Carrying on the tradition

Tl;dr As I grow older, I am starting to regret my uninvolvement with Irish dance traditions and intend to change because moving the tradition forward is important to me.


Céline Tubridy died in late September. I never met her, but she is important to me, as an Irish dancer, as someone who kept an old tradition alive. She learned and held onto steps from the dancing master Dan Fury. As she moved towards alzheimers, she taught the steps to her husband, Michael Tubridy, who still teaches them today. Michael has visited Boston a couple of times, and I have had the honor of learning steps directly from him a total of once. The rest I learned through my teacher, Kieran Jordan.


That’s a lot of names, but what it represents is a lineage and it’s one I’m proud of. It’s where I come from. I don’t have a long, nonbinary history to link myself to (I wish I did), I’m really fucking confused about whether I’m Jewish…or Quaker…or Huguenot…or whatever. Modern and contemporary dance traditions are new and short. Irish dance tradition is my anchor in history and I’m honored to dance these steps and to know where they come from.


But it’s confusing too. When Céline died, I waffled about whether or not to write anything about what that meant for me and, by the time I decided I wanted to, it was just a little too late to avoid awkwardness. I feel like the paths I have taken away from Irish dance – mixing sean-nos with other percussive dance forms, never quite making the time to attend the main Irish cultural and dance events, the fact that I’m only a quarter Irish, always trying to dance to “untraditional” music and, yes, even my queerness (I’m not saying this feeling is Right) gives me less of a right to claim my heritage as an Irish Dancer, even when I continue to be one in any other dance space I enter.


At the same time, I’m watching the people who are the keepers of my tradition die. Beyond the fact that death is always awful on the personal scale, it’s not a terrible death, they’re old, it’s time, and I’m a strong believer in tradition as change. But, I can’t stop the deep curl of regret that I will never get to study with them. And, not in the case of Céline, but certainly in the case of Michael Tubridy and a few others, it is partially my fault. My teacher brings these people in, they teach workshops, they have been available to me, and I have just been too busy or stressed from high school or simply not committed enough to make the long journey. It’s a choice, it’s a completely understandable choice, but I regret it now.


Tradition changes, but it changes from somewhere, and I feel like I’m not grounded enough in this tradition to be able to change it. The moment when you realize you speak a language fluently is not the moment when you have a conversation in the language, it’s when you are able to make up a word in that language without the help of your native language that is completely logical within all linguistic parameters and completely understandable to a native speaker of the language. With Irish dance, I can copy the vocabulary, I can steal bits and pieces and use it, but I don’t understand it enough to create it. I’m proficient, not fluent.


It’s not necessarily a bad thing, proficiency is wonderful and I love Irish dance, it has influenced my artistic practice from the very beginning and, at the end of the day, is my one, true dance love. That is undeniable. But, now I’ve had my time away, and my time failing to be part of the tradition, I’m realizing how important it is to me that the tradition doesn’t stop at me. I want it to go through me to the next generation. I want to be fluent.


Of course my teacher has other students, the tradition wouldn’t be lost if I chose to look the other way and do my weird performance art nonsense. But that’s not what I want. This is my lineage and I want to see it continue. I may have never met Céline Tubridy, but her dancing has shaped the kind of dancer I am, and what she gave me was valuable. I’d be a fool to stop it there and not carry on this tradition so others can learn from her too.


In other words, it’s time to get my ass in gear and start committing to connecting with Irish dance traditions beyond just showing up to class when it suits me.


Also: you can watch Céline dancing here!



Transition, trans becoming

tl;dr The process of transition is defined and controlled by cis people in a way that denies transness to many, many trans people. However, we are all still slowly becoming our genders and that, for us trans folks, is our transition, cis-sanctioned or not. 


I’ve been thinking a lot about transition recently. It started when, reading the brief for an application that recommended “gender transition” as one of the ways to explore the theme. My immediate reaction was to refuse. I am strongly opposed to the cis obsession with gender transition, as if that is the only thing worth noting about trans people.


