Archive for December, 2007

pros, cons and bathhouses
December 25, 2007

Cons of the season: Parents who really wish you’d stay in the closet. Religion. Commercial excess. Sickening overplay of awful pop versions of carols. Pine trees indoors that trigger allergic reactions. Gifts you just don’t know what the hell to do with.

Pros of the season: Chocolate for breakfast. Hanging out with wonderful family members you don’t get to see often. Thoughtful gifts, such as the one from my brother B – a copy of Anne McClintock’s book Imperial Leather, an academic analysis of race, sexuality, gender and colonialism that incorporates copious information about early D/s and fetishism in the Victorian era. Lots of time to dive into books for hours on end, which means there are book reviews in your near future, dear readers.

And of course, the next Toronto women’s bathhouse, which I only wish I could get to! Please, go if you can, and tell me all about it.

Toronto Women and Trans Bathhouse Committee Presents
Bathhouse Lite, Toronto

Calling all Sexy Grinches!
The Toronto Women and Trans Bathhouse Committee
invites you to a festive Bathhouse Lite, a no-frills
women and trans bathhouse night

Friday December 28, 2007
9 pm- 3 am
Central Spa
1610 Dundas St West at Brock, 2nd Floor

$12 Advance tickets and limited sliding scale tickets
available at Toronto Women’s Bookstore
73 Harbord St.

Limited lockers available.
Space is limited, so come early!
18+ only, ID required
We regret that the space is not wheelchair accessible.
416-925-9872 xt 2115
e-mail us to be added to our facebook group

That’s about all I got for ya today. I hear some more chocolate calling my name…

a bouquet of brain treats
December 16, 2007

Every three to six months, I realize I’ve collected an amazing number of random sexuality-related links that various thoughtful people have sent my way but that I have not found any relevant way to include in a post. I do nonetheless feel a strong compulsion to share them with you, so here’s a bit of a grab bag for you to enjoy.

Did you ever wonder if you were really a woman, or really a man? The Gender Genie can help. All you need to do is enter a sample text that you’ve written, click the button, and it’ll tell you, based on your writing style, what your preferred pronoun must be. It breaks it down into an extensive word choice analysis, quite detailed in fact – listing the frequency at which you use gendered keywords like “with,” “where,” “should” and “myself” (female) or “around,” “what,” “below” and “these” (male). Needless to say it’s a heap of hogwash, but the theory amuses me. Well, anything amuses me when it tries desperately to find black-and-white gender differences where reality is much more like a Venn diagram (and even that’s assuming you understand there to be only two genders in the first place, as this site clearly does). I just plugged in four pieces of my own writing, two pieces of erotic fiction and two recent blog posts, and it would appear that when I write dirty stories I’m female but when I write in this here blog, I’m overwhelmingly male. Who knew? Is it a “women are sensual, men are intellectual” thing goin’ on? Hm. You can read another blogger’s views on the topic and experiments with the Gender Genie here.

Speaking of gender (aren’t we always?), here’s a really cool BMEzine interview with an extreme gender-fucking body-modifier named Ashley Crawford. Post-gender I think not – if we were truly post-gender, or if anyone was, we wouldn’t still be obsessing about it, reifying it, playing with it and subverting it so bloody much – but it’s still a fascinating read and Ashley still seems like a cool character. Anyone who finds a way to give themselves a cervical piercing has gotta be interesting, in my humble pro-body-mod opinion.

If you’re looking for cool sexuality-related blogs, check out Eye of Venus. Their mission statement:

“Born out of a desire to have a source for “quality” erotic blogs that truly lives up to its name, “Eye of Venus” was created as a repository of intelligent, entertaining, literate and photographic blogs dealing with the myriad facets of sex. Blogs submitted will be selected by merit, using our own rigorous and possibly quirky criteria. Our aim is to provide a service that highlights the best of erotic writing and visuals on the web, and to keep our standards consistently high.

“Here is where we are forced to admit to a certain level of intellectual snobbery. This directory was created by sex bloggers, for sex bloggers tired of finding their work lost in a morass of “sex blogs” featuring badly-lit tits, asses and money shots (charming though they are, in their own way). We intend to keep this directory selective, and are approaching you as we feel you represent the quality we are looking for. We would very much appreciate your support in our quest to promote world domination of the superior sex blog.”

I’m not listed there. Yet. Just submitted Sex Geek now, so we’ll see if I live up to their intellectual snobbery and rigorous quirky criteria. I’ll keep you posted.

