

Except, there is also a distinct difference between gender and attraction. I worry that linking these three things perpetuates the obnoxious conflation of gender and attraction. (There are still people that think trans people are always gay and the like. I’m baffled how this is possible, but it apparently is). My gender and my attraction are two distinct entities that happen to be similar. Similar. “Similar” and “the same” are different terms and different experiences.

 

It also leads to separating “agender” from the umbrella of trans with such statements as “the A in LGBTQA+ stands for asexual, aromantic, and agender!”

 

I’m really not ok with this statement because it drags “agender” out from under the T, trans, my actual gender experience, and plops it next to a bunch of attraction-based identities. Agender is a trans identity. There are definitely agender people who aren’t trans, but that’s not a reason to deny agender of its connections and experiences and history by defining it against attraction-based identities instead of other gender-related identities.

 

Secondly, there is a slightly more rigid connotation in English with the “a-” prefix than the “-less” suffix, which is what I prefer (ie. “genderless”). Because greek and latin prefixes such as the “a-” are used in scientific language, it feels more factual and precise than the Germanic (ie. English, ie. a mess) “-less”. My lack of gender isn’t a precise, factual thing, it’s a big, nebulous cloud of nothing. “Agender” just feels a bit wrong when trying to describe that.

 

Thirdly, the term “agender” did not exist when I first took on my identity. Instead, I found different words to describe my experience. I had to make my word. I made the word “genderless”. And then suddenly, the trans community made the word “agender” and decided that was the official word and started telling me that I was agender. For a while, I thought they were right.

 

But, I didn’t make it or find the word “agender”. It was more or less forced on me through peer pressure. Other people do not get to tell me the right words for my identity. Agender may describe not having a gender. But it’s not my way of describing it and that’s important.

 

It’s not my word.

 

It doesn’t matter why the word frustrates me. It’s a word that makes me uncomfortable and that I do not take for myself. Other folks are welcome to be agender, it appears to have a much more positive meaning for loads of people. But, I’m not agender simply because I don’t want to be. End of story.

 

One-year anniversary!

Tl;dr I have been blogging for a WHOLE YEAR now. The past year has been about gaining confidence and sharing my voice, and I hope for the next year to be a little more focused on listening and reflecting.

 

Well, fuck. I have been blogging for a whole goddamn year.

 

In preparation for writing this post, I went back to read my first introductory posts and found myself in tears after rereading this particular one.

 

It’s amazing to think about how much has changed since then.

 

I was going to write something about how confused and unstructured everything is now that I’m out of an educational setting, how I sometimes feel like I’ve been slipping in my art recently because I have had to put so much of my energy Elsewhere, or how I feel like I have less of a right to be keeping this blog now that I no longer put up with being the only out trans dancer at a dance program Every Single Day of my life…

 

But, after reading that, I just want to share a little bit of what keeping this blog has done for me and how I hope to continue it in the future.

 

A year ago, I was surrounded by people that felt like enemies. I felt like I was going into battle every single day, but that I wasn’t allowed to behave like I was in a battle. I was silenced and frustrated and angry. Even when I had some very strong and wonderful allies helping me, I felt alone. At the end of the day, I was still the only trans person in that space. I’d then run off to my queer community at the time and expect them to give me all the love and respect I wasn’t getting at school, which is a lot to ask of any person, no matter how much I needed those things.

 

Publishing this blog was the thing that allowed me to break out of this cycle. In all fairness, it was mostly my community and my lovely, amazing friends reading it in the beginning. Still, the message I constantly heard as I wrote was that I was writing something worth reading. I fought hard to be heard at my school, but I had to eventually accept that it would not happen. By then, it was ok, because I had found other ways to be heard: my art, and this blog.

