Saturday, December 27, 2014

On Bea*yonce

When conducting research this summer, the last question I would always ask the trans people I interviewed was

When do you feel your most beautiful?

Meaning, more tangibly, in what social context, with what people, where, wearing what outfit, at what time of day, etc., do you feel at your absolute most beautiful / attractive / gorgeous / handsome / strapping / sexy / aesthetically pleasing / whatever word you ascribe to?

Most people described a specifically queer and trans space as their answer—that in a place where their difference is normal, and they do not have to defend or explain that difference, but are rather seen much more easily by others as that which they are, and are respected for it, they feel their most beautiful.

For me, it’s dancing to Beyoncé.

* * *

I first really started getting into Beyoncé my freshman year of college, when I had a serious crush on a guy who loved Beyoncé maybe more than life itself.  It was a simple deduction: I wanted him, he wanted Beyoncé, I wanted Beyoncé too.   But although things didn’t work out with that particular gentleman (when do they ever), I nevertheless had a newfound fascination with the powerhouse musical artist, and I couldn’t stop listening.

After she dropped her eponymous album last year, I could not physically complete my exercises at the gym without listening to it.  Usually when I get entranced with a new album, I play it on repeat for a few weeks then get sick of it and return to it much later.  I didn’t want to do that with this one, too, but I couldn’t help myself; I craved it all the time.   It struck a chord in me: it made me feel sexy and empowered and angry and powerful and vulnerable and lovesick and whole.  It saw the lady I had only recently discovered (allowed) myself to be and it embraced her with its smooth and sultry sound, saying, Yes, you are she.  Even a year later now, I still listen to it all the time; it hasn’t run its course yet, and at this rate, it won’t soon.  I listen to it when I’m working out, I listen to it when I’m getting ready, I listen to it when I’m walking to class, when I’m taking the El into the city, when I’m home alone and I just need to dance.

(If you don’t share my deep love for her at this point, ask yourself, have you seen this?)

* * *

Fast forward to last night.

I am going to an old friend’s Boxing Day party.  I look good—just jeans and a cute top, so I’m actually comfortable too, which doesn’t always happen, and I made a real effort in the morning to do my makeup.  I will not know everyone at the party, and I don’t feel like explaining my pronouns to everyone, so I’m wearing a bra for the first time in weeks.  I forgot how much easier life feels when I do.

I drive to the party with another old friend, and we gossip about her love life and my lack thereof on the way.  I tell her about a crush I have on a guy at school, and how I’m hopeful but not really expecting anything.  He hasn’t dated a translady like me before, so even if something did start to pan out, I’d be wary of just being some sort of romantic / sexual test trial.

“Straight guys are always like, I’m not into dudes, but then gay guys are always like, Sorry, I’m into dudes,” I tell her. “Which is why I’m like, Okay, y‘all need to talk to each other, ‘cause this isn’t working out for me right now.”

“Yeah,” she says. “That’s hard.”

I try not to internalize so many negative reactions to my body, I try not to build my concrete walls so impenetrably high, I try not to always assume the worst in people because it hurts less when I’m right, I tell her, but yeah.  It’s hard.

At the party neither of us really drink, but we’re loose enough people to not need liquor to have a good time.  I end up talking for a while with some guy I’ve met a couple of times like four or five years ago, when I hadn’t yet uncovered my name.  Just sort of catching up, you know, nothing out of the ordinary.  At one point I intend to go to the bathroom but he continues talking to me with an intentionality that I am not used to and so we continue talking.  I take note.

Later I am dancing with my friend.  Although we are probably the most sober we are also dancing far more than anyone. Everyone else is in the kitchen, anyway, so we have the room to ourselves to play whatever music we want.  I put on Beyoncé’s “Partition,” her favorite.  We’re really getting into it, now, just us, the throbbing bass, the wood floor, the string of blue Christmas lights, and the sweat of our flesh.  Occasionally a couple people will come dance with us for a song then inevitably return back to the kitchen.  The guy I was talking to, though, comes back repeatedly, and usually just to stand back and watch.

Regarding the overt sexuality of Beyoncé’s music and music videos, I am of the feminist opinion that as long as she’s claiming her own sexual space, on her terms, with her own agency, which she always does, then she has every right to present herself however she chooses.  Of course, some will argue that she’s positioning herself firmly within that no-good male gaze, but that doesn’t usurp her queenly powers if she’s still the one in charge, which she always is.

Dancing to her, then, I feel a similar control as the guy not so subtly watches me.  It isn’t creepy, mind; he seems interested but just too shy to dance with me, or say something.  I nearly attribute it to the fact that he is surely self-conscious about talking to a translady, but I check that thought, I unspackle that brick from my concrete walls.  He is probably just intimidated, I think, not everything is the fault of my transgender identity, rolling and popping my body to Beyoncé’s ethereal vocals in the way that my body was made.

This is it, I realize, suddenly, there, in the dining room.  My most beautiful.  The answer I got from all those trans people this summer and here is mine: appearing unequivocally as I am, in all my feminine glory, dancing, moving like water, rocking to “Rocket,” for myself and for the guy who watches me, wants me, maybe, but regardless of what happens at the end of this evening this moment is still mine, all mine, now: my proof of beauty, my retort to hatred, my undeniable existence, my explosion into light, my life.

Toward the end of the party he says goodbye and goes for a handshake.  I hug him.  He says it was nice to see me.  I agree.  I drive home with my friend, gossiping about her love life and the prospects I have on the horizon.  We make plans to have a Beyoncé workout-dance-party, soon.

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