Wednesday, October 29, 2014

RE: Artist's Statement.

I'm an artist. If you've met me, you know this of me. My preferred medium is my own body. I believe in the primacy of self-determination and that body is the best vessel for activism.

Over a year ago, Courtney and I formed Judy's Revenge to be a creative outlet for our activist ideals. We were exhibitors in the 2013 edition of Nuit Blanche Ottawa-Gatineau and have designed and worn genderfucking attire to bars and events like Promdemonium. Our goal is to embody transformative discourse and then perform that transformative discourse as bodies in relation to other bodies, space, and social media. We break barriers, we break binaries, and we break expectations.

The particular project that moves me to write this post was inspired by a class requirement for my graduate Gender, Creativity, and Confinement course taught by Dr. Sylvie Frigon, Criminologist and Joint Chair in Women's and Gender Studies at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. The final project for the class requires an artwork be created and presented to the class, as well as an 8-10 page paper explaining my artwork. 

I knew from the beginning of the class that I wanted to convey 2 themes: critique of the violent ways prisons enact gender binaries and a critique of prisons themselves. 

I wanted to craft an outfit that embodied these thoughts. So I began with bringing a symbol of the prison into the thinking: the orange jumpsuit. I told Courtney about the project, and we agreed to execute it at the Inside/Out Queer Film Festival after party organized by the Queer Mafia at Babylon Nightclub. Courtney and I wanted to wear the exact same outfit as a means to demonstrate gender fluidity.

The makeup we chose was particularly masculine and balanced off our hairstyles, typical for little girls. (And to deal with my sweaty mane of hair at the club) Playing on the "any costume can be sexy" discourse of women's costuming, we cut off the sleeves and pant legs then accessorized with gaudy gems. Courtney wore ill-fitting heels (by accident), and I wore canvass camouflage shoes. We each wore a skeleton hand bracelet too. "Ms. Represented" (Courtney) and "Ms. Understood" (me) were emblazoned via sash across out orange sparkly, cut-off jumpsuits. We wore blackout lenses and black and white makeup. This not what a prisoner looks like. The costumes we wore last Saturday were both genderfucked and avant garde with the contrived political statement I'd hoped to achieve.

(Sidebar: the makeup was actually a mashup from a Lady Gaga makeup and the makeup from the Icelandic music video "Over" by Gusgus)


The event date was October 25th. It was not Halloween, and we did not wear Halloween costumes. It cheapens our work to call them Halloween costumes. (In fact, I plan to be a young Severus Snape and Courtney is being a parrot.) Admittedly, the party's proximity to Halloween did made the acquisition of supplies much easier, but we were the only ones dressed up. 

Apparently, our outfits were offensive to a particular patron of the event. I post the following Facebook commentary below as not to misrepresent anyone:


About an hour after this exchange, the owner of a feminist sex shop in Ottawa, who employs the patron who complained on the photo, posted this comment to the event page for a Halloween party the business is hosting this Friday.

Let'e be very clear; we did not do black face; no one's culture was appropriated, and we weren't making fun of prisoners. Saying that we shouldn't bring the struggles of prisoners into mainstream spaces is bad tactic for any self-proclaimed activist. In fact, discouraging people from taking up prisoner causes through creative means only further others prisoners as the unmentionable members of society. Should documentaries, novels, and TV shows never show a prison? 

We didn't steal someone's story, or misrepresent someone's voice. We broke up the discourse. I believe in fierce self-representation, and I just wanted to share the whole thought process of our craft and performance, so that if I need be judged, I may be judged upon my own words.

So now, I'll let you see the costumes:

And this one is really blurry but it shows the short legs. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

RE: Less questions, more testing

Dear Ottawa Public Health,

I'm writing in regards to STI (sexually transmitted infection) testing in the city of Ottawa. To increase testing rates, I propose the that Ottawa Public Health facilitate a hassle free/no questions asked option for the standard set of HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis screenings.

I applaud Ottawa's availability of anonymous HIV testing, but bacterial STIs also compromise public health by appearing asymptomatically and spreading rapidly. Increasing testing rates for bacterial STIs would mean more effective treatment and containment.

If the purpose of gathering sexual histories is to track how infections are spread, then this inquiry is more efficiently placed within the processes of treatment. Collecting sexual histories post-diagnosis, cuts paperwork and creates and impetus for more accurate data collection.

