Tag Archives: dancing

the dance floor was the one safe place to have a body

CW: violence, sex, grief, a graphic detail about rape

This morning, I’m out at my neighborhood cafe, where they are playing club music to wake up the patrons. Or maybe in solidarity and grief and resistance. this cafe is queer-owned/-operated, and has sizable queer clientele. A handful of folks come in who I read as queer; we’re subdued this morning. We don’t smile big. We give each other the side eye, we purse our lips in that sort of sad smile that says, I’m grieving, too, even though I’m out in the world trying to look like I have my shit together. The world feels quieter today, muted, and not just because of the fog dampening the trees and the morning commute.

This morning I am grieving like so many of us are grieving because we’ve had a mass shooting hit us in our back yard. Many others of us are grieving because this is only the latest shooting to target someone or some community we love.

My love and I spent early Sunday morning with the New York Times, out on the back deck in the sun. After more than a week of doing everything I could to avoid hearing or reading about the Stanford Rape fiasco, I finally felt like I was ready to look. To open my eyes and look. To pull my head out of the sand and look, read, take it in. I’d been avoiding the news because I didn’t want to be surprised by details of the violence, I didn’t want to hear any more about how a white man’s future is protected by all the white men in power, even though he raped a drunk woman in the bushes and was witnessed in the act. I didn’t yet want to read her letter. I wasn’t ready. I just didn’t have the room in my body for the details, and for the rage that rises up in me every time I even think about it, and I wanted to wait until I did have some room in me before I tried to take in the story. I avoided Facebook even more studiously that usual, not wanting to run into excerpts of the survivor’s letter, into yet another story about the rapist or, even worse, learning the details from some ironic Facebookable image or satirical story.

Just yesterday, sitting on the back porch with the New York Times review section, I ran into yet another article about the case — I suppose I should be grateful that rape is finally deemed newsworthy in this way — and thought, Ok. All right. Fine. I’ll read it. I took a deep breath, and got about a quarter of the way in, until I reached a line that included details about gravel in the victim’s vagina. And then I shouted, “That’s enough!” and turned the page. My beloved looked at me sympathetically as I was shrieking at newsprint.

Until we got in the car an hour after that to drive the 45 minutes to the little church that I fell in love with when I lived in Tiburon, I didn’t know about the violence in Orlando. We switched on the radio, which was turned down low, and heard the whisper of one of the NPR announcers talking about special coverage of yet another mass shooting — and then I grabbed my phone and looked up the news.” It was a gay bar,” I said. “A gay bar.”

~~ ~~ ~~

I still haven’t read anything that explains why it took the police three hours to get into that bar after patrons started calling 911.

~~ ~~ ~~

Yesterday, driving down the hill from church and looking out on the San Francisco Bay, I thought about how it could have been us. I thought, Those were kids, the people in that bar — queer youth looking for sanctuary, looking for sweetness and solidarity and, yes, sex.

They were like us, who piled into Anna’s suburban late on a Sunday to head over to the one bar in the Upper Valley that had an “alternative lifestyle” night, who knew that if we timed it just right, the bouncer wouldn’t care that some of us were underage because the bar was going to close in an hour anyway, and we tumbled into the place like a bunch of oversexed puppies and took over (we thought we took over, I thought we took over) the dance floor, and we preened and performed for each other and the “older folks” (who were what, 35?) and spun and bounced and flirted and had one place that we were “normal,” we were the majority, we were right. This place was one of the few sanctuaries I had in the world, one of the places my stepfather would have never thought to try and track me down, one of the places where sometimes I almost even forgot about him and what he had made me into. The club, the dance floor, was my reclamation space, my resistance to incest and rape; it was, for some years, some many years, the only place it felt truly safe to have a body.

I thought about the majority young, majority-Latinx queer folks at Pulse this weekend and what that night, last Saturday night/early Sunday morning, was supposed to be for them. I thought about how hard some of the people in that club had had to work just to walk in the door. I thought about the joy and delight, the sexuality, the history and ache throbbing in that place.

The word we have for the act of violating a place of holiness and worship is desecration. What the shooter did on Saturday night was a desecration.

Where can we go to be safe? Where can we go to let down our guard? As women, as queer folks, and I think even more for my QTPOC beloveds and community, what does ‘safe space’ even mean?

