Being a Feminist Gay Male in a World of Women

Look. Introverts aren’t special. Extroverts aren’t special. Unlike what Lena Dunham or Zooey Deschanel or Jennifer Lawrence are saying, not having good social skills or people skills isn’t cute or quirky. It’s sad and taxing.

One of my good friends in a French class in Jakarta confessed that she used to hate me because she thought I was distant and aloof. No. It was because I didn’t have any friends in class and I didn’t know how to strike a conversation. I was (still am, somewhat) afraid of rejection and so I never made the first move. No one befriended me, so I concentrated on learning and getting good grades. This was back in 2002. Fast forward thirteen years later and I still don’t know how to behave.

I just came home from a public discussion where only seven out of dozens of attendees were men, and I might be the only gay man there. A few weeks ago, there was a breach of trust in the Tribal belly dance community. It involved a very well-known festival in NorCal that was organized by a bellydancer (and her husband). All these times, almost everyone thought that the husband was an ally, someone who supported the belly dance community, which, let’s face it, is predominantly women (whether cis or trans). Apparently, the husband of the organizer had a secret group on Facebook. The secret group was originally made for DJs. It started with discussions about DJ stuff, then it escalated. The husband, and another man (who is apparently a photographer and a husband of another female bellydancer), had posted photographs of belly dance performers (men and women) and making not just highly inappropriate statements, but very sexist, misogynistic, humiliating comments about them. Even posting real names of the dancers.

For some, this may not be a big deal. “They’re men being men,” or, “It’s not like they’re really acting it out.”

If it’s a stranger, I’ll probably get it. I do not condone it, I will still say that the statement “men being men” is very reductive, but I’ll probably get it.

But those remarks came from men these dancers had trusted. Those remarks came from men these dancers had hugged and kissed and confided in and had heart-to-heart conversations with.

The dance festival that was supposed to be a safe space, a haven (not just for women, although mostly for women, because again, bellydancers are predominantly women), no longer became a safe space.

And there I was, in the back of a room somewhere in Los Angeles, in a discussion about the dance festival. I listened to women share their very private experiences and fears and triggers. I witnessed these women cry openly as they confronted their fears and let everyone in the room know the hurt and anguish they felt as old wounds were reopened by the recent dance festival debacle. They held each other. The comforted each other.

Some men talked too. Straight men who have bellydancer wife/girlfriend. Straight men who made sure that they would never behave like those two sexist husbands. Some men said that they would kick the asses of those nasty, sexist men, and other men yelled yeah they would too.

But where does that leave me?

I’m a gay male. I consider myself androgynous, but by all accounts, I’m still a cisgender male. I don’t want to cut off my penis or grow breasts. I don’t want to not have sexual organs because I love sex and I love having an orgasm.

I feel weird calling myself a man because I don’t identify with that word, because there’s a sense of masculinity that’s attached to it, and I’m neither masculine nor do I want to be.

But still.

I used to feel comfortable hugging females and women, including bellydancers, but now, with this breach of trust, I feel like I need to take a step back. I always try not to wander into a female changing room. I always prefer to change in the bathroom. Some welcomed me inside their changing room and they freely changed in front of me, but it still felt weird. Part of it was probably because I was raised with different values concerning nudity.

I never feel comfortable hugging males, or even striking a conversation with men, especially straight men, because I don’t want to give the impression that I want to have sex with them. I don’t have a lot of straight male friends because of that very reason. And the reason is because I grew up learning that many straight males are afraid of gay males because they think gay males are predators and will turn them gay. It is my own personal crusade to make sure that I don’t have sex with straight males.

One of the husbands of the bellydancer who were present in the community meeting (not the sexist husbands), did say that as men, we have a lot to learn.

I know I do.

I have never experienced true grief. Both my parents are still alive. Both my siblings are still alive. I’ve experienced grief when I lost my cats, and they meant a lot to me, but without being reductive to my own experience, I’m not an empath. I can never feel what other people feel. Everything that I’ve experienced, my sex, my gender, my race, my sexuality, my upbringing, my socioeconomic background, my genes, all of these contribute to my identity and how I process thoughts and emotions and memories.

I can never know what females feel. Even if I were raped, I would never know how female rape survivors feel, because I’m not a female. I can never know what straight males feel, because although I have a penis, I’m not attracted to females.

I am unique and so is everyone around me.

I have different threshold of tolerance, to pain, to suffering, to humiliation, to heartbreaks. I deal with my own traumas differently. I deal with my life differently. And so do other people.

What is okay to you may not be okay to another person. A female dancer may welcome me to change in her dressing room while she’s there, because she doesn’t see me as a threat, but another female dancer may object to that because she considers me a man, and I’ll be happy to leave.

I am not inconvenienced by whatever happened to the dance festival. I never felt attached to it. I don’t personally know the organizer or her husband, but I’ve read some of the vile remarks from the DJ group and they angered me. But again, I’m not one of the performers who were personally attacked in said DJ group.

