Things I Learned This Year Part 2 (Ongoing Growth and Stuff)

I usually wrap up the arbitrary time interval of the Gregorian calendar with some “Things I Learned post(s) (like thisthisthis, or this). This is the second chunk of Things from this year (catch up on Part 1).

We all have thoughts in our head that we didn’t put there ourselves. But it’s our responsibility to decide which of those guide our actions.

Empty mandates to “love yourself” are pretty useless, especially when they don’t address the real world environments and systems that contribute to self-hate. You don’t need need to meta-berate yourself for having insecurities. While you’re working through them, you can have a healthy, functional (if not quite loving) working relationship with yourself that allows you to live and love your life.

Don’t assume you don’t have something to teach someone with more status than you. Don’t assume you don’t have something to learn from someone with less status than you.

I don’t need a clearly articulated “good reason” for leaving a situation I don’t feel good about (personally or professionally). The good reasons become clear with a little distance.

Originality isn’t everything. Some of the most potent ideas are the ones that lots of people are thinking and not enough people are saying out loud.

Don’t underestimate how far you can get by reaching out to people with genuine excitement.

The work-in-progress version of myself can be worth sharing. I can be performing professionally and also beginning new phases of training. I can write about topics as I continue to learn about them. I can offer help with personal problems I’m also still working through. You don’t have to stay silent until you’re “finished” growing, or become stagnant once you’ve started speaking.

When you start getting real, some people will get closer, and others will back away. I’ve been lucky this year to have some wonderful humans in the former category, whose presence more than outweighs any superficial relationships I’ve lost.

The competition of who has the most correct/radical sociopolitical opinions can be a trap. Being critical is important, but I’m more interested in supporting and joining people putting something positive (and inevitably imperfect) into practice.

Being late to the (metaphorical) party isn’t a reason not to show up. Chances are once you’re there, you’ll realize lots of people are still arriving.

Don’t put people on pedestals.
People who are experts in one area might be terribly ignorant in another. Artists who have made brilliant work can also make crap. People who have done important social justice work can also be assholes or abusers.

It’s not fair to demand infallibility from people we respect, or to dispose of them as soon as they slip up. It’s dangerous to unconditionally accept ideas coming from people we respect. And it’s ironically dehumanizing to see people we respect as superheroes, overlooking the possibility that they struggle or need support themselves.

Advertisements

Things I Learned This Year Part 1 (Spaces)

I usually wrap up the arbitrary time interval of the Gregorian calendar with some “Things I Learned post(s) (like this, this, this, or this). This year, I’m feeling splainy, so I’m gonna break it into a few chunks. starting with some loosely tied reflections on spaces. 

The same work/idea can read tremendously differently in different contexts.
What is considered “funny,” “novel,” “intense,” or “radical,” is so defined by the venue and audience.

The environment and people I’m working with matter more to me than I previously thought.
This applies both to artistic and non-artistic work. But in particular, I expected that I would be so eager (and desperate) for dance jobs that I would tolerate any toxicity surrounding them. On the contrary, as I’ve gotten more professional experience, I’m realizing how much the people, practices, and values surrounding me influence both my happiness and quality of work, and this really affects how I choose projects.

Dance performances can be more fun, interesting, and effective outside of the usual dance concerts.
Many of the performances I’ve been doing lately have involved performing contemporary dance in non-dance venues, including art galleries, music concerts, theater festivals, and open mics. I’ve found refreshingly un-jaded audiences, taken feedback from new perspectives, absorbed some useful creative and business practices from different types of artists, and met lots of cool people outside the concert dance bubble.

Don’t mistake comfort for familiarity. Your comfort zone might be something you haven’t stepped into.
Turns out I enjoy acrobatics, drag, spoken word poetry, and talking on podcasts. I’ve also been reevaluating the social spaces I’ve been in for the last few years–which ones was I actually at home in and which ones was I just competent at navigating?

Identity-specific spaces can be freeing in ways I didn’t know I needed.
I didn’t use to seek out identity-specific spaces, with a variety of excuses: because I felt I didn’t “need” them, because I didn’t want to be exclusively defined by identity markers, or because I assumed I wasn’t the perfect prototype of someone who would belong in that community. I was wrong.

