Self-Love makes the world go round

Pride weekend in London. Glitter, pink, parade. Supposedly the peak of LGBT visibility. But instead of marching this year, I decided to go with a friend to check out the South Bank Centre’s Festival Of Love opening weekend. Damn am I glad I did. The entire programme of events were ‘pay what you can’ (which is more than I can say for Pride Glasgow), and all centered on the subject of love. What I found refreshing was this was not ‘love’ in the stock heteronormative rom-com version of the word, but 7 of the ancient Greek’s words for the multitude of things ‘love’ can mean.  

To me, the weekend felt inclusive, perhaps more inclusive than the Pride Parade that now feels like a commodification of the community it’s meant to represent. I felt comfortable that I could go along as a queermo and find resonance, although the events weren’t exclusively for the non-normative festival go-er. Everything I experienced felt like an explosion of the word love, with a wide range of talks and workshops from the origin of the myth of monogamy to the recent legislation of equal marriage.

 

I attended a brilliant poetry-writing workshop on Self-Love, by Mimi Khalvati.

 

I went to a talk entitled ‘How To Make Love Last’ by David Waters from The School Of Life that also examined the role of self-love and solitude in relationships. (and that being the way to love sustainably)

 

I wondered round the Museum of Broken Relationships, a collection of items that people had donated from relationships past, and felt the pain of others.

 

These were all fantastic. But this post is really about the thoughts sparked from a panel discussion I attended called 'Make Love Not War'. The speakers, Lyse Doucet, Akala and another historian for some reason not listed, all spoke about the place of love in freedom struggles. Chaired by Shami Chakrabarti, the highlights of the discussions for me were the ones with self-love at their core.

 

from http://briancowell.wordpress.com

 

The idea of love being the heart of freedom fighting is not a new one, love being famously politically championed by Che Guevara and Mandela. Akala’s speech focused mainly on the civil rights movement, and those such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr (and their different approaches).

 

Poignantly, Akala said

‘To love oneself is to defend oneself’

(I will come back to why this is so awesome later)

 

He continued to speak from the perspective that White supremacy is based on Black self-hatred; self-hate is what sustains the system. The whiter the skin, the more privilege one has. I.e to not have white skin is to be lesser. Akala linked this to things such as the trend of skin bleaching in some cultures; to want what is ‘better’ you have to dislike what you have. I had never heard someone put it that way, but it resonated with me instantly. To tell a group of people they are lesser than others is to tell them to change themselves, where possible, to be more like the favoured ones. This is insighting self-hatred, the idea that ‘you are not enough as you are’.

 

I do not belong to any Black community, and although technically I belong to a minority ethnic group (Jewish), I have never experienced racism. Nor do I hold in-depth knowledge on the black power or civil rights movements. I don’t believe you have to belong to a BME group to write about BME issues, in fact I believe that it is important for white writers to write on the subject, but this post is not about my take on Black Self-Hate. Thanks to Akala's words, my white middle-class queer mind went straight (hah) to joining the dots in other systems of oppression closer to home. Queer theorist Donald Hall explains origins of homophobic language:

 

To be a homosexual is to be a lesser version of a heterosexual. As sexual activity became a particularly urgent means by which individuals were classified during the 19th century, slurs were marshalled to make sure [people] understood the degraded nature of that place - D, Hall, Queer Theories, 2003

 

These deep rooted inequalities have existed for centuries. All my life, and particularly for the past year since identifying as queer, I have been grappling with the concept of self-love. Although not all I have been struggling against could be directly blamed on social or cultural things, I do believe that being brought up in a society where I am constantly told I am lesser (or perhaps worse, invisible/ignored) has an impact on my self-worth.

 

Let me put it this way.

 

  • White Supremacy = White As The Desired = Black as lesser = (for all those who do not fall in to the category) Impetus to be ‘Whiter’ = Black Self-Hate + White Privilege = Racism

 

In my brain, what Akala said isn’t just true of White Supremacy; Self-Hate sustains different systems of oppression.

 

  • The Patriarchy = Man as The Desired = Woman as lesser = Impetus to be ‘more Manly/have more masculine qualities’ = Women Self-hating + Male Privilege = Sexism = Misogyny

 

  • The Gender Binary = Cis as The Desired = Trans* as lesser = Impetus to fit into the binary = Trans* Self-Hate + Cis Privilege = Transphobia.

 

 

  • The Patriarchy + The Gender Binary = Straight As The Desired = Queer as lesser = Impetus to be Heteronormative = Queer Self-Hate + Straight Privilege = Homophobia/Biphobia

.

  • Capitalism = Rich As The Desired = The Poorer The Lesser = Impetus to be Richer = Class Self-Hate + Class Privilege = Classism = Poverty

 

  • Medical model/Ableism = Able Bodied As The Desired = Disabled as lesser = impetus to be have normative body = Disabled Self-Hate + Able Privilege = Disablism

 

 

*These things should actually be presented in a more circular fashion, rather than sums, as it is a vicious circle. And the diagram would be inter-related, as all these issues are. I will make that diagram one day.