Another cool read: Beauty in Darkness. I haven’t delved into it nearly as much as I should, but this is a BDSM history blog written by a dude in Vancouver. I like his brain. Must chew on it sometime soon.

If anyone here keeps up with feminist pop-culture critiques, you’ve surely heard all the fuss about Dove (the soap, not the chocolate) and their most recent marketing/branding efforts, the “campaign for real beauty,” in which they do things like feature non-model-bodied women and such other massively transgressive images. (I’m not kidding. In the ad world, this really is extremely controversial. Some of their recent ads have been pulled for featuring – gasp! – naked, though tastefully covered, women who are not 21 years old and 112 pounds. I kid you not.) The reason this is so interesting to feminists, including myself, is that their campaigns are simultaneously super-sincere, genuinely thought-provoking and extremely well-executed and impactful… and yet they’re situated within an industry and a corporate context that makes them undeniably hypocritical. Take a look here to see an award-winning ad video they put together – it really is excellent – and some of the critique around it.

Here is the most awfully titled article I’ve come across in quite some time: “Going Green Down There.” It’s a great idea, in that it tells you where to find environmentally friendly underwear (organic cotton, healthy dyes, etc.). I just wish it didn’t sound like an exposé about a horrid new vaginal fungal infection or something. Ick. Anyway, take a look if you want to know where to find the latest in tree-hugging undies.

Moving from underwear and vaginal fungus to sex (see how smooth that was?), I highly encourage you to check out Belle de Jour’s blog, particularly her recent post on how she’s not kinky. It rocks. In fact it was sent to me by a kinky friend in an e-mail with the subject line “Stands up and cheers!” if that gives you an idea. Belle de Jour’s blog is subtitled “diary of a london call girl” and that’s all you need to know. Go enjoy.

And speaking of sex (ha! again, these transitions!) here is one of the funnier comedic takes on lesbian sex I’ve recently encountered. Specifically, it’s lesbian phone sex (yeah, right). It’s a YouTube vid. Check it out, have a laugh. By the way – if you watch it – what is the name of that lesbian comic? I’ve been seeing her all over the place in the past couple of years, from the L Word spoof The D Word at last year’s image+nation to… I dunno. She’s just a familiar face.

And just for a resoundingly queer addition to this post, I give you Richard Burnett’s “Heroes and Zeros” of queer this year. He’s got a good list, very cool if you want a snapshot of 2007’s queer politics. Well, Richard’s take on ’em anyway, which is hardly universal, but interesting nonetheless. I like it when people have different viewpoints from me – it learns me things. Like, for example, I had no idea that Marvel Comics unveiled their first transsexual supervillain this year. I don’t necessarily agree that this makes them heroes; maybe I would if they’d given us a tranny superhero – unfortunately we’ve already got lots of images of the Monstrous Evil Transsexual in our culture. That said, I do agree with some of Richard’s other heroes, such as “The 200 marchers who braved brutal mob attacks at their July 7 Pride parade in Zagreb, the same day Pride marchers in Budapest defied hundreds of skinheads throwing rotten eggs and smoke bombs.” Yep. Hard to argue with that one.

As an antidote to the trans supervillain, I give you Talia Mae Betcher’s webpage – she’s an academic from Cal State who recently published a major article on transphobic violence entitled “Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers: On Transphobic Violence and the Politics of Illusion.” You can download the PDF from her site. The summary:

“This essay examines the stereotype that transgender people are “deceivers” and the stereotype’s role in promoting and excusing transphobic violence. The stereotype derives from a contrast between gender presentation (appearance) and sexed body (concealed reality). Because gender presentation represents genital status, Bettcher argues, people who “misalign” the two are viewed as deceivers. The  author shows how this system of gender presentation as genital representation is part of larger sexist and racist systems of violence and oppression.”

Yep. Good stuff. I’ll read it thoroughly and pick it apart here at some point.

No transition here – we are hopping directly from super-recent trans academic work to queer history, just like that. Here’s a radio show on the history of how the American Psychiatric Association de-listed homosexuality as a mental illness way back in 1973. Five years before I was born, they figured out I wouldn’t be officially crazy. How lovely!

