The Power Dynamics of Self-Help Language

Tl;dr As I start on learning to be a life coach, I am contending with how self-help language shifts responsibility away from the people in power and onto the oppressed.

So, one of the adventures I’m currently going on is learning how to be a life coach. I’m not really there yet, my Official Training starts in October (and will probably give me loads to reflect on), but I’ve been doing my preparatory reading and some test work with some willing friends, and spending a lot of time just kind of absorbing what is going on in the life coaching world.

Just to back up a bit, I know that life coaching, for many people, appears to be bogus pseudo-therapy for unhappy rich white cis women.  Honestly? What I’m learning is that a lot of it is. There’s a lot of buzz words, appropriated language, and general bullshit. It feels like a “live, laugh, love” sign in someone’s kitchen surrounded by the worst of the motivational statements (“you can do anything you set your mind to!” “if you can dream it, you can do it” etcetc.)

The grump in me absolutely wants to just slap a “die, cry, hate” sign on top of all of this and call it a bust.

(It also feels like a huge flaw in our system that so many unhappy rich white cis women have to keep on paying other people to help them find some kind stability in themselves. We shouldn’t have this many unhappy women to begin with that the business of making them happy can be monetized.)

At the same time, I’ve actually been interested in life coaching for a long time. Honestly, there’s nothing cis or woman about me, but I am the classic example of an unhappy person turning towards self-help motivational lingo.

Quick summary: I deal with mental illness (we can talk about how disgustingly common that is another time), and, due to a lot of reasons, my ability to get Official Professional Help is particularly hindered by this mental illness. It’s a fun ironic twist of fate. I have been able to get some help (yay therapy!) but there were long periods of time when that wasn’t an option for me. I had to cobble together something to hold myself together and that turned out to be a mix of obnoxious motivational statements, the internet, and the mind-body work that is very popular in a lot of dance these days.

None of these things on their own work. I have scathing things to say about all of them. But, I can say, I am lucky that, despite everything I struggle with, I have a very strong sense of knowing when to say yes or no to something (my first word was “no”, I’m very proud of that fact). So, my cobbled together, completely faked self-help regiment saved me enough to get me to that next step of getting therapy. Since then, I’ve gotten to add a lot of more “creative business skills” such as theory of change and human-centered design to my toolkit. I still use that toolkit daily (therapy is only an hour once a week, mental illness is, unfortunately, always).

Here’s the thing that keeps bugging me: between what I’ve learned in the past and what I read now in preparation for my Official Training, one of the underlying themes is the idea that the individual alone is responsible for their own wellbeing and happiness.

That is a crock of bullshit.

The reality is that we live in a community and we live in a system. I remember the first time I got angry about this is when there was talk of adding meditation for students at my high school. This was one of those super high-powered, high-stress high schools and I remember not understanding why they would make us meditate when they could just give us less homework and maybe not publish every senior’s college destination in the school newspaper.

So, let’s talk about power systems and how self-help motivational language, with everything from mindfulness and meditation to life coaching to the motivational (and probably fatphobic) poster up at the gym, maintains them.

See, the oversimplified idea with an oppressive system is that there are the privileged and the oppressed. We know that the interaction of these systems make a much more complicated system, but, for the moment, let’s go with this and use my high school (in simplified form) as an example.

Personally, I would argue no one involved in public education in the US is privileged at the moment, but we do have decision makers with a lot more control and then we have students and then we have  a lot of teachers who don’t actually have a lot of say in the decisions, but still in the awkward position of having to enforce other people’s decisions on students. Let’s say, in this example, our privileged decision makers include administrators (yes, there’s the school board and policy makers etc. Trust me, this is simplified.)

Their privilege involves the ability to make decisions that will affect the entire microsociety of school, but also the prestige and recognition that comes from leading a school that has high test scores, lots of kids going to Ivy leagues, and the optics of winning academic teams. This is also be monetary – many superintendent salaries, at least in my area, are six figures and superintendents are often the highest paid town official. (side note: I’m not saying this to pass judgement on putting money into education. Personally, I would love it if teachers were paid a lot more than they are right now).

When people hold privilege, they want to keep it. We see this over and over again. Cis people cannot handle trans people taking up any amount of space. White women start crying as soon as a black person raises their voice. Society goes out of its way to claim neurodivergent people don’t have a right to autonomy and decision making.

In this case, privilege is mostly legitimized by position – you get to have all this power because you were elected or hired into a position. There are also some very very ingrained societal norms legitimizing it. However, with this legitimation comes threats. If the “high-achieving” status of the school tips a little off balance towards the “lack of student wellness” situation, the people in power have to contend with parents, teenagers, and their reputation from other school districts and schools. At the same time, part of their power comes from this “high-achieving” label – it both makes them look good outwardly, and keeps students, our oppressed in this case, too busy and stressed out to cause a riot.

