I was still fairly new to contra, I (a woman) was dancing with my friend (also a woman) and two men who were sitting out came up to us and told us we should split up and dance with them. We declined, but I felt shaken. Why was my choice of who to dance with less important than theirs? Why did this good friend of mind not seem like a legitimate partner to them? Once, at a fusion dance, I was MID DANCE with another woman when a man came up to ask me to dance. I was baffled. What more did I have to do?

My first time dancing on the west coast, I was dancing with a man. I asked him what role he preferred. He said, “the gent; I don’t want to have to swing with any guys, you know?” and laughed, like the concept was obvious, relatable, funny. Like his unwillingness to have close physical contact with a man was normal, and not a whisper of homophobia. Why was that a preference he was allowed to have but never in a million years one that would be tolerated from me? What would happen if every time a man asked me to dance, I said “sure, but I’ll only swing you in two-hand hold” like some men do when they meet other men on the dance floor?

It took a very long time for me to be able to dance on the left side of a contradance without having to play-act “being the gent”: puffing myself up, putting on a fake finger-mustache as a joke, adding extra bravado to my dance to show people that YES I AM HERE ON PURPOSE, DON’T CORRECT ME, I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING. I AM ALLOWED TO DANCE WITH THE PERSON THAT I’M DANCING WITH (a friend, a dear dance connection, a romantic partner, a lover). I AM ALLOWED TO BE HERE. Nowadays, I only dance in places that don’t look at me like I’m messing up if I’m dancing on the left.