Some January readings

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

 

Lost this year:

 

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

Organizer of trans beauty pageants and pride marches

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

 

 

Reading:

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

Dancing Through Transition

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

 

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

 

 

4 Comments That Kept Me From Identifying As Non-Binary

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

 

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

 

 

The Challenge of Getting Better

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Using “non-human” movement in dance

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Theory: Audibility

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

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Photos by audience members, you can see them all here

 

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

 

 

Visibility/Audibility

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Silencing in terms of audibility

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Bringing audibility and silencing into art

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Moving forward

 

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

 

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

 

 

Sources/Further Reading

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

Some December readings

All right, let’s send out 2017 with some good things I’ve read in the past month!

The theme of my December reading was the police – how they’re violent and unnecessary, and all the amazing alternatives to policing that we can start turning to. Those readings and a few resource links are at the bottom of this page. At the top, we have some good (but unrelated) reflections on asexuality, autism, privilege, and, of course, our word of the year (and one of these articles was written by a lovely acquaintance of mine, which is super awesome!).

 

 

“Enjoy Your Houseful of Cats”: On Being an Asexual Woman

http://the-toast.net/2014/07/01/enjoy-houseful-cats-asexual-woman/

 

“Asexual people are just one group that’s hurt by the Sex = Yay mantra (along with racial, religious, and sexual minorities that are either fetishized or desexualized.) For asexual women, it means they’re erased; their orientation is framed as a side effect of living in a society that hates the female sex drive. Go on, girl! You like sex! You can admit it now! Great, eh? We’ve replaced a world in which a woman couldn’t be sexual with a world in which she must be.”

 

 

Autism and Intense Interests: Why We Love What We Love and Why It Should Matter to You

http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/2017/11/autism-and-intense-interests-why-we.html

 

“While some intense interests can lead to satisfying careers, it’s important that our interests not be considered valid or valued according to monetary measures. I see so much emphasis placed on turning intense interests into a career; just last week on Twitter many Autistic adults were debating with a therapist who had said that no Autistic child should be permitted to pursue any intense interest that would not lead to a career.”

 

 

Word of the Year 2017: Complicit

http://www.dictionary.com/e/word-of-the-year-2017/?param=email&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WOTY%202017&utm_term=wordoftheday

 

“Our choice for Word of the Year is as much about what is visible as it is about what is not. It’s a word that reminds us that even inaction is a type of action. The silent acceptance of wrongdoing is how we’ve gotten to this point. We must not let this continue to be the norm. If we do, then we are all complicit.”

 

 

Don’t Get Defensive: 6 Ways to Respond to Being Called Out Despite Your Good Intentions

https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/dont-get-defensive/

“Getting called out involves an instance of systematically problematic behaviour being highlighted and addressed. This behaviour is carried out, often unknowingly, by people in relative positions of privilege, and it is problematic because it harms or demeans marginalised groups. And while you are the person who exhibited the problematic behaviour in this instance, the issue that is being addressed when the call-out happens is the pervasiveness of the problematic behaviour and the trouble it causes. What is most definitely NOT being addressed is the goodness of your character, or the goodness of the privileged group of which you are a part.”

 

 

On the police and finding alternatives because they’re awful:

 

 

A New Year’s Resolution: Don’t Call the Police

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/28215-a-new-years-resolution-don-t-call-the-police

 

“If you have not yet made this resolution, consider that not calling the police raises some difficult but important questions. It forces us to consider whom we feel potentially threatened by and why, and how we are defining “safety.” Do we feel unsafe in working-class neighborhoods, or around people with certain styles of dress or colors of skin? What prejudices ground this fear?”

 

 

Big Dreams and Bold Steps Toward a Police-Free Future

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32813-big-dreams-and-bold-steps-toward-a-police-free-future

 

“This orientation toward police reform imagines that documentation, training or oversight might protect us from the harassment, intimidation, beatings, occupation and death that the state employs to maintain social control under the guise of safety. What is missing from this orientation, however, is the recognition of the function of policing in US society: armed protection of state interests. If one sees policing for what it is – a set of practices empowered by the state to enforce law and maintain social control and cultural hegemony through the use of force – one may more easily recognize that perhaps the goal should not be to improve how policing functions but to reduce its role in our lives.”