It is within decision-makers’ best interest to maintain student wellness just enough so that they can keep making them look good and to ensure that they won’t take the blame or lose power if something goes wrong. They want to use their dominance to maintain the status quo.

So, they make wellness an individual problem – it is on student’s to meditate and do yoga, students are reminded to get enough sleep and eat healthy meals, students are given “self-care techniques” to practice and agendas full of motivational quotes to write their homework in…

If we looked at the system that has created student stress, it would show how decision-makers are benefiting off of it. Making students deal with the problem individually by teaching them techniques that will help them survive the system not only looks nice on paper, it removes responsibility from the decision makers and puts it squarely on the students. The individual oppressed person has to do the work, not the person in power. Systemic power is maintained.

And that’s exactly what so much of this life-coaching and self-help bullshit is. It’s about learning how to survive a system that we shouldn’t have to live in the first place simply because the people in charge like their power and want to maintain the status quo.

So, long ramble aside, this boils down to the kinds of questions I’m asking myself as I keep looking into this life coaching work. Instead of learning how to help ourselves more, how can we ask others to help us? Instead of “coaching for success”, how can we coach for supportive community? How can we survive this hellish system long enough to have that community? And, once we’re there, how can we unlearn the individualism we’ve had to use to survive along the way?

I have no interest in teaching more people to survive on their own. Been there, done that. It sucks. What I’m interested in is how we can survive together. I don’t think we know what that looks like yet, but I’m excited to find out.

What’s going on?!

Tl;dr after a natural shift away from blogging, I might start doing some things again, with the warning that my interests are a little different these days.

About two years ago, I naturally shifted away from blogging.

Part of it was just that I was busy and I had been going at it at a frenetic pace that I absolutely couldn’t keep up, but part of it was that I didn’t have as much to say anymore. Most of my saying was happening in other places. For me, that was a sign of success.

The reason I wasn’t keeping up was because the performances and teaching and other connecting activities I was doing was giving me ample space to express myself and so I didn’t need to be putting it on my blog. I was doing the things I wanted to be doing – I presented the installation I had developed at school, I was organizing regular queer dance workshops, I was building relationships with people on my terms, and I had some interesting performances lined up.

Of course, the downside to that is that people who didn’t have access to me in those capacities no longer had access to me. And my writing, in general, kind of just went down the drain. I prioritized the local and artistic communities I was building because I can’t do everything. Online community is important, but it’s not my strongest skillset when in-person local community is possible.

I always meant to return and kept saying I would and then never quite had the time or correct brainspace to actually do it. When the pandemic hit, I thought that would be a good chance to actually do something online since I couldn’t in person, but a number of emergency moves and general pandemic nonsense cut things short. I’m only just coming out of the other side of my personal wringer that started last March.

And then finally, that very uncomfortable thing called change happened. I don’t disagree with the things I’ve written on this blog, but my interests are definitely elsewhere these days. There’s always that little bit of anxiety when posting something that people expect one thing and I’m giving them something else.

But fuck it, this is my blog. The point of this blog has always been to establish my position in the world of dance and beyond. I want to return to writing because I enjoy it and I want to share my current thoughts and ideas and focuses.

So, I’m back. I probably won’t write as regularly as I did before and no promises I’ll stay, but I want to at least try it again.

As a quick taster, here are some of the things I am thinking about these days:

  • Performance as a way to build community
  • Coaching and teaching skills
  • Being generally just Very Done with the dance community
  • Creative solutions to virtual performance (yup, I’m one of those people who is tired of endless livestreams and zooms)
  • Relationships with our body (yeah, that’s always a thing)
  • How to actually make dance and all sorts of art meaningfully accessible

No promises I’ll write anything ever again after posting this, let alone touch on all of these, but I am starting to get back into it and, right now, I’m excited to share thoughts about all of this and more.

If the excitement sticks around, you might end up hearing a lot from me…

Assumption: Inclusion is good

Tl;dr While the assumption that inclusion is good may not always be accurate, I strongly believe that intentional, thought-out inclusion is not only good, but necessary.


I just recently had a very, very odd moment which made me realize some of the shit I’ve been internalizing.


I am lucky enough to be an NAS New England Creative Community Fellow. So, in August, I packed my bags and traipsed off to Middle-of-Nowhere, Vermont to talk about community art projects. It was amazing.


During one of my mentoring sessions, I was trying to build a logic model for the queer dance workshops I organize. Basically, that means I was working to clarify and verbalize the goals and potential outcomes (fingers crossed) of the project. One of the very important practices in doing such an excersize (and many of the work here) is acknowledging assumptions.