 

I hope that makes my point clearer. Of course these issues are highly complicated, and I am in no way implying self-hate is the only thing that fuels it all. Nor do I mean to homogenise different marginalised groups by implying that we all have the same lived experiece. BUT with all this Self-Hate sustaining normative systems, the demonisation of Self-Love as egotistical or hippie new-age shit starts to make sense. Skin bleaching or tanning is only a manufactured version of self-love. The system doesn't want you to wake up and really engage with self-love, because that would disrupt the system. We would relate to ourselves and one another differently. As Hall points out:

 

If  oppressed find coalitions across various forms of oppression - gender, race, sexuality, social class - they will greatly outnumber oppressors - D, Hall, Queer Theories, 2003

 

Because to love ourselves, we need to embrace all of us – including the part we are being told is lesser. And once the queer/black/trans*/woman/marginalised person figures out how to embrace their otherness, they start to express it. And then we would demand freedom of that expression because no one fits in to a fixed category, the realm of expression is too narrow. There would be no impetus to hide that part of us; there would be no impetus to stay in the system. The system's aim would be clear; to disconnect us, from ourselves and from others.

 

If they take the worst slur that society can hurl against them, and undermine its power through different usages, a tool of those oppressors is potentially, palpably weakened - D, Hall, Queer Theories, 2003

 

What Akala pointed out is that White supremacy, like other oppressive systems, is not just based on hate for others, but hate for the otherness within ourselves. Self-hate is the first step towards hating others.

Perhaps, as Doucet mentioned, that’s why we ‘don’t care’ about other countries in Western society. Just like a lover who gives all to their partner and finds themselves exhausted, we haven't even learned to love ourselves beyond the superficial. No wonder we have not learnt the ways to sustainably care for others.

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I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I didn’t believe it before I sure as hell do now. It’s all about the self-love. Self-love as a disruption of normative systems of oppression. Self-love so that the way I treat myself is sustainable, the way I meet myself is not exhausting. Hopefully this will mean more sustainable relationships with others, and more energy to put in to activist causes.

 

In this sense, Self-love is the way to defend oneself, against systems of hatred. (thank you Akala!)

 

*(I am sure I am not the first person to write about this, so I will continue to research! Feel free to add your ideas…)

 

Dude, where’s my queer? Part 2; Further resistance by white-privileged me

There’s one problematic thing about the term queer, which is simultaneously the thing that makes it so great. It works as an umbrella term, to encompass lots of things. That’s great in theory, to aid in working towards a society that discards labels and categories. The problem is, we still live in a society, a world, full of inequality. But because queer as a blanket term to those who actually may have many Other identities (race, class etc), it runs the risk of silencing those who's difference in identity means a difference in privilege. This is perhaps one of the reasons why queer has often been at loggerheads with feminism.

‘Queer is used as a false unifying umbrella which all “queers” of all races, ethnicities and classes are shoved under. At times we need this umbrella to solidify our ranks against outsiders. But even when we seek shelter under it we must not forget that it homogenises, erases our differences’ (Gloria Anzaldua speaking in Who is that queer queer? Goldman, 1996)

As a white, middle-class woman, I am uncomfortably privileged. Goldman suggests in her essay that perhaps white academics and writers stray away from issues of race/class in fear it renders them ‘less queer’. I’m more worried about who my privilige is over-shadowing when I identify as queer.

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So I’ve checked my privilege,  what next? What's the best way to live with that awareness?

That said, I do still identify as a woman, and that has its own set of problems in relation to queerness.

‘Due to discourses centering around whites and men, as queer becomes more popular amongst these dominant groups, it will increasingly come to represent the dominant group’ (Who is that queer queer?, Goldman, 1996)

I’ve seen glimpses of this at Homotopia and Glasgay, women being written out of queer but it being harder to bring up due it being a queer (and therefore assumed equal) space.

Goldman seems to think that the answer, in relation to race and class in particular, is for more white queer theorists to write about issues surrounding these. Currently white academics dominate the discourse, and perhaps if they were to address how anti-normative identities effect queerness, it may become a more welcoming space for academics of colour.

In relation to my practice, this means not forgetting to call out sexism but also to remember my perspective is a privileged one. As Goldman puts it:

‘we should strive to continuously problematise that which we have created – that we identify the constructed silences within our work and transform them into meaningful discourses’ (Who is that queer queer? Goldman, 1996)

Indeed, I shall. This is why I’m all for the (queer) feminist movement that is swooping in. It’s instant and media based, which means anyone can jump on board. This recent guardian article calls for an intellectual voice. I disagree; I think we’re moving away from a feminism that lives in books written from a wholly white middle-class perspective. Today it’s opening up so that the queer feminist perspective is not just one perspective, the freedom for anyone to blog and tweet means queers of all kinds can contribute to educating each other. It’s not just about whether you check you privilege anymore, it’s how you act after obtaining that awareness.

Dude, where's my queer? My resistance addressed.

gaymen Gay In A Manger is promiscuous, filthy, dirty, kinky and for adults only. Gay has meant these things to outsiders (and insiders) for a long time. I began to ask myself, why is this? Is this what it means to be queer, and make queer art? And, does this bother me?

When it comes to queerness, radical expressions of sexuality are embraced. The split in feminism stemming from the 80s demonstrates this; the queer-feminist movement differentiates itself by being sex-positive. In fact one of its defining features is its support and involvement in radical sex practices – BDSM, Kink, Polyamory etc. I’ve experienced the positives of this not only in Rosana’s work but also in the Glasgow Feminist Collective. The LGBT community embraces sex positivity. That certainly doesn't bother me.

Does being queer mean you’re more likely to be involved in radical sex practices? Perhaps it’s not that homosexuality is any more filthy or promiscuous, but going against heteronormativity means a natural objectivity and distance from the norm = freedom to make a comment, & embrace the queer. Ok, all positive stuff.