~~ ~~ ~~

 I listened to the news yesterday, learned that the shooter was of Middle Eastern descent, and thought, Just wait for what Trump is going to say. Just wait for the Republicans to pretend to be friends of the queer community now. Meanwhile, LGBTQ rights are under assault across the country. Meanwhile, the same politicians who called us perverts yesterday are going to try and use us now to further their cause for war. They don’t care about queer people. They care about power and violence.

Meanwhile, queer men still can’t donate blood unless they’ve been celibate for a year. (In protest of this rule, I myself haven’t donated blood since the 90s.)

I’m afraid of what white gay folks and queers will do, are doing, with news like this. We tend to make it all about ourselves, and only about ourselves — all gay and only gay, forgetting about or actively erasing the intersections. This was an attack on queer folks, yes, and primarily on queer people of color. Yesterday I turned on the radio for a minute, just to be with people who were talking about the horror, and I heard a reporter relay the comments of someone at a rally: “This is our Charleston, SC!” I can only imagine this was a white person speaking, though I might be wrong; I make this assumption because white queer folks have a history of laying claim to Black struggle with entitlement. I had to turn off the radio immediately, because I started shouting again. Queer folks have been under attack throughout human history; we don’t have to appropriate an atrocity committed on Black folks (some of whom may certainly have been queer) in a house of worship (who were targeted for their Blackness in a place of sanctuary by a white man whose actions were not called terrorism and initiated no calls to remove all white men or white people from the country, though because historically violence of this nature is committed overwhelmingly by white men, a case could be made that we might be a safer country if we did just that).

~~ ~~ ~~

At the end of last week, while having sex with my beloved, I ran my hands up and down her body, over and over, and felt a kind of thick astonishment that I get to be with this woman. With this woman. It was an old feeling, like I imagine dykes in the 50s or 60s felt, this terrified wonder, this sense of transgressing, of holding something I was never supposed to be able to hold, of experiencing a kind of joy and pleasure I was never supposed to be able to experience. Like I was doing something wrong. Maybe that feeling is my legacy, a kind of queer bone memory. I thought, But why should I be feeling this way today, in 2016, when queer folks have so much acceptance, when no one cares anymore if you’re queer?

Then I remembered the number of trans women murdered just so far this year. Then I remembered that I live in a bubble here in the Bay Area — that when I met my sweetheart at the airport in Omaha when I was there visiting a couple of weeks ago, we both hesitated before kissing hello. I put my lips on her forehead instead. Just taking her hand and wrapping her up in my welcoming arms felt wildly visible, potentially dangerous. We laughed about it nervously, but I kept an eye on the people who were keeping their eyes on us. (A few days later, back in the airport on our way out, we passed a man arriving in Omaha wearing a tshirt that read Black Guns Matter – and I was so sad to acknowledge that I was glad to be leaving.)

Then I heard the news about Orlando.

Yes, it’s still transgressive to love and want a woman the way I love and want mine. Yes, there are still plenty of people who want to see queerfolks “cured” or fixed or killed. Yes, there are still plenty of people who “love the sinner and hate the sin. Yes, there are politicians – and plenty of folks in their constituencies – who would happily legislate queerfolks out of existence.

~~ ~~ ~~

These are days for grief and rage. We live in a white supremacist patriarchy that privileges access to weaponry over the sanctity of human life, that cares more about the future well-being of a white male rapist than about holding him accountable for his crimes, that over and over deems Black and Brown bodies expendable, that treats gender transgressive bodies as crimes against nature. Change is possible — isn’t it true that change must be possible, that resistance and solidarity and the vision of something different must take precedence over hopelessness and resignation? But today it’s a struggle to pull away from the quicksand of hopelessness.

I have been thinking since yesterday of a poem by Essex Hemphill that I’ve handed out at many of my erotic writing groups – his words speak louder and more clearly than anything else I could say.

American Wedding
by Essex Hemphill

In america,
I place my ring
on your cock
where it belongs.
No horsemen
bearing terror,
no soldiers of doom
will swoop in
and sweep us apart.
They’re too busy
looting the land
to watch us.
They don’t know
we need each other
critically.
They expect us to call in sick,
watch television all night,
die by our own hands.
They don’t know
we are becoming powerful.
Every time we kiss
we confirm the new world coming.

