I promised that I would review “Body of Work,” a spoken word show curated by my friend Gina de Vries, which promised to explore “queerness, sexuality, disability, chronic illness, and the question: ‘How do you have a body?'”
Body of Work is a new show, so it was fitting that the first version explored a lot of fresh territory. All six performers were at a high standard, so I’ll say something about each of them, and what I feel they brought to body image.
Tobi Hill-Meyer used both spoken word and film to explore what happened to her at a Feminist Porn Awards show, when she and her girlfriend were harassed by a security guard for making out in the gender-neutral bathroom (!). Hill-Meyer has severe Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and had to wear her breathing mask in the bathroom because of those (horrible!) scent-releasing machines which hotels and other public venues will claim make life “better.” The mask changes her breathing, which is what attracted the guard’s attention, and also confused the guard about her gender. The result: disability and trans identity come together in a miserable institute of harassment (which was, fortunately, resolved fairly cleanly, but left both Hill-Meyer and her girlfriend traumatized). This piece was very clearly narrated, and the film (of the makeout session in the bathroom stall) brought an immediacy to it which strengthened the impact.
Cinnamon read a raw, powerful open Dear John letter to their fears, anxieties, and limitations, a letter which revealed not only their vulnerabilities but also their anger against racism and the ways the world holds them back. The letter morphed into a beautiful transformative burlesque dance, done with a slideshow of the song lyrics in the background.
Katherine Cross created a context for the intersections of autism, trans identity, and sexuality using two video games: Bayonetta, a high-graphics video game about a sexy succubus who is the viewpoint character, and Error 404, a Twine game where your job is to pleasure an extremely demanding (and kinky) artificial intelligence. Cross drew the connections between learning sexuality from the outside (Bayonetta’s imagery) and from the inside (Error 404’s exploration), and brought the two back into her own sexual experience in an intense and moving presentation (with game screenshots in the background).
Neve Be provided a long, painful autobiographical screed about their sexual history, interwoven with disability experiences and experiences of racial oppression, powerfully narrated, with back-up electronic music which was intended to be (and was) disquieting and disturbing.
Hearing a performer talk about extreme social anxiety is particularly powerful, because they are there in front of you, telling you about the challenges of being there. Rachel K. Zall embodied this very well. I especially appreciated the casual, unstressed way in which she talked about overcoming (and not always overcoming) extraordinary challenges.
Finally, curator Gina DeVries, limited by strep throat (and unable to MC the show), read a short piece about sex and chronic pain, and being with a lover who was not only supportive of zir pain issues but also open to continued sexuality through pain limitations.
How do you have a body? By opening up the raw places, and finding joyous spaces inside. If this show runs next year (or anywhere else in between), with these performers or different ones, don’t miss your chance.