CDA for Dance: Space, Relationships, Rhythm

tl;dr Many of the choices around space, relationships, and (movement) rhythm in the moment when the dancers remove their clothes speaks to the changes that happen when staging solo Irish step dance in groups.

And we’re back to the longterm project of analyzing this video (you can catch up on the series here). As we’ve headed into the structural model, I’m choosing to look at specific moments in more detail, as opposed to the entire piece as a whole. For this particular instance, we’re going to look at the dramatic ripping off of clothing that happens at 2:25 through that first step the dancers do in their new costumes. We’ll mostly be analyzing space, relationships, and dynamics, but keep in mind that all of these aspects of the structural model are an interconnected web – as soon as we look at one, we end up looking at all of them in some way. Additionally, remember that we are analyzing what we see, not what the dancers do. This is really important. We know what the dancers are doing, more or less, especially those that are Irish dancers, – but what is it that about what we see that creates the specific effect of the piece?

Ouf.

Space

So, we already talked about space when discussing the strands of the dance medium. That was about how the space a dancer is in impacts the dance and piece of work in its entirety. Space in the structural model looks at how movement exists in space and how we can discuss the spacial aspects of movements.

One way to look at space is the use of kinesphere, the space that a body can comfortably occupy with movement. Imagine everyone in their own little bubble (like those blow up sphere things you can sit inside). One possibility is that none of these bubbles ever touch each other. Another possibility is that they overlap and everyone is moving on top of or around each other. Another possibility is that they get very close to each other, so they squeeze and shrink down but, as the person inside adapts to that particular size, so while their kinesphere is technically larger, they are not inside each other’s bubbles because everyone is using less space.
That is what we’re looking at here – everyone is within their own personal space, not touching or overlapping with each other, even while tightly packed together.  They are not using their full kinesphere. This is an Irish dance aesthetic that can be in seen in Riverdance and many post-Riverdance Irish dance shows – a whole of dancers dancing in unison, each one in their own space is quite impressive.

In fact, the only person here who is using their whole kinesphere is the soloist, as she moves her arms, reaching up and pushing out against the edges of her bubble. Instead of accepting her role as a “chorus” dancer, shrinking her space to share evenly with everyone else, she reaches to the ends of her kinesphere, taking up all the space available to her, making it impossible for someone else to enter her bubble, and creating the illusion that the only thing keeping her from taking up more space is the limits of her kinesphere or the length of her arms and legs. This is part of how we know she’s the soloist.

However, it is interesting to note that all dancers start taking up more space once their clothes are ripped off and we’re firmly in the second part of the piece. This is most noticeable in the hair. When hair is down, it takes up more space, so the dancers take up more space simply by changing their hair. They also don’t limit their use of space as much as before when they take of the clothes. A more subtle change is how they put their hands on their hips. In the earlier section, dancers had taken the straightest, most direct path to do this. Here, they walk forward, swinging their arms (shock! blasphemy!) and then circle their arms in front of them before landing on their hips. This small stylistic detail takes up more space.

So, even while the soloist maintains the maximum amount of space, all of the dancers in the piece start claiming and using more space as the piece grows. This goes with the excitement building – more space is more exciting. As the music gets faster, and we move into edgy, sexy territory, the larger use of space helps project that growing energy out farther. Dance is a visual art form and, considering how Lord of the Dance is often performed in giant stadiums, the bigger something is, the farther it reaches. It has to be seen.

Relationships

As we kind of alluded to already, the biggest relationship here is between the soloist and the other dancers. They are mostly dancing in unison in this section, but the use of space distinguishes the soloist. Additionally, she is always slightly in front of the rest of the group.

In studying relationships, we consider two scales: affiliative (friendly) — hostile, and dominant — submissive. Here, the soloist is in the dominant position, as she takes up more space and stands in front of (leads) the group. The one other way we can see this relationship is focus (what people do with their eyes) – the dancers do look at the soloist, but she never looks back at them. This emphasizes her power and leadership in the role – she doesn’t need the dancers, but the dancers are following her lead. She holds the power.

However, many of the ways relationships, such as touch and giving or taking weight, are not visible here. While we could potentially note proximity between the dancers, the most distinguishable feature is that the distance between dancers barely changes. Without change, we cannot actually see the relationship. The lack of relationship establishes the sense that we are watching a bunch of solo dancers dancing together, with one who happens to be slightly more dominant. I feel like this speaks to the history of Irish step dancing, and particularly jig steps like these, as being solo dances. If this was an Irish dance style traditionally danced as a group, we would definitely see touch, as well as changes in proximity, the use of eye contact, and even some weight sharing. Here, the solo aspects of the dance style isolates each dancer in their own bubble, even while they dance together in unison.

