Content warning: this article makes reference to drug use. All views expressed are that of the writer.

The colours, sounds, and visuals of the culture wars described the twentieth century in binary: white/black, cis/trans, straight/queer, good/evil. Polarised conformity and divergence presented themselves as the only ways of being. At stake in the arrival of The Matrix was an historical urge to question how bodies are able to move in and between different worlds. The Matrix challenged us to think about the impossible, infinite and non-normative ways the body could move.

The first Matrix film introduced ways to move the body that defy human or physical expectations of what is “real,” or even fully human. The way the characters dip, flip and dive, present a range of possible bodies, and even some impossible ones. Attaining the infinity of the body is a simple, self-conscious choice: take the red pill that “frees” the mind to be freed from a body, to become a body that is no longer traceable. This red pill represents an audacious choice to exist in opposition to whatever is hegemonically real. Through the image of the pill, The Matrix also teaches us how the body is capable of moving in multiple realities under the influence of a substance.

Outlines of people dancing in a club with pink lighting

McKenzie Wark

The mutual imbrication and contamination of bodies and spaces are not unknown within urban topologies of dissenting genders, races and sexualities. The Matrix expresses an unruliness of the culture beyond the imposed binaries. And we are asked to follow the White Rabbit’s lead. In doing so, we find ourselves in the loud dark pit of a dance club, dodging bodies in cages, clad in leather fetish gear, dripping in sweat, as the screaming metal sound of Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” (1998) pounds against the eardrum. The film invites the body to think about moving in worlds where other fictions and feelings may also roam. This space occurs in the Matrix, and within the Matrix, in its shadows. The darkened frames make it difficult to see where bodies begin and end. It is as if they dissolve into an abyss of nothingness. Did they even truly exist in the first place or are we only dancing with shadows?

In contrast to the shadowy party scene near the start of the first film, the rave in Zion near the end of the second film promises the great party in full colour; bright, radiant, detailed and palpable. These two dance scenes bookend a narrative about how bodies may or may not exist in the world free of the control that dictates how the mind moves the body. Both clubs are in a sense accessed by a pill. The first is accessible by taking a blue pill. This party assume the continuity of the deception that the body belongs to this world. Yet, take the red pill and gain access to a party that frees the mind of the deceptive control that seeks to contain the body only in the shadows. It brings the body’s materiality into the light. The films and their parties invite us to think with a binary of substances. This pill; or that one. Each recursively detaching the mind from the body as a way of moving in the world.

The Matrix challenged us to think about the impossible, infinite and non-normative ways the body could move.

Free your mind.

Many of us have taken substances that free the mind—if only for a moment. Substances that produce that lacuna for freeing the mind from the body’s limits and finitudes. And some of us are already all too familiar with the soundtrack playing as we move our bodies under the influence of these substances. The delusion that freedom is a choice is a privileged way of living that is not known, imagined or at even afforded to those of us who always need substances just for the body to move in surviving ways. Rather, it is under the influence of substances that I discover the mind’s attachment to the body’s capabilities for moving through, from and against a binary world.

My first blue pill nestled right under the tongue. Pale blue and small. Tiny. The feeling of its dry oval contours softened as it dissolved. As I tasted the bitter 5 mg of estradiol on my lips I thought of how this body would be able to move and be in the world in the face of others. Yet it is a pill that comes with risks. As a queer trans woman of colour, I think about how pills dose a precarity of  risk. They expose oneself as a body in both its material and imagined forms. Nothing felt freeing in that first pill except that my mind became aware of the futility of the illusion of freedom as a choice. In a moment, life replaces the body’s experience from that of a living being to a surviving matter.

Behind the curtains of a club night

McKenzie Wark

Under my tongue is the taste of a shade of history that dances in the dark. In 1992, the Black female group En Vogue released their acclaimed hit Free Your Mind that quickly adorned the sonic landscapes of queer spaces of colour. Sampling Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow (1970) by Black group Funkadelic, the song became a dancefloor anthem. An anthem for what the dancefloor could look like. Critics have rightfully argued that En Vogue’s top hit offers a polemic for an electric guitar-based Black rock in which the rhythm and lyrics address the racial and gendered oppressions of the body, in harmony, to the beat that propels the body into motion. The ballroom and vogue communities of urban cities became shadow spaces where those bodies could take substances in order to free the mind and allow the rest to follow.

The black market for hormones and silicone gave access to a material world where the impossible could become infinitely possible in realness. Realness is an aesthetic of impossible difference. The body cannot be freed, but the mind can be free of knowing. Estradiol allows the girls to bud. Allowing their bodies un-form and re-form under the influence of substances to become physically knowable in the world. The dance club becomes a locus for the messiness of that transition. That space where transition is knowable through the ways the body moves, dances, reacts, gestures—under the influence.

