pryder: (Default)
[personal profile] pryder
NEFFA finished earlier today; mostly it was a good festival for me. The Black Jokers did their last NEFFA performance and it was the best one in years; the team energy was high and nobody made any serious mistakes. Red Herring's performance was less perfect but still OK. I had fun at the contra medleys, and doing hexagons (thank you for making that happen, Kat!) in the Singing Squares session. I got some nice clothes from Nancy Dresses and Eagle Ray. Lots of friends were there.

And yet something isn't right. I hesitate to gripe because mostly my experiences living as a woman have been so good, but I think there are gender-related problems going on with my recent experiences in the dance community. It's not that anybody is making me feel actively unwelcome; it's just that they don't want to be my dance partner. Except for fellow genderqueer people hardly anybody asks me to dance, if they do it's at the very end of the partner search as if I'm a consolation prize, and the ones that do are mostly women who expect and/or want me to lead. I'm a reasonably experienced dancer at contra and English, so it's not as if I should be in that situation. (Not everybody there knows me, but after seeing me on the floor for a dance or two it should be apparent that I possess some amount of clue.) And if I'm there in a really nice twirly dress as I was on Saturday, it should be obvious that I'm planning to use it to full advantage, which means following rather than leading.

Oddly enough, I think the fact that a number of men choose to dress unconventionally at NEFFA works against me. In normal settings, people see dress, boobs (even if they're fake), and dangly jewelry, and they figure “woman”. But at NEFFA they read “man in a dress” and behave according to those gender expectations. Short of adopting a hyper-gendered presentation (hard to maintain over a day of festival dancing, as it would involve heavy makeup and foundation garments) I can't figure out what I could possibly do to counter that misreading. I suppose I could try F-cup breastforms but I'd have to buy a bunch of new clothes (most of my wardrobe would be too tight on top) and it's not who I want to be anyway.

There are other possible explanations. I might be too old, or insufficiently pretty, or not sufficiently well known in the dance community. Maybe I'm reading too much into nothing. But it will take some time and some more positive experiences to fully convince me.

Date: 2012-04-23 12:20 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Well, Shirley, I share your experience, except that women who ask me to dance don't usually expect me to lead. In my case perceived gender isn't a factor -- at least I hope it isn't.--Your loving housemate, Beth

Date: 2012-04-24 05:44 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
But at NEFFA they read “man in a dress” and behave according to those gender expectations. Short of adopting a hyper-gendered presentation (hard to maintain over a day of festival dancing, as it would involve heavy makeup and foundation garments) I can't figure out what I could possibly do to counter that misreading. I suppose I could try F-cup breastforms but I'd have to buy a bunch of new clothes (most of my wardrobe would be too tight on top) and it's not who I want to be anyway.

No, I don't think you want to up the amplitude. I think you want to refine the resolution. One doesn't make oneself read as more feminine by exaggerating a few physical characteristics, but by making one's presentation more thorough and detailed.

Do you have anyone helping you with this?

Date: 2012-04-25 03:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] serakit.livejournal.com
I've found that when I'm at contra dances I have to go chasing desirable partners-- I usually get a partner by bouncing up to him and asking to dance in a very enthusiastic manner. (I do this to men at SCA dances too.) Before I had the nerve to do that to people, I often wound up asked last, or asked by people who vibed as creepy. And I'm biologically female and very definitely present as such, so it might not just be your gender presentation. (Though that being part of it wouldn't surprise me much, for all the reasons you've described.)

Date: 2012-11-03 12:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] firstacoustic.livejournal.com
I don't often spend time on LJ, but I some how found yours through Jeff Bigler. You probably do not remember me, but I grew up in the folk music and dance community in Boston and I knew you (casually) when I was a child and adolescent. My father danced on Red Herring for a number of years and I danced with Banbury, Great Meadows and a now-retired rapper team.

I think your observation about the climate of this community (or at least how it was went I moved out of the region, 6 years ago) is accurate. While so many people would consider themselves "socially liberal" and "open minded", transphobia is so rampant. It is particularly true for anyone over the age of 30 and MTF folk. Younger people seem to be able to get away with more and FTM folk either pass, get read as lesbians, or don't threaten the liberal gender binary in quite the same way.

Of course, some of this is built into our culture as morris dancers. Gender play is fun when sexy young male dancers where skirts and fling their partners around the dance floor. The mummers play and our other theatrical traditions are enhanced by middle aged men dressing in bad drag for a great laugh. Is that a problem in and of itself? Not necessarily. The problem is that there seems to be no distinction between gender play and gender identity. While I'm sure most people would not admit to it when asked directly, they are uncomfortable with gender transition. It becomes obvious when it's time to find a dance partner, when a trans person tries to get an "in" with a new team, and, of course, whenever a transperson leaves a room full of cisgendered people... because that's when the muffled giggled begin. And when called out on that kind of despicable behavior, the classic excuses come flooding out: "I'm not saying they are a bad PERSON, I'm just saying that IF they're going to do something like that, they could just make it a little more convincing." or "Oh, don't give me that! I didn't grow up around this stuff, it's all a little weird to me!" or "I've known that person for YEARS, they cannot possibly believe I could just start calling them by a different name and thinking of them as the opposite sex! Besides, they never seemed to want to change before."
To all of that, we're supposed to nod and transfer the burden of acceptance to the person being marginalized.

I was lucky in that my generation of dancers were born into this community after LGB folks had paved the way for us. A good number of the children I grew up with are now queer adults and no one seemed to bat an eye. I don't know what generation of dancers created that environment for us, but I have hopes that this generation (and the next) can take things a step further and open the dialog surrounding gender in this community.
In the mean time, I am so sorry to hear that this is your experience.

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