Dynamics: Rhythm

And finally, we get to dynamics, particularly rhythm. For the record, this is really fucking confusing. There is no way around it. As a musician and percussive dancer, I have trouble accepting this as rhythm, but I do accept that we’ve got to call it something and Rudolf Laban used the term “rhythm”. It feels imperfect, but fine enough.

Rhythm is not about musical rhythm or the sound of the feet. Rhythm, here, is specifically about the speed of a movement in relation to itself and the other movements in a sequence. There are different rhythms, such as an impulse, which starts fast and gets slower. Regardless of starting speed or sound made, any movement that starts fast and gets slower is an impulse. Read some more about rhythm here.

The effect of different rhythms is usually considered visually – how does an impulse (starting fast and getting slower) look in comparison to an impact (starting slow and getting faster)? Where are our natural rhythms? What does it mean to change the natural (organic) rhythms of a movement?

However, there is another layer when we look at a percussive dance form, because different movement rhythms create different sounds. Functionally, I have found the cleanest sound happens if the moment my foot hits the floor is faster, so we tend to use impacts to strike the floor. In order to make a clear sound with an impulse or a swing (fastest in the middle of a motion, due to gravity), I have to lift my foot off the floor because the floor stops the motion before it’s done. This creates a very particular sound. (Nic Garreiss is a master of impulses and swings in foot percussion, if you want to give him a look and a listen, note how he gets around the difficulty of the floor getting in the way by sliding his foot on the floor, so you can hear the impulses).

A shuffle is a good example of this – when we learn a shuffle, as in the instructional video, we learn it as two swings in order to strike the floor twice. However, as we speed up, striking the floor becomes a result of the rhythm and it becomes a single rebound (fastest in the middle of a motion, due to tension) because that’s how we can bring the foot back in.

Take away: in percussive dance, movement rhythm is about both the visual and audible effect.

In the video, we see a change from a continuous movement (like the dancers going around in a circle without really changing speed) into a more accented rhythm, mostly made of impulses in the upper body. The impulses start as the dancers throw away clothes and take out their hair. These are the organic ways we do these actions (impulses tend to move away from our center).

It is interesting to note, however, that the dancers are more in unison with impacts than impulses. The disrobing and the swinging arms as they march forward are all slightly off, but the impact as their hands land on their hips is exactly at the same time. I want to argue from watching this that training functional noise-making rhythm patterns of mostly impacts means that the dancers are cleaner and more comfortable with impacts, even in their upper body. Impulses are harder for them to control and execute because the entire concept and feel of an impulse is less part of Irish dance training.

We do, however, see one very clear, unison impulse and that is the big jump they do in the step they perform after they march forward. Here, the impulse is functional. Trying jumping and getting faster as you go up. Do it. I dare you.

Yup, it’s impossible.

It’s a really interesting choreographic moment because it creates a space that hasn’t existed in the piece before. Before, most of the jumps held the intention of landing to make noise, so the impact or rebound from hitting the floor was more pronounced than the impulse going up. This upwards impulse breaks the audible and visual rhythm of the steps, and is something completely new in the choreography. Even if we hadn’t just watched the dancers take off their clothes and heard the music change, we’d know something different was happening because we have this sudden breath in the choreography with all of the dancers very clearly in the air.

Conclusion

Most of what we see here is the result of what happens when we stage Irish step dance and how Irish step training  impacts the movement in a piece. It’s putting a solo dance form onto a stage in a big group and so it has particular tendencies in how space is used, relationship are (or are not) built, and what movement rhythms we see. That said, there are some very clear choreographic choices here in terms of who does what, who holds the power and leadership within the dance, and where the visual effect of movement changes. Lots to think about. Ouf.

 

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Chill, it’s not actually about YOU

Tl;dr People get angry and defensive when they see my existence as a personal attack on their existence. However, that is not the case. Issues of oppression are not personal but systemic.

 

I kind of want to start with a John Mulaney, “well, it looks like everybody’s getting super mad about everything!” (go on, read it in his voice, then we can start the actual post).

 

That’s not exactly it, but it is close – the simple statement of my identity makes people defensive. My transness threatens cis people, my nonbinaryness threatens binary trans people, my aroaceness threatens all sorts of allos, including asexual and aromantic allos. And then, once people feel threatened, they get defensive, and it becomes a problem.

 

Make no mistake, it is all the same problem. The process that allows for a seventeen year old to scream about asexuals using the “q slur” is the same one that allowed a trans woman to brand an entire group as “unwelcoming” because I had asked her not to misgender me.

 

But the bigger, overarching element of this process is fear. There is fear that me, simply existing, is, in some way, asking other people to exist differently. But change is scary, hegemony is real, and people like their power, so they dig in their heels and pull back as far as they can.

