The Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference is looking to expand on creating a great community for both genderqueers/ non-binary folks and all kinds of femmes. The Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference is one of the largest transgender-specific events in the world, which makes it a great opportunity to expand on our communities. So if you’re into conferences, you like to travel, or you live near Philly please consider submitting a workshop, host a discussion, or just attend!
Queers Not Too Proud for Pop-Culture Hand-Outs
I am a proud person, but I have never really considered myself to be “proud” of being trans or genderqueer or queer or femme or disabled. However, I have always been proud of being an activist. I live in a conservative city where even the most “liberal” people are barely recognizable on any “coastal activist” scale. The general concept of community involvement is an HRC sticker on your car and getting drunk at Pride and terms like “privilege,” “ablism,” and “appropriation,” are barely in stock, and we just got them in last year. After 12 years on the activist block, I’m used to my comments about some problematic show or song being accompanied by friends’ groans and eye roles. What I’m not used to is being fed up with it.
Possibly regrettable statement: I am fucking tired of bad politics. Yes, I know I am using a subjective qualifier and using my own ideals to measure “good” and “bad.” And I feel the need to clarify that I know “bad” politics does not equal bad people. I have always striven NOT to be the type of activist who shoves PC crap down people’s throats without taking experience or perspective into account. That method isn’t productive or inclusive. But it may be that my being too curbed has been part of the problem… maybe in my attempts not to be a total social outcast I have let my city down. Or maybe I’m just sick of my friends making fun of me for giving a damn about language and community politics. But in Cincinnati-speak, ‘giving a damn’ is more commonly called ‘over reacting’ or ‘reading too much into things.’ Under this mentality, when I see something fucked up I’m supposed to let it go, banking on someone’s good intentions. Well, good intentions don’t drive revolution and revolution is what our people need.
But not according to folks around here. According to them things are fine, inclusiveness is stupid and weak, and pop-culture is god. If you don’t agree with this you deserve ridicule and rejection. Being ‘gay’ and being a fan of a singing diva or show is nothing new, and perhaps it is this history that has fused the concept of ‘gay pride’ and pop-culture. Recently I told some friends that I personally preferred not to choreograph or perform songs from Glee because I felt hypocritical (I hate Glee) and that I felt the particular requested song, “Baby Its Cold Outside,” to be sexually coercive and problematic. In response, these folks insensitively made fun of me, both for my “PC” comments and for not liking Glee, and then told me that I needed to get over myself. Now, 1) last time I checked rape was always bad and 2) I didn’t say anything negative about the friends themselves, just the show Glee. But these two factors didn’t matter because it wasn’t the political issues that were the problem, it was me “over reacting” about Glee and being “lame” (and yeah, I commented on that word too and got shit for that as well). Apparently an insult to Glee is an attack on “gay” life as we know it, making defense of it needed by whatever means necessary, even if it means emotionally hurting another “gay” person, even if they are your friend. We get so distracted fighting for survival and jumping at scraps of privilege and recognition we don’t even notice when we put down our own to get it.
And at this point I would like to redundantly point out the difference between a personal attack and a political dialogue. Just because I don’t like something you like or agree with something you say / language you use, doesn’t mean I don’t like or respect you as a human being. And I would expect that if someone didn’t like my politics they would recognize the difference between me politically analyzing language and me being an overall terrible person who is out to destroy them and all they love, burning all their hopes of happiness away with a flaming torch of indiscriminate activist fury… but this expectation has not worked out for me as of late.
I guess the obvious reason for all this is that people don’t like to be challenged nor do they like being told that something they like could possibly be bad. Yeah, fucking up sucks. Its embarrassing, I get it. I’m make mistakes all the time! I’ve not checked my privilege, slipped on a word, laughed at a bad joke… and when I see (or am shown) my error I pull myself up, admit it, and apologize – all this without my face catching on fire or some other catastrophic result. (gasp!) Who could guess others could do the same thing, even in the Midwest? But I could be wrong. Maybe the right thing to do is to be a pop-culture drone and lazily let mainstream society spoon feed me my identity in whatever flavor it sees fit. Do people really think that defending Glee or someone like Katy Perry or Ke$ha is helping them? Should we be thankful for celebrities throwing us a bone, even if they hit us in the face with it? (Get your mind out of the sex-club. Politics now, sex later.) Aren’t queers supposed to have something called “pride?” Queer pride is supposed to be an unabashed fight for our right to be ourselves, not latching onto cultural fads at the whims of sanitized music and TV.
