I sometimes call myself Ninja Gay. ‘Cuz it kind of creeps up and surprises you. It’s like that quiet friend who you thought was safely in the next room, but then speaks up suddenly right behind your ear. And this surprise (honest, expected, inoffensive) happens because of a neat little equivalency we carry around in our brains. It’s called heteronormativity, and in our particular community, it tends to look like this:
Gender expression = Sexuality = Dance Role
That is to say that because I look like a girl and dress like a girl, I am assumed to be heterosexual, and I am assumed to follow. Deviations in one factor tend to open up other parts of the equation:
Androgyny? = Queer? = Ambi-dancer?
Masculine clothes on female? = Lesbian? = Lead?
Feminine clothes on male? = Gay? = Follow?
The truth is, these characteristics (gender expression, sexuality, dance role) are entirely independent. I can be a cis-gendered female, a lindy hop follow, AND have a wife at home (my wonderful, supportive Non-Dancing Significant Other). I encountered this lovely little graphic last year which really put these un-couplings into perspective:
The intersections of traits create a wonderful, 3-dimensional, individually unique portrait of our identity and gender expression and desires. This is not to say that you can’t continue being a heterosexual, cis-gendered, Hollywood romance type. But there needs to be some acknowledgement that not everyone is in the same boat, nor is expected to be.
So when I say I’m leading in a class, when there are too many leads already, that’s not the time to ask me to switch and “make it easier” for everyone else.
If someone asks you to refer to them with a certain pronoun, that is not the time to ask if they’ve had genital surgery.
If you have made Wisdom your dump stat, maybe the guild shouldn’t ask you to be their healer on tonight’s raid. #bornthisway
What are things you CAN do to support this paradigm shift?
Use the words that person wants you to use. Use “they” pronouns if they want them. Refer to “partner” “wife” or “SSO” as they do.
Replace “would you like to dance?” with “would you like to lead me?” or “would you like to follow me?” when asking strangers to dance*. You should be asking anyway, so this is a good way to revisit your general practices.
Go with the flow: if someone changes their pronoun, or changes their dance role, or even makes those changes multiple times in a year/day/night, roll with it and be accommodating. It’s the polite thing to do.
*Like most humans, I’m more formal in dance requests with people I don’t know. Maintaining that formality with people I know well is just kind of weird. I’m always open to changes in dance role, formality, etc., but I don’t need to start from zero.
I think the thing I actively work on the most is trying to catch myself in assumptions. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in this: humans are excellent at sorting through details, deciding which ones are important, and creating impressions of others as they relate to ourselves and our community. These are the same skills that tell me if I can be uber-friends with someone new or if I should be wary about being branded a witch and burned. But an assumption is when I take these logical leaps for 100% accuracy, so much so that I rely on them, pivot on them, and draw conclusions from them. And they’re just not that reliable.
So if you’ve been looking for a time to start shedding your old ways and trying on new lenses, there’s no time like the present to slap on some rainbow shades. I think you’ll find that the world is much more colorful, diverse, and surprising than you may have assumed.
Happy Pride Month, everyone. Go and be a rainbow unicorn.