So what part of the overtly sexual nature of GIAM was I having difficulty with? This guy sums up what I think is the niggling thing:

LGBTGnation.com - VCU students are cool

Finally I got it. As a queer person who to date has partaken in one monogamous relationship (and engagement), and is pretty much down with that whole shabang, I do get bothered by queer = sex. My sexual identity is not just about who I sleep with. Queer is my way of being, I act, think, believe and imagine queer. But if I can't embrace the fact that queer can be about sex, then who am I to call myself queer? What am I doing in a queer show? It was my own insecurities, not the nature of queerness that was getting to me.

Then, I was lucky enough to go to San Francisco. Land of the queers, home of the homos… you get the picture; you’ve heard the stories. So, I got a bit of a shock when I went to visit the Centre for Sex & Culture. They have an amazing library full of all things on queer sex/uality. I had the privilege of speaking with Robert Lawrence who runs the centre with his partner. He told me in great detail about the demise of the queer scene in San Francisco. The basic was this; corporate folk like Google and Twitter (‘the techies’) had moved in causing rent prices to rocket. The grass-root queers couldn’t afford it anymore. They were moving out of the city to cheaper places. What’s more, after consumerism rolled in during the 60s and slowly gay culture got assimilated in to the mainstream (check The Castro), queer spaces started dying out.

‘Gay’s the new straight, it’s a lot easier to live in a society than outside of it’ - Robert Lawrence

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‘it’s going to die out, unless younger generations fight for it. And I mean really fight’

Yes GIAM is sexualised queerness, but damn is it important to see that on stage, in life. Promiscuity, being rude and crude, overtly sexual - these things aren’t bad, but our society is so inundated with sex-negativity that I had worried about GIAM being explicitly queer in that way.

I let it go and I re-realised; making something that is explicitly queer is vital to enhance queer visibility. To keeping queer alive.

‘Gay advocates have been extremely effective in their advocacy for the right to be “honest and open” about who “they really are”, though they often confine expression to the bed room, not to how they look, act or dress in public. This is like asking for the right to be gay, but not the right to look or act gay’ (Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Wilchins, 2004, p.15)

It’s the age-old split between assimilation and revolution, consumerism and anti-capitalism in the gay movement.

CLICK TO READ - GLBT history museum

 

Changes in the way society is structured and policy changes within existing institutions are both important. But we must not forget to be defiant against appropriation and commercialization of queerness. Because you know what, how visible are we really beyond the ‘acceptably gay’? In terms of the law I’m much freer than I used to be to express my love/desire publically. Where the law once held older generations of queers back from visibility, it seems the social constraints these laws reflected as well as maintained still reign supreme.

So, actually, past me, it’s great that GIAM is full of queer tropes. It's addressing the right to look, act and dress gay/queer/other outside of the home.

Plus, it quells one massive trope – the tragic gay. The show is a celebration not a struggle.

 

Does this mean the work I make will always have this level of queerness? No. Rosana’s work is on a spectrum, Walking:Holding to GIAM, they are not explicit in the same way. Can I call myself queer? Absolutely.

As Elizabeth Daumer said:

‘In the queer universe, to be queer implies that not everybody is queer in the same way. it implies a willingness to articulate their own queerness’

(Who is that queer queer, p.170, 1999)

Also, this is a wonderful blog on identifying as queer that made me happy.

these antics are important

A Gay In A Manger. A full on Christmas show hosted by Tranny and Roseannah. A shocking, messy, provocative, chaotic, anarchic, queer, in-your-face, sexual, rude, crude, hilarious re-writing of The Nativity… The Arches Christmas show Rosana is making with Laurie Brown, Adrian Howells and unexpectedly Eilidh MacAskill, and… me. One massive, crucial difference to the show compared to all the other things I’ve got to observe, I’m in it. Now, it’s not that I’m highlighting this for my ego or to seem self-obsessed, I will get to dissecting all the interesting things it brought up as best I can - promise. I start with this point, as I’d like to think, it is a culmination of all my thoughts on Rosana’s practice. It’s a break down of the placement-placement provider relationship. It’s a step towards me as a collaborator beyond this course. I am by no means to thank for its creative genius, but I wasn’t just 'the placement', I was a performer. It is a great way to end the placement, alongside the artist. Not only that, but my role as ‘tiny tim’ who has to make drinks, clean and generally get bossed about by everyone else, directly addresses and satirises the usual treatment of ‘the work experience’. Basically, it deconstructs the hierarchical nature of institutions, and the art world. Hurrah. A Gay In A Manger

It’s pretty odd trying to be objective about a performance and trying to imagine what it must be like to walk in as an audience member. So I shall try to speak from my unique experience of being within it. A Gay In A Manger is a good hard kick against the Christmas Panto, and the general merriment that goes with the festive season. Christmas, Christianity, The Nativity, it’s all full of love and joy. As long as you’re part of a heteronormative, probably white, western, consumerist- family that is. You only need to look at Glasgow’s (and surrounding area) array of Christmas shows to see for yourself:

Aladdin - The King's Theatre

The Jungle Book - The Citizens Theatre

Beauty and The Beast, Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling

Hanzel and Gretel, Theatre Royal

The Tron dips it toe outside the mainstream with its version of Peter Pan

A Christmas Carol - The Lyceum

A Gay In A Manger is important for many reasons, but here are four key ones:

It kicks against the happy-clappy-everything’s-great-at-Christmas vibe

 

From its trashy, homeless setting, to its ventures in to glimpses of rape (involving an audience member in a donkey mask), nothing is sparkly or superficially joyous about GIAM. It brings up abuse, alcoholism, pedaphilia and poverty via comedy in the face of Christmas. There’s no ‘happy ending’ or good triumph over bad, just many moments which push the audience to ask themselves – have we really gone here? A slightly pervy Grandad, a gay couple turned away from a hotel for being homosexual, a poor junkie Inn-keeper, a dogs-body used to do everything for everyone, a scary birth of Jesus and ultimately death. Not the usual things you see in a Christmas show, or depicted in your Christmas adverts for that matter. Cue sigh of relief. That said, it also is an outrageous and rawkus party - you don't know where you'll be at the end of the night.