 

 

Feeling for the Edge of your Imagination: Finding ways not to call the police

http://imaginealternatives.tumblr.com/post/487334687/feeling-for-the-edge-of-your-imagination-finding

“All of you, but especially those of you who, like myself and the two people mentioned above, are white and/or grew up middle class and/or didn’t grow up in NYC. I’m writing to you, also, if you’ve smiled your way out of a speeding ticket, if you’ve been most afraid of cops at mass protests, or if you generally feel safer when you see police around. If these things are true for you, it’s possible that you are more distanced from the real impact of policing on low-income communities of color. But whether people in your life experience those impacts regularly or not, whether you’ve spent a night in jail, done work to support political prisoners, or haven’t thought much about police brutality since Sean Bell… if you hold a commitment to making the world a better place, I’m writing to you, because there’s work to be done.”

 

 

Ten Lessons for Creating Safety without Police

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36812-10-lessons-for-creating-safety-without-the-police-a-reflection-on-the-10-year-anniversary-of-the-sos-collective

“Over these last 10 years, we have learned the hard way that building community safety is complex. The experience of collectively creating safety has forever changed us. We still believe that our communities can address violence without the police, and that LGBTSTGNC POC communities have long histories of doing this work. But we still have so much to learn, skills that need to be transferred and supported. Our overall takeaway is that people who work to create community safety need to be willing to grow, change and sometimes be wrong.”

 

 

Additional resources:

 

Audre Lorde Project’s Safe OUTSide the System https://alp.org/programs/sos

StoryTelling and Organizing Project http://www.stopviolenceeveryday.org/stories/

Cure Violence http://cureviolence.org/

We Charge Genocide (Chicago) http://wechargegenocide.org/

 

 

 

For the days I don’t “feel” trans

Tl;dr Societal narratives around transness means that sometimes I don’t feel trans, this brings up some important things to note concerning how we define transness through pain. Most importantly, I want to remember that the capacity to recognize my own transness can be enough.

 

 

Whether we like it or not, societal expectations, norms, and narratives pressure and impact trans identities.

 

Some days I don’t feel trans. Some days I even feel cis.

 

Even on those days, I am still trans.

 

It’s hard, because I try to be outspoken. I am much more safe to openly discuss my trans identity than many trans people, and I believe that it is my responsibility to talk, to challenge, and to continue to demand respect for trans people. I don’t have a huge platform as an artist or blogger, but I want to use the tiny audience I do have to talk about transness, to give cis people a chance to start shifting their perspectives, to make sure trans voices are heard. Even touching one person is enough to start changing the world.

 

But it’s hard to do that on the days I don’t feel trans. I feel like a fake, like someone that’s fabricated a giant narrative in order to speak over “real” trans people and push an agenda. And it’s hard to talk about this when I know many of the people reading my writing are cis. Even with cis people I trust, it’s hard not to feel like someone will use my writing about this as an excuse to jump out and say “aha! I knew you weren’t really trans, I don’t actually have to listen to what you’re saying”.

 

I’ve alluded to it a lot in my writing – how certain forms of transness are validated and accepted by mainstream society much more than other forms, how invisibility often leads to self-judgement and shame, how narratives around being “trans enough” are so widespread among trans people and yet…we still police each other’s transness and the problem remains…

 

But here’s the thing – It’s not that I stop being trans when I don’t feel trans, it’s that sometimes I start believing the nonsense being thrown at me. I start believing that I should shut up, sit down, and accept that my transness isn’t real.

 

Of course, that’s the moment when I need to be the loudest, because, if nothing else, I have learned that if I am experiencing something, there’s probably at least one other person in the world that has experienced it. And if we both start talking about it, there’s a higher chance that we find each other (I’ve been learning probability and statistics recently, watch out).

 

And here’s a crucial detail: Days I don’t feel trans usually come after a nice stretch of time when I don’t experience dysphoria. A lot of people still believe that gender dysphoria is a condition for being trans and I have internalized that statement. Instead of being happy that something that makes me incredibly uncomfortable is not present, I am disappointed and judge myself for not being in pain.

