Are You in a Slump?

Christopher Kennedy (Brooklyn, NY)

I spend a lot of time thinking about how my body takes up space. On my way to work, on the subway, when I’m in line ordering a burrito. From the way I stand and the way I walk, to eye contact and the gesture of my hands.

Over time I’ve noticed an almost unconscious desire to reduce the amount of space my body occupies. It starts with a slump of the shoulders, and then my head moves toward the ground and I begin to place my hands inside of pockets. It’s easier with a scarf or hood because it also helps to avoid eye contact with any agro straight men. And before you know it, my entire body is slumped over like a hunchback.

I don’t know. Maybe I just need to do more yoga, or see a chiropractor, or listen to some motivational mixtape. Maybe it’s just how my body is. Maybe it’s a fear of being outed, of having to recognize and defend my “queerness” even if I’m just walking down the street. Maybe I have a chemical imbalance, or a lingering social anxiety from some internalized childhood trauma. Maybe I should go see a therapist or get one of those ergonomically correct chairs?

As a kid I learned early on that the way I spoke, the way I walked and acted was far too feminine for most to accept as “ordinary”. And so almost daily I was harassed at school – called a sissy, gayboy, fag, rainbow, a girl, pussy and more. I usually sat in the corner and pretended to read. I ate my lunch in a bathroom stall, and hid in an abandoned locker room during gym class. To cope I removed as much of my body to avoid any kind of harassment. While this is something many experience, I realized that I continued to move in this way throughout adolescence and into adulthood even within spaces I knew to be safe or affirming.

As a grad student I discovered the works of Judith Butler, Simone de Beauvoir, Stephanie Springgay, Elizabeth Ellsworth and others. The idea that we perform our “self” and that this self is performed in turn by others was revolutionary to me. I began to think about the performativity of the body as a kind of “inter-embodiment” of the everyday. Our unconscious desires and socio-cultural forces shaping, twisting, negotiating how we enact this self and how we move in turn. I think about this like a quilted network of threads, pulling and tugging, worn through and through. Theoretically this made sense, yet in practice I still find myself grasping for a way to understand what my friend Athena likes to call a “choreographic problem”.

But what if this “spinal slump” isn’t just a problem? Maybe it’s also an opportunity. A chance to create both a real and conceptual dance; an internal dance with the self and a public dance with the other. Or maybe a score or “dance-map” based on gestures that bring attention to the physical form and experience of queer embodiment? Maybe a kind of movement-research to physically explore the tension and anxiety from years worth of slumping?

To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. It’s still a daily struggle to figure out what to wear each day, and how to act, and be in the world. But I will say for all those suffering from “spinal slump”, I feel you. Believe me, I feel you. And somehow, somewhere I know I can hear Oprah whispering: “GET THAT HEAD UP. GET THOSE SHOULDERS BACK. YOU ARE A PERSON IN THE WORLD AND YOU ARE FUCKING AMAZING. THIS IS YOUR BEST DAY!”

I mean you can’t say no to Oprah. So next time you see me slumping on the streets, maybe we can slump and dance together. Until then, I’ll be working on my upward facing dog.