Why the fuck are we saying yes to cis-controlled visibility?

tl;dr Despite knowing that cis-controlled visibility is crap, trans people are still participating it. I’ve nearly said yes, and I get why we are still saying yes, but it’s time to stop and start creating more quality platforms for trans visibility. 

 

I’m always thinking and writing about visibility. This is probably boring by now. I still have lots to say though!

 

Recently, I’ve been working on a long-term project that looks specifically at transition narratives in media and there is one question I keep coming back to and struggling with.

 

See, when I went around asking my trans friends for their pet peeves about trans documentaries, the response I got was “I don’t watch those”. My friends and I are sensible people that understand that most documentaries about trans people are shock entertainment for cis people, or satisfying appeasement, for cis people, or pity porn for, you guessed it, cis people. The documentaries are, on the most innocent level, not for us and, in truth, deeply harmful. There’s no point in watching something like that.

 

Documentaries go two ways – either it’s about a child. In which case, I deeply judge any parent that would put their incredibly young child in front of a camera in such a dehumanizing way.

 

Or, it’s about an adult. The media can’t seem to get enough of middle aged trans women (with the token trans man mixed in) transitioning. It’s frightening.

 

What’s terrifying to me is that these are adult trans people choosing to participate in this.

 

And yes, it is necessary to understand that cis producers, directors, videographers, etc. have  full control in these projects. They can edit anything to show what they want instead of what a trans person is trying to say. When I watch these things, I know it’s not a trans person opening themselves to dehumanizing, body-obsessed bullshit. It’s cis people in power manipulating, sometimes even blatantly lying to them.

 

But, the fact is, we all fucking know this. We know that, by this point, if a cis person’s in charge, it will probably go ugly.

 

And we’re starving so much for representation that we’ll accept things because they’re slightly less awful than other things (I talk about that a bit here).

 

But it’s still awful.

 

It still causes harm.

 

And I just can’t understand why someone would say yes and consent to it.

 

I recently read Juno Dawson’s pretty clear explanation of her reasoning. She argues her position well – the cis creators were sympathetic (ie. not monsters), the position of Transformation Street was good for increasing visibility, and being inside of the show meant she could direct cis people out of their more unfortunate blunders.

 

Can I also remind you that Transformation Street included invasive footage of surgery? It may have been sympathetic. The cis creators may have recognized that trans people are people (radical). Dawson may have talked the creators out of some terrible naming decisions. But it is still incredibly invasive and dehumanizing and multiple trans adults chose to do this. They consented to it. [Disclaimer: I have not watched Transformation Street in full, due to time and access and choosing to focus on documentaries that I can legally use in my work, please correct me if I’m pleasantly wrong!]

 

Why?

 

I can’t explain. But I think it’s worth noting that the main people featured in Transformation Street, and practically every trans documentary ever, are white.

 

They are white, they are rich enough to afford GRS on their own dime (keeping in mind the context of the NHS in the UK – a cheaper, but inhumanely slow option), and they fit cis expectations of what a transition should like (I talk more about that here). They are not the people that are going to be most harmed by an increase in harmful visibility.

 

I actually find it super interesting in Dawson’s piece how she mentions that some trans people don’t get surgery and then never really does anything about it. It’s a side comment, a box to tick to show that she understands something that’s said a lot in the trans community, but there’s no real weight behind it.

 

In the end, all I’m seeing in Dawson’s response and other conversations I’ve had with people around visibility is a strong focus on quantity over quality – it’s more important to get any and all vaguely sympathetic trans visibility out and seen as much as possible than it is to produce and present quality trans visibility that uplifts all trans people. You can see this in Dawson’s willingness to forget that Transformation Street (and most trans documentaries ever) completely ignores people who don’t medically transition, even after she points it out as a problem. You can see it in the fact that trans people are still saying yes to cis producers and that you can see it in the fact that trans people are still handing over baby pictures and consenting to cameras in their doctor’s appointments and surgeries (for the record, I am well aware that this is not always consensual and that is also a HUGE thing we need to address).

 

There’s this sense of “we need visibility, so if I do this highly visible thing, visibility will increase and then we can start talking about respectful visibility”.