What the rose whispers
before blooming
I vow to you.
I give you my heart,
a safe house.
I give you promises other than
milk, honey, liberty.
I assume you will always
be a free man with a dream.
In america,
place your ring
on my cock
where it belongs.
Long may we live
to free this dream.

trusting that moment of release

Relax_harderWe push ourselves hard to relax right. We give ourselves too little time after too long working too much for too many days in a row, and then we expect ourselves to relax at the drop of a hat. Relax, damnit! There’s only these two days of weekend before we have to get back to work! Hurry up and unwind! The pressure to unclench just adds more stress, when we’re supposed to do it both correctly and on a timeline. We tighten more, knot up a little harder, and can’t understand what people mean when they talk about self-care. Who has time to relax? we want to know. There’s just so much to do. And what does relax mean, anyway, for those of us who tensed up as a way of protecting ourselves from the violence that forced its way into our bodies? Don’t those “Just Relax” people know that, for us, being clenched was our radical self care?

What can relax mean for us, then, when being curled into a tight ball was the safest position? What does it take for us to unfurl what has been bound and rigid within ourselves, to trust that we can be safe when we are exposed?

~~ ~~ ~~

We’ve had two floating-wave days, two too-hot-to-walk-on-the-sand-let’s-get-back-in-the-water days. Days where I’ve been in the water enough that the sea’s rhythm finally entered my blood. Last night I sat on shore, at dinner, lay in bed, and something in me was still swaying, pushing out and sucking back in. Just now I feel it in my shoulders, around and through the deep part of my chest.

This morning I was out in the water at 9am, the beach still relatively empty; the only other people in the water were the surfers, seal-slick in their wetsuits, and a lone paddleboarder who lay prostrate on his board like he was a reverent welcoming the sun. I stretched my body out in the buoyant salt water and did the same, offering myself to sun and undulance, offering myself to morning-soft air so thick it clings to the skin in droplets, offered myself to the tiny minnows flashing around my ankles in their flickering schools. Offering myself to tern screams and sea gull cries and the waft of plover wings as the body of their flock drifted low over the nearby shore. A few minutes later, some neighbor kids came out and took their place in the water, four of them, at first with nothing to arm themselves against the waves but their bodies — the boogie boards came later.

Here is where I lean again into learning to trust being present and relaxed at the same time. My head dropped down below the surface, ears filling just so and what I hear is not the cheers of the surfers catching a swell or the screams of the kids in the midst of their morning ablutions, but the swish of undercurrent waves, my own breath, the roll of water all around me. I close my eyes, just for a moment (I know better than to keep my eyes closed on mother sea) and just let myself float. Just let myself be bouyed up. For a moment, I imagine two hands, I imagine the body of the sea as mother — of course I do. I imagine this as a place where I can relax, a place I can trust. Just for a moment, I lean all the way in. I relax my arms, legs, quit treading water, I just float. Just for a moment.

That one moment, that deep relax, makes all the difference to me, is what I search for during these days at the water. It’s akin to that moment when I’m on the dance floor — you know that moment, when everything is in sync: the music and the gathered dancers, the bass is perfect and I am in flow, my body sweating hard, I am grinning, I am nearly panting, it’s maybe the better part of the way through the night but the dj has been on a roll and every song is good, every song is so good that I can’t bring myself to step off the floor for a second, I don’t want to miss a moment of it, and the energy of everyone is charged and joyful, and I feel my whole body, my whole self, engage. The rest of everything else falls away. Anything else falls away. Nothing else matters but these beats this circle of muscle and sweat and joy this urgency this well-oiled press forward. Something clicks into gear, we are just in the right now, and in this right now, everything is all right. Everything is better than all right: we are safe enough to be all right, we are alive and alive and alive.

That moment of unfurling into the water’s hold is like that, that moment where everything else falls away, and for a second, you don’t have to worry about the to-do list, you don’t have to worry about taking care of anyone else, you don’t have to worry about everything that’s wrong with you or all that you regret or all you haven’t yet accomplished in  your life. In that moment, you are sheer delight, sheer pleasure, sheer gratitude, sheer presence.

You know — of course you know — what it means to allow ourselves to trust anything or anyone enough to lean in and let down our guard, put away the Watcher that hangs out over our shoulder or at the backside of our consciousness and worries the bones of us with its panics and reminders of all that is still wrong, all that is not safe, all that is not healed, all that is still broken — what it means to give ourselves that moment of peace and ease.

