Last night was incredible. Beautiful. Astonishing. Enlightening. Encouraging. Inspiring. Wonderful. Fun.
With nothing more than bus fare and text message directions, Katie and I embarked on a journey into NYC. Our intention was to see the HOT! Festival premiere of Sean Dorsey's "Uncovered." More than anything, though, I was ecstatic to see Kate Bornstein perform one of her newest pieces at the prologue to the show.
To be entirely honest with you, I had no idea who Sean Dorsey was. I didn't really know what his show was going to be like; I'll admit, I wasn't really concerned. I was going to see Kate Bornstein. I was going to be in the same room as Kate Bornstein, and having been just a few months shy of seeing her at SMCM, I was beyond thrilled.
I had no idea what to expect. I had never even heard of Dixon Place before. How big is the theater? How many people are going to be there? Will I get to meet Kate? What will I say if I do? I tried to get myself out of my old habit of babbling incoherently at people who are more important than me. I told myself I would be calm and personable and not make an ass of myself. I also told myself that I probably would anyway, so don't worry too much about it.
We got off to a bit of a late start, having hit major traffic getting into the city. It was 7:00 when we stepped off the bus and into Port Authority, and, as such, my heart was racing. The show started at 8:00, we still had to get our tickets at the box office, and we were still faced with battling the NY Subway system for a 30 minute train ride. When my phone read 7:15 in the subway station, I thought for sure I was going to have a heart attack. Not to mention that my blood sugar was skyrocketing, from stress and excitement and the grilled cheese sandwich I ate before getting on the bus, so I had to pee like a racehorse on the bus, and then again when we were waiting for the subway. (It became a joke after a while; I'd turn to Katie and all I'd have to say was, "Guess what?" and she'd sigh and say, "Again?!")
Somehow, miraculously, we made it to Delancey St. at 7:30. Dixon Place was just a half of a block away. We walked toward it, though I saw a lot of very impeccably dressed young people walking in the opposite direction. "I think we're going the wrong way," I said. "All those people look like they should be going to Dixon Place." But, we were right, as was made evident by a 6'4" bald man who flamboyantly threw the door open as we started to pass and said, "Looking for Dixon Place? This is it!" Eagerly, I bounded in like an addict into a pharmacy.
We turned right immediately upon entering the door and went down a short hallway. Then, we turned left, and we were no longer on Earth. We were in the den of decadent debauchery. A bar to the left was tended to by a bearded man covered in tattoos and piercings that made him almost unrecognizable (as if I knew who he was in the first place). Past the bar was a small lounge-type area. Chairs were scattered around haphazardly, each looking like they came from individual yard sales. Some wooden folding chairs, a black bar stool, one wicker chair, and two "normal" restaurant-type chairs. I didn't even notice that there were chairs at all at first, because I was looking at the walls...
The walls were hypnotizing. Pictures hung from nails in the wall like proud family portraits; portraits of a "tribal tranny family," as Kate might say. I recognized some faces; Margaret Cho the most prominent of them all. But most were names unknown to me. Still, looking at the faces, the naked bodies, the chests covered in sequins and glitter, the legs coated in fishnet... I felt like I knew them. I knew the transman standing naked, with the skull of an animal covering his genitals, rendering them ambiguous. I knew the heavily make-upped drag queen, toting peacock feathers on her head and looking more beautiful than any exotic bird I'd ever seen. I felt like they were my family. It was like walking into your own home after an awful vacation--except I'd never been inside this place before.
We made our way to the line waiting for the box office to open. I wanted so desperately to speak to the people standing in front of us. They were family, too. I felt like the unborn child, a stranger to these relatives, but one who would be welcomed with open arms and loving hearts as soon as he was born.
I never got up the nerve to say something. Instead, I turned to Katie and rambled about something unimportant, probably involving me having to use the bathroom again. The box office opened shortly afterward and in return for my name I was given two "ADMIT ONE" tickets, like the ones you get at carnivals that you trade in exchange for your turn on a ride. For some reason, this was incredibly endearing to me. It felt like we were getting tickets to the carnival side show, but instead of being the normalfolk coming to stare at the freaks, we were other freaks coming to awe at freakishness that we only dreamed of attaining.
Katie and I sat in two wooden folding chairs, chatting and nervously checking our cell phones. Suddenly, I felt all too normal. My uninked skin and holeless face felt pure and virginal. I couldn't have looked more normal if I'd tried, and believe me, I wasn't trying. But... it felt good. If I, the one who always felt like the sore thumb for being unconventional, felt like a sore thumb for being too normal, I knew I was in the right place.
