London, identity, and the political possibilities of Queer as a HOW
Being on road is really taxing. Long hours in the car, sleeping in new places every night, eating prepared food– it takes a toll on our bodies. And we all want to maintain as much health and energy as we can to soak in all of the amazing things we’re seeing, learning, the people we’re meeting. Tonight, this meant that Essex stayed in Toronto to rest and recover from many non-stop days of work, while Molly and Li took a trip to London, Ontario for a talk at the main library.
London is a small city in southern Ontario. We were invited by Jamie Q and Anthea Black, who both recently visited San Francisco to participate in the 3rd Annual Dirtstar show as part of t
he National Queer Arts Festival. Anthea performed as half of the Glittertwins duo, and Jamie built a number of papier-mâché Gay Bombs and one piñata in reference to a 1994 proposal by the US Air Force Wight lab to develop a chemical weapon that would cause enemy soldiers to find one another sexually irresistible.
We were also hosted by the McIntosh Gallery of the University of Western Ontario, Ron Benner, Jamelie Hassan, and the Canada Council for the Arts. Before our presentation was a screening of a movie by Richard Fung and Peter Steven. Called Safe Place: A Videotape for Refugee Rights in Canada and made in 1989, the documentary features testimony from four refugees who describe why they fled to Canada and how they were treated once they arrived as they struggled with Canada’s racist immigration system and hostile media. Despite the age of the movie
, it felt completely relevant in today’s ever more anti-immigrant climate.
Our presentation was followed by a really engaged and interesting conversation. People shared stories about a large range of struggles they are involved in locally. An interesting conversation emerged when one attendee said that in their academic community, Queer is a category often criticized for the ways in which its post-modern rejection of fixed identities de-politicizes its potential utility in a way that Gay and Lesbian do not. They were happy to hear Queer being used so politically. Many young people in the crowd jumped in to insist that Queer is their way of expressing an absolutely politicized identity, and that deconstructing categories of gender and sexuality is inherently challenging the powers that be.
Outside of the academic context, we’ve heard this manifest as a debate about the utility and radical potential of identity politics. It is here that we think that Fabulosity—the name we gave in the zine to our ways of organizing with one another—offers a useful intervention, offering queer not as a discreet identity, but as a practice of being with one another.
On this tour, we’ve described Fabulosity as a number of practices, one of which focuses on intentionally finding ways being with one another that values all of our various experiences in the world as contributions to our community and movement building while simultaneously recognizing our overlapping experiences oppression, marginalization, and being rendered problematic and invisible. What this means is that there’s a willingness to make room for the many ways we are complicated, some of which may be named by categories of race, gender, sexuality, but many of which cannot be captured by any label.
This also means creating a culture where we are better able to value all of the different things we bring to the table—our different ways of talking about things, our different strategies and tactics for resistance and survival. And here that means that while we may strive to dismantle the categories imposed on us by an oppressive and alienating system, it also means acknowledging the realities of our experiences in this system and valuing the contributions that we create from within these experiences.
We are seeking to dismantle borders, not culture.
And so it seems that here, Fabulosity offers a way to utilize the category of Queer as a tool for politicized and critical engagement without drawing boundaries around static and fixed identities. When we understand Queer as a HOW rather than a WHAT, we are able to hold these contradictions between us and imagine a way of being with one another that does not rely on the violent and oppressive structures imposed upon us.
We wrapped up the night with lingering conversations in the library hallways until we were ushered out by security. We will upload more interviews with people who stuck around after to talk with us soon, but for now, here’s one: Aiden talking about asking for what we want, not just what we think we can get & also striving to work alongside many different people.