That good moment — I got to soak into that today. And it sunk all the way down into my bones.

extra:ordinary – the story of a normal girl

(This week, I’m offering my own contribution to the extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday survival and resilience) — what does it mean to have to try and find your way back into a humanity you are afraid doesn’t want you, or that you don’t deserve, after you escape from trauma or violence? How many of us are living that question right now?

Be easy with you as you read; I talk somewhat explicitly about sexual violence and psychological manipulations in this piece.)

§•

The story of a normal girl

It happened again the other day. Over dinner, some friends started talking about their teenage years, sharing sexual coming of age stories.  Normal stuff: how old they were when they first touched themselves or touched someone else, parents who were clueless about who they were fooling around with, what kind of sex they were having and how young. They told the stories of how regular girls try on on these experiences of being grown up – how they learn to flirt or play or shut someone down.

Women bond over these stories: how we negotiated the travails of adolescence, learned to navigate the nuances of adult womanhood, learned to relate to sex, men, boys, our bodies, femininity, other women.

I sipped my tea, quiet, disappearing. I did not participate in the conversation. I never participate in these conversations unless I know I am with other sexual abuse survivors. I listen and wonder. It’s like eavesdropping on people who were raised in another country or maybe on another planet. They speak a foreign language, one I lost the grammar for when I was fifteen years old. I know some of the vocabulary, enough to make it sound like I am a native speaker.

I can pass myself off as one of them for a little while when I need to. It’s not that I don’t have my own stories of awkward early sexual fumblings in the back seats of cars with boys – it’s that behind and around and beneath those fumblings was my stepfather’s mouth, telling me what to do, how far to go, when to stop, and then, after, demanding that I tell him in detail about every erotic encounter so that he could put his hands in his pants at the thought of it.

I had few casual sexual explorings. I learned sex at the hands of my stepfather, who undertook my/our education and indoctrination when I was a young teenager. (At least I had the great good fortune of an unmolested childhood, save for the sexual harassment by strangers and from elementary school classmates, but doesn’t every girl deal with those?)

As a teenager, I understood that my family was different from my classmates’ families. I assumed—as I assumed about the woman friends in conversation the other day—that the other girls in my class did not spend parts of their weekends watching sex films with their stepdad at his psychotherapy office while he encouraged them to masturbate or let him touch them. I assumed other girls weren’t studying oral sex techniques in porn movies, weren’t being instructed to practice on their stepfather’s bodies, weren’t having to pretend to enjoy their stepfather’s oral and digital and genital attentions.

I know now that many of them were being abused, too; not because any of them told me—simply because of statistics.

§•

My stepfather wanted to be the leader of a cult, I think, but he was not charismatic enough to draw throngs of followers to him. He instead preyed on his wives and, in our case, their children. He used the tactics of cult leaders, though: controlling our worldview and cutting off outside contact from family or other influences; using sex as a training device, control mechanism, punishment or “reward” that we were supposed to strive for; sleep deprivation; demanding that we learn and obey his strict rules, then changing the rules without warning and punishing us for not knowing the new rules; indoctrinating us into the behaviors and beliefs he said would help us to evolve to a higher state of consciousness while flouting those rules whenever he wanted to. (When I read through this checklist of cult characteristics, every single one is familiar to me.) He trained my sister and I to bring other followers/victims to him – I succumbed to that training. The person I brought him got away, though not unscathed. I got away, too, not long after. It took me about ten years to really believe that I was not a rapist or perpetrator, and that I deserved to be alive.

§•

As I got older, into high school and college, the disconnect between my real self (who I was at home with my stepdad) and the self I pretended to be out in the world became an unbridgeable crevasse. I had to work harder and harder to look like someone normal, given what was expected of me when I got home after school and on the weekends and, later, on breaks from college. I felt wholly separated from everyone else I knew, even after I got away, even after I began to connect with other survivors, even after I learned how common, how normal, the experience of sexual abuse is.

I know now that this experience of disconnect from other people, this profound isolation and sense of monstrousness, is also normal.

