A Roomful Of Women With Men's Eyes

[TMI warning for family: I talk about a pole dance class and enjoying/experiencing my sexuality through dance.  You may or may not want to hear about this.]

I love the art of pole dance.  Vertical dance.  Vertical gymnastics.  Whatever you want to call it.  I love the flexibility of the dancers, the incredible way they can hold their entire bodies off the ground by wrapping one arm or a leg around a pole and look like they're flying.  My ex, not too long after we broke up, got into pole dance, and performed at a few clubs for awhile.  She had a pole installed in her house, and once we started being friendly again, she had me over and taught me some basic spins and showed me some videos of competition-level dancers.  Ever since then, I've wanted to try it myself.

But I couldn't.  First it was a problem of money, then of finding a place nearby, then a problem of time, and always an undercurrent of body-issues.  Last night, a blog I read linked to a video of a woman of size performing some very cool pole tricks, and it started the longing up all over again.  So I did some research, found a studio that offered introductory one-off classes, checked the schedule, saw that there was one tonight, and this morning I called and reserved my spot.  So tonight, less than 24 hours after deciding I'd like to try, I walked into a brand-new just-opened pole/erotic dance studio in Walnut Creek along with a trio of women (sisters or friends or something) for an Introduction to Sensual/Pole Dance class.

I was, as I had fully expected, the largest woman there.  The other three students and the teacher were all at least four inches shorter than me, and I had easily 50-100 lbs on them all.  It was a heavy-duty test of FA's effect on me and my own self-esteem.  Thankfully, I passed with flying colors. ^_^  In a pair of borrowed stripper stilettos (the studio loans shoes to students for the intro class), I strutted across in front of the mirror, and even to my own usually-critical eyes, I looked fucking hot.  Neither hotter for my curves, nor less hot for being fat, than the other women, I just looked *good*.  It helped that the instructor asked, as we were setting up mats for some warm-ups, if I had danced before, because "You just have that posture and way of moving of someone who's done dance before."  It was a nice little ego-boost.  I explained that I've taken belly dance, ballroom dance, and modern dance before.  I also explained that my ex was an exotic dancer and had taught me some simple moves, although it was a long time ago.  She blinked a little at the clear connotation that I'd dated a woman before, but to her credit, didn't treat me any differently.

We did warmups, and some floor moves, and when it came time to try a basic spin on the pole, she said to me something like "I guess you already know how to do this, you said your roommate taught you, right?"  Um, no.  No, I never mentioned a roommate.  It was as if she had mentally edited my previous comments into a framework she was more comfortable with, where two women would only live together as roommates (although my ex and I never lived together, but what the hey).  So I corrected her.  "No, my ex did."  The blink again, and a slight stutter to her cheery small-talk, and she said "Oh, that's right" and moved on to a different subject.  Do not disappear my relationship just because it makes you uncomfortable, dammit.  Do not turn lovers and a beautiful relationship into "roommates" because you don't want to acknowledge that not every woman coming into your class is going to take the dance you teach her home to a boyfriend or husband.  (The irony, of course, is that insomuch as I take *anything* home to perform intimately [since that wasn't my intent in taking the class, I don't really "take it home" at all], at the moment, I would be taking it home to show my male partner.)

The class moved on, I enjoyed playing on the pole, and then the instructor was working us through putting everything together into a mini-routine.  She gestured to one end of the studio: "Pretend there's an audience over there.  Your boyfriend or husband or whoever.  Now, face this way..." and gave us this mini-routine, enlivening it by encouraging us to play to our imaginary male audience.  "Swing your hips at him...look back over your shoulder at him..."  

The studio is emphasized as a women-only space.  I kept wondering, what is the point of a women-only space, if you deliberately invoke the male gaze anyway?  So it's a group of women, yay.  But we're supposed to pretend men are watching anyway.  We couldn't possibly be dancing for the enjoyment of a female partner.  We couldn't possibly be dancing simply for our own enjoyment, to feel the glory of our own body moving in sensual, beautiful ways.  We couldn't possibly just want to dance, express whatever emotions we have, learn this dance form because it's just fucking cool.  No, we are now and always performing for a male audience, displaying ourselves sexually for his enjoyment.  

