is the one-word mantra of Blood Baby. The idea that rises to the top as I try to illuminate the constellation of concepts, so interrelated and also sometimes seemingly disparate.
Geological - cellular - material lineage
Our individual lineage - this self to that self to this self to that self
Housed in a moment of conception
Which in family-building, in self-building, happens over and over and over, moment to moment to moment.
Two cells divide and from there on out we keep forming, deforming, re-forming in collaboration with others and our environments.
Improvisation + choreography.
I have begun to think of Blood Baby as a universe. The project is a collection of performance and body-based explorations around and within the idea of queer and trans parenting, with the idea that these experiences are distinctly embodied by the parent or caregiver in question and that that experience is situated in a larger timeline of creation, specifically the earth’s creation and geological progress. <3
And lineage here is both blood lineage: body to body, but also body to body in cultural lineage (raising a child into queerness and gender expansiveness and all the queer elders before me) and material lineage (we are made of the same material as rocks) and in dance lineage (I am raising my child into this way of thinking through making, through playing, and all the teachers who came before me and taught me.) So it's not about my mom or my genetic line singularly. It’s about how we come together, how we come to be and centering queer and trans perspectives in that exploration.
There are six distinct iterations of Blood Baby:
In the universe analogy, each iteration is a constellation full of its own moving parts, formal elements, and aesthetic logic, but they are all connected by their approach to the central question exploring how we shape our queer and trans families and self in tandem. And they share conceptual and physical materials, atmospheres, vibes…. I imagine them as distinct facets on the complicated prism of bodily experience (gender, gestation, sexuality, and parenting), that here are pulled apart into relief so that each can be explored in depth. For the presenters or programmers reading, they can be presented together or separately -- with some partners it will be local Queer Parent Convenings, Touch Library, and Primordial. With other partners, it’s all the parts.
It’s all Blood Baby. There is no singular access point to these questions. To this experience.
And so I want to talk about rocks. About the Earth. Our predecessors and who will remain when we are gone, to whom we return. Our kin. Subject to its own system of formation and transformation, but ongoing movement towards transformation just the same.
Recently, while on residency at Kinsey Institute, we met with Dr. Andrea L Stevens Goddard, faculty at IU Bloomington in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Dr. Stevens Goddard researches “the timing and rates of Earth processes over geologic time. As a sedimentologist, she investigates these questions from a sedimentary basin’s perspective, using information preserved in eroded material to interpret the geologic evolution of source areas.” So she studies what materials move from one place to another, how they got there, when they got there, and from where to where. It is the story of Earth’s simultaneous dissolution and accumulation = material lineage…. Over millennia.
Accretion, n. -
We talked to Dr. Stevens Goddard about how placing gestation next to geological processes and rock evolution makes so much dang intuitive sense to me - about how ALIVE rocks seem to be to me, how alive the Earth is and that we are Earth matter (I just happen to be queer Earth matter) - and about gender, one shaping of our selves, in relation to how rocks are formed. We asked about nonconformity in rocks, and she mentioned MISSING TIME. Missing time in geology is an “unconformity.” And “unconformities are gaps in time in the rock record,” where perhaps the uppermost layer of rock was sensitive or subject to the layer that cooled on top of it and so that once uppermost layer of rock, now covered, is no longer there. Its evidence of being is gone, except for the GAP - the absence of it.
The stories we have been sharing in the Queer Parent Convenings are often mundane ones, silly and sad and about the daily realities of parenting, and also about the moments of rupture where your reality is invisible to someone else’s. And they are absent from the record. The records at Kinsey brought little to the fore in terms of archive - rock records? - of gender expansive family experiences. We will keep looking.
You were here, doing the thing, even if it’s not recorded.
I’d like to roll out the red carpet for you and send you flowers.
Why the Queer Parent Convenings? I call them “network sparkle” in shorthand. There is glory and luster in building a family for me. It was romantic to get pregnant at a fertility clinic - it was not some violation of my bodily function but an expression of the world I am a part of, the world I want more of. Creation is kink perhaps. As queers, we are duping the system of what we’ve been told is how you build a family, how a family comes together. I love being knocked up by my trans nonbinary partner. How'd you get here? Let’s talk about where we encounter the system and if and where there is or isn’t space for us in it… this coming together is its own creation story.
And this group, this group... this group of queer gestational parents that recently gathered to explore questions of our genders, our sexualities, our gestational experiences. We covered ourselves in fabric, pressed our faces in pillows to feel the texture, the pressure, the fabric giving back, holding us. We had shared exuberant dance parties, on and off camera, with each other and our children. We drew in order to feel our bodies and stay close while listening. We improvised together and expanded the space of what could be held together. There are so many ways to be, so many ways to show up. Hearts abound.
