Avant-Ice — Isabel Waidner

If I had a superpower, I would be an ice skater. I would be a genderqueer figure skater, skating eights, loops, and axels, the whole s/hebang.

An axel is a figure skating jump with a forward take off. An Ina Bauer is an element in which the skater glides on two parallel blades. Moves in the field (MIF) is the name given to elements that emphasise basic skating skills and edge control. As an EU migrant and queer proletarian, I am better rehearsed at controlling my edge than your average figure skater. Having controlled my edge for so long, I am MIFfed at my recent failure to purchase a competition dress through the obvious channels.

Floaty competition dresses sell on ebay from £45 (Buy-It-Now), I checked yesterday. A custom-made ice skating leotard sells for £12.99. Sellers like twirlandskate (197⋆) from Sutton, UK, are eager to sell ice skating kit, offering free P&P (Postage & Packaging), posting worldwide. Despite their affordability, the competition dresses on ebay are not for me. They do not have my name on it (Dean). They are for persons aged 5 to 14. I’m 42.

You might call it an equal ops issue.

I came late to the sports. I did not come to figure skating until I was in my thirties. As a child, I did not know the first thing about figure skating. I had not heard of Torvill and Dean, nor their gold medal performance at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. I was a butch child. I was such a butch child, it was incredible. Age 10, I adopted the butchest name I could think of (Torvill). Heh Torvill, my friends would say. Do you want to celebrate your Geburtstag (birthday) at the Eistreff Waldbronn (Ice Rink Waldbronn)? Skates for hire, a zloty per hour? No, thank you, I replied. I was such a polite young butch. I will not hire women’s or girls’ ice skates for a zloty per hour. Nor will I be held in contempt by the skate hire attendant, for hiring boys’ ice skates as a girl. I will not be referred to as Schwuchtel (faggot), λεσβία (dyke), or andersrum (queer), by amateur ice skaters and their humourless parents. Not in this European backwater, not in 1984. Despite the contemporary popularity of androgynous cultures and figures across the UK (New Romanticism, New Wave, The Associates, Bow Wow Wow, and Culture Club), androgyny never hit rural Waldbronn. Androgyny did not affect rural Waldbronn in quite the same way, rendering the hiring of ice skating boots a catch-22 situation for a 10-year-old butch. You go, I said to my friends. Have fun. Ok, bye. Age 10, I rejected ice skating for life. The rhinestoned femininity of the female ice skater and her gendered skates ran counter to my budding butch industry.

I have come to figure skating only recently, in connection with my ongoing transition. Having changed my name from (butch) Torvill to (masculine) Dean, I have turned increasingly girly and figure skatey. As a middle-aged andro-fag, I have taken to ice like a duck to water. One life event in particular worked as a catalyst for my identity U-turn, my half-pirouette in regards to figure skating.

On 11 July 2000, performance artiste David Hoyle marked the end of his short-lived television career (The Divine David Presents (1998); The Divine David Heals (1999)) with a one-off show at Streatham Ice Rink, The Divine David On Ice. As part of the event, Hoyle and collaborator J. Cloth were to reinvent themselves as the “post-gay post-modern Torville [sic] and Dean for the millenium” (Duckie flyer, 2000). Duckie is a promoter and purveyor of queer working class entertainment since 1995. A flyer was a pre-internet advertising device intended for public distribution. Grassroots organisations such as Duckie tended to manufacture flyers as part of an inexpensive, purpose-orientated and non-romanticised collective practice. Flyers were not about the tactility of real paper, nor the smell of actual printFlyers were about inclining a community that way inclined to attend The Divine David On Ice, 11 July 2000, 8pm, at Streatham Ice Rink, London, SW16.

Giving cold shoulder to fags trying to cruise me (by mistake), I witnessed Hoyle and Cloth revolutionise modern ice dance. Oh, a cruisy fag might have said, realising his mistake. Dyke looks like a gay-boy. Something about being on the turn, ha ha. Ok, bye. The Death March was played on a xylophone, gradually turning into Hello Dolly (Johnson, 2015). No video recordings exist of the event, but performance studies scholar D. Johnson documented Hoyle’s oral account in An Oral History of Performance Art (ibid). Maggi Ha., a painter, came over, fag hanging from bottom lip: Hi Torvill. How are you? Maggi Ha., how are you? We smiled, enjoying the show. Skating at various levels of professionalism, Hoyle, Cloth and multiple doppelgänger staged their anarcho-choreography in the rink. The Divine David On Ice was pandemonium on ice, not to mention the tribunes.

None of us attending The Divine David On Ice were young, particularly.

Actually, I cannot ascertain T.D.D.O.I.’s audience demographic first-hand. I cannot verify their age bracket, nor whether Maggi Ha., the painter, was present, or not. Whilst I did watch The Divine David Presents on Channel 4 in 1998, I did not attend The Divine David On Ice at Streatham Ice Rink in 2000. I came late to T.D.D.O.I., just as I came late to figure skating. But if any of Hoyle’s post-2006 performances were anything to go by, or Bird Club (a dyke club), Gaybar (a Real Life venue), QU.AV.T. (a queer avant-garde theatre and performance venue), or even the annual LGBTQI+ London Film Festival (B.F.I. FLARE), I will vouch for the fact that none of these audiences were ever particularly youthful or young.

My problem with child size competition skates is that I prefer my footgear extra large. Oversize brogues, trainers, DMs are a dykey quirk and a gender subversion strategy. Yesterday I searched ebay for a glitzy rhinestone affair in an adult size 8. I found nothing. I resorted to purchasing second-hand ice hockey skates, tracksuit bottoms, and MAGNIF’EYES MONO eye-shadow from Rimmel UK.

Decades after The Divine David On Ice I am still working on my identity U-turn. Mobilising my class-related predisposition to labour, I have committed to an Olympic-level training regimen. Wearing my trackie bottoms and competition makeup, I took the 333 from Elephant & Castle to Streatham this morning. Every day international migrants (Bulgarian, Ghanaian, Hungarian, Jamaican, Pakistani, and Polish, for example) and the UK proletariat are practising MIFs, brackets, rockers and axels, not under the scrutiny of our parents or coaches, but the ice rink’s professional cleaning personnel. None of us came to figure skating naturally. We are not taking our participation for granted. I like to think of us as an Avant-Ice skating movement, acquiring momentum. Rehearsing rogue capabilities, D.I.Y. styles and transgressive methods, we are revitalising our discipline. We are reforming our discipline in broad daylight. I lace up my hand-me-down ice hockey skates and enter the glistening arena.

Isabel Waidner (b. 1974) writes avant-garde fiction. Published novels include Frantisek Flounders (2011), & Bubka (2010). Most recently, Waidner contributed to the Dictionary of Lost Languages (Wood, 2015), and 3:AM Magazine. She is Co-Editor of The Arrow Maker: Journal For Language & Experimentation (8fold). She is a doctoral candidate at Roehampton University, Department of English and Creative Writing. Previously, she had a career as a musician. Lastly with the band Klang, she toured internationally and released records on UK Indie labels Rough Trade (2003) and Blast First (2004). Originally from the Black Forest, Germany, Waidner has lived in London for 20 years. @isabelwaidner