Saturday, April 22, 2006
04/28/2006 09:00 PM - The Lighthouse
930 Rue Champagneur, Montreal, Quebec, CANADA, ,CA - 10.00A multi-artist evening of performance artists including music and spoken word. Queer themed. All ages. Directions: Off of Van Horne, 161 bus and near the subway stop Outremont Metro (Blue Line)
When you’re angry at something or someone in the office the old saying is,”Write It, Read It. Rip It.” But I’m going to Post it. Because “high society” just doesn’t get it. To define my terms, “high society” is people who have access and invitation to participate in the social networks of mainstream society. A mainstream society that includes both the strait world and the queer community. But not people who are gender peculiar.
By social networks I mean the basics of meeting friends and having people actually calling us and inviting us out. How it works is: Each meeting and inviting leads to more of the same. Enurta. High society. It isn’t about money. Though that comes with it. In that people get jobs through who they know. Get music gigs and press from people they know.
Call me Jealous. Imbittered. Angry. Chip on the shoulders. Worked over. I’d for sure agree to “Worked over.” But I’m really done with being told, “Oh. Why don’t you just organize a show?” Or “You can get press – you just have to go out and get it.” Or, “if you’re good at what you do people will just hire you.” Sorry. No sale. All of those comments, however well meaning they may be, are coming from a place of “privlidge.” People who are privilidged to be main stream enough that high society will let them participate in the strait ahead ratio of “Effort = Results”. They ignore that it just aint that simple for people who are ruled “peculiar” and especially, “gender peculiar” by society.
Lets take a closer look at who is “gender privilidged” and who is “gender peculiar” - and why.
If you find yourself lost already, in order to understand what kind of “outsider” status someone who is unconvential in gender faces let’s consider Tammy and Little Billy. Tammy, is a trans gal trying to get in with some non trans people so she can read her poems at the local watering hole in town. Even though she knows most of them are a bunch of damn posers. Little Billy is a queer boy sitting out in a rural town populated by farmers and bible thumpers all lined up at the church pot luck for second helpings of strawberry shortcake of a warm July evening. Billy is often the outcast. Just not let in the club. Tammy is like Little Billy. Little Billy doesn’t have any hetro privlidge. Tammy doesn’t have any gender privlidge. They are both on the outside looking in on the rest of the town, otherwise known as – you guessed it: “high society”. But being a butchy young thing, Little Billy, with his straw hat and faded denium overalls, at least has gender privlidge. Their gonna give him a bowl of strawberry shortcake. Tammy, well she’s just out in the cold. No strawberry shortcake for her. And no saucy limric from her poetry scribbler is gonna fix that, you all.
Now that we have a better idea of what the hell I’m talking about let’s continue. There’s lots of folks, artists and otherwise, out there who are “different”, or “characters” or “unique”. People who dress larger than life to get attention, have a rare talent that they exploit to gain notority, or big personalities that command an audience wherever they go. These “characters” are sought out and revered by society for their “different” qualities. Different, as in “special”. Special, as in “appreciated”. But all of these traits are a second coat of paint over top of their base coats of being conventionally gendered. Their gender matches their body and their sex. It always has, and it always will. Conventionally gendered. This is a safe and approachable base coat of paint for most people.
This safe, conventional, and basically mass appealing gender presentation earns these “characters” two things, if not more. One, it earns them entrance into the privlidged, conventionally gendered high society. And they get into the club because they give people in mainstream society something safe to hold onto. Something called “gender” that lets mainstreamers say, “I can deal with this person – cuz underneath they are “just like me””. And once these “characters” are in the club of privilidge what do they get? : A big play ground to network, earn livings, date, become rock stars – whatever’s on their agendas.
Secondly, it earns them the right to play. Play with fashion, piercings, tattoos, looks, styles, bravado, and all other outward presentations of themselves. Play so hard with their appearances that they can make themselves into real, “freaks”. But they’re still safe. Hardly scary at all. Becauase no matter what they do they’ve still got this base coat of gender normalcy underneath to keep them in the good graces of a main stream society that’s holding the keys to privilidge.
But what about those “characters” who seem to court gender diviance but still come out on top of the heap? The chick dressed in leather and big hats and singing with a real booming voice and a drum kit and the punk boy with mascara and painted nails whining away in a high piched nasal voice above his electric guitar. Those two. And their legions of clones. Good for them, but no, this doesn’t move them from the status of “character” into, “peculiar”. This is still just playing with appearances. Putting a real shocking second coat of paint over those convential gender base coats of theirs. This is all just part of their schitck. Their gag. Their attention-getting machine.
A base coat of paint that mainstream “high society” views as safe and a second coat that main stream views as flashy– what a recipe for success. The by line reads something like, “Amazing female vocalist solid as an 18 wheeler” and “Punk frontman sings like an angel.” The prerequistite for success is gender. These artists deliver. And “high society” eats it up by consciously or unconsciously saying, “Well, I can deal with 18 wheelers and angels – I mean it’s a man and a woman I’m watching here at the end of the day.”
It’s these “characters’” choice to look like that though. It’s on them. Not in them. They could strip all of that rockabilly toughness and punk strut off for Monday morning, walk down the street without being stared and and get that job in the coffee shop on the corner without much of a problem. Not being stared at. Getting that job. Dressing it up or down whenever it’s more convenient or necessary to fit in. All of that is part of gender privilidge.
