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As a choreographer and as a trans person, Sean Dorsey felt irresistibly drawn to San Francisco. “It was this deep gut calling,” he says. “For so many trans and queer folks, San Francisco is the only place that we can live.” And yet, the city he moved to in the early 2000s was not the city he had envisioned.
“I thought, ‘This is it, I’m finally going to live in this city and meet the hundreds of other transgender modern dance choreographers who must be living here,’” he recalls. “And there were none. There were trans hip-hop artists, visual artists, musicians, playwrights and writers. But when it came to trans modern dance choreographers or dancers, it was like crickets. And nobody was putting trans artists onstage.”
Dorsey spent the next two decades championing trans and queer performing arts in the city, hand in hand with his life partner, the musician, filmmaker and transgender activist Shawna Virago. Their Fresh Meat Festival is in its 21st season of showcasing trans and queer performance; Sean Dorsey Dance has toured innovative modern dance to more than 30 cities in the U.S. and abroad; and accolades have arrived in the form of prestigious national awards, commissions and grants.
And while San Francisco has offered Dorsey fertile ground for artmaking, and a community hungry to see itself represented onstage, he has returned the favor by enriching the city’s awareness of itself. “San Francisco is this incredible epicenter of trans and queer history of resistance,” he says. New York City’s Stonewall gets all the glory, but it was in the Tenderloin at Compton’s Cafeteria where drag queens and trans women of color first resisted police harassment and rioted for their rights, in August 1966—nearly three years before Stonewall.