Saturday, May 25, 2013

Conquoring Butt Shame: How New Orleans' Sissy Bounce Scene Helped Me Discover My Body

You know what I find so empowering about Big Freedia? Well, you see, all my life I had butt shame. I was ashamed of my ass for being too big and too nice—a giant, constant attractor of unwanted attention—you know, the kind of unwanted attention that blames the victim for attracting it in the first place and for not knowing how to react. I’ve never had an eating disorder, but I was always very conscious of how big my butt was. I monitored it obsessively by trying on different pairs of shorts and seeing how they fit. I did this every day, all my life. And then I discovered Big Freedia, transgendered pioneer of the New Orleans-based Sissy Bounce scene.

“Bend over!” the self-proclaimed Queen Diva demanded in a booming, maternal voice. “I want ass everywhere, ass everywhere!” From here she transitioned into the song of the same title, and a sea of asses of every shape, texture, and color thrust into the air, immodestly clad, celebrating seemingly autonomous lives as they rippled and bounced to the rhythms of gluteal freedom. We call this dance, I later learned, twerking.

Big Freedia may particularly glorify giant asses with her and her dance crew’s twerking, but really she celebrates all asses, with a method that frees everyone to express one’s sexuality in a completely non-self-critical way. There has never been another venue in which I have felt so safe, so free—so proud!—that I could just enact that primordial desire to shake what our post-Christian culture insists is so inherently evil about the body. Shake it without harassment from strangers who assume it’s an open invitation or a desperate call for mating. Shake it free of the stigma of ebullient existence. Shake it free of all the unwanted attention. Shake it free of all the shame. Twerk!

Nothing has ever felt so empowering and so innately right as tipping the Richter scale with my posterior at a Big Freedia show along with everyone else, owning the moment in a room of kindred spirits also owning the moment. We all twerk together, liberated, safe: sexual creatures not necessarily looking for sex, conscious only of our own personal transcendence from shame, relatively unaware of how other people look. The natural physics of the universe are let loose on two hemispheres with a lot of mass and gravitational pull, reminiscent of the breasts of a burlesque dancer as her tassels twirl in ecstatic unison. It’s seismic. It’s gorgeous.

Big Freedia shows are truly some of the only genuinely feminist gatherings I’ve ever gone to—free of dogma, free of finger-pointing, free of othering.

Today, we live in a world where most women would not casually identify as Feminists. Not only has the term been irrevocably stigmatized, but contemporary young women are no longer even certain what “Feminism” means. Is it the basic understanding that women are humans and equally as valuable as men? Or has it become a political platform, no more concerned with its initial constitution seeking equality than Democrats are concerned with emphasizing state rights or Republicans with federal rights? Do we capitalize the F? Excuse me, lady, but who are you to tell me I can’t be a Feminist and wear flashy, showy clothing? That sounds like the Madonna-whore complex to me, which is barely a complex because we already know there is no way to win. I refuse to play by those rules.

I feel that women so frequently forget that underneath the layers of unspeakable but not unspoken resentment, under all the italicized undermeanings and arbitrary emphases, under all the dog-eat-dog betrayal and manipulation inherent to a misogynistic environment where women are pitted against each other in a sort of potential-girlfriend-Olympics all the time, we are really just complicated creatures, constantly demonized. Demonized not just by men and by our culture, but by ourselves and each other. This is why I so adamantly stamp on slut-shaming. This is why I do not indulge in shit-talking women. I don’t like that petty, gendered bullshit, and if you care about our progress as a civilization, you don’t like it either. It only engenders more hate, and creates more archetypes of femininity to shrug off and dehumanize.

Let’s tune out the stereotypes. Let’s sit and be with ourselves, and figure out on an individual level how much of each of us is influenced by estrogen. After all, men have estrogen too—and women testosterone. I scarcely believe we are so inherently different on a biological level; like so many other minorities, we are only living up to a projected identity so that we can be shot down and taxonomized. Truly, this is a vicious cycle, but instead of taking feminist rhetoric from the seventies, or the eighties, or the nineties, or whatever wave and using our list of lamentations as excuses, we ought to do our own part as individuals to break the cycle. I, for example, try to educate people, especially men, on the fundamental concept of Feminism: that women are humans, just like men. No more, no less. Different, but equal.

To a brain that can understand equations or put them into context in a less abstracted situation, it is obvious, empirical, evident that two things can be equal but different. We seem to believe the misconception that this is not so is just fundamental Capitalism. It isn’t—it’s ignorance. Ignorance and pride. How is it that so many people can understand on a piece of paper that x = 2, and that the two are fundamentally different, and yet can’t understand that woman = man in exactly the same way? We are measuring value here, humans! Stop lamenting in echoes of who you would or could be if not for the status quo. We are the status quo. Own it!

But all of these musings and epiphanies really come back full circle to the loudest, most loving and most self-aware hypocrite in the room: me. Me and my butt shame. Me and my un-will to own my ass proudly and accept that the terms and conditions of such include to know how to shut out creeps. Me, neck craned awkwardly over my shoulder as I inspect my perhaps sagging, perhaps cellulitic rump in the mirror obsessively at age twenty-four, deeply regretting that I didn’t shake that ass more six years ago and resenting girls I assume to be vapid for doing just that. But I know that even as I sit here and make my findings personal, that the personal is universal. After all, “personal” denotes that these are aspects inherent to persons. We are all people.

I hope you can come away from my story enlightened and self-loving, instead of defensive and confused, contemplating how best to shoot down each of my arguments based on their specificity one by one, simply because it isn’t easy and doesn’t let you off the hook. But I also hope you remember that everything you do in life you should do because you love it and you want to. This includes the most arduous chores and the staunchest discipline: you do these because you love them. I clean the litter box because I like to clean and I love my cat. I don’t have to hate it; I can love it. I gaze with detached and general love upon perfectly-formed eighteen-year-olds in booty shorts because I love Feminism and I’m passionate about equality. I don’t have to hate the status quo. I am the status quo. And I love myself.

[Reblogged from my Tumblr.]

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