I forget exactly what my mentor said (something about how focusing on inclusion would produce a positive outcome), but I do remember looking up and him, frowning, and saying, “well, that’s assuming that inclusion is a good thing.”


And he started laughing.


Because, yes, it was an assumption but, in his world, it was an assumption that didn’t warrant questioning. Of course inclusion was good – why else were we talking about equity? What was community arts practice without inclusion?


But, for me, there are arguments around me about inclusion and exclusion all the fucking time. Who we allow into a space is a huge topic of debate. And yes, while it makes sense to ask allies to take a step back, there are so many other places where that logic of “anyone who isn’t queer/xyz identity is inherently dangerous and cannot be here” has become a weaponized tool which divides us.


The ace discourse is a great example of this. TERFs are an example of this. Trans medicalists are an example of this. Any instance in which our focus has become about keeping people out instead of welcoming them in is an example of this.


Is inclusion a good thing? I want to believe it is. I want to believe that the more we can include each other and find solidarity amongst each other, the stronger we will all be.


But, at the same time, I still find my skin crawling at the possibility of a cis person entering a trans space because we’re including them. Even if the logic has been weaponized, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t logic, that is has no reason to exist.


In organizing my queer dance workshops, I have always described them as “queer-only”. This was important to me. Queer people are not welcomed intentionally in most dance spaces, so these workshops had to be a space for us.


I also had a conversation with a friend who said that they wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a workshop on their own and would want to bring a buddy. Their best friend, and preferred buddy, wasn’t queer. I couldn’t imagine ever saying no to that, no matter how much I want to keep the space “queer only”.


See, “queer-only” as a signifier isn’t necessarily about keeping people out, it’s about getting people to stop and think.


And that’s, I think, where we start to sort it out – intentional or thoughtful inclusion is good.


For me, that’s preferred.


I would much rather include someone who might not belong than risk the harm of excluding someone who does. Yes, there are risks. But, I would like to point out that there are risks in every space we create. A trans space alone can hold homophobia, biphobia, aphobia, ableism, toxic masculinity, you name it… If we are including thoughtfully, we are able to see all the possible risks, not just the ones that could justify exclusion. That makes things better for everyone.


I’m not convinced inclusion without thought is always good.


But yes, in my work, thoughtful inclusion is not just good, it’s necessary. We need it to build strong communities in solidarity with each other.

CDA for Dance: Quality and Relationships

tl;dr The vagueness in quality and relationships in the ending section of the piece leaves us with more questions and less clarity. 

Tada! We have made it to the second to last installment in the very long exploration of this Lord of the Dance video. Today, we’re going to look at the final ending of the piece (starting at about 3:32), particularly in terms of quality (the one things I’ve yet to mention) and a return to relationships. You can read earlier installments here.


Quality is a form of dynamics, like rhythm, but, instead of speed, it acknowledges the different ways or styles a movement can happen, regardless of speed. If you are a performer of some sort, it is likely that you have encountered Laban’s effort actions. These actions are a combination of qualities and how they interact with each other. So, a quick round up of these qualities that we are going to look at:

Time: Sustained or Sudden

Weight: Light or Strong

Space: Direct or Flexible (a movement does not take the most direct path from point A to point B)

Flow: Bound or Free (I find it helpful to think about control here. Bound flow is much easier to control and stop, free flow just keeps going and going and going)

I am not going to list all the effort actions, but I will refer to them while writing this, so I highly recommend opening up the list here and keeping it for handy reference if you get lost in my flicks, dabs, and punches.

So, what are we seeing in this final end section? Mostly, I see a lack of clarity when it comes to qualities. Nothing is quite exact. For example, as the dancers roll up, it feels like it could be a punch (sudden, strong, direct), but it never quite gets there. Same with the head turn. We see quality through contrast, so this means there is not enough contrast in the quality of individual movements for us to see distinct qualities.

It’s interesting that the one very clear quality hear is the hair flick which is most definitely a flick (sudden, light, flexible). This demonstrates the functional side of these qualities. In order to actually do that thing with hair, the dancer has to use those specific efforts. There’s a practical underpinning to these effort actions.

The other thing to note is that sustained movement does tend to be a little clearer than sudden movement. As an Irish dancer myself, I know how much sudden movement we do, so this came as a surprise. I wonder if this is because so much of Irish has a baseline of slightly-sudden so the sustained contrasts better than super-sudden. It’s also possible that this relates to body – most of the sustained movement is in the upper body as opposed to the lower body.

While I can’t come to any conclusions around this, some theories include: 1) It takes strength and control to be sudden that these dancers just haven’t trained in their bodies yet. 2) The actual training for how to use lower body and upper body differed significantly for these dancers.