I refuse to take what I am given, not because I am greedy or impatient, but because I am realistic. I know that in the real world words hurt. How did our society come to (sort of) learn that other semi-culturally recognized oppressions weren’t ok? We stopped allowing them in our media (sort of). The more we let slide the farther back we slide in the progress we are trying so hard to make. Is this what our proud people have been reduced to? Taking hand outs from celebrities who claim to care about the “gay cause” but don’t care enough to actually live their politics through their language and/or their performance? Yet when real people in our community speak out they are cast out as some sort of heretic. Am I reading too much into things? I think the problem is that too many people don’t read enough into things. If oppression were always out in front where everyone could see it there would be no question of right and wrong, but it isn’t. It hides in words, in TV shows, in songs… There is a big difference between obsessing over every tiny thing without thinking of the source’s experience(s) and recognizing the intricate layers of oppression within comments/products that promote problematic language and politics for the sake of entertainment and false belonging. I think if we were really proud of our community we would want to work hard to make it as inclusive as possible and be active in its growth, not leave it up to pop stars and TV to shape our image. Oppression comes from a lack of challenging the status quo. Yes, it is more work to think, and sometimes you don’t like what you find, but responsibility isn’t always easy or fun. And though I don’t necessarily think of myself as being “proud” to be any of my identities, I think that being able to say “I try my best with every option available to me to help my communities” enables me to be proud of who I am. Sure, I like seeing my identity recognized in media so I take the effort to find work created by queer and trans people for the sake of helping our community instead of those who use it for monetary gain or cool points. No, I can’t laze back and watch it on Fox or hear it on Clear Channel, but I’d rather have the real thing in its rarity than some money-making imitation that makes me feel good about myself at the cost of my own community’s dignity and pride.
Gender Justice or Just Us?
This weekend was The International Drag King Community Extravaganza (IDKE). This was IDKE’s 12th year, hosted by Baltimore’s Gender Justice Coalition – a group of amazing activists, performers, and community members who did a fantastic job with this immense event. The theme this year was “Gender Justice,” which seemed fitting considering the tumultuous times we are living in. We were joined by amazing performers and activists like Tristan Taormino and my dear friends Johnny Blazes, Miss Tamale, and Kate Bornstein. IDKE’s mood held its usual empowered electricity, but underneath the excitement of the attendees and the efforts of the organizers there was something more: the fear of extinction.
IDKE’s community of drag kings, transformers, genderfuckers, burlesque dancers, and drag queens is diverse, complex, and spread out. The dwindling economy, personal life changes, and community politics have been chipping away at IDKE’s structure leaving us to question what IDKE is, who its for, and if it can or should continue. On the outside it may seem like its a simple issue of attendance or varying politics, but after this (my first) year on the IDKE Steering Committee it is clear that our struggles are the same as every other oppressed group. We are bullied, we are broke, we are bullshitters, and we are burnt out. But what is at risk here is more than just a conference and the best drag shows you’ll ever see. It is something more intangible, but much more important.
When I first attended IDKE it had already existed for nine years. The decade celebration brought it home to its founding place, Columbus, Ohio and in arms reach of me. I drove up to help my drag mentor, Luster De La Virgion, drag pioneer and co-founder of IDKE. I was excited but terrified – expecting a long weekend of wrong pronouns and isolation, the usual drill of being mistaken for a lesbian drag king. But when I got there I found something different, something that changed my life.
