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.

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“Labor of Love”

On the Dance NYC Junior Committee blog, I’ve shared some of my thoughts on the use of the phrase “labor of love,” in preparation for our Long Table discussion next Tuesday on labor, artistic love, and monetary and social value in the dance field. Read the full post here, and check the blog for more JComm member’s thoughts!

“Labor of love” is a phrase brought up to justify not paying artists, with the assumption that we are so eager to practice and perform our craft for its own sake, we will be willing to do it for free. (In regard to myself, I can’t say this isn’t true.)

“Labor of love” is how I justified to my parents my desire to pursue a highly underpaid and unstable career in dance. They asked how health insurance fit into that. I didn’t know.

Throughout high school and college, I was told by some (overwhelmingly kind and supportive) teachers and advisors that “the most important thing in life is to do what you love.” In a sense, I am following that advice, but the reality is that not everyone has the privilege to view work as more than a means of survival. When we treat the choice to pursue our passions as a morally superior one, we can develop a disregard for work done “only” for money and the people who do it. (In other words, “labor of love” won’t really help you pay your rent, but it can help you feel superior to the people living next to you.)

Believing in the moral purity of “labor of love” means dismissing those lucky enough to get significantly payed for their art as “sellouts.” (I wouldn’t mind selling out one day.)

In addition to art, I have heard the term “labor of love” used to refer to to social justice-oriented work and childrearing.

A “labor of love” is usually supported by a labor of money (either yours or someone else’s).

On “President”

This is a post about President. Not about any particular individual occupying a particular presidential office, but about President, the idea and aspiration. The thing you once thought you might be one day (at least if you were lucky enough to ever be told you should dream so big–or at least before you learned you shouldn’t).

The first presidential election I remember was Bush v Gore 2000. I got a Kids Voting ballot with pictures of all the candidates, and awarded each of my empty votes to whichever guy I thought had the better headshot. Sometimes it was hard because they kind of looked the same. For the record, I voted for Gore. (In retrospect, I stand by my decision but not my reasons.)

I asked my mom if girls were allowed to be presidents. I learned that they were, but none of them had yet. Like many ambitious little girls first hearing this news, I was less concerned with why this was the case than I was with beating out any other ambitious girls to the “first” spot. (In retrospect, I realize that being the first anything is terribly overrated if you’re the only.)

The people counting the votes needed extra time, my parents informed me, as they watched the news with anticipation. I thought that made sense, because counting that high must be really hard. I later heard that that the guy who got the most votes didn’t get to be president. I thought that might kind of be nice for him, because now he could brag about winning without having to be in charge of everyone. (In retrospect, he sure did.)

Being president sounded like a lot of pressure–people always seemed angry at presidents–so I thought I might aim for vice president instead. I checked that no girls had been vice president either, so I could still be first at something. Thinking realistically, I decided that I would start my career being vice president of small countries, then incrementally work my way up to bigger ones. (In retrospect, that plan could have used some refinement.)

At my neighbor’s birthday party that week, his know-it-all older brother offered a piece of candy to whoever could answer the question “Who was the first president?” He proceeded to inform that me and the three other people who blurted out “George Washington” that we were wrong–George was the first president of the US, but not the world. He didn’t know the name of the actual first president, but insisted that it was someone else. (In retrospect, maybe he didn’t know it all.)

(Today I Googled “first president in the world. The ambiguous definition of “president” across languages and systems of government leaves no clear answer. Possibly Filippo Antonio Pasquale di Paoli, President of the Corsican Republic in 1755. His republic didn’t work out, but at least he was first at something.)

My mom told me that I couldn’t be president of Lebanon because I wasn’t the right religion. I wasn’t quite sure what religion I was, but “Deputy Speaker of Parliament” sounded less cool, so I immediately became a firm opponent of sectarianism. (In retrospect, I had a point, but Deputy Speakers of Parliament can also be cool.)

The next election season, I learned about write-in candidates. I asked my parents if they would vote for me, and was kind of offended that they said no. Unfortunately, they had other plans for positions like “mayor” and “senator,” but eventually agreed to write me in for soil commissioner. (In retrospect, I apologize for trivializing the soil commissioner race. Soil commissioners are as important as presidents.)

(What kind of person would want to be a president anyway?)

Just Ribbing

Did he think of it as birthing or purging when he tore me out of himself? It was hard to tell.

No sooner did he fixate on what he loved in me–the beauty, the softness, the fragility–than did he gag at reminder that it had once been a part of him. Then he sighed in relief that it was all now apart from him. As if he didn’t have more ribs where those came from. As if we weren’t made of the same bones.

