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?