Not just a concept

I feel a little silly.  I went to New York Live Arts’ Lobby Talk on “Transgender in Dance” expecting a conceptual discussion about the fluidity of gender representation in contemporary dance.  I did not expect a panel of transgendered dance artists.  (Duh.)

My surprise, and the ensuing discussion had me thinking a lot about my own generally ignored privileges.  I don’t have to work very hard to be perceived by others according to the identity I perceive for myself.  I am not confronted with misperception of my identity on a daily basis.  I have fun playing other people on stage, and it hadn’t occurred to me before tonight how that fun might be challenged if my assigned theatrical roles were consistently at odds with my perception of myself.  When I’m on stage, even if I’m playing with characterization of some sort, I’m doing so from a relatively secure certainty that the audience and I share basic assumptions about my actual identity.  When these privileges and assumptions are removed, the ground gives way.

Who then are we, each and all, removing all of this assumed ground?  Can practice allow us to encounter each other as individuals, or are we doomed by historical patterning to label each other with cultural shortcuts?  Can we accept blurred edges as the only true clarity?  A first step, for those of us with culturally dominant privilege, is to pay more attention to the invisible straight lines boxing us away from complexity and conversation.

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