I’ve been hyperaware of my body lately, which I realize sounds insane. How could I possibly not be aware of it? I’m living in it! And I would answer: Have you ever found a tick on the back of your neck? How long has he been there? How much of your blood has he removed?
Recent writing by Kimberly Dark and Heather Corinna (both of whom recently graced the Reader with their words) as well as Sonya Renee Taylor’s book The Body Is Not an Apology have anchored my research into what is there: a body assigned female at birth (AFAB), with the wear and tear you’d expect after a life spent preferentially in right-brain, head-based activities (reading, listening to music, solving the world’s problems around a bonfire). “Neither a hiker nor a marathon runner shall this baby be,” the delivery doctor surely said, as I emerged from the womb clutching a stack of magazines.
But it’s not just how I’m feeling or how my body is working. It’s also what you think about my body. Reader, no matter how much I might try to avoid it, no matter how well I express my thoughts and desires in this space, if you meet me in person you will be thinking about my body. It does not matter if you want to be thinking about my body or not. It does not matter if I want you to be thinking about my body or not.
Taylor deftly illustrates the usual response to this situation in the companion workbook to The Body Is Not an Apology: those of us with bodies that don’t work like or look like the majority of other bodies must carry a certain measure of self-love in order to walk around on this earth, whether we believe it or not. Taylor teaches us to work on the discipline of what she calls “radical self-love,” to believe in our abilities despite what others might think. As long as I keep up the attitude that I belong in this world, that my body is a vessel that carries my special gifts, then I can (possibly) get through a day and do what I’m supposed to do.
This is all well and good, but these days I’m gravitating more toward the philosophy of writer Da’Shaun L. Harrison, whose recent book Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness goes a bit further. How helpful is it for me to believe in myself, when you who are in a position of power over me have been taught to never believe in my worth? “The Body—an entity of sorts, or the flesh we are born into—is not what creates the violence,” Harrison writes. “What creates the violence is an ideology and the power to enforce it, interpersonally or systemically. This means that whether or not you love on, show up for, and transform how you view your body, the structure of the World does not shift.”
British band Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business, led by singer and composer Jenny Moore, has created a feminist soundtrack for my introspection with their new EP, He Earns Enough (released by UK indie label Lost Map). Jenny Moore started making music in the DIY scenes she found in London in the late 2000s, after moving to the city from her native Canada to study art. He Earns Enough combines poppy dance punk and R&B arrangements in tunes that emphasize group singing. Mystic Business is a six-piece, and some members are also in F*Choir, an all-gender choir Moore directs that performs songs about gender and sexuality as well as her arrangements of material by the likes of composer and choreographer Meredith Monk and singer-songwriter Tirzah.
Lost Map Records released He Earns Enough earlier this month.
In F*Choir, Moore demonstrates a deft ear for matching other people’s experimental compositions to the abilities of different singers. For example, Monk’s “Panda Chant II” (from her 1983 opera The Games) usually requires a much larger ensemble, but F*Choir tackles it by having several singers each take on multiple parts. The economy of Moore’s arrangements helps them get swiftly to the heart of what’s important in the original work, and the strongest song on He Earns Enough is another cover: the entire band joins in the vocal gymnastics to provide harmony on “Woman Is a Word,” a take on a 2016 dance song by Los Angeles singer-songwriter Empress Of. The lyrics are declarative rather than confessional (“I’m only an image of what you see / You don’t know me”), and Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business substitutes band members’ voices for Empress Of’s darker synths, which makes Moore’s version feel bouncier and sunnier. It’s been a good thing to hear while I work out how to deal with other people’s thoughts and desires when they get in the way of mine.