Attention, trans writers, particularly Canadian trans writers, as well as gender-lit geeks of all stripes and localities:
Winnipeg will be playing host to the Writing Trans Genres conference, this May 22-24, 2014.
This sounds like it could be hella cool.
From their website:
Inspired by conferences such as Women and Words / Les femmes et les mots and anthologies like This Bridge Called My Back, this conference aims to develop critical lenses for reading trans literatures. One needn’t be an academic to do intellectual work, and writers, readers and community members can and do engage critically without being situated within the university. This call for proposals is an invitation to writers, performers, critics, scholars, activists and community members to participate in developing critical contexts for reading and interpreting an emerging body of literature by transgender, transsexual, two spirit and genderqueer writers, on two spirit, trans, and genderqueer terms.
Inspirée d’événements telles Women and Words / Les femmes et les mots, de même que d’anthologies telles This Bridge Called My Back, cette conférence vise à contribuer aux développements de perspectives critiques dans la lecture des littératures trans. Nul besoin d’être universitaire afin de s’engager dans le travail intellectuel. En effet, écrivain.e.s, lecteur.trice.s et membres de la communauté contribuent déjà à une pensée critique qui n’est pas contrainte par nos institutions universitaires. D’ailleurs, la capacité de répondre et/ou confronter – to speak back – les milieux académiques dans la production du savoir est cruciale à cette entreprise critique. Certes, nous vivons maintenant dans un contexte où écrivain.ne.s two spirit, genderqueer, et trans jouissent d’opportunités de publication sans précédent dans les milieux commerciaux, littéraires et académiques, en plus d’avoir créé nos propres revues et maisons d’édition. Or, il importe d’autant plus de rappeler que l’accès à ces forums continue d’être relatif, alors que de multiples formes de privilèges et d’oppression, de même que les appréhensions politiques et esthétiques de certains, continuent d’infléchir nos positions. Cet appel à propositions est une invitation aux écrivain.e.s, artistes, critiques, ainsi qu’aux membres de la communauté à participer au développement de contextes critiques pour la lecture et l’interprétation d’un corpus émergent de littérature par (et à propos) des écrivain.e.s trangenre, transsexuel.le.s, two spirit et genderqueer.
I’ve been sitting on this post for months, but I really need to talk about this, so here it is.
When we started running VoV, the idea was to give all women a place where we could stand up and tell our own stories through poetry and prose. And this has worked really well over the almost four years we’ve been doing it.
However I need to throw a reminder up on here.
See, the operative words in that mission statement are “our own”.
In the local – and probably not-so-local, if youtube is any judge – spoken word community, there’s a lot of what I think of as Activist Poetry; poetry that makes the personal political in one way or another. I’ve written that kind of poetry and chances are that you, reading this, have as well. Some of it’s more personal and some of it’s more political, but there’s definitely a lot of it about.
And, of course, not everyone shares the same politics.
Some of you have probably listened to someone like me perform a piece about womanhood or sexuality and wondered how the performer could feel so differently about their chosen subject than you do. I know I’ve sat at the back of the show, twitching in my seat, as someone has performed a poem about her pro-life stance, or has used a word like “hooker” as if it were a pejorative instead of a career choice; and I’ve bitten my lip and reminded myself You can’t police people’s choices of words. She’s telling her own story. If you tell her she has to tell it differently, then it stops being Voices of Venus and turns into Voices of People Who Sound Just Like You.
But sometimes you do have to draw a line.
Remember what I said about telling our own stories?
There’s this pervasive, insidious idea that there are “people with no voices”. To pick an example near-and-dear to my own heart, people who are vocal about wanting to abolish sexwork through criminalization are also, frequently, people who don’t listen to actual sexworkers talking about how the criminalization of their jobs, or things associated with their jobs, actually makes the work more dangerous and the industry, itself, harder to leave in the long run.
Frequently, “people with no voices” really means “people whose voices get ignored”.
And those are not actually the same thing.
I mean, look at VoV. We created this stage because women have, for a long time, been classified as “people with no voices”: People whose voices get ignored. It’s why Charlotte Bronte wrote under the pen name “Currer Bell” in order to publish. It’s why an unknown author with a potential run-away hit on her hands styled herself “J.K.” instead of “Joanne”. It’s why Rusty felt a need to write that post about attendance at the women’s slams in town.
Just because women, as a population or as individuals, have been told in various ways that “people (with voices)” don’t want to listen to us… doesn’t mean that we’re not speaking, or that we have nothing to stay.
So. Where am I going with this?
Sometimes well intentioned people – people who officially “have voices” – fuck up. A man will try to speak about sexualized street harassment as if he experiences it to the same degree that women do; a white woman will try to talk about racial oppression from a perspective that isn’t, and can’t be, hers; a straight person will try to talk about the experience of being queer…
I get that we do this because we want those stories to be told, to be heard, to be listened to. But when we, as activists using poetry and narrative to draw attention to oppression, try to speak from a perspective that isn’t our own; and when we rely on two-dimensional tropes like “The Noble Savage” or “The Almost-Deceptive-Enough Trans Woman”, or “The Abused Street Hooker”, or any of the other cardboard cut-outs, in order to do it… we’re being part of the problem.
The best thing we can do, when we want a situation to be brought to light, is to shut up and listen, and make space for those stories to be told by the people who experience those situations.
If you’re someone who officially “has a voice” – a straight person who wants to talk about homophobia, a white person who wants to talk about racialized oppression, someone with a roof overhead who wants to talk about homelessness – do it by telling your own story.
I can’t write about decolonizing indigenous women’s bodies – the way, say, Moe Clark and Emilie Monnet do – because I don’t have that experience. But I can write, as Luna Allison did in her “Scotch Broom” poem, about being a naturalized transplant, a white woman whose home is on colonized soil.
I can’t write about whore stigma from the perspective of a street-based sex worker, or an indoor escort, because those experiences aren’t mine. But I can write about the horror and disgust on the face of the faculty-member who demanded “Does your wife know you have naked women in here??” of the animation prof that I work for …and talk about it that way.
If we talk about oppression by being open, and getting vulnerable, and telling our own stories, we make space for everyone to tell theirs.
So. Winterlude kicked off this past weekend, and I celebrated by, of course, checking out the ice sculptures, but also by paying a visit to the current sound-sculpture art installation at City Hall.
There’s an interactive sound-sculpture installed there until March 4th, and I highly recommend that you check it out (and bring your poetry with you).
Donna Legault‘s Cymatic Imprints is an interactive sculpture built from sand, shotgun microphones, audio mixers, aplifiers, speakers, and steel ball-chains combined with custom Pure Data software. Which doesn’t sound like much, but when you see it, and interact with it, it’s pure magic.
I went to the sculpture, knowing what it was, with the intent of interacting with (and causing) steel rain.
The glass doors to the installation were locked – it was Saturday, and the gallery is only open during the work-week proper – but that didn’t matter.
I was a singer before I was a poet, so I sang through the locked doors and made the ball-chains danced in their suspension, leaving the trails of their passage in the sand gathered at their feet.
It’s like being in a rainstorm.
I loved it! 😀
I love seeing the power of sound, of voice, made manifest like that. We’re such a visually-oriented culture that sometimes we forget the power that lives in our voices, in the music we make, in the stories we tell. Spoken word artists get it, but not everybody does.
If you’re in town and can get to city hall on a given week day, I highly recommend that you check it out. If you’ve ever doubted that your words have power, open your mouth and let your voice out. Speak here and you’ll never doubt it again.