Unfortunately we did not record the talk but here is a (partial) transcript of questions asked and answered. This interview took place on December 19, 2020.
Lexa Roséan, milonguero and psychoanalyst talks to Miranda Lindelow
about being a legendary butch milonguero in straight and queer milongas
and why the queertango community needs a close embrace.
Lexa is a milonguero and a psychoanalyst, who wrote her thesis on tango and psychoanalysis. Lexa has been queer in the tango world since before the birth of queer tango.
I would like to quote what Karen said when we prepared this conversation: "she (Lexa) is such a legend! I used to read her blog when I first started out and it was so helpful to me as a queer masculine person trying not to get rolled over in the straight community"
Miranda Lindelow: The first time I heard about you was around 2010. We had just started the queer tango in Paris and I was talking to Helen La Vikinga who asked me "if I had met Lexa, a milonguero who goes to the traditional milongas in BA in a suit and leads". I had never heard about any woman doing that before. Can you talk a bit about your tango journey and how you arrived at that point?
Lexa Roséan: Ah, well this is a 25-year journey. I fell in love with tango from the start. First the music from the show Tango Argentino in the 1980’s and then from a performance by Tango Mujer in 1995. From there I had the idea that women were dancing together as there were no men in the show. Women in dresses, women in suits, beautiful graceful sensual women exploring gender fluidity. I thought this is what tango is about. Little did I know there was this entire heterosexual macho Argentine culture. My first teachers told me I had to follow for a year before I could learn to lead. At first this frustrated me but I embraced it. Now it seems to me very much in line with the tradition of young boys who must first follow. It was great! I got to explore my fem side in a very safe way. It took me 2 and ½ years to be ready to learn to lead. By then, I had been held in the arms of so many men, we had a bond. And most of them, although confused by my choice – were supportive. It was only bad dancers who felt threatened as my leading improved. They tried to get me thrown out of the NY milongas but I had Argentine men who stood up for me. And in some years, I became a really great leader. Mostly this was because I had great teachers. In those years, I was blessed to have a large house in Manhattan. So, I hosted many of the best teachers who came from Argentina. They lived with me in exchange for lessons. And people in the straight community would comment how great I was but then add: “but you know they won’t let you dance like that in Argentina!” After 8 years, it finally dawned on me – who is it that would not let me dance the lead in Bs As? All the old milongueros who had taught me how to lead and lived in my house? I decided to go with my best suits and I had the most amazing time in all the milongas. And I heard my teachers shout “ESO” as I danced past their tables.
ML: During our conversations you have told me that to you it was obvious that "tango was queer from the beginning" could you talk a bit about that?
LR: Yes! From the beginning Tango was queer. I’m quite sure of it. I was immediately struck by the homosexual relationship between Carlos Gardel and Alfredo la Pera. We don’t dance to Gardel but he is the one who brought tango to the ears of the world. And they were singer and lyricist but also lovers with a tragic yet somehow romantic end. Gardel is adored in Argentina yet somehow this truth of his life is ignored. I feel as queer milongueros, we should honor that truth. The other bit is the brothels. Many argue the validity of this but I put trust in Borges who writes that the tango began in the brothels. I have even read that the prostitutes were brought in to discourage homosexual activity between the young immigrant men. Somehow, there has developed a sort of romantic heterosexual mythology around these tango brothels. I can’t possibly think of it as something romantic between a man and a woman. It’s a thing a man paid for to have access to a woman. It’s a business transaction. Brothels are full of lesbians. Most prostitutes are lesbians. And brothels themselves are a place for intimacy between women. So, I have always felt that considering these aspects of the history, one should honor the queer beginnings of tango.
ML: How have you navigated the tango world as a queer dancer?
LR: My analyst once told me that I have given 100’s of women their first lesbian experience by dancing tango with them. Also, as Judith Butler says - gender is performative. Maestro Carlos Gavito got that. I had heard that he was so against women leading but when we met, Gavito said: Lexa leads with her Macha. He got that I was dancing more with my masculine gender expression than with my sexual preference. And I do believe that I was a great influence for others in New York to feel free to play with their own gender expression in tango. Of course, I have also encountered a lot of homophobia but there seems to be a pattern, at least in tango, that it is the bad dancers (both men and women) who felt threatened by me. I had to become a very good dancer to overcome prejudice.
ML: What does being a good dancer mean?
LR: It means you are committed to becoming a serious student of tango. It means group lessons, and private lessons, and practicas. It means really pushing yourself to improve. This is a challenging path yet always rewarded through effort. It also means observing the codas – codigas. Or at least be aware of them. One should know the rules before breaking them.
ML: Why do the queer tango community need milonguero style?
I think maybe Queer people push off from the close embrace with an idea that it is too sexual and therefore too revealing. I think it may or may not be sexual but mostly it is nurturing. I believe the queer tango community needs a close embrace and the experience of being held. Milonguero style is a real merger experience – you are dancing so close that the bodies become one. Perhaps this could open something up. If you can merge with so many people on the dance floor maybe you don’t have to do it off the dance floor. People (especially lesbians) get into relationships too soon because of sex and then don’t know how to navigate. Tango is a great way to navigate intimacy and the commitment is only for 12-15 min. There are some amazing tango teachers who have stepped up to gift the Queer tango community with estilo Milonguero. It brings intimacy and comfort and we deserve to have it.
ML: Why is the milonguero style in itself queer?
LR: I think the milonguero style is definitely the queer one among the styles of tango. Not always accepted although when you are on a crowded dance floor – there’s nothing like it! The cabeceo/mirada also strike me as queer. It is a coded language much like gay people have always had to use in darker times to make connections.
ML: How was it to see queer tango emerge and why is it important?
LR: I was not so sure it was important after I had carved my niche in the straight milonga world. I thought the best option is for all of us to dance together. That is until a woman came up to me in a straight milonga and told me that everyone loves me but she is glad there is only one of me. It would be frightening to her if there were many more. Wow! Shortly after that, Ute Walter invited me to teach and dj in the Queer Tango Festival in Hamburg. I had never seen anything like it. The energy was incredible and it made me understand why queer tango is necessary. How wonderful to not be alone in this thing and to have hundreds like myself. Another thought and it is a pensamiento triste y amargo one for me, is that through the years, I have seen wonderful tango marriages and relationships in the straight milongas. I have had my share of tango lovers but unfortunately fraught with closeted and homophobic situations. What I see now are many queer tango marriages and relationships that are free to flourish without shame and not relegated to the shadows. I am sad to have not had that option in my early tango life but I feel happy to know I have helped to cut a path to that for others.
ML: Can you tell us something about your milonga Cielo?
LR: Ah, yes! After the famed Rubyfruit Bar closed where I organized the first lesbian milonga in nyc, I moved location and opened Cielo. Two Chinese lesbians invited me to make the milonga at a Chinese Restaurant in midtown called Heavenly Bamboo. We served a buffet Chinese dinner that everyone loved after the class and then the milonga started. Since the dancing was illegal, the manager had to close the curtains over the front windows once the dancing began. Upstairs there were old Chinese men holding illegal card games with gambling and they had young beautiful escorts sitting on their laps - most of whom were either lesbian or transwomen. It really did have the feel of a brothel and it's when I began to have daydreams about the original tango brothels in Bs As. Cielo was indeed heavenly and many people loved that milonga :-)
Miranda Lindelow has been organizing and teaching queer tango since 2006. In 2010 she started the first queer milonga in Paris and since 2016 she teaches queer tango in San Francisco.