 •§•

I broke away, finally, from my stepdad’s control at the age of 21. I lived under his control and domination until I was a senior at Dartmouth College, an ostensibly smart, supposedly take-no-shit college girl. How many victims do you know who have phone sex with their rapists? I certainly didn’t know any. How could I call myself a victim when I had an orgasm every time he raped me – because he would not stop until I did? How could I call myself a victim when I had to say “yes” every time he “asked’ if I wanted to have sex? How could I call myself a victim if I had convinced others to do what he wanted them to do, if I acted as his mouth and hands, if I’d become his emissary, puppet, and clone?

And if I couldn’t claim victim, how could I call myself survivor?

 •§•

For me, it has been a manifestation of resilience that I stayed alive and wanted to have any relationships with anyone else at all, ever. I had every reason not to want to be around people, build relationships, be expected to trust others. I let myself not have those relationships for awhile. And then, when I found the loneliness too much to bear, I started to teach myself, and let other people teach me, how to be in human company.

 If I’d participated authentically in that casual conversation a few days ago about sexual “explorations,” I would have said something like this:

I first got to third base with my stepdad when I was in 8th grade, or before, maybe, I can’t remember.”

Or

Yeah, we didn’t have instagram or digital selfies when I was a kid, but my stepdad had his Polaroid that he used to document me and my sister, and that worked just fine for him to record our naked bodies.”

For me to participate in these conversation is to introduce the story of trauma into what was supposed to be something sweet and light and fun. My story comes in like an anvil. Sometimes I choose to drop the anvil in, though, because keeping silent just reminds me of all those years I acted like a regular, non-molested girl.

Sometimes folks are uncomfortable when I share these stories. More often than not, though, it’s an opening for others to share their own secreted-away stories of violation and violence, an invitation to break the silence. And I remember—I realize, all over again—that I was regular — just your normal, average, sexually-traumatized girl who has had to refind her place in human community.

 •§•

I want you to imagine with me what it would take for a 21-year old young woman, who has been controlled and manipulated since she was 12 or younger, to decide that she deserves to be free. She lives across the country from the place where she grew up. Even after leaving home, she continues to obey to every one of her stepfather’s demands. She tells him everything she does. He has convinced her that he can read her thoughts and that he has spies watching her—he already knows what she’s doing and so it will behoove her to come clean, to prove she is trustworthy. He has convinced her that he will kill her and anyone she loves if she attempts to leave him. She is smart, naive, brainwashed, and terrified. She tells no one about her life, about the things her stepdad makes her do, about how afraid she is that he will make her do these things for the rest of her life. She has relationships with young men her age; her stepfather wants to hear the details of their sexual encounters. When he is bored with them, or when he thinks she and the boy have grown too close, he will demand that she break up with him.

Forget getting free. I want you to imagine what it would take for her to get up in the morning and decide to go to class.

This is a girl, I would say now, who fucking well deserved to go dancing, who sure as hell deserved to get drunk. Those were two of the practices that saved me, that got me through. Other practices include (but are not limited to!): endless hours of writing, taking care of pets, therapy (eventually), lots of crying, long and meandering walks, getting involved in work that was of service to others and politically relevant, eating too much, isolating, getting overly involved in organizing work, fantasizing, reading, having sex, and playing around with BDSM.

Imagine that girl who was 21 went dancing in jeans and a tank top, flannel shirt tied around her waist. Imagine she suddenly wasn’t trying to be anybody’s video vixen, she learned to bounce, spin, and sweat. I mean, sweat. This girl—who developed asthma at 10 years old, who was divested of her physical agency, who stopped doing all sports, who had stopped moving except when and how her stepfather told her to—she remembered how to sweat.

Imagine it’s 1993 and “Everybody’s Free!” is pounding through the flashing lights and the awfulness from the smoke machine and she is drenched. She is not yet free but she is dancing, and her body is sweating,  teaching her how to get free. Her body is teaching her. Soon, she will listen to her body, and she will walk away. She will not be afraid to die. She will not die. She will get free.

That is her resilience, dripping shimmering her face, dripping over her neck and down her back. That, there, what you said girls aren’t supposed to do: that’s her resilience.

dance (r)evolution

Good morning good morning. I just spent about forty minutes in the notebook, drafting out my addition to this Saturday’s Fierce Hunger reading, and now I get to be here in the blog with you. That’s a good morning’s writing. How are the words arriving for you today? On the page? Via the radio? In the mouth of your heart?

