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Mixing It Up

At my studio, we’re ostensibly proponents of the Paris Opera school — which isn’t to say that we think Paris Opera is The One True Ballet, just that that’s the style that the company employs, so that’s (technically*) what we study in class.

*In fact, our instructors are forever noting that, “And the Vaganova school does it this way, while this other thing over here is more typical of the Cecchetti method, whereas…” and then pointing out that You Might Use This Someday So You Should Learn It, Too.

That said, I owe much of the improvement in my turns to Balanchine’s technique, and I feel that’s worth ruminating on a bit.

I am not the world’s greatest natural turner — not the worst, either, but in a world where we tend to be stronger either in jumps or in turns, I am definitely in the “jumper” group.

In short, my problem is that I tend to approach turns in the same way that I approach jumps — that is, with rather a lot of athleticism (read: power and momentum). When jumping, it’s easy to translate that power and momentum and make it do what it’s supposed to do (most of the time, anyway) — curiously where even jumps that involve turns (tours en l’air and jetés entrelacés, for example) are concerned.

I suspect that it comes down to elasticity — when you begin a jump with too much force and momentum, you can pretty easily channel the excess without losing grace and élan and all that stuff. When you execute a turn with too much force and momentum, there’s less wiggle room — more or less literally.

When turning, I tend to apply way, way more force than is entirely necessary — and I tend to apply it in a way that knocks me off my axis.

It’s easy to power through a fast single turn — or even, once you get the hang of it, a fast double turn — that way**. You won’t look as good as the best turners in the class (because you’ll probably be turning with your back arched and you’ll be slightly off your axis) but you’ll look all right if your basic technique is clean and you have good legs and feet. You can complete the turn before things go terribly awry, so you probably won’t fall out of your turn or, worse, fall over.

**For what it’s worth, come to think of it, that’s probably why my pique and stepover turns always look pretty stellar — the excess just goes into the travel bit, and my passé is high, clean, and turned out, so it all comes together nicely.

When it comes to adagio turns, though, an excess of power and force — especially an excess of power and force that throws you off your axis even a little can really hose things up for you.

This is where Balanchine technique comes in.

Mr. B’s technique is famous for its emphasis on the UP.

When you see Balanchine choreography done well, the jumps tend to be very vertical, whilst the turns are precise, tight, and … um … tall, I guess?

Not that almost any turn, ever, should fall away from the vertical in ballet — but the strict emphasis Balanchine’s technique places on the vertical forces dancers to pull straight up, the way you’re technically supposed to anyway, without the shoulders breaking back from the central axis***.

***This is great for the core.

I will be the first to admit that my worst fault in turns is still (STILL!!!) a tendency to throw my head and shoulders back in my preparation. In short, that’s part of what I do with the excess of force and momentum.

I give it a big ol’ DERP HO! and try to eject it through the top of my head by throwing everything back from the shoulderblades up.

Needless to say, this is not what one might call Best Practice.

The funny thing is that, when I’m thinking about (and attempting to emulate, because sometimes ballet instructors like to mess with us) Balanchine technique, I don’t.

Instead, I keep my core pulled together and pull UP — which, coincidentally, makes it much easier to turn, since I’m not then creating a situation in which the very laws of physics are going to knock me off my leg.

Oddly enough, under those conditions, it’s suddenly quite easy to execute lovely, precise turns — even adagio turns (true fact: ever since I figured out how to do adagio turns without falling apart, I do them all the dingdangdarn time, because they’re impressive — they even feel impressive).

So, anyway. This is a thing I discovered during one of our brief excursions into Balanchine technique, and I think that’s worth noting.

A lot of us get really invested in studying one method or another (though this is less common for adult students, who often wind up taking a grab bag of classes at different studios), but each method offers something we can use.

Of course, there’s something to be said for developing a sound foundation in one method — it makes learning the basics easier (remember that thing about third position arms versus fifth position arms?).

There’s probably also an important Life Lesson here about Diversity and Learning From Unexpected Teachers and so forth, but I’ll let you glean that bit yourself.