Someone announced that we were about to enter the theatre. "I'm going to take your ticket and shake your hand," she said and headed to the door marked "PERFORMANCE SPACE." She wasn't kidding, either. When I approached her, she took my ticket with one hand and shook my hand with the other. "Welcome to Dixon Place," she said. My heart went up in flames and I felt it all the way from my head to my toes.
We descended the stairway to the black box theater. On one side, the wall was covered with a mural depicting poor village life in, what appeared to be, a South American village, bearing the words, "Indigenous cultures for 100." Then, we made a sharp right and we were entering the theater. Katie was suddenly at my side, and, on the other side was... Kate Bornstein.
*direct quote from my brain
There was no stage. There were no risers, bleachers, or fixed seats. Just three groups of folding chairs, in rows of two, in front of the stage, on stage left and on stage right. The stage was an open part of the floor where no chairs sat... save one: a metal chair with intricate floral pattern of ironwork, painted white and sitting beside a white glass sidetable with notecards and a lamp sitting on it. A spotlight shone on the chair and table, and instantly I knew who was supposed to be sitting there.
Katie and I sat and I punched her in the arm until she paid attention to me. "That's Kate Bornstein," I whispered, glancing deliberately toward Kate, who was bending to speak to Barbara Carellas--HOLYSHITTHATSBARBARACARELLASOHHOLYFUCKME*
*direct quote from my brain
"Go say something!" Katie hissed back. I froze. What the fuck was I going to say? "Hi, Kate, you don't know me, but I Twitterstalk the shit out of you. You were at my school last year but I wasn't there but I've read your books and you saved my life and you had lunch with my girlfriend. How are you?"
... Actually, that is kind of what I said.
Kate came to the middle of the stage and addressed the audience: "Is there anybody here from Twitter?" Kate had mentioned she might do a "tweet-up" at the show, and I tweeted at her that I was going to try to make it in for the show and I was excited to see her (because I am a stalker). My hand shot into the air before I could tell it to behave itself. Kate smiled to me and went to her table, grabbing something before coming over to me. "What's your name?" she asked me as she handed me one of her infamous "Get Out of Hell Free" cards. I told her my Twitter username and her smile grew. "You said you might be coming, I'm so glad you made it!" I could have died, right there. Just melted into a puddle of gender goo and been mopped away with the sweat that Sean and his dancers would shed later in their performance.
I told her I was going to SMCM but, unfortunately, was not there to see her performance last year. I mentioned that my girlfriend had been there, though, and had, later, asked for Barbara to come down this past Fall semester and give a workshop. Kate asked if I'd like to be introduced to Barbara. "But I have so many questions for you!" was what would have come out of my mouth if I was feeling brave (or intoxicated), but I couldn't stop shaking, so I said, "Sure!" Kate brought me over to Barbara and introduced me as "JD from Twitter," which gave me a twitter in my stomach and my heart, being introduced as my male persona in real life. I told her who I was and where I was from and who I was dating and, immediately, we began a conversation about my lovely girl. We talked basically just about her the whole time, and then I told her that I was a Twitter stalker of Kate's. She laughed and told me there was a line between avid fan and stalker and that I was not the latter, as she'd had a run-in with a Twitter stalker and, thankfully, I did not identify with any of the characteristics that she described of her stalker.
We went back to our seats shortly after because I was afraid that prolonged exposure would cause me to slip into the realm of high which would mean I would never shut the fuck up and I'd start saying things that nobody needed to hear.
Shortly after, one of the important people from Dixon Place walked out and gave a short introduction to Dixon Place and the HOT! Fest, and passed around a construction hat into which she asked for donations. Apparently, the reason I'd never heard of them before was because they had been moving from temporary location to temporary location and just settled on Chrystie St. in January. I had planned to give money, but somehow, the hat never made its way over to us. Then, another important person came out to speak, and I could not tell you what he/she/ze said because all I was thinking was that Kate was about to start.
And start she did. And it was incredible. Her piece was a commentary alongside a PowerPoint presentation about the evolution of the face of the trans community, from middle-aged MtF to young FtM. "How did this happen?" she asked. Her piece included video/audio clips from old drag queens/crossdressers/genderbenders who I'd never heard of but have noted in my head to Google and read up on when I have more time. It was cute, complete with distorted drawings of little Dutch people who just looked like figurines from the Little People playsets you have in your youth. And educational, for those of us interested in this sort of stuff.
