Queer Futures: Siân
I want to talk about joy. About feeling sweatily, vibrantly alive and connected and lifted up by community.
I want to talk about dancing. Specifically partnered dancing, where two people dance together. Dancing is where I find sanctuary, where I celebrate the good days and find my way through the bad ones.
For me, dancing is a way of living the future I want be a part of.
Like sex, the world of partner dancing can be filled with heteronormativity, rigid expectations, oppressive gender roles and unspoken expectations or assumptions about what it means to agree to something - whether a dance or a kiss.
Like sex, there is another way, and progressive and queer-centred dance spaces are already showing us how much joy and freedom there is to be found in dancing minus the baggage.
Okay, so much for the theory, what does this actually look like?
• "Practice saying no to a closer hold," "If you're not certain, it's a no": it looks like a room full of people being taught how to give, withhold and receive non-verbal consent.
• "Who here is experienced in moving? Great! You can dance": it looks like telling people that their bodies are good enough, just as they are.
• "Lead, follow or switch?": it looks like a roomful of people dancing whatever role they feel like, regardless of their gender, their style or the body they have.
Building the future we want to live, living the future we want to build
One of the ways we build the future we want to live in is by showing up at the ballot boxes, the marches, making the calls and getting the signatures, and writing to the officials, and all of the passion and the drudgery that political organising entails.
There are other ways though too. Sometimes we build the future we want to live in by living it. Here and now. By taking our values into the things we love. Emma Goldman probably never said if I can't dance, it's not my revolution. What she did say was:
"I did not believe that a Cause... should demand the denial of life and joy."
I'd take it one step further, and say that sometimes the joy and the cause can feed each other. The events I organise come with a set of values - things like dance has no gender, equality within the partnership, there's space for everyone, your body is important - which shape everything from the teaching to the venue to the pricing structure. At the end of the day though, what I'm doing is throwing a really great party. One where queer people feel safe and seen, and straight men dance together without weirdness or bravado, and no one thinks that they can expect something of me on or off the dance floor based on my gender.
Throwing a really great party, with those values baked in, welds the joy to the cause. It shows us that living our values - living the future we want to build - doesn't have to be serious, or boring, or detract from the fun. Sometimes it is the fun!
Living that future is important because it teaches us what the world we want to build feels like. It shows us what is possible. For some, these dance classes could be the first time they've been asked to practice saying no or have an embodied experience of what it feels like to safely give or withhold consent. It might be the first time they are invited to dance not as a "man" but with a choice over whether to lead or follow. With time and repetition, those things teach us individually what we can demand, what we can hope for.
When you preach not in a classroom or from a soapbox it's easier to bring other people with you, too. You don't need to be a self-declared feminist or have read up on queer theory to understand the basics of how things are done at a queer-centred dance night - we show you that. When people want to join the party because it's a great time, and you say this is how we do things here then they're likely to come with you, because who wouldn't want to be part of that joy?
Living the future we want to build has ripple effects too. My hope is that when dancers and organisers from more traditional dance scenes come to progressive events they will see how little there is to lose and how much there is to gain when we drop some of the more old-fashioned notions and start to change. Getting started is as easy as switching "man" and "woman" for "lead" and "follow."
Our joy matters
So dancing is one way of living the future we want to build. It's also about living, full stop. Even if not one person came away from a dance night having experienced something new it would still be worth doing, because our joy doesn't have to come with a cause attached to be important. In an incredible essay on love and protest Mona Eltahawy says, "Romance is an uprising in the name of your humanity."
Let's substitute "romance" for "joy" for a second. It's easy to believe that with abortion under threat in the US, trans rights being undermined from all sides and the extraordinary lack of care shown in the wake of Covid-19 that joy is trivial, we must focus on survival. But don't we deserve more than survival? Doesn't every one of us deserve joy too?
Making space for joy is not a denial of any of the ills in the world. It's not closing our eyes and turning our backs. It's saying things are not as they should be AND I deserve to live my life fully. To experience pleasure and connection. To play on Eltahawy's words again, to be worthy of joy is to be worth saving. Aren't we worth saving?
Yotam Marom's essay What to do When the World is Ending talks about despair, and how it is a natural reaction which also stops us from strategizing about what we can usefully do to change something. But he also points out that, "beyond strategy, there is also just the simple, humble, profound task of being authentically alive on this planet in a time of collapse."
Meaning comes in part from the sense of purpose in contributing to something bigger, but it also comes from those moments where we feel most fully alive. From our joy.
My real point is not that everyone has to start dancing (though I would also love that) but that whatever your thing is, wherever you find your joy, embrace it. Perhaps there is a small revolution to be had there too? It's not always easy - a lot of work goes into creating and maintaining safer spaces - but it can be a lot of fun.
And finally, I'm sharing because whatever history and the news tell us there have always been havens of idealism and safety and this gives me hope. Hope that a better future is not only possible, but in some small ways is already here.
I hope that you are able to find your corners of joy and safety, and start living the future you want to build.