how to pay attention to a body.

all photos by mike geffner

all photos by mike geffner

Here’s the thing: I’m not always so present in my body. We’ve had a tumultuous relationship over the years and although we are on speaking terms right now, there was about a decade where we just ignored each other. Passive-aggressively passed by, barely making eye contact.

Sometimes it felt like a language barrier, not quite having the right words to say, unable to connect. This tends to happen. We had a few interventions, even started collecting dictionaries in order to search for more words to speak out. But it’s been a long, long journey toward understanding the ‘right’ ways to pay attention to each other.

On a Friday in Queens, I walked from the 7 train toward an art gallery where poets, music makers and performers of various disciplines gathered for an event produced by The Inspired Word performance series. I was not going as poet, rather performance artist, lending my skin out to strangers and friends to be referenced as The Human Canvas  (Graffiti’d Body).

Here’s another thing: It’s difficult to present a piece where much of your body is exposed with the intention not to titillate. What I wanted people to contemplate were the various ways in which bodies are like buildings. Buildings which we tag with our name or images or bits of contemplations. How skin can be weathered like bricks. What one would write or draw if given the opportunity (with pen, ink, marker) to tag another’s body.

The humans were shy at first, but so was I. None of these people knew how deeply uncomfortable it was for me to be dressed in such drag. Red sequined tube top worn as skirt. Chest scooped into a black bra, a contraption I haven’t worn for almost two years. Bra has since been replaced by a binder, training my tits to flatten and disappear. All beneath yellow police caution tape.

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The rules were: You may write or paint anything and anywhere. Some wrote their initials. One wrote a sound: ZOINK!. Another wrote part of a poem. There were designs, declarations (will you gay marry me?) and symbols.

People were shy at first; perhaps we are just not used to people saying: hey, want to write on my exposed flesh?

Throughout the night, people timidly approached my skin. Many asked first (which I appreciated, though it was certainly not necessary; the permission was granted the moment I walked through the door). One said, I don’t know how to paint. I responded, yes, you do. And then, I put some paint on the end of a brush and handed it to her. Just……put this color on me and see what happens, I said.

She painted: Let’s make love, not war.

I smiled and said, Hey, you’re a painter now!

273At the end of the night, my partner arrived, and he approached my skin quietly, using paint and marker to tag me.

Being the only one who knows my gender in its entirety, he said, “I’ve never seen you like this.” (This meaning skirt and fluffed-up breasts).

This piece is political, but in a space like this where I speak only if the audience asks questions, its more about being silent and observing the ways in which people approach a body.

I could feel myself being ogled at times, and I knew this was part of human nature. Outside of spaces like this, I practice androgyny. I am far less and more of the in-between.

Here’s how I pay attention to my body now: I enforce encourage dialogues. With myself. With others. I ask questions of myself. How does this feel? How do I want to be today? 

What felt comfortable yesterday won’t always feel that way today.

So, I encourage my body to be more open. To be more out loud. To speak up and out. To perform on and off stages. This reminds me that the silent treatments only prolong stagnation in a body.

My body has housed me for over three decades. The shape has changed and I’ve got quite a few scratches and signatures on it now, but it is also a speaker box. And I intend to project.

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2 responses to “how to pay attention to a body.

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