I stood shyly quiet, waiting for my spot at the tech rehearsal for the big Showcase. I saw someone across the theater and I could tell he was a transguy. I disparagingly wondered if he could recognize me… there was nothing tell-tale about my appearance and my pink hair didn’t help. My lonely desperation made me feel awkward and pathetic. I gave up on the idea of talking to him. Then, by chance I ran into him, quite literally, when we were going through the same door. We started to talk. “I’m not a drag king,” he said, “I’m trans so for me its not “drag”, but a gender performance. I’m a trans performer, a transformer…” As he spoke I was strangely overcome, like in a movie. I had never heard those words before, or I should say, I had never heard them from anyone other than me. It was like listening to myself talk, except with more eloquence, power, and confidence than I had ever thought I could embody. I will never forget that feeling, standing there in that dark, chaotic parking lot… the feeling of recognition through the ground-breaking realization that I was not alone, that it wasn’t just me. Three years later I had grown into my own as a trans performer and was doing genderfuck drag at IDKE. Afterward a stranger came up to me. “I have to tell you,” they said shyly, “You are the first person I ever met who does what I do. You made me feel like it was ok to be me and that I wasn’t a freak.” I was so moved all I could do was say thank you, pulling back tears. I had unknowingly become the beacon that I was looking for not so long ago. I told the story to my friend who was my ‘beacon’ and as we frantically drove to manage the next event our brains slowed down, remembering. “I never feel like I could be that to anyone,” I told him. He smiled and said, “That’s what I thought when you said it to me.” Years ago, before I said it to him, he had found his own beacon person. And I am sure that any day now, the person who said it to me will hear it said back to them. They’ll be that beacon for someone searching, wanting to know they are not alone.
To me, “Gender Justice” is about responsibility. We are responsible for creating a community that is visible, socially and politically conscious, and intersectionally equal. We are responsible for making our voices heard so we may inspire others find their own. We are responsible for maintaining our own space, our own community for future generations. Over the past year as IDKE dealings began to look more and more bleak, I started to think that maybe IDKE just wasn’t meeting the communities’ needs anymore, and if that was the case, we have no choice but to let it go. But I know I still needed IDKE. I look around at the small pocket of people working to keep this important community event afloat… I just can’t believe that we are the only ones who need this space. It can’t be just us. Watching attendees at the conference, it was clear to me that people where happy, but how many volunteered to work? How many answered calls for help over this past year? Organizers work to help our community, but is the community working to help organizers? We have to do more than take. We all have something we can give, we all must do what we can. Can we really promote “Gender Justice” if we are not actively taking part every day, each in our own way, to better our communities? The first step to accomplishing anything is having so much love and passion that we can put faith in what seems impossible -something seemingly abound in our community. But faith and passion are not enough, we have to act. We must work to turn that faith into proof that we exist. Drag is more than a show. Drag is an artistic craft; it is a creation of our community used to carve out a visible space for ourselves, a space in which we live. As Tristan Taormino said in her keynote this weekend, now more than ever we need drag to be that visible proof that it is ok to be ourselves. I say we must take culture into our own hands and mold it into something that speaks to us, that lets us we know we are not alone. That it is not just us.
Pictures of a Genderation – Gender Outlaw: The Next Generation
I’ve never been a book person. Reading has never come easy to me, resulting in my rarely reading anything. Sure, I read signs and emails and 142 character tweets, but my brain refuses to give up my 7 year old mentality of if a book doesn’t have pictures, I’m not interested. And though I have never been a book person, I am an insatiable learner. My inability (or refusal) to read has caused a lot of problems with this, starting with bad grades as a kid and then escalating to a much more frustrating fate. It puts me at risk of being left out of my communities. Most of our breakthrough thinkers and epiphany-enduing personal stories are only found in, you guessed it, books. So what’s a dyslexic femme boy to do? Just gotta suck it up and read some shit, or better yet get a cute queer to read aloud to you Jane Austen style while you recline on a sofa with an undeserved sense of accomplishment.
I know, I know, I’m amazingly smart, but I wasn’t always this awesome. Before I was clever enough to enlist a cute reader I had to laboriously read books to myself. One of my early labors of love, and possibly the first ‘gender’ text that ever spoke to me, was Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw – not because of its theoretical or activist implications, but because of Kate’s poetic gender-fuck-you, “Its my life, I do what I want” mentality. The book may not have changed my life, but it made me feel like I wasn’t alone – something I surely already knew but had never been proven to me until then – and that changed my life.
