Content note: Transphobia
She shook her body to the Latin music played by the band on stage, wearing a tight floral dress cut up to the middle of her thighs. At the end of each song, she’d cross her legs and do a little curtsy or hand wave to the audience. She rejected the idea of dancing as if no one was watching – she knew everyone was watching and wanted it, invited it, reveled in it. But she was no typical beauty. Her arms and legs were highly muscled, her face lean and sharp, her chest flat, her hips not curvy at all. It seemed like either she was a trans woman or just had very masculine features. But while her body didn’t meet society’s standards of feminine, she didn’t seem to care – she was incredibly proud of it anyway.
Seeing her at my town’s weekly music night last Friday, I had conflicted feelings. Much to my surprise and disappointment, I felt disgust first. Not over her body, but over the fact that she was showing it off so flagrantly. People who purposely draw attention to themselves in public places, especially by dancing, rankle me. Their overwhelming confidence and feeling of entitlement to everyone’s attention is everything I don’t have, but wish I did. (Penny B, a character from the comic series Phonogram is the epitome of this phenomena.)
Watching this woman, what felt particularly, illogically, galling was that she acted that way even though society has decided people like her aren’t worthy of adoration. I kept thinking, “Doesn’t she know no one came here to see her?” Until I realized: “Of course she does. But she’s going to make them watch anyway.” She had decided to be a self-styled rock star regardless of what anyone thought.
And that insight made me see that she wasn’t delusional or desperate for attention – she was staggeringly brave. Brave for not only being herself in a highly public place, but being it loudly and as prominently as absolutely possible. Brave in a way I can’t imagine, as someone far more privileged than her. Her performance was a huge middle finger in the face of anyone who was prejudiced against her.
Including me, in a way. It’s so easy to be an ally on social media, where everyone is at a remove. To reblog or retweet something about LGTB rights or body image acceptance that sounds awesome, but you haven’t really emotionally processed. Stuff about acceptance that maybe you don’t even believe about yourself. It’s another thing entirely when an actual person is there in the flesh, throwing ideas of what you should and shouldn’t do, what is appropriate and not, back in your face. And I flinched, at least internally. I didn’t know how to process a person who challenged so many deeply engrained assumptions, so I fell back on rejection. I knew it was the wrong reaction and yet it was hard to overcome.
While it was tough for me to personally face, this is especially why I was glad this woman was out there, dancing in as public a way as possible. Not to teach my privileged ass a lesson, but to be a real life role model for the people surrounding her in a way I can’t be. In particular, most of the other people dancing were children. As I mentioned in my post about white privilege, it’s great if Sprout is exposed to media that has diverse casts, but it’s far more powerful to know diverse people in real life. Maybe her dancing gave hope to a trans kid who is trying to figure things out, encouraged a kid struggling with body image issues, or normalized people outside of traditional gender appearances for other kids just a little bit more. Seeing the crowd’s reaction was also beautiful in how it exemplified how much has changed in a short period of time, even though there’s still a long way to go. Unlike in the recent past or even other locations, no one took their children away or appeared to see her as a threat to them. No one shamed her for what she was doing, although there were some awkward glances. I hope that minimum of tolerance from the parents blooms in their children to full acceptance.
The joy of her performance was eventually infectious. While I didn’t boogie down – Sprout was content to stand on the side and watch – I was glad to be part of her audience in the end.