(critical) clitoral embodiment

“Now try walking,” she says, once we are finally on our feet, “try walking with the legs of your clitoris.” We take cautious, preliminary movements, testing capacity after a long, guided meditation on embryological genital development. “Go ahead,” Nicole encourages us, “try walking with your crura.”

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On Saturday, July 16th, Nicole Bindler held an Introduction to Clitoral Embodiment seminar, as part of her residency at The Wedding Space, Berlin. As director, I was already well aware of Nicole’s impressive dance practice– in previous lives, I blogged about her experimental movement, while she has, reciprocally, hosted my philosophical performances in sundry curated series.

None of this history prepared me for the profound intelligence and palpable presence of Nicole’s approach to embryological embodiment. This is not to say that her dance work presents as less than intelligent– on the contrary, I find her movement to be smart, deeply funny, and subtly affective in its political dimension.

But my experience of her clitoral embodiment work was quite simply that of a gentle revolution. I use this term to try to capture the nexus of affirmation, challenge, respect, attention to social justice, and qualitative change through  innovation that she offers.

Diagram The workshop introduces you to embodied embryology in a clitoral key– but you don’t need to have one of the latter to join the revolution. Nicole guides the group through the development and differentiation of previously unsexed tissues, explaining how, for example, the embryonic mesoderm generates the urogenital ridge, which forms the genital tubercle, which, in turn, transforms into the clitoris, the penis, their attached bulbs and crura, and/or structures in between or apart from the standard anatomical binary set.

After a patient, exhaustive developmental anatomy session, Nicole invites participants to find a comfortable position on the floor, to explore these anatomical processes through embodiment exercises.

A vivid memory of this second part: I am trying to feel the clitoral crura extending down from each side of my clitoris, and attaching to my superior ischial-pubic rami and then my legs. Then, following Nicole’s challenge to imagine a different path, I try to extend back through the same tissue, but as formed into a penis. My crura then attach to the inferior ischial-pubic rami, closer to the surface, and again connecting to my legs. Trying to imagine and feel tissue forming differently and attaching through different parts of the same pelvic structure, and then also similarly-yet-differently into my legs, was mind-blowing. Switching back and forth shifted the torqued relation between genital and legs, between sexual center and grounding mechanism. These exercises exhausted my brain, but I felt held by Nicole’s patience, clarity, and the permission she gave us to imagine things, if we had trouble feeling them.

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The third part of the workshop further vivified everything we’d learned thus far. We slowly found footing after the guided exercises. When Nicole invited us to move as if space were invaginating us, in contrast to what she describes as the normative, phallocentric, penetrative treatment of space– I actually cried. I became suddenly aware of the potential tenderness of space itself; my interaction with it became not just sexed or embodied, but frighteningly ethical (is there any other kind of ethical experience?). I moved my arm gently upward, only to realize that my hips were shifting insensitively to the left– which led me to a cautious pulsing outward from my center in all directions, including the soles of my feet (in case those soles might otherwise bruise space’s more friable tissues). My moving body consistently hit upon limits, only to find its possibilities replenished in Nicole’s narrated extension of embryological transformations.

To follow up our opening scene, I did indeed eventually walk– in fact, I leapt— with my crura.

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Antje Andreas, The Wedding Space’s current resident, has experienced Nicole’s approach in a different venue. In conversation, we discovered that Antje interpreted this invitation for the invagination of/by space in a drastically different way than I. For Antje, “space becomes active, while I am passive; I am being invaginated.” For her, the experience was peaceful, safe, cozy, and generous, inviting her to be loved and embraced. Antje felt a sense of not only “womb” or “mother” love, but universal love. Like me, Antje vividly remembers the connection through the crura of the clitoris and legs. For her, this connection emphasized her own identified female sex, lending a powerful life force that energized jumping movements and joyous, almost frenzied activity. For Antje, who, like Nicole, is in the Body Mind Centering Practitioner Program, ovaries connect to the ankle and foot joints; Nicole’s work filled in more strength to this connection, while maintaining the possibility of developmental imaginings and embodiments. Antje appreciated, above all, Nicole’s careful, sensitive, not at all neutral but rather judgment-free gesture to explore all the evolving forms our tissues could have chosen.

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After the seminar, we shared our experiences verbally, over snacks and clitoral cocktails (the ones pictures are fresh cucumber and elderflower martinis, with physalis garnish).

On a closing note, Nicole emphasized the very real, indeed, critical role that this “embryological time travel” can play in contemporary discourses of social justice. “Those who do not conform to the gender binary may find support in a practice of embodying a time when their gender expression was simply a potential that could travel in either direction, or remain somewhere in between.” If this weren’t enough of a reason to engage her work, she cogently points out that people who do identify with their birth-assigned sex and gender can still explore. For them, the seminar offers “a broadened sense of self through embodied expression of qualities of the other.”

Cheers, then, to embryological time travel.

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