Kate and S. Bear Bergman just edited a new book: Gender Outlaw: The Next Generation and once again I am being taught things I thought I already knew, or maybe just needed to be re-told. The book opens with a heart-warming conversation between Kate and Bear. It is like hiding behind the kitchen door while your parents talk about you, but instead of your parents in a traditional sense, its your trans-queer family and instead of talking about you specifically, its your community. And what is “community” but a broader reflection of ourselves, what we’ve done, and what we need to do? (And what else do parents talk about but what you did and what you need to do?) And though community in a sense is about us, community isn’t one thing or type of person because every community is made up of countless other communities. Its a group of intersectional identities bound together by a common identity or experience and this forms some intangible matrix that we exist in and our existence makes it visible. Now, I could make Kate and Bear very happy by expanding this borderline sci-fi reference into a full sci-fi metaphor but I am not cool (or un-cool) enough to know how (sorry darlings <3) so I’m going to talk about paintings instead. A Monet painting. Its made of millions of different sized, shaped, and shaded strokes create something recognizable. Someone may only see the greater image without seeing the individual strokes that form it, and some strokes may be more visible than others, but there are no true lines, no way to define where one shape starts and another ends or which has more impact on the finished work of art. It all depends on who’s looking and what they are looking for. That is why this anthology is so relevant to our community now. It is a collection of various strokes and swabs from the greater work of our community so that we may get a better idea of what we’re looking at when we stare into that mass of color on canvas.
Recently, I have been especially frustrated with the barely moving, politically stunted and socially constricted suffocation that is my Midwestern hometown’s “gay” community. This book reminded me that I’m not out of my wits, not just in reference to my genderfucked femme trans-radical queerness. It also focuses on socio-political state of our community through its presentation of multifaceted political consciousnesses of privilege, language, power, race, class, and accessibility. It discusses who we are in our differences and similarities, what we are doing now, and what we need to do to better the future. Sometimes the only push we need to keep going is to see that we are not the only one who is fighting, who is living a life like ours while also working to enable others to do so in their own right. I can’t tell you this book will change your life, but it may remind you that you’re not alone. And if you’re like me, and not a book person, they got us covered. The book has pictures.
Tools of Our Own Demise
My community continues to throw me curve balls. Recently I was given an account of a rather discouraging discourse that took place on stage at a local show. The emcee, who is a transguy, told a story about another man flirting with him and concluded his story by asserting his straight identity and saying “I’m not gay trans, I’m just trans.” The audience laughed.
A pleasant reminder that just as gays have less rights than straights, gay trans folks have less rights than straight trans folks. The amount of internalized homophobia and transphobia here is staggering. “I’m not gay trans, I’m just trans.” Translation: “I’m not one of those gay transguys. I’m just you’re good o’l normal transguy.” Or maybe “gay trans” was meant to be a combination of gender and sexuality in one identity making ‘gay trans’ a different identity than ‘trans’ aka ‘straight trans.’ Not only would this create a problematic concept of normalcy based off of straightness, it also mirrors the all too familiar “I’ll prove I’m not gay cause god forbid you think otherwise.” Can anyone say hierarchy? As usual the straight people go on top. Trans or not, lets keep reaching for that privilege! Never mind who you crush on your way up.
My criticism does not come solely from an outsider’s perspective. I was straight once. When I first came out as trans I identified as queer in the general sense, but since I was a guy dating women I felt that to actualize my maleness and to pass I needed to be straight. And ‘straight’ was about more than sexuality, it was gender expression too. It meant portraying a specific masculinity that used misogynistic and homophobic language to underline how straight I was. I found myself impulsively attempting an uncomfortable role that went against my feminist principles. But “straight” continually failed to speak to my reality leaving me feeling like a fake, and eventually, like a failure at being a man. All and all, my straight period was very short because my exhaustion lead me to recognize my folly- that and I’m just too self-righteous to be anything other than what I am. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t transguys who are straight, or that its bad to be straight. There are tons of awesome straight guys, I’m just not one of them. (To clarify: I am not stating that the label(s) you choose have to define your actions based on the dictionary. I say own the labels that speak to you – i.e. someone can identify as lesbian but not solely date women, someone can be queer and heterosexual, in my own case I call myself gay frequently but I do not only date men.) I say all this to state how I can understand the motivation, the habitualness of using language that is oppressive in order to show off one’s masculinity. It is not wickedly meant, but it is no less harmful to all involved. This “no [trans] homo” mentality harms us not only in a grander sense of societal oppression, but also more directly in our own mentalities. It forces ourselves into gendered stereotypes that art problematic and hurtful. Think of how people replace the word stupid with gay, loser with cocksucker, and wimp with fag. Is it no wonder people struggle to come out as queer. Similarly, when trans folks make homophobic comments it has the exact same effect. In reference to this case: There are tons of straight transguys and there are also tons of transguys who are playing it straight just like I did because they are afraid that without being ‘straight’ they won’t pass, can’t be a real man, or people will not accept them.
