The year was 2015.
It was a brisk October evening in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
On the main street of Nob Hill, the local theater was bustling with a the type of magical buzzing energy that only comes from a theater full of queers converging to watch several hours of gay sex on the big screen.
It was at the opening night of Pornotopia, a queer porn festival created and hosted by my friends at Self-Serve, the local feminist, queer and women-owned sex shop in town.
I was there as part of the opening act. My friend Dirty Lola was invited to bring her Sex-Ed-A-Go-Go stage show to the event--setting the tone for consent, respect, safer sex, and pleasure, as well as titillating the audience with a live lap dance performance for some lucky folx in the audience to start.
Guess who was giving the lap dances.
Yep. This guy.
That's me with the long hair and garters. My pronouns were she/her/hers and I had never questioned my gender identity as a cis woman before, but that would soon change.
The lap in this dance belongs to special guest Jiz Lee: non-binary queer porn and kink icon.
This moment of giving them a lap dance changed the trajectory of my whole life, because, before meeting Jiz at this event, I had never EVER met someone who was trans, non-binary, queer, and half-Asian.
Y'all: Jiz is a BIG deal in the world of porn. But more impressively, they are one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, genuinely melt-your-heart sweetest humans you could hope to meet. They're also a triathlete, a voracious bookworm, author of the critically acclaimed book "Coming Out Like A Porn Star".
We hit it off after the performance and I got to know them over the course of the weekend. I was so drawn to them, it felt like a crush. But slowly I realized what I was feeling was a sense of awe and wonder that they could exist so much as themselves.
Sitting across from them at breakfast one morning, I felt like I was looking at a alternate universe reflection of myself. We had so much in common, it seemed like we could be distant relatives, but the difference was they were living in their truth and I was not.
I suddenly felt like I was wearing all these masks and costumes, and none of them reflected who I truly was inside. I wanted to see what I would look like if I shed those layers, but I was also terrified because I didn't *know* who I truly was without them. I've never had the space to be anything other than the eldest daughter, the good girl, the loyal wife, the hard-working woman. What the heck would I even look like if I wasn't performing femininity?
At that diner booth over breakfast, I was trying to stay composed and cool for my new friend, but inside I was freaking out. I felt so close to a new way of being, but so far from actually experiencing it as my reality. I didn't know the first thing about how to be non-binary, but I knew I had to try. After that breakfast with Jiz, I could see a new possibility of existing on my own terms. That shift in perspective changed my actual life.
Meeting a trans, non-binary, Asian, queer person made me realize "Holy shit! I can also be that! I didn't even know that was an option!" Even if I didn't know how I was going to be that, at least I knew it was possible. I started to believe I could be whatever I wanted, if that's what felt right to me.
Here's the thing: I didn't know what would feel right. But I did know I couldn't keep living behind a façade.
So, I came out as non-binary shortly after, tried on they/them pronouns with friends and at work, cut my hair off, and have been growing into my authentic self-expression ever since. Today, I'm proudly trans and non-binary. My pronouns at the moment are he/him and they/them. It's been a journey, but I'm really happy with where I am now.
I'm sharing this because queer community is so incredibly important. We need safer spaces to be with and learn from one another. I am forever grateful that being a queer burlesque/exotic dancer provided me with the reason to be at this queer porn festival. If I had not volunteered myself to dance at this event, who knows what I'd be doing now.
What I do know is that the simple act of witnessing and seeing yourself reflected in others can be profoundly healing, as it directs us to witness, perhaps for the first time, our selves.
Within community, we grow.
Alone, we may hold onto those masks and costumes that no longer serve us, mistaking them for who we are.
Queer communities (like this one) are life-saving. Queer community is why I teach. It's why I create programs, workshops and classes online. Teaching is my way of gathering us in community, so we can learn from one another and witness one another in our fullest, authentic expression of self. Here, we can unlearn fear of each other, and practice completely new ways of being and relating.
Trust. Boundaries. Safety. Authenticity.
These can be so scary to practice out in the world. But you are welcome to practice them here.
I was compiling student feedback yesterday, and came across this:
“You have given me a space I didn't think could exist for me and I can honestly say that's life changing.”
This student is a queer, non-binary dancer talking about my self-paced, virtual trauma-informed Burlesque program.
Sometimes I wonder if teaching online still provides folx with a feeling of community connection when they're dancing at home, and this testimonial tells me that it does.
If you want to experience this space for yourself, check it out HERE. Feel free to share this post with your friends who may want to get in on this too.
Thanks for reading and sticking with me. It means the world.
Hope to see you on the virtual dance floor soon.
- Harmony Lee (he & they)