EXORCIZE! On sharing artwork that’s about dissociation

I know that dissociation is perfectly normal, that it’s a critical survival strategy, that it’s often a healthy way of making it through brutal times in our lives. Nothing more, nothing less.

In one survey, 65% of “average folk” respondents said they’d experienced some kind of dissociative episode. That’s better than 3 outa 5, and while I’m no statistician, that looks like a solid majority to me. So, if a majority of people have experienced dissociation, why is it such a low-volume topic? Is it because it’s difficult to speak of an experience that feels like permanent damage or that is treated as non-medicalizeable [sp]?

The ways I dissociated/survived do sometimes feel like absolute useless-yet-hateful trash and because they also feel like precious treasure I earned through great adventure and tribulation I want art and artifice with which to speak of them. [And because I earned them through prevailing over a harsh Christian fundamentalist upbringing compounded by violence and poverty, I get to use King James words like tribulation whenever I want to.]  But if I just out and say that truth, it’s really different than an art work about the experience of this prevailing: of finding my voice to say “no,” of re-entering my body, of seeing the structures that work together to create silence, obedience, and the kinds of abjection that can lead to dissociation.

When I toured this piece for the Heels on Wheels Roadshow in April, I got more responses from people than I ever had from any stage work before [well, except for the time I collaborated on a live staging of Shit Femmes Say] and in city after city, people would wait for me after the show to talk to me about my piece. I’m guessing they wanted to be seen in their unseen places, too—and they gave me that gift back. My favorite response was from a person in Baltimore who said it reminded him of a Gen5/Generative Somatics workshop he’d seen at the USSF. I wanted to give him a gold star A+ radical art-watcher award. Because it is heavily based on theory but the point of making this art and not an essay is that the theory is subsumed to the artifice and the narratives.

Art that tells a truth—a vulnerable truth especially—is really difficult to make: it digs into my shame and fear while challenging my creativity. I love this. It would be easier for me to shimmy my top off or write about other people’s problems or otherwise leverage any of the cultural forms that are available to me. But after performing this piece, when people from such a broad range of visible identities came up to me and looked me in the face and thanked me, when I noticed the dark corners in my guts lighting up, it told me that this work is important. It is so both because it acknowledges that we’re kicked out of our bodies in so many ways, and it affirms that we have the power to find ways back in.

In many cities, people asked me to make the forthcoming Motivational-Aerobics DVD Spandex Expansion that I reference, from which all the exorcises are mere teasers. I’ll need back up movers, matching spandex, lots of water, rehearsal space… I’m thinking BIG. Does anyone know Reverend Billy? I have been working on a writing piece [a toolkit/memoir] on all these messy topics: healing, resilience, bodies, embodiment, dissociation, class, fundamentalist patriarchy, gay sex. I hope with the ending of my semester that I’ll get the opportunity to turn some of these Exorcizes into actual video segments, we’ll just see about a DVD, and I feel like an exorcize toolkit is forthcoming in the not-too-distant future. But first, finals.