As for this post — it’s something I’ve been thinking about. Once you’ve got the basics down, branching out and taking a class that’s couched in a different method (or even, gasp, a different discipline, like modern dance! *swoon*) might be a good way to patch up some of the holes in your technique.

Just, you know, make sure your instructor knows what she’s talking about, and stuff, the way you normally would.

That’s it for now.

Much-Belated Self Portrait for BlahPolar

I have been meaning to get this out here for a while.   Here ’tis!

This one is Prismacolor pencil and cheap ballpoint pen on paper.

image

My scanner isn’t playing well with Windows 10 yet, so I just snapped a photo with my phone.

Gender and Stuff: Even When You Opt Not To Wade, The Water’s Still There

For an intersex person who was, at one time, pretty deeply involved in activism, I actually don’t spend an enormous amount of time thinking about questions of gender and so forth. But that doesn’t mean that those questions aren’t out there, thinking of me.

The ocean’s always there, whether or not you get in.

Last year, I came to the understanding that there are people in the world who can’t detect the effects of privilege because it’s really freaking hard to see the privilege you have. (I think I’ve talked about this before.)

I came to this conclusion, in part, because of ballet and my experiences at the ADTA conference (and also because of my experiences as a presenter at academic research conferences).

Being a guy in the ballet world is kind of like experiencing male privilege on steroids. Being a guy at a conference full of polite, well-educated, socially-conscious dance-and-psychology people was much the same.

In both conditions, you’re not just a guy (or, in my case, to add layers to the problem, a conventionally-attractive white guy from a privileged socioeconomic background, etc.), you’re a guy and a unicorn, and everyone is automatically really, really nice to you so you won’t go away … and if you aren’t hip to what’s going on, you’ll just think everyone’s really nice to you because you deserve it (because that’s how we are, as humans: when we’re treated well consistently, we tend to operate on the driving, if oft-unconscious, principle that we deserve to be treated well).

In both conditions, you’re frequently surrounded by women — intelligent, thoughtful, creative, energetic women, but still women who have been brought up with the same unspoken rules, the same pressures, as all women are in this culture.

Or, like, these tights.

Or, like, these tights.

When you open your mouth, things tend to get quiet. They tend to stay quiet until you’re done talking (and, if you’re me, and you have difficulty using a small number of words to say a thing, that can take a while).

If you’re not paying attention, you might just assume everyone thinks that what you’re saying is really awesome, and they really want to hear it — when, in fact, there’s this weird cultural thing where women are very much conditioned not to interrupt men.

Even scrawny little gay dudes in silver tights.

That doesn’t mean that women don’t really want to hear what you have to say, but it does mean that there’s a barrier, for them, when it comes to grabbing some talk-time for themselves.

Not that they physically can’t, of course.

I grew up in a highly-intellectual, debate-crazed Yankee family, and let me tell you — women can interrupt and drone on and talk over you just as well as men, provided — and here’s the critical thing — that their cultural backgrounds allow for that possibility.

Melee combat at Tewkesbury Festival, 2009.

A typical dinner-table chat in my childhood home. (Image: Lee Hawkins [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

The thing is, for a lot of women — I would even say for most women (in the United States, at least) — that’s not the case.

Just like a lot of women of a certain generation would never have imagined that they could swing a kettle bell or out-judo the guys or run marathons. Like, it wouldn’t have occurred to them to even think that there was a thing out there that they could do that they weren’t doing. It wasn’t in the realm of possibility.

Worse, even if the concept of running into the verbal lists a-swingin’ that verbal mace exists in the realm of possibility, for a lot of women, it’s something they’ve been taught to see as insufferably, unbearably, abominably rude. (I agree that, at times, it can be.) Worse still, it’s something that many of the same women have been taught to tolerate in men, but not in themselves.

And it’s something a lot of men take for granted (meaning, we don’t even think about it; we don’t even know it’s there) as a right for ourselves, and will accept as simple repartée from other guys, but about which we feel immensely affronted when women do it to us.