Through this I’m learning what is particular about Blood Baby’s Queer Parent Convenings:
-Its exploratory nature - approaching something grounded in daily experience from a place of unpacking resonance
-Focusing on creativity and our bodies and questions at the center
-Fellowship as a creative and improvisational practice - yes, we are resource sharing, and we are practicing being together
But that is not even half of it….
give credit where credit is due:
The work of the Queer Parent Convenings is supported by facilitators Darcelle Lewis, Paloma N. Irizarry, and Michèle Steinwald and by manager Linnea deRoche, and in its inception by shared thinking and scheming with midwife, sex educator, and dear friend Pati Garcia and by Logan Cryer. And the incredibly giving, inspiring, and hilarious parents of the first Queer Parent Convenings group, thank you!!
-Our time at IU was supported by Kinsey Institute, a Bloomington IU Arts & Humanities Council grant, and the thoughtful care and charge of Kinsey Institute's Art & Artifacts Collection curator Rebecca Fasman.
above L-R: Cadence and I adventuring into McCormick's Creek Canyon to perform Primordial, on IU's campus heading into research at Kinsey!
Why “Blood Baby”?
I have this strange thing where I sometimes - often - imagine us, ourselves, humans, as big walking sacs of blood. I obviously know that is not true, that we are comprised of blood AND a whole bunch of other tissue and cells, but still, the evocative sensory image stands. We are 60% water, and essentially all of our tissue, even the hardest parts (teeth and bone and nails) still contain water. They are to some degree “soft parts.” Teeth in particular take a long time to disintegrate, but they do eventually disintegrate, more breakable than concrete or limestone and faster than granite to decompose. And babies are especially sac-like, soft and squishy, and are much more liquid than adults are. Their bones have not fully formed yet, and all the parts are still shifting and moving.
So from a standpoint of feeling, as I dance I often imagine my body as a liquid form constantly de-forming and re-forming. As well, I am obsessed with heating my interior to the point that I can feel the totality of the inside edge of my skin organ. And in that embodied sensation, I imagine it is a contained liquid - perhaps blood - pressed up against and often seeping out of the container itself - the skin.
Queer family by nature redefines what “blood” relation means, in that we can reclaim and reframe the cultural primacy of “blood relation” while also subverting the biological imperative in the phrase’s origin. Blood lineage is often highly privileged in our culture and does not make one a parent. Intention and practice make one a parent in my opinion. I like embracing the essentialism of blood lineage in that our collective blood lineage is related to the earth and stars. Metals in our blood are also metals found in the stars, and those are the atoms from which we - humans - were formed. And it is those malleable selves who then build family that are bonded by a feeling of being “blood” - “they are blood to me” “blood brothers” - without the necessity or hierarchy of actual genetic or biological relation. Families are formed regardless of that and through intention and practice, building the intimacy and proximity of “blood relation” without a doubt.
Blood is one of the abject parts of a human body. The inside. Injury. Gore. Things going wrong. Part of the process of taking apart and building. Blood spilled. It looks different on the inside than it does on the outside.
(If you can’t tell, I like titles that can be viewed through many angles.)
I am a gestational parent, so I produced a human inside my body and then worked with them to get them out of me. In that sense, I gave this other person A LOT of my blood. My blood was the fuel that created them. And in grappling with my experience of gestation - the physically overwhelming transformation I underwent and how it flipped my gender and sex all around - I imagine this collection of a part of myself, funneled into another person, embedded but separate, and then leaving. An extension detached. And for me, that has related to how I think about parenting and particularly gender construction and physical intimacy. For me, as a parent, as my child ages and the physical proximity becomes less and the bodily autonomy becomes more, I am constantly reminded that they are their own person. I love getting to meet my kid over and over. And I am confounded that someone I am meeting now once knew - as the only thing they knew - the inside of me. Which they did not know to be me but just was…
There are many ways to make and be a family, and a parent. My co-parent is a non-gestational parent to our kid with no shared genetic material, and we have a nibling who is adopted, so I think a lot about the ways we form family and appear in our kids. The ways that my kid is so obviously an apple from my partner’s tree, and they too are responsive in that process. I do not believe that experiencing gestation is what made me a parent, but it is a part of my particular parenting journey. And I think what is truly magical about queer family creation and adopted families is both the many paths to parenthood diversity AND that what runs throughout all of them is I think an embodied sense of family and “you are blood to me” however you got there. Because that shit runs deep.