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It is unashamedly queer and genderqueer

 

Just from its title, it attracts (in general) an audience who are at least willing to attempt to deal with the kind of dark humour and blasphemy GIAM contains. It is subversive simply for using homosexuality in the same breath as religion. The title on its own, as pointed out to the few who complained to The Arches, is only offensive if you deem ‘gay’ as an insult. The piece for sure makes fun of the religious story, but for good reason. For a long time I’ve been frustrated with the amount politics and politicans seem to be up for satirising, but religion is always viewed as far too sacred.

GIAM plays with religion by the queering of the nativity. Mary and Joseph become two men named Mary and Mary. Even though this is done playfully, it really does bring in to question the complete eradication of homosexual stories from the bible, and in fact most of history.

 

The Angel Gabriel is a camp aerobics teacher in a leotard

God is a wobbling thing with gold cloth on its head (who actually has sex with Mary)

The shepards and wise men are all women

Jesus is a screaming naked head-shaved lesbian (being pulled from under a bed)

In fact gender-bending is a general given, what with the hosts being Tranny and Roseannah, and a woman dressed as an old man playing Grandad, and androgynous me probably looking like a 14 year old boy in an oversized coat. And hey, why not? As Riki Wilchins puts it in her book that summarises queer theory:

‘Homosexuality itself is the most profound transgression of the primary rule of gender; girls sleep with boys and boys sleep with girls’

She says from a political stand point it’s difficult – if not impossible- for gay activists to pursue the right to their sexual orientation without addressing issues of gender. (Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Wilchins, p.15-16)

Futhermore, it is not afraid to be grotesque, disgusting or deal with the abusive in its depiction of queer sex. From Tranny licking out a chicken to ‘prepare it’, Mary going cruising, the afore-mentioned donkey moment (donkey in strap-on), God shoving an audience member into its crotch and simulating sex, and many innuendos with Grandad, GIAM does not shy away from tropes associated with queerness. Promiscuity, Kink, BDSM (and wrongly abuse and pedaphillia) are all things synonymous with queer. Although obviously this is not true for all queers, GIAM does not shy away from them. And nor should it. It's about time we saw more queer sex on stage.

It holds live-art principals at its heart

GIAM is essential in its anarchy. It’s heavily improvised, heavily reliant on audience participation. The audience doesn’t just get to sit back and watch the moments, it partakes in many. The entire cast of main roles is made up of audience members. Similar to My Big Sister... the audience is given a live experience. They don’t just watch the queer, they join in with the queer.

‘What the sex/art community will tell you is that in order to challenge ‘sex negative’ culture, it is not enough to talk about, represent or even witness sexual practice as performance, but that the opportunity to participate has to be on the table’ (Forget Provocation, Let’s Have Sex, Dance Theatre Journal)

There may not be any sex acts between humans that literally happen, but there is much flirtation and the occasional boob-grab that make it not so far off.

Similar to Walking:Holding, the audience is a collaborator that makes the show what it is. Particularly the first night, I felt accuately aware of the audience and us being in this one room all together. We were a whole, going through this potentially transformative experience as one. It pushes the audience out of its comfort zone, to the point where anything could happen, but no one will made to partake if they don’t want to. There were comments I heard being thrown about about audience consent and the ethics around that. I ask, what’s a more ethical way to treat your audience? Making them adhere to the theatre etiquette of politeness and having to sit in the dark knowing they're powerless to the events on stage, or releasing them of that – they can shout, laugh, walk out, come on stage, and we directly respond to them? The latter, surely?

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It’s full of women

Three queer women, one guy. Not only does this make many moments less problematic (pedo Grandad being one), but it is direct action against a male-dominated art world. Rosana (tranny) being half naked through-out de-sexualises the female body, and her deliberately grotesque acts defy female nudity equating to beauty. All the female expressions of sexuality are queer, its androgynous, sometimes butch, it hits on audience members, it performs a ‘lesbian’ sex act on a chicken, on Mary. The women aren’t always dressed as typically feminine, or even identifiably female, they tell the story, they host, they are powerful, powerless, on stage, in the audience, lap-dancing, dragging-up, a woman playing a man playing a woman. They aren’t fairies, or queens, or mothers, or angels, or in sexy santa outfits, or written out of the story until they are invisible. Yes.

It's not for everyone. Glasgow was barely ready for it. But we all know where the queer's at this Christmas, that's for sure.