I’ve been working on the schedule and lineup for Saturday (when I’m not editing our amazing chapbook!) — here’s the basic schedule:

6:00-7:15       Mingle & Silent Auction (music by DJs Zanne & Junkyard)

7:15-9:15       Reading & Raffle & Celebration

9:15-10:30    Dance dance evolution (more with Zanne & Junkyard!)

So, first you get to hang out with amazing folks and check out the silent auction items and enjoy some wine and/or appetizers. Then you get to listen to some powerhouse readers, after I tell you a smidge about how grateful I am to everyone who’s supported Writing Ourselves Whole over these last ten years. Next we announce the raffle and silent auction winners. And then you get to dance it all out. Continue reading

dance church

sticker graffiti of a dancing yellow Ganesh (Ganesh is the remover of obstacles in the Hindu pantheon))

Ganesha, remover of obstacles

Good morning to you — how is this new day holding your body so far?

My body is a bit achy this morning, stiff and singing, after a dance party yesterday afternoon during which I barely stopped moving. That is, for me, the very best kind of church. I continue to reverberate with gratitude for the love in the room yesterday, for the people who came out to celebrate (early) my birthday with me, for the people who sent their love over even though they couldn’t join us, for the space (thank you Carol & Robert & CSC!), for old friends and new, for readings and listenings and witnessings and constant, aching growth.

I am ready for forty now, especially if it means I get to keep bouncing like I did yesterday. I haven’t danced like that in ages, so up off the ground, so both near flight and rooted hard to this tender gravity.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

I’ve said that to people often, that the dance floor, for me, has been church, and this morning, I want to say what that means, what the word church has meant for me (particularly since now I’m going to a church-church, where dancing might happen sometimes, but the focus is a little more traditional.).  I’ve written this story before, and will keep writing it, because it’s so integral to these twenty years of healing and survival.

Here’s what I say: dancing saved me, was a necessary part of the constellation of friends, lovers and practices that kept me away from the edge when I was just beginning to imagine what it might look like for me not to live under my stepfather’s control. The dance floor was the one place where I could be in my body–be sexual, even–without any expectations other than big joy. I’d danced in high school, hadn’t I, gone to those all ages parties where I wore tight dresses and flat shoes and moved my body in ways that I thought would look sexy and provocative, just barely finding a place for myself in or against the music. One guy I danced with at that party — held, of all places, at an amusement park– asked something like, Is that really the only move you know? There I was with my side to side step, swing the hips: keep it together. I was embarrassed, indignant, but aching somewhere inside, too, to know what it would be like to do more. I looked at the girls around me, some of whom moved with more abandon, but I had no idea how to let myself do that.

More came when I went to college, got 1000 miles away from home, quit wearing the skintight dresses to the dance parties, started wearing clothes I could really move in. And then, of course, it was the early nineties, and oh, I discovered house music, a beat big enough for me to entirely lose myself in, for me to submit to. Is this what church means: this feeling of being carried by something greater than myself, of being moved and held, of joyous fellowship and a both singular and shared experience? This music, this place, was my only experience of someplace safe where being in my body meant power and celebration only — and that was a revelation. I never drank when I was dancing (and began dancing less when I started drinking more heavily), because the alcohol got in the way of the feeling, of that sense of release (and also it fucked up my feet, made me trip, which irritated me. I didn’t understand the people who said they had to drink to get loose enough or comfortable enough to dance — drinking wasn’t ever a way to get in to my body. It was a way to get out. But that’s a different post.)

What I mean when I say that the dance floor saved me is that I have always had a place where it was safe to be in my body, where my body was both deeply gendered and not at all gendered, where my body was about reach and enormous smiles and deep desire and mine and also offered out to the room as connection — where, simply, it was not just ok to be in my body but desirable to be in my body, where it was not scary to be in this body. That, for me, has been a gift, sometimes the only line back into this place that otherwise has felt like a battleground and crime scene and confusion, a place to step up into my head to escape.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been doing work to come back into my body all the way, to reconnect with the child self who loved to move, who celebrated her body (without having to name it as such — this was just what you did in this human existence), who swam and played basketball and rode bikes and ran as fast as she could as often as she could. The day before yesterday, on a little run-walk with the dog (after I’d had dinner — this is not the ideal order in which to do such things, btw; better to have the run-walk, then the dinner. Also another post.) I had a moment where I ran as fast as I could down one little rise and up the next, stretching my legs out to their full stride, pulling hard at the ground, feeling exactly a six-year-old Jenny in me, going hard, loving the feel of all of our strength going into just this work, for no other reason than that it feels really, really good. Today I feel like crying at the thought of it, being able to touch that part again, being able to be right here.

