Video: Mandela – Long Walk To Freedom
Actions: attended Trans and Intersex conference of the Isles, put material in a space for sharing, first sharing, create a cabaret song, micro lab with Laura, Micro lab with Rachel, small sharing with Maria and Jack.
The weekend of 1st November, I’d signed myself up for the Trans and Intersex Conference of the Isles in Edinburgh. It promised to be a day of workshops and talks for trans* activists, to share best practice and gain more awareness on trans* rights. It would be the largest number of non-binary people I’d ever been around. It would be the largest group of people I’d met who have "the same" gender identity as me. I thought it would be a safe haven. I was wrong. It was both underwhelming and overwhelming for several reasons:
- It was a conference set up, professional, scheduled, academic.
- It was run by a charity (The Equality Network/Transgender Alliance) who act as a mediator between the LGBT community and the government. The same people that ran the Equal Marriage campaign.
- People who identified as non-binary/genderqueer did not run the workshops I attended.
This led to several realisations, that on reflection, although they are not the kind I wanted/expected to have, were great to have had.
- Conferences are not the way I meet people. They’re corporate and stifling. Like, to really MEET people. I meet people, most authentically and holistically, through art.
- Having a ‘category of identity’ in common with someone does not make you automatically connected. So everyone was there because they vary from the “norm” (in the eyes of those who are “normal” – problem 1), that does not mean their way of thinking does. Being LGBT does not mean you necessarily have an active interest in change, radicalism or creativity. I remember realising this during my dissertation. I actually experienced this for real at the conference. AKA not everyone is queer. (don't i know it!)
- Putting in “safe spaces” rules does not make it a “Safe space”. Conference structures do not inherently make for inclusive spaces.
- Hence, even though the whole event was based on a charity who are working towards legal recognition for Non-Binary folk (you can currently only transition to either male or female on legal documents), I faced stigma from within my “own” community for identifying as Non-Binary.
- My identity was called “unstable”, I felt both too radical/political (the conversations seemed to centre on what laws would help reduce stigma, rather than activism) and not trans* enough (I am not undergoing surgery or hormonal treatment).
BUT the event did get me thinking LOTS about current treatment of trans people by medical professionals, the idea of normal in relation to trans, and I did gain lots of knowledge on that thanks to the copy of their (STA's) 2012 study. I also gained knowledge about the treatment of Intersex babies (babies born with male and female parts/chromosones/hormones), and surgery to make them “one or the other”. Internalised shame realised – the idea that my gender identity is made-up, pretend or delusional.
So, having had a horrendous experience, I decided not to go back for day two. I stayed at home, pondering on the scrutiny of trans people in the name of medicine, everyone’s right to bodily autonomy and self-determination and the true meaning of “safe spaces”. Ideas of reclaiming the cis-gaze, that had started to surface last week, entered my mind. The time to reflect allowed images of how I might make myself a specimen, embody the medical and historical research and bring in a clear frame for some of my material came to mind. Perhaps, in becoming the very thing I am constantly represented as/told I am by society could help me deeper explore the themes of stigmatisation, and othering, in relation to identity. This could also potentially tie in the thoughts on audience as witness and the live moment I had been thinking about last week.
I began with more detailed research on Aversion Therapies, that I had read started in the 1930s from this trans* rights timeline I have, to make sure my material would be informed by research. That afternoon, I used the frame of me as a “patient” on a table, with a box round me, to explore existing material. I think I could literally feel myself being fuelled by anger to make that day, I was listening to it and letting it lead.
Instructions for audience – placing them in role of physicians/doctors
“Have you ever…?” Text
Sylvia Rivera Speech – matched with my “authentic movement”
Address to Pollok Park Text
Audience leave to “My Existence will not be stamped out”
I showed my material to Bel on Monday evening, and she pointed out I was covering - Audience stance, historical stance, my stance. This felt like I’d naturally started to hit the points I aimed to.
After the sharing, lots of questions came up. I still want the work to be dialogical, not just an onslaught on information or anger. I’m thinking about the power of framing, of set-up, of simple actions.
Although I do want to follow the anger, sparked by Gabe’s sharing, I remembered how the cabaret form had initially inspired me. My interest in everyday acts of gender and gender for performance, in cabaret and live art/moments. Can I explore anger/passion through this form too?
I went and retrieved a song I had written two summers ago, called ECT Blues (Electro Convulsion Therapy). It seemed scarily relevant now, given my research on aversion therapy (where ECT was one of the methods used to treat homosexuality and transvestism). I brought it in to my existing performance aesthetic. I showed it to Laura, and later to Jack and Maria.
It felt good to get some of the questions that have been arising out in the open during my lab, and realise that I’m not moving away from my initial questions as I had been fearing this week. I am keen to not continue the categorisation, I am not trying to make this appeal to everyone, but I want to break down the idea that difference of grouping is what separates us. I don't want my audience to feel I am putting them in a non-queer category, I want them to question what one they place themselves in. Categories of sex and gender are constructs I don’t wish to further. I want the audience to access their own queerness. I want this trans* and queer history to matter to everyone, however they identify.
Questions floating around:
-What’s my history? What do I need to grieve/remember/mourn?
-How can mourning our past help our future?
-How can I see the audience as individuals with individual histories?
- How has medicine been used to infiltrate and categorise the human body?
- How can witnessing be transformative? How can mourning be transformative?
- How can mourning/grieving be an act of self-love?
- How do I let go of stigma/internalised shame?
-How can there be a space for them to explore their otherness, and space for me to be visible/allow my voice to be heard?
-How automatically will people consider their own queerness and what needs to be explicit to not create an “us and them” dynamic?
Laura also got me thinking about how I look in the space:
- what's the transformation? (of me)
- Am I wearing the same thing the whole way through or do I transform slowly throughout?
Having a microlab with Rachel then helped me unpick the aesthetic I had used in the sharing. The more we experimented and talked, the more I began to see how much there was in what I’d chosen.
-What am I on, a table, plinth, trolley, stand, stage?
-Are the audience standing?
-What is the box around the table, a threshold? What's it made of?
-How to get an audience to respond to a space without instruction?
-Bring the bureaucracy in to the space.. surveys?
-Accumulative durational? (audience build up throughout performance time, start to actually create a physical space longer than the performance time - repeated actions?)
-An invited action? (asking the audience to cross the threshold in some way, inspiration from Trilogy)
Before next sharing:
thinking about the live(d)
if we only see from where we're at (Bruger)
then i must work on my self-view
and ask others to do so in order to change
how they view me
(because respecting how I view myself aids my/our self-love)
Got Gomez-Pena books and Exposure by Ron Athey out of the library, as well as the Choreographer’s handbook - to help with actions. Continuing bringing research in to the room, allowing a visceral response to research, listening to the anger, and making in exploration of the different questions arising. Outdoor sharing. Using the form on space to think about my aesthetic. As well as taking time for things to sink in!