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… Or Are We Dancers?

Back to the question of dancer-identity, and that of choreographer-identity, this morning, even though half an hour ago I was standing in the kitchen sort of floating on the idea that all this wrangling for identity is a symptom and the disease is illusion; qv Everything the Buddha Ever Said, Ever, not to mention quite a bit of what other great spiritual figures have said.

Anyway.

I think a great deal of this rests upon the question of legitimacy.

Most cultures have quite a bit to say about which pursuits are and aren’t legit for adults within their purview. In the United States, ballet (and probably most or all other concert/theatrical danceforms, really) is in a weird grey zone.

It seems that it’s mostly regarded as totally legit (perhaps even intimidatingly awesome) if you’re a professional dancer or someone who otherwise makes money in the field of dance, or a university-level student or apprentice preparing to do so. Meanwhile, it’s significantly less legit but probably still within the unspoken Tolerance Specification if you’re an adult student who goes to class once a week for fun (ideally as a way to pass the time while your kid(s) is/are in their class).

However, if you’re you’re a wacko who eats, sleeps, lives, and breathes ballet (or another dance idiom) and doesn’t make money from it, you’re out there in cloud-cuckooland, far from the borders of legitimacy. In short, people generally don’t get it (and aren’t sure you actually have the right to do what you’re doing).

I think it’s that sense of perceived illigitimacy, maybe, that leads so many of us to question our right to call ourselves dancers.

After all, it’s a rare bird who questions the right of an adult amateur who likes to fish to call herself a fisherwoman or an angler; likewise, anyone who plays the piano can call himself a pianist without raising more than the occasional eyebrow. Ditto guitarists, singers, cyclists, runners, car enthusiasts, birders, gardeners, and (to a lesser extent) painters and writers (I think there’s a little more policing of these last two).

I think the difference lies in the fact that the above pursuits are Within Spec in our culture, while formal dance (excepting, possibly, ballroom*?) isn’t. If you schlep over to the town square and set up your easel, almost nobody thinks you’re out of line — even if you’re a terrible painter, really. If you break out your ballet moves in the town square, meanwhile, you’d better bring the skillz, or people will definitely tell you (in one way or another) that you shouldn’t be dancing in public**.

*You guys, why does SwiftKey think badigeon is a more likely choice here than ballroom? Seriously — or, as SwiftKey belittle helpfully suggests, serially, stylishly, or sorely.

**I just realized that there’s an identity-policing component here that’s not dissimilar from saying, “People your size shouldn’t wear leggings.” It’s that whole, “You should totally be you unless I find you unattractive, in which case you should either cover up or maybe just try being someone else” thing. Feh.

Basically, adult amateur dancers experience a strange kind of pressure from both sides: the dance world doesn’t always regard us as legit, and the broader culture thinks we’re cray.

And so legitimacy becomes immensely important to us (after all, we spend considerable amounts of time and sums of money on this thing of ours, and the broader culture really kind of demands that we justify that somehow), but we struggle to determine at which point we can legitimately call ourselves dancers in the context of the medium of concert/theatrical dance .

I am, frankly, all for the notion that if you dance, you’re a dancer.

I’m all for the idea that if you dance, and you feel a desire to or see an opportunity to create a performing group, doing so is a legitimate pursuit, and you don’t have to get permission from the Powers That Be even if you’re freaking awful at dance.

In fact, there’s probably a great deal to be said for dancing badly. When you do something badly, people think, “Huh, I could do that,” and maybe they give it a try, and maybe they discover a passion and buy season tickets to the local company that’s struggling to survive in an age that isn’t sure ballet (or whatevs) is even relevant anymore. Or maybe they just get a good chuckle.

Sure, haters gonna hate — but they’re already hating away at home, and they don’t get to tell us who to be.

Likewise gatekeepers gonna gate, but I’m pretty sure that, on the whole, innovation tends to spring from the ranks of the gate-crashers.

So go assemble your dance peeps and crash some gates.