 

Recently, I’ve been feeling a bit like a fraud because my blog posts have been a little less about being a trans dancer and broader in terms of gender theory and artistic practice. I keep blogging anyways because I’ve been struggling a lot with not having a structure. This is my first year completely out of education and not having deadlines, assessment criteria, and supervisors (no matter how much they annoy me) has left me feeling aimless and unclear. I keep churning out blog posts not so much to vent frustrations and tackle complexities, but to have one single thing in my life operate on a schedule and with a system.

 

And yet, recently, I’ve noticed this blog reaching a wider audience. A few of my last posts seem to have really touched a whole bunch of trans people that aren’t my friends (and thus obligated to like the nonsense I write). It’s been both heartening and terrifying.

 

I have always believed that if I can make a positive difference for one single person then I have done my job in the world. In seeing some of the responses I have gotten to this blog in the past year, it’s clear that I have touched many more people than that. And people have touched me back.

 

In particular, the number of “me too”s I have gotten from my posts on body image and fitness have been such a good reminder that I am not alone and that this shit is Fucking Hard. I need to remember that a lot.

 

This past year has been about making a voice for myself and learning to trust it, it’s been about being brave and saying things I’m scared to say, and it’s also been about loudly saying something before I’m really ready to say it. I needed that, and I want to thank every single person that has helped me on this journey (and has been patient when I got things wrong).

 

But now that I’m here, now that I truly believe that my voice matters, now that I have learned to value myself and to speak my mind, I think it’s time to take a step back. I’m not going to stop blogging, I enjoy it too much, but I do want to open myself up to listening more. I want to truly reflect on the multitude of perspectives that make up our community and I want to enhance that in a meaningful way.

 

Now that I have confidence, I want to find humility.

 

I want to truly be part of the amazingly beautiful greater queer community.

 

Because, I was alone when I started writing this blog, and I don’t have to be alone anymore. And I want to be open for that.

 

I’m not quite sure what that means practically, just yet. I think it includes less overall posts that include more research behind them. I think it includes expanding on, and strengthening the quality of my monthly linkspams. I think it means asking more questions and sharing less opinions. I don’t know yet. We’ll find out in the next year!

 

Some January readings

All right folks. I have to admit that multiple new jobs and projects meant my reading this month was pretty this sparse, but I did find some interesting things that are all absolutely unrelated. I also intend to start these monthly round-ups with a list of the trans people we have lost. Trans people are murdered at an alarming rate. I can’t keep up, it’s practically hard and emotionally distressing, but it’s important to try. We must remember these people. I will always be missing someone, but I intend to continue this list and keep at it as best I can because it’s the least I can do.

 

Lost this year:

 

Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, age 42, North Adams, MA

Organizer of trans beauty pageants and pride marches

I have to admit that Christa’s death in particular has hit me hard – even with the US having one of the highest number of murdered trans people in the world, Massachusetts tends not to be on the list. For the first murder of the year to be in my home state is a sobering reminder that even the “safe” states have a lot of work to do.

 

 

Reading:

The anti-Blackness of believing there’s no support for queerness in the hood

http://blackyouthproject.com/anti-blackness-believing-theres-no-support-queerness-hood/

 

“The portrayal of Black people as inherently homophobic is always a form of purposeful erasure. Of course, it automatically makes invisible the innumerable trans and queer people that are part of every Black community. At the same time, by focusing on Black spaces as the epicenter of homophobia and transphobia, attention is drawn away not just from how homophobia and transphobia target Black communities (e.g. the forced displacement and incarceration of Black trans and queer people), but also from how they are just as present in non-Black communities.”

 

 

What It Means to Transition When You’re Non-Binary

https://www.teenvogue.com/story/non-binary-transitioning

 

“My body is my never-ending story. It is a text written in the non-binary prose of my flesh, the sensual, the surface, the shifting. My body evolves as my physical and spiritual place in the world continues its orbit in the universes that collide with my own, the ones that tell stories about how I should be and should look.”