The possibilities for more theories here are endless.

Relationships, part 2

In my last discussion of relationships, I talked about how the main relationship was between the soloist and the other dancers. I also discussed how the dancers are acting like soloists in a group, as opposed to members of a group dance [LINK:CDA 6]. Here, at the end, the relationships are a little more complex – the group splits into two and even faces each other. This brings the group in relationship to each other as well as in relationship with the soloist.

And yet, there is still no eye contact or way of denoting relationship. The only thing that delineates this relationship is space – the directions people are facing and going, and their formations. In the end, the dancers come together in a familiar line with the soloist in front.

It’s interesting that in the final frame of the end, none of the dancers are in the same pose. Unfortunately, the video never pulls out to show us the whole group relationship, which ends up leaving us with questions – why are the dancers facing different directions? Is this formation in relationship to each other or to others who are just not in screen? The only thing I can clearly gather from this ending is the soloist still holds a dominant relationship – her arms are lifted, while the other dancers’ arms are on their hips.


This last section of the piece opens up space for a lot of questions – how conscious are the dancers’ choices in qualities? What led to these specific qualities? What is the final relationship between dancers at the end?

The only thing we see is the growth in complexity in relationships grows in complexity throughout the piece. This compliments the piece’s overall growth in intensity.

And that’s it, we’ve gone through the whole piece and analyzed it through a CDA lense uses choreology as  a framework. There will be one more quick installment in this series (eventually) which will just look at other videos of the same piece. Mostly just for fun. Because they are ridiculous. Promise.

Readings from March onwards

Things are going slower here, but I’ve still done loads of reading. Here’s some of the great things I’ve read, starting all the way back in March! We’ve got reminders from Black History Month and Trans Day of Visibility, and discussions around transness and trans community.


Black History Now: Vilissa Thompson—Activist, Writer, Licensed Social Worker And Disability-Rights Advocate


“Thompson’s extensive background in this area led her to establish Ramp Your Voice in 2013. She is both the founder and the CEO of the organization, where she combines her work in disability rights, background in social work and perspective as a Black woman who has a disability to address the unique obstacles that people with disabilities face—particularly if they are Black.”


Open Topic: Black History Month Is for White People


“Black History Month has a problem. The problem is the assumption that Black History Month is for black people. Exclusively. It is effectively Blacks’ History Month: a consolation prize of 28 days shoehorning in All Things Black that we should feel lucky to have. The problem of Black History Month is one of ghettoizing black history — not just on the calendar, but in the mind. It is the problem of seeing blackness and black people as specific — therefore niche — instead of seeing that same specific as universal. As in complex. Rich. Worthy. Human.”


When shame comes from the inner-sanctum: Biphobia within the queer community


“It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realised that I could feel shame around my sexuality. In a sort of heartbreaking irony, shame was instilled by those who I thought were ‘my people’ and the humans I so wanted to build relationships with.”


Social Justice Activists Can’t Always Fight for Everything, and That’s Okay


“The work of creating a better world is messy and complicated. I know I have fucked up before, judged people too harshly, and held such high standards that I’ve disappointed myself for years. But all the activists I’ve ever admired have had their own similar journeys of failures and mistakes they made and grew from. And as much as I have weathered the storm of the past years, I think I have forgotten something important in fighting for a better world for everyone: I am a person as well, and that means I deserve to be fought for as well.”


Stonewall Vet Miss Major Says Cops Should Be Banned from Pride


“The police have been monsters,” says the Stonewall-era activist, in a new public service announcement posted to Twitter. “They’re all worthless, unimaginable, horrible people and destructive to mankind in general, especially to my trans and gender nonconforming community. I don’t know who invited those motherfuckers to be in the Pride parade, they are the most detrimental thing to ever happen.”


Sylvia Rivera Changed Queer and Trans Activism Forever


“When Rivera threw that second Molotov cocktail at Stonewall, she was only 17. She was no stranger to demonstrations at that time, having also protested against Vietnam, for women’s rights and civil rights. But Stonewall incited a fervor in Rivera to keep going, to keep fighting for voices marginalized within the gay rights space. She became involved with the Gay Liberation Front, or GLF, and the Gay Activists’ Alliance, GAA, and challenged the way the predominantly white gay and lesbian community approached activism from a middle class perspective. Rivera wanted their activism to be more progressive, to include in their fight the rights of transgender individuals, including people of color, the homeless, and the incarcerated. But she challenged multiple communities through her activism, also working with Puerto Rican activist organization the Young Lords, hoping the Puerto Rican and Latinx communities would acknowledge the reality of gay and transgender people, says Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the departments of American Culture, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Women’s Studies.”


