Category Archives: Activist

Pride, and little creations

Monday morning after the big local Pride Week finale, and you’d think I’d have slept in. Instead, I was awake at 5 am, tired but buzzing with happy thoughts: A recurring theme these past several days. It’s hormones, I’m sure, but hey, at least I’m not wallowing in despair or full of inexplicable rage, as has been the case in the past.

On Friday, the Pride event for under-19-year-olds that my queer dance party collective organized was AMAZING. Around 50 kids showed up, and I personally was so nervous about everything going terribly wrong that it was more than halfway over before I realized how great it was. During the last minute organizing decisions, most of which centered around creating policies to safely deal with intoxicated youth, I realized that I’ve got no knowledge about or experience in working with teens. Luckily, lots of rad people stepped up with excellent ideas and protocols for creating respectful, fun, safe spaces! And I stuck to serving (non-alcoholic) drinks at the bar all evening, which gave me a great chance to have brief chats with most of the youth. I also had a fantastic view of the dance floor, so I can tell you with good authority that the youth were really into the DJ. At the end of the evening, we had a couple parents thank us as they picked up their kids, and even a few of the teens themselves made a point of letting us know how much they appreciated our work. I can’t say for certain that we’ll take on such a party again next year, but for now it feels nice to have had this success.

Yesterday at the Pride festival itself was another first for the collective: We actually had a table! For a loose, anarchistic group like ours, this was a big step. Since we still had the button maker we’d borrowed for the crafting station at the youth dance, we decided to bring it plus all the required supplies to Pride. It was so cool… People loved making buttons! And they couldn’t believe we weren’t charging anything. The funniest thing was how many folks asked if we were some kind of promo gear company, or other media business. No, just your local radical queer dance party collective, making stuff and having fun and co-creating a revolution… You know, the yooj.

I made A LOT of buttons, mostly just mini collages of text and images from magazine, plus glitter glue.  Almost all of them got snapped up by the people who stopped by the table but didn’t want to make their own… Which is going to be fun:  I hope I’ll randomly see these little creations of mine around town in the coming months!  I did manage to keep a few though, including the three on the left in the pic above… Oats made me the one on the right, because she said it looked like me.  Note to self:  Pink barrette? Also, consider sculpting eyebrows.

Dancing, dancing, revolutionizing

It was about a year ago that shit hit the fan with a group of folks with whom I’d been putting on an annual dance party celebration weekend.  I’d been involved in organizing that event since it started years ago, and yet felt like I wasn’t welcome, mostly due to my queerness but also because of my stance on the need for vocal inclusionary policies:  I wanted us to make it clear to all attendees that we were not going to put up with sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, bullshit behaviour, and that such actions would be grounds for removal. 

Apparently, this sort of policy “ruins the mood”. 

Hey, you know what really ruins the mood?  Being targeted for assault because of your gender, race, sexuality, and/or body!

Blech.  Whatever.  As I’ve written before, the good thing that came out of that experience was my decision to throw my energies elsewhere:  I got involved with another party-organizing group, this one queer-focused with an anti-oppressive mandate.

Together we’ve hosted 5 events in the past 10 months, including one just for teens that absolutely blew my mind with how rad it was… How rad the teens are!  Seriously, if you’re down in the dumps and want to get back some hope in the world, try spending an evening making buttons and playing board games with a crew of young folks.  They were so fun to hang out with.  I’m now friends with a couple of them on a social networking site and have learned how they personally face a ton of homophobia and transphobia at their schools. Knowing this makes it all the more special, the connection we made… Not to be cheezy, but I felt like it was actually doing something to make it better, moving beyond simply telling them “it gets better”.

Of course, in a lot of ways, it isn’t getting better.  I’ve sometimes been asked why I’m involved in putting on radical queer dance parties, when there’s a gay bar in our city.  Well, this is why:  In many gay bars, a commitment to supporting gender and sexual diversity is not taken seriously.  It’s all about being the right sort of gay, as Miss T.R. Gendered writes so well:  If you fall outside the “norms”  for your perceived gender or sexuality, you’re got to face the Gay Police, who’ll make you feel unsafe simply for being who you are.

