My mixed relationship with social dance

tl;dr Social dance has a consent problem but its community-building power is amazing. Some day, I hope we can find a way to make this power truly effective and positive.

[image is groups of happy white people dancing while a band plays on on a stage behind them] By SayCheeeeeese – Own work, Public Domain,

One of my earliest memories is going to the family dance with my…family (surprise). We’d do some reels, some ceilidh dances, a ridiculous grand march, a snail walk, folk dances from Russia, Israel, South Africa…sometimes we’d sing, sometimes there was food. It was always a good time.


I grew up on social dance. First at family dances, and once I became a little bit older, I joined my family at contra dances. When I got fed up with contra, I fell into the international folk dance scene for a while, before going off to college in a different country and never looking back (my mom asked me to go to a contra dance during my first year to scope out the band and I refused, she never asked again).


I am mainly going to discuss contra dance because I did that at a particularly formative age that has had a huge impact on my life since and because some of the problems that exist in all social dance communities I have been part of are more visible and easier to talk about in contra dance.


I left social dance for a huge variety of reasons, some were small little annoyances, some were specific to certain communities, some were giant reflections of terrible things in our society.


In the end, it all boiled down to consent – I did not (and still do not) enjoy being touched without my consent. Even while you could technically claim that I consented to certain kinds of touch by participating in the dance, you could also equally claim that I was forced to give that consent. Remember, social dance is a community activity and, for me, it was a family activity. I could either consent to touch, despite being uncomfortable with it, or not participate in my community and family activities. Is that kind of pressure really consent?


That is also ignoring the way my lack of consent was ignored when it should not have been. When I was younger, older adults, even strangers, would pick me up during a dance because I was small and cute. They thought it was funny when I glared at them and demanded they put me down and so, over time, I was conditioned to smile at how proud they were of themselves for picking me up (they always seemed to think they were the first person to ever do that). During a dance, certain moves require slightly more closeness. I would put my hand at the distance I was comfortable with, and the person I was dancing with (usually an adult and a man) would then ignore it and put himself as close to me as possible. There were also the people that would pick up my hand and condescendingly move it to where they wanted it, claiming that they were teaching me to be a better dancer.


This started before I was ten.


Let me make this clearer: I was taught, before I was ten, that the boundaries I set were insignificant and that other people were allowed to redefine my boundaries based on their wishes. I was taught that this was normal and something I should smile at and something I should be thankful for.


When I was around fifteen, I would bring friends to dances and lecture them on how important it is that if someone asks them to dance and they don’t want to, they are allowed to say no. They would shake their heads at me and inform me that that wasn’t polite and saying no made them feel bad. We would hide in corners and talk about all the pushy, older men that made us uncomfortable. There was even one older man that would invite himself to the older teenagers’ after-dance skinny dipping. No one felt safe saying no.


The problem was that, even while I knew, to an extent, that this was wrong, I was not able to recognize exactly how fucked up it really was until I had not gone to a dance for years.


I am now incredibly skittish about attending any kind of social dance – even ones that are far away in distance and content from what I attended when I was younger.


About a year ago, a friend of mine organized an LGBT tea dance at her church. I was wary of going because of aforementioned terrible experiences with social dance, but I wanted to support her, she was someone I trusted to care about my wellbeing and I heard there would be good cake (I’m pretty easily swayed into things by cake).


It was a WONDERFUL time – I didn’t dance loads (finding a partner is a huge social stress for me that I am terrible at) but I felt safe, I enjoyed the people I got to dance with, and I was reminded of why I had started my entire dance life in social dance spaces.


There’s a particular magic about a group of people coming together to dance. It becomes particularly magical, when it is more about the community and social connections being built, as opposed to the kind of skill-building you get in a dance studio.


See, in dance class, in a studio, we still have this cult of the teacher. Even if we’re learning social dance moves or attending class for the social aspect, the teacher and the skills they are teaching us are the focal point.


Even when there is a “teacher” in social dance spaces, they are the facilitator of the dancers’ good time, not the teacher. The entire point of social dance is coming together and building connections. The dance, the teacher…that’s secondary.


I fucking love that.


I’m still not running back to social dance spaces. Honestly, I’m still terrified, but it was good to remember that there is a reason why social dance is amazing and important. And it makes me wonder – how can we build spaces for social dance that are truly positive, safe spaces?


How can we reconcile the absolute fucked-upedness of a lot of social dance spaces with the community it offers?


How can we use social dance to build our communities in positive, healthy ways?


I’m not sure yet, but it’s definitely something on my mind.