Every Trans Girl I Meet Is From the Future: Finding a Bereft Sisterhood


“But I know sisterhood is alive and well. I have trans gals in my life with whom I love and struggle, with whom I have grown breasts and discovered the impossibility of unrelentingly heterosexual men’s affection. Nicky, a friend and roommate from college, pops adorably teal estrogen tabs with me over cereal. Nicky beat my face with iridescent powders and glossy balms when my unlearned hands could not; Nicky curled her doll-sized body around my hefty form when boys would not; Nicky pulled up a YouTube vlogger displaying the fleshy transformation of her nether region when my curious, hesitant fingers could not.”


On Visibility and My Choice To Live As An Out Trans Woman


“All too often, the vitriol spewed by the transphobic bigots focuses on dehumanizing us. When you can get people to see us as less than human, it’s much easier to fear us, to exclude us, to do violence against us, to hate us. When we’re nameless and faceless, it’s much easier to turn us into scary bathroom-peeping monsters instead of just nice folks who occasionally need to go pee someplace other than our homes. Othering people is easy when those people only exist as a concept. When trans people choose to live visibly, even just to those in our close circles, suddenly there’s a living, breathing person being attached to those discussions, a very human target all that hate is directed at. And, despite all the shitty subconscious biases people hold, most are pretty unwilling to tolerate hateful attacks on people they care about.”


Another way to transition: Holistic pathways to gender affirmation


“My body and I have had some ups and downs but following a holistic pathway to transition through physical training, personal development, and facing some of the really uncomfortable and tough stuff that I grew up experiencing in an ultra-conservative, majority white regional town has given me an opportunity to learn about myself, and trust myself.”


Visibility is a trap


“For that reason, I want better ways to talk about community goals than “visibility.” I want better ways of identifying what we’re up against than “invisibility.” It’s not that people simply don’t know. It’s not a set of issues that’s purely informational. Our ideological opponents are not something that can be defeated by simply putting the word out there. We cannot Horton-Hears-A-Who our way out of this. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. No amount of “We are here! We are here! We are here!” will stop people from responding, “I know, and I despise you for it.””


Trans Day of Visibility 2019 (many months late)

I did write this to be published a week after TDoV and then became very very busy and never did. Anyways, here it is now!


Tl;dr Being a trans dancer is exhausting and it makes visibility very difficult too. 


I didn’t write something for Trans Day of Visibility this year because I’m tired.


I’m super super tired.


I feel like this is a regular theme in my life and my blogging and everything I do, but the type of exhaustion is constantly changing.


And right now, that exhaustion is the kind that more or less translates into, “I don’t have time to be trans.”


Which gets to be very frustrating when you’re a trans artist writing a blog about being trans and making art about being trans.


It’s not that I am not trans, it’s more that being openly trans takes energy I don’t have and so I end up avoiding trans things because I just can’t deal with that particular part of my life right now.


It frustrates me to no end because most of what it means is that I’m not even giving myself the chance to connect with other trans people. I’ve been living in Boston for about a year and a half now and I have not met or been part of a trans community. And now, I’m so exhausted and drained, I’m isolating myself and don’t even have the chance to connect in with other trans folks and even try.


I’ve talked a lot about the loneliness and isolation of being a trans dancer, but I also want to talk about the exhaustion. Being one of few, being isolated in your own community, also means constant exhaustion.


I set out to try to be visible because trans people like me are not usually visible. We don’t usually get representation. We are often told we are privileged, so we need representation less. That’s true, but only to a certain extent.


I also wanted to be visible because I believed it would be a way to build trans community in dance. Even if other trans dancers were isolated, they could see me, we could connect, and we could start to build the community network I need (and I think others need it too?)


But instead, what’s happening is that there are a bunch of trans dancers, but we’re all so isolated, so all we can do is just keep chugging on at our own thing without having time to connect or support each other. We have so little energy, it all has to go into making the work we want to make because even that is hard. I see them, but I don’t connect with them.


I’m so angry and frustrated about this.


I’m angry about seeing so many queer arts things being built and curated by cis people.


I’m angry about how frustratingly humiliating it is to say “I’m the only one” when I know there are other people out there, just out of reach, that I can’t quite connect with. How that lack of connection feels like my fault and I still can’t do that.


I hate how I put so much effort into telling other people I’m trans that I stop feeling trans, I just become some empty gender vessel completely disconnected from queerness, transness, my own fucking identity.


I hate how, when I do interact with trans dancers, I have to push back on everything – there’s never an aroace trans dancer, never a FAAB femme nonbinary dancer, never an Irish dancer, never anyone who fully feels or experiences the complexities of what I have to manage on a daily basis. So, when I have finally found a trans dancer I want to connect with, it’s still so far from the community network I need. I still end up having to defend and justify my work instead of celebrate that I have found other trans dancers.