So, culturally speaking, while sisters are, in fact, entirely capable of doing it for themselves, it really helps if dudes make a little effort (and if we don’t, like, wall them into a cultural oubliette, and stuff).

Like, we can help by learning to shut up sometimes and let someone else talk, and by learning to notice those cues that say “Hey, I am about to open my mouth and say some stuff that I think is important, or at least I would if you would shut the hell up for a second*.” Amazingly, it’s not even that huge a pain in the ass (which is to say, it’s hard, especially if for those of us who have trouble processing verbal and non-verbal information at the same time, but you don’t really lose anything except the chance to hear yourself droning on and on all the time like a complete jerk).

*I should note that I’m not sure encouraging everyone to interrupt all the time is actually a good thing. I spent my whole childhood basically thinking I was a half-wit because I’m terrible at following multiple conversational threads (I have enough trouble with just one, thank you) and any conversation with my family was basically a pitched verbal battle taking place on four or five fronts at once.

I say all this as a preamble to another discussion entirely: that of the question of gender, and of gender identity, and of the problems that have cropped up around the Caitlyn Jenner issue.

These are waters in which I tread lightly, because my experience is, well, weird. (What, me, weird? That never happens!)

As an intersex person, I am acutely aware of what it’s like to live in a body that (in some ways) doesn’t match my internal sense of identity, and (in other ways) doesn’t match other people’s expectations of who and what I am and wouldn’t no matter how I identified.

I am also aware that it’s painfully difficult to try to express why I identify as I do.

As a neuroscientist-in-the-making, I’m acutely aware of the complexities of the human brain and of the problems that tend to crop up when people who don’t have even the fairly minimal degree of expertise that I have try to make statements about causation**.

**In case you’re wondering: it’s probably nature and nurture that lead to any measurable differences we’ve noticed in the brains of men and women, not one or the other. Likewise, those differences are far from universal, and I don’t think they should be used to prescribe gender any more than, frankly, I think genitals should. That way lies one big giant freaking mess. Hint: there are going to be ladies who are happy being ladies whose brains are wired up and operating in ways that we deem “male-like,” and who want to keep on being ladies, and so forth. We probably shouldn’t tell them that they need to go out and have their genitals reassigned.

As a social-justice wonk (and, again, as an intersex person), I am acutely aware both of the problems with living in a world that demands that people’s bodies conform to pretty strict ideas of which parts go with which label and of honoring the experiences of people, especially people who have experienced real oppression, where questions of identity are concerned — whether or not those experiences have anything to do with transgressing broadly-accepted norms.

There’s a lot of noise being made right now about Jenner’s declarations about having always wanted to be able to do things like wear nail polish and participate in “girls’ night” and about her choice to reveal her post-transition self in an ultra-conventionally-feminine photoshoot.

A lot of people have (rightly) pointed out that being a woman isn’t about wearing nail polish, corsets, and frilly clothes.

Part of the problem, though, is that while we’re really good at defining what being a woman or a man isn’t about, we’re actually terrible at defining what either of those things is about.

Some of the answer, of course, involves shared cultural experience: most assigned-at-birth women have, unfortunately, cultural experiences of oppression that many transwomen don’t experience before transition.

Some transwomen, for example, know what it’s like to have lived their entire lives with the constant fear of being attacked or raped if they venture out on the streets at night (this is a thing that also happens to people who are perceived as male, especially if they are perceived as transgressing against normative conceptions of masculinity) — but many won’t know that fear until after they transition, and some will never know it at all.

Some transwomen, likewise, have been treated with less respect by peers prior to transition: hell, I’m not a transwoman, or any flavor of woman, and I am still routinely perceived as less intelligent simply because I am perceived as feminine — not female, just feminine, effeminate, whatever***.

***Curiously, this is really, really common in both geek circles and gay male circles: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the, “OMG WTF BBQ THE TWINK KNOWS WORDS” look on someone’s face at a gay men’s gathering, or how often I’ve been overlooked at geek gatherings simply because I am, in so many words, a pretty boy, and thus clearly could not know anything about math or science or computers).