We all seem to understand that our community continues to suffer in our society, and yet the oppressions of the non-queer community isn’t enough. We continue to put each other down. Intention is important, but intention is not everything, especially when in positions of high visibility. In this case I am certain the emcee only meant to crack a joke, but I don’t appreciate my life being made into a joke. Many assume we are incapable of oppressing those within our own communities but that is not true. Our culture values gender normalcy and heteronormative behavior and this influences our own trans and queer communities. Those who do not conform to heteronormative roles are considered less than, either consciously or unconsciously, which results in a lack of recognition, respect, and inclusion. When an identity, like a transguy, is decidedly defined based off of stereotyped masculinity and straight identity, what does that make someone like me who doesn’t fit that standard? We are left fighting to prove we are trans enough, if we are allowed to be considered trans at all.
As gender normative, ‘normal’ looking, white, middle-class “gay” becomes more socially acceptable we must actively guard against oppressing those in our communities who are different. Statements like “That’s so gay,” “She’s not trans, she’s a real woman,” and “I’m not gay trans, I’m just trans” create unconscious hierarchies that result in significant oppression. The person saying it may not feel the oppression in their words, but it makes them the tool of a system that prefers us to be ashamed, hidden, or dead.
The Fucked-Over Femme
This past weekend was Femme 2010, the biannual Femme Conference put on by the fantastic Femme Collective. The Femme “community” is like any other where it is in actuality many similar communities grouped together under one umbrella. I am always excited for Femme Con and this year I was optimistic about making more femme friends and also meeting more femme guys, which were few and far between last time (2008 in Chicago). But the longer the conference went on the longer I was alone.
Early in the conference I met a transguy, a femme ally, who confided in me about a woman purposely making negative comments about “masculine energy” taking up space in the conference, insinuating that non-female people were not welcome. I wasn’t surprised, but I assured him that was not the opinion of the general populace of the conference. I have always admired the Femme Collective’s hard work to expand the femme umbrella’s reach, but what do we do when oppression is coming from under the umbrella in addition to outside of it?
Invisibility. Many queer femme women feel invisible because the world doesn’t understand/believe that feminine women can also be queer nor do people often recognize the subversive political action that goes with being a femme woman. Femme transwomen who, among many things, are often refused access to women spaces and have severe issues of safety. Whether it is misogyny in its most traditional ‘women are demons’ sense or in more complex spheres where somehow cute shoes equal complying with the patriarchy – femme women have a lot of shit to deal with. That said I would like to point out that not all femmes are women, and femme women are not the only ones who have to deal with shit.
“Come In Ladies!” The signs were all over the conference, but what about us femmes who aren’t ladies? Can’t we come in or are boys not allowed? I heard whispers: “Men shouldn’t be here” “What’s with all the butch looking people?” and “This is a femme only space” essentially telling me not only am I not a femme, I am also unwelcome. I was really perturbed by the 1970s-esque pro-vagina sentiment that was overtaking everything. Yes, pro-vagina is awesome but vagina does not always equal woman, and woman does not always equal femme. What about those who don’t have a vagina (or a specific a type of vagina), or have one but don’t identify with it? As the weekend progressed I found myself getting nervous. I was worried people didn’t want me there or wouldn’t be interested in my workshop or in my performance (which was in an all women line-up). I felt alone, desperate for people to talk to. I went to a workshop for guy and genderqueer femmes but the whole thing was over run with female femmes processing their loves and issues (some very problematic) about transguy femmes; which I found particularly ironic because it was the only workshop dedicated to non-female femmes but it was dominated by females – but “male energy” is what’s stealing all the conference space. There were multiple testimonies of how femme transguys presented competition for community, status, and even sex partners. This dialogue made me too angry to constructively comment. It was a typical bubble-world testimony of coastal queers thinking the entire world is their liberal city, where apparently transqueers are running wild en masse. I’ve never found it easy to find my own folks, in fact out here in the Midwest the closest feminine (not femme, just feminine) transguy is a nine hour drive away and I only met him last year. Yeah, us femme guys are a real invasion. Claim your radical status and sex partners now before its too late!