And that’s all I got for you today, friends. I hope it keeps you entertained. Now, enough of this heady stuff: I’m going to sign off and get a really cute boi to paint my toenails. Ain’t life grand?

four notes, plus a question for the butch gals
December 12, 2007

I’ve got a rather random collection of notes for you tonight… 

1. Desperately seeking…? You know, it always fascinates me to see the WordPress list of search terms people have used that have led them to this blog. Sometimes they’re completely random, like, say, “sex.” How many Google pages did some poor fucker click through before arriving here? He must have been at it for weeks! Sometimes they’re intriguingly specific, such as yesterday’s “i want to date a dominant bdsm geek.” Wowza. Wonder what else they found. (I’m probably not your gal, but good luck, my friend!) And sometimes I see increased traffic to a specific post, and that’s always interesting. Lately, for example, that post I wrote a couple of weeks back about my leather gloves has been getting lots of hits, and it’s because there seem to be a whackload of people out there doing searches for things like “black leather gloves” or “leather glove sex” or other such things. Who knew there was such an interest?

2. Sex toy snobbery. The Erotica Readers’ and Writers’ Association sends out calls for submissions on a regular basis to the people on their mailing list. Most of the time they’re for erotica anthologies, as you might imagine, but sometimes they post other stuff that’s tangentially related to erotica. Last week it was a call for marketing copywriters for a huge online sex toy boutique. I kept it handy because it occurred to me that hey, I do copywriting and I’m a sex geek, so why the hell not check it out – it’s always nice to get paid for that sort of thing. Especially the “some light research may be required” part. Heh.

Anyway, I finally logged onto the site just now, and… well, it’s confirmed. I’m a true sex toy snob. To the point where I simply cannot stomach the idea of writing copy that would sell somebody a cheaply made, toxic, overpriced jelly toy with some schlocky and embarrassingly misspelled name. Can’t. Do. It. I think I could write perky and effective copy for a sweater I personally thought was ugly, or a car I’d never drive, or (as I did this week) a stack of tourist destinations I’ve got no interest in visiting. But copy that would basically tell someone to spend $79.99 to stick some subpar piece of crap into their orifices and call it pleasure? Gah. It offends my very core. Guess I’m not gonna get rich on dildo descriptions anytime soon. (And don’t even get me started on the horrid pink plastic floggers… I shudder at the thought.)

3. The perfect pairing (or, double the fun). So my honey and I have finally found and signed for an apartment in Toronto. Woohoo! That means I have a move-away date, which is always exciting. New adventures, here I come. The reason I bring this up at all, though, is to mention the most absolutely perfect going-away gift I could ever have hoped for – which my good friend Jacqueline St-Urbain orchestrated and the BOG (Board of Governors) of the Unholy Army of the Night presented to me last weekend just before the last play party I will ever host in my current home. Seriously, folks, it’s a gift that must have been made with me in mind. Drum roll, please… it’s a polka-dot high-heeled shoe made entirely of chocolate. Oh. My. Goodness. It’s not quite big enough for my actual foot, but it is big enough that I can dangle it from my toes while someone’s happy little mouth enjoys the heel. I can’t wait.

4. My word against theirs. How many of you out there play Scrabulous on Facebook? I’ve just caught the bug, and am thoroughly enjoying it. But there’s nothing like a good solid round of online Scrabble to remind me of just how much of my queer vocabulary is not recognized by any mainstream dictionaries. Like, whaddaya mean I can’t use the word “boi”? Or the possessive pronoun “zir”? Come on, now! And I’m not even Pagan, but I know that “magick” is a perfectly acceptable and frequently used spelling of the word, but Scrabulous does not recognize the K. Yeesh. At least they’re okay with the words “dyke” and “queer.” Doubtless they’re thinking of dams (of the water-holding variety, not the dental) and of a synonym for “odd or unusual,” but perhaps that’s just one more argument for appropriating existing vocabulary for our own causes. Too bad it takes the dictionaries decades to catch up.

5. Camp and comfort. A question for the butch or otherwise masculine-identified women out there, and possibly for some trans guys. How do you feel when you’re in social situations with large numbers of gay men? And why do you feel that way?