However, I wouldn’t remotely begin to argue that my experience is comparable to that of, like, most women in our culture (maybe a few, who have grown up in more-progressive enclaves and not been exposed to too many idiots, I guess?).

The flavor of my experience is different; so is its relative ubiquity (broad swathes of gay men may automatically assume I’m an air-headed twink, but a lot of people might unconsciously assume that an “Asher” is going to know more about brains than an “April.“).

In the overall context of my life, the impact is smaller. There’s less crap, and there’s more cushion.

Likewise, women bear the burden of our guilt-ridden reproductive-rights mess, which, as a whole, isn’t really a thing for transwomen in our era (they can be allies, of course, but will never have to worry about the burden of deciding how to handle an unplanned pregnancy).

But any ask any woman if she thinks those are the only things that define what it is to be a woman — if oppression and struggle are the sum total of Woman.

Go ahead.

I’ll be here with an ice pack for you when you get back from having some sense knocked into you 😉

After you recover, go ask a woman about the good parts of the definition of “woman.” Then ask a few more women, and a few more.

I suspect you’ll get a lot of different answers — and that a lot of them will be applicable to what it means to be a man, too, when it really comes down to it.

A lot of them, probably most, will be just as applicable to people who can’t bear children (for whatever reason) as people who can (by whatever means). The vast majority of them will have absolutely nothing to do with genitals.

…Which, it turns out, kind of becomes a problem for anyone who is ever pressed to explain why they identify as one gender or another.

This is absolutely a question I’ve been asked, by the way — even by other gay men, who I would expect to have at least some concept. Like, seriously, “Why would you choose to live as a gay man, when you could just be a woman instead?”

Well, gosh, Kevin — I dunno. Maybe just because? The fact that my genitals are sufficiently ambiguous that I could legitimately check either box really has nothing to do with it. (To be fair, this is not a question that I’ve ever heard from someone who had known me for more than about five minutes; it’s really one of those questions you tend to reserve for imaginary people.)

I don’t, by any means, “choose” (if you can even put it that way) to live as a man because I like monster trucks or Hooters girls or sportsball.

Okay, so I am capable of appreciating monster trucks from time to time (primarily, I’ll admit, as vehicles of irony), and I’ve known a few Hooters girls who were really cool people: but that’s beside the point. As for sportsball … meh. Who wants to sit down long enough to watch that stuff?

I used to like playing lacrosse, though, because I was good at it and could smack the crap out of people with sticks. Does that count? Oh, wait, girls can like that stuff, too.

And my sister is a huge American football fan, so there’s that.

Likewise, I don’t like Mauy Thai, neuroscience, or big honking boots because I think guys should like them. Kicking people in the face is fun, neuroscience is fascinating, and big honking boots are both sexy and functional (and, on someone like me, delightfully transgressive and occasionally ironic).

And, obviously, that whole ballet thing, and my fondness for tights and glittery stuff and sparkly things … those just kind of throw spanners into the works, don’t they?

So why do I identify, and live, as a male?

Who the hell knows?

Our culture kind of requires you to pick a box. That’s the box that feels better for me.

Sure, I break its “rules” all the time, because conformity for conformity’s sake is boring, and the vast majority of the “rules” in question are fairly arbitrary cultural diktats (seriously; there are plenty of places in the world where tons of dudes wear pink, and entire countries where guys wear skirts, and so on and so forth ad nauseam).

I would say that I abide by some of them: be bold but courteous, respect the elderly, protect the young, hold the door, don’t hit anyone weaker than yourself unless you really have no other choice — but those aren’t just rules for men, now, are they?

Likewise, I recognize that the mere ability to break the rules reflects its own kind of privilege. I would take a lot more flak for flouting the rules if I came from a different background, lacked education, if I wasn’t skinny (okay, so I’m crossing the streams of social problems, here), or if my skin was less pale.