But it also brought up another point: For me, one of the reasons why I am so violently opposed to talking about transition is because I did not have one.


Reword: I did not have a cis-sanctioned transition.


Transition is a funny one, because it is necessary for trans people. It is life-saving. To ignore it or downplay its importance ignores and downplays the very real harm that comes from denying transition. And transition describes a very particular, important experience for trans people.


And so, it is that much more important for cis people to control it, because then they continue to maintain the ultimate power over trans people. Only certain kinds of trans people are allowed to transition, only after jumping through frankly ridiculous hoops in order to “prove” that they are the gender they say they are, and transition is quite often used as a condition for then recognizing and respecting someone’s gender and transness.


And then cis people like to fetishize this dehumanizing process while making it all about them. Think of every sob-story documentary about a trans teenager transitioning and the kid says pat words about being “born in the wrong body” and then the parent has a nice long interview about how hard it is, but how they support they’re child no matter what. Think about the fact that a cis person felt completely comfortable telling trans artists that a great topic for their submission would be “gender transition” and not anything else related to trans identities. Think about the huge number of books written by cis people that focus on trans people getting access to medical transition or being bullied for social transition. Think about how a lot of nonbinary campaigns have had to center around documentation – being able to shift an honorific to “Mx.” or to have a third gender option on our paperwork – things that would out us, put us at more risk, but allow us to “transition” in a way that could safely identify us to cis people. Trans people are reduced to our transition and we’re reduced to only the transitions that cis people find titillating, dehumanizing, and unthreatening enough that they provide safe entertainment for the “normal”, cis person.


Some trans people need a cis-sanctioned transition. That’s important. And, to be honest, I’m glad that those transitions are getting more visibility and sympathy because it means that the people that need them have slightly better (slightly) access to them than before. Even the gross, cis-centric transition narratives are necessary in a way because it does put more pressure on society to create smoother transitions.


But, what about those of us who don’t fit the cis-sanctioned model?


Even something as simple as wanting SRS without HRT can be grounds for cis people taking away a trans person’s right to their transness. So, for someone like me, that isn’t looking at a medical transition at all and has no option of a meaningful social transition, I lost my cis-sanctioned right to be trans a long time ago. As far as most cis people are concerned, I’m not trans, I never transitioned, and I should shut up and let the “real” trans people talk.


Sometimes I believe them. Recently I was thinking about reaching out to a trans artist that I deeply admired because they would be near me and I would like to properly meet them, but I talked myself out of it because they were a “real” trans person and I was just “trans-lite”, the easy kind of trans person that doesn’t transition. I’d just be wasting their time asking them to meet with me on the capacity of two trans artists. (Bullshit, of course, but real enough logic in mind to keep me from sending the message).


And that’s a huge reason why I don’t talk about transition.


I thought it was because I was sick of trans people being turned into entertaining transitions for cis people, and that is true, I certainly am, but it’s more because every time I talk about cis-sanctioned transition, I feel like I am denying my own transness.


I don’t know if I really transitioned. I tried to, because I needed that legitimation. I had a clear “coming out” at school, I changed my name, I started wearing hats….and that’s about all. There’s no real road map for my kind of transition. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. I’m learning to be comfortable with that.


What I did do was become. And I’m still doing it. I’m slowly becoming my gender, learning what that means for me, letting it grow as I grow and change. I think this is something everyone does, it’s just felt particularly strongly for trans people, because our process of becoming is about not following the most common process. And then cis people feel threatened and fascinated by something outside of their norm and then learn how to control it – sanction certain practices, make other ones invisible.


But that doesn’t mean one thing is transition and one thing isn’t. Transition, trans becoming, is something all trans people do. We slowly but surely become our gender(s), we slowly but surely become ourselves. Sometimes it goes faster or slower, sometimes it’s visible and sometimes it’s subtle. It is always deeply personal. Sometimes it’s something cis people like to gawk at to maintain hegemony, sometimes they prefer to look away, also to maintain hegemony. But all methods of transition are real and exist and necessary for the person following that trajectory.