 

“I’ve worked with people like you before.”

“Yeah, you’re queer because you’re trans.”

“But you’re not actually trans, trans people do things with their bodies.”

“But you can’t just desexualize trans people, that’s what society wants”

 

And so on and so forth. There is logic behind some of these panics. For example, that last quote (which I have heard a lot in various ways), comes from the very legitimate problem that queer sexuality, especially trans sexuality, is controlled and suppressed by straight cis allo people.

 

The problem is when it becomes personal – they see an asexual trans person trying to create space for themself and panic. The logic tends to go 1) Oh look, an asexual trans person being vocal about needing acespec friendly trans spaces 2) Wait, they’re talking about how sex makes them uncomfortable 3) Loads of cis people have told me my sex is weird and uncomfortable, so I don’t really like being told sex makes anyone uncomfortable. 4) This person clearly wants no sex talk ever in a trans space, that’s desexualizing trans people and they are terrible.

 

Of course, the logic starts jumping around – one acespec trans person asking for space that doesn’t include discussions of sex doesn’t actually mean all trans spaces ever need to stop all sex conversations ever. But, it becomes a panic because there is so much control of trans sex that everything becomes personal.

 

I have sympathy for that. It’s still harmful, I don’t like it, but I can be sympathetic. I understand the panic.

 

I have no sympathy for the straight, cis, allo people whose panic is more along the lines of “you’re talking about something that doesn’t take me into account and I don’t like it.”

 

The thing is, on both sides of the scenario, none of this is actually personal. The panic comes when my existence (and subsequent needs, as in an acespec-friendly trans space) becomes personal, when people start to see my existence as a personal attack on their existence.

 

So, here’s my reminder to chill.

 

My existence is not actually about you. It’s just an objective fact – I exist. Whoa. So exciting.

 

And when I am vocal about my existence, it is not personal, it is systemic. The various systems that exist in society, particularly certain intersectional oppressive systems, have a habit of making my existence difficult, or suggesting I don’t exist.

 

If something operates on the logic that I don’t exist then, yes, my existence is a bit of a threat. But I am threatening a system not a person.

 

If you are completely dependent on and entrenched in the system, yeah, you might get a bit worried when I disrupt the system, but, at the end of the day, it’s not about you. You are one, small, individual part of a much larger system. You can keep existing as is, no matter who I am, because we are two, separate, individuals.

 

So, the next time my identity causes you to panic, let’s reframe the panic.

 

My existence isn’t threatening you personally, it’s threatening a system that’s trying to hurt me. And, you know what? This is probably a wake-up call that you are part of a system that is also controlling and harming you. So, you don’t have to change who you are, but I wouldn’t mind an ally, if you’re able to join me, and I promise to ally myself with you as much as I can.

 

My existence isn’t personal, but our solidarity can be.

 

The loneliness of being the only one

Tl;dr Being trans in dance or any other cis-dominated environment (every environment) is really isolating. It’s hard to a level that cis people don’t really understand. But I’m going to keep chipping away at this so I can build connections with other trans folks.

 

I don’t think cis people really quite understand the intense loneliness that comes from being a trans person in a cis-dominated environment.

 

See, I keep having this conversations with cis people when I try to talk about how lonely and isolated I feel in dance and I usually get told two things:

 

  1. What about xyz cis queer person? Isn’t dance super queer friendly? (cis gay men are a very different kind of queer than trans folks or aroace folks. It’s appreciated, but not analogous).
  2. What about xyz trans person?

 

And I get what they’re trying to do – they’re trying to remind me that I’m not alone, that there are other people out there, that I don’t have to feel isolated. But, what I end up hearing is “but here’s one person to disprove all the emotions you just expressed to me about isolation and loneliness!!!”

 

And I really think it’s just because cis people don’t get it. Every space they enter is full of cis people, so when they see one trans person in a space, it feels like a lot. Two trans people? WHOA! So many!

 

But, the fact is, I am lonely and isolated and reminding me of one or two other trans people that do what I do (but not quite in my world) is more a reminder of how isolated I am.

 

That completely ignores the fact that I’ve burnt out doing this small scale work because, maybe it’s small scale, but I’m doing it alone, without support of trans communities (which have absolutely no clue about the world I’m in).

 

And all of this ignores the way there is no space or opportunity for trans people in dance to connect safely. Earlier this year, I legit had to send a message that went, “So, I’m not sure, but I’m wondering if you’re trans because I am too and would love to talk to you if you are.” It was fucking awkward (the recipient was incredibly gracious). There is one (1) person in my day-to-day dance space who also reads as trans to me (as far as I can tell, of course you never know), but I am so awkward and I know most people, trans people included, read me as cis, so I don’t even know how to open that conversation. I don’t even know if that person wants to be interacting with other trans people and is interested in the kind of work I do, because, fuck, it’s hard enough being trans, maybe we all just want to keep our heads down and get on with our dancing already.