And then yesterday, I was up off the floor as much as I could be, bouncing just exactly the way I did back at college, in those little dance rooms, when the music was better than I could bear, and the only possible response was to pop up off the floor and into the air, giving every muscle in my legs a chance to lift us, lift us, lift us.

If church is about survival and love, about holding one another, about sharing in an experience of connecting with something utterly of and also greater than ourselves, then I can say for sure that dancing has been the place of church for me. One definition of church is an occasion of public worship — and I have found that on the dance floor, when everyone around me is sweaty and smiling, connected and internal, witnessing and showing off, sharing in the experience of being profoundly in our bodies exactly as they are, celebrating our messy humanness, our stumbles and our perfect beat.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

What has dancing meant for you? Are there places where you are in or want to be in your body? Want to let those be writes for today? Give yourself 20 minutes — take that for you on this Sunday — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for your good body today, for the creativity that lives in every cell. Thank you for the breath that you allow in, and that you release. Thank you for your words.

bring that beat back

graffiti of a turntable, painted onto the side of a grey concrete building ornamentationGood morning — how is this morning treating you so far? Here it’s rainy and it took me a long, long time to wake up; I think I hit snooze about 20 times.

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What’s going on this morning? I can’t remember my dreams — in the dream I wish I’d had, my grandmother, one of them, or maybe both, came to me. we were sitting in a city park, on a dry bench, and they were holding hands. They looked like I remembered them, washed grey permanents, slightly bent bodies, deeply kind faces, my father’s mother’s face a little more open than my mother’s mother’s face, but still both so very much there. They pat the space between them, want me to sit down there. They tell me things I need to hear, they tell me about the time when I was gone, the time when their families were missing two grandchildren — this is what the holidays were like, they say, this is what it felt like to miss you and your sister. The space didn’t fill in around you, they say, there was just a hole. We didn’t talk about it much, but we all knew it was there.The wind blew against our faces, gentle, and somehow they were sitting next to each other and also around me.The air was blue, fresh, the sky was open. There were other people, far away, walking. My grandmothers explained about their lives, they told me how to go forward in my own. They opened their hands and let me put mine there, they let me see how our hands are so much the same. You see, they said to me, look at our hands. You belong to us. You’re home here.

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Night before last, I went with a good friend to see Erasure, a band whose music saved me when I was coming out (and when I say that I mean both coming out as queer and also coming out from under my stepfather; these are always intertwined for me). I want to tell you about dancing, about dancing there in the way high seats at the Fox theater with my friend and hundreds of other people, about opening my mouth to sing along with a favorite song and realizing that hundreds of other people are also singing, about not being ashamed of loving something this much, about letting my body explode with and into this intertwining. At one point, when I was singing and all these other people were singing, and we were hollering for the artists who made the music, people we would never meet, who would never know us personally but whose work had touched us, had maybe made us feel heard and understood and welcome at moments when we believed (we knew) no one would ever really welcome us again, I understood sports fans. Just a flash, but it was there: this was a place of communal celebration, a place of connection — because we shared a love for those artists on the stage, we could share a love with one another.

Erasure takes me back into the very early 90s, full on, to the time when dancing saved me more than anything else ever could, because he had never had his hands on dancing. He’d had his hands on everything else I loved, every other spot of possible escape, including writing, even including alcohol, but dancing was all mine, and like swimming, I could get lost on the dance floor, alone and also intimately interwoven with the bodies and energies around me.

Yesterday I unpacked all my Erasure cds, both to share with my friend, and to copy back into my life — I uploaded them to my music playlists, haven’t listened to them much since moving to California. Somehow, being in San Francisco was like having Erasure, all that bouncing queerness, all around me. But, of course, San Francisco I’ve found is less bouncing queer and more please I need a job or a gig so I can pay the rent so I can have some time to do my art, and under the weight of that pressure, a little Erasure (I mean levity) must come.