I hate how, even when there are other trans dancers, I still feel alone, disconnected, and isolated.


And the worst thing is that I can’t see a way out of this. Yet.


I am watching myself and trans artists all around me struggle and I want to build a new system, but I don’t even know where to start. We can’t build new systems without connection and that’s what I’m not finding.


I don’t know.


It’s another wake up call. I have to go back to the drawing board. I have to rework my plan. I have to start prioritizing that connection I need no matter what.


Because, if nothing else, I know I’m going to do it eventually and I’m going to figure it out.


But, in the meantime, I might miss days like TDoV because of exhaustion.

Imagining the Future

Tl;dr imagination and fantasy is how we can build the future communities we want. Even if we don’t realize the dream, it gives us a blueprint for how to create what we want to create.


I’m back!!! I’ve been away for a month or so because life has been extremely busy and keeping up a blog on top of everything else was just a little too much. I do miss it, though, so I’m trying to rework a new way to do this that takes less out of. Probably less posting, but I’m not going away (for better or for worse, wheee).


I recently had a very uncomfortable conversation with a friend that, honestly, I’m still processing. This person is a queer person, but not part of my queer artistic communities, and so their focus was on the practicalities of survival. My focus is on how I can build the community I want to be in. Those things are at odds.


It took me time to realize that I had just assumed everyone understood how much of the work I do is based on imagination.


That’s a conscious decision.


Here’s the thing – society sucks. Amatonormativity, cisnormativity and cissexism, heteronormativity, racism, islamophobia, adultism (that one’s been annoying me a lot recently since I’ve been spending more time with kids), ableism…all of it. We’re not going to fix it any time soon.


That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying to survive in these systems.


It doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to imagine better futures for ourselves and build those futures.


I spend my life around allo cis people. I am constantly watching every word out of my mouth and every action because the consequences of me saying or doing the wrong thing won’t hurt me, they will hurt other aroace and trans people. That’s harm I refuse to have on my hands.


But, because I look cis, because my transness can be ignored and feels safer to cis people, my words and actions can start to do some good. I can infiltrate and challenge cis space.


But that’s really fucking tiring.


And honestly, is the scraps of a society that doesn’t want to embrace us really enough?


I want to point you towards Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson and the Street Tranvestite Action Revolutionaries. I want to point you towards ballroom culture, of the house mothers taking in people who were rejected by society. I want to point you towards the Tenderloin District in San Francisco.


These are all examples of trans women of color, disenfranchised, rejected by society, dreaming up a better world for themselves and making it.


And yes, it’s not perfect, but it’s better, because they dreamed.


Because they didn’t settle for just making white cis society treat them nicely. They went, “we want more than that and we are going to fucking make it for ourselves if we have to.”


I don’t want to act like this is a perfect thing. It’s not. It shouldn’t be the job of the oppressed to do all of the work to keep each other alive while the privileged get to sit in their summer mansions. But, it speaks to the power of dreaming. It speaks to the power of dignity and integrity and community.


And, I am not a trans woman of color. I am white. I am middle class. I have privilege. There is no reason for me not to dream up a better world for myself and my community.


As I build queer dance space, I’m not doing it to survive. I’m not doing it to be practical. I’m doing it because it’s something I need, and, if I need it, it means someone else probably does too. I am talking to all the trans dancers I can, because we all need it and we need it to welcome all of us.


I am dreaming big. Maybe my dreams aren’t realistic. But I am putting in the work to make my dream happen.


And dreams are everything. I refuse to settle for whatever scraps cis people decide to allow me because I’m nice. Just because I might not make my dream come through doesn’t mean I shouldn’t dream, because that is the dream that will push me to do the work that I want to do and make the world I want to make.

Construction Zone: The old context

tl;dr The dance school I went to two years ago was pretty bad, but I am bringing back the incredible installation I made there, something which was almost worth the awfulness. I do need your support in whatever way you can, if you are able. You can learn more about the project and donate here.

Jane 4
[image is a small paper sign taped to a wall which reads: “I want to make people uncomfortable because it is easier to trust someone that’s willing to be uncomfortable.
This time two years ago, I was about to submit a formal complaint against my school for allowing a TERF to speak unchecked in a class in which there wasn’t a single staff member from the school present. I had already had a sit-down meeting with the people who had invited the TERF to come speak, heard a lot of bullshit about valuing different opinions, and had been told an apology would be made to the class. Some weeks later, I received an email informing me that the same people who had told me they would apologize had decided that it wasn’t necessary. End of Story.


I nearly dropped out after our Christmas break.