 

So, even when I’m not necessarily alone, I feel even more alone because there’s no access point or pathway of communication between us.

 

That’s even more isolating than having no one.

 

When you are the only one in a group, it’s not just tokenism. It’s a kind of hollowness and uselessness. I start to feel like I am both the only one who can do the work (wrong and dangerous) and like the last thing I want to do is having anything to do with it. It’s the constant ache of never being quite part of my community.

 

It sucks.

 

And no one single person or change is going to make it better.

 

But, as we slowly fight isolation to network, connect with each other, and create space that’s our own, we will slowly start to chip at the walls built around us. That is my number one priority, well above making cis people hear and understand. Currently, it’s my lifeline. In the future, it will be the actions and work I am most proud of.

 

The thing is, cis people aren’t part of this conversation. The best thing they can do is acknowledge our loneliness, connect us with each other, and then leave, so we can build the connections we need to build.

 

So, fellow trans dancers – don’t worry. We don’t have to be lonely forever. Slowly, but surely, we will find each other and I know my work and my life will be better off for it, I hope yours will be too.

 

And I get what they’re trying to do – they’re trying to remind me that I’m not alone, that there are other people out there, that I don’t have to feel isolated. But, what I end up hearing is “but here’s one person to disprove all the emotions you just expressed to me about isolation and loneliness!!!”

 

And I really think it’s just because cis people don’t get it. Every space they enter is full of cis people, so when they see one trans person in a space, it feels like a lot. Two trans people? WHOA! So many!

 

But, the fact is, I am lonely and isolated and reminding me of one or two other trans people that do what I do (but not quite in my world) is more a reminder of how isolated I am.

 

I have never been in a dance class with more than three out trans people in it (minus the one class that was specifically for trans dancers in ballet, which was organized by cis folks…). And yes, that includes the queer dance classes I used to take. I have never had the privilege of being in a class with a bunch of people who share my gender experiences. I have never been in a class or dance event where I do not have to manage casual cissexism and transphobia and, as a result, have to manage my gender in order not to disrupt the class, make other students uncomfortable, or challenge the teacher.

 

This includes even the most friendly, welcoming dance spaces I am part of.

 

At the same time, I have never entered a trans space which understands what it means to be a dancer. Especially when I talk with other trans folks about activism, I find I have to defend my work, as if the work I do in dance worlds is on such a small scale that it doesn’t matter.

 

That completely ignores the fact that I’ve burnt out doing this small scale work because, maybe it’s small scale, but I’m doing it alone, without support of trans communities (which have absolutely no clue about the world I’m in).

 

And all of this ignores the way there is no space or opportunity for trans people in dance to connect safely. Earlier this year, I legit had to send a message that went, “So, I’m not sure, but I’m wondering if you’re trans because I am too and would love to talk to you if you are.” It was fucking awkward (the recipient was incredibly gracious). There is one (1) person in my day-to-day dance space who also reads as trans to me (as far as I can tell, of course you never know), but I am so awkward and I know most people, trans people included, read me as cis, so I don’t even know how to open that conversation. I don’t even know if that person wants to be interacting with other trans people and is interested in the kind of work I do, because, fuck, it’s hard enough being trans, maybe we all just want to keep our heads down and get on with our dancing already.

 

So, even when I’m not necessarily alone, I feel even more alone because there’s no access point or pathway of communication between us.

 

That’s even more isolating than having no one.

 

When you are the only one in a group, it’s not just tokenism. It’s a kind of hollowness and uselessness. I start to feel like I am both the only one who can do the work (wrong and dangerous) and like the last thing I want to do is having anything to do with it. It’s the constant ache of never being quite part of my community.

 

It sucks.

 

And no one single person or change is going to make it better.

 

But, as we slowly fight isolation to network, connect with each other, and create space that’s our own, we will slowly start to chip at the walls built around us. That is my number one priority, well above making cis people hear and understand. Currently, it’s my lifeline. In the future, it will be the actions and work I am most proud of.

 

The thing is, cis people aren’t part of this conversation. The best thing they can do is acknowledge our loneliness, connect us with each other, and then leave, so we can build the connections we need to build.

 

So, fellow trans dancers – don’t worry. We don’t have to be lonely forever. Slowly, but surely, we will find each other and I know my work and my life will be better off for it, I hope yours will be too.

On the uncomfortable question of money

Tl;dr I have a donation link now in order to emphasize the importance of recognizing the value of the work I do and to emphasise the importance of funding queer artists.