 

 

Dancing Through Transition

https://transdancers.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/dancing-through-transition/

 

“There is very little information online about dancing through transition, I’m not really surprised as there can’t be lots of us who do & we’re usually private but I thought I’d write about my experiences of the past 2 years on hormones & blockers hoping to educate & help anyone else that is going through something similar.”

 

 

4 Comments That Kept Me From Identifying As Non-Binary

https://theestablishment.co/4-comments-that-kept-me-from-identifying-as-non-binary-74a82d599de9

 

“I spent a while feeling like I’d be “caught” for not being a “good” non-binary person because of all the things people had said to me the first time I identified on the non-binary spectrum.”

 

 

The Challenge of Getting Better

https://restforresistance.com/zine/the-challenge-of-getting-better

 

“I’m not accustomed to this newfound sense of independence. It feels so different and uncomfortable. I’m changing so quickly, and change – even when it’s good – is always a scary thing. But these thoughts are when I think about life in the short-term. In the long-term, it’s an undeniably positive thing that I’m getting better. I get to experience fuller emotions and fulfilling events. I perform multiple tasks every day and feel accomplished afterwards.”

 

 

People with disabilities often fear they’re a burden. That’s why legal assisted suicide scares me.

https://www.vox.com/first-person/2017/9/21/16307868/assisted-suicide-disabilities-legal

 

“I understand the appeal of letting people on the brink of death have the right to go out on their own terms. But I’ve personally experienced the myriad often unspoken pressures to move aside, get out of the way, relieve others. And if I had to be kept in a dreary institution — a very real possibility for millions of people like me, if the schemes to slash Medicaid become law — I might request a terminal dosage myself! The struggle to go on living would become too burdensome for me, perhaps even downright impossible.”

 

Using “non-human” movement in dance

Tl;dr The dehumanizing effects of non-human movement vocabulary is dangerous, but the result of exploring that danger is the realization that what is “human” is not always “natural” and that’s kind of cool.

 

I have recently found myself skirting the edge of something I used to think I would never do.

 

A lot of contemporary dance movement is fascinated by “non-human” movement which appears unnatural. Of course, before going down this train of thought, I want to point out that any form of classical or concert dance you see takes years of training and is unnatural. Ballet does have contralateral movement (opposition), which may make it appear a little more comfortable to a human eye, but ballet dancers also stand on their toes! Let’s be clear that when choreographers make this distinction, they are more likely discussing what is familiar to their audience, not what is actually “natural” for the human body.

 

Non-human movement can be vaguely categorized in two ways (probably more, but this is what I’ll look at for the moment), either it includes constricting or limiting or altering the body in some way or it includes attempting to embody a non-human form, usually an animal.

 

The first category comes with a fascination of “abnormal” (ie. unfamiliar) bodies. All of that is kind of a giant euphemism. Here’s the actual truth: able-bodied people are “inspired” by the movement of disabled bodies and copy it. When we consider how disabled dancers, dancers with actual limits or constrictions, or bodies that don’t meet specific expectations, are barred from mainstream professional dance, it becomes incredibly disturbing that so many able-bodied dancers are emulating this movement. It fetishizes disability, without even admitting that we’re discussing disability, completely removing actual disabled people from the narrative. Despite the suggestive opening to the blog, this is a practice I refuse to even consider in my choreography.

 

The second category may seem a little less political. Humans are always emulating and personifying animals, from meowing back at our cats to games of charades to the multitude of animal tales that are told in almost every culture. We even dress up as animals for Halloween.

 

Let’s add to this the fact that what is considered “animal” movement, especially “mammal” movement, follows many of the same original patternings of the human body. It’s hard movement to take on, once we’ve been trained to be humans in the twenty-first century (for the record, I hate chairs, that’s another rant), but it is movement that can be really satisfying to embody.

 

That’s all well and good for skinny, white, cis, able-bodied dancers who already fit the current norm of mainstream dance aesthetic. But, for those of us who are already considered less than human, taking on non-human movement is a terrifying tightrope act.