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where my girls at? the lack of (queer) female artists

Rosana was one of five (one of whom was not listed in the brochure) female artists on the line-up at Homotopia. I was painfully aware of this when we went to the DIVA talk on queer female sex and desire. Perhaps that is why 50 odd women in a room discussing all manor of things from the powers of the clitoris to butch & femme felt radical. The four speakers, (Campbell X, Paris Lees, Caroline Walters, Dr. Meg Barker) were amazing in the variation between their talks. cliteracy

 Cliteracy by Sophie Wallce, referenced in the DIVA talk, click here to find out more

I was also painfully aware of this as I watched Holestar, soldier (or ‘state-sponsored murderer’ as Hoyle proclaimed) turned performance artist. She was brought on as a guest, part of David Hoyle’s show. I was frustrated as I watched her sing songs, seemingly aimed at the gay men in the audience, about the importance of intimacy in sex. This on its own is a perfectly valid point, but thrown in with mentions of Grndr and Gay Saunas, she was basically aiming all of her sentiments at gay men. Or at least, what she perceives to be gay male behaviour, which in itself is an assumption of the stereotype that gay male homosexuality revolves around being promiscuous. She kept insisting in a semi-confident persona ‘that’s fine’ but let’s maybe talk to each other before we fuck, which clearly showed she didn’t think it was fine and wasn’t fine with it at all.

It was a shame, because she proved my theory that when we embrace ourselves that’s when we become most interesting. But that’s the hardest thing to be sure of. That’s why her performance not only lacked eumph and seemed shakey, but was bordering on offensive.

Why didn’t she talk about her own story? Why didn’t she speak about queer female issues? Why was she using the guise of a queer performance artist to address a trope of mainstream (gay) culture? Do many queer female artists feel to afraid to make work about themselves?

Come on ladies, self-identifying or otherwise, let's be brave in speaking from our perspective!

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We don't always have to try to appeal to men or speak in relation to them!

I fear that even the queer world has not reached the state of basic gender equality, and it too does not escape the historic under-representation of women. I must be echoing something I know feminists have been saying for years, but I was hoping the queer world might have been different. Or, rather I was hoping queer spaces would remember to make the effort to invest in female artists. Long before Simone De Beauvoir highlighted women as ‘Other’ (even in her own book she begins with how hesitant she was to write about women), women have struggled against male-domination in many fields. Unfortunately being a queer female artist still means being in the minority, even in your queerness.

(Ruth Goldman writes a great essay on the queer queer – click here to read my post about this)

To leave on a positive, l leave you with this lady; Esther Perel’s brilliant ted talk on desire.

[ted id=1669]

Homotopia & Glasgay - unexpected things they have in common

Experiencing the work in Liverpool was again full of differences but also the wonderful constant; a feeling that seems to carry with the work that this group of people is deeply connected. The context was interesting this time, as the work was put on, as part of Homotopia an annual queer festival that was set up in 2004 -the year Liverpool became the city of culture. What is amazing is that in contrast to Glasgay, Homotopia has managed to go international and attract queer artists at the top of their game. Hence, this year, there was a stunning exhibition on April Ashley which worked to inform people on trans* rights. There was an exhibition by David Hockney, and performances by John Waters and David Hoyle. The funny thing about the festival is that in queer terms, these names are huge. But, as someone very new to the scene, I had little idea about who they were – and I assume this would be the same for many. This paired with the already elite nature of the art world, made for an amazing line-up for what I imagine was a specific audience.

homotopia10

 Homotopia.net

Perhaps the organisers are aware of this. A festival that embraces otherness and celebrates the celebrities of the queer world is not an inherently bad thing (like the afore-mentioned Arika). I do, how ever, think it negatively effected our involvement in the festival. Homotopia generally managed us badly:

-       accommodation was wrongly booked

-       no formal meet and greet was arranged

-       Information on W: H was displayed wrongly in the brochure; it was not made clear that the audience were booking for one-on-one slots

Inccidentally, on the Saturday only 6 out of 15 slots were filled. To be honest, the bad management we could handle. But it was the work, and therefore the people who were committed to it, that were effected by the lack of audience. The participants still took away heaps from the experience, and I know it deeply affected them all from hearing their reflections, but we couldn’t help but feel they could’ve been getting that extra bit more. They would’ve had more people to experience different conversations with, to get in to the flow of the work.

handholdingliv

What’s more, Rosana’s work was the only piece that really brought the queer topics and discussion that were happening as part of Homotopia to the outside. This brought visibility to things that were being hidden by studio spaces. She brings sexuality and gender out in to the public, for them to respond to. For me, I think queer visibility is a really important cultural issue and I would like to see more work on this theme at these queer festivals.

I feel Gary Everett really missed a trick. When he finally did say hi, he implied the lack of ticket sales was due to her being an ‘emerging artist’ and perhaps next time they would bring her up earlier. In every other city the work has sold out. I believe it was their disregard for her work, not the public’s, that effected this. Just comparing this treatment to the way Buzzcut treats its artists, you can see appreciate how radical their human approach is and how things really not need be carried out in an elitist fashion.

Homotopia begun to feel like Glasgay’s anti-thesis. Except they have one key thing in common*, they are run by white middle-aged men. If Glasgay and Homotopia had a baby and ditched their organisers, a beautiful festival would be made. (Plus there would be a radical ten year age gap).

A festival where both radically queer performance art, and contemporary work on LGBT relationships could be put on.

A festival where gender, sexuality, intimacy, visibility and activism could be addressed in theatre and non-theatre spaces.

A festival where emerging artists are given the same space and respect as established artists.

A festival where work is made by queer and non-queers, seen by queers and non queers, but everyone believes in queerness.

A festival inspiring hope, by challenging the present and imagining the future.