I found myself in such a situation at a holiday party last weekend, and I realized that I felt perfectly comfortable. But I also realized I had turned my camp crank up to max (and even that isn’t particularly high, relatively speaking) and interacted with all the fabulous fags from a place of flaming femme. Not so much femme in the “I wear lipstick and my strap-on matches my dress” sense, but femme in the “Daahhling, that tie is diviiine! What a great colour for you. Yes, I’m just doing splendidly these days, found a swank little pad, yes, we’re very happy. Do drop me a line when you’re next coming to town. The shoes? Oh, they’re from last year, but yes, aren’t they just scrumptious? How are you and Bruce doing, anyway? I loove the haircut. Is that caramelized onion on the hors d’oeuvres? Hey, is that Bob over there? What a hot new boyfriend he has! Just look at those shoulders.” And so on, and so forth. I do not know why I morph into a drag queen – or perhaps simply a femme fag in my own right? – in such situations. It just happens, and it’s been happening as long as I can remember.

At this particular party, same as every year, I was one of perhaps four women in a sea of well-dressed thirty-plus middle-class gay men – you know, professors, choreographers, therapists, doctors, lawyers. I was simultaneously conscious of the difference and yet completely in my element, and for some reason in the middle of it all, it occurred to me that a lot of the butch women I know would be distinctly uncomfortable there. I couldn’t put my finger on why, and I still can’t, but I’ve now asked three or four such wonderful creatures how they would feel, hypothetically, in such a situation – and every one of them has said that yes, they would be uncomfortable. Interestingly, so far none of them has been able to say why, either. 

So: over to you, gentlewomen. What’s your take on it? Do you love the gay boys when they come in large numbers, or find it hard to connect? Or both? How does that work out for you in practical terms? Does your gender play into it at all, and if so, how? I’m intrigued.

That’s all for now, folks.

Oh, just a quick scheduling note – with the upcoming move, a stupidly heavy workload and visits from both of my bois, it may be hard for me to post regularly, so I may drop off for a while. Hope not.

cultures and controversies: a quirky cocktail of a queer film symposium
December 8, 2007

“The climate of queer filmmaking has definitely changed. Savvy and hungry audiences you are, and your demanding viewership has altered the presumed course of history.”

– Katharine Setzer, Director of Programming, opening address to the 20th edition of Montreal queer film festival Image+Nation, Imperial Theatre, November 15, 2007


I just sent in my freelance CV to Inside/Out, the Toronto queer film festival, in the hopes they need a writer. It would appear I seem to have films on the brain, and since items 2 and 3 on my recent Sex Geek To-Do List are about Image+Nation, the recent Montreal queer film festival, I figure now’s probably as good a time as any to launch into my personal, quirky and highly biased report on that.

Image+Nation ran from November 15-25, and it kicked off with a film symposium on the 16 and 17, with a whackload of super-cool panels and talks. That’s the piece I’m going to focus on here. In truth, while I very much enjoyed a lot of the films I saw, none of them were earth-shattering in the way that a couple of them were last year. I think the strength of the festival this year, for me at least, was in giving me many fascinating glimpses into the lives of individual queer pioneers – artists, dancers, writers and activists – who were featured in the very well-curated documentary program. But to me that’s about drinking in my history via some of its major figures, rather than about challenging my thoughts about the present. In short: I got a lot out of the films I saw, but I don’t have much to say about them.

So: the film symposium. It bore the unfortunately drab (though fully accurate) title “International Workshop on Queer Festivals,” but luckily it was anything but drab.

What I did, see, as a true sex geek, was take notes throughout the symposium, and because of that I now have in my possession a glorious mishmash of jotted-down half-sentences, notes about my own partly formed thoughts, quotes with a word or two missing, and miscellaneous facts gleaned from an array of presentations. I am going to endeavour to present them here in some semblance of coherence, but because certain themes kept popping up throughout the symposium even in wildly different panel presentations, I’m going to mix this particular cocktail around those themes rather than with any pretense to chronological order.

“We don’t have access to fact. We have access to text – photos, films, etcetera. History is our memory of an event, and so is necessarily partial.” – Joanne Lalonde, UQÀM (Montreal), answering a question in response to her presentation “Figures de l’altérité dans la vidéo canadienne des années 80,” during “The 1980s” panel, November 16

Ms. Lalonde’s words are a fitting way to begin my report because indeed, I only have access to text – my own, the festival program, and a few other bits and pieces. But she was in fact contributing to a discussion about queer history, and more specifically, the history of queer film and queer film festivals.

This particular panel touched on the early AIDS-related films but it also covered some of the controversies and adventures surrounding the screening of certain films at past festivals. Michael Lumpkin of San Francisco’s Frameline Festival spoke about the lesbian riot that took place when, 23 years ago, they screened a short film by Canadian filmmaker Midi Oneira, 10 Cents a Dance, as part of a lesbian short film program.