But I’ve made a decision. This decision is good for now. I may change it next month or next year, since I’m constantly growing and learning and educating myself. I will make mistakes. I’m not being pessimistic. It’s just the reality.

My decision is: my being gay has nothing to do with this. I’m still a male (notice that I don’t use the gender-term “man”), but there’s a bigger, more pressing issue here. I know that I can be an ally to women, but I’d also like to acknowledge that everyone is unique. Which is why, from this day on, I will try not to generalize. I will try to remember what everyone’s preference is when it comes to fundamental things like boundaries. I’ll keep a rolodex in my brain to keep track of what you allow me to do or to say and to be respectful.

But my brain is small, and my memory can sometimes be wonky, so please bear with me if I keep making mistakes and repeating them (hopefully not too many times). And always, always, always, remind me when I’ve crossed the line. Do it gently, do it harshly, do it however you like, but remember that like you, I also have feelings.

Know that I will avoid you if I think you feel uncomfortable to be around me, or if I think you can never forgive me for what I’ve done. I will wait until you can forgive me, until we can have an awkward but warm talk, until you’re sure that you can trust me again. That’s how I salvage a relationship, by giving time and space.

But I’m not selfless.

Know also that you and I have the right to shut each other out, if it needs to come to that, and it’s fine, because we both can survive without each other.

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new business ventures (jewelry & belly dance classes)

It never occurred to me that I’d be making jewelry AND selling it. I always make my own necklaces and wear them myself, but I think it’s time for me to start selling them. 

So it’s with great honor that I give you Sarasvati Jewelry & Adornments.

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I’m also teaching American Tribal Style® belly dance level 1 classes on Saturdays at 2-3 pm (starting August 16) and Thursdays at 6-7 pm (starting August 21) at Live Arts Los Angeles

Please refer to this flier for more information, or click here to download the PDF flier.LALAYuskaATSFlier-01

 

everyday haiku: this awkward soul

this awkward soul finds
friendship and solace and more
through dance adventures

Taksu Tribal (Yuska, Maya, Julia, Yuka, Laura, Kelsey, Shelly), an American Tribal Style® belly dance troupe

Taksu Tribal (Yuska, Maya, Julia, Yuka, Laura, Kelsey, Shelly), an American Tribal Style® belly dance troupe

“Everyday Haiku” is updated on random (hopefully more frequent than hardly ever) basis. For the sake of these posts, the definition of haiku is a form of poetry that has three lines. The first line has five syllables, the second one has seven, and the third one has five.

i dance, therefore i am

Dancing with Lilith the Sword at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta & Dancewave Center's event for Jakarta Anniversary Festival on Saturday, June 15, 2013 . The show is called "Nyai Dasima" and I was the shaman / professional hit man.

Dancing with Lilith the Sword at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta & Dancewave Center‘s event for Jakarta Anniversary Festival on Saturday, June 15, 2013 . The show is called “Nyai Dasima” and I was the shaman / professional hit man. Yes, that’s a blindfold. Photo by Putri Soesilo. 

I started going to the gym after a heartbreak back in 2006. Then in late 2007, the gym opened a belly dance class (I was one of the people who requested it). The instructor happened to be teaching belly dance outside of gym, so I began taking classes from her.

Now I’m part of her troupe called the velvetRAQS in Jakarta where I specialize in Tribal Fusion belly dance. I’m also a member of Taksu Tribal, an American Tribal Style® troupe based in San Francisco.

Dancing keeps me on my edge. It’s a therapy. Whenever I am unable to translate my thoughts into coherent words, I dance. It is through dancing that I found my passion in antique textiles and jewelry. It is through dancing that I found my passion in make-up, which becomes my saving grace. Whenever I feel depressed, I’ll just paint my face and the world becomes a happier place.

zenne dancer: but is it really belly dance?

I am somehow adverse to gay movies. I don’t watch Queer as Folk, I don’t watch Dante’s Cove (haha, softcore porn, anyone?), I don’t watch Milk, I don’t watch Happy Together, heck, I don’t even watch Brokeback Mountain nor Naked Boys Singing nor Cloud Atlas (although technically it’s not a gay movie) and Boys Don’t Cry bored me to tears. I also don’t watch Glee or Sex in the City and I think Will & Grace is not funny. That being said, I love The Hours and Kinky Boots. And To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. And Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. And RuPaul’s Starrbooty. 

Zenne DancerWhat can I say, I’ve always loved showbiz. And speaking of which, as a small-time belly dancer, this particular Turkish / German movie intrigued me, and ever since news of it came out last year (or in 2011?) I’d been searching for it. A few days ago I finally found it and well, here’s the review.

Zenne is based on a true story of honor killing of one Ahmet Yildiz on a summer night of 2008. The suspect is his own father who cannot accept his son’s homosexuality, and Yildiz’s father is still at large.

