What am I keeping?
Keep in touch,
an excerpt from 2019 multimedia work
Keep in touch,
And what am I touching?
I am attempting to keep a connection possible where it feels impossible. I want to know that it is possible for a close relationship to continue feeling close even with 1,841.6 miles of distance. LDR, a long-distance relationship. What are the techniques we’re utilizing to perform closeness, or intimacy, even though we are talking to screens?
Within our connection, there are people implicated in its facilitation – workers and above/below-ground networks who connect us through iPhone/laptop magic. The call goes through, sometimes chops and interrupts itself, sometimes fails, sometimes drops, and always happens over and over again.
Here, I’m recognizing that the impulse for connection must come from a human desire to maintain connection.
We smoke together, we shoot the shit, we embody the meme-of-the-moment.
We are brought together by our mutual loneliness. We are tired-but-make-it-fashion.
I will be clear in stating that there is such a difference in inhabiting the same room versus inhabiting our own rooms mediated through two digital surfaces. “The Digital” makes our continued connection possible, but we are always envisioning the next time we will share air. We manifest a time and place to fill a room with maniacal laughter—stupid and simple joys.
What am I keeping and what am I touching?
I keep all the places and people we’ve become and unbecome. I keep Connecticut, New York, Honolulu, Seattle, and New Orleans – geographic points of intersection that I continue to chase. I am chasing a feeling. I chase the feeling of being together where we lose track of our psychophysical boundaries and become some annoying, blobular entity. To emulate this, I keep your Facetime feed on my desktop, my digital home-base repository that comes to paint a picture of my inner landscape.
If I think of you, I can conjure you.
And then you’re there.
Next to my YouTube recommendations carefully curated by The Algorithm™.
Next to the Photo Booth app where I anxiously check to see if my reflection mirrors the fact that I haven’t showered in two days.
I think about all the things you are not seeing.
We’re together-but-not, sounding through the ether. Locating each other’s voices to hold this memory before it slips away.
is just simple.
Contrary to popular belief, I am not my genitals. The sexual identity generator “tells me who I am.” Today, it tells me I am a “morbid horse girl.” Tomorrow, “gastrointestinal gay.” I am interested in an identity that is both simpler than navigating connection as afforded through sex, and more complex than the hegemonic, neoliberalist urge to convert a range of sexual experiences into a monolith.
A “morbid horse girl” is not necessarily a morbid girl who has ever owned a horse. Maybe she is morbid, maybe horse, and maybe girl. Maybe all three-at-once. Sometimes, it is just simple.
A “gastrointestinal gay” conjures my family history of GI-related health issues; the label conjures the very human act of releasing gas, which shouldn’t feel so secret or embarrassing but undoubtedly is. “Gastrointestinal gay” also points towards the irony of my dealing with chronic gastroenteritis, yet doing gay shit anyways. The label conjures a sacrifice or submission, a blurring of pleasure and pain, and a point of connection for gays too afraid to admit to their own gaseousness. Maybe it is the catalyst for forgiving our bodies for being bodies.
So, here I am. Morbid and gaseous. Exposing my no-breasts against this white, stucco wall (again), for my laptop audience.
What is she doing?
Why is she doing this?
What would lead her to do this?
In the moment pictured above, I am learning to co-exist with a white wall. I am thinking about whiteness, and specifically, primer. I am thinking about the political implications of primer – a setting down of foundational whiteness against which color may cover over. I am thinking about setting down white primer before painting over with another shade of white. I think about what white people can get away with, what they continue to get away with. I am not thinking about what I can get away with because I know there is a limit to what I can get away within performance art that is evaluated within Europeanist academia. I learned the language, the boundary, and just how far one can push against a boundary before breaking.
This is where I am situating my work. I lean against, press my weight, and apply pressure against the boundary. The friction is what you’re seeing : the friction of not fitting into a neatly-legible gender expression, the friction of being a racialized subject-becoming-art-object, the friction of sticky tan skin against a dusty white wall, or, sticky tan girl amidst her dusty white classmates.
Sometimes it is just simple.
My gender is the feeling of a heavy door slamming shut from the wind. It is the prickly exterior that protects me from getting too close to those who want to hurt me. My gender is hiding in plain sight.
Shapeshifting out of necessity, facetious and meaningful all at once. Encompassing more than I could ever be/come.
