Monday, July 20, 2015

Calling Out Queer Fascism

Glasgow's Free Pride committee has pissed a lot of people off by playing preachy politics with the drag community. The alternative pride festival banned drag performances on the pretext that such performances mock and marginalize trans and gender non-conforming people. They are now considering modifying that ban, so that only trans and non-binary drag performers be considered. To all of this noise, I have this to say:


In enacting their drag ban, organizers directed their saltiest vitriol towards bio/faux drag performers. I advocate the use of bio-drag as terminology for women who perform as drag queens and men who perform as drag kings, acknowledging that all genders are performed and all genders are political. To assert that that one performance of drag is "faux" based on the contents of the performer's underwear misrepresents the social performative nature of gender.


Free Pride Glasgow's ban on drag performance is queer fascism disguised as queer liberation. This ban is censorship justified by a tragic misconception gender and drag performance art. Free Pride Glasgow's actions are an example of gender policing based on essentialism, a theoretical perspective that submits to stereotypes and refuses the human body's potential to perform an unlimited range of social identities.

Drag performance art exists to destroy the gender essentialist paradigm and illustrate the true performative and fluid nature of gender. By definition, drag is transgressive and activist, regardless of the sex of the body performing it. Drag performance is a hybrid of costume, theatre, and makeup arts; banning drag performances from a queer pride festival is censorship of an artistic political protest.


I am not saying that there are not problems with specific drag performers, events, and TV shows, or that members of the drag community are not guilty of (re)creating oppressions. I personally find it troublesome that space for non-binary/androgynous drag performance is insufficiently administered by the organizers of the vast majority of drag productions.

The answer is tearing binary ideas of gender out of drag productions, not banning them. Define your drag production as a celebration of genderfucking performance, not cross-dressing performances as if there were only two genders. Swap winner's titles of Mr. & Ms. Pride for best performer(s). Discuss and respect new language that describes the performance of non-binary/androgynous drag. (I personally dig the sound of drag regent; slash, I'm totally going to perform as a drag regent now that I've had this thought!)

Censorship and essentialism enact oppression by limiting the possibilities of human existence as per hegemonic ideals. Free Pride Glasgow cannot appropriate oppressive tools and expect that their use of them can create anything other than more oppression. Queer liberation acknowledges the interconnections of all social struggle; queer liberation is liberation for all.


Enacting queer liberation hinges on the verb form of queer. Anybody that queers their space and culture is working toward queer liberation. The verb queer eschews the notion of "allies" and invokes a politic of solidarity; wherein, people accept their responsibility to build a better world and offer accountability for the ideas and actions they put into the world.

Drag performance art is the epitome of queer as a verb. Invoking misconceived stereotypes to deter people from the act of queering is a shameful affront to progress, and I sincerely hope Free Pride Glasgow reconsiders their approach.

Courtney Conquers, a rad bio-queen and one of my best friends, and I at Ottawa's Glow Fair 2015.
(We both have Master's degrees in Gender Studies.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Full text: Sussex Can't Afford Intolerance

Here't the text of my editorial as it appeared in the July 14th edition of the King's County Record.
_________________________________________________________________________________

Most recent population data shows that New Brunswick is the fastest shrinking province in Canada.

Compound this fact with the province’s increasing urbanization, and uncertainty forebodes Sussex’ future. Economic geography cannot be ignored if Sussex is to stand the test of time.

Two indisputable facts from economic geography need to underscore Sussex’ approach to social planning. First, indefinite existence is the primary goal of all politics. Second, people, not money, are the basis of economies. The movement of people is of particular interest to planning efforts. We must concern ourselves with how Sussex can retain and recruit citizens that will sustain a healthy community for the foreseeable future. To address this concern, we must consider the area’s specific push and pull factors, which encourage departure from and immigration to the community respectively.

Unfortunately, intolerance is an easily observable push factor in Sussex. Since the 1990’s release of Richard Florida’s paradigm-shifting Cities and the Creative Class, diversity has been understood as an indicator of economic strength. Heeding this wisdom, municipal, provincial, and federal laws have been rewritten to encourage the free expression of difference and diversity, but Sussex has been slow to meaningfully adopt this cultural shift. Sussex is place where the discouragement of difference and diversity is too common.