If you've contracted an STI, your previous partners need to be contacted. This point in the process is where sexual histories should be collected. STI transmission data would be sourced from those with a vested interested (the health of their sexual partners) in accurately disclosing their sexual histories. Further, public health authorities already provide third party services to anonymously inform sexual partners or diagnosed patients of their risk and testing options.

So many people lie during the collection of sexual histories. I definitely glossed over some details of a particularly promiscuous Summer.. Imagine the disincentive to give an accurate sexual history if you were a closet-case or sex worker (or both).

The fewer questions asked, the more people will get tested. A no questions asked STI testing option reduces social barriers to testing and re-positions the collection of sexual history in a way that improves the quality of data on STI transmission.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Both my homes were attacked.

It's one day after the gripping Ottawa shooting. I'm not going to recount all the details, that's what journalists have been doing for two days now. I'm writing to reflect on what it feels like to have both my homes experience extreme public violence.

I grew up in Sussex Corner, New Brunswick, 45 minutes away from Moncton. The closest movie theater, airport, and mall worth spending money at are in Moncton. Growing up, Moncton was my urban escape. My Aunt and two cousins live their lives in the Greater Moncton Area, and Moncton is one of three cities I see myself settling down in (in good company with Ottawa and Montreal). In June, Justin Bourque shot and killed three RCMP members in Moncton.

I moved to Ottawa in 2005 to pursue a university education and have been here all but a year spent in Southern Ontario and a couple Summers in New Brunswick. I have two homes. And both of these homes have been attacked this year.

These past months have taught me that tragedy has a way of highlighting both sameness and difference. Sameness is emphasized as we put aside our differences to grieve, reflect, and rebuild. Difference is exaggerated as we construct categories of radical difference that make the people who committed these crimes seem like they couldn't possibly be our neighbours, our community members, or our family.

The painful truth is that criminals all come from these relations, and somewhere along the line we fail them.

I will not call the men who took up arms terrorists; they were not successful in seeding terror into my life. I will call these men murderer, criminal, or psychopath. In truth, I'm more fearful of the reaction to the shootings than I was for my life yesterday. I worry these events will be used as a pretext to erode civil liberties and vilify 'problem populations'.

Now is a time to recognize that Canadians who feel a sense of belonging do not take up arms and murder public servants. Such recognition is not easy; it requires that we admit that not everyone is privy to the same sense of belonging in Canada. I have two thoughts on this matter.

First, we need to be honest about inequalities and privileges in Canada. Canadian multiculturalism is too often a shield that enables Canadians to commit enlightened oppressions. Enlightened oppressions happen when people 'who know better' perpetuate oppressions under the guise that they aren't actually racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. Through similar social processes, privileges are made invisible and conversations about race, gender, colonialism, ableism, mental health, sexuality, and poverty get to be classified as impolite or unnecessary. For example: we are a country of immigrants, so why is the birthplace of these murderers so important to news reporting? As if 'born in Canada' describes a higher moral citizenship expectation than naturalization?

These conversations foreground the politics of belonging and non-violence. It is not my intent to essentialize or fetishize minority perspectives; rather, I call on Canadians to reflect on their own willingness to work and learn across difference. When we think of violence as seen in Moncton and Ottawa, inclusion is prevention.

My second thought is generational. Dear Gen Y, I believe we will change the world for the better, but we have let technology isolate us as much as it connects us. It is too easy in our wired world to let a Tweet or Snapchat substitute for a conversation. The conversations needed aren't easy ones to have. Instead of having a supportive forum for communication, Facebook posts get trolled, barbs are exchanged, and no one learns. Each party leaves the engagement thinking what they thought before, but angrier.

Gen Y, it's up to us to pick up the phone, knock on some doors, and participate in public dialogue. Check in with some friends you haven't heard from in a while, introduce yourself to the people in your apartment building, because being alone, being lonely, is a huge reason a person might feel like they don't belong in Canada. From my own experience with depression and anxiety, I can tell you a unexpected phone call can really change the course of a day.

I'm not sad or angry about these violent outbursts; I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated that most people only care about communities when they're threatened. Most days, our humanity gets pushed aside for dumb shit like interpersonal competitiveness, ignorance, or making bank.

The appropriate response to the attacks on my homes is opening our doors, not locking them. Security can only provide a limited amount of safety; the remainder of our interpersonal relations depend on a trust that is not generated in a vacuum. I hope we can take these violent incidents and learn that listening and understanding one another as complex, vulnerable, and powerful beings is the only way inculcate a culture of safety.