 

Because I believe strongly in performing and choreographing as a trans dancer, I have refused to even go near animalistic movement. I do not want to draw the connection between my transness and a developed non-humanness in my movement. Trans people are dehumanized off the stage enough already.

 

As I start on a new project, however, one that specifically looks at ways trans people are dehumanized, I find myself moving towards this movement. I’m playing a dangerous game – using something that is dehumanizing to represent my dehumanization while making my audience see me as truly and fully human yet.

 

I haven’t succeeded yet. I’m nowhere near close. Right now, it’s terrifying and exciting.

 

But, I think the most important thing I’ve been learning in this process is that everybody’s “human” is different.

 

For me, for this artistic research, my Irish hard shoes have become my humanizing element.

 

For the record, those shoes are some of the most unnatural, uncomfortable pieces of footwear I have ever worn. The toe fucking goes up for some stupid reason…

 

And yet, for me, those shoes are my human. They make me feel like me. I can’t even imagine spending a long period of time without having them close to me.

 

So, to end where I started: The things that make someone human are not always “natural”. That’s ok.

 

What’s important is that our movement is kind and refuses to dehumanize ourselves or others.

 

On not coming out as trans

Tl;dr I find coming out as trans more about cis people than me. Instead, I tend to inform cis people of transness as a mode of communicating my needs and protecting myself.

 

I don’t come out as trans

 

This is something I realized a few months ago when a person newer to their transness asked me how I come out and my mind did a really great impression of television static.

 

Of course I have come out in the past, it’s something I did quite a lot in the beginning of my trans adventure when I still felt like I had to prove I was a “real” trans person and needed the same coming out and transition arc according to what society was telling me. But I haven’t actually come out in years.

 

Instead of coming out, I either simply assume another person will know when it’s time for them to know, or I inform them of what they need to know in order to treat me respectfully.

 

Coming out is for cis people. If I come out, it’s about making them feel good, it’s about letting them know the information that allows them to understand me, and it follows a trajectory they find familiar and comfortable. It also assumes that cis people know what the word trans means, something the cis people in my life are constantly disproving. Most importantly, the need to come out emphasizes the idea that cis is the default and trans is abnormal. This isn’t coming out for everyone, and coming out as aroace is very different too, but, for me, coming out as trans is about fulfilling cis expectations for trans narratives.

 

The thing is, I’ve learned that cis people are smarter than we give them credit for. Maybe it’s easier for them if a trans person fulfils the narrative they expect, but the fact is, they can keep up without it.

 

The other thing is, I don’t need cis people to understand me. What I need is for them to respect me and treat me with kindness, and they can do that even if they have no idea what I’m talking about when I say “trans”.

 

This is why informing is really useful for me. It’s basically saying, “This is who I am and this is what you need to do to respect that”. If they need explanations, they can go find them and, in the meantime, they have all the tools they need to be decent and kind.

 

(That also informs the information I do give people. Today, a google search for “cis definition” still brings up angry articles that claim it’s a slur, so I’m willing to provide a definition of “cis” to anyone that asks because I know that isn’t always accessible information. On the other hand, google searching “nonbinary” brings up definitions, artistic projects, interviews with Jill Soloway and generally solid resources. I’m not going to waste my time and energy explaining easy-to-find information.)

 

To get a better idea of what I’m trying to say, here are some examples of what I do instead of “coming out”:

 

Scenario 1: Last year, the supervisor for my end of year project knew from the beginning that I was nonbinary, not because I ever told her, but because my project proposal was literally about performing as a nonbinary person. Halfway through our work together, I informed her that some of the things she was saying and doing were transphobic, and she went on the defensive, as people tend to do when called out (including me!). She was surprised that I expected her to treat me respectfully without having first offered her a “Trans 101” overview. But, as my supervisor, her education was her responsibility. In the simplest version of this system, I was paying to get artistic support from her that she wasn’t able to give me because she hadn’t done her research. No matter how transphobic, unwilling, or surprised she was, it was not my job to come out to her. In order to make that clear, I did a google search for “nonbinary” and sent her the first three links, telling her how easily I had come by the information. We never had a problem again. I didn’t have to come out to her, I didn’t have to educate her, I just had to communicate that she had to respect me like any of her other students.