In the end, I’m only able to make these observations about privilege and about the elusive substance of gender because my background framework allows it: I have been doing this for long enough, have been answering and examining these questions for long enough, that I’ve realized that most of the answers which most of us give are basically crap.

Which is, by the way, what you get when you ask a crap question.

That’s basically the first rule of code: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

I rather doubt that Caitlyn Jenner chose to transition because she thinks liking nail polish and sparkly things makes her a woman. I will own that I haven’t devoted as much time to poring over her story as, apparently, most of my compatriots — but I do seem to recall that Jenner tried the alternative where you keep living as a dude but sometimes don frilly clothes and so forth.

Likewise, it’s deeply unlikely that she’s just all that burningly curious about the hallowed sanctum of the ladies’ room (there are easier ways to be a creeper than spending thousands of dollars on surgery and having to put up with crap from every quarter of your nation’s culture about it), or whatever else people assume about transwomen these days (curiously, one never hears the argument that transmen just want to gain access to hallowed male spaces so they can ogle our underage sons, even though it’s much easier to ogle people in the gents’, where we are expected to conduct the greater part of our business without walls and doors).

Chances are, like most of us, Jenner isn’t great at articulating the why of the whole thing.

That’s something that’s still a mystery. That doesn’t mean it’s an invalid experience (nor does it mean that Caitlyn’s experience of being a woman will be anything like it would if she had been born with a female body).

If you’d asked me, when I was a little kid, whether I felt like a boy or a girl, I would’ve said, “Boy.”

If you’d asked me why, I would’ve shrugged.

That’s still pretty much my answer. To be honest, it’s about the same answer you’d get from just about any non-trans, non-IS person if you asked them.

Little kids are pretty up front about it. Conversations tend to be like:

“Why do you want to be a girl?”

“I dunno, because I am. *shrug* Can I go on the slide now?”

Or even:

“Why do you want to be a girl?”

“I am a girl, silly! Boys are stupid! Wanna watch me jump off the high dive?”

Requiring a better “reason” from trans people (and, by extension IS people, because we are always in a freaking awkward spot — locus of both relative sympathy about our “right” to identify one way or another and of parental and medical panic about our unique bodies) is, in short, a double standard.

It’s just one that can exist because most people never have to think about their own sense of gender in that way.

In short, it’s a privilege****.

****The best lesson I ever had, by the way, in figuring out where your privilege lies, was this: on the first day of my Social Problems class with Dr. Medina, she asked us to write a list of one-word statements about who we are. She pointed out that straight people most didn’t bother to mention that they were straight; that guys mostly didn’t bother to mention that they were guys; white people didn’t bother to mention that they were white, etc. Those places where you feel like you’re the default? Those are your zones of privilege. The fewer you have, the tougher life can be.

By the by: the one thing that does really sort of drive me crazy about the whole Jenner thing is that nobody seems to be commenting on how Jenner’s existing privilege has allowed her to do things that, frankly, would very likely get a lot of transfolk killed, like transitioning in Really, Really Public Public; how her existing privilege and fame will continue to provide a cushion of privilege on which she’ll be able to float, shielded from the staggering array of crap that the average trans person will have to deal with from moment to moment on any given day.

Yeah, twenty years ago or more, she wouldn’t have been able to do what she’s doing now, and that’s cool; likewise, it’s cool that she’s increasing visibility for tans folk and that a cultural conversation is happening that was only kind of marginally happening before … but there are still problems with Jenner as an icon of trans experience.

Living the Dream, Dance Camp for Adult Dancers

The 109th Bead posted a couple of great interviews with staff and a student from Sun King Dance Camp. If you’ve been thinking about going, read on for a taste of the experience!

THE 109th BEAD

Ever thought about going to dance camp? It does sound like great fun for us grown ups to be able to take a week and live the dream. Although I haven’t had the ability to do so myself, I had the fantastic opportunity to talk with the folks from Sun King Dance Camp and ask them a few questions about the hows and whys of dance camp for grown ups. This is the first installation of that interview. I hope this provides you all with some wonderful information and maybe a little bit of inspiration.