 

About a year ago, I took part in a workshop hosted by a production company that wanted to create a documentary specifically about trans dancers. First off, in pair discussions about why it is so difficult for trans dancers, one of the producers tried desperately to get me to tell them my birth name. I fucking love my second name. I’m not going to give it off to a cis person who wants to make a documentary out of me so they can abuse its power. I was obnoxiously closed-lipped and won that conversation, but it was a great window into the perseverance and entitlement even the most well-meaning cis producer has in extracting personal details about their trans subjects.

 

Later in the discussion, another trans person pushed the importance of increased visibility, so I built on that statement to speak very specifically about the importance of trans involvement in all levels of creation. Looking directly at the cis producers in the room, I said that, for a trans documentary to be effective, there needed to be trans producers, trans directors, trans designers, trans video editors, trans camerapeople, trans everything…

 

I then asked if the person they wanted to bring in to do choreography for the project was trans.

 

“Ummm, I’m not sure, but she’s definitely queer!” was the response. Not good enough. If we really want to create meaningful, effective, respectful trans people, it needs to include trans people. Not all queer folks are trans-friendly and no matter how queer someone is, I would not trust a cis person with something as delicate and complex as trans visibility.

 

Eventually, after an email asking me to take part in the next part of the project, I informed them that I would not continue until I saw a clear plan to include trans people behind the camera as well as in front of it. I never got a response.

 

It was fucking hard.

 

I want a documentary about trans dancers. I want to see people like me on television. I want younger trans people to know that dance is an option. I want that visibility. I very nearly said yes.

 

But, I don’t think I would ever be able to look myself in the mirror if I had said yes.

 

I stalked their website before writing this post and saw that there has been no progress on that specific project. I doubt that my ultimatum had anything to do with it, but I can hope that, in wherever the process stands, the creators are deeply considering what I had to say. At least, they haven’t gone and made a documentary without trans people in production roles in the past year, and I do like to believe in people’s capacity to do good, to listen, and to do better.

 

But, the trans documentary is still nonexistent. I find other trans dancers in fits and bursts, like before. I end up being the only trans person in queer dance spaces. I end up being the only queer person in dance spaces. Or, I’m in class with other trans people, but I don’t “look” trans, so we don’t connect. Dance isn’t safe for trans folks, so imagine how fucking radical it would be to have a BIG FUCKING DOCUMENTARY for people to watch.

 

I want that.

 

But it feels too easy, too quick. Quantity over quality. We go big before there’s even the beginnings of local infrastructure to support actual trans dancers. We parade individualistic, struggling, lonely trans dancers across a screen and create some kind of pity porn to tug at heart stringsn which doesn’t offer practical solutions for how dance spaces can make space for trans dancers in a meaningful, effective (non-mediatized) way. No matter how big it is, what fucking good does that do?

 

Right now, I am making my own work. I am committed to only choreographing on trans dancers. Right now, that dancer is me. I am having conversations in my dance community so that, hopefully, someday, they will be ready to invite trans people in their space. I’m writing blog posts that sometimes people that aren’t my friends read. My platform isn’t as big as it would be if I were in a major documentary, but it is trans art made by a trans person about my trans experiences. That’s something no cis-made documentary is going to do. I don’t touch as many people, my visibility is not as widespread, but it is quality. It is rigorous, it works to consider and uplift as many trans people as possible, not just my own experiences (although that is something I fail at and am constantly working to do better). I fail, I do better.

 

But, I’m doing it alone, and that sucks.

 

A documentary would give me a chance to connect with other trans dancers, both other folks in the trans documentary and then, as a visible figure for other trans dancers to find. That’s the kind of shit we’re desperate for. I get why there are trans people saying yes.

 

But I’d like to encourage trans people to seriously think before saying yes to the next sympathetic cis person with a camera: Who are you harming by grabbing at the easily-offered visibility? Is it worth it?

 

If it is, fucking go for it!

 

But, if it isn’t, I can’t help but look at amazing projects like My Genderation and wonder what would happen if every trans person that considered saying “yes” to a cis person said “no” and went to work with each other to make their own platforms of visibility.

 

I think it would be badass. AND we wouldn’t be alone.

 

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Some March Readings

So, February was Black Panther month and I finally got around to reading some reflections and reviews of the movie. In case you weren’t aware, I might be very into Marvel, so watching a Good Film (rare for the MCU) that celebrated blackness and African culture in such a thoughtful, meaningful way was the most exciting thing that happened. I’ve seen it twice now, I’ll be seeing it again as soon as I come up for breath from the current mess of overwhelming work. In the meantime, here is a taste of what I’ve been reading.