Aside from bad acting from Giovanni Arvaneh (who played Daniel Bert the German photographer), everyone else is stellar in this movie. And I love Demir Demirkan’s version of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne no. 1.

I’ve never been to Turkey. A few years ago, when Mom and I planned on going there, two bombs went off in Istanbul. So we visited Italy and Greece instead. Then the uprising happened (and is still happening), so good for them for being fed up with the government but I really, really want to go, so bad for me because the situation is probably unpredictable as of right now.

My point is, I don’t know what Turkey is like, but Zenne is set in Istanbul and many parts are presented in the movie. There are some chic parts of the city and there are some poorer parts. This diversity is also evident in the way different families view homosexuality. The family of Can (the dancer, played by Kerem Can) loves him to death, even the guy who’s having a relationship with Can’s aunt. Well, Can’s brother (played by the oh so sexy Tolga Tekin) is a bully, but that’s probably because he’s burnt out from the war. We’ll discuss this later. Meanwhile, Ahmet’s (played brilliantly by Erkan Avci) parents are portrayed as being unable to accept their gay son while Ahmet’s sister (also played brilliantly by Esme Madra) loves Ahmet.

L-R: Can (the dancer), Ahmet, and Daniel (the photographer).

L-R: Can (the dancer), Ahmet, and Daniel (the photographer).

Can’s father died in the war, and well, his brother has post-war stress. Can’s mother and aunt don’t want him to go to war so he has to stay indoors during day time to avoid ID checks.

Daniel the photographer meets Can at a gay club where Can dances. Daniel wants to photograph Can in costume. Ahmet is present when Daniel meets Can for the second time and then for the third time, and well, love blooms. Daniel, being German (developed country that recognizes homosexual rights) fear for Ahmet’s life and wants to take Ahmet with him to Bavaria. However, both Can and Ahmet have to go to the military post first to claim their homosexuality so they don’t have to be enlisted.

Can and Ahmet, so chic!

Can and Ahmet, so chic!

So how exactly does one claim one’s homosexuality and escape conscription? Easy! Just bring evidence (photos) of being fucked by another guy. Ahmet and Daniel go off to get busy while Can finds someone else. Can waxes Ahmet’s hairy back and dresses him up and puts makeup on him as they go to the military post and tells Ahmet to tell the examiners that he’s also a zenne (dancer). Their plan works, Can and Ahmet don’t have to enlist. 

However, Ahmet left his sex photos in his car, and the private detective paid by Ahmet’s father to stalk him discovers the photos and gives them to Ahmet’s father as proof of Ahmet’s homosexuality. Ahmet says goodbye to Can, then goes to Daniel to leave for Bavaria. Ahmet never arrives. He’s shot to death on the pavement.

Isn’t it scarily amazing how one can escape from one type of death and yet the thing that enables such escape leads one to another type of death?

The thing that really gets me is how Daniel (again, he’s from Germany, a developed nation) forces Ahmet to just tell his parents that he’s gay, repeatedly asking what can possibly go wrong, they are his parents and they love him and will accept him. Oh, Lord. Talk about ignorance. This is why I think people from countries with advanced laws concerning human rights live in glass bubble. I envy them, while at the same time I’m sorry for their ignorance.

Daniel with Ahmet.

Daniel with Ahmet.

At one time, after he’s done photography children in a poor district, Daniel says to Ahmet, “You should’ve seen those children. They’re smiling and laughing. There’s hope in their eyes.”

To which Ahmet replies, “No, they’re smiling and laughing because you give them chocolate.”

That’s right. You don’t know how it is to be stuck in a third-world country where gays are prosecuted and women have minimal rights. You come here for your project, to win prizes and money and then you go home and the people you’ve met become nothing but distant memories and you pray for them for a short while (if you still pray), and then you go on with your life.

At least Daniel wants to bring Ahmet back to Bavaria and give him a better life.

I don't think belly dancers wear this kind of costume. Well, probably some dancers at Tribal Fest do.

I don’t think belly dancers wear this kind of costume. Well, probably some dancers at Total Fuckery Tribal Fest do.

Finally, one thing that bothers me is that this story hinges on the appeal of male belly dancer. I don’t know. I’ve been a belly dance student since 2008 and I don’t think Can does belly dance. When Daniel meets Can for the first time, he says he’s interested in male belly dancer and that he wants to photograph Can in costume. So I assume that’s what people think belly dancing is?

I know, I know, who am I to say what belly dancing is or isn’t? Well, I have a belly dance blog, and I usually review belly dance movies there and there’s a reason I’m not posting my review of Zenne Dancer on my belly dance blog.

Oh and by the way, as usual: here’s a sexy image.

Cihan (Tolga Tekin) showing Ahmet what they do in the military. Mmmhmm. Sign me up!

Cihan (Tolga Tekin) showing Ahmet what they do in the military. Mmmhmm. Sign me up for the next war!