Some of my favorite experiences and relationships this year have come through identity-centric communities. Ironically, I suddenly felt less defined by those identities (since they were the least distinctive thing about me in context). However, I was also free to reflect on parts of my life I often censor, downplay, or have to over-explain and “represent positively.” With fewer walls up, I found myself becoming a more open, relaxed, creative version of myself, that I hope to bring into more aspects of my life.

 

White Jesus Won’t Save You (On Religion and Attempts at Arab-American ‘Whiteness’)

In 1913, George Dow, a Syrian* immigrant in South Carolina, was trying to convince a court that he’s white, a requirement for citizenship at the time. This wasn’t the first or last case disputing the categorization Arabs within the racial hierarchy of US law, but it’s the one that would make it to the Supreme Court.

So how do you convince white people that you’re white enough? According to that legal history, there’s a few strategies. It sure helps if you’re closer to looking the part, in terms of skin color and features. You need to buy into white supremacy–explaining how you’re too good and too smart to belong to any other racial category. You can dig through the wormholes of “scientific” racial theory to find a version that benefits your ancestors.

You can argue for easy assimilation: that you’ll blend in with white people without rocking the boat too much. Most of these people were Syrian/Lebanese* Christians, and didn’t hesitate to highlight their Christianity fact for white points.

And then there’s the White Jesus card.

As the argument goes, Jesus–who presumably must be a white man–was from the same region as George Dow. Therefore Dow must be granted legal whiteness to protect Jesus’ precious white image. (To argue whether or not Jesus was actually was white isn’t quite the point here. American whiteness is a social and legal construct with borders that could be redrawn specifically to include Jesus, maintaining the links between American nationalism, whiteness, and Christianity.)

In 1915, after several multiple appeals, the Supreme Court ruled that Syrians* are in fact legally white. Of course, that “white” status would be up for legal debate and social skepticism for years to come.

Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 11.06.12 PM

A slice of the deeply consequential nonsense. Compiled by Ian Haney Lopez


In 2002, Nadia Khayrallah, a seven-year-old first-generation Lebanese-American* in North Carolina, had no clue what box to check the on the demographics page of a standardized test. “Um, why don’t you just check the ‘Other’ box,” the proctor stammered, eying me uncomfortably. “That’s probably what it’s for.” Little did I know, the “White” box was technically mine to check, if not socially mine to inhabit.

But I hoped I could white-pass if I just tried hard enough to fit into that box. I dropped any interest in speaking Arabic. I kind of resented my parents’ accents and the way they packed me hummus for lunch about five years before it became ‘cool.’ I dreamed of marriage only because it could involve changing my name.

I must have mostly white-failed, because people still had questions–lines of questions that might start with “Where are you from?” and lead down to either “Are you a terrorist?” or “Are you a lesbian?” (both of which sounded equally scary at the time–at least I felt fairly certain that I wasn’t a terrorist).

And then there were the raised eyebrows asking if I goes to church or . . . something.

(My deal wasn’t quite what they were thinking. My family includes both Christians and Muslims, but I wasn’t aware of the significance of that distinction. By Lebanese law, I was in fact a card-carrying Christian, but I had no reason to know that given my non-religious upbringing.)

The entire concept of religion was a little opaque to me, but I had picked up enough sociopolitical common sense to know this: if churchy people suspect you’re a Muslim, outing yourself as an Atheist won’t do you any favors.

So I did the thing I do quite poorly: I lied. I made up a church to pretend I went to. Given how little I knew about churches, and how bad I am at lying, I doubt that I was very convincing. But still, like George Dow, I knew to call upon Jesus to save me from racial otherness.


But oh how naive to think that White Jesus would make us pure in the eyes of white supremacy. If only we knew how tenuous that salvation would be.

A few years ago, I heard about an Orthodox Christian church near my parent’s current house in California that was burned down after 9/11, allegedly because the congregation was largely Arab.

“But…it’s literally a church,” my mom remarked in confusion. “People who commit hate crimes aren’t known for precision,” I responded.

Indeed, race and religion are still knotted together in our bloody cultural fabric. While Muslims are particularly targeted, anyone considered vaguely Muslim-adjacent can feel the blow of Islamophobia.

Some Arab Christians hope to escape by insisting that they’re different and not like the other ones.  Yet even if you choose self-interest over solidarity, the broad strokes will sometimes hit you too. Jesus, not even White Jesus, can save you from that.