 

I wrote this a year ago, put up the donation link, and was too nervous to post the actual writing. But, after a year of multiple jobs and struggling to earn enough to make my life vaguely sustainable, I’m forcing myself to publish this. I’m not asking you to donate if that puts any kind of burden or pressure on you (I’m ok, promise.), but I put a lot of work into this blog alone and I believe I owe it to myself to encourage people who can to support my work.

 

In rereading this, I do want to recognize that I’ve strayed from the trans focus of my blog this year and have included many more conversations around aroaceness, but the concepts still remain the same, even if there are some places where I wrote “cis” and now mean “cis and allo”.

 

Yeah, so, this is a hard one to write and it comes from an even harder decision, but please bear with me because this is a really important reminder about our economy and the importance of queer artists.

 

You may notice that my blog now has a donate link. It’s a small one. I’ve been toying with a lot of different options for a long time, and decided I wanted something small that asked for something small, because I’m not ready for anything larger, and it matches what I do. This blog is small, so I ask for something small.

 

When I first started this blog, I was not intending to make money from it, and I still don’t actually expect that that will happen. Freedom of information is important to me and, if I can help it, I do not intend for any of my writing to go behind a paywall. There are many reasons why someone could not pay to read something and none of those should get in the way of reading what I have to say. And, of course, a huge reason I created this blog was to find other trans dancers and people like me, which is something that should not require money. And, to trump all of that, I am under no illusion with this blog (even if I act like it most time) – I am well aware that most people who read it are my friends. I have no intention of asking the amazing people in my life who already give me so much of their love and support to give more.

 

That said, a number of different arguments, both big and small, have come up and led me to believe that a donation link belongs on my blog and that those who are reading and learning regularly from me should consider a small donation to my work. It comes down to a single story:

 

When I worked at a summer camp and was coordinating support for lgbt+ campers, some of my fellow staff members got frustrated with me because I would take myself off of other duties. At the same time, I was so emotionally exhausted from being constantly and visibly out, and then using that to guide cis and straight staff members to helping the campers, that I was not capable of doing much else. In a better situation, I would have been able to clarify that to others and clear it with the head of the camp and then gone and done the work I needed to do, but that particular camp had yet to build the support structures I needed, so I did what I could with what I had.

 

On the last day, after our campers had gone home, it became apparent that staff members that had worked with me to support LGBT+ campers and lead inclusivity by example, had not quite gotten the implications that I was also a trans person. They didn’t realize that they still had to not be transphobic. I then had to manage their transphobia. They got to turn off and relax when the campers went home, I was still doing the same work I had been doing for weeks, amidst a growing level of casual transphobia, because my cis coworkers had decided to stop doing the work they had been doing to protect trans campers. Apparently, I wasn’t worth that work.

 

The point of this story is not to whine (ok, it is), but to point out that the conversations I have and the advocacy work I do is hard, unrecognized, and, as a result, unpaid or underpaid. I put a lot of work into this blog. I put a lot of work into educating cis people outside of this blog as well. It is a lot of emotional labor. It takes time and energy, and then even more time, to restore my energy. It is easy to look at the final output of something and not understand what went in and I get that, so it’s up to me to value my own time and energy.

 

That donation link is recognition of the work I put into this blog.

 

These past few months being out of school have been hard. I worked for a transphobic boss who often forgot to pay me, I have been patching together various part-time jobs, I finally got a job I wanted, only to be informed that the organization had not quite pieced together all the details and that I would have to wait two weeks to even know my start date. Even with my more reliable (if patchwork) jobs, the money I make is just barely enough to cover rent and living expenses. I can get away with this, because I have savings, but it has meant that blogging is less of a priority. It is important to me that I keep doing this and the best way to do that is to start reframing it as part of my work, instead of an extra thing I do when I have time. In other words, by placing it as something that is work with value, I intend to make blogging part of my patchwork job situation instead of in addition to it.

 

There are also two other HUGE ideological reasons why I am doing this:

 

  1. I really need cis people to recognize and value the work I’m doing for them. I write this blog for trans people, but I know most of the readership is cis, and I do write some things specifically on allyship for cis people. So, this blog more or less provides a free education on trans identities for cis people, not a 101, but an extension and a chance to reflect on concepts beyond 101 level. Education should be free for everyone, but education providers should always be paid, as recognition of the amount of work that goes into their teaching. I get paid to teach French to children, why shouldn’t I be paid to write about trans-specific struggles for cis people? I have had so many situations when a cis person goes “oh, you’re trans? What about…?” and expects an education right then and there. I need cis people to understand that the education they receive from me is a service and not a right, and by suggesting they pay for it, I hope to clarify that.