 

Scenario 2: A few months ago, I was arguing with someone about single-gendered dance teams (common in certain traditions). Technically, I was on a women’s team at the time and this person wasn’t someone I was “out” to, but, as he continued to explain in gender essentialist ways, how important it was to keep the genders separate, it became obvious that his ridiculous assumption that I was cis and had a binary gender would keep us from having an informed discussion. Coming out then would have completely derailed the conversation, focusing it on me instead of the issue, so I simply informed him, “As a nonbinary person, gendered team make me feel unwelcome.” The purpose was to remind him that he had to consider nonbinary people in his argument and, in making it personal, he was held more accountable.

 

Scenario 3: And finally (since I spent the last few months on job applications, wheee) my resume and cover letter have become and interesting method for identifying myself as trans. Of course, sometimes, all I want is a job, and my resume will reflect that,. At the same time, I don’t really want to work long-term for anyone that wouldn’t hire me because of my transness (and I worked short-term for a person that wouldn’t have hired me if they knew I was trans and it was just…not something I want to do again if I can help it). I might not always blatantly write “I am TRANS AND NONBINARY” at the top of the resume, but I make sure my internship at a queer organization is clear, that my involvement in lgbt+ volunteer projects is noted, and that I mention my experience in facilitating workshops on gender identity. All of these things highlight other skills that I bring to a job (administration, teaching, even management and scheduling), but it is also a test. How an organization responds to that information on a resume tells me a lot about them and that allows me to protect myself going into a job.

 

Personally, I wouldn’t call any of this coming out. It’s much more about protecting myself, minimizing the amount of emotional and educational energy I have to use outside of educational situations, and holding people accountable when they decide to be transphobic or uninformed.

 

To be honest, coming out was exhausting, and I’m glad I don’t do it anymore, except on my terms.

 

 

Theory: Audibility

tl;dr Audibility is partner to visibility which allows us to understand what is heard as opposed to what is perceived. This gives us a framework for understanding the violence of silencing and grants various pathways into artistic creation. 

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Photos by audience members, you can see them all here

 

All right folks, this is the final theory about my installation, Under Construction. I might even shut up about it afterwards! Wouldn’t that be exciting? This is the theory I’m most proud of because it provides a tangible model for understanding invisible identities,  visibility and silencing.

 

 

Visibility/Audibility

 

The interplay between what is seen and what is heard is an important facet of nonbinary performance and identity. Usually, the trans community focuses on visibility: being seen in society as our genders. It not only is a form of validation, it provides the practical benefit of being able to campaign for legal recognition and presents those who know nothing about trans people with sympathetic narratives. However, as it is impossible to perform nonbinary gender, it is impossible for nonbinary gender to be visible.

 

Cis identities are similarly invisible, as they are considered default in society. However, cis invisibility comes from dominance while nonbinary invisibility comes from ignorance. Seeing cis identities happens when we challenge the assumed status quo that privileges cis identities. Seeing nonbinary identities happens when we listen and inform ourselves about what to look for.

 

But, even armed with information, society denies us a framework with which we can communicate nonbinary identities through visual presentation. There’s no real way to completely remove nonbinary invisibility without forming a new society (I’m all for that, but it, sadly, might take some time).

 

In response to this inevitable invisibility, I would like to propose the concept of audibility. A nonbinary person may not be their gender visibly, but they can express their gender through the use of explanations and be their gender audibly. Even if we can’t be seen, we can be heard. That is important. I stopped caring as much about what I looked like when I realized there were other ways I could be perceived and accepted.