The first step towards this is to have different people in charge. Women (trans* and cis).

The second is to bring in more artists as producers, or producers that have been artists. That understand how to welcome artists in, how to make them feel like their work is worthwhile. Change those two key things, and I think major shifts would start to occur in the running and work put on.

MORE WOMEN

MORE PRODUCING ARTISTS

MORE SPACE FOR EMERGING ARTISTS

= LESS ELITISM

*To be clear, I do think the naming of Glasgay as a ‘queer’ festival has come completely from the top and curators’ thinking that queer is the new cool term for LGBT. Homotopia has been queer at its heart since its beginnings; it just has unfortunately got tied up in the elitism that often comes with the art world. But the essential power still seems to lie in the same place.

The universality of a queer story

My experience of Sister also made me think further on my earlier musings on lots of the surface-level work I’ve seen that deals with gender and feminism from a theoretical stance, naming rather than embodying its beliefs. Work that is purely political/theoretical, and presents issues rather than shows a lived understanding of them, that isn’t having a dialogue, that has no personal elements, is never beautiful. It is never poetic. It doesn’t go nearly as deep or have as profound an effect as work that is embodied. This is because the fundamental fact about art is that it does what words can’t. If you can get it from reading an article, if you can just say it with words, you don’t need art to be your medium. It’s been a rich experience to be on this placement whilst making solo work in other modules. I’ve been reading a lot of queer poetry and writing as part of Text In Performance. This piece particularly stood out for me in its approach:

http://youtu.be/5frn8TAlew0

Sister is explicitly queer, but unlike this poem it is not framed as an insight in to queerness for ‘straight’ people. Neither is it aimed at just those who identify as queer. What’s more, the performers play with the explicitness of their queer identities in how they dress. The piece starts with both sisters in long brown wigs, lacey underwear and heels. Audience members who do not know the performers may only realise this is a part of the full picture when both remove their wigs to reveal their shaved heads. Does this approach make the work more accessible? This lead to an exploding of my existing enquiry;

Is it more radical to be visibly queer i.e other challenging social norms and idea of normal head on, or to be perceived as part of heteronormativity but have an apparent queer way of thinking/being/expressing thoughts?

When is it my agency to make work that is explicitly queer? How naturally does my work address queer issues? When is it my agency to make queer work for an audience that isn’t queer? What do you say to inspire an audience who are already radical/queer in their thinking?

 

 I recently read an article on Autostraddle, specifically on the recently released lesbian love story epic Blue Is The Warmest Colour, that addresses the importance of queer stories being told by those who are queer. I think I shall take forward in to my practice Kate's (the author’s) words:

‘Queer stories can be universal, but they should still be told differently, and by the people who intimately know them.’ (read the full article here)

I believe Sister achieves this beautifully; it is unashamedly queer without excluding those who don’t already identify that way. It has universal appeal in its’ telling of female sexuality that differs from the way we usually see it depicted. It reminded me that my queer perspective is valid, and perhaps more universal than I think.

The complexity of (expressing) female sexuality

This week I had the privilege of seeing the preview run of Sister at BAC, Rosana's lastest work made with her sister Amy Cade. Incidentally I also did the tech for the piece, meaning I got the chance to see the work multiple times and to have a deeper understanding of it. As with My Big Sister… the piece is less about hammering home a particular message or opinion (though it certainly takes a firm queer feminist stance) and concerns itself more with celebrating and exploring the sexuality, sexual identity and sexual expression of two queer women. Naturally this then dispels wider stereotypes about female gender roles, by showing two seemingly ‘opposing’ identities existing, and thriving, together. Sister blows apart the expectations of the radical lesbian-feminist scrapping with the sex-postitive lap-dancer, when they find common ground in queerness.

The piece, of course, has made me examine my own opinion on lap dancing. For me the lap dancing industry is problematic, as it is a key example of something that caters to the male-gaze. Seedy fully clothed men ogling at naked women is generally what comes to mind when thinking of strip clubs. It’s an industry based on being objectified. As a queer woman, I do find the idea uncomfortable.

 

http://24.media.tumblr.com/8a1caa99bea04830e7f7d9b81dd5698e/tumblr_molea7BNhl1r2ayt6o1_500.gif

Source: kateslininger.tumblr.com

It plays to a very specific idea of what is meant to make ‘men’ and ‘women’ feel attractive, as well as attracted to. BUT, as with lots of the sex industry, I think it would be great if the form was to open out and start creatively providing lots of different dancers doing lots of different kinds of dancing.

‘What is lap dancing if not a light version of misogyny?’ (How To Be A Woman, Moran, 2011, p.173)

As much as I can see where Moran is coming from, I think a key theme in Sister is that these industries aren’t going anywhere. They’ve existed for centuries. The only way to change them is to show that there is a demand for wider and more varied versions of sexual expression, both from sex workers and clients. The more we all talk openly about the sex industry, and sex, the more we can let go of the stigma and shame surrounding searching for sexual pleasure.