 

  1. I refuse to be an excuse not to pay other queer bloggers, artists, and activists. Art, in general, and especially queer art, is severely underfunded. Many queer artists rely on online donations to live. They have to put things behind paywall, use Patreon, crowdfund ideas, and beg for enough money to pay rent. For someone who doesn’t understand the work that goes into art, it’s easy to think that the people not asking for donations are somehow morally better. So, I am putting a donation button as a model, not just a recognition of the value of my work, but as emphasis that queer artists are allowed to ask for money (and should be asking for money).

 

So, long story short. I have a donation button here and I’d like to encourage you to use it if you are cis, not a personal friend (and thus already giving me so much and being so amazing), and have the means. In the big picture, I hope everyone considers this every time they see a queer artist asking for money and try to put a little aside to value our work the way it should be valued. This also goes towards artists of colors, disabled artists, and any artist who is already marginalized from systems of support. Being an artist is hard.

 

Some December Readings

So, uh, I read so much in December that I had to hold some things for January (so, I promise my January reading list is going to be incredible!) The new exciting thing is that I discovered the incredible Yasmin Benoit, a UK-based asexual activist (that’s the first video linked here). She’s suuuuper cool and I highly recommend keeping an eye on her work. This list also includes lots of great thinking around art, gender, expression, and representation. All the usual subjects and a great way to round out the year.

 

2018 has been hard, but 2019 is going to be great. Woohoo!

 

Video: Asexuality is not a ‘white thing’ | Asexual activist Yasmin Benoit

 

Does Abstraction Belong to White People?

 

“Who has the right not to explain themselves? The people who don’t have to. The ones whose subjectivities have been naturalized. It enrages me. No, it confuses me. I’m all for being confused, for searching, for having to do a bit of work. But the absence of explanation is somehow … somehow … somehow what?”

 

Personal, professional and deeply political: On being femme and non-binary

 

“In addition to this, as an ‘AFAB’ (Assigned Female at Birth) person who strongly identifies with the label of ‘queer femme’, I have to work hard to find alternative strategies for self-affirmation. Usually, I communicate my gender identity through fabulous drag-informed fashion, writing, and performance.”

 

21 Queer Jews on Why We Love Being Jewish

 

“For this round table I asked Autostraddle staff and readers, A-Camp staff and participants, and a few of my close friends who I hope will become avid Autostraddle supporters: What do you love about being Jewish? I’m going to be honest, I thought I’d get a bunch of bullet point lists about food and summer camp – and don’t get me wrong, food and summer camp are definitely strong themes in this roundtable – but instead I actually received 20 thoughtful, joyous, resilient, and beautiful short essays about what Judaism means to the folks in this roundtable.”

 

Becoming Anne Frank

 

“These public relations mishaps, clumsy though they may have been, were not really mistakes, nor even the fault of the museum alone. On the contrary, the runaway success of Anne Frank’s diary depended on playing down her Jewish identity: At least two direct references to Hanukkah were edited out of the diary when it was originally published. Concealment was central to the psychological legacy of Anne Frank’s parents and grandparents, German Jews for whom the price of admission to Western society was assimilation, hiding what made them different by accommodating and ingratiating themselves to the culture that had ultimately sought to destroy them. That price lies at the heart of Anne Frank’s endless appeal. After all, Anne Frank had to hide her identity so much that she was forced to spend two years in a closet rather than breathe in public. And that closet, hiding place for a dead Jewish girl, is what millions of visitors want to see.”

 

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore Talks Coming of Age As a Genderqueer Person in the 1990s

 

“Growing up queer in the ‘80s and ‘90s meant many things, but in particular, it meant looking for images of yourself — your life, your desires, your fears — in imperfect mirrors. It meant investing a lot of time and energy in mentally re-writing the books and movies you encountered to create a narrative that even came close to representing queerness.”

 

Inside the “Yes on 3” Campaign’s Hidden Transphobia and Disorganized Politics

 

“Watching the results trickle in from each district on Tuesday night, it was hard not to notice that even though the Yes effort had succeeded, a full third of Massachusetts voters still mobilized to oppose my rights. (Worcester towns ended up skewing heavily conservative, with Oakham being one of the few areas in the state to register a majority “no” vote.) For as much as this referendum has sent a message to the country that trans rights can be defended, it’s also been a grueling reminder to trans people in Massachusetts that there are large pockets of hostility to our presence, and that organizations supposedly dedicated to our protection can easily be harmful in their own way.”

 

Boys Don’t Cry and Hollywood’s Ongoing Obsession With Trans Suffering

 

“What does it mean when one of the only major films with a transmasculine protagonist is about a character who is killed because of his transness? What does it say that the most celebrated thing about Boys Don’t Cry is Swank’s performance, and how the “bravery” of a heterosexual, cisgender actress in drag has overshadowed that of the slain real-life man the film is based on?”