Not only am I invisible but I’m getting fucked over by my own communities. Folks like me, we’re the Fucked-Over Femmes. We have to deal with similar oppressions to female femmes but we aren’t allowed to bond and unite over it because we are male or masculine. How much male privilege you think is allowed someone like me? Not a fuckin lot, if I’m even read as male at all. Femininity is considered equal to woman, and not being a woman I am frequently denied the identity of femme, even by those who know me well. Instead I am habitually told how ‘gay’ I am, which I don’t mind because I am queer, but the use of gay here is incorrect and it says something about unconscious gendering. Someone may lovingly say “JAC, you’re so gay'” because I’m wearing a poofy skirt but they don’t say it when I’m restoring a bike. I’m the same person but I’m not expressing the same “gayness” AKA male femininity. Pushing against masculinity is hard; coping with scrutiny from other guys for not being ‘man enough,’ even pitied for getting delt the femme hand in life. I am continually asked why I transitioned at all if I was just going to be like a girl. I do not deserve to pass as well or get the right pronoun because I don’t exude the hypermasculinity that would make me worthy of it and if I am at all bothered by this it is my own fault for not being a “normal guy.”
I love my femme communities and I will continually work hard for them. And I know for a fact that the general community of Femme Con is awesome and strives for inclusiveness, but – and you know there is always a ‘but’ on this blog – different types of femmes have many different oppressions to battle and no one is harder than another. In general we are all up against the same shit: You get cat-called, I get called fag. You’re afraid, I’m afraid. Our big similarities outweigh the tiny differences. I may be a Fucked-Over Femme, but not any more or less than any other femme. You may feel invisible, but no more or less than I am. What is more frustrating that seeing your community when it refuses to see you? We all feel invisible, we are all getting fucked over, we all need to fight together. We all are undervalued and stereotyped because, as Kate Bornstein so eloquently said in her keynote, “sexy is evil and cute is dumb.” How are we supposed to rise above the oppressions put on us when we are still counting people out, or counting people as less-than? (sound familiar?) Kate talked about how no femme is truly invisible, but femmes are still being fucked over, sometimes by each other. We need to stop the legitimacy wars and start doing what we do best, fighting for justice and looking fabulous while we do it.
‘Oh Canada’ for Queers
Just returned from a fantastic journey to Canada for Toronto Pride. I was invited by the awesome troupe the Royal Renegades of Columbus to perform with them and our friends Ceci My Playmate and Her Dollies the at the festival. It was a ton of fun. I was the EMCEE for the majority of the show which was a special treat. There were so many young people in the audience, it was adorable. That is the best thing about Pride, seeing all the kids and young folks come out, all excited and beaming – before they get bitter and jaded like the rest of us. lol
With the Renegades before the show.
I’ve never been one to go nuts over rainbows and Pride, but I have to admit the way Toronto handles it is an experience. It wasn’t the size alone (with was staggering) that was amazing, but more so the way the city responded to Pride. In Toronto, Pride is treated like any other holiday. Stores in the main shopping drag of the city hung rainbow flags and ‘gay’ themed store displays. Now, I realize that its all corporate consumerism, but even with that it was strange to be so… normalized. There’s little chance of any mall in Cincinnati having store after store with queer themes. People wouldn’t go to them out of protest, but in Toronto people don’t think twice. The Pride parade was also televised live in full as well as evening coverage; it was even on the weather.