Instead I came back, dropped the class, and submitted my complaint. It was HELL. Let me tell you, not only did no one know or understand the complaint process, everyone actively attempted to convince me to have another sit-down conversation. I finally did relent and request a sit-down conversation with the same people and they refused. I felt a little vindicated, but the fact remained that information regarding what I needed to submit, when, and how, literally changed by the day.


It was obviously apparent that no one had ever submitted a complaint like this before and no one was quite able to admit it to me.


It was also obvious (including emails that literally documented and dated it), that the people I was talking to were lying to me, manipulating information, and actively avoiding transparency. I only found out halfway through the process that the original TERF speaker had, in fact, been contacted and had written a letter in response. When I asked to see both letters (to her and from her), I was granted a single paragraph from her letter, retyped.


In April, I received the response of my complaint – while everyone’s behavior while I was submitting the complaint was wrong and led to nominal attempts to revise the formal complaint procedure, they decided that the TERF’s language (ie. saying, “trans women aren’t women, they’re something else” and then going on to quote Germaine Greer, yuck) was not discrimination or harmful in any way, and was completely fine.


I asked if a trans person had reviewed the complaint. The answer was no.


I resubmitted the complaint on the grounds that it was not complete until a trans person had reviewed it or provided consultation.


In May, I was told that the complaint process had been managed perfectly without trans people that weren’t me. If I wanted to push the matter further, I would have to go to the citywide review board.


I chose to drop the complaint. By that point, I didn’t trust any review board to actually talk to trans people and I was submerged in work for my classes. I had an installation to put on, choreography to make, choreography to learn, and no time to continue pushing against cis people.


But I still live the results of that complaint every single day.


Now, I refuse to have Important Conversations off email unless I am recording it. I know it’s scary and invasive to be recorded and I know some people communicate better in person than in email, but I had also learned that trusting people to stay good on their word wasn’t enough. I become incredible anxious without that accountability. Without it, I am distrusting, nervous, and I definitely won’t speak my mind. This has major consequences in how I communicate and self-advocate (or don’t), and impacts my ability to be part of a work environment, because so many work and office conversations do happen in-person without recording.


Even now, I am scared to write something this detailed and incriminating about this complaint, even though I have never been told to keep this information confidential (and honestly, I think people should fucking know this school lets TERFs loose in their classes and then defends them). I’m writing this now because it’s now been two years (thank everything ever) and because I’m diving back into that world.


That’s right. I’m taking something out of my time at that school.


One of the results of my experience with this complaint was an installation. The installation itself wasn’t about TERFs, it was about the (im)possibility of nonbinary performance, but my anger at the school fueled me to be brave in a way that I would not have if my time there had gone smoothly. I demanded space and respect in that installation in a way that still astounds me – it was ungraceful, it was blunt, and it was blatant reclamation of my humanity. I am so proud of myself for doing it. And, facing out of the glass-walled room was a series of statements – things that had been said to silence me during the complaints process, generalized and anonymized enough to avoid incrimination.


Halfway through the installation, I noticed one of the people who had provided me with many of those words, settle themself outside of the room where they could read their own words back at them. It was fittingly symbolic – they only saw the outside of the problem instead of experiencing the world I had built. It’s easy to defend a TERF when you’re on the other side of a glass wall and think the side you see is objectivity.


This time, the installation will be a little bit different. I am thinking more about the who – who is involved, why are they involved, how can use my very tiny platform to make the biggest impact?


I have a grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts to do this and I am so grateful to see a foundation put money towards nonbinary art.


But, the inevitable, I do still need money to make the installation happen. I have launched an Indiegogo Campaign. If you have a few spare moneys, please pass them my way. And, if you don’t, please share this around so we can built a stronger community.


And, if you’re in the Boston area, mark your calendar for the afternoon of June 15th. I am so excited to be bringing this back in a more thoughtful (ungraded) way and I want all of you there!

Where is the cis objectivity?

Tl;dr Cis people are really scared of me calling them transphobic and have adopted a number of defense mechanisms that I now have to manage. My work is actually designed to make them uncomfortable and I’m going to keep doing that and will hopefully find support systems that are comfortable with that discomfort.


One of the things a supervisor once send to me when I told her she was being transphobic (fact: she was being transphobic) was that I needed to look at the art project I was working on more “objectively”.


I had a lot of trouble not screaming in rage when she said that.


I was creating art about my personal experiences. I was creating art. How does one go about being objective about that?


I bit my tongue, nodded, and complained about her and her transphobia to my friends and then went off and made the purely subjective art I wanted to make anyways and it was good.


Of course, it’s pretty obvious to see that what she was saying was the same tone policing cis people try on trans people all the time: “People won’t listen to you if you get emotional and angry, how dare you have feelings” /end sarcasm.


But, since trying to sell my art, through grants, and applications, and conversations, all going through multiple cis people, I’m learning that it goes a lot deeper than that.