[note: I’m well aware that this does not at all get into issues around racism and cultural appropriation in folk dance communities. That does not mean they are not important! I am still figuring out the right way to express my thoughts on these matters. But, in the meantime, please be aware that folk dance communities are also doing pretty poorly in these matters, alongside issues of consent.]


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




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.”


Is it Aromantic Awareness Week?

Tl;dr Aromanticism is STILL a footnote in discussions about asexuality and that means the arospec community has been completely burnt out just trying to exist outside of asexuality, so we should probably change that.

Untitled design
[image is the aromantic flag, from top to bottom: dark green, light green, white, grey, and black. There is a yellow heart on the white stripe as a nod to other variations of the flag]
[EDIT: Since writing this post, some quiet whispers of Arospec Awareness Week have been floating around certain corners of the internet. Among other things you can check out this awesome comic and this incredible list of resources]


So usually this is the time of year when aromantic awareness week happens and it doesn’t appear to be happening (at least not that I can see). But I firmly believe that this shit is important, so I’m pretending it’s happening anyways.


I really wanted to celebrate Aromantic Awareness week this year. Both AAWs (asexual and aromantic) are struggles for me aroaces are both the gold star identity of each group and also blamed for all problems in both communities. But I was looking forward to embracing that discomfort alongside my fellow aroaces this year.


On one hand, there’s the assumption that asexuals are aromantic and that aromantic folks are asexual. I’m fulfilling that stereotype, woohoo!


On the other hand, there’s the understanding that asexuality and aromanticism are different and that comes with the expectation that aroace folks can separate those two parts of ourselves. Maybe some people can. I can’t. That’s a post for another time.


But there is no apparent Aromantic Awareness Week this year, so what I want to talk about is how completely drained and unsupported all of us arospecs are at the moment.


I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the arospec awareness week blog has remained inactive this year. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the aromantic voices I am hearing are small and exhausted. And I definitely don’t think it’s a coincidence that when I googled “Aromantic Awareness Week 2018” to see if anything was up, the second link was for Asexual Awareness Week.


And I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that the most common place we find the word “aromantic” is as a footnote in a thing about asexuality.


Arospecs don’t get to exist except in terms of asexuality and that is terrifying.


This isn’t the fault of aroaces. This isn’t the fault of arospec folks. The aromantic community is tiny and usually under attack. We’re bound to burn out.


I don’t even think the problem is with the asexual community, although I believe the asexual community has a habitual problem of situating itself as an expert on subjects other than asexuality, including aromanticism (that goes into the post I will never write about why I don’t engage in online asexual communities).


The problem is that this is a society that hears “aroace” when someone says “asexual”, but then only views asexual people as human when they can prove that they are still “normal”. For an asexual person, the closest thing to society’s definition of “normal” (which is wrong, for the record), is romantic attraction.


And so, arospecs of all sorts are both dragged into situations they don’t belong while being completely ignored at exactly the same time. We’re attached to asexuals at the same time that we’re being distinctly separated.


This back and forth is enough to give anyone whiplash.


And this is certainly not sustainable.


The thing is, we’ve been so busy in this illogical back and forth between the completely contradictory things being thrown at us that we still haven’t taken aromanticism out of the footnote (and it’s been there for YEARS).


So maybe we should start with that.


And when I say “we”, I mean anyone who has ever dared to even consider “aromanticism” as a footnote or addendum to asexuality.


Once we’ve stopped doing that, us arospecs will hopefully start getting the space and time we need to truly share our voices, support each other, and spread awareness.


Theory: Becoming

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

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


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


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


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





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


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


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


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


In Art


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


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



References/Further reading



Anderson, West, “Transitioning While Nonbinary”, The Body Is Not An Apology, 2017 <> [5 February 2018]


Bernstein, Jacob, “For Some In Transgender Community, It’S Never Too Late To Make A Change”, New York Times, 2015 <> [7 February 2018]


Ferguson, Joshua, “What It Means To Transition When You’re Non-Binary”, Teen Vogue, 2017 <> [7 February 2018]


Micah, “Featured Voices: Where Does My Story End?”, Genderqueer.Me, 2016 <> [6 February 2018]


I may be genderless, but I am not agender

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


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


Me: I don’t have a gender.

Someone: Oh! You’re agender!

Me: No, I don’t have a gender…


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


It’s not my word.


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


One-year anniversary!

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Some January readings

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


Lost this year:


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

Organizer of trans beauty pageants and pride marches

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




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


“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


“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


“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


“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.


“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.”