Clothing store near Easton Center, downtown Toronto — Pride on Toronto’s weather
Granted, Canada is arguably one of the most liberal, queer-friendly countries in the world and Toronto is its largest, (and most liberal) city, so talking about how queer friendly it is may seem redundant. Even so, its not something this Midwestern boy is used to. I wonder if it is like San Francisco Pride,or New York, or D.C., but even there I don’t know if Pride is on the weather. I can’t even put my finger on the feelings surrounding it because its something I’ve never experienced on this scale.
I was hoping to see tons of transfolk at Pride, but sadly I didn’t. I missed the Trans March by a day, I guess after the march all the trans folk didn’t want to come out (maybe they were too tired, ba dum ching!) I saw a couple older women, but I couldn’t even spot any folks that could be either lesbians or transguys but you can’t tell. It was surprising and disappointing… I asked around, but to no avail. I’m curious as to what the trans community is like there now. All I could find out was that the guys and gals were pretty separated, and most transmasculine folks seemed to be younger and have ‘different interests’ from the women. Sound familiar? Eh, well, guess I’ll have to go back and look some more.
The visibility and normalization, if you will, of Toronto Pride left me thinking about my own recent experiences with Cincinnati Pride and the controversy of accessibility and inclusion. Toronto seemed to do a good job with family-friendly and youth-specific spaces, as well as safe spaces for various parts of our community including the disabled, trans and gqs, and POCs. There was also a pretty prominent international presence in the parade which was awesome. I am certain that all Prides have their issues, but as a literal foreigner I wasn’t savvy to them. It made me think about the attempts of sanitizing Cincy Pride, and further reiterated my feelings on the issue. From what I could tell from being present in the festival, working with volunteers, and attending events, Toronto’s way of managing Pride was very community run and community focused. There was a surprising lack of corporate ads etc with a plethora of community groups and locally run industry (even the city transportation services were in the parade). Maybe a good idea for Midwest communities would be to have community marches. The Toronto Dyke March grossed 200,000 – which I learned from the news coverage about it. Of course, a big place like Toronto has the resources and people power for such a thing which stresses how a city with low community resources can raise all the money it wants for pride, but without a supported people all you’ll end up with is a shell of a festival with low representation and even lower involvement.
As for an update on Cincinnati Pride workings, there isn’t much of one. After a brief period of motion and success the opposition seems to be stonewalling us, so we must push on and keep up the work until some sort of resolution and be accomplished. Maybe one day Cincy pride can manage something like Toronto (to scale) but we haven’t gotten there yet.
Cincinnati Pride or Privilege?
Cincinnati Pride is approaching, and this year issues have gone beyond the usual problems with Pride. Pride is a cluster of issues, visibility, consumerism and corporatization, access, politics… but this I guess it was bored of the old problems and wanted something new. One issue vexing Cincinnati Pride this year is location. Pride has moved from its ‘gayborhood’ home to Cincinnati’s downtown center, a change which has sparked some controversy. But there is another issue that is less obvious, and far more serious.
The project of Pride has been picked up by the Gay Chamber of Commerce, an organization focused on gay business success and representation in Cincinnati. “Doing pride fits right in our mission to promote the city and support our businesses.” stated George Crawford, 45 year old local gay business owner, member of the Gay Chamber Commerce and the Chairman of Pride. Support our businesses? But what about our community? The queer community is not made up of businesses and their owners, its made up of everyday people. He confirmed that the Gay Chamber of Commerce was using a project called Equinox Cincinnati to run Pride. Equinox formed last year to host a party for the purpose of, in Crawford’s words “to show the changing climate” of Cincinnati as a gay friendly city. (From where the rest of the community stood, it was a gay VIP rich folk only event.) I was surprised to learn Cincinnati had changed into an equality focused queer friendly city because as a visibly queer trans person working in the activist community, I figure I would have noticed if Cincinnati magically transformed into a mini-San Fran. When I asked about those who still did not feel safe, Crawford’s thoughts were that it was the queer community’s fault that they didn’t feel safe in Cincinnati. “We have the chip on our shoulder and scars… we need our community to get on board…” Get on board for what? He made a decent point in saying “We can’t continue to hide in a safe neighborhood like Northside [gayborhood]… we need to get out on the main streets.” I can’t help but agree with the on the streets part, but I’d like to know what I’m “getting on board” for, with who, and why. Crawford repeated words like “image,” “profit,” “income” and “reputation” – something very relevant to a business making money, but not very relevant to a community in need of resources.