 

In addition to the two readings on Black Panther, there’s some preparation to be done for the incredibly challenging but potentially incredible Autism Acceptance Month, an article that I hadn’t quite finished by the end of Black History Month, and some good conversations around disability and paying artists. And, of course, I am continuously frustrated by the lack of thoughtful trans-centered reporting on trans murders.

 

Lost this year

 

Tonya Harvey, Buffalo, NY

Nicknamed “Kita”

Learn more

 

Celine Walker, Jacksonville, FL

“Low key” and “amazingly talented”

Learn more

 

Zakaria Fry, Albuquerque, NM

“You told me fuck anyone who disagrees, and fuck all of those who can’t accept my happiness.”

Learn more

 

Phylicia Mitchell, Cleveland, OH

Hairstylist, a good and kind person who had already suffered homelessness and addiction

Learn more

 

 

Take Action

Get ready to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month instead of Autism Awareness Month:

 

You can:

 

 

Reading

 

black panther
[image is a promotional image for the movie Black Panther:  serious black black stares out over the movie title and is surrounded by the other characters from the film, mostly black women]
Why museum professionals need to talk about Black Panther

 

“It is uncomfortable for many institutions to even broach the subject of the museum’s complicated relationship with audiences of color, but Black Panther has created an impeccable opportunity for institutions to begin a dialogue with their community. So many people will see this film; the scene may only reinforce their conception of museums, or it may open their eyes to the realities of the complicated relationship between the universal museum and colonialism, and museums need to be prepared to actively engage with this topic rather than avoiding the uncomfortable truths that are now out in the open on cinema screens.”

 

An American Monster in Wakanda

 

“After the movie, I left the theater to the chants of “Wakanda Forever,” feeling unsettled and displaced. If Wakanda were a real place, I’d be Erik; I’d be the American monster in Wakanda because I couldn’t love a country with the means to end the transatlantic slave trade that instead chose to hide and pretend it wasn’t their problem. A nation that only fights when absolutely necessary and did not think the kidnapping, torture, murder, rape, abuse, dehumanization, and destruction of millions of people made war absolutely necessary. A nation with superior education, technology, creativity, and the financial ability to help that instead turned its collective back on those who lived outside its borders. Black people, like them. Because they were not Wakandan.”

Why Everyone Thinks that They Care About Disability Rights When They Really Don’t

 

“Disabled people have long found themselves firmly in the category of people deemed worthy of assistance but they often don’t get it. Consider the “ugly laws”, a set of policies and bylaws often incorrectly assumed to ban disabled people from public spaces outright. They were, in fact, more accurately anti-vagrancy laws. They were often premised on the idea that disabled people were justified in begging. The problem was they were convinced that people were faking disabilities to unfairly gain sympathy.”

 

100+ LGBTQ Black Women You Should Know: The Epic Black History Month Megapost

 

“So, in honor of Black History Month, below you’ll find over 100 lesbian, bisexual, gay, queer and transgender women you should know about. If she was still alive, the oldest person in this list would be 189 years old. The youngest person on this list is a mere 21 years of age.”

 

 

When are you coming to my town?

 

“What really fucks me off about the touring part of the sector is this myth that the arts is poor, that there is no money. I refuse to believe that organisations with over 30 members of staff who facilitate artists cannot pay just 10 artists properly.”

 

 

I don’t always have to be included

tl;dr It’s not the job of any one person to include nonbinary identities. In fact, including nonbinary identities as a sidenote is also harmful. Instead, we just need to make space for folks to include themselves. 

 

There’s a trend that I’ve been noticing for a while, and I think, at the end of the day, we all probably just have to relax. I’m going to talk about this in terms of binary trans folks and nonbinary folks, but this is something that happens a lot for people that know that they should do Intersectionality, but don’t quite know what that is (and I definitely do it too!)

 

It’s this: a binary trans person, usually someone who’s only met one or two nonbinary people in their entire life, gets a platform to speak about trans issues with cis people. Of course all the cis people want to know about is Medical Transition and that poor person is thrust in that awful balance of maintaining cis curiousity just enough to maintain their platform while also trying to make an impact.

 

And, in the back of their head, there’s that niggling awareness that nonbinary people exist and, if they’re now suddenly a spokesperson for trans people, that means they need to include nonbinary folks, even if they have no idea how to do that.