As ever, I’m thinking about radical self care, and about paying attention to what works for you, what self care looks like and feels best for you. Other people, back in those early days, for instance, went to the gym, went jogging, lifted weights, took boxing classes — I took the very best care of myself that I could on the dance floor; the dance floor, for many years, was the only safe place, where I reminded all the inner selves that, yes, look, we can be all the way in this body and be full of power, be a brilliant, explosive thing, be connected to something outside ourselves (that music, yes, that rhythm) and in each one of those steps, we can also be connected to these people around us. We can feel desire and let that live all the way in us, right here, just here if you want. Yes, body, we can feel delight and be safe, even powerful, in that delight. Powerful? Yes– that was it. I didn’t just feel safe when I was dancing, I felt wildly in control, both loose and firmly present. This was my meditation, my strength, my power.

I want you to understand, I want to find the words for you to be able to understand, what it meant to have something like that, a place like that, after living for a decade with a man who had made me believe that he had access to everything in me, who had shaped my insides to his own liking, who had crafted the perfect vessel for himself in me, not just in my body, but in my thoughts. In my thoughts. He didn’t have access to this place — even if I’d tried to share it with him, and once or twice, I probably did, in words, over the phone, long distance, coast to midland, doing the work that he’d trained me into: heaving all of myself into his hands, because that was the only way I could be made acceptable and worth anything — even then, he couldn’t really touch it. This was more than a miracle, more than self care: this was a crack in the thing he had made. this was the fissure I would escape out of. One time, when I was home on a school break, and I was in the home office (either working on the software application that our family business was supposedly producing for college students, or transcribing his notes for a new article about child sexual trauma), when I believed I was home alone, I put on some music, some something, and danced barefoot around the office (which had been my own bedroom before I went away to school). I turned the music up loud, I was taking something for myself from this house, allowing myself to be me, just for a few minutes, before he or my mom or my sister came home and I had to reshape into the scapegoat gnarl that lived only because she begged forgiveness or battled them every second. I was laughing to myself in that dancing, laughing out loud, I flung my arms out, sang along to the music, and then noticed that he was standing there in the doorway. I froze, flooded with adrenaline and terror, and shame, then stammered and went to turn down the music. He wasn’t paying me to dance, of course (let’s have a different conversation about waht he really was paying me for); we had to go downstairs to the living room and sit for an hour, more, talk about my priorities, my work, my psyche.

I think he saw, in that moment, what he couldn’t touch, what in me was already free.

There was nothing to replace that feeling, the work that dancing did for me, the work that dancing and I did together, when I stopped going, when I started drinking more, when the depression took me over for all those years. Here’s the thing: I can’t drink when I’m dancing; alcohol makes me sloppy and makes the dancing a mess. And so, for a long time, the drinking brought more oblivion than the dancing did, and for awhile, the oblivion was more important. Safer. No need to have any connection with others in the oblivion. I don’t write about that time much.

Since moving to CA, I go out maybe once every few months; with a full work and workshop schedule, plus needing morning time for writing, latenight dance parties are difficult to make and the dancing slips way off into the wayback machine. But every time I go, every time I fit my body back into that necessary place, I remember why it matters, I remember and am flush with gratitude for what dancing gave me, which was life, no exaggeration. And I make plans to go out again, and soon — even just monthly, couldn’t we make that happen? It helps to have dancing friends, one of whom was there at the concert with me, had shared his tickets; dancing friends know this place of resilient safety through connection with music and sweat and other people’s energy — they get it, and so we can call one another and say, ok, tonight? and they say, maybe, yes, tonight, and we go out into the world and make it a little more safe for ourselves and the others, the nineteen year olds there among us in bodies of all ages, the ones who are finding the space of safety that we had believed would never open up for (or in) us.
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This is the prompt: tell me about the music you loved when you were nineteen (or the music your character loved), a favorite song. Where were you living then? What about that song was alive for you, what drew you to that song or band or type of music? Who else loved that song? 10 minutes: take me there, then follow your writing wherever it seemed to want you to go.

Today I am grateful for house music, for synthpop and techno, and grateful, too, for all the music you loved that saved you, the stuff that streamed into your walkman, the music that you met yourself within. Thanks for allowing that to happen, for sharing it with others, for continuing. Thank you for your words.