Tying together my rambling thoughts about queer youth socials and the lack of safety for certain bodies at gay bars is a recent big decision made by my radical queer dance party collective:  We were approached by the organizers of the local pride festival and asked if we’d put on their official youth dance, in exchange for some funding and the use of their name and promotional clout.  After many long discussions that bounced all over the place, we said no to their money and credibility (?), but yes to the task.  We’d already been planning our annual celebration of queer resistance dance party for that week, and as we hold such events as fundraisers anyway, we decided to simply channel the profits from this one into a huge queer youth dance party the next weekend.

One pride week, one small radical dance party collective, two dance parties!!! I have no idea if we’re in completely over our heads here or not, but I’m totally excited.  I feel like we could have taken the offer from the offical pride group and it woulda been okay… Eventually, I’d probably have gotten over my initial sense of being a sell-out. Having said that, I’m thrilled.  More than anything, the decision to do it on our own makes me feel proud of us:  Proud that we’re willing to test our limits, to see what we can accomplish, to risk financial autonomy in a capitalist economy, to stay as true as possible to our mandate for providing alternative queer space.

For the record, we did thank the organizers of the local pride festival for thinking of us, because it is a tribute to our group’s reputation, that they’d consider us good enough to host the youth dance… And we believe that partnerships such as the one they were suggestion can be pretty great.  Going it alone seems to be a good deal for both groups, in this case though, since they’ll get to put their funding into other pride initiatives and the youth still get a dance party… And we get a crash course in putting on a really big youth event!

Does it change things, does it make them better, to have such firm ideas about creating queer spaces outside those sanctioned by a larger society?  I’m sensitive to stoking the flames of in-fighting among members of the minority group that is made up of those of us whose lives include sexual and gender diversity, and I don’t want to waste energy hating on those queers who’d tell folks like Miss T.R. Gendered to put their shirts back on… I’ll be writing those letters of complaint to the bar management, of course, and telling everyone I know to boycott the place, but I need more.  I need to turn this fury inside me into something pro- in stead of anti-, something fiercely loving instead of angrily frustrating.  Dance parties meet that need for me.

It’s not exactly revolutionary, to organize a liquor license and a sound systems and few DJs, but I like to think it’s part of a long queer tradition. Before gay bars were legal, in places where they still aren’t, all over the world and through history, this is something we’ve done: Gotten together to shake our booties, lick our wounds, meet new lovers, visit with old ones, share in a temporary oasis of fragile safety* in a world that would have us silent or dead or simply pretend not to exist.

* (Safety for some… Sadly, as with any community event, fucked up shit sometimes goes down at our parties too.)

Bleeding-heart tree-hugging queer.

The old furniture shop on the corner shut down this past winter, and at our weekly household dinners we all speculated as to what would next fill the store front. Instead of the hipster/yuppie cafe we were hoping for (as an alternative to the bucky’s in the plaza!), the New Democratic Party rented it and set up their candidacy office for this riding.

After walking and riding past the office a couple times a day, I finally went in and asked for a lawn sign. I’d never done that before, having generally snubbed federal politics as being too far removed from my daily existence to be worth the energy. I’d vote, and rant, but that’s about it. This time, though, I’ve been seeing far too many Conservative lawn signs during my commute out to the trade school, and it’s been making me feel ill. Besides which, I was raised by rather fervent NDP supporters, and have a nostalgic affection for neon orange.

“I grew up in Toronto,” I told the staffer at the desk as she wrote down my address for their records. “When he was still a local city councillor, Jack Layton rollerbladed to my high school to give a presentation on civic responsibility.”

“Did he bring his guitar and play you some songs, too?” She asked. I couldn’t tell if she was mocking Jack for his folkiness or me for my misty-eyed reminiscence, but it was pretty funny either way.

“He might as well have,” I told her. “But all the other politicians who spoke to us were stiff suits, so he got a surprisingly friendly reception, considering we were a bunch of bored teenagers.”