And I thought: what a self-loathing creature to draw such a wall between what he loves and what he hopes to be.

But maybe that moment of shock was when he became determined to see no reflection of himself in whatever came out of him. His colorful musings were Pure Reason. His sappy tunes and poetry, Straight from God. 

Of course, anyone else could see otherwise, but I didn’t have the ribs to break it to him. Yet. When it came to the baby, though, we had to talk.

A Dance About Nothing

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to make a dance about nothing. She had made dances before, about people and thoughts and pains and places and days and words and feelings. But now, she thought, would be her time to make a dance about nothing at all.

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She decided to start off by making some shapes, as pure and plane as can be, unblemished by a reason. She was sure she could do it; there were infinite points for her to touch before needing touch upon why. But every triangle she made started to feel too much like love, every square too much like time–with a glacial rush though it–every pentagon too much like war. This was not a dance about nothing, she realized.

So she tried again to cut the dance off from her mind and its clutter, and directing it with a roll of dice. She tossed the dice in the air, pretending the motion didn’t ignite flickering wishes, prayers and fears over the landing. She ignored the way the clattering of dice on the table brought back backgammon games under little clouds of smoke and politics. She read the faces, noted the steps, and eagerly rolled again, as if she never knew of livelihoods consumed by addiction to chance procedures. She tried not to enjoy the strangely delicious sense of freedom that came in stripping herself of all agency. Maybe this wasn’t a dance about nothing, she admitted.

A dance truly about nothing, she decided, would not move: not a soul, not a heart, not a muscle, not an inch. So she didn’t. She stood still, silent, and centered in the empty room. She thought she might finally be on to nothing.

But in her stillness, the breeze from outside found space to creep in, stirring her bones from the inside. So she closed the windows. You need closed windows to make a dance about nothing.

But slivers of rogue air still slipped through the cracks and into her system. They tasted just a little smoky this time, like half-assed eyeshadow or fading cigarette butts. So she shut her eyes and mouth and ears and nose. You need a closed nose to make a dance about nothing.

The air outside grew hotter and thicker, but she remained uninterrupted in her pristine stillness. You need to not notice to make a dance about nothing.

Things I Would Have Written in My One-Sentence Journal if I Was Still Keeping Up With That

Knee-deep one-liners from my life:

  • Most of being an adult is just sitting on different types of transportation.
  • You can’t have shade without light.
  • I like my guys like I like my fries: on occasion.
  • I deal with feelings like I deal with laundry: probably later, when there’s not so much going on.
  • Reclaiming is when you go through the garbage that’s been hurled at you and notice that some of it is actually recyclable.
  • If you don’t understand high art, sober art might be more your thing.
  • This is probably difficult for you to hear, but more difficult for me to not say.

The Fantasy Pedestrian

I find it a little bit funny when dance people, usually of the postmodern sort, use the word “pedestrian” to refer to their cleanly-crafted arrangements of steps, lines, and gestures. As if that could be placed in the the same category as the confused and unruly gaggle of walkers who complicate the walking path from the train to the studio.

Inside that pristine world, pedestrians move with intention and a clear, deliberate focus.

Out here, only half the pedestrians seem to really know where they’re going. Most of the rest bow their heads down their Google Maps for guidance, making the occasional 180 when they realize that the pointer on their screen isn’t quite oriented to this earth.

In there, pedestrians use simple movement to demonstrate an awareness and skillful use of time and space.

Out here, pedestrians walk way too slow until they realize that they need to pummel through the crowd in a fit of lateness. They walk on the wrong side of the sidewalk. They stop to think about how they’re on the wrong side of the sidewalk. They spend seven seconds deliberating over whether they can cross that crosswalk in time, and five seconds actually crossing it (the last three to a chorus of impatient car honks).

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In there, pedestrians cross each others paths calm with acknowledgement, drawing intricate floor patterns which just so happen to fall into the open spaces between their peers.

Out here, pedestrians manage to bump into each other even when they’re going the same direction, setting off a sprinkle of curses and dirty looks.

In there, all pelvises hang in a delicate “neutrality,” the kind you engineer through years of careful micro-engagements and releases.

Out here, pelvises sway and slouch and jut and twist and teeter and bounce and jitter. They’re pelvises that hold histories and pains and desires and fears that might tip them on way or another–and who’s to say if they ever knew a default state before all that weight?

In there, we imagine that pedestrians walk with no affectations down a street with no name and no homes and no real estate. There’s no fairies or princesses, but don’t be mistaken: we’re looking at a distant fantasy land.