I was recently in Denver to do Primordial (thank you, Redline Gallery for hosting me!)- to get my body hot, sensual, and full of feeling and then to cover myself with blankets and pretend to be a rock - with other performers for the first time - ever! - and with rocks making their creation stories be known, visible. It was exciting to dive in with the smarts and tender loving attention of artists and performers Jaimie Henthorn and Nile H. Russell. I had traipsed through some amazing landscapes - Roxborough State Park, Red Rocks, Clear Creek Canyon - that stirred my body, thinking about my small 40 years in their 300-600 million year old story, imagining visuals and how the rock might look. But how would it feel? What we were doing, actually?
I pulled a tarot card before our first day dancing together, on the rocks, under the blankets, after hauling them up steep trails and hopping fences; I got The Fool. Beginner’s mind — know nothing. Deep play and foolishness.
In 2019, my kid turned 4 and I was thinking about my queerness, my gender, and how it related to me being a mom. I am body-oriented person and am fascinated by how it moves away from me, how it changes, how it can hold so much multiplicity or at times align to a singular presence. I was overwhelmed during pregnancy by the sensation of housing a stranger, who was also a partner.
Carmichael asked me what I hoped for for our child, when I was pregnant. We are a queer and trans family so we had talked a lot about who we are individually and how that had been recognized, tolerated, or not growing up. I said I wanted Cadence to feel free and loved to be who they are.
Being pregnant is a strange simultaneous feeling of sameness and difference; you are a part of me, my body materials build your body materials, but I do not know you. We have not touched yet; you are so close that you are inside of me, but you are suspended in a fluid sac, protected by YOUR PLACENTA, a whole organ just created to keep you alive. To protect you from my bodily systems that may want this foreign being to be gone. The question of self and other and who you will become are literally embodied.
A child "born into queerness" - feminist activist, essayist, poet, and playwright Cherríe Moraga in Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood
And then and then and then, on top of all that, for me, my strictures of femininity cracked. The way I was femme was no longer possible. And everyone thought I was straight. I felt myself mothering - becoming a mother - at the same time that I felt less feminine. Mothering has nothing to do with gender? Or mothering is just parenting self-identified by a parent’s gender identity. Or mothering is action and cultural resonance that transcends gender? I don’t know, and I assume that a bunch of parents - especially those conscious and critical of gender construction and assumption - will have a bunch of different answers.
And I haven’t even shared about my experience of Cadence leaving my body yet and how my partner and I continued our gender creative parenting, building a house of queer joy and trans joy. And how that changed me - the only cis member of our household. And I feel more like my gender is the hot guy exiting the pool and shaking the water off their hair more than it has to do with any expression of femininity… that is until, we get in the bedroom or I want to put my sex forward and have it be seen. My cisness lives in the bedroom I suppose. But I digress…
As an artist, my practice has long housed itself on one’s body - on a riding of your own presence, material mechanics, and illustrious imaginations and associations - so how could I possibly make something ABOUT my experience of queer motherhood and the puzzling of gender and intensity of gestation??? I don’t know, but I covered myself in blankets, and I felt like the fort and the person inside the fort and it was hot and obscured and private. It was the opposite of what I’d done for years, developing a performance practice that strategically exposes the transformative interior of a performer’s experience, as choreographic form.
So I kept covering myself in blankets in a landscape of time. And then I was a time boulder, I was born in the belly of a rock. A seed. An egg. A zygote. And of course, that is where my lineage comes from, my queerness, from the earth.
So it begins.
"There are many ways to be." - badass midwife, birth worker, and educator Pati Garcia
I'm gonna put a little plug here because I want to have this conversation with others. If you want to talk about this, please join us for a Queer Parent Convenings Interest Meeting this Sunday Oct 17 12-1:30pm PT / 3-4:30pm ET online. The Convenings will be facilitated by Garcia, Paloma N. Irizarry, Darcelle Lewis, and Michèle Steinwald.
This WHOOOOOLLLLE project, Blood Baby, begins from these questions and is sustained by a deeper unpacking of the varied aspects of queer and trans parenting -- with six different arms that each approach the facets of the gem experience that is family-building and parenting from a distinct perspective. One arm is Queer Parent Convenings. Let's talk about it... <3
-Nile under a pile of blankets on mountaintop, amongst boulders with mountain views behind him. Only Nile's hand is visible, peeking out from in between the blankets in the center top of the pile. The image is overlaid with a large circle, half blue and half purple.
-A dark-skinned child sitting on the sand next to their sand art. They are only visible from the shoulder down, with outstretched sandy legs and their hand resting on the sand. The image is overlaid with a large circle, half blue and half purple.
Images were taken by me, and the circle overlay was designed by artist Logan Cryer.