How do you decide how to vote? Do you go for personality, or party? Or is it more complicated than that? I haven’t actually committed to throwing my lot in with the NDP. My other leanings are with the Greens, because I’m a bleeding-heart tree-hugging queer*. I’ve requested a lawn sign from them too, which should arrive this afternoon. There’s an all-candidates forum next week that I’m hoping to attend, but really I’ll probably make my decision based on the party platforms. As I see it, the individual candidates are a hell of a lot less important than the larger institutions they represent: This country is just too huge and diverse. Having said that, my friend Jag is encouraging everyone to vote NDP simply because of all the options, Layton would be the sexiest prime minister. Personally, I’m not really into mustaches, but I’d be glad for a reprieve from Harper’s creepy fake smile.

*A dude I worked with many, many years ago called me this… Well, actually he called me a “fucking bleeding-heart tree-hugging bitch”, but close enough. Luckily he was pretty easy to write off as an odd duck, with larger issues than I’d ever understand: Despite coming from an extremely wealthy family, he took to stealing from the cafe’s cash register in order to impress the brothers at a fraternity he’d joined, and he actually did this in full view of the other staff. I’m fairly certain drugs were involved… It’s hard to be offended when someone is that out of it, so I’ve enjoyed holding onto that little nickname he bestowed upon me.

“Just don’t let it bother you!”

I heard back from the provincial utility authority: A letter of regret, stating that I would not be hired on as an electrical apprentice. I suppose it’s a bit of a letdown, but mostly I don’t really care, which is surprising considering how wound up I was about the whole screening process. Really, if I’d been rejected right away, I’d be upset, because I had so much emotional investment in trying to succeed… More than a month has since passed and I’m all like, “Meh. Whatevs.”

Which isn’t to say that I won’t be applying next time ’round, cuz I will!

So I started back at trade school two weeks ago, and it was a total reunion show: Instructors stopping me to say hello and ask what I’ve been up to this past year, old classmates also back for their Year 2 training, and tons of guys from the construction site taking all different levels of courses, who remember me as the lottery girl. Despite being the only woman in my class of 16 students (and possibly one of only four in the building…?), and despite the shitty time I had last time I was here, I feel remarkably comfortable and confident. I feel like I belong: It’s a huge shift from where I was at 14 months ago.

Why the shift? Partly it’s because I put in those months at the construction site, which proved to me that I could make it, even in the sort of trades environment I’m not especially keen about. Partly it’s because I was chosen to try out for the hydr0 apprenticeship, which was a real honour.

Partly it’s because I’ve got a totally different attitude.

Over the years, my righteous anger over oppressive bullshit has often been met with a wide range of folks telling me I should just relax, calm down, stop taking everything so seriously, get over it, etc etc etc. Which is a pretty common reaction, from people who don’t feel themselves to be targeted by hate: Somehow, sexism and homophobia and racism and ablism are hilarious or no big deal, if you’re not the butt of the joke. I resent this.

And yet resentment is tiring. So is being angry, no matter how righteously so. And devoting time and energy to meeting with authority figures and pushing for systemic change? That’s fucking exhausting.

At the end of the electrical entry level training program I did last year, I was pretty burnt out, from all that shit. I don’t regret it, and I don’t think I could have done anything differently, because that was where I was at. However, I decided that if I was going to continue in the trade, I was going to stop.

I took it as an experiment of sorts: Being the sort of person who has rather reliably called people out on their oppressive words/behaviours/assumptions over the years, I really didn’t know how my life would be different if I shut up for a while.

To be sure, I knew I’d be unable to ignore comments or action directed at myself or my loved ones, but I decided to let go of the microagressions. I still tell my friends and family about these events, especially when it was something totally absurd like the sexual innuendo from my crew safety officer (the very person at the construction site to whom I would report such incidences!), but before getting upset, I ask myself if it is worth it.

What would I gain?

What would I lose?

I began to value my time and emotional energy as being much more important than the stupid deeds and opinions of other.

After years of being told “Just don’t let it bother you!”, I finally tried not letting it bother me.

Overall, it’s been great.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still fiercely mean and critical and liable to bring down all sorts of harshness on someone who tells me that queers should die and whites are naturally superior and women belong in the kitchen and fatties should hide their bodies and anyone who can’t easily walk up that flight of stairs should simply accept it instead of requesting accessibility.  And I’m more committed than ever to the organizing I’m doing with the local radical queer events collective.