By no means is Reverend Phillip Hutchings unique in his behaviour - his antics serve as the perfect case study to illustrate the impact of extreme opinion on a community. Hutchings gained national attention for posting misogynist musings about breasties, selfies that prominently feature women’s beasts, on Facebook. Most recently, Hutchings audaciously took to Facebook the day of Toronto’s Annual Pride Parade to celebrate the conversion of a queer congregation member, who through religious practice found their way to heterosexuality. When Sussex’s presence in mainstream and social media articulates the town as unwelcoming to women and queer people, diversity and difference are actively discouraged. This representation of the area acts as a push factor for our youth and as a barrier for those considering moving here.

The phenomenon of brain drain plagues the entire province, but rural areas are the hardest hit. Our best home-grown talent flows west for the white collar jobs in Ontario and Quebec and skilled labour positions in Alberta. Our youth grow wings instead of roots, while intolerance salts our earth.

This trend must not go unchallenged. While we can’t manipulate job prospects to prevent or reverse brain drain, we can create a more inclusive culture in Sussex. If Sussex is to survive, we need to take meaningful steps to make the community more inclusive of diversity and difference. Among these steps: reconsidering how intolerant leadership is supported and celebrated, making time for teaching and learning about diversity in the community, not just in schools, breaking the stigma of mental illness and addiction, and embracing a live and let live ethos. Maritimers are recognized nationally for our kindness, and it’s time that we embrace that label of kindness as a political mandate to build a more inclusive Sussex.
_________________________________________________________________________________

Just in case you're curious about newspaper editing, here's the original text submission. Only one paragraph really got edited. The edits seem to have made the highlighted paragraph both more and less incendiary. My zinger "Sussex' most famous purveyor of intolerance" got deleted, but the editors went ahead and rewrote Hutching's intolerant behaviour as "extreme opinion". The article wasn't about extreme opinion; it was about intolerance. For the record, I hold several (arguably) extreme opinions, they just aren't problematic. (Ex. free university, legalization of all recreational drugs, abolition of public institutions of binary gender)
_________________________________________________________________________________

Most recent population data shows that New Brunswick is the fastest shrinking province in Canada. Compound this fact with the province’s increasing urbanization, and uncertainty forebodes Sussex’ future. Economic geography cannot be ignored if Sussex is to stand the test of time.

Two indisputable facts from economic geography need to underscore Sussex’ approach to social planning. First, indefinite existence is the primary goal of all politics. Second, people, not money, are the basis of economies. The movement of people is of particular interest to planning efforts. We must concern ourselves with how Sussex can retain and recruit citizens that will sustain a healthy community for the foreseeable future. To address this concern, we must consider the area’s specific push and pull factors, which encourage departure from and immigration to the community respectively.

Unfortunately, intolerance is an easily observable push factor in Sussex. Since the 1990’s release of Richard Florida’s paradigm-shifting Cities and the Creative Class, diversity has been understood as an indicator of economic strength. Heeding this wisdom, municipal, provincial, and federal laws have been rewritten to encourage the free expression of difference and diversity, but Sussex has been slow to meaningfully adopt this cultural shift. Sussex is place where the discouragement of difference and diversity is too common.

By no means is Reverend Phillip Hutchings unique in his behaviour but as Sussex’s most famous purveyor of intolerance, his antics serve as the perfect case study to illustrate intolerance as a push factor. Hutchings gained national attention for posting misogynist musings about breasties, selfies that prominently feature women’s beasts, on Facebook. Most recently, Hutchings audaciously took to Facebook the day of Toronto’s Annual Pride Parade to celebrate the conversion of a queer congregation member, who through religious practice found their way to heterosexuality.

When Sussex’ presence in mainstream and social media articulates the town as unwelcoming to women and queer people, diversity and difference are actively discouraged. This representation of the area acts as a push factor for our youth and as a barrier for those considering moving here.

The phenomenon of brain drain plagues the entire province, but rural areas are the hardest hit. Our best home-grown talent flows west for the white collar jobs in Ontario and Quebec and skilled labour positions in Alberta. Our youth grow wings instead of roots, while intolerance salts our earth.

This trend must not go unchallenged. While we can’t manipulate job prospects to prevent or reverse brain drain, we can create a more inclusive culture in Sussex. If Sussex is to survive, we need to take meaningful steps to make the community more inclusive of diversity and difference. Among these steps: reconsidering how intolerant leadership is supported and celebrated, making time for teaching and learning about diversity in the community, not just in schools, breaking the stigma of mental illness and addiction, and embracing a live and let live ethos. Maritimers are recognized nationally for our kindness, and it’s time that we embrace that label of kindness as a political mandate to build a more inclusive Sussex.