 

It usually results in “nonbinary” being tacked onto the ends of sentences as an afterthought with no definition or explanation.

 

Now, I am a strong believer that people with platforms should consider their responsibilities before using that platform. And that means that if cis people have decided a trans person speaks for ALL trans person (usually despite that trans person being incredibly honest about what they can speak for) , that trans person has to be explicitly clear about what they are able to say on an issue and work as hard as possible not to exclude.

 

But, my identity is more than an afterthought.

 

I actually don’t really want to be included if it’s only going to be an afterthought. All that does is teach cis people that my gender is an afterthought, secondary to other genders.

 

Also, it’s absolutely fucking ridiculous to expect one single trans person to know Everything about Every Single trans identity Ever. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a single person.

 

The thing is: not excluding someone is not the same as including them.

 

I don’t need binary trans people with platforms to include nonbinary genders in their discussions, unless they are completely and utterly prepared to explain and defend my gender, giving it the same value as their own gender.

 

What I need is for binary trans people to simply not act as if nonbinary folks don’t exist. In your fight for a platform, for a voice, for representation, don’t forget that we need that too. Be prepared to say “I’m not that kind of trans, I can’t answer that question, maybe you should ask a nonbinary person”, be prepared to listen to what we have to say and share it, be prepared to recognize when to speak and when not to speak. Extend your hand and share the platform with as many different trans people you can fit on the damn thing.

 

That’s all.

 

When nonbinary folks ask for allyship from binary trans people, we’re not asking for Sudden Constant Inclusion. That’s too much for anyone to handle. All we want is the recognition that we exist and that we are the experts on our own experiences.

 

It’s not the job of an already marginalized person to speak for every other marginalized person out there.

 

It is everyone’s job to make sure that there is space for every marginalized person to speak for themself.

 

Some February readings

This month, I read about a whole lot of things I want to share with you. Once again, the trans community continues to face loss (and I know I am behind in recording it), so I have decided to also add an action point to these posts. Even as we face loss and frustration, there is always something we can do. Also, lots of good reading from depressed exercise to Star Trek!

 

Lost this year

 

Viccky Gutierrez, Lost Angeles, CA

Originally from Honduras, she is described as the “nicest girl in the world”

Learn more

 

 

Take Action!

by Neta Bomani (2018)                                                          [image is a person behind prison gates with swirly circles in the back. Underneath are the words “NO LADY, Anonymous, B 32018] 
Prison Culture and Neta Bomani have made a zine for folks in women’s prisons.

You can

  • Spread the word
  • Help send it into prisons
  • Donate to help cover printing and mailing costs

 

Reading:

 

Dress to kill, Fight to win

 

“I think sometimes being anti-fashion leads to a false notion that we can be in bodies that aren’t modified, and that any intentional modification or decoration of your body is politically undesirable because it somehow buys into the pitfalls of reliance on appearances.”

 

The Philosophy of Selfishness is Destroying America

 

“The very idea of selfishness is one that by virtue of its existence implies something deeply poisonous and wrong: that in order to get what we want, someone else must pay a cost.  And vice versa: if anyone else gets what they want, it comes at a cost to us.”

 

Why is Fixing Sexism Women’s Work?

 

“Sexism is a male invention. White supremacy is a white invention. Transphobia is a cisgender invention. So far, men have treated #MeToo like a bumbling dad in a detergent commercial: well-intentioned but floundering, as though they are not the experts. They have a chance to do better by Time’s Up.”

 

Star Trek’s Economic Model – Fantasy or Future?

 

“The universe of Star Trek allows us to peer into a possible alternative of our lifestyle. Not just about exploring the universe, but about exploring the human condition that we have all chosen to accept as “normal.” If any of us transported into the world of Star Trek, we would stick out like sore thumbs.”

 

Depressing Busting Exercise Tips For People Too Depressed to Exercise

 

“But where the well-meaning mentally healthy person sees a straightforward progression toward improvement, we see the paradox: yes, if we could do those things, it might help our depression, but not being able to do those things is a major part of being depressed.”

 

Some January readings

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

 

Lost this year:

 

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

Organizer of trans beauty pageants and pride marches

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

 

 

Reading:

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

Dancing Through Transition

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

 

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

 

 

4 Comments That Kept Me From Identifying As Non-Binary

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

 

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

 

 

The Challenge of Getting Better

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

Using “non-human” movement in dance

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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/