 

 

Silencing in terms of audibility

 

 

This then brings us to a major issue that I’ve experienced quite a lot: silencing. In order to maintain hegemony, privileged classes must control the way the oppressed express themselves which means actively stopping a trans person’s audibility.

 

Invisibility is about lack of visibility and erasure is about rendering someone invisible. Similarly, inaudibility occurs when someone is not heard or listened to and silencing is the actively rendering someone inaudible. Some really good examples of this are the numerous documentaries about trans people created by cis people. While trans people are visible in these, their personal words and experiences are often silenced in favor of cis fascination and fetishizing of the trans body. Even with the visibility, this can cause huge harm for trans people, because we are only being seen, not heard. I can’t help but wonder if visibility at the loss of audibility is worth it.

 

For a nonbinary person, silencing can be particularly painful, because we don’t have access to the validation that comes from visibility. When we are silenced, it tells us that only the visible aspects of our identity are important. It tells us that we have less value because we are less visible. And it continues to perpetuate this idea that trans people only need visibility.

 

Fun fact: I kind of think we need both. But, since nonbinary people can’t be visible, it would be super great if we could at least get some audibility!

 

 

Bringing audibility and silencing into art

 

 

In case you’re not a regular follower of my whinings, here’s a brief context for this project I keep going on about: I was studying on a one year dance program and ended up submitting a formal complaint about a transphobic guest speaker. My words were twisted and misrepresented, staff chose to listen to my cis peers more than they chose to listen to me, and my identity was called into question and disrespected at a scope much broader than the actual complaint. Basically, I was silenced from a lot of different directions and this installation was a direct response to that.

 

To increase visibility, I situated the installation in two central, glass-walled rooms in the building. This meant that many people, not just those who entered the rooms, saw and experienced the installation. In an environment and culture that had actively silenced me, I wanted to make my audibility unavoidable. However, the clarity of the installation was distorted for anyone looking at it from above, instead of from inside. The conversation was not always understandable, similar to conversations around trans inclusion in places like my school that are facing a situation like mine for the first time.

 

I worked without audio or speaking to draw attention to silencing. While a room full of people is never going to be completely silent, I still was. My audibility came through written texts. My audience could choose whether or not to read them and whether or not to then allow that information to impact the way they gendered me, thus being in absolute control of my audibility.

 

On the back of my texts, visible only to those outside of the space through the glass, I wrote out generalized versions of phrases that had been used to silence me throughout the year. Out of context, many of these appeared harmless, showing how necessary it is to look beyond the surface to see how words are weaponized to silence trans audibility. It was a direct representation of and challenge to the act of silencing.

 

I also tried to challenge the default invisibility of cis identities. As I knew that the majority of my audience was cis, I ask them to display their responses to the final question to encourage the audibility of my audience’s gender, making their identity more audible as well.

 

 

Moving forward

 

Since delving into audibility as a theory, I have found myself less occupied with struggles around visibility. While I used to believe that visibility was a goal for all trans people, I have come to realize that my personal goal is audibility. This particularly forms my artistic practice because it brings back the age-old English class question of show versus tell. How do you create art, especially something as visual as dance, when you can’t show? I’ve been exploring new ways to make the act of telling more visible and tangible.

 

Another artistic pathway I have been recently following is audibility and silence in percussive dance. My training is in dance that makes noise. For productions such as Stomp!, companies like Barbatuques , dancers like Sandy Silva, and yes, even Riverdance, the sound and visual are interlinked and inseparable. I have struggled to find the relationship between my traditional and percussive dancing and my transness, and I think this may be a direction I start going in.

 

 

Sources/Further Reading

 

Haq, N. (2015, September 16). The invisible and the visible: Identity politics and the

economy of reproduction in art. Retrieved from http://www.internationaleonline.org/

 

 

Mock, J. (2015, February 16). A Note on visibility in the wake of 6 trans women’s murders in

  1. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://janetmock.com/2015/02/16/six-trans-women-killed-this-year/