Dee Culp

LIVING YOUR TRUTH: Learning to dance (and live) as a woman

LIVING YOUR TRUTH: Learning to dance (and live) as a woman
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I never thought dancing with a man would feel so… natural. After a lifetime of being me, I thought I had a few things figured out and squared away. But, it turns out, after just a few months of being ME, I was in for some revelations.

The first time I danced with a man was a few months ago. I was taking swing dance lessons at a local studio and needed to learn how to follow a man’s lead. (I was also hoping to master the art of dancing in heels, considering I still haven’t mastered walking in them, but that’s another story.) So, when the time finally came to actually dance with a male partner, I was a bit nervous.

I remember thinking that I didn’t want him to get too close. I was afraid he’d be able to see the stubble on my face, hiding beneath a layer of makeup. I worried he’d be able to tell my waist isn’t quite shaped like a woman’s. Was it going to be obvious that I’m not… well, not like other girls? And how would he react to that? I wondered. But then, for me, dancing with a man? And not just any man, but a complete stranger? This was all something I just wasn’t sure I was quite ready for. Was it too late to back out?

At that thought, I told myself to relax. I loosened my arms, smiled, and decided to just “go with the flow.” My right hand in his, his right hand on my waist, we waited for the instructor to count off. And then, we began.

To say I was shaky would be an understatement. It took a few false starts, stepping on each other’s toes and bumping into each other before we got the steps down, but we got them down. Oh, but then came the spins – big band, 1940s swing music is fast. It’s hard to keep up when you’re just learning. I ended up twisting my arm the wrong way, twisting his wrist; we were bumping into each other, again, and then his arm came clunking into my head as I tried to twirl beneath it – we were a disaster, but we were having a great time at it! And that went a long way towards my decision to go back the next week, and the week after that. I never felt awkward about dancing with a man again. I was hooked!

It wasn’t just the act of dancing with a man that put me at ease, however. It was dancing as a woman that felt natural, in much the same way dancing as a man did not feel natural for me. I don’t know how else to describe it, except to say that I was awkward and aloof before. I stumbled and couldn’t loosen up. Something about the role of the man was putting me off. I’d feel like everyone was watching me, judging me for enjoying myself. Furthermore, I’d see women doing dance moves, spins and twirls, and think, “Why don’t I get to do that? Why can’t I look like that, dress like that, and dance like that?” Looking back, it’s obvious to me. And this has led to an understanding of other aspects of myself – past relationships, sexual encounters, so on and so forth. My ability to enjoy these activities was limited by my ability to feel like myself. How much more of myself did I learn about from such a simple act as dancing?

In my life, I’ve discovered many pent-up inhibitions that I’ve long held onto for fear of being “outed.” Walking a certain way, talking a certain way – even when at rest, just passively biding my time, I found that I was under pressure to conform to masculine gender stereotypes. All of that is done now; I can’t close Pandora’s box ever again. I live, dress, and exist as a woman, but I do try to keep from wandering too far into what might be deemed as locking myself into a feminine stereotype. As a result, the further I go, the deeper I transition, the more comfortable I become with expressing myself without adhering to someone else’s rules about how I should look and behave. I’ve learned how to let go and “unlearn what I have learned,” as a wizened old hermit once said, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… All right, so that’s a little bit silly, but it’s true. By unleashing myself from the past, I’ve been able to secure a much freer, more open future for myself, where I still have a lot of untapped potential. In other words, I’m allowing for the possibility that I am not done yet. There’s still so much I don’t know.

Now, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Lest certain individuals feel the need to perpetuate the idea that hormone replacement therapy “changes” your sexuality, that is not what I’m describing here. What I am talking about is freeing myself from the expectation that I should be with a man or a woman as a binary, transgender woman. I have never considered myself “fully straight” or “fully gay.” Even the term “bisexual” doesn’t quite cover it. At the very least, I would have to admit that, while I may still identify as a lesbian, I allow for a much wider variety of potential partners without making too many presumptions about what they’ve got in their pants or the gender they identify as. I almost have to, if I’m ever to expect someone to do the same for me. It would be very transphobic for me to say, “I think you’re hot, but I won’t date you because you have a penis.” It doesn’t make sense for me to be that way. To that end, I wouldn’t say I am out and out pansexual, but it’s something a lot like that. I find that I could be with a man or a woman regardless of genitalia, and that’s OK because I know, for sure, that I am not the only one who feels this way.

Why is any of this important? Because it shows how varied and diverse real life really is while illustrating the kind of complicated dating lives some of us have. Because sexual orientation and gender identity are not linked, I can have my preferences and my desires, but I don’t need to feel limited by them or to them. Nor do I need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about who my heart decides to fall in love with. I can honestly say that I love not wisely, but too well.

Seeing things from both sides gives me unique perspective in the way I live my truth. It may not be true for all transgender people, but it is for many of us. Plenty of transgender individuals are very serious about their hetero or homosexuality, and that’s just fine. All I know is that in order to be true to myself, I need to embrace all of these aspects of my life. Unlocking feelings and attitudes I once hid away has shown me that there were many things about myself that I never knew. Like, for instance, the way I would feel, dancing as a woman in the arms of a man.

Living Your Truth is a weekly column about the empowerment that comes from being true to your authentic self. It focuses on the LGBT community in NEPA and the news and events that impact it.

  • A.S.

    It’s weird to me that dancing “like a woman” is being treated as synonymous with “as the follower.”

    I’m okay at being the follower in partner dancing. When I’m spun, I sometimes spin in the wrong direction, or don’t at all, or I stumble. I’m a lot better at leading. I’ve lead women around the room, and even some of my male friends who wanted to humor me.

    But I’m a woman, and because of that, I dance like a woman. I can lead and I can follow, I feel like the phrase “dancing like a woman” is sexist, as if being the follower is an inherent part of being a woman. It doesn’t have to be.

    • Agent_J

      “But I’m a woman, and because of that, I dance like a woman.”

      YES! I said the inverse of that in response to a discussion of the movie “Trainwreck” where a criticism of the protagonist is that she “writes like a man” in her job as an author for a magazine. I said, “she is a woman. She is a writer. Ergo, she writes like (and as) a woman. Perhaps she writes things that they and I wish she wouldn’t, but we need to stop aggressively misgendering women for that.”