 

Carnival Outside the Binary: Expression

 

Tl;dr Expression is complicated, especially when we are conditioned to judge ourselves based on society’s expectations for trans people. I’m slowly learning not to care.

 

This was written for the September Carnival Outside the Binary hosted by the wonderful Carnival Outside the Binary.

 

So I decided to do this whole Carnival thing, even though I’ve never done it before (despite admiring and following the Asexual Agenda‘s beautiful Carnival for years). So, this is fun! I’ve been kind of stuck in a rut recently, so trying a new format (even if it is just me writing a blog post based on a prompt), is a good nudge out of the rut.

 

Sooooo…expression. This is something I’ve written a lot about in terms of presentation and perception and what it means to be a FAAB feminine nonbinary person. It’s a neverending cycle of frustrations with others and myself – why can’t other people see me as trans? Why can’t I just look more trans? Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.

 

And it becomes that much more heightened when you go on stage, because then everybody is looking at you.

 

The thing is, I’ve kind of given up on caring what cis people think. The smart ones, the ones I prefer to surround myself with, see me as trans. The decent ones that I don’t really feel like risking our relationship with (ie. Bosses, coworkers, doctors, you know…) see me as a woman because I haven’t bothered to tell them anything else, but they’re generally decent about me being me. The clueless ones see me as a woman even after I’ve told them I’m nonbinary. Such is life surrounded by cis people.

 

The thing that hurts is when trans people see me as cis.

 

It doesn’t usually come as someone going “nope, you’re cis”, it usually comes in how trans people talk about transness – when “gender nonconforming” is equated with trans, leaving no room for those of us who may appear “gender conforming”, when we claim that the ideal of a nonbinary identity is for a cis person to not know whether we are a boy or a girl, when we continue to fall into the myth that there is a “nonbinary” form of expression…

 

We spend so much time saying you can never know a person’s gender and yet, we still regurgitate this myth of androgyny and confusion of gender expression that it becomes a form of judgement. Hell, I find myself judging. I can be sitting there in a skirt and heels and judge the person sat right next to me wearing the same thing for not being trans enough. I have to bite my tongue and remind myself that they are probably thinking the exact same thing about me, that I am thinking the exact same thing about me, and if I can’t even accept my identity, how the hell can I expect others to?

 

I’m not saying this to put a flashing neon sign over my head marking me as “transphobic”, I’m saying this because I think it’s important to understand that, no matter what is being said in the trans community, our greater Western society is still conditioning us to expect certain expressions from trans people. I have been conditioned to expect trans people to look a certain way. When we don’t, I am conditioned to question our transness, even myself. The person doing the most harm to me is myself.

 

A better way to put that: Society has taught me to hurt myself because I don’t fit the mould it wants me to be.

 

(Side reminder: Androgyny is safe for cis people. It means they know who we are. When nonbinary people can be anything, from androgyny to hyper masculine to hyper feminine to anything else we can imagine, that’s terrifying for cis people because suddenly the trans person could be anywhere. )

 

Unlearning that bullshit takes a lot of time and energy. It’s work. That’s all. Hard, difficult, frustrating work.

 

But now, I’ve taken to flaunting my femininity. It’s an age-old queer tradition – take the thing that people judge about you and flaunt it in their faces. Make it so they can’t ignore you, make it so there is absolutely no way it’s a mysterious elephant in the room. If I enter a queer space, and especially if I’m entering a trans space, I go all out – heels, skirt, sometimes even make up (to be fair, I hate make up and am lazy as shit).

 

Here’s the thing: I know when a trans person looks at me and doesn’t see me as trans. I also know that that means they’re not the kind of person I want to spend time with and there are plenty of other trans people who do see me as trans.

 

If someone can’t see what I’m telling them, that’s their problem, not mine. My femininity is my power. My expression is not my gender, not by a long shot, but it makes me feel good and I love it and so I will keep expressing the way I am.

 

And, you know what? My expression and gender don’t need to have anything to do with each other unless I want them to.

 

So, at the end of the day, no matter how frustrating and painful it can get, I know it’s not my problem and that, as long as I feel good, am not hurting anyone else, and stand in solidarity with all other trans people, I’m good, expression be damned.

“Learn your history”

Tl;dr Asking younger queer folks to “learn our history” without really understanding the depth of the question easily becomes a form of gatekeeping instead of an invitation into queer culture.

 

So there’s this thing that happens that I feel very strongly about because it’s one of those things that appears really clever on the outside and actually is super harmful to young acespec, arospec, and nonbinary people (and, being a young aroace nonbinary person, I might have a personal stake in the issue). It’s this thing where older queer people look at us younger queer folks and tell us to “learn our history”.