Some of these “characters” get a real buzz out of defining themselves as “outsiders”, and not a members of “high society” at all. So, ofcourse, they will fight tooth and nail to try and deny that they are in fact “prividged”. Even conventioanlly gendered privlidged. It always amuses me when these self-described “outsiders” fight so hard to be recognized as “peculiar” because they are such “insiders.” Gender insiders. And if they were to be granted the “peculiar” label, it would be a classic case of, “Be careful what you wish for” because they’d immediately see they’re convential gender fueled accesses and privlidges clawed away by main stream
On the other side of the line, the “peculiar” person, the person who is not conventional in gender, has the opposite paint job going on. A base coat of paint that main stream “high society” views as scary. A base that is not on them like a costume, but inside them like a feeling. A feeling that can’t be taken out, whether it turns the coffee shop owner’s crank or not. And a second coat that main stream views as boring – a schtick that’s already been done. (We’ve all seen, “TransAmerica”, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, and “Boys Don’t Cry”. Move on.
Stop whining.). The gender peculiar person is not likely walking down that same street without getting stared at. And isn’t likely getting that job in the coffee shop either.
It’s also worth pointing out here that plently of conventionally gendered people never amount to much in life. Just as many gender peculiar people likely wouldn’t amount to much either if gender suddenly was no longer a big deal in high society. The difference is: whatever opportunities conventionally gendered people squandered or chances they had wrentched away from them by others, one thing they didn’t face was having their potential pinned down by a glass ceiling in the form of being denied access to the goodies that come from possessing gender privilidge.
I don’t resent people who are conventionally gendered. After all, just like gender variant people – it was just how they were mentally hard wired in the womb. And not all conventially gendered people are against non-conventionally gendered people. A few have even said, “I’ll help you.” But both the conventionally gendered person and the non-conventionally gendered soon find out that this benvolent offer finds its demise in its naivity. What worked for the conventionally gendered person in terms of getting press, a job or a lover usually doesn’t work for the gender unconventional person. They can’t, don’t and won’t walk the same path. And many a conventionally gendered friend and non-conventionally gendered friend have looked at each other and said, “Why is that?” The explanation is very short. But once you find it, it is so very simple. Tammy and Little Billy, the answer is: Gender privilidge.
So while I don’t resent people who are conventionally gendered for being conventionaly gendered, I do resent conventionally gendered people telling me that I have access to just as many opportunities to go out there and mix it up with main stream high society as they do. For the more well-meaning people flogging this flawed logic, I give them a break because privlidge born out of gender is really subtle. Because almost everyone has gender privlidge. It’s easy to overlook how much of leg up being conventionally gendered gives a person until you really walk a mile with the effeminate gay boy at the “strait acting” night club, the lip stick lesbain at the stone dyke poker game or the trans gal trying to get some press for her music.
But to state it clearly and simply, once and for all, with few exceptions, people who are gender peculiar are not part of the in crowd. Not invited to the bar for drinks with the hotties. Not thought of for being added to the line up of performers for the multi-artist fund raiser. Ignored by the call outs to join the posing poets for their “reading series”.
And while it is easy to overlook, for all its subtly, I’m not going to roll over and pretend this type of gender privlidge doesn’t exist. Because to ignore it, to say that opportunities and access for conventionally gendered people (conventionally gendered “characters” included) and “peculiar” gender unconventionals are equal would be to make the the oppression that comes from going without gender privilidge even more oppressive. It would be to say, “Oh well. It’s my fault. I didn’t get that press. I must not have tried hard enough.” One more marginalized person blamed for their marginalization.
So if you are gender peculiar give yourself a break. Now that we’ve named the beasts: That you are most likely oppressed by a “high society” that is obsessed with gender as a concept of two polar opposites. That this same “high society” has likely marginalized you by that doling out or holds back gender privlidge, and the trappings that go with it, on a case by case, or gender by gender basis. Now that we’ve carefully disected what’s been leaning on you, uncurl yourself from that ball. You shouldn’t compare what you are able to achieve with that of a conventionally gendered person with the accomplishments of a conventionally gendered person with all of their gender privilidge and access to high society. What the gender peculiar person and the conventionally gendered person can make happen is often going to be on a different scale, even if their talents may be basically equal. And now that this is oppression is out in the light, if you are the friend of a gender peculiar person, please - a little less on the, “Why can’t you make it to the other end of the pool – I did.” routine. It’s hurtful.
To gender peculiars and our friends - don’t quit. Break down the walls. One bricks at a time if necessary. So you can try in little and big ways to gain access to what all humans should have the right to do, participate fully in their communities and socities. There’s not much in journalism or creative writing that’s worse than people giving dogmatic pep talks to complete strangers so I’ll keep this “feel-gooder finish” to a brief personal anecdote. I’ve sent out press releases and promos about my music from everyone to queer magazines, local rags to the freaking CBC and received not a bite. But I’ve rolled up the newspapers heralding punk rock boys with mascara and women in leather and big hats, with their safe base coats and their gender insider status that attracts the press like magnets on grandma’s fridge. And I’ve thrown the whole lot of them in the recycling bin. And I’m moving on to thinking about just who in “high society” I can go up to next and point out – “Hey I exist too, wanna give me a chance?”
04/02/2006 09:00 PM - Buddies in Bad Times Theater
12 Alexander Street, Toronto, Ontario, CANADA, ,CA - multi-artist evening of performance artists including music and spoken word. All ages.
Thanks to everyone who attended and waved their arms so romantically during, "I Saw You"!