I saw the film a couple of years ago, and it is indeed very thought-provoking. It presents three short yet eloquent vignettes: one of two women talking over a romantic dinner, one of two men having anonymous sex in a bathroom, and one of a heterosexual pair engaging in phone sex (presumably of the paid variety, if I remember correctly). It brings up all sorts of questions about the nature of sexual connection, gender differences in relationship, and so forth. The story here is that the San Francisco lesbians were so upset that male-on-male sex was being shown as part of a lesbian film program that they actually stormed the projection booth. Hell hath no fury like a woman porned?

Nowadays, the event almost seems funny, but identity politics in the mid-80s were venomous, not to mention it was a time of rampant lesbian separatism and smack in the middle of the “all penetration is rape” sex wars to boot. No wonder a little penis action was a bit much for the gals to handle.

“There’s a long history of audience discontent at gay and lesbian film festivals. (…) Tensions occur around representations of realities for which there is not a consensus. LGBTQ as a singular entity is a utopian wish that gets exposed as fiction when this sort of failure of consensus occurs.”Ruby Rich, University of California (Santa Cruz), comment following “The 1980s” panel, November 16

The parallel was drawn between 10 Cents a Dance and this year’s big shit-disturbing short, The Gendercator by Catherine Crouch. The I+N festival program describes it only as follows: “Using the Rip van Winkle model to extrapolate from the past into a possible future, The Gendercator is a short satirical take on female body modification and gender.” Sounds relatively innocuous to me, but apparently the FTM community in San Francisco got up in arms about the film, saying that it was transphobic. They apparently put significant pressure on Frameline to pull the film from their program. And Frameline caved. In Lumpkin’s own contribution to the panel, he gave all sorts of justifications for the decision, but more or less it seemed to come down to the festival not wanting an FTM riot like the lesbian one back in 1984.

Oh, groan.

“We need to be able to cross this. We will not communicate through identity categories.” – Chris Straayer, NYU, in hir presentation “Re/Presentation by Transsexuals (focusing on FTMs)” during the “Gender/Transgender Dynamics: Then and Now” panel, November 16

The answer to this sort of controversy is always incredibly simple, in my humble opinion. Screen the fucking film. And deal with the consequences. If needed, put warnings before it, take a public position that the film festival organizers do not agree with the film’s message, have a media plan prepared, provide a panel discussion before and a facilitated community dialogue afterwards, be ready to refund tickets if people are upset, call in a few beefy bouncers for potential crowd control, have an army of therapists at the ready to help people deal with their trauma upon watching it, and renew your insurance policy in case they trash the theatre. But above all, do not pull a film once it’s been programmed. Why? Because that’s fucking censorship and it is not okay

“As soon as you begin to move out of identity niches, you come up against all kinds of challenges, but I think leaning on these pressure points is exactly what we need to do.” – Ruby Rich, closing keynote address, November 17

Haven’t we learned anything, people? Dialogue is how the community moves forward. We don’t get anywhere by suppressing people’s voices when we disagree with them. We get places by arguing, debating, learning, taking a stand, opening up, reading and watching and listening. Not by pulling an artist’s controversial work (once it’s already been judged of high enough quality and artistic or cultural merit to be screened at a gigantic festival in the first place) so that the public doesn’t have the chance to engage with the questions it brings up. As it stands now, there’s a ton of bitching out there on either side of the argument, and anyone who actually wants to get to the root of it will have to track down the film on their own to see how they feel about it, rather than being able to do so in the company of their fellow community members. I don’t care if the film says all FTMs are pathological freaks – let it! As long as it’s not encouraging violence and the systemic acting out of hatred, press play. And then let’s talk about it, analyze it to death, tear it apart and trash it to our hearts’ content.

“I think we have to sit at a table and scream at each other, if we need to. As it stands there’s a standoff between the old-school lesbian feminists and the trans community, and how do we move through that standoff?” Kathleen Mullen, independent programmer and filmmaker (Toronto), in her presentation “Artistic Vision, Community Participation and Identity Politics” during the “Queer Cinema(s): New Contexts, Images, Forms” panel, November 17

Ever heard of Catherine Millot’s book Horsexe: Essay on Transsexuality, published in 1990? I’d seen the book around a couple of times here and there over the years, but given the first few sentences in the jacket description – quoted below – I can see why I never bothered picking it up; it sounds like just one more ivory-tower academic’s misguided and misleading musings about gender realities they’ve never experienced. To wit:

“The male transsexual, who claims to have a woman’s soul imprisoned in a man’s body, and who often demands correction of this “error” through surgery, is perhaps the only believer in a monolithic sexual identity free of doubts and questions.  The female transsexual reverses this equation, seeking to identify with the prerogatives – and even organs – of male power.” 