I also have the great privilege to personally know a few dancers who have attended Sun King Dance Camp. Below the Sun King interview is a featurette on an adult dancer who has attended camp. This week I get to feature my good friend Lisa Gallo. I’ve been really fortunate to train along side Lisa…

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Danseur Ignoble: Intermediate Class Again

Made it through Brienne’s class by the skin of my teeth.  The first (read: slow!) part of barre was good — graceful, fluid, combinations hanging together.   The middle was mediocre — I haven’t done quick footwork in weeks, really (bonus: Margie’s class will seem easy on Friday! :D). 

The last part — the slow, grueling, “I’m only doing this to you because I love you all so much” part, with all the fondues and développés was …  Well, it could have been worse.

Heck, it has been worse.  But it still made abundantly clear how much core strength I’ve lost and so forth.   Time to get back on that .  I got a specific correction about keeping my abs engaged o.O  I was as swaybacked as a retired army mule (as Denis pointed out, back to sitting on the exercise ball!).

Going across the floor, I was fine to the right and … not so fine to the left.   For whatever reason, I kept losing the combo going left.  I did, however, toss out some nice turns (though no doubles today), as if I knew what I was doing 😉

I also discovered that when Brienne says, “Good!” to me, I panic and fall apart!  Gotta work on that, too.  I have been dancing too long to fall apart on a sauté arabesque, sauté passe, sauté arabesque, sauté passe, tombé, pas de bourrée, glissade, assemblée zig-zag combo.

All told, not a terrible showing for my first full intermediate class (correction:… since February).  I expect to do better next week, and not be such a clenching, gripping, sweat-dropping idiot during fondue adagio.

That’s it for now.

Can’t Back Out Now

I picked up my cap, gown, and stole today.   I guess that makes it official; my days as an undergrad are numbered.  Officially, in fact, I have less than a week and a half to go.

On Monday, I met with Dr. Morgan to talk about grad school.  I’ve been entertaining a revised plan and wanted to run it by her; I also wanted to know if she had any suggestions about what to do for the next academic year (summer is pretty much planned; we’ll be traveling a lot, and I’ll be dancing and working temp jobs to make a little money).

Dr. M definitely favors the idea of going straight into a doctoral program and doing the alternate route certification for DMT. Ultimately, that will grant the most flexibility in terms of career options.

She also suggested that during the 2015-2016 academic year I work with Dr. Kahn as a research assistant (an unpaid position, but great experience) and find any paid position I can in a clinical psych setting, even if it’s just working as a resident assistant in a group home.

For some reason, that idea hadn’t even occurred to me, but it’s a great one.   I’ll be able to make some money while gaining some basic practical experience in my field, and I should be able to grab opportunities to sit in on patient intakes and so forth.

This means that ’15-’16 will be a busy year for me, but that will be a good way to prepare for the demands of a doctoral program.

I have to admit, last week, it felt like the future was rushing towards me with terrifying speed and I couldn’t see a way forward.   It was like that moment on every mountain bike ride ever, when the trail makes a sharp turn around a tree and all you can do is follow it, shift your weight back, and pray.

I feel like my chat with Dr. Morgan gave me a peek around the corner — or, well, like it gave me reassurance from someone who has ridden this trail before.  It’s possible that there will be new washouts or that old ones will have been smoothed, but I at least know the gist of what to expect.

So that’s it for now.   No class tonight because OMG Final Paper of Doom, so next class notes will be on Friday.

#1575 – Opening the Gates of “Queer”

Recently, Elyssa Taperro of Only Fragments commented on my post, “Allegiances, Language, and Space,” in which I wrote about my ongoing wrestling matches with the notion of compassionate language and safe spaces. I thought she had some really important things to say about the question of identity policing and asked if she’d mind writing a guest blog (the first one ever!) for My Beautiful Machine on the topic.

The result is this lovely, thoughtful, and beautifully-written post, “Opening the Gates of Queer,” for which I am immensely grateful (and which also really uplifted what had turned into a rather tough day for me). It really needs no further introduction: this piece stands on its own.

