Artist Eroca Nicols talks with production dramaturg Evan Webber about embodied consent and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu strategies.
Evan: Eroca, you’re here to stage the first experiment you’re calling Theytriarchy as part of Re.Gen. At the same time you’re also facilitating training in what might be called self defense. Can you say something about the relationship between the aesthetics of consent and the preparation for violence?
Eroca: I think of all of it as working toward trusting other humans 101 and the bare bones of yes and no. Most people I work with are dancers, choreographers and/or queers and trans folks interested in queer self defense or safe ways to strangle one another for fun or pleasure. The majority have little to no experience with martial arts and have varying degrees of direct experience with trauma and violence. I have developed embodied consent and body autonomy tactics using the basics of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a learning frame.
Evan: Why is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu a good frame to work towards trusting other humans?
Eroca: Why BJJ? In BJJ it is absolutely necessary to commit all attention to the task at hand because of real physical risk of injury. BJJ as a practice has incredible clarity of boundaries. When a person „taps out“ a little tap on the shoulder or leg or anywhere that can be reached, this means, no: stop doing what you are doing, let go, physically come apart and start again. Before engaging in any touch, there is a customary high five, then fist bump (yes, very bro-y.) The cues are not a suggestion of agreement, these cues are clear and necessary; yes, I agree to engage; and, no, I longer agree and we are now stopping.
“I just want to stop” is the basis for the touch consent practice I teach. In BJJ one can “tap” from pressure, pain or discomfort. In the work I’m doing, I am having people engage with the “this doesn’t feel right for me right now” feeling in their bodies. I work to acknowledge and center
I just want to stop no explanation necessary. An emotional no is a no. Emotional risk and physical risk are weighted the same. Emotional pain and physical pain (if we are even separating these anymore) are weighted the same. “No” is a complete sentence.
Evan: So, for you, fighting rehearses the clear boundaries that delineate space for doing new things, dreaming new things, resting and regenerating?
Eroca: Fighting and trans liberatory self and community defense is in inverse relation to the softness and ease of Theytriarchy. The oasis of calm should not have to be earned through fighting. But most trans people have more experience with self protection in public space than they do with ease and autonomy.
Evan: For that reason alone…
Eroca: …Cis people have a place in a trans liberated future.
Evan: It’s very much about the future. Maybe that explains why I can’t always read my own reactions to this work. It asks me to have a lot of faith, a lot of optimism.
Eroca: Yeah, like, I feel like having an embodied “yes” or “no” is not a given. Each context has its own timing. The gradient between a truly solid yes and a truly solid no can be very big.