 

I also think that although interest in sex is steeped in lots of shame for people of all gender presentations, there are definite ways in which we teach ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ to relate to sex in our culture. J Halberstam puts it as:

‘While in most girls desire is never actually given a chance to flow and weave itself around objects and fetishes, boys are quickly encouraged and incited to feel desire, to direct that desire, to indulge desire’

Halberstam goes on to describe the effect of this:

‘What we call ‘women’ and ‘men’ are bodies that have been generally trained in either the interruption of desire (women) or its free flow (men)’

(Gaga Feminism, 2012, p.12)

This interruption is further complicated by the interruption of queerness, i.e allowing both men and women to feel that they can not only express desire (or lack of) freely but also are free to direct it at whomever they choose. The sex industry is not problematic for me because it is morally wrong (because it isn't). It’s problematic because it is part of mainstream culture that does not allow the scope for queer expression and presentation. That is to say, it mimics society as it doesn’t allow for exploration outside the gender binary, or pre-defined labels. Whatever the model ‘women’ choose to base their sexual identity on, whether that’s the hyper-sexualised lap-dancer or the hairy lesbian-feminist, it is not wide enough. That’s because it is only a model, and human sexual expression cannot be simplified to a set of rules to be replicated by all.

Sister is so important as it challenges stereotypes of female sexual identities, simply by giving space to two stories of female sexuality in its entirety – not the boxed in model. With its fluidity, and contradictions and layers. Hopefully the more we all talk about sexuality openly, the more we can begin to express ourselves without fear or stigma, whoever we are. It’s scary that two women being so honest about their sexual journeys still feels so radical.

My Big Sister Taught Me This Lap Dance (And This Queer Politic)

It is such a complex issue, but it is definitely worth trying to delve in to the complicated world of progressive feminism in relation to My Big Sister Taught Me This Lap Dance. So. Deep breath, here goes.

As I said it was great to see how Rosana as a queer artist fit in to the festival of feminism, having experienced first hand the drama and arguments that can erupt between radical feminists (known as Trans* Exclusionary Radical Feminists or TERFs ) and sex-positive progressive feminists (Libfems) in Glasgow. TERF’s tend to take the stance that prostitution and the sex industry works against feminist ideals and aims, stemming from 2nd-wave feminism kicking against sexual objectification. Lib Fems are trying to incorporate the needs and views of sex-workers in to modern feminism, some believing that the decriminalisation of sex work is the best way to tackle the misogyny and sexism in those industries. Lib fems also tend to want to include self-identifying women in the movement, open to those who may not have been born female. Louise Orwin’s piece made it even clearer to me that feminism should not be about getting tied up in current disputes over who’s wrong or right. That’s getting tied up in the present. When it’s really about the future, and about the young people that will have to live in that future.

That’s what I find so fantastic about My Big Sister Taught Me This Lap Dance, it doesn’t seek to take a firm stance on sex work, it doesn’t seek to dispel other arguments, it goes beyond thinking about whether sex work is  ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It does this by providing an experience. It forces the audience to tackle their theoretical feelings on lap dancing, and have some actual ones, by having a lap dance. Then they have to tackle their feelings on the (mainly) women who lap dance, by listening to a recording of an interview with Rosana’s sister afterwards.

To some people, I think this type of issue-based work that goes beyond providing concrete opinions on that issue is confusing. It was fed back afterwards that one audience member had asked Rosana, during the lap dance, ‘is this performance art? What are you trying to say?’ Rosana then said to me:

 

‘I’m not trying to say one thing; I’m trying to give you an experience. I want the person to think about what they think and feel, not whether I’m trying to do something’.

I really like that way of thinking about making work. I had begun to wonder why lots of work on gender and feminism I'd seen, that addressed sexism or misogyny, did nothing for me. Why it felt so surface level. I now think this was due to the performance not feeling like I was experiencing something, I was merely being told. The work was too cerebral and theoretical. Where as, similar to what Louise did, for the performance Rosana isn’t just addressing the issues around lap dancing, she is a lap dancer. It’s an experience for both audience and performer; it is the frame of it being a performance that means you can begin to dissect those experiences.

What’s more, it feels personal because she actually listened to someone who is a sex worker, who is her sister. This is something sex workers are constantly struggling for, rather than being painted as victims as they often are by the media. I also know some women’s groups in Glasgow, as well as feminist writers often slip in to this pattern too. (Equally, there are lots of great pro-sex work articles out there, click here for this one on how you can be an ally)

Popular feminist writer Caitlin Moran said of stripping/lap dancing:

‘Get down off those poles, you’re letting us all down’ -(How To Be A Woman, Moran, 2011, p.172)

This is not only problematic due to its shaming tone, but it works with this universal idea of ‘woman’. That somehow all women are innately connected, part of a ‘sisterhood’, which harks back to the radical feminism fostered in the 70s/80s. This then gives permission for women to dictate to other women how they should behave, as if there is a ‘right’ way of behaving because we all have similar experiences. But feminism isn’t about transferring the power from men to women on dictating modes of behaviour, it’s about no one needing to dictate. I feel like queer feminists accept that just because one form of expressing sexual identity isn’t right for you, doesn’t mean it’s not right for someone else.

That’s not to say we can’t challenge or question each other’s behaviour, but there is a way to tackle the sex industry without deeming those who partake in it as morally wrong. For a start asking the people in the industry. Feminist groups such as The Woman’s Support Project see the negatives of the sex industry, dealing with women have been exploited or forced. Whereas, SWOU, made up of sex workers, are fighting to get people to acknowledge the difference between sex work and prostitution/sexual abuse. This does not mean they deny the abuse that does go on, but they feel that being told you’re a ‘victim’ when you’re not is just as disempowering as those who feel sex work is their only option. I once read in the feminist blogshpere; it’s ok to question the structure, why do more men than women pay for this? How does it negatively and positively effect our culture? (It's the attack of the workers that is not appreciated).