But if my new classmates diss our homework by saying it’s “gay”? I’m just not engaging. I don’t have time. If they said this in a conversation that includes me, I probably won’t be able to resist commenting “Hey, I’m gay too! No wonder I’m so good at these assignments!” then laughing very hard, but that’s about it.

My new strategy is all about self-preservation, and so far, it’s working.  I feel happy.  I acknowledge that the world is fucked up, and I’m making peace with the deliberate steps I’m taking to address this fact while learning to be okay with all the shit I just can’t handle.  One day I will take it on again, but this is me at the moment, taking a break.

It’s so disheartening, to watch you go.

The final installment of my reflections on 2010. Part I can be found here, and check out Part II at this spot.

2010 YEAR IN REVIEW, PART III
26. What was your greatest musical (re)discovery?

I became slightly enamoured of the annual Triple J Hottest 100. I’ve been downloading the playlists from past years and am eagerly anticipating this year’s countdown… Coming up on January 26th! Vote here! I love how many offbeat tracks make it onto this list, songs and artists that I’ve otherwise never heard of. Last year’s top track, Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons, reminds me of the folk punk bands I used to follow, like Ghost Mice and early Against Me, and is still a favourite song of mine.

27. What did you want and get?

A home that I can rely on. Just knowing that my monthly rent cheque goes to my friends instead of an unstable landlady is a huge benefit to my mental health.

28. What did you want and not get?

Jobs. I applied to work as an electrician with the provincial utility authority twice, the local naval base once, and as a sustainable energy intern with a local green consulting non-profit, and nothing came of it except a lot of practice with cover letters and resumes. Having said that, I was basically handed the rest of my employment with no sweat on my part: The union gave me the construction job, I got the farm position through friends, and this current water system service consulting gig was offered to me by a dude I met at a sustainability event. Given how damn hard it can be to find any work at all, I’m lucky.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

I was totally obsessed with The Karate Kid for a long while during the summer, and I still think about it all the time. Yes, I’m talking about the original 1984 version. Seriously, sexism aside, it’s an incredible tribute to experiences of race and class in America! I’m pretty certain that this film is how I first learned about WWII Japanese internment camps when I was a little kid.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 29 years old, and spent the day at work on the farm. It was a harvest day, which meant hard labour, but it was fun anyway. I had a barbecue party on the weekend, which was fabulous, with friends on the patio until late late late. K and W fell asleep on our bed, so Oats and I shared the couches in the livingroom with S, which was funny yet oddly sweet… You know your friends are your friends when they feel comfortable enough to crash on your bed, and you don’t even think to wake them up.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

If just one of my planned career options had panned out, I think I’d be more satisfied with where I currently find myself. However, it’s easy to say that, from my current melancholic vantage point.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?

Ha! At both the construction site and the farm, I wore the same outfits every single week day, washing them each weekend. I call this concept “pragmatic worker”. That aside, in 2010 I made a conscious decision to avoid dressing in black all the time. As I type this, I’m wearing a cute royal blue cardigan, which would have been unheard of for me in previous years.

33. What kept you sane?

Thinking of the big picture, and focusing on long-term investments.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Eh. None.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?

Fuck, I was a self-centred git this past year and barely paid attention to anything in the realm of mainstream politics! However, a lot of the energy I used to put into political rage got sucked up by my involvement with the local queer dance party collective, which is inherently political by its simple existence… And ain’t the personal political? So, yeah: Queer rights, safe space for queers, supporting grassroots community among folks in my geographic region who identify as two-spirited, trans, bi, queer, gay, lesbian, genderqueer, or are otherwise marginalized by their gender/sexual identities… And beyond my geographic region too, I suppose, if I take into account the Queer Canada Blogs project.

36. Who did you miss?

All the friends who’ve moved away and settled elsewhere. Fuck, I hate it. I know this town to too expensive and too small to keep you here, but it’s so disheartening, to watch you go.

37. Who was the best new person you met?

I’m racking my brain here to figure out if I even met anyone new this year. I live on an island, okay? And I don’t get out much.

Okay, I’ve got it: I met a lot of great new people when I worked at the farm, folks who I think will be around for further adventures in one way or another. I can’t single out any of them, but I think they are all pretty great.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

I just spent ages searching through song lyrics and I’m stumped: There are no small snippets of song that can contain the multitudes of my past year.