Yah. You get what I mean. Horsexe is a load of horseshit.

I did have a rather memorable encounter with the book though, which is why I bring it up now. I was at Bluestockings, the feminist bookstore in New York City, a few years ago. The book was on the shelf; I picked it up and opened it, and noticed that a note was clipped to the cover. The note explained that the staff of the bookstore did not agree with the points made in the book, and that if a potential reader were looking for more accurate representations of transsexuality, they would be happy to recommend other books in the store instead. With the simplicity of a few words on a post-it note, they were effectively allowing the discussion to continue, and having their say in it too – which was to trash the book even while not removing people’s access to it. Brilliant.

“Film festivals are a place of bravery. You have to defy governments, defy your own audiences! In order to do your work, you have to bring out interesting work.” – Ruby Rich, comment on November 16

Granted, a large-scale response to a film screening might require considerably more resources than a post-it note, but nonetheless, I firmly believe that’s the sort of response that’s necessary. The only other acceptable option would have been for the festival directors to decide the film wasn’t up to their quality standards or did not promote a message the festival wished to showcase, and to decide not to have screened it in the first place – I don’t dispute their right to choose what to screen, but the time to make that call is not once a work has already made it through those filters and been advertised.

Anyway. Thankfully, Image+Nation did screen the film, and I haven’t heard of any riots – though Montrealers aren’t known for those, unless they’re really happy about a hockey game or really pissed off about government policy. I unfortunately did not get to see it, so I can’t make any informed comment about the film itself. But you can be damned sure I’m going to want to see it now, just to understand what the fuss is all about in the City by the Bay.

Moving along. Well, sort of.

“Our identities are constituted as much in the event as in the films themselves.” Kathleen Mullen, comment on November 17

An interesting point indeed. Last year after I+N, I spoke on Dykes on Mikes about how the experience of a queer film festival is in large part determined by its audiences, and that it’s not simply a question of the films as stand-alone works. I said much the same when CBC-TV interviewed me this year. And it would appear that people far more qualified than me also think so.

By far my favourite panel of the symposium was the last one on the schedule, bearing the weighty title “Current Challenges and Solutions: Funding, Gatekeepers, New Technologies, Politicians. Why Is It Still So Tough?” (Henceforth it will be known as “Current Challenges.” Crikey.)

“The context is different [now compared to 20 years ago], but queer film festivals are still informed by desire: intellectual, cultural, erotic, and for friendship.” – Maureen Bradley, University of Victoria, in her presentation “Beyond Queer: Do We Still Need Queer Film Festivals?” during the “Current Challenges” panel, November 17

Desire. Thank you, Maureen, for bringing up desire. Sometimes I think we get so wrapped up in the politics and the logistics and the commercialism that we forget the whole reason we’re queer in the first place, and that is our desire – whether it’s a desire to be a certain sort of person or to fuck a certain sort of person. No kidding that desire is going to be an important part of what we both put into and get out of film festivals that celebrate and question queerness. And no kidding that will inform how we experience those festivals. But of course, identities change (both individual and community), and desires change, and so festivals change. What a gorgeous interplay that is. Not without its challenges and growing pains of course, but such is the nature of evolution.

“Gay and lesbian film festivals have outlived their mission. If that mission is visibility, then it’s obsolete.” – Ragan Rhyne, Hunter College (New York), in her presentation “Promoting Gay and Lesbian Visibility: Film Festivals’ Obsolete Mission” during the “Current Challenges” panel, November 17

It was fascinating to hear someone say that out loud, and though it’s a bit shocking I think it’s pretty much true – at least in a progressive North American urban context. We queers have got a lot of pop culture visibility these days; it would be quite a stretch to say otherwise. Who that visibility is focused on is perhaps another question. Certainly there’s a lot of white TV-standard-beautiful gay men and lesbians, with the occasional evil two-faced bisexual character or monstrous trans person thrown in for flavour. So the state of visibility is hardly ideal. But yes, I can say that I agree that if a film festival’s purpose is solely or primarily to increase visibility, it’s kinda missing the boat. There’s so much more for these festivals to do. Fortunately, in many ways I think they’re doing it, though of course there are always more ways in which this can continue to happen.