I Like this quote from J Halerbastam

‘Porn is negative in the way it provides sexual training, but is not morally ‘wrong’’ (p.12, Gaga Feminism, 2012)

For me, Calm Down Dear showed me that there was a space for queer work in spaces that were not explicitly queer or LGBT spaces, in London at least. I felt that being a queer female artist in that context therefore meant being able to step outside feminist arguments and go beyond them. Although many sex-positive ‘libfems’ are queer, there’s the added aspect of being an artist that allows you to sit on the periphery, reflecting things back to your audience.

Feminism: it's getting popular?

Week 5, and I’m in London again! This time Rosana is showing her one-on-one piece ‘My Big Sister Taught Me This Lap Danceas part of Camden People’s Theatre festival of feminism Calm Down Dear. I think what has been wonderful this week is to see how queer work can fit in to a feminist context, as there can often be a massive gap between radical feminism and relatively new, progressive feminism (often adopted by those identifying as queer). I shall discuss, and attempt to unpack some of my ideas surrounding these complicated arguments between feminists, in relation to the work I saw this weekend. I also think this festival is really interesting in the context of a new surge in feminism as a part of popular culture, and having more of a political presence. The recent feminism festival The F-Word that happened recently at The Tron springs to mind, (which I unfortunately did not get to see).

fempop

 http://24.media.tumblr.com/574315b34ae0ffd09afe53004b891936/tumblr_mukr4vAcwn1qztel2o1_500.jpg

 

I’d like to talk about Louise Orwin’s piece Pretty Ugly, in which she shows us some of her discoveries about an online phenomenon. This is a culture whereby teenage girls post videos and ask viewers to comment as to whether they are ‘pretty or ugly’.  This would often be stated by the girls being given a ‘rating’ between 1 and 10 on how attractive they were. Orwin then created several online personas, who were teenage girls joining in with this craze, to find out more about why the girls were doing it.

I think the piece is important and positive for many reasons;

  • It reminded me that feminism and the fight for gender equality is at the crux of it a fight for young women (cis and trans*) to have a better future, where they can feel that they have a freedom of expression and better role models than we did.
  • This does not mean speaking for them, and I think this piece had a gentle curiosity about it, whilst at the same time remaining non-judgmental.
  • Orwin directly being involved in the online culture allowed her to experience the animosity and negativity that comes from online trolls and commentators. (It also meant she was vulnerable to getting involved with those who gave her praise, but more on that later).
  • It was particularly fascinating when Orwin experimented with using some of the language others had used on her in chat rooms. We saw a rolling video of her typing to men on chat rooms. The male response to being ‘rated’ or told they were ugly was often either instant aggression, dismissal or a look of amused disbelief.
  • Because Orwin ‘became’ a teenage girl herself, she discovered that actually you don’t need to be a teenage girl to be hurt by the Pretty Ugly online culture. Young people are more vulnerable because they are at a particular stage of discovery in their lives, but we are all susceptible to sexism and misogyny online. (And of course in real life)

I only had one qualm with the piece. Orwin tells us about a particular online relationship that she forged with an older man called Bobby. After watching her videos, he sent her messages. First they began with generic things like ‘don’t let people bring you down’ or ‘you’re beautiful, don’t think you’re ugly’. But slowly they seemed to ask for pictures of her, then topless pictures, then came professions of love, then of lust. It was clear that Bobby was basically grooming Orwin’s teenage persona Baby. Orwin then moves on by saying ‘this piece is not about Bobby, or the other Bobbys out here’. I can see why that was important for this piece, I can see that to try and address the motivations of both the people in the videos and the consumers of such would be a lot to tackle in one performance.  But, all too often in feminism, and culture in general we see the motivations behind girls and women’s actions being interrogated. People want to bring awareness to the actions of others so that they might start to change. This implies, even when carefully dealt with as in Pretty Ugly,  that the pressure is on the women and girls to change. But, what if we start to interrogate the Bobbies of the world? What if there was a piece that was about Bobby, that explored why 60% of all the comments Orwin received were from men, and almost all the private messages were from men? I feel that the more we encourage everyone to think about gender (in)equality, the more we all take responsibility. The less we get caught up in them and us, the perceived differences between men and women, and our gender roles. Actually, this online culture cannot be changed by one set of people, because it is part of a wider issue with the way society works.

I am part of a progressive network of feminists that means I automatically think beyond the question of what’s bad about the way I’m being treated in my gender role as woman? To what’s problematic about the construct of gender roles?

 

I do think Orwin managed to avoid slut-shaming the teenage girls, and instead interrogated the culture, but without the other side also being interrogated it runs dangerously close to implying that the girls need to change what they’re doing. (i.e their behaviour and the abuse they then receive is their fault).

Furthermore, Orwin’s work sits in a wider trend of people piping up and wanting someone to blame for the correlation between pop culture and the way young people act. Again, this tends to revolve around writers/popstars/celebrities commenting on the way the actions of female pop stars affect young girls. We know Orwin must cite some responsibilities in the role models mainstream western culture gives for the Pretty Ugly phenomenon due to her references to Britney throughout the piece. She's one of many trying to unpack this and other complex issues surrounding the behaviour of young women.

Jasmine Gardner falls in line to declare that 'decent' role models should keep their clothes on in this article on pop culture.

The new feminism? Lilly Allen's Hard Out Here - comment on pop music culture

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0CazRHB0so&w=560&h=315]

Click here to read Guardian writer Suzanne Moore's article on the video