And.. Here ends the meme-ing. Thanks for sticking around, and I sincerely hope that 2011 is absolutely awesome for you, because you deserve it.

Communities


For the past year and a half, I’ve been pouring a lot of time and energy into Queer Canada Blogs, my blogroll project of Canadian queers and queers in Canada. It’s been an amazing experience, especially for those moments when I’m feeling too low to blog myself: I love reading about the daily lives and loves of such a huge variety of bloggers. The project has also provided me with an outlet for my activist energy, because I get a boost of inspiration from publicizing and celebrating the radness and diversity of what it means to be queer, and what it means to be Canadian.

However, as great as online activism is, I still need to feel connected to people in my own geographic region, to build community among the people in my social scene and peer group. This need of mine used to be pretty much met by my niche with the bike nerds: I volunteered at the community bike shop every week, and hung out with other kids obsessed with bicycles, bike polo, bicycle-themed dance troupes, etc. Sure, we all share a lot of non-bike interests, but it usually comes back to bikes.

Nowhere was this more obvious than when organizing our annual bike party weekend, which has historically drawn dozens of revellers from all over the western provinces and states. Over four years, the size of the party has pretty much expanded exponentially, with last year’s event selling out at around 350 people. A note to those readers who are also event organizers: When this happens, it’s time to take stock, otherwise the growing pains are going to be fatal.

Overly-enthusiastic bike nerds that we are, we completely neglected to do this. Guess what? A lot of shitty stuff went down, and some friendships were irrepairably damaged. Beyond that, I believe many of us lost our sense of belonging in the bike community.

I’m not going into the faults and follies of our organizing collective, because that’s not my point. Instead, what I want to tell you in this: Going through such a tumultuous experience made me realize all the ways in which I exist in this world differently from people I’d previously taken for granted as like-minded community members. It was painful, because a lot it came down to the simply fact that at the end of the day, I’m queer, and they aren’t.

There is a happy ending to this story, or at least a happy new direction: After the bike party fiasco, I was feeling like I needed to spend more time among queers. So, I contacted an old friend, and got the info from her about the next meeting of the collective that puts on the local queer dance party. In a town with only one gay bar, and a massive GLBTQ2SQ population, the radical queer dance party is even more of a hit than it is in the bigger cities. In fact, during the past 6 months that I’ve been involved in putting on events, we’ve built up enough of a float to cover our own costs, and have managed to donate hundreds of dollars of our proceeds to community projects.

I’m not so naive as to believe that there aren’t also huge problems in this other community… There are! However, I think they’re more likely to be talked about, and actions taken to resolve conflicts. This is important to me, and I feel like the work we’re putting into creating safe spaces for gender and sexual diversity is really important as well… Even if to to the casual observer it looks like we’re just partying.

So the community I found in 2010 was my local queer community, or at least a small corner of it. All I can say for the upcoming year is that I want more of this: More queers, more dance parties, more games nights and talent shows and long meetings that turn into dinners and giggle fits, more chances to connect and feel like I belong.

[This is my post for Day 7 of Reverb 10, which I’m posting on Day 10… Tsk tsk, such disappointingly lax behaviour, especially considering how Amak just commended me for my blogging commitment in his comment on my last post… Ah well. It’s been a crazy week. I’ll try to keep up from now on.]

For a time like this.

I have just realized that the stakes are myself
I have no other
ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life
my spirit measured out, in bits, spread over
the roulette table, I recoup what I can
nothing else to shove under the nose of the maître de jeu
nothing to thrust out the window, to make the play with
this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move
as we slither over this go board, stepping always
(we hope) between the lines

Diane di Prima
Revolutionary Letter #1

Between the sudden rain, my impending first day as an electrical apprentice at dawn tomorrow, and a collective meeting that left me feeling hurt and tired and wondering how the hell it is that people cannot see that they have a stake in making change, that inclusion is only “for” the “othered” as much as we also make it about us and our need for meaningful engagement… Okay, run on sentence, blech, shouldn’t be blogging.  Instead I’ll just throw the above poem at you, because it is my favourite piece for a time like this, and going to bed.