On November 19, one of my dearest friends, Doran George, died suddenly of a heart attack. It’s still confusing and will always be heartbreaking. As with the sudden loss of all full-of-life humans, it’s freakin’ hard to conceive that Doran does not inhabit this realm.
Doran was a performance artist, dancer, choreographer, scholar, teacher who didn’t fit into any neat (or proper) categories, especially not gender.
We were friends for over 12 years. I don’t quite remember the first time we met, but I do remember that I was enthralled. Doran was adorable. Short and impish, Doran could easily be the inspiration for a naughty fairy in a storybook. Add in the mix, a British accent, a sharp intelligence, and clever mischievousness. Doran was known to climb trees and hide in cupboards. And, oh, their laugh. A loud, braying laugh that in anyone else would be too much. This unapologetic laugh that stood for the way Doran lived: expansively, totally present in the moment, and open.
Doran's workshop in the Toba Khedoori exhibition in January, 2017
A couple of years after we met, I asked Doran if they would lead a movement/dance workshop in the family program I coordinate at LACMA. Since then, at least once a year, Doran would teach a series of workshops. I loved the collaboration. We would spend time in the galleries concocting the workshop. Doran exclaiming “Gorgeous” as they’d make a dance move. We always freaked out a bit before the workshops, laughed that no one will want to dance, that it would be just me and Doran dancing. Then during the workshops, Doran would charm everyone, and suddenly participants were contorting their bodies into sculptures; toddlers leading the group in movements; Dads running with their arms outstretched, birdlike, boyhood on their faces.
Doran had a superpower: an ability to see behind your mask. I think it was because they were able to hold complexity in themselves, and allow others to do the same. To see the parts of you that you are embarrassed or afraid of. Sometimes that was too much. Mostly, it was a relief, even if I was annoyed in the moment. I loved when Doran dug around in messiness and complexity of humanness, because it meant that we had genuine interactions. Doran gave me long, full hugs. Ones that lasted long enough for endorphins to kick in. There was a time about 10 years ago that I was in a long-term relationship where there was no intimacy and I had shut down. I was really sad. I was trying to hold it all together, but I was falling apart. They helped me listen to my body’s wisdom and see clearly. Later, after I left the relationship and found myself still complaining and hanging on to old resentments, Doran called out my clinging to emotional junk.
The last time we saw each other, was at my birthday gathering in the park behind LACMA during a salsa concert. Doran and their partner Barry came. We all danced and ate. Laughed a lot. Never in a million years would I have thought that was the last time.
A couple months later we tried to plan a dance workshop, but the timing wasn’t right. So, we let it go and said we would plan something in the new year. In our last email, we made plans to picnic in a park because we wanted to lay in the grass and hold hands.
On the four month anniversary of Doran’s death, I dreamt about them. It was one of those dreams that feel very real. We were laying in the grass waiting for something or someone. Doran was nude, face down, head cradled by their arms, face towards me. I was clothed. I have no idea what it means, except that I felt like it was a visitation. And I was so happy to see Doran.
I can hear Doran saying the word “body” in their British accent in my head all the time.
Doran’s death was so sudden. There was no time for a proper goodbye. I’m left (as I’m sure all who loved them) with some regrets. Doran asked me to knit them a uterus. I said I would, and I didn’t. They lived on the westside, and it always feels like such an ordeal to drive there. I wish I hadn’t have been so lazy about driving. It really isn’t that far. I just wish I had spent more time with them. That's what we all feel when someone we love dies. A part of my grieving process is to notice these regrets because they remind me of what is important. In Buddhism, we contemplate the preciousness of life within the realization of impermanence. That the very nature of reality is that things come together, and then they fall apart. It reminds me to feel deeply, to feel my grief, and to feel that grief in my body. If there is one lesson Doran leaves me it is that to live fully, I have to be true to myself. That means accepting my complexity and mutability, and remember that my body has knowledge. I just need to listen.
And now, if I could, I would serenade Doran with the fabulous Sly and the Family Stone song Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) in my off key, full of gusto voice.