Futurity can be a problem. Heterosexual culture depends on a notion of the future; as the song goes, “the children are our future.” But that is not the case for different cultures of sexual dissidence. Rather than invest in a deferred future, the queer citizen-subject labors to live in a present that is calibrated, through the protocols of state power, to sacrifice our liveness for what Lauren Berlant has called the “dead citizenship” of heterosexuality. This dead citizenship is formatted, in part, through the sacrifice of the present for a fantasmatic future. On oil dance floors, sites of public sex, various theatrical stages, music festivals, and arenas both subterranean and aboveground, queers live, labor, and enact queer worlds in the present. But must the future and the present exist in this rigid binary? Can the future stop being a fantasy of heterosexual reproduction?
—José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, (p. 49)
This is much of what we do on the dance floor—embrace rather than disavow our object-ness in a space that allows us to do so without the risk of dehumanization that usually accompanies objectification.
At one of the many protests in North Carolina over House Bill 2, at least one has ended with dancing. A video has been circulating on the Internet of an activist and transgender woman named Micky Bradford, voguing in front of a line of police officers guarding the North Carolina governor’s mansion. The jostling cellphone video, taken by an unidentified member of the crowd, shows Bradford standing still in front of the line of police officers, seemingly lost in thought. She shifts slowly, taking off her bag, and gradually begins to dance for the crowd of demonstrators, who with their voices and a couple of drums provide an enthusiastic rhythmic soundtrack for her movements. The officers stand with blank faces as Bradford travels gracefully back and forth in front of them. For three minutes she dances, an outpouring of energy at the end of many hours of protest. Bradford recounts, “I was tired. The most I could do was dance away my anger, frustration, and sadness…”17
I wondered about the possibilities for treating objects as teachers who might be able to assist us in developing different ways of understanding and experiencing our bodies. Sculptures as dance teachers? As gym coaches? As lovers? I was particularly interested in our tendency to understand art that relates to non-traditional genders and sexualities primarily in terms of representation, seeking evidence of LGBT subjects or authors in the work through depiction. Queer art tends to be thought of as art that announces itself as queer through a variety of tropes, ranging from documentary photography to material references such as glitter or leather. The “object lessons” framework was intended to eschew these tendencies in favor of an interest in phenomenological relationships with artworks, particularly sculptures, which could produce new, odd, or altered states of embodied being that might enable us to better develop, recognize, respect, and cultivate different forms of gendered living. Can objects help us rethink gender on a bodily level?