I realize that pole dance originates from a performance dedicated to titillating men.  I get that.  But if you're going to go to the effort of having a women-only space to learn and enjoy this dance form in, why would you still insist on making it about performing for men?  

I think it's because, in this culture, women are not taught to enjoy our sexuality for and by and with ourselves.  We are taught to see ourselves sexually, and even just sensually, through the lens of a man enjoying us.  It's as if, without the mirror of a man, or at the very least *a partner* to reflect our sexuality back to us, it doesn't really exist.  

Well, fuck that.  I can sashay around the pole, swing my hips and admire their sway, without anyone but me seeing it.  I don't have to pretend my man is watching in order to love the sensual way my body can move.  I can twirl around the pole, off the ground, hair flying out behind me, and take gleeful pleasure in the simple sensation of it, without an audience to witness.  I am a beautiful, sexual, and sensual being, and I don't need to have a man's eyes to appreciate it.


This Is How We Are Trained

In the discussions of the sick, fucked-up methods security theatre is using these days (pornoscanners and "enhanced" pat-downs that, if done by anyone but a TSA agent, would be grounds for a sexual assault charge), I was linked to a video that disturbed me greatly.  Trigger warnings for disrespecting a child's bodily autonomy apply.

For those who cannot view it, the video is a clip of a news segment about security procedures and the ordeal of the three-year-old daughter of one of the news program's employees.  A blurry clip taken on the man's cell phone shows his wife and daughter at airport security, when his daughter was required to undergo a pat-down.  The little girl is crying hysterically, screaming over and over again, "Stop touching me!" while her mother holds her for the TSA agent to examine.

And as I watched it, my heart hurt for that little girl, and all I could think was, This is how we are trained.  This is how the message sinks in, reinforced in so many ways by so many people: Your body is not your own.  You do not have the right to not be touched.  You do not have the right to say no.  Saying no, saying stop, does not work.  We tell children that if an adult touches them in a way they don't like, they should do something, say stop, tell their parents, etc.  And then in a situation like this...this three-year-old child is trying to say stop, and yet the adult carries right on touching her, with her own mother's assistance.  Tell me exactly how this doesn't completely undermine every time she's been told to say no and fight back?  

Furthermore and specifically, this is not only how we are trained to the knowledge that our bodies are not our own property despite claims to the contrary, but this is how we are trained to accept the intimate control of those in power.  When you are forced to accept touch you don't want by your own parents, because *this time* it's different, because *this person* is a Person In Authority, you learn additionally that you might be able to say no to other people, but you can never say no to Authority.  The government has the right to put its hands on you, whether you want them to or not, and all you can do is submit to it.  This is how you train a populace to just accept government overreach*, to not agitate, to not question.  Inculcate a fear of authority and a knowledge of one's own helplessness in the face of that authority, starting at a young age, and you'll end up with a society in which this shit goes unquestioned.  In which criticism of the government may safely be labeled "un-American", and it's considered legitimate discourse to tell dissenters to just shut up and support the President no matter what he does.  (Weren't the Bush years just *so* much fun?)

I hope this child is all right.  I hope this didn't scar her too badly.  And I hope that we can move away from this kind of violating security theatre, fast.  How, I don't know...but I hope we can.

*And before anyone - yes, Dad, I'm looking at you - jumps in with "Welcome to the Republican side!" or makes a crack about Dems that involves the phrase "nanny state", I'll remind you that the biggest expansion of executive power *specifically pertaining to* issues of "security" came from a hyper-conservative Republican, that conservative ideals of "small government" have only ever been meant for the privileged (white, male, cis, able-bodied, wealthy, etc) and that conservatives have always been quite happy to have government intruding on and regulating the lives and bodies of those with less privilege. 


Onward, Christian Soldiers ...Everyone Else Can Fuck Right Off.

Or, Happy Veteran's Day!  We support the (Christian only, please) troops!