Only Fragments

After I commented on MyBeautifulMachine’s post “Allegiances, Language, and Space,” he asked me to write a guest post about identity policing and the term “queer”. I can only speak to my experience in the asexual community, but I hope I can share some insight.

[ A note: When I talk about the “queer community”, I’m using queer as an umbrella term for the entire community comprised of gender, romantic, and sexual orientation minorities (GRSM). While I prefer the acronym GRSM, it seemed more appropriate to use both of queer’s definitions in this post. ]

Opening the Gates of “Queer”

This post is a long time coming. If one thing can get my feathers in a ruffle fastest, it’s people policing who does and does not deserve to identify as queer. I see this aspect of identity policing most frequently in regards to people on the asexual spectrum. When I see…

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I See By My Outfit

…Or, Rambling Discursions On The Theme of Identity

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity.

Note that I didn’t say “lately” — there’s no “lately” about it. I’ve been thinking about it for years, for most of my life.

Some of this is a function of having been The Kid Who Doesn’t Fit Anywhere for my entire childhood and adolescence. Some of it is the result of juggling mental-illness diagnoses (like many people with bipolar, I’ve had a metric shedload of those, some more accurate than others) — does this fit me? How about this? Does this describe me accurately?

Some of it is a function of being intersex (which is a medical thing, but which nonetheless informs my experience of the world). Some of it is a function of being queer, especially where “being queer” intersects with “being intersex.” Some of it is a function of being a seeker by nature, someone who isn’t content with what he sees on the surface.

A lot of this used to seem, you know, Critically Important to me, with capital letters: like, if I could just pin it down, just figure out Who I Am, then I could … I don’t know what. Start? It was like I had to figure out which species I was so I could figure out in which ecosystem I could to live, or something.

I’ve lived enough now that I’ve been to see the folly in making sweeping declarations about Who and What I Am.

First, I know that there aren’t many things that I am consistently from minute to minute (the physical reality of my body aside; I think my body influences and is a vehicle for my identity, but I’m not sure it’s particularly part of my identity).

Next, I know that even the Big Things, the things that seem somehow fundamental, are subject to change.

A little more than a year ago, for example, I really wasn’t dealing with bipolar as part of my identity; I wasn’t working in that sphere. Now I am: I have realized that it’s useful to keep bipolar in my peripheral vision that way. Keeps it from sneaking up on me. Explains a lot. Not that long ago, though, it wasn’t a reality I even acknowledged.

So right now I’m sort of fumbling forward.

I’ve always been the kid that tests out an identity by trying on the clothes; I never thought of myself as A Cyclist until I put on some bike kit for the first time. Until then, I was just a guy who rode bikes.

Things work differently on the Looking Like A Dancer front.

First, how Looking Like A Dancer works is vague: I’ve become someone who gets that question rather a lot in non-dance contexts, “Are you a dancer?” — and I think I look like a dancer, even when I’m not wearing dance clothes, but I don’t know how to quantify that: what does look like a dancer even mean? Is it something about the way I move (okay, the habitually-resting-in-fourth-or-fifth-position thing is kind of a dead giveaway)? Is it the way I carry myself? Is it something else entirely, maybe something about my hair? (Maybe it’s my neck.)

But I know I didn’t really look like a dancer just over a year ago, and now I do — and I also think I look more like myself, for whatever that means.

About which — maybe what it means is that for the first time I’m kind of living from the inside out.

The space and the social role I occupy as a dancer, especially as a male ballet dancer, feels like the right ecosystem. Like I’m no longer trying to live in fresh water when I should be living in salt water, or in the mountains when I should be by the sea, or whatever. It’s a good fit.

I think that, for a long time, I was trying to live from the outside in: I would decide that since I clearly wasn’t that, I must be this, and I would proceed to attempt rebuilding myself in the prescribed image. But I guess I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing, because I felt like what I was trying to do was identify what I was, and live accordingly.