And know that if you’re dancing, you’re a dancer***.

***Full disclosure: I know that this kind of thing is much easier for me to say and do as an educated white male from a privileged background who walks around in a body that largely matches conventional ideas of what a “dancer’s body” looks like. And I also totally get how ironic it is for me to give you permission to crash the gates, amiright? Like, here I am, unintentionally acting like a gatekeeper for gate-crashers.

This stuff is complicated, y’all.

Aggregated Thoughts

First, it’s Digital Book Day, peoples, so go get your free digital books! Who knows — you might discover a new favorite author.

If you get an “Error establishing a database connection” message, be patient. Some of the categories (mystery and thrillers in particular) seem to be pretty overwhelmed, but once you get a given category to load, you can ctrl-click or right-click > open in new tab/window (or however Mac users do it) and the individual pages for books load fine (they’re on different sites — so far, I’ve downloaded maybe four or five promising titles from Smashwords and two from Amazon).

~

Second, it seems that everybody but me considers the word “twink” to be an insult. Who knew?

Last year, Thomas Rogers contributed a thoughtful article to The Awl about twinks, what the world thinks of them, and what happens after they outgrow their category.

As someone who both self-identifies as a sort of permatwink (or am I a “party ferret?”) and tends to be perceived as such by the world at large, I found Mr. Rogers’ article to be both informative and thought-provoking. I honestly had no idea that basically the entire gay universe assumes that “twink = walking disaster area” is a natural law, but there you have it.

I should say that I self-identify as a kind of permatwink in a way that perhaps doesn’t align neatly with all assumptions about what “twink” means: I am not a slave to fashion. I am not … okay, well, not always … a disaster area. I would say I’m not a party boy, but in fact I do like going to parties and clubs and dancing — but that’s where I draw the line. I am a sort of chaste, mostly-sober party boy, I guess. Yawn?

The thing is, I suspect the same can be said for a lot of us who get sorted into the “twink” slot — perhaps especially those, like me, who wind up there by default, because they are slim and hairless and young or young-looking and playful and like to dance and don’t particularly feel any need to change any of those things. Seriously. I embrace my twinkhood, but it’s not because I’m trying to be a twink. I just am what I am. If the label fits, wear it.

Re-reading bits of Mr. Rogers’ article on twinkhood (yeah, you’re right, it does feel weird to say that) and how maybe we should evolve our assumptions about it (check out Rogers’ list of Important Historical Twinks!), it occurred to me that a lot of the behavior that we attribute to some kind of defect endemic to the twink population is, in fact, simply young-people-trying-stuff-out-and-sometimes-getting-it-wrong behavior.

We sort of expect adolescents and young adults to try on different identities, experiment with different form of self-expression, and basically ride the failboat all the way to Failtopia. Mostly, we kind of roll our collective eyes and say, “Oy vey, I hope they grow out of that.” We assume that they’re doing stupid crap because they’re, you know, young. Basically, we sort of assume they’re inexperienced and still figuring it out.

Meanwhile, when twinks do stupid crap, we evidently assume it’s because they’re, you know, twinks. Basically, we sort of assume that they’re (should I, as a permatwink, say “we’re,” here?) somehow defective human beings who cannot hope to transcend their current mire.

In short, we expect young people to grow out of it. We don’t expect that of twinks … though I don’t know what we do expect of them. Do people expect us to grow into Sad Old Queens? Do Sad Old Queens even exist anymore? If so — beside the discomfort of being Sad — what’s so awful about being Old and a Queen? If there’s one thing the gay male community needs to learn, it’s to honor the elders. Sad Old Queens are, by definition, elders. At least, I think so. I guess it depends on what you mean when you say “Old.”

I’m not going to try to come off all smug and superior here, by the way, like I’m the One Person Who Never Judges The Twinks.