Someday I may be my gender fully and completely. Someday I may be fully transitioned. But, for right now, I’m just slowly becoming more me. That’s enough of a transition.


AAW 2017: Acespecs are under attack

tl;dr We need to recognize that acespecs are under attack from allo queer folks and mainstream society that are not just ignoring us, but silencing us, invalidating us, and denying our right to existence. This goes well beyond questions of awareness and it needs to stop. 

So I’m sitting down to write my mandatory post for Ace Awareness Week and realizing exactly how little I care. The Discourse ™ has raged over the internet for three years now and, instead of being proud of my ace identity, instead of wanting to share it with others, increase visibility, advocate and push for proper treatment of acespec folks, I’m honestly just tired. I feel like, in a way, I’ve lost my aceness.


I wrote about this last year on my personal tumblr (which is going nowhere near this blog, sorry folks), and it’s so frustrating that, since then, instead of seeing progress in the last year, our awful political downfall has become justification for pushing anything an acespec says to the side for later because there are more urgent concerns to deal with.


And yet, acespecs are still stuck defending ourselves everyday against people claiming we’re stealing resources from “real” lgbt people, people claiming we’re abusive, people claiming we’re confused/sick/misinformed, people denying the abuse we face because of our identity, people claiming we’re homophobic or transphobic through lacking attraction, and, above all else, being told our struggles don’t matter because other people have it worse. Even when I mention my own struggles with aphobia in trans communities, my words are immediately co-opted to discuss transphobia and other forms of discrimination within queer circles. Acespecs are not allowed to simply discuss our own struggles without recognizing and taking care of every other queer struggle at the same time. We are under attack from each other, members of our own community, and mainstream society. How is that not urgent?


It’s not about awareness anymore. I thoroughly believe that there is more than enough ace awareness going around at the moment, considering what any vocal acespec person faces the moment they dare to start talking about their experiences. It’s not even about education. People that are literally recycling TERF rhetoric to justify their hate of acespecs aren’t going to listen to civil education on acespec identities. It’s not even really about advocacy, because that’s a polite term, and every time we try something polite, it’s easy for people who don’t want to help to simply “prioritize” acespecs at the bottom.


And, let me tell you, prioritizing acespecs at the bottom perpetuates that harmful, harmful belief that asexuality is a white identity, that it is a christian, english-speaking, Western identity, that trans acespecs only struggle because of ther transness (and that most trans people stop being ace anyways after transitioning anyways, that’s a post for another person to write, I think), and that an acespec identity can, in fact (disgustingly), justify sexual abuse. It’s this assumption that being ace automatically is an “easier” way to be queer and we have nothing to complain about.


In the past, these have been intracommunity issues – acespecs constantly challenging each other on creating an image of the white, english-speaking, American that fits Christian values of purity and is, more or less, not a huge challenge to general society. It’s a question of respectability politics. As a white, atheist, English-speaking American, I’ve always tried to approach these issues cautiously, listening and sharing more than writing. Except, now that any “problem” in the acespec community is used to prove that acespecs don’t “deserve” support, I, and plenty of other acespecs are scared to even bring up these intracommunity issues.


We need to reframe the entire thing. I am sick of hearing queer and lgbt+ groups talk about how we need to “prioritize the most vulnerable” and then use that to just ignore huge swaths of their population. Yes, if there are limited resources, we do need to prioritize. We do need to prioritize the people that are most likely to be hurt first. I don’t like it, it’s not sustainable, simply temporary relief, but there are limits to our capabilities and I recognize that.


But, when we are prioritizing, we need to recognize who we’re putting at the bottom and why. When we claim to prioritize trans people, when we want to support PoC, when we want to talk about income inequality, when we want to talk about colonialism and linguistic imperialism, these are all acespec issues. We don’t get to put “asexuality” in a neat little “privileged” package and leave it to the side. Asexuality is part of what makes intersecting identities more vulnerable because an acespec person will face violence and discrimination for their acespec identity from people claiming to support other aspects of their identity. That’s before we even look at mainstream society. We cannot support vulnerable populations without recognizing and supporting acespec identities.