Most of the time, I am actually the objective one. There are lots of practical considerations in my work – I use props, I have noisy shoes, I’m doing a particular style of dance that doesn’t always fit with the environment or atmosphere of a show, I have odd music choices (Finnish pop, anyone?), I say “fuck” a lot, unless I know I’m going to be in space full of children…


I know this. I also know I’m a young choreographer with a limited skillset still learning how to do things. I know I don’t always have the experience.


It’s the cis person on the other side of the table who is being subjective, because so many people are panicked that the minute they don’t let me do what I want, I’ll scream transphobia.


I see the small things – the way people tiptoe around talking about my work (the way people are scared to say the word trans, the number of times cis people assure me they are allies before giving me feedback, the number of times someone says “oh, we are so supportive and really believe in what you’re doing” while rejecting me…


So, I just have to ask cis people – do you really think I’m so sensitive that any word you say could cause me to start screaming subjectively at you? Have you seen the world I live in? If I went screaming off the hook at every legitimately transphobic thing out there (ignoring the things that are simply disappointing or frustrating), do you think I would have time to even be talking to you about my art?


You are doing me a disservice. I make art. I make good art. That’s me thinking objectively about my work. And you are reducing me to the Scary Trans Person because you are scared.


It’s easier to say I’m being too subjective than to admit that my work makes you uncomfortable.


Fun fact: My work is consciously designed to make cis people uncomfortable. If you don’t like it, maybe you’re being too emotional and should look more objectively at how my art is fulfilling its purpose.


The real problem here is that everyone’s being so sensitive and panicky around me, so I have to be careful and manage that. I can’t point out where the actual transphobia is, even calmly, because then it proves that I’m sensitive and that everyone was right to be so hypervigilently protecting my feelings. Ouf.


This is what I’d like to say to that supervisor now:


“I am (eh…was) being objective, because I have learned that you, my cis audience, and every other cis person I interact with will not actually pay attention to my value and the value of my work if I am not. I am so objective, I might even beat Spock* in terms of logic. I walk an obstacle course of tone policing and respectability politics every day and, somehow or other, I survive it. That should tell you something about me.

If you want to tell me to be objective, that means you have to be more objective too. You have to recognize that you are inherently transphobic. You have to recognize that you are part of a system. You have to take responsibility and apologize when a trans person is hurt.

Your discomfort is not my problem and I am not going to make different art that you deem ‘objective’ because you’re uncomfortable.”


I guess I’m just going to keep making art and hope that I am able to build the right support systems around me – the ones that aren’t scared of my emotions and the ones who are prepared to deal with the hard stuff. That’s what I want, at the end of the day.



*I am well that Spock is actually rather poor at logic and very emotional and maybe not the best example to people that actually watch ToS, but it is in example the general population will consider and understand.


some February readings

February is such a funny short month – Black History Month, Valentines Day, Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, all rolled up into the shortest month of the year. Still, some reading happened and some reflecting happened and here’s a bit of what I’ve been thinking about.


Reparations for Black People Should Include Rest


“Just as sleep deprivation was used as a means to control slaves, the modern-day sleep gap continues to weigh down many Black people, like me, today. I can feel it in me: It breaks my spirit, as I exist in between half-conscious states; never fully awake or asleep, never able to distinguish between the two. This may be the true power of racism—its force encompasses everything, seeping into our dreams at night and deflating our capacity to envision a better future. How can the radical Black imagination rebel against a system that so thoroughly seeks to destroy us? What would a future look like where we are liberated, reparations are paid, and we can finally rest?”


You Don’t Need to Forgive Anyone to Live Your Best Life


“American culture loves the idea of forgiveness. Adores it. If I’ve learned one thing about being Black in this culture, it’s that you need to be suspect of anything white amerikkka loves because if white amerikkka loves it, it’s probably exploiting and killing Black people.”


Relationship hierarchies: Defending queer friendships, community and being single


“My understanding of queerness has less to do with ‘relationship status,’ and more to do with creating communities that value friendship and social movements to end oppression. I struggle with belonging to the hierarchy in queer circles that values romance over all else.”


Happy Valentine’s Day, me: How being single became central to my queerness


“I could make sense of flying witches but seeing someone actively deny love – something we’re told to follow, trust, and give absolute devotion to – and live a liberated, whole, content and happy life was an extremely foreign and thrilling idea.”


What Disability Leaders Want To See From 2020 Candidates


“Every issue is a disability issue. Disability and disabled people should be front and center in every aspect of modern political campaigns. In 2016, we saw new highs and lows in terms of what’s possible. Democrats competing in a crowded field would be wise to engage people with disability as an uncommitted, yet increasingly politically active, community.”