“Are you on Titty Skittles?” the girls would ask from the shadows. As if it were the latest party drug. And like designer drugs, estradiol was passed through dark corners of alleys, clubs and dancehalls. All so the girls with a little extra candy could find more surviving ways of existing in the world. The hormonal therapy black market interfaces in meaningful ways with The Matrix. It is a film that presents the body in its infinite impossibilities under the influence of substances. Red pills may claim to free the mind, but what if the body was never able, or perhaps never meant, to be freed in the first place? Under this blue pill’s influence, there are ways for my body to appear knowable and legible to the world, ways of assuming a possibility. The blue pill accounts for how a sovereign choice to free of the mind exercises a power to leave the body behind as a simple container for life and death.

And the music continues to play.

The rest will follow.

Red pills may claim to free the mind, but what if the body was never able, or perhaps never meant, to be freed in the first place?

Given the writing prompt to “free your body,” my first response was my instinctual urge to move coming from my body. I quickly found myself on my feet with my ankles perched as I heard En Vogue’s memorable bridge playing in my head: Free your mind, the rest will follow. Be color blind, don’t be so shallow. My left leg kicked into an arabesque to the back, as I whipped my ponytail around, sliding into the splits. I really could not explain it. I could not control it. My body had a compulsive reaction when asked to be freed. I was reminded of the spaces where my body once moved this same way: in the dark pit of a dance floor. Through the electronic funk of the rhythm maintaining a pulse that became a lifeline for this body to remain sustainable, or something like it.

I remember finding myself on the dancefloor. That is where I saw her for first time. It was the first time I was able to see how she moves. I saw her in Paradise. On that hopeless, sticky basement floor, I found the Kingdom. Staring into the glass of the disco ball, she looked back at me. The smoke machines lifted me into the clouds. My hips knew what they were doing as they led the rest of my body to move in ways that felt so intimately and unknowably familiar. These dancefloors filled with black and brown queer people dissolving into the shadows were my simulated reality.

Club stairs leading down to an exit sign

McKenzie Wark

Given the writing prompt to “free your body,” my first response was my instinctual urge to move coming from my body. I quickly found myself on my feet with my ankles perched as I heard En Vogue’s memorable bridge playing in my head: Free your mind, the rest will follow. Be color blind, don’t be so shallow.

The body remembers how to move through dance as a survival aesthetic. I could still feel their sweat and hot breath against my neck. I forget how many tongues went into my mouth. It doesn’t really matter. This space did not free the body in any liberatory way, but rather became the lacuna for the impossible to be felt in undeniable ways. My first blue pill transported me to this same space as the dance floor’s siren call to free my body. Not because my body was freed. But because it learned in those spaces that it moves with a history of bodies under the influence of a substance that promises a body another version of itself.

In the first dance scene of The Matrix, as we fasten up with ‘Dragula,’ Trinity  approaches Neo. He admits that he expected her to be a man, to which she responds, “Most men do.” This exchange reminds us of how these sonic spaces in the shadows are also spaces of misrecognition. Neo did not mindfully recognise Trinity, but his body did. The body always already remembers. His body knew what to feel, even under the influence of substances. In the fourth Matrix film, The Matrix Resurrections, Neo is on a blue pill therapy regimen that enables him to be functional in the material world. Yet, even on blue pills, Neo’s body reacts to the knowability of the Matrix and Trinity. The body remains a constant in its material form between substances, between worlds, between realities.

The Matrix teaches how to move with the infinitely impossible.

In the depths of Zion, it would appear the great party awaits. We see the epic emotion and feel the hot sensation of the skin to skin and heart to heart freedom of bodies in their full sexual realities. This cauldron filled with an orgy of bodies is perhaps too utopian. There are many who do not, or who cannot, arrive here. The risks of the journey have already claimed too many lives. While freeing the mind could permit access to the greatest party ever, the body at stake will still be moving the same way in other worlds because it is imagined in a survival mode that could never be freed in the first place. It is in those simulated worlds, on the dancefloor, where we find those bodies left behind. Those whose only choice is dosing on the tenuous reality that the body might continue to survive if it just moves to the beat.

On the dancefloor the body is allowed to move in ways that are not permitted elsewhere in daily life. I would not typically find myself whipping my hair and gyrating my hips in my quotidian affairs—though there are exceptions. On the dancefloor the body spins into a history of other bodies displaced from minds. The dancefloor allowed me to feel the body I was so eager for the blue pills to give me. In movement I could feel my breasts touch the rhythm of the deep bass of hip-hop. The bachata steps to my feet; the merengue in my hips. Each reminding me of the ways bodies like mine have moved in this world before me.

The Matrix teaches how to move with the infinitely impossible. In both the Matrix and Zion the dancefloors are heterotopic dwellings where the body goes to access an affective history outside of the mind. By accessing these histories in dance, the body is free to contort, gesture, split, buck, kick and bop to the sounds of survival in unknowable worlds, symbolic or otherwise.

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