Acclaimed choreographer and dancer Sean Dorsey, founder and Artistic Director of the San Francisco-based Sean Dorsey Dance, graces the cover of next month’s Dance magazine. An out and proud trans man, Dorsey’s work engages heavily with themes of queerness and masculinity, pushing the envelope on thought and social justice with just as much intention as it pushes quality and technique.
This month, Dorsey and his company are in Seattle at Velocity Dance Center touring their new work, Boys in Trouble. NWTheatre talked with him about masculinity in and through his artistic lens, this latest work, and the good and bad in today’s trans representation.
Interview content is condensed and edited for clarity.
(Leaping right in) Do you ever get criticism that your critique of masculinity from the inside is somehow less valid because you had a different socialization than many other men? How do you respond?
I’ve never encountered that critique: my artistic voice and craft come clearly, strongly and proudly from my experience and perspective as a trans person, and so audiences and communities respond to it from that location.
I do feel that as a trans choreographer I provide a rich and powerful perspective on masculinity: I’ve experienced female socialization (being raised as a “girl”), and I’ve also moved through the world for over 20 years as a trans-masculine person. I have experiences and insights into what cisgender folks might call “feminine” and “masculine” embodiment, as well as genderqueer and gender-fluid embodiment. This brings a depth of consciousness and richess of aethetics in my work that would not be possible for a cisgender choreographer. It’s one of the many reasons I love being transgender.
What unique insight does being a trans man bring to your evaluation of masculinity?
Well, I guess I jumped ahead to this question in my last answer! On a daily basis, I continually experience “masculinity” as both an insider and an outsider — and I can see “masculinity” quite clearly as a construct. This gives me breathing room within my gender expression, playfulness, and the strength to challenge the toxic elements of “masculinity” in myself and the world around me.
Why the name, “Boys in Trouble”?
America is in trouble — we’ve always been in trouble, because we were founded on white supremacy, colonialism, imperialism, genocide and slavery. White supremacist patriarchal constructs and institutions of power were (and continue to be) amongst the most violent weapons harming so many of us. So that’s one meaning of “Boys In Trouble”.
Of course, the title of the project also refers to us unpacking toxic masculinity in contemporary America. This is a key thread in the show.
This is also where we explore the tender truths embedded in our bodies: white supremacist, ableist toxic masculinity has embedded shame, fear, jealousy and trauma in pretty much all human bodies. Boys In Trouble invites us all to touch these raw, deep and vulnerable places — in order to invite connection and healing.
And lest anyone doubt the power of humor to heal: there is PLENTY of queer sass, trans wit and irreverent humor in this work! Humor has the power to disarm us in the most beautiful way — to deliver an idea or emotion or truth straight to our hearts.
America seems to have a sudden thirst — maybe a sensationalist or even salacious one — for stories about trans people, including a new fascination in the arts world. Why have arts institutions been so slow to present trans stories that are BY trans artists? Have you found any explanations particularly effective in provoking them to hire trans writers, not just stories “about” transition and trans characters?
Cisgender America is having a bit of a “trans moment,” but you’re right: it’s not a “moment” of actually investing in and uplifting *trans* voices and leadership — or a moment when cisgender people are truly ralling around trans rights: it’s primarily a moment of fascination, appropriation and exploitation.
This means that white cisgender dudes win Emmy awards and Oscars for “playing” trans characters (“so brave, so brave”), while the epidemic of the murders of Black trans women or the treatment of incarcerated gender-nonconforming people goes upspoken by those same forces. And at the same time, the brilliance of disabled trans artists of color and so many gender-nonconforming artists continues to be ignored and un-supported by arts institutions.
So we have a long, long, long way to go. The GOOD news is that there are SO many brilliant, innovative and gorgeous trans and gender-nonconforming artists making and performing work all across the country. We support each other, we invest in each other, we lift each other up, and we find ways to thrive.
Speaking of good news — what are you proud of right now?
With this project, I feel very blessed to be touring to 20 cities! I love my life! In this moment, I am also proud that I invest in trans and gender-nonconforming artistry and cultural leadership through my nonprofit Fresh Meat Productions, and through the performing, teaching and advocacy of Sean Dorsey Dance.
Velocity Dance Center is an incredible, incredible trans-supportive organization. We’re so thrilled to be here this week.
Thank you for the conversation!
Boys in Trouble runs through 10/20 at Velocity Dance Center on Capitol Hill. Tickets $20, available here. For showtimes, visit Calendar page. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gender-neutral and multi-stall. Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.