Hmm. Now that’s a fun thought. If I were in charge of a queer film festival, what would its mission be? Lemme think… “To screen entertaining and thought-provoking films in a queer-positive setting, to showcase the current state of queer cultural development, and to promote wide-ranging inter- and intra-community dialogue among LGBTQ(+++) folks of all stripes.” Yup. That’s about where it would be at.

Then again, one could always opt for simplicity.

“We want people to meet, get wet and think about it.” – Marie-Hélène Bourcier, Université de Lille III and organizer of a porn film festival in France, in her presentation “Post Porn in the City” during the “Current Challenges” panel, November 17

Now that’s a mission I can understand. Woo-hoo! Three cheers for the no-nonsense French.

On a completely different note, Ruby Rich provided another perspective which I found intriguing, as it was informed by several decades of her own work in the field:

“I think festivals still have their importance, because of the way in which so much of our lives are becoming privatized, atomized. Coming together in a movie theatre is becoming a progressive act.” – Ruby Rich, closing keynote address “From ID to IQ: New Queer Cinema Then and Now,” November 17

What a thought. In a time where so much of our cultural and personal lives and connections take place online, it is amazing to think of hundreds of people coming together in person. I hardly think film festivals are the only place this happens, but it’s true that in the age of YouTube and videoconferencing and Facebook FunWalls and personal digital video recorders and cell phone cameras that can record moving pictures, there’s far less mystery and community created around the idea of a film. Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue against the relevance of the in-person connection that grows when people congregate in a theatre, sharing snacks and settling into plush seats, laughing and groaning and falling silent together, and then going off to think about – and hopefully talk about – what they saw.

As is typical of what’s said about queer culture, though – and, in an interesting parallel, also typical of what’s said about feminism – people are really gung-ho about the idea that it’s unnecessary. That cultural creation around themes of sexuality and gender are somehow passé, been-there-done-that, yesterday’s news, now you can get married so you’re just like everyone else so get over it already. And stop having Pride parades while you’re at it.

“1992’s Sundance festival was the first time people said we don’t need gay and lesbian film festivals anymore, and they have been saying it ever since. GLBTQIA (etcetera) film festivals are the only ones who’ve constantly had to defend their own existence, and I wonder what that means.” – Ruby Rich, closing keynote address

What it means is that like any progressive movement, queer culture is constantly questioned by those who don’t like it, and because we’re progressive, we also constantly question ourselves. Yes, it sucks that we have to defend our existence so often, but at the same time I’d much rather see us forced to re-articulate our worth every week and pay constant attention to that question in order to make sure we remain pertinent than see us become boring, predictable, and ultimately irrelevant to the progress of society and culture. Sometimes it’s in moments of defense that we find our strength most readily. And we all know, in the end, that no matter how much transformation takes place within and outside our community, and no matter how technology morphs as generations blur, queers aren’t going to die off – and neither are our images.

“Why do we keep asking ourselves the question of whether we’re relevant or not? It’s like saying, ‘well, there are movies on TV so we no longer need Cannes.’ Duh!” – Maureen Bradley, comment following the closing keynote address, November 17

Of course it’s challenging to move forward with cultural production and showcasing in a context where the community is increasingly diverse and disparate, or perhaps more accurately, where it’s becoming increasingly clear that we are in truth multiple overlapping communities with concerns and cultures that are not always compatible. But in my humble opinion, that’s the fun part. It’s certainly what keeps bringing me back into the theatres year after year – precisely to see the latest instalments in the ongoing discussion that is queer culture. That’s what feeds my brain, that’s what entertains me, and that’s most definitely what gets me wet. I hope the discussion continues to take place for a long time to come.

pass the kleedegs
December 7, 2007

I’b sig. Id’s really, really hard to feel even the least bit segsy when your brain is leagig oud your doze. (Not so good when you have a date with a hod girl, either, which I did this afterdood. Drat drat drat.) Not to medtion id’s eved harder to feel geeky when your brain is leagig oud your doze. Brains beig rather essedtial to the whole geek thig.

Od the ub side, id’s givig me lots of tibe to read thigs. Segsy geeky thigs, I swear! Add watch segsy geeky filbs, too. Dow if odly I could stay awaig log edough to rebebber what they were all aboud…


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