There’s a lecture-performance I’ve prepared for folks who have trouble referring to me with they-pronouns.
Firstly, I provide context for my own engagement with pronouns. I do not use they-pronouns because I am ambiguous about which pronouns I would like to use. My name is Elle, and I use they/she-pronouns. Around the right people, I use she-pronouns. Most times, I utilize they-pronouns. I am “them” because I am multiple people. I call attention to my experience of queerness, my experiences navigating white supremacy, and my experiences of not belonging to a sense of place. I am many people out of necessity for my survival. To better accommodate the multitudes of me I must become and unbecome, I am “they.”
If this doesn’t make sense, I screen and dance to a performance from a South Korean reality-TV survival show where 96 girls (half from South Korea, half from Japan) compete against one another for 12 slots to debut in a new girl group. Obviously, my Korean heritage is implicated here. What isn’t so obvious is my maternal line’s migration to the US after the US’ military occupation of South Korea during WWII and the unresolved Korean War. What isn’t obvious is that Korea did not used to be North and South, and that the DMZ didn’t used to serve as a conceptual partition between an occupied Korea. What isn’t obvious is Japan’s implication and involvement in the colonization of Korea, forcing Koreans to utilize Japanese when speaking with one another from 1910 to 1945, or setting up systems of sexual slavery for soldiers stationed in Korea.
A lot has happened and I am holding all of it.
PRODUCE 48, originally aired in 2018, is like any reality-TV show. There are disagreements and tensions and cultural discrepancies. It stikes me that conflicts between post-Y2K Korean and Japanese contestants illuminate a much deeper unresolved conflict between Korea and Japan. A neoliberal reading of this show would be that, through the power of dreams and music, cultural differences and unresolved traumatic pasts can be overcome in favor of transculturalism. This might be the case if not for the following outcomes:
- The final girl group consists of majority South Korean idols, as opposed to an equal distribution of Korean
and Japanese idols;
- The Japanese idols are largely to be
working throughout the Korean entertainment industry, and therefore, encouraged
to gain fluency in Korean while the Korean idols are not necessarily forced to
gain fluency in Japanese.
Power is surely at play here. History happened, and now my immigrant-mother and myself are watching this show in 2018, seeing girls who look like us reflected in the entertainment we consume. I recuperate from the deep-seeded historical conflicts between Korea and Japan through invoking two scholars – perhaps by way of bastardizing their original intents, but maybe this is my means of insisting on the queer, the wrong, the infinite uses of a singular perspective.
José Esteban Muñoz’s Disidentifications (1999) asserts “disidentification” as a strategy for subaltern individuals to neither assimilate nor reject dominant ideology, but to discern a means through which power/self-determination is reconfigured by way of simultaneous collaboration and deconstruction. I am not the 96 Asian girls on the screen, but I am maybe something that dances alongside them, drawing your eye/mind towards our similarities and blatant differences. I place Muñoz in conversation with 96 Asian girls to implicate our collective inability to fit within the confines of how performance is read in America. If I dance the same choreography as them, why does the performance of this dance in American read differently than if it were to occur on Korean or Japanese land? What brought me here?
Why is she doing this?
Secondly, I would like to bring forth this quote from Karen A. Mozingo’s 2011 Journal of Dance Education contribution, “Lesbian Lacunae: Invisible Spaces in Dance Education.” Monzingo states, “The invisibility of lesbians to the general public or to the dance field may serve as a way for creating the space to develop professionally and contribute to the field in a meaningful, uninterrupted way” (Mozingo 2005: 59). Monzingo delineates the liminal space occupied by lesbian dance artists as a potential transformative site resistant to heterocentrism - one where a lesbian can be left alone to her own stealth agenda.
If no one is watching, I’ll do what I want.
As a queer/trans/person-of-color, consider the various social contracts I (un)knowingly sign onto through my announcing of identity; simultaneously, I consider the very literal contracts that K-Pop idols sign with entertainment agencies as a means of controlling their outward images. We draw connections in our contractual stuckness and warped self-images.
How many ways can I hide inside of, or, behind my art?
How can this hiding, this escapism, become my fantastical way out of no way?
I am me, but I am also the 96 Asian girls who all believe that to provide for themselves and their families, they must submit towards offering forth their dancing bodies.
 Glumshoe, sexual identity generator, Generator Land, http://generatorland.com/usergenerator.aspx?id=18419 (Mar. 29, 2022).