Button Ideas

I happen to own a buttonmaker, which is a dangerous prospect considering that I collect buttons (known to some as pins or badges or "those usually-circular things with pithy sayings that you can attach to your clothing or bags") and enjoy owning large quantities of them.

At NEFFA, I finally put it to good use, and created a handful of buttons for me to wear or give to others. All had to do with dancing and/or gender, most were snarky. Here is what I created:

  • "Gender is for Girls" and "Gender is for Boys" --I actually thought of this line about a year ago, and am very pleased with how petulant it is, as well as the absurd factor. Most people either get confused, or giggle madly.
  • "Yes, I'm in the right spot. Are you?" --I was advised that the last two words make it a bit confrontational, but then again, I'm tired of demurring politely when concerned people try to steer me back to the woman's side of the dance. None of that please!
  • "Damn Dirty Mischief Maker"
  • "It's called a REEL!" --okay, maybe this Scottish dancer gets just a *little* bit pretentious about the fact that everyone else calls them hays.
  • "This is what a FOLLOW looks like" and "This is what a LEAD looks like" --people just get so confused, otherwise!
  • "Gender =/= role"
  • "Ambidancetrous" (with the words "Lead. Follow. Dance." repeated around the outside edge)
  • "Why yes, I am corrupting your precious pure dance form, thanks for asking!" --Oh well, I am not always nice.
  • "Since when does lead mean the same as boy?" --this is my most important and favourite of all of them. Because seriously, as genderqueer and strange as I am, I don't automatically become male every time I lead. Lead and boy are not equivalent, nor are follow and girl. Stop conflating them.
  • "Lady is one of my top ten favourite genders...probably." --Came out of a conversation I was having about some other button. I was really pleased by it, and aim to wear this button to lots of genderfucky dance things.

Additionally, though I did not come up with it, bunches of people at Tech Squares have been sporting buttons with the sweet little bird from the children's book, and the line "Are you my [Corner/Opposite/Partner]?" So I have two of those in my collection, waiting to be deployed.

And the ones I haven't made yet, that I think I probably should:

  • "Your discomfort does not dictate my gender presentation." --or possibly just gender. This is another one of those confrontational buttons, that I probably shouldn't actually make.
  • "Fuck the old guard" and "Fuck the newbies" --Okay, these ones I definitely shouldn't make, not just because I try to minimize the amount of swearing on my person, but I admit a certain amount of malicious glee towards them as an idea.
  • "Dance what's coming at you!" --Apparently there is a contra caller in Philly(?) for whom this is the motto. I like. I like very much. The idea of trusting that everyone else on the dance floor is in the right place is an idea that I support. If the person coming towards you isn't the gender you expected, cope with it, swing them anyways.
  • "Ask me about my role preference" --Based on the traditional "ask me about my pronoun preference" which is a button I need to make for general use. I do my best to ask people what role they prefer on the dance floor.
  • "Country Bumpkin" --this is subtle, but I have a favourite dance, and it's this one. All other dances are less exhausting, impressive, and enjoyable.

What other snarky buttons should I create, to get myself in even more trouble on the dance floor?


The problem with formalwear...

The problem with formalwear is that it's impossible to find a non-gendered version.

To be formal is to make a decision about which side of the dichotomy you wish to be, and stick with it for the rest of the night. There is nothing that translates or parses differently if you change your posture, how tight the belt is, whether or not the shirt is tucked in, all the little differences in coding that you can accomplish with a t-shirt and jeans.

I just don't like having to pick a gender, especially if there's not something (internal, or more oft, external) driving me to identify along the binary. Most of the time, I get away with just being a person, small, silly, slightly scruffy, and essentially neuter. I can do that in my everyday clothes, it's easy to just be viewed as another warm body on the train. But formal, real, proper clothing comes in precisely two forms: stuff boys wear and stuff girls wear. There is nothing occupied by both.