 

Now, if you’re not aware, I love history. I love studying history. I love learning history. It’s one of my absolute favorite things. It’s so meaningful to me, as a queer person who does not always have touch with my culture, to have a history and a culture I can write myself into. AND, as a traditional dancer, I experience the importance of history and lineage every day.

 

Every queer person should be able to learn queer history. Queer history is our touch with our long erased and invisible community. Taking that back what has been erased is an act of power.

 

But, I bristle every time an older queer person tells me “you young folks need to learn your history” because what I hear isn’t an invitation into the community, what I hear is a door. What I hear is, “if you don’t learn our history, you don’t get to be part of queer culture”.

 

For some people, it’s even “if you don’t learn our history the way I tell it, you’re not queer like I am.”

 

Historical knowledge has become a condition for queerness and I’m not ok with that.

 

Let’s talk about how difficult it is to access information on queer history. Especially for young queer folks who may not have regular, safe, private access to the internet, there’s really no way to know queer history. And even for those with internet access, a lot of our history is in books hidden in academic libraries, in oral history projects that sometimes only exist in one place or context, or in incomprehensible papers on “queer theory”. It’s not easy for a young person, especially ones who don’t have support (and thus, are the ones most in need of our community), to “learn our history.”

 

Let’s also talk about how the people most faced with these demands are young acespec, arospec, and trans folks and how those are identities that have been most denied historical record. Yes, we are still talking about how Stonewall has been whitewashed and turned into an emblematic moment for cis gay men (what?!). Yes, we are talking about how discussions about the AIDs crisis still mysteriously forget about the trans women harmed (and still facing harm) by HIV/AIDs in favor of stories about (you guessed it) cis gay men (certainly, cis gay men were deeply, deeply destroyed by AIDS, but to simply ignore the trans people who were part of that story is a different kind of destruction). Those are the two big examples that are thrown around by older queers the most, but let’s not stop there.

 

What about Magnus Hirschfeld? This is the guy who performed the first modern gender affirming surgery. Or, Alfred Kinsey, creator of the beloved Kinsey scale? Both of these people also included asexuality in their research. Hirschfeld even used the term “asexual” (Kinsey just called it group X, but hey…it’s there). How have we forgotten that?

 

And what about nonbinary identities? Isn’t it interesting that when nonbinary people in the western world are expected to justify the history of our identity, we almost always end up using non-western examples? Non-western examples that couldn’t possibly be nonbinary because the concept of nonbinary exists because of the Western gender binary. Instead of recognizing that history and culture exists in context, instead of having examples within our own cultural context, we have to drag other cultures into a Western lens and use a vaguely orientalist method to have touch with our history.

 

And through all of this is painful, obnoxious whiteness. Queer people of color are either ignored or used to support white queers. And that’s not a way to do history.

 

History isn’t neutral. The people being told to “learn our history” aren’t necessarily the ones who have access to it. Often, it’s the ones being denied a history and then told to learn the “mainstream”, whitewashed cis gay allo history.

 

While we’re at it, let’s also talk about how older queer folks don’t have a fucking clue about the culture us young queer folks have been creating. How “learn your history” has become shorthand for “I’m too lazy to learn all these new words and ideas you’ve been making, learn mine instead”. How this is specifically used to attack acespec and arospec communities (who have been building models and creating words and defining our identities pretty damn well, in my opinion). How I often find myself biting my tongue as an older queer person completely misuses a term, rants about how they didn’t have to deal with pronouns during their time, or describes gender in terms of how someone looks, thus completely disregarding and ignoring my own transness.

 

Older queer folks are gems. They hold a living history that academia and official historical records have denied us. They have built our community for us and given us our culture. I am forever in awe and eternally grateful.

 

And honestly? Most older queer folks don’t tell me to learn my history. They tell me how excited they are to see a new generation of young queer folks being badass and epic. They tell me their stories. They tell me our history. Or they help me find it when I ask.

 

But there are the gatekeepers throwing around their age as an excuse to judge young queer folks. I cannot respect any older queer person that demands things from me in the name of “respect” who can’t be bothered to get to know my community and my culture.

 

So, here are the questions I now consider whenever an older queer person thinks that younger queer folks need to “learn our history”:

 

  • What history exactly do you want me to learn?
  • Where can I learn this history properly and truly without whitewashing, orientalism, or erasing trans, acespec, and arospec identities?
  • Will you take some time to learn about my queer culture and what it means to be a young queer person in 2018?

 

Most answers to these questions will be honest, open, respectful and allow for dialogue, so it is easy to know when someone is being an asshole and when someone truly wants me to learn queer history.

 

So “learn our history” isn’t a bludgeon we get to use on each other. It’s not even a command or a request. It’s simply an acknowledgement that we have been denied history for so long and we are taking it back. Let’s not twist it into a way to gatekeep.