The Gaze: Or “How the Gays taught me to stop worrying and love the Gaze”

The Gaze: Or “How the Gays taught me to stop worrying and love the Gaze”

By Monique Jenkinson (aka Fauxnique)

Photos above by Robbie Sweeny (left) and RJ Muna (right)

This is an article reprinted from Dance Theatre Journal: Special Edition on Sex and Performancean academic but user friendly publication by the Laban Centre in London, which Tessa Wills co-edited with Doran George in 2013. We used the festival THIS IS WHAT I WANT as a lens through which to reveal the field of the intersection between radical sexual practice and radical performance practice in the Bay Area, and our work. Read the other articles here.

You spend a lifetime under the gaze,
you learn to freeze it out.
But you know it’s there, and you come to
depend on it.

(if no one sees me, am I here?)

Along comes feminism and tells you that you are an object.
Then she changes her mind: ‘Be sex positive!’ But you have already unlearned to want.
Or at least to want anything besides the gaze.

So you go out dressed up as an icon or a fetish.
And you embrace the gaze in the loving embrace of the Gays.
And there you are.

(from I Want What You Want, 2011)

I am a dancer, performer and choreographer. I often perform in drag, as a drag queen – overblown femininity. This practice has its roots both in childhood dress-up, and an adolescent double life as a goth/new wave kid and a full-on bun-head. I emerged from college steeped in Brown, Rainer and Hay. Tired of everyone dancing in sweats as if the audience didn’t exist (as valuable as that was for a while), I sought solace in sequins and started going to drag shows. Soon after, my drag persona was born. I perform drag or elements of it in nightclubs, theatres, galleries and museums. My dance and drag practices continually weave into and out of each other.

When you are a woman who performs drag among male drag queens (I am not the only one, by the way), people ask a lot of questions. One is whether the male drag queens are put out by my presence, or feel I am treading on their territory (women tend to ask this question). The answer is almost unequivocally ‘no.’ When the asker and I dig deeper into this question they often reveal some perception that drag is misogynistic. I find this perception to be untrue, outdated and not a part of my reality (however, I have experienced shades of un-acceptance outside of San Francisco and NYC). Almost as soon as I entered this drag scene, it embraced me. These queens understood deeply that I had been performing drag my entire life.

As soon as I began performing drag as a drag queen among drag queens, I experienced (please excuse the Northern California parlance) an unexpected healing. Performing drag helped me get over a great deal of the inevitable psychic damage of formative years spent under the microscope of classical ballet training. My closest drag queen friends and I have recognized common ground of intense scrutiny and high stakes between growing up a sissy kid and growing up a ballerina.

Seeing big men performing femininity, sometimes to surprisingly moving and transcendent ends, expanded my own body acceptance and notions of femininity. These were gay men with a real love, respect and appreciation for women. These men helped teach me to love my body. They loved my body. My very first interaction with a now dear friend (another drag queen) was when he took my measurements for the purposes of making me a backup-dancer costume. Upon doing so, he exclaimed, ‘I am in LOVE with your proportions!’ I almost broke into tears on the spot. Being objectified had never felt so good. Had a dance teacher told me that, I may very well have become an actual ballerina (…or not). Dance teachers were more afraid of my body than any drag queen has ever been.

Even as these queens performed the abject and ridiculous, I came away feeling celebrated and even intellectually engaged. Now, in a full-circle buoyed and liberated by queer camp, drag has returned me to the bosom of ballet, not only with arch irony, but also with deep love.

Monique Jenkinson‘s latest work, Instrument, created in an experimental collaboration with three choreographers – Miguel Gutierrez, Chris Black, and Amy Seiwert – calls upon ballet hero Rudolph Nureyev, Performance Art heroes of the 60s and 70s, and current discussions about ‘the body as archive’ to create a collage of iconic movement, historical anecdote, and personal narrative. Instrument highlights the intersections of classical ballet and post-modern endurance performance – especially with regard to pushing the body to, through, and from exhaustion to create art.

Monique Jenkinson (aka Fauxnique) is a performer and maker of performance whose work moves between genres, but main- tains deep roots in dance. Her work explores femininity, glamour and process – drawing on physicality (classical ballet and post-modern improvisation), theatricality (camp, the ridiculous and the absurd), and theory (queer and feminist). She presents her work in theatres, nightclubs and museums, and seeks to explore connections and tensions between art and entertain- ment. She has created and performed internationally and locally at ODC Theater, CounterPULSE, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the de Young Museum, and Trannyshack in San Francisco; the New Museum, Judson Church, Danspace Project, Howl Festival and the legendary Stonewall in New York; the Met Theatre in Los Angeles; the New Orleans Fringe Festival; the Coachella Festival; and in Reykjavik, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and London.

Republished with permission at http://tessawills.com/the-gaze-or-how-the-gays-taught-me-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-gaze/. Originally published in George, Doran, Hargreaves, Martin, Shaw, Thom and Wills, Tessa eds. Dance Theatre Journal 25.2. London: Laban, 2013. Print.

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Tessa Wills is a live artist

and choreographer with a background in music. She is from England, trained in central Europe and now lives in San Francisco. Her work elevates flaws and wounds as portals, ways of staging humanity, and often integrates eroticism to charge the pieces, which happen primarily on stage and video. Aside from the relentless pull of desire, her current practice is inspired by Hermits and professional mourning.

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