There’s a certain futility to that approach: I could tell myself all day long that I was a kestrel, and move into kestrel habitat, and learn to do the things that kestrels do — but if I was an osprey on t inside, I was still going to be an osprey.

Now I’m sort of taking the opposite approach: I’m doing things to see if they fit, and unceremoniously kicking them to the curb if they don’t. I don’t have to belong everywhere, or do everything, after all: nobody does. Besides, if we all live like kestrels, it’s going to get mighty crowded in Kestreltown.

For a long time I longed to dance the way an osprey longs to catch fish. Eventually, I did, and it was like coming home: I remembered what I’d been missing for so very long.

Fundamentally, I guess you could call this phenomenon “identity as descriptor,” as opposed to “identity as prescriptor,” which is kind of what I was doing before.

When we describe an osprey, we are talking about what it is and what it does, not what it must be and do. Ospreys gonna osp, even if we tell them they should kest. Osprey don’t care.

Bus parking?  Please.  It's osprey parking now, buddy. "Osprey on a peg". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Bus parking? Please. It’s osprey parking now, buddy. Ospreys gonna osp.
Osprey on a peg“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Since then, I’ve developed a habit of doing things because they feel like expressions of who I am, though I guess I mostly don’t think about it that explicitly. Instead, I think, “I want to try this.” Sometimes, though, I do explicitly ask myself, “Does this feel like part of me?” Sometimes I’m surprised by what doesn’t; sometimes, by what does.

Curiously, this seems to be working really well. My burning desire to pin down a sense of identity has abated: I’m just here, kind of being. It’s not really necessary to make statements to myself about Who And What I Am now that I’m living a life that fits better. Sometimes it’s useful to make those statements to other people, but I kind of think that other people mostly figure it out.

They can see by my outfit that I’m a dancer. Or, you know, a kinda femme queer boy (one that could still kick your teeth in if you push the wrong buttons, though I’m wrestling with that whole “nonviolence” thing).

Once upon a time, I would have thought that embracing the “femme queer boy” side of my personality would have meant eschewing the part that thrives on speed and danger. That’s prescriptive identification, though (or, really, proscriptive, just to make things even more confusion — “danger” is not my middle name, “confusion” is). I know now that it doesn’t work that way. Thank G-d it doesn’t work that way: I don’t have to be X and not Y; I can be X and Y.

The light reveals the shadow; the shadow reveals the light.

There’s probably a lot more to say about all this. Consider this a beginning.

And, while you’re at it, go read Peter S. Beagle’s excellent book, I See By My Outfit, which you can find used all over the internet. I am almost certain that you won’t regret it.

A Paltry Attempt To Explain

My heart’s broken open.
I change and I do not change:
The waves move, the molecules move;
The sea’s still the sea
And there is no sea.

I have seen all these things before:
But I see them now for the first time.
The sand and the wind build the shore,
But there is no shore.

The wing and the cry are the gull,
But there is no gull.
The stamp and the breath are the ox,
But there is no ox.

Breathing in, I am here in the world;
Breathing out, I am here in the world:
Breathing in, I am here,
Breathing out, the world.

Breathing in, I am not.

Breathing out.

Sane Thoughts on Cognitive Dissonance and Fitness Elitism from Weighty Matters

Yoni Freedhoff is a Canadian MD whose blog, Weighty Matters, touches on issues of health, fitness, some of the problems inherent in the typical North American diet, and related stuff.   Sometimes I agree with him wholeheartedly, and sometimes I don’t, but I like his evidence-based approach to the questions at hand.

Today, he’s running an excellent guest post from one Jonathan Goodman on the problem of elitism in the fitness industry and the culture that surrounds it.  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much (too often, articles on the topic in question are disappointing), but Goodman both knows his stuff and knows how to do research (which, as a research nerd, touches my data-driven little heart!).  He also knows how to string together a sentence, which doesn’t hurt.

I haven’t finished it yet, so it still could totally go off the rails — but really I think it’s probably worth a read if you’re interested in related topics.

Weighty Matters guest post: Why Has the Fitness Industry Become Elitist?

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