I would like to be able to walk into a room of trans people without having to hide or defend my asexuality. I would like to be able to discuss aphobes without having to discuss terfs in the same breath in order for the discussion to be justified. And seriously? I’m still sour about the people that argued against the Trevor Project including asexuals (yeah yeah, it’s history, I know. But STILL). Are you seriously that hateful that you would deny a young queer person a life-saving resource because they aren’t the right kind of queer?


I’m too tired to be polite about this anymore. So, this AAW, I have a message for allo queer people: you are aware of us. You are very, very aware of us. I know it because we are being attacked by you daily on the internet, because you are telling us we are undeserving of support, because you are refusing to listen to our requests for safety for acespec and sex-repulsed people in queer spaces, spaces we belong in.


So stop pretending like you can ignore us. Stop trying to justify your hate of us. A year ago, I may have been ready to claim it wasn’t hate, but that you felt threatened and scared by people challenging things that have been positioned as pillars of lgbt communities. Now you’ve crossed enough lines that I’m not quite able to do that anymore. There are legitimate, justifiable reasons to feel threatened by acespecs. But we’re people. Deal with your emotions. Don’t force us to suffer the consequences of you refusing to face them.


Stop assuming aces have it easy. We don’t. Every time you make that assumption, you make it harder for us.


I wish I could talk about what I’d like to talk about – ways we can make queer spaces more welcoming for acespecs, conversations around trans identity and acespec identity and how those two things interlink in really strange and important ways, how we can all do better to support survivors of sexual abuse and what can be learned (both good and bad) from the ace community on this…


Except, I’m sitting here watching young, optimistic acespecs get death threats on a terrifyingly regular basis.


So, this year, I only have one demand, and it’s non-negotiable:


Please stop challenging our existence or our human rights. Please stop attacking us.




Theory: Passive Performance

tl;dr Passive performance is a theory of performance which accepts that gender in Western society is interpreted through a binary lens and so refuses to engage with the practice of manipulation that would reinforce the gender binary.


Photographs by audience members, you can see them all here


If you can’t tell, the past few months have been a transition for this blog. As I have been moving out of an educational setting into an attempted professional one, I have been finishing up my reflections on my course, tying up some loose ends I’ve wanted to discuss for a while, and am now repositioning myself as someone outside of an institution. Ouf.

As part of that, I am adding a more theoretical component to this blog. My art is deeply linked with an artistic and academic theory-building. It is an important part of who I am and how I make. So, I intend to start monthly discussions of theory I am developing and try to demonstrate how it informs my work. These may be a little bit longer and more academically inclined than my more personal writing, but I hope I can still make it accessible to anyone who is interested.

I’m going to start with the theories I developed for my independent project, “Construction Zone”, and  we’re going to start with passive performance because it’s a great way to just nip the inevitable Judith Butler tangent in the bud before it happens.


“Performativity” was developed by Judith Butler, very well-known in gender theory (and quite often strongly hated by trans people, I can’t say I love her at all). She uses the term of “self-stylization” to describe how individuals build their gender, as opposed to having gender as an innate, essential trait (1990/2004, p. 94). More interestingly, she discusses how interpretation is part of this construction. Someone’s gender is as much about how it is perceived and interpreted through social constraints as how it is presented. From there, it is possible for someone to manipulate another’s perception of their gender. We can make choices to navigate and control the limitations of gender interpretation.

However, an unavoidable limitation in Western society to gender interpretation is the Gender Binary (ew). Butler suggests that a nonbinary gender is impossible, because gender is interpreted by society and society only sees two genders (Butler, 1987/2004). I’m, of course, a nonbinary person sitting here and going “how the hell do I exist then?” and that’s kind of where the whole theory falls apart.

Performativity is an extremely flawed concept (I highly recommend reading Julia Serano’s “Performance Piece” and “Julia Serano on Judith Butler”  which both discuss Butler and the ways she’s been misinterpreted in a sympathetically critical light), but it is useful because it recognizes the role of interpretation in gender presentation and allows for us to consider the possibility of manipulation.

