This first week of placement I have spent assisting with Walking:Holding, a delicate piece that asks the audience to go on a series of short walks with strangers. I headed down to The Yard in east London. My role was to watch out for Simon, who was cross-dressing for the first time, in case anything should kick off - luckily it didn't.
Click here for a link to an interview with Rosana about the work.
This was actually a pretty unique position to be in, walking behind him for three evenings in a row astonished and angered by people's reactions to what is basically a man in a dress. People seemed to be confused and genuinely angry at what they perceived as an attempt at 'passing', that is to say Simon trying to pass for a woman. Had Simon been in more heightened drag queen attire I think there may have been a different response, but due to his relatively low-key look, people seemed offended by his lack of conforming to the gender binary. Butler discusses in Gender Trouble how drag implicitly reveals the imitative nature of gender itself, in this context Simon evoked a reaction from witnesses as they experience this for themselves. Simply by being visible, the way Simon was dressed allowed the public to have an awareness or examine their own gender presentation.
Men walking on their own exclaimed 'fuck!' or 'nah man!'
Women in groups whispered and tutted as if we were in the playground.
Teenagers laughed like Simon and I couldn't here them.
But the scariest response was men who asserted their masculinty by objectifying Simon as they would a cis-woman. Wolf whistles, 'alright darling', honks from a van and comments on his legs were all ways in which these man asserted their power to avoid feeling threatened by Simon transcending the boundaries.
That said, I was refreshed by the way the performance was led and organised by Rosana. As all the participants were performers themselves, and had got in touch as they had seen/heard about the piece and really believed in it. They all told me how they liked the simplicity of the work and what its trying to do. I felt like just a group of people about to embark on something we all felt passionate about, rather than an artist and participants. That's why when I felt the stark contrast between the check-in we all had before the performance and the abuse Simon faced during, I kept thinking: Queer means a community in any city, but animosity at every corner.