*Note about nationality labels: Because borders are imaginary lines that were fiddled with in the early 20th century, the distinction between between Syrian and Lebanese people gets fuzzy and anachronistic real fast. For simplicity, I’m calling people by their most immediate nationality as it would be described at the time.

Things I’ve Been Doing

In the absence of more regular blog posting, I thought I’d share some links to things I’ve been up to lately.

I made this new solo:

This honestly started out from a desire to practice my emerging DJ skills in turning Janelle Monae bangers into ballads. It turned into an irreverent little ode to queer culture for showing me how to mix pleasure with politics, party with protest, laughter with disaster; how to keep dancing, loving, and fighting when the world is on fire.

I was also in this recent Dance Magazine Article, sharing some recent grad perspectives on how college dancers are (and aren’t taught to talk about money). This issue has several great articles related to financial transparency in the freelance dance world, so I would really recommend checking it out. Talking about money as artists is hard, but we can’t solve our problems in silence.

You’ll hear more from me soon!

Things I Love About Being Queer

Being queer can involve struggle, fear, and discrimination. This is not a post about that. Because some things are really awesome too. Here are some of my faves right now:

Relationships models outside of a (failing) hetero script

M/F relationships come loaded with a set of cultural defaults of who does what in initiating dates, finances, sex, housework, emotional labor, big/little spoon positioning, etc. Turns out this doesn’t always reflect the needs and desires of the individuals involved (for example, it usually leaves women sexually unsatisfied, and men emotionally repressed).

Fortunately, in gender pairings where this script doesn’t apply, you have to collectively build your own script by understanding, explicitly communicating, and negotiating your desires. These are great relationship skills to have, regardless of gender or orientation.

(For background, I’m bi, most of the people I’m attracted to are women or non-binary people, and my previous relationships have been with women. It’s not out of the question that I would date a dude, but because of the expectations I’ve developed, I don’t have much patience for some of the gendered expectations that many straight men bring to relationships. Thank god.)

Queer friendship

Not all meaningful queer relationships are romantic/sexual. There’s something wonderfully affirming in having a squad of LGBT-identifying peeps there to understand, validate, and fight for you, as you do for them.

Better media consumption

So I was reading Autostraddle, appreciating the gently subversive commentary, quirky ingroup humor, and supportive comment section–and I thought, “Wow, thank god I’m not straight–I would probably be reading Cosmo right now.”

As a queer person, you are usually not the target audience for most mainstream TV, movies, news, magazines, art, music, and fashion (perhaps more of a niche side-group to be pandered to on special occasions).

But on average, I think the media that is made by and for us is much more thoughtful, creative, interesting, and…better. Stories that don’t assume one type of happy ending or path to getting there. Advice columns that don’t idealize one relationship model. Fashion that doesn’t center around one beauty ideal per gender. Nuanced personal narratives that aren’t forced into a simpler and more comprehensible for cis/het consumption. You kind of have to find this stuff yourself, but damn, it’s worth it.

Getting to be the representation you want to see

It sucks if you didn’t get to see yourself reflected in mainstream entertainment, literature, and news growing up. (This remains true particularly for QPOC and other people at the intersection of identities.)

But the cool flip side of this is that you get to be that representation for other people. In whatever capacity you are publicly visible, you showing babyqueers a possible future that they might not have seen before.

I’ve had some moments particular where I realized just how true this was: A 13-year-olds at a dance intensive I was working at felt comfortable talking to me about questioning his sexuality; A blog reader told me that my goofball bi visibility post seriously helped her feel valid in her sexuality;  I’ve gotten some messages on social media from people who were excited to see some form of representation they were missing, whether queer female dancers or queer Arab people.

Now I’m obviously not a celebrity and my online presence isn’t particularly designed to be inspirational, but the awesome truth is that just by living your life openly and unapologetically, you can give other people license to do the same.

