Beth Ditto Live and the Shamelessness of Little Girls
When I saw the video below of Beth Ditto live, performing “Standing in the Way of Control” with her band, Gossip, I was profoundly affected. I’ve been thinking about femininity, shame, and femme performance a lot lately. My latest forays into femme fashion as a genderqueer person have been inextricably tied up in the shame of being a teenaged girl, the pain of rejection by my peers, and the power of shame to shut me up as I move through adult society.
I’ve always been a loud, boisterous person. I tend to be proud of my accomplishments and sometimes a bit of a know-it-all. I love karaoke, dance performances, and anything else creative. But as I’ve moved through my teenaged and young adult years, the pressure of etiquette and embarrassment have had a painful effect on me. I read a lot about how it’s important to focus not on what girls’ bodies look like, but what they can do. Unfortunately, the older I get, the more I’m shamed by the realization that what my body can do is not as good as what others’ can do. I’ve stopped singing and dancing as much in public because of external ridicule and growing internal embarrassment. Throughout college and law school, clothes went from fun performance to a way to be invisible, proper, and fitting into what I saw as my role. I’ve been trying very hard to speak less and listen more. Sometimes, that’s a good lesson to learn, but it also has painful effects.
When I first saw the Beth Ditto video below the cut on the commuter train, I cried. On stage, Beth is joyful, radiant, and unashamed. She dances in a purple dress that fully exposes her thighs, in bare feet, fully occupying her space. She belts the song diva rockstar style, and certainly doesn’t look nervous or ashamed about the thousands of people watching. Though I may not exactly have Beth Ditto’s voice, I do want to use this video as inspiration. It reminds me so much of being a little girl, singing in my nightgown at the top of my lungs, dancing, crashing into furniture, convinced that my voice and my body were awesome. Whenever there was a chance to perform, I took it. There’s something to be learned from that. It’s also why cried when I saw this empowering video about girls and body image. You know what? I deserve to be a fucking rockstar.
There has been so much written about girls and women and taking up space. I think this applies to anyone raised as a girl, or anyone who identifies as a woman. The internalized messages about how performance is embarrassing if you aren’t the best, about how fashion is an open invitation to ridicule and slut-shaming, strongly apply to me as a genderqueer person. Lately I’ve started busting out of that box by painting my nails in bright colors and occasionally wearing ridiculously high heels that I bought at Nine West. (One pair is purple). It’s still scary. I have a strong impulse to hide, an internal voice that warns me that you can’t run in heels, that skirts make you open for comment, that maybe I’m not really genderqueer if I’m femme. But I’m actively working to shut that voice up and silence my internal voice.
A video I posted to YouTube back in law school triggered one of many painful experiences for me along these lines. I was still at a point where I was leaving videos public and open to comments, still happy to be a diva. The video, of me singing “Suddenly I See,” got nearly 6,000 views and almost 70 comments, mostly negative. “Horrible” showed up a lot. Other comments included “my ears are bleeding,” “Do you have any friends you stupid cunt,” “you sing so bad,” and “please go to the hearing doctor.” Apparently I even made someone’s baby cry! Of course, most of these people are probably trolls, but I’ve never been great at letting troll-comments go.
Today, I decided to throw out my acquired wisdom of self-protection and “never turn on the comments.” I did this because I want to learn to take ridicule and I want to practice accessing that cocksure inner seven year old. I’m posting the below without any disclaimers about how it’s not very good or how you don’t have to listen. I didn’t try to regulate the embarrassing faces that make me cringe anytime I see a video of myself doing karaoke. It’s not about vocal quality or a perfect appearance. Bottom line, I’m a fucking rockstar.
(And just for fun, here’s an old dancing around the living room video, too.)