In the town of King, North Carolina, there has been a bit of an issue over their local veteran's memorial.  Specifically, that it was flying a Christian flag as part of the memorial.  A local veteran complained about the sectarian bias, the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State got involved, and the city took the flag down while they worked out a "compromise" with the help of conservative Christian law group Alliance Defense Fund.  Which, frankly, if you're trying to get a genuine "compromise", I can think of about a bazillion better organizations to work with than ADF, but whatever.  Point being, they were trying.

They've announced a rough idea of compromise.  The city council will allow a religious flag to be flown, but it will be a rotation of flags chosen from the VA's list of approved religious symbols (the list of ones which may be chosen as grave markers in military cemeteries, and which Pagans fought for *years* to have the pentacle added to, culminating in victory not too long ago).  This means there may be a Christian flag flying at the memorial, but it might also be a Muslim star-and-crescent, or a pentacle, or a Star of David, or one of several other flags of varying faiths.  Reasonable enough, right?

Not to the local Christianists, who are protesting mightily and loudly, threatening to lodge a complaint with the city council, and if the policy takes effect anyway, organize amongst themselves to take every single "my flag, please" spot for the next few years and all fly the Christian flag in order to maintain their hegemonic domination of the memorial.  According to the leader of the citizen's group which is protesting the idea of acknowledging religious plurality:
Many of the foundation’s members are concerned that the city may allow religious flags such as the Muslim Crescent and Star flag, the satanic flag and Wiccan flag, all of which are recognized by the U.S. military, to be flown at the memorial.
Look, dude, I hate to burst your happy little Christian-superiority bubble.  Actually, I take gleeful pleasure in doing so.  But anyway.  You do realize that there are, in fact, soldiers of a persuasion other than Christian?  That Muslims and Buddhists and Pagans and Sikhs and Jews and atheists and humanists have all been, in smaller numbers than Christians for sheer demographic reasons, but nonetheless have been part of the U.S. Military and have fought and sacrificed and died for this country?  It is true.  You cannot argue this.  The facts are not on your side.  

So by kicking and screaming and making a big fuss about oh noes Wiccan and Muslim flags!, you are dishonoring the sacrifices made by actual Wiccan and Muslim servicemembers.  If you are going to support the fucking troops, support ALL the fucking troops, goddamnit.  My baby brother is a Buddhist and a soldier.  Don't you fucking dare erase his existence, and the many like him, simply because they had the temerity to be in the military while non-Christian.  They made the same choices, they spend the same time far from family, they are in the same danger during combat deployments as their Christian comrades.  That deserves respect, not erasure*.  

The only thing the people protesting the flag compromise are actually accomplishing is a clear demonstration of what they are *really* about: not supporting the troops, not honoring veterans, but further grinding their collective bootheel into the neck of everyone who isn't exactly like them as a demonstration of their own supposed moral superiority.

*I am deeply conflicted about honoring Veteran's Day and "supporting the troops", despite having a family member in the armed forces.  Not because I don't care about servicemembers, but because I am vehemently not okay with the "giving their lives to defend our freedom" rhetoric that usually is tied to such protestations of support, seeing as the wars we are involved with right now are wars of choice in which dead Iraqi/Afghani civilians outnumber wounded or dead American soldiers by approximately 100-to-1 or more.  That's not an honorable ultimate-sacrifice-defending-our-freedom kind of situation, to me.  That's a war we didn't have to begin, for aims which are poorly defined at best and completely fabricated at worst, in which the civilian populace in the country we've invaded are bearing the brunt of the losses.  That's not something to be proud of.  Further, such rhetoric fuels the proces of, and is utterly necessary to normalizing war and contributing to a thoroughly militarized society in which this kind of conflict is okay, and I do not want to be part of that.  So please take my phrasings of such things with a grain of salt.  It's not as pat and unconflicted as it sounds.  I am trying to acknowledge the difficulties and dangers of enlisting in military service for what they are, without glorifying war and the military with a veneer of defending! our! freedom!


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