This is a large part of what has been making formal balls suck so hard for me these last few years. Because there's always been something there, I haven't attended a single Ball that wasn't preceded by anxiety about my clothing. Whether I am choosing to be a boy or choosing to be a girl, I have to choose. When my gender is so constantly in flux, when I can go from definitely a boy to definitely a girl in the course of an hour, when I don't ever -ever- know in advance what name I'll want to use upon waking up...To be frank, trying to book my gender in advance is impossible. It'll just lead me to feeling constrained, trapped.

The dysphoria as I switch pronouns in a pair of jeans is managable --at least I can hold my posture different and pretend I'm recognizable. Wearing a full cocktail dress, or tails and a top hat? Oh no. There's no easy way to break free of social cues that strong. I pull on a gender when I get dressed for the ball, and believe me when I say I'd rather just stay indifferent to the whole thing. But formally, alas, that simply isn't an option.

Genderqueer Rolemodels

When you don't have a role model for something, you must become one.

I'm still not sure on the universality of that advice, but it's certainly true for me when it comes to dancing, and finding my strange little genderstrange place in the world. In the bouncy, pretentious1, recreationist forms I do (vintage, Regency, and Scottish Country) there's very little playing with gender or pairings. The men dance in the gentleman's role, and the women dance in the lady's role, and if you've two women or two men dancing together it's a necessity due to the imbalance of the dance floor, not something enjoyable or done out of choice.

So already, there's a space where I feel uncomfortable because it seems that no one is interested in playing with gender and role and social conventions. Part of what I enjoy so much about dancing is playing with those things, so it makes me lonely when I'm without playmates. And let's be honest, it is difficult to stir the waters all by yourself. I am not so indifferent to this group that it wouldn't hurt, very much, to be outcast by them. And so when it comes to playing with gender --when it comes to honestly expressing my genders-- I find myself in a space where I am very cautious as to how I go about it.

After the Highland Ball, in May, I found myself despondent over being 'forced' into dressing and dancing as a woman. There were lots of reasons for this (including the cruelest one of "I don't have the wardrobe or money to do it right, and doing it wrong feels too inadequate"), but one I eventually figured out is that, unlike in vintage, where I commonly dance the male role, there is not really a genderqueer scottish role model for me to look up to.

I have a friend in the vintage community who is my genderqueer role model, especially so at dances. I sometimes see them in full tailcoat and breeches, identifying full as male. And I sometimes see them in a beautiful red dress, identifying full as female. It makes it so much easier for me to put on the top hat when I go dancing Regency, because I know I will not be alone, will not be the only one looked at oddly for being small and slight and ostensibly "female" while still demanding the gentleman's part and pronoun. And separate too from the solidarity is the normalization --my friend has gone through this already, and made it a thing that happens common, at least among certain groups we dance with. They are not surprised to see me in a tailcoat, because they have long since gotten used to them.

After the ball, I was lamenting to someone about how I so wished there was someone like my friend in the Scottish community, already breaking the trail, making my desire for a gentleman's airs to be somewhat less transgressive. Somewhere in the course of the conversation, my brain pinged. What if I am not the only one feeling this way?

And I suddenly knew that if there is not a role model in this community for me, well, then there's not a role model for anyone else. And I'm a lot louder and stronger and more stubborn that I give myself credit for, and I certainly am willing to be the one who fights so that others can live easier.

It will be slow going, I'm sure. They are used to me at Scottish as female, and it is so hard to pull off the other gender without owning the other clothes. But I will keep going, keep showing up sometimes as male, and others as female. Keep dancing whatever role seems right to the moment.

And because there is no one who has paved the path for me, I will be unashamed to pave it myself.

1: Look, I'm sorry, but Scottish dancers are snobs. We're very open snobs, who really want you to come dance with us, and on the whole, we're not really uptight about *people*. But "Aww, you do English Country? How cute." is well within our level of general pretentiousness. I think we just can't help but look down on every dance form that doesn't pair figures with steps, because seriously, we do it all the time, how is it so hard?