Pride and No Prejudice: Feeling Whole Through Pole
This blog was written by Rosie, one of the amazing members of our pole community 💕
As far as the world has come, queer folks are still a mindfuck for many people...
Texas is busy banning even saying the word 'gay' or, god forbid, 'trans'. The UK is looking to criminalise conversion therapy, just not for trans people, and let's not get started on J.K. Rowling.
In Saudi Arabia, same-sex sexual activity might get you the death sentence. In Indonesia, discrimination against LGBT+ people is still very much legal. Here in New Zealand, conversion therapy (ie torture) was only just criminalised, and not at all unanimously. And Brian Tamaki still reckons we (the gays) caused an earthquake - I wish!
With so many parts of the world, and even many parts of New Zealand, still agonizing over the existence of queer people, one thing has always confused me: Why does nobody in the pole community give a shit that I'm a lesbian? Why does nobody give a shit that I'm trans?
It confuses me for two reasons:
- I'm only gay and trans for the attention! (joking, in case this isn't clear)
- I don't understand what it is about the pole community that means that it so readily welcomes queer and rainbow folks where other communities do not.
I mean, what is pole dancing, really? We spin around on a long metal cylinder, and for some reason that's something that many of us humans find fun (humans are weird). Is there something inherently magical about spinning around on a long metal cylinder that causes bigotry and prejudice to fade away? Maybe, but I don't think that's it.
Maybe all that spinning and inverting has damaged our brains, and actually the bigots are right - queer people are disgusting blights on humanity, destined to eternal damnation for being anything but cisgender and straight - we just don't get it because our brains are broken from being upside down. But something (science, empathy, not being an asshole) tells me that isn't right either.
Unlike in many other places, the fact that I'm gay and trans just isn't a relevant detail for those in the pole dancing community. That's not to say that it doesn't matter - it obviously colours my experiences of the world, and our identities are important for a variety of reasons - but it's not relevant to whether I'm treated with respect.
So what is it about pole dancing that makes the community just not give a shit? Why is it that I have spent 6 years in this community, and never once had my identity questioned or put down, never once been misgendered, never once been harassed, and never once been told that I'm a pervert using my identity to enter what is traditionally a space for women?
For me, I think the answer - maybe unintuitively - is that pole dancing forces us to confront ourselves, and in doing so we learn to love ourselves and those around us.
Have you ever met somebody that is so unhappy with their life that they lash out at everybody around them? Of course, the problem (usually) isn't the people around them. The problem is that they're unhappy, and so their ability to love others and treat them with respect is compromised.
I always liked the saying "Charity begins at home". The intended message is that we should look after those closest to us before we look after others (and I'm not saying that's a perfect message, it's not). But I think it goes further than that - after all, home is where the heart is (I know, really laying the platitudes on thick here), so in a lot of ways charity starts with ourselves. If we can't love ourselves, how can we love others?
For me, pole dancing has taught me to love myself in a whole heap of ways. Or four to be exact:
Every pole dancing studio I've ever been to has been like one of those circus mirror mazes - mirrors everywhere you look! At first, this was a nightmare - I hated looking at myself and I hated seeing myself dance. But it turns out that being forcefully exposed to an endless number of mirrors is its own kind of therapy. Having to confront myself warts and all multiple times per week, usually while not wearing very much, helped me to first of all get used to who I am and how I look, but eventually helped me to love who I am and how I look (most of the time - the journey never ends!).
Now I'm no nudist, but I think that there is truly a benefit in seeing the people around you confidently showing off their bodies and what can they do. That sounds a little pervy, but hear me out! I've always struggled with my body - I have broad shoulders, big feet, and no hips (just to name a few things) - but what I've learned from pole dancing is that I'm not the only one with broad shoulders, big feet, and no hips. And when I see somebody else with any of those characteristics, my response isn't to go "Yuck" the way I do when I look at myself. My usual response is to think "Damn that person looks good". And that's because we're our own harshest critics. I look at my big feet and think that I'm a hideous monster, I look at someone else's big feet and think "Wow those are the perfect feet for that person". What I've learned from this dichotomy is that the problem isn't my big feet, it's my attitude. If I can look at someone else with a similar body and think "Rockin' bod gal", why shouldn't I think the same thing when I look at myself?
I've often thought that creative spaces are some of the most inclusive, and pole dancing is no exception. That's because creativity is inhibited by exclusion and prejudice. As pole dancers, we love a good showcase, and the fact is that the best performances happen when performers are given space to explore who they are and tell their stories. When a space isn't inclusive, people will never be confident enough to tell you who they truly are, and that means that you miss out on some of the best and most interesting stories and performances! Of course, you shouldn't just be nice to people because you might get to see a good performance, but hey, that's a benefit!
When we're young, we all have damaging expectations around gender roles and sexuality imposed upon us. While this isn't good for anyone, queer or not, it does have a particularly damaging effect on those of us within the Rainbow community. Queer people are more likely to fall outside those boxes of heterosexual, and strictly masculine or strictly feminine, and that means that we are more likely to have our bodies and style policed. One great thing about the pole community is that our own unique styles are celebrated rather than derided. This might seem like a superficial point, but so much of who we are is represented by the way we present ourselves to the world. Getting to be a part of a community where each person is not just able to find their own style but be celebrated for it really helps to break the shackles of those expectations that were imposed on us while we were young. For queer people, many of whom have been bullied for wearing flannel shirts and Doc Martens (Dykes!), or well-fitted clothing with a dash of colour (Fags!), the chance to break out of those moulds and be supported along the way is massive. All of that said, if you come to the pole studio wearing crocs I will judge you. Also, Hawaiian shirts. And wedges, wedges are food, not footwear - if you can't handle a stiletto, stick with sneakers. Other than these things, you are free to wear what you want. But no socks with jandals. That's the last one, I promise.
The combination of these four factors leads to a pretty special outcome: people who join the pole community learn to love themselves, and in learning to love themselves, they gain the space and energy to love those around them, regardless of gender, sexuality, or anything else you care to name. To me, this is the most amazing part about pole dancing. It's such a privilege to see people break out of their shells and grow into themselves, then help others to do the same.
When I signed up for my first class at Altitude back in 2016, my hope was that I would learn some cool tricks and sexy shit. What I didn't know is that I would be signing up for so much more than that - a pathway to self-love, self-acceptance, and SELFIES. Being queer isn't easy, but Altitude and the pole community have made it that much easier for this gal. I'd like to end this with a joke because I'm uncomfortable with sincerity, but hey, these are my sincere thoughts, so fuck it.