Questioning 

Adopting a LGBTQ identity generally involves a period of questioning. For some people, that questioning starts and ends with figuring out what there own gender or sexuality is. For those willing to expand their minds and hearts a little, it can be a door into questioning the cis/heteronormative systems of the society they were raised in, and questioning other systems of oppression that might not personally affect them. For example:

  • When I accepted that queer sexuality was okay, it only made sense to question other sexual norms I had encountered, from slut-shaming and victim-blaming, to kink-shaming and sex-worker exclusion.
  • For me, coming to terms with my sexual in-betweenness helped me better understand my racial in-betweenness and how concepts of conditional passing, erasure, and choices in identification play into both. For some of my white queer friends, accepting their queerness was their first experience with being the Other, and they used it to become more empathetic and motivated allies to POC.
  • Because I’ve had to validate and explain my sexuality to those who refuse to see it, I’ve developed better empathy and allyship for those who are forced to justify their gender identity or non-visible disability.
  • While I’m in a place where I feel relatively comfortable and safe in my queer identity, I feel a sense of solidarity with those who don’t have that privilege, nationally and internationally. I am navigating how to support these movements, while knowing that they are not mine to lead.

I don’t see “Questioning” as a transitional phase, but rather as a mindset that I hope to keep with me as I learn and evolve.

For Boys in Glitter

This one’s for the femmeboys. The flaming softboys and the fearless sissies. The boys in glitter and nail polish and neon pink. The boys at dance camp who I let try on my pointe shoes, just for shits and giggles. The men who showed me how to tear up a dance floor in heels like its a job. The pop stars with full makeup and raging falsettos.

You offered the first form of queerness made undeniably visible to me, and I latched on without quite knowing why. No, it wasn’t a desire for a “Gay Best Friend” accessory that drew me in, but a deeper, vaguer sense that we somehow belonged in the same category.

And as we stumbled through adolecence together, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be with you or be you. (Like with the cool girls with half-shaved heads, leather jackets, and poetry blogs, it was probably some of both.)

As a babyqueer girl who would never feel at home with ‘butch’ or ‘femme,’ something told me that the sissy boys were my gender cohort.

I’ve often heard from butch women and female-assigned trans people that wearing dresses and makeup felt like drag. And I’ve felt that too–but in a good way. See, I considered drag fun: a way to be excessive and expressive and play outside the boundaries of who you are. (The only problem comes when people don’t seem to want to see me out of that costume.)

If some butches found their parallels in bros who would never be caught dead in a dress, I found mine in the bold give-no-fucks girly boys (who usually lived in patterned buttoned-downs–but actually might be caught dead in a dress). Beyond the style inspiration, I saw a form of femininity that could be part of me–a queer femininity that wasn’t passive or dainty, but aggressive, flamboyant, and subversive.

And then there were my occasional boy-crushes–generally falling into that same type. They seemed safely unrequitable–like all those straight girl crushes. (In reality, some were not as unrequitable as I had assumed–like some of those “straight” girl crushes). But in my head, they were a purely hypothetical illumination of my desires, without the more daunting possibility of action.

With my femmeboy crushes, I realized it wasn’t men per say that contradicted my tastes, but rather the stale normative masculinity that most of them came wrapped in. I came to own the nuances of my desires and understand how my sexuality might be made to function in a less staunchly gendered sphere.

So thank you, all the fabulous femme-leaning men who have rolled through my life. We’ve found our own places in the world and they’re not quite the same, but in seeing you be unapologetically you, I found some seeds I needed to be me.

Updates

Hey peeps! I’ve got some exciting updates on upcoming events I’m involved in (dancing, choreographing, or facilitating):

From the Horse’s Mouth
March 15 – 18 at the 14th St Y
Next weekend, I’ll be dancing alongside an amazing cast of speakers, movers, and musicians in this dance and storytelling event celebrating the work of Egyptian ballerina and dance scholar Dr. Magda Saleh. 

Labor of Love? A Long Table
Tuesday, April 17 6:30pm at Gibney 280
The Dance/NYC Junior Committee is hosting discussion around labor, artistic love, and monetary and social value in the dance field. Kim Savarino and I will be co-facilitating this event, with the presence of core participants Brinae Ali, Caroline Fermin, and Alexander Thomson.

Artists By Any Other Name: Her Favorite
April 21at South Oxford Space
I’m excited to begin working with the musician/dance collaborative Artists By Any Other Name. With director Aimee Niemann and co-choreographer Traci Finch, I’ll be choreographing a modern/feminist take on baroque court dance. Stay tuned for updates and additional performance times!