I am so excited for this weekend and co-producing Mind the Gap! – A Drag Uproar. This international show is going to rock the Midwest like it’s never been rocked before!! If you’re in the area come on out for a full weekend of shows, discussions, and awesomeness.
This weekend was a fabulously busy. It was my 2nd year at the Philly Trans Health Conference (PTHC), first time as a board member. I presented six times, volunteered, and had tons of meeting, both for fancy business and friendly love. My thoughts about the conference circle around a sense of growing community, and our past and future. This was stirred particularly by my seeing friends from early on in my coming out, people who I haven’t seen in years, reawakening memories of first finding community, that desperation to not be alone, and the joy of connecting with someone who was like me.
I ran a trans performance plenary with the amazing performers Bryn Kelly, Katastrophe, Athens Boys Choir, The Notorius OMG, Leah b. of Gender Edge, Ignacio Rivera, and AJ Bryce. As we all spoke, points of similarity kept arising; we all started out alone, isolated from anyone else like us. We never planned to be this visible, we were searching for ourselves, and ended up finding more than we ever thought. And in searching for myself, I selfishly loaded the conference with femme stuff this year. I brought the issue to the board, stressing the importance of femme inclusion, and before I knew it I was titled the Femme Program Coordinator – something PTHC has never had before. Honestly, I questioned myself like “but, wait, I’m not what most people think of when they think femme… should I be in charge” but then I realized that not only was there no one else, and it was me or nothing, that also the fact that I am not the “mainstream” vision of what femme is might be a good reason for me to take it on. Time to break the mold and get the wheels of change moving! There were so many folks like me there, it was like looking in a mirror – a much more fabulous and well dressed mirror. And when the inevitable happened, and non-trans female femmes raised their eyebrows saying “wait, you are the one in charge a femme programming….?” I brushed it off and smiled to myself, because the femme workshop they attending would not have been there if it wasn’t for me. If they didn’t think I was femme enough, then they could get out of my workshops- and there were several. Through the supportive conference leadership I was able to take PTHC from having one femme workshop (that had only been in programming for two of the ten years of the conference) to seven workshops focused on femmes presented by a diverse array of femmes of different identities, and all of them were packed! My femme boys workshop had almost 160 people in it which was intense but wonderful, and gave me ideas for new programming next year. I also did a workshop with my mentor and friend, Moonhawk River Stone about gender identity disorder removal which was a success, and we have new plans for the next year, and how we aren’t willing to wait anymore on what we’ve been nervously dragging our feet on. Our community is getting too big, too strong to sit under this oppression any longer. Ignacio Rivera and I did a fun sexual liberation workshop for the young folks in the youth programming track. It was incredible to hear 16 year olds talking about the gender binary and privilege. It made me wonder where I would be if I had known about that stuff when I was their age, and it blows my mind thinking what they may accomplish by the time they are my age. Speaking of age, I also got a ton of baby time this weekend, getting to play with S. Bear Bergman’s son, while totally blowing off other stuff that was not as important as crawling around the carpet with a 16 month old. I wonder what things will be like in the trans community when that baby grows up…
My other big task of the conference planning was I directed and performed in the new show, “Blender! Trans Performance Showcase.” This was the first time a performance showcase has been a part of the Philly Trans Health Conference and it couldn’t have gone over better. I wanted to do a show because I wanted to promote trans and queer performance, and also to stress the importance of including art in our work as activists. Our community’s art is our community’s culture, and if we don’t support it, who will? This show was great. It was honestly the most hectic, disastrous, stressful show I’ve ever organized but it was also one of the most exciting because we were forging a new space. In the end, all the hard work was worth it. All the performers were fantastically talented doing spoken word, music, dance, and drag. We bonded together, ready to create something for our people, and to show our people what we had created. The fabulous Liberty City Kings Drag and Burlesque troupe were life-savers in helping me run the stage, and the audience was happy and excited giving the night such a positive energy. It was a great way to wrap up the weekend and I’m looking forward to running the event next year!
Video from the performance, which loops in perfectly with this blog topic. I call it “GenderBent Kids” partly after the name of the song the dance is set to, “Kids” by MGMT. Its a little reflection on myself growing up, enjoying both femme and masculine cultural expressions, but continually feeling the need to choose between one or the other under the imposed narrative of social authority promoting the gender binary. Like most of my favorite pieces, it came together from a last minute idea that hit me like a hurricane like “OMG this would be awesome” and there it was. This is the first run of it so I’m looking forward to beefing up the dancing a little bit more and maybe making it a little more complex.
This conference was just a good example of where I want our community to be going. This conference is the biggest trans focused conference in the world, and it just turned 10 years old. Seems fitting we are on a good path of growth, which could not have happened without the amazing folks working on the project. We weren’t without issues this weekend, not without people being hurtful and oppressive, or without pain, but we worked through it. We were together with our elders and our youth, forging a community that was accountable, responsible, active, understanding, and loving. Hell, even Chaz Bono got an earful of community folks asking him about his behavior and holding him accountable – more on that later. Our community is growing, and we’re getting stronger. We gotta keep this up.
Come on out, Ohio for the CAUSE Conference, hosted by Equality Ohio and the Columbus College of Art and Design! And, for a bonus, Columbus’ queer youth even, Fusion Friday is jumping on board to throw a party! And at that party, I’m producing a drag show! Then come to the conference tomorrow for lots of cool workshops, including two by me on all kinds of cool transy topics. Lots going on here, lots of layers. Be there!
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!
Come out to see some really amazing folks who I am not cool enough to perform beside, including my buddies Julia Serano, Ignacio Rivera, Athens Boys Choir, Dalice Malice, and me this weekend at Queer in Flux!\
A Convergence for Queer Liberation in Columbus November 12th-14th
Queer in Flux: A Radical Queer Convergence
The Ohio State student group Queer in Flux will host a convergence highlighting racism, gender presentation, feminism within the context queer and trans identities through a series of workshops, music performances, spoken word poetry, and film. A multitude of themes will be covered ranging from prison abolition and sex work, to writing and music as revolutionary acts of expression.
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.
If you’re in the Baltimore area come out for the many shows, workshops, and fabulousnesses of The International Drag King Extravaganza XXII, Gender Justice! If you’re looking for me, I’ll be the blur of pink and sparkles running around doing four shows, three workshops, and a ton of organizing stuff. Its gonna be a super hardcore blast and you should come!
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.
If you’re in the Oakland Area, come out TONIGHT for a fantastic Femme Show!
And come see me and other awesome femmes doing cool stuff all weekend at Femme 2010!