A short intermission later (indicated by the lights coming up and Queen blasting from the speakers) and it was time for Sean. The lights went down. A voice came through the speakers, telling a story about having a Norman Rockwell "Diary for a Young Girl." Lights up, and Sean was on stage. I didn't know that he was Sean until I looked at the program and saw that this introduction would be danced by Sean and another man, Brian Fischer, and that this was an intro, an excerpt from Sean's own life, not Lou Sullivan's, the main focus of "Uncovered."
I don't know what I was expecting but I was not expecting what I saw. I didn't know that Sean Dorsey was trans; I honestly had no idea that the show was about a trans person at all. I was expecting Sean Dorsey to be a bald, somewhat aged but gracefully gay man with thick appendages and a crooked nose. Sean Dorsey is, in actuality, one of the most beautiful people I've ever seen.
I watched him and his partner dance out the story of Sean abandoning his "Diary for a Young Girl" for a second-hand "Diary for a Young Boy" at a pawn shop. He reads the entries of the young boy, and realizes that this young man has no more of a clue what he's doing than young Sean did--and they share an attraction to George Michael. Sean plays himself and Brian Fischer plays the young man (and occasionally George Michael). The struggle they get into, when Sean wants desperately to cling to that image of a young man, that childhood that he never had because he was expected to be a "Young Girl," is heartbreaking, and heightens the relief and comedic value of the two realizing that they have more in common than they thought.
This piece ended and so began the pieces dedicated to Lou Sullivan, the first openly gay transman who fought the system and transitioned despite the medical field's resistance to grant him his rights to surgery. Lou was told that he couldn't be trans if he was attracted to men; transitioning was (and, in some ways, still is) considered to be an extension of homosexuality--why would a "normal" "straight" girl want to change her gender to become a gay man? It was unheard of. But, thankfully, Lou persevered and was granted the body he desired.
Unfortunately, Lou was also the first transman to publicly die from AIDS. One of the saddest and most touching moments of the dance is when Sean's voice reads Lou's last diary entry, while Sean dances out Lou's only feeling of regret: not having more time to enjoy the body he longed and fought for. If there was anyone in that room not crying at that moment, they must have fallen asleep.
I watched the dance with intensity, not allowing myself to drift off into the dead zone of my brain, focusing solely on what was going on in front of me. The four dancers walked onto the stage in white brief underwear and white tanktops. After this dance, just two dancers remained on the stage: Sean and Brian. Brian took the hem of Sean's shirt in his hands and began to lift it. I watched it slide up Sean's flat belly, over his diaphragm, and he lifted his arms to allow it over his head. He was whiter than snow as I watched his bare chest heave with breath quickened by his art.
Under the spotlights, his scars gleamed like diamonds in the dark. They are beautiful. He is beautiful. I wanted to walk up to him and touch them, feel their pink smoothness in contrast to the flesh around them. I wanted to pull him to me and rest my head against the flatness of his chest. I wanted to have him in my arms, to feel him there, a corporeal form, a survivor, real living proof that I can pull through this. Just a touch to know that he truly exists. That all of these blogs and vlogs and Twitters are more than just pictures on the internet. What I would have given to just shake his hand, to know that I won't always be a ghost. That I can and will inhabit something that is real. That this isn't just a fantasy in my head. I wanted him to prove to me I'm not making this up after all.
I was at the brink of tears through the rest of the show, so Lou's death was just the thing to push me over the edge and send me frantically scrambling for something to wipe my tears on. After the show, we were encouraged to stay and talk to the dancers, but I couldn't. If I had, I would have unloaded all of my mental shit ontop of them, and if they didn't drag me out for being a security risk, I would never have shut up and everyone would have hated me anyway. Besides, while I know that Katie enjoyed the show, I didn't think she wanted to hang around and chat. She already looked completely lost when I was babbling at Kate and Barbara, I'd feel bad.
Plus... you know... I'm terrified to come out. Terrified of telling the people that I know that I might become someone else. Asking them to refer to me by new pronouns... honestly, it just feels so petty to me. Would I be happier if they did? Probably. But am I miserable now? No. Asking them to completely change the way they think of me just seems unnecessary to me. I imagine the whispers of how ridiculous I am and, "Oh, what, she's a lesbian, and then she's an atheist, and now she's a *man?* Next she'll be a nudist. Ho-hum." Do I care what people think of me? No. But do I care about my friends not taking me seriously and, potentially, making a complete and total ass of myself to them? Yes. Yesyesyesyes.
We left Dixon Place and I felt my heart sobbing quietly to itself while we walked away. I am still tethered there, and always will be. Aside from it being an amazing art venue, it might possibly be the first place where I've felt 100% safe to be myself. And, goddamn, does that feel good.