Pride; A Dissection
Columbus Pride was this past weekend- one of the largest prides in the Midwest. To start out the weekend I semi-butched it up with the troupe at the Royal Renegades’ annual pride drag show at Wall Street.
With fellow Black Mondays performing at the Royal Renegades Pride show, Columbus, Ohio
[image: four drag king performers looking at the camera, all dressed in white shirts with black coats, looking cool]
The show was a fantastic time, but it reminded me how different Pride – and its spaces, scenes, and people are compared to every other time of year. Maybe folks think of Pride as a way to give a dose of gayness to the rest of the world, to remind them we are here. But out of sight, out of mind. Maybe its just me airing my activist baggage, but I can’t help but get angry during Pride. I look around and see people so excited to be queer, having all this “pride” but try to get a thousand volunteers for something in October, or get people out for an event in February, good-fucking-luck. Its like Queer Pride is seasonal or as needed. What good is a parade to promote community visibility if afterward the majority of the community disappears again, back to their homes to hibernate until next year when its again time to wear rainbows and get drunk in public?
Pride is great because it is like we own the world for a day, all the communities that make up the mass that is greater queer community out and about. But it doesn’t last. The next day and I went in search of brunch (naturally, queers love brunch), but I was afraid to go anywhere. Once again I was thrust back into being aware of my outcast standing. As things are now, pride is the one opportunity I have to be in my own state, my own local community, and not stick out like a nail waiting to get hit. I like pride for that reason, its an opportunity to relax and feel like I’m in a visible community that understands me… but I’m still not. Just like every year, I met several people who didn’t know what I was and when I told them I was a transguy they didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. Its hard to feel included when people still don’t think I even exist. I don’t bother explaining because I think that of all days, I should not have to be an educator at Pride. I just want to have fun too. When I express my impatience, I’m seen as hateful or irrational. I’m supposed to support organizations that are taking their time on trans education. I’m supposed to be proud of a queer community that still doesn’t recognize me. I’m supposed to think its great that our parade is reduced to corporate shills and advertisements instead of education and action.
Lady Gaga Doesn’t Get It
Yes, that’s right. At the risk of being black balled from the queer scene entirely, I have something critical to say about Lady Gaga. Now, I like Lady Gaga’s music; I listen to it on a regular basis, I like her queery genderfucking costuming, and I plot multiple drag numbers to her songs. Upon first discovering her, I figured she was queer and was taking her identity to fuck with society, good for her. But now its become apparent that this ‘Lady Gaga’ experience is more complicated that just her being one of us.
In an interview by Times Online this past weekend, Gaga is described as having “legendary” devotion and promotion of “gay culture.” First of all, I think you gotta be around longer than a few years to be legendary. Second, I definitely was not aware that Lady Gaga had been appointed our PR rep. Gaga is described AND describes herself like she is the mother AND savior of queers everywhere, but when it comes to her listing “all the freaks” that she parents she names gay and lesbian men and women, but not even her own community of bisexuals! And as usual us trans kids aren’t included, or maybe we are absorbed into the greater “gay.” Surprise, surprise.
Third, and most importantly, what exactly is “gay culture?” I didn’t know there was one big “gay culture” that all of us fit into. Last time I checked all “gay” people aren’t homogeneously living in one bubble of fads, fashion, and fabulousness. (The word does has homo in it, so maybe that’s where they made the mistake.) The author, who has a crush on Gaga so obvious that I didn’t know if I was reading a legit article or a 15 year old’s diary, talks about Gaga like she is a superhero or a ghost – hence describing her as legendary. The article records a trip to a Berlin bar/sex-club, describing the people there by listing the most culturally ‘shocking’ elements, just to make sure the reader knows this is a place where GAY PEOPLE hang out and have chain and leather studded SEX. Gaga is described as follows: