If you haven't already encountered an Ask Me to Dance bracelet in the wild, chances are you will very, very soon. Last week's fundraiser raised enough money to send bracelets to 42 scenes or events, mostly in the US, but a few internationally as well. The bracelets simply state "Ask Me to Lead" or "Ask Me to Follow", on different color bands to increase visibility. I was part of this project, participating in some of the initial ideation and language as well as the fundraising.
These bracelets are meant to signal to others something critical to partner dancing: role preference. If you're already familiar with my writing, you won't be surprised to know that this is really important to me as a dancer who is also a non-binary human being. When a stranger assumes my dance role preference based on my body, it almost always triggers social dysphoria for me.
Social dysphoria is the experience of discomfort at the way a social situation pushes a gender onto you that is different from your own. This discomfort is experienced differently by different transgender people, but for me, it is feeling of vast disconnect from my body. Especially now, because my home dance community generally recognizes me and sees me in a way that seems to include my full gender, it can be incredibly disruptive and send me miles away from myself when someone assumes that I follow because they assume I am a woman. My physical experience of this sensation is a bit like trying to dance with all of my limbs tied to one another: it's possible, but it's unpleasant and difficult. In those moments of invisibility and restriction, I find myself less willing to meet new people and I tend to grow increasingly shy if it happens multiple times.
If these bracelets become popular and visible, then even in new dance scenes where I'm not a known quantity, I will be able to *signal* lead easily. This will substantially reduce the experience of knowing that I'm being *read* as a woman via being asked to follow. And while it won't actually directly change the number of folks assuming my gender on sight, it will reduce the need for me to directly encounter those assumptions.
The reception of these bracelets demonstrates a really magnificent thing to me. The communities I belong to are already in the process of decoupling gender and dance role. More people dance multiple roles, more people dance roles that don't match their gender, more people exploring gender identities for which there aren't traditional dance roles: we need signals as we transition away from highly coupled gender and dance roles. Some day we might need these signals, but right now, I'm looking forward to seeing these wristbands at the events I attend.