Passive performance/non-performance

So, if nonbinary people aren’t recognized in Western society, how can a nonbinary person manipulate others perceptions of them in order to perform a nonbinary gender?

The usual way this happens is by “mixing” gender presentations – drag, not-quite-drag, someone in a suit and high heels, cute boys in dresses, etcetcetc. The person takes bits and pieces from each side of the gender binary until they’re significantly “between” enough to not belong in either category.

While I recognize this does work to an extent, I question its long-term impact. Simply put, this manipulation is completely dependent on the Gender Binary, so it is still, in many ways, a binary expression, just in between the two points on a sliding scale instead of in the polar opposites. It reinforces the Gender Binary just as much as it challenges it.

My first reaction when faced with this dilemma was to say “fine then, I won’t perform anything at all”. But, the bad news is that, no matter how much you try not to perform, people and society will keep interpreting anyways. So, an absolute non-performance is impossible. However we can consider a response in terms of passivity instead of negativity.

Passive performance is refusing to actively manipulate interpretation. We cannot keep people from interpreting, but we can refuse to take part in the process. This is not something I do every day, manipulating people’s perceptions of me is as much about survival as it is about comfort, but it is effective in staged and presented performance. As soon as you make something a “performance”, questions of performativity and performance and interpretation become exaggerated because the manipulation and the interpretation processes become conscious as opposed to learned, subconscious behavior dictated by society. Removing a significant part of it, the manipulation that pressures the audience to interpret in specific ways, opens up possibilities for the audience to interpret, re-interpret, and consider their interpretations in a different way.

In practice

I developed this theory directly for “Construction Zone” which was, because of the passivity, an installation. Since I couldn’t manipulate the audience’s interpretations of me (and, instead, invited the audience to make their interpretation without my input as part of the installation through the use of the odious genderbread person’s scales), I couldn’t “perform” in any way: I couldn’t speak, dance, move, even my “costume” was designed to turn me into the genderbread person instead of an attempt to manipulate people the way I do in my everyday clothing choices. The night before, I had still not decided what to do with my hat, a particular characteristic that most people attribute to me (and I have purposefully encouraged, a form of manipulation). I eventually decided not to wear it, but to use it to hold the clothespins which the audience used to interpret me, presenting it in the space, but leaving it up to the audience’s interpretation, just as I was presenting myself. As for me, I simply sat, passively finger knitting (building the social constructions, that’s another theory topic), not engaging the audience members as they (mis)gendered me.

I also included written texts. These encompassed anything from my frustration at cis people to reflections on my own gender to discussions about the theories driving the work. You could argue that the texts were an attempt at manipulating my audience. However, they were placed passively in the room, similar to the hat. I did not have any power over whether or not the audience chose to read the texts while they had the ultimate decision-making power in terms of what they got out of the installation or what they learned or decided about me. I’m a control freak, so this level of passivity was terrifying and made me realize exactly how active I am in manipulating my audience’s perceptions in most of the work I create.

I’m not sure if this is a particular theory I’m going to return to immediately, as my interests are currently more movement-based, but I do think it flags up a lot of the issues that come with being a nonbinary performer. We cannot avoid binary interpretations of our performances, but we also don’t have to actively engage with the gender binary in order to perform. There is room for challenging the audience without having to reinforce damaging stereotypes of gender. That’s a particularly optimistic thought worth exploring further and could open up so many fascinating inquiries into performance.

Works Cited

Butler, J. (2004). Bodily inscriptions, performative subversions (1990). In Salih, S. (Ed), The Judith Butler reader (pp. 90-118). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Butler, J. (2004). Variations on sex and gender: Beauvoir, Wittig, Foucault (1987). In Salih, S. (Ed), The Judith Butler reader (pp. 21-38). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

In search of a new gym (ie. community centers are great!)

Tl;dr In my search for a gym after I moved, I ended up finding a community center and regaining some faith in humanity.


A few months ago, I wrote about some of my complicated feelings about fitness and working out and how I had managed to find a system that worked for me . I wrote it with the knowledge that I was about to lose access to my school’s gym and that I was also about to change countries. I was scared and worried that I was about to lose everything I had built up so carefully to forces beyond my control.


It was one of my first tasks when I moved in with my dad. I arrived at a funny time – most dance classes in Boston were closed for a summer break, so I felt the lack of movement in my life even more keenly. I forced myself back into my home workout a little too quickly (and was rewarded for my poor decisions with a sore body) because I was bored and had to be doing Something.


I searched the internet for some place small, calm, and cheap (I did not have a job at the time either) and got more and more stressed out. Gyms are scary for me. Gyms are places where Big Strong Jocks do Big Strong Things and are secretly judging me. I had managed to avoid those fears at my school because there was, at most, seven other people in the room with me and they were dancers. So, even if they were more fit than me, there was at least a commonality among us, we had a similar goal.


The thought of going into a completely new strange place with completely new strange people that would know nothing about me, but still have the ability to judge, petrified me. I kept writing “try Gym X” or “go to Y pilates class” on my schedule and then…not going.


And then, I was flipping through the brochure my dad got from our town’s community center and read that they had a “cardio fitness room”. It turns out that these two rooms in the basement of my local community center, one full of cardio machines, the other mainly full of weights, were completely free to use for town residents, and was a ten minute walk away from my house.


It wasn’t all the equipment I was used to (I also struggled to convert my treadmill use from kilometers to miles), but the main people that shared the space with me were much older than me and usually there to get out of the house, do exercise because it made them feel good, and maybe even socialize a bit, no one in the extreme weight-lifting region. It was relaxed, non-judgemental, and I could go off and do my own thing with no worry.



I had to adapt, but in doing so, I learned that my priority was not as much what exercises I was doing exactly, it was that I felt safe doing them.


More importantly, I realized that, even as we’re bemoaning how capitalism destroys everything, we still have beautiful little pockets of community-centered activity. I mean, I came home to discover my local library now lent out sewing kits as well as books. And this community center, paid for by tax dollars, exists to serve my town – it gives us a gym, ping-pong tables, classes specifically for to get old folks out of their houses, classes specifically for children and families, a job center to help residents get the work they need…I’m slowly getting to know the people and communities built around this gym, from the parents who come to run on a cardio machine every morning after they’ve sent their kids to school to the folks who come to deplete the weight room for their morning class and like to stop and chat while I stretch. We get to enjoy this wonderful service together.


In a time when we talk about individualism, about “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps” and the American Dream, and the terribleness of capitalism, I am so glad that community centers still exist. We haven’t lost everything.


Libraries always do this for me, but it was nice to find a gym too.


We are still a community. There is no reason to lose hope in our world yet.

Some September Readings

tl;dr here are some interesting things I’ve read this month!

One of the things I’d like to start doing is providing a short list of some interesting things I’ve read. Trying to make a difference is as much about sharing what other people are saying as it is about saying your own thing. All four of these articles are things that link to me personally through my interests, identities, or struggles, but are said in ways I could never do and written by people who can write these perspectives. This is super important. I don’t want to make long lists because I find them overwhelming and because I am a strong believer that really spending the quality time with one good reading is much more effective for learning than glancing over huge amounts of lists, but I hope, for anyone that wants a little more reading from a new perspective (or to just have an idea of the things I read that are stewing in the back of my mind while I write my blog posts), this can be a small, useful list of good reading.


It’s time for goth culture to embrace the identities of all of its members


“An aesthetic built on subverting gender norms also reinforces those same norms by constantly referencing them, and whether one’s gender presentation is read as subversive or subpar still depends on how digestible it is to mainstream society.”


As one of those trans people that found their gender presentation via the goth community and aesthetic (and then kind of left the space? I’m still not sure where I stand in terms of gothiness at the moment), this was a super important and meaningful read in my life and I figured it could be interesting to anyone else who happens to share even a little bit of gothiness.


Self love, body acceptance and other ways to get famous


“Whats often ignored by the cis, white, middle class, able bodied elite who make up the bulk of body bloggers is the ability to be body confident is often majorly affected by privilege, capitalism, access and hegemonic masculinity.”


Scottee is someone I’ve secretly admired from afar since I discovered his existence (and got a tiny one-week workshop with him, nowhere near enough time), so I highly recommend going and reading everything he was written ever. This particular post stuck out to me from my own experiences in how “trans visibility” on social media has often turned into a similar phenomenon – white, able-bodied, skinny, masculine-leaning, afab folks in sweater vests claiming they’re challenging gender by making people ask them if they’re a boy or a girl. It’s well-meaning, but reinforcing the gender norms they’re trying to challenge and has always made me feel like an outsider. As Scottee says, it’s time to up the game.



Refusing to tolerate intolerance


“Calls for ‘more speech’ also suffer from the misconception that we, as a society, are all in the midst of some grand rational debate, and that marginalized people simply need to properly plea our case for acceptance, and once we do, reason-minded people everywhere will eventually come around. This notion is utterly ludicrous. Prejudice and discrimination are not driven by rationality or reason.”


Julia Serano is another one of those people that I deeply admire (and have not had the chance to meet, sadly…someday…I can only hope). This is a response to conversations around “free speech”, particularly with awareness of Charlottesville and Milo Yiannopoulos and general current events (and our increasing failure to condemn hate speech). Serano has a remarkable ability to take things I know  and turn them into things I can explain. So, if you’re like me and sometimes struggle to explain things like “Nazis are bad” because it seems so absolutely obvious (I mean, seriously?), this can break it down for you, deepen your comprehension of the issue, and give you fuel for fighting back.



Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies as reclamatory fan work


“By reframing these earlier works of literature as part of a longer history of women’s writing that also involves the works being done today within modalities of fan writing, and by reconsidering fan works as part of a historical continuum of women’s writing, we, much as de Pizan herself did, create a theoretical space that historicizes, contextualizes, and indeed valorizes women writers of both fannish and nonfannish works.”


Yeah, that quote is a lot of academic gibberish, but, truth be told, I found this article decently accessible in terms of language. As the nerd I am and the fan I am, I absolutely love the Journal for Transformative Works. Not only is it free academic articles about fanwork, which is pretty damn, it’s pretty radical in how it works to avoid the gatekeeping that  is inherent in most academic work. I also have a weakness for women writers, particularly ones that go “fuck this man-thing, I’m going to write a better thing now” (someday maybe I’ll write out all my love for the original fairy tale authors of 17th century France). So, having never actually heard of Christine de Pizan (a travesty, I blame my terrible teachers from my undergraduate degree), this was probably the most exciting piece of academic literature I read this month. And, what this paper argues, is that applying new modes of study to look at older works by women offers a new perspective that we wouldn’t have otherwise, which is super important when we consider how many older models were developed to specifically look at male authors.


Memories of trying to be a cellist

Tl;dr I started to remember my old cello teacher recently and revisited the guilt I felt when I stopped playing cello. However, I also discovered this year that I haven’t really left my music training and that it is still feeding my art. There is more than one way to reach a goal.

[CW: mentions of cancer and death]

symphony hall
Teenage me and my cello, Lilly

Since I’ve been in a period of transition, I’ve been going through a lot of the old stuff that’s collected in my room over the years and trying to make the entire room slightly more clean. And, out of these old things, I found a whole bunch of my old cello music. And I found some of it was labelled with my old cello teacher’s name. It had been her music, and either through my own purposeful forgetfulness or because she had actually given it me, I still had it.


This was one of the best teachers I had ever had. She took me on as a student after my first cello teacher left the area to pursue a new life, which eight-year old me did not understand at all, was incredibly patient with me when all I wanted was my first teacher back, and really was the person to grow my learning skills and my cello skills and my kindness skills.  That is to say, she played an integral role in my life at a time when I was lonely and miserable and needed people to see me, care about me, and believe in me.


I had known she had cancer, but I hadn’t ever quite wrapped my head around what that meant until I got home from summer camp and my parents sat me down on the couch and told me she had died. I was still in middle school then.


And that was the beginning of the end for me. I went on to another teacher, one that had been a friend of hers and understood where I was coming from. And he taught me well, but I was never able to trust him or felt as supported. I moved onto another teacher, and it became clear that my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I couldn’t get myself to practice more than fifteen minutes a day, I resented a lot of what I was doing, lessons became painful exercises in repeating things I should know, and so I finally asked my teacher, “is there a point for me to come to these lessons any more?” and we both agreed that there really wasn’t.


Even when I did not enjoy cello, it took me a long time to put it down and admit that it wasn’t for me because I felt like I was letting this first teacher down. She had believed that I was capable of so many things, and I was constantly failing her at every bend – I wasn’t practicing, I wasn’t committing, I wasn’t enjoying myself…I wasn’t the musician she had thought I could be. I felt like a complete and utter failure, which made the whole thing that much less enjoyable, and yet I still felt tied to keep going, to keep trying to be that musician.


When I did finally stop lessons and then stop cello altogether, I felt so relieved and I hated myself so much for it. It was the ultimate failure.


I had set goals for myself when she had been my teacher. Ridiculous, overreaching goals. But, on the trajectory I was going, they would all be eventually reachable with work. One I did succeed in – to play the Brahms sonata in E minor. It was never a brilliant performance, but it’s a piece I worked hard on and could play all the way through. Another goal, to play through all of the Bach cello suites, was one I kept aiming at, even promising myself, at one point, that I’d stop cello once I had completed that particular goal. Very few student cellists actually do more than the first few suites though, and I was on the third one when I stopped. The final goal, I never even started – the first Shostakovich cello concerto. I stopped listening to any of those pieces when I left cello because it made me feel so guilty.


This year, in the midst of working on my choreography assessment, I had a moment of pause and realized that the first movement of the Shostakovich might work for my concept. I didn’t completely commit at the beginning, I downloaded the music and kept “experimenting” with it (while not “experimenting” with anything else). It wasn’t until I first shared a rough draft of the piece and realized that most of my classmates didn’t know the Shostakovich that I realized how attached I was and committed to using it.


My school was half-dance, half-music, so I walked all the way over to the music half, entered their library, and got myself the score for the piece (the piano redaction as it was easier to read while considering movement).


It wasn’t until I held that score in my hands that I was able to start forgiving myself.


See, this is the one goal I have successfully reached. I have now presented a piece that engaged with the structural framework of the Shostakovich and required a strong understanding of the music. I may not have played it. I’m definitely not capable of playing it. But I still worked with it. I still used it. I still performed it, in a sense.


My music education isn’t something I’ve left in the past.


And, now I’ve done some teaching myself, it’s a little easier to see – I would have failed my teacher a lot more if I had stuck with doing something I hated. She wanted what was best for me, not an amazing cellist. I’d like to think she’d be thrilled to see how I was able to use skills I have because of her teaching (because reading music was definitely a necessity for structuring the piece) to create something that was, in my own opinion, pretty damn amazing.


I guess what I’m saying is that things come around in strange ways. I may not play cello any more, but it still influences my choices and my abilities. And when you have a good teacher, they’re going to make an impact on you beyond whatever they’re teaching you.


And that’s the best kind of teacher.


So, I’m still holding onto any sheet music that has her name on it. Maybe someday I’ll have the right project to use it for.


*At one point in time, there was an education fund set up in my teacher’s honor that I would have loved to link you to here. Since I cannot currently find the details, in the absence of handy-dandy link, I would like to urge anyone reading this who has some money to spare to consider donating to their local youth music program. What one teacher did for me is what many music teachers are continuing to do for many many children, and while we can’t bring people back from the dead, we can certainly continue to spread the values and beliefs and kindness they brought us while they were alive.


**You can see a dress rehearsal of the piece, “How Dare You.” here