 

Let’s repeat that: I judge myself for not being in pain

 

I know there is now the term “gender euphoria” in response to defining transness through pain. It defines transness through joy – the euphoric moment when everything aligns properly and a trans person can experience their gender to the fullest. I love the idea in the word, but I have to be honest, I have never experienced gender euphoria. Maybe I will someday. I’m ridiculously happy to know that other trans people do. But, in the meantime, it’s not a useful definition for working through my own feelings.

 

There’s just one thing I have to remember on these days: cis people, unless prompted, do not question their gender to the extent that trans people do. Society does not give them reason to. If I am capable of thinking of myself as trans, if I am capable of seeing myself as nonbinary, I probably am. And, even if I’m not, I’m definitely doing enough thinking on the subject to trust my current decision on the matter.

 

There is no single definition of trans. Every trans person experiences gender differently, even while we share certain experiences. And, if we are capable of conceiving ourselves as such, then it’s a possibility to consider.

 

Transness isn’t contingent on pain, nor is it contingent on joy. It’s not the same thing every day. It’s just an experience of gender that is in contrast to the gender we are assigned at birth. That’s all.

 

And, that is me.

 

So, even on the days I don’t feel trans. I am, most definitely, trans.

 

 

Trans Day of Remembrance 2017

 

So, it’s TDoR, and there’s really nothing for me to add to the conversation. TDoR is not about me. It’s about trans women of color, it’s about poor trans people, it’s about the trans people that are visible in their daily lives. It’s about the most vulnerable among us , and those that suffer because of their vulnerability.

 

I have no words, just sorrow and hope and commitment to do what I can to support my trans siblings.

 

I’d like to share these obituaries with you. Remember them. Say their names. Honor them as best we can. And may next year be less deadly.

 

http://www.thefader.com/2017/10/15/trans-memorial-obituaries

 

Some October Readings

And here it is! As we head to the end of October (Happy Halloween!), I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve read over the month – questions of self-care, creativity, and writing. All good reads. I promise.

 

7 self-care strategies for dismantling the patriarchy

http://www.bombilore.com/la-loba/2017/3/23/7-self-care-strategies-for-dismantling-the-patriarchy

 

“We must refuse to let our worth be defined by what we do, even as there is so much that needs to be done.  When approached from this perspective, we can recognize that the very fact of caring for ourselves is in itself a revolutionary act.”

 

Creativity under Trump

 

2017, Word Counts and Writing Process

https://whatever.scalzi.com/2017/10/02/2017-word-counts-and-writing-process/

 

“Why am I talking about this right now? Basically, because I know it’s not just me. I know a lot of writers have seen their process take a hit here in 2017. It’s hard to focus when the world is on fire, and with novelists in particular, I suspect that sometimes it’s hard to focus when you’ve got the suspicion that your fiction is almost frivolous in the context of what’s going on right now.”

 

Writer John Scalzi nails why it’s so hard to be creative under Trump

https://www.themarysue.com/john-scalzi-writing/

 

“While I’m sure we’ll see—are already seeing—art in reaction and refutation of Trump, I know that I’m currently not in the mood to give him any more of my reduced energies. If I’m able to write creatively at all now, I want to write about people with magical powers, or people traveling through time, to a world that’s not our own.”

 

LGBTQ History can be found in everyone’s past

https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2017/10/lgbtq-history-can-found-everyones-past/

 

“The lives, stories, and histories of LGBATIQ people have been intentionally hidden by socially dominant individuals and groups through neglect, deletions, erasures, omissions, bans, censorship, distortions, alterations, trivialization, change of pronouns signifying gender, and by other unauthorized means.”

 

Ace tropes: Cis-ace & Trans-allo duo

https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/ace-tropes-cis-ace-trans-allo-duo/

 

“Many (though not all) of the stories which use the cis-ace/trans-allo trope contain problematic ace representation and/or problematic trans representation. For example. For example, most of the cis-aces are presented as being completely flawless in how they handle trans issues, and the trans allos are usually presented as being just as flawless in handling asexuality.”