by: ellie june navidson
Queer is Community was born a few weeks ago, partially as a response to the “When in Boystown” Tumblr. When in Boystown is a series of pictures and gifs accompanied by captions. One that really struck me features a distinctly muscle-toned arm with glittery bangles reaching in from off-screen with a can of hairspray, spraying a screaming