Dancing is athletic art, demanding your full attention as an artist and athlete. Your body and mind have to be in sync. It can be hard navigating that while dealing with trans dysphoria and distorted bodily norms. But when gender and art play together, there are no boundaries.
I am currently choreographing a piece in a dance theatre play. The production is based on a collection of poems. It happens that the instructor and writer is a good friend of mine, and she has not only asked me to choreograph and dance a poem she has written, but furthermore it’s a poem about my gender, my sexuality, and myself. The instructor and I have had many long and interesting conversations about how I should approach this poem and something so personal (but with so many public ramifications) that is so important to share.
This situation has pushed me to think about the complexity of being in the dance world as a trans person. My fight to be accepted as the person I am, with the gender expression I have. The moments I’ve spent dancing in a sanctuary from a world where norms dictate. The envy I have felt towards the bodies of both the women and the men in the studios. I’ve reminded myself how commercial interests inflict the dance scene and how this has changed my ideas of my self-image and myself. I often crave a body within the norms of the dance world, while earlier, I was happy to have a different body expression. But most of all I remember that dancing saved my life. I came to love myself through movement, and I understood myself more and more for each session and class I’ve attended.
In dancing, it’s crucial to own your body and to be able to use the body to its fullest extent. Your body is the instrument playing your music, the pen writing your story, the brush painting your canvas. Sometimes the body is the piece of art itself. But sometimes I didn’t feel comfortable to move my chest too much because then I felt that my breasts showed. Sometimes having to do push-ups in class was filled with anxiety, because then it became obvious that I was weaker than all the other boys. My body was important but not the right fit, making it impossible to use to the full potential, which was expected of me.
I would be lying to say that other dancers feel completely comfortable in their skin. Dance life is partially a world of competition, unreal expectations and sexualization. Most people navigating this kind of life have moments where they doubt their own physics, strength, looks, masculinity or femininity. Putting trans dysphoria on top of that is just plain mean, but navigating this game has taught me a lot.
I decided to get my top surgery before I began on my journey to become a professional dancer. I took time off to get my body ready for training 6-10 hours per day. Because many perceive me as a cisgendered man, the expectations of the amount of muscle power I have to be capable of is equally demanding to any other male. Taking testosterone is a very helpful factor in my dancing. I can be stealth if I desire, though I rarely do, and I can be the fiercest dancing FtM, feeling comfortable in my own skin. But there’s no question about it, there are no more surgeries for me before I reach my pension age.
When two things I love about myself obstruct one another, it’s incredibly frustrating – when having scars on my chest makes it hard to book jobs, when I’m dancing in contact and I start to worry about missing body parts, when a surgery that I would probably want would make it impossible to dance for a long time – so much time I think I would turn grey – it gets difficult.
But when two things I really love about myself support each other, it’s fantastic. When my life experience make my art more profound, when I realize how my body is a temple that I should treat with respect, when surgery becomes unnecessary because dance makes me all the man I need to be, the entire queen I wish to become and the person I am truly proud to have grown into, it makes it all the sweat, tears and money spent worth it.
The complexity of dance shares the complexity of gender. Even as we perceive ourselves internally as highly complicated beings, the people around us continually search to categorize us. When we express our gender, society wrinkles its nose. On stage we live and die, we cry and laugh and our body is in the beat, on the beat and around the beat. We tell our stories with all of our passion. But there is no guarantee that our audience will listen, and even less that they’ll understand.
Magic happens when you find an ally to watch over you, a true friend to embrace you just as you are. The magic continues when you experience a whole audience crying with you, laughing with you and fully embracing the performance you are giving. The magic was perfect when this instructor asked me to interpret and dance a poem about my own gender experience. This is when two things I love about myself become one. This is the moment when my body stops doing steps and it starts doing art. This is when the athlete in me becomes the artist. This is where I turn my back on all those who don’t want to understand and open my arms to all who do.