Gender-Fluid Ballerina Chase Johnsey Writes a Letter to His Teenage Self

August 23, 2020

In June 2018, Chase Johnsey made history. He became the first male dancer in modern ballet history to perform as a part of the female ensemble at an international ballet company, dancing in the corps in English National Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty. Johnsey, who identifies as gender fluid but uses male pronouns, had previously been a standout performer with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo for more than a decade. Today, Johnsey serves as the co-founder and artistic director of Ballet de Barcelona, and continues to work as an LGBTQIA+ advocate in the dance community. Follow Johnsey on Instagram @chasejohnsey. —Cadence Neenan

Johnsey (center) performing at a young age (courtesy Johnsey)

Dear 15-year-old Chase,

I know your secret. You just bought a pair of Sansha pointe shoes from Discount Dance Supply with money you make from working Saturdays at your mom’s hair salon. You haven’t dared to bring them into the studio yet. Little do you know that you will soon find your feet in those pointe shoes, and in many pairs after that. Those shoes will not only take you around the world, but also allow you to make history. Most importantly, they will enable you to help other people find their feet. You are going to carve a brand-new place in the world of ballet for yourself and so many others after you.

I know this sounds crazy, because right now, the world makes no sense to you. The label closest to your gender identity won’t exist for another 15 years or so. Your sexuality is seen as taboo. And, when you finally get the courage to wear your pointe shoes in front of others, and not just your full-length bedroom mirror, people are going to find you funny or think you are an abomination to the classical ballet world. But it won’t always be this way.

I have to break it to you: You are never going to fit in. You are going to need thick skin, because you’ll have to endure extreme criticism and discrimination. Luckily, there will be influential people who will understand how unique and special you are, and who will fight for you to be able to be yourself.

My final piece of advice is to never lose your rebellious quality when people tell you your limits. (Oh, and BTW—stop bleaching your hair as if you’re in a boyband. The pictures will haunt you later!)