In my experience, while we are eternally the laughing stock of the queer universe, nobody is harder on twinks than twinks. I am as guilty of this as anyone, I guess. I recognize that when I point out that I’m the chaste and mostly sober twink at the party — the one who doesn’t use recreational drugs, keeps a tight grip on his alcohol use, etc. — and that I’m not some trend-worshiping fashion victim, I’m making value judgments.

Likewise, there are other denizens of the Twinkiverse who would decry me as an uptight, elitist, silver-spoon-fed bore.

Covertly, I am basically saying, “Yeah, I’m a twink, but I’m not like those twinks; those guys have problems.” In fact, they probably do, and so do I, and — here’s the rub — my problems make it much more likely that I will not be a terribly productive member of society (fortunately, I’m a twink, so I’m decorative … right?). Other twinks may seem defective, but they tend to go on to be productive human beings. Meanwhile, I’m struggling with a serious mental illness that will make it much harder for me to contribute my share to the world. So, yeah. There’s that.

At the end of the day, though, other guys are still going to sort us all into the “twink” box and make all kinds of assumptions about us that probably aren’t correct (or, well, that probably aren’t exhaustive, and that aren’t correct all the time even when they are exhaustive).

Here’s the thing: I don’t think you’d catch a member of the bear community throwing his fellow bears under the bus like I throw other twinks under the bus and so forth. The bears (and their leaner friends, the otters) possess a sense of community; of fellow-feeling that makes them more forgiving of each-others’ faults (though, being pretty much the opposite of a bear, I have only observed bears from the outside, and thus could be totally wrong here.) They certainly don’t seem to do the whole, “Other bears are like x, y, and z, and I’m totally not like that,” bit — which is, by the way, what I just did to my fellow twinks and meta-twinks and permatwinks and whatever the hell else we are these days.

I suspect that lack of community spirit, of coherence and brotherhood, is one of the reasons so many of us — so many twinks, that is — eventually adopt some other queer identity. It’s not just that “twink” appears to be an age-limited category, but because it’s one that includes no built-in community. Maybe that’s because it’s a category one we’ve basically accepted as pejorative, and one that we assign to others far more readily than we assign it to ourselves.

Seriously, I am the only guy I know personally who embraces the word “twink” as a descriptor relevant to his own identity.

In short, every twink is an island.

So, yeah: I grok that I am part of the problem; that I have on more than one occasion attributed someone else’s idiocy to his twinkhood.

And, like Thomas Rogers, I’m really not sure what twinks evolve into (though “party ferret” sounds pretty fun, I’m not sure that’s what I’d want to put on my CV, if I was forced — bizarrely, because why would this ever, ever happen? — to categorize myself according to my place in the spectrum of queerness).

I’m not even sure why we’re so obsessed with categorizing ourselves. I grasp that a lot of our queer sub-categories operate as a kind of mate-finding shorthand, but what makes us extend those categories to the far edges of our identities? (I say this, mind you, as someone whose memberships in the broader categories of “cyclist” and “dancer” extend all the way to the borders of his selfhood and splash out all over the world around me — so maybe a lot of us just really like categories; I don’t know.) What makes us retain them after our mates are, you know, found? Yeah, “twink who likes older guys” was a convenient label when I was single. Now I’m a twink who’s married to an older guy, so……

Anyway, this is something I intend to think about. Who’s afraid of the big bad twink, and why?

Lastly, because this is now a bajillion times longer than I intended it to be, it’s Tour Time and I am once again basically failing to watch the race. I have decided that I am Cycling’s Leastest Fan (yeah, that’s grammatically incorrect, but it scans better, so there).

I peripherally sort of enjoy the thrills and spills of bike racing, but I am apparently not capable of being committed enough to actually watch races if it involves making effort (if Le Tour is on in, for example, a pub where I’m shoving pizza into my maw, then I’ll watch as if hypnotized; I won’t, however, go dig up a feed on the innertubes).

But, anyway: the Tour is happening, so if you’re into watching it, go watch, and let me know what happens, because I can’t be bothered to find out for myself.

That’s it for now.

Sunny side up, and all that.

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