Bodies built for repetition, delicate magnetic ribbons, wind around this mortal coil, everything returns to soil. - musical text from Graveyards & Gardens, by Caroline Shaw and Vanessa Goodman with Sound Design by Eric Chad and Kate DeGorme
I am putting this here to understand it, to process how it all intersects later, over time…
I am in the middle of a Disco music binge. I think as a musical form, it is the one with the most sex woven into it, intrinsic to it. Part of that, but not all, is its unrelenting rhythm. Its drive towards the next peak, which is neverending (or we could imagine that to be true.)
I am also filming Primordial. It’s really hot. I put the blankets on, and it is COMPLETELY dark. I remember Taylor’s question from the March artist talk about if this focus on feeling and interiority makes it hard to be present to my environment, to connect (that’s my memory of the question at least.) I had been talking about the vividness of the ice floor when doing Primordial on a frozen lake and that it was like being on a glowing light box, an overwhelming, hidden space just for me (for now - we want to film it). But now, doing it in hot Philly foliage, on dirt, I put the blankets on and the sun gradually filters out, until it’s just dark. All I can hear is my breath, and I can’t see anything. I had told Taylor that Primordial wants to project interior feeling OUT, to extend how far it can go, so no, the loudness of what is maybe a private experience pressing forward, outward doesn’t disconnect, it urges towards connection - hope for it? And Primordial wants that divide, or rupture or failure of translation - as a practice and art object it wants the lushness of the doer’s experience pressed right up against something starkly visual. (It’s a somatic, sculptural practice translated into a video.) It wants the gap of translation, between the feeling and the form. Understanding is about perspective, and with multiple viewpoints (mine from inside the blankets and your’s from outside), we will never fully align understanding. But we can meet in the fuzzy space of approach, rich with intent and curiosity.
Sylvan says, “Foley identifies a false, but no less felt, binary then offers healing union.”
I found this writing from a year ago about Primordial:
I want to do drag as a fabric rock, as a boulder made out of fabric. I want to encase myself in fabric and be something other at the same time that I feel closer to myself, closer to an unknowing, a lack of articulation.
Primordial was the first translation of queer motherhood into performance. A performative articulation of Edouard Glissant’s work. It is the starting place. I cover myself, trace myself with fabric, match my own edges, and obscure myself. I become enmeshed and then I move around. I want to put my body - my constructed boulder in conjunction and in contrast with a range of environments: subway platforms, meadows, frozen lakes, forests. - other rocks, other lineages, other growths.
Gestation. Heat. Rocks. (Disco.)
What does parenting queerly mean to you? What is your story of gender and sexuality in relation to gestation and parenting? Are you a queer parent who likes to reflect on the intricate and slippery intersections of queerness, pregnancy, gender, family-building and community? Blood Baby is a performance project that explores these intersections through dance and participatory performance. It is being made in partnership with The Painted Bride Art Center and is directed by me, Philly-based choreographer, performer, educator and queerdo mom in a trans family Meg Foley, and supported by a team of queer creative artists.
To support and inform this project, we will be hosting queer parent convenings over the next two years. We are currently beginning with a queer gestational parents group and are seeking Philly-based participants for an intimate group to meet online for 6-8 weeks (90 minutes/wk) beginning in 2021 -- [UPDATE 10/1/21: the groups are now open to parents of all regions, and the first groups will begin Oct 24, 2021 (queer gestational parents group) and early 2022 (queer parents group). Click here for more info and to join the online Queer Parent Convenings Interest Meeting on Saturday Oct 9]. This group will explore our respective experiences of gender, sexuality, and gestation in relation to whatever parenting queerly means for people, and be one perspective in relation to the larger project goals of delimiting notions of family building and gender identity in a queer vein.
The group will be structured as a story circle and open forum, supported by facilitated somatic exercises, and will act as an advisory and fellowship group for the performance project. We will employ care-based and equity-focused facilitation, and accordingly the gathering will be group-led and open to the direction of the participants. A $75 stipend will be provided. We aim to represent the racial, gender, age, and cultural diversity of gestational parentage. QTPOC gestational parents are especially encouraged to reach out.
This a multi-year project and in the future, we will host forums and gatherings for all queer parents in Philadelphia and in other partner cities, but as gender and gestational experience are where my research begins, we are starting with a gestational parents group to explore the experiences of pregnant people themselves in relation to the larger questions of queer and trans family. We recognize the focus on pregnancy excludes the valuable perspective of non-gestational queer parents; parentage is not determined by pregnancy. This is a pilot group and is not attempting to represent queer families and parenting in total, and in the future there will be opportunities to engage that are not primarily focused on gestational experience.
We’d love to hear from you! If you are interested in participating or have questions/want to talk, please contact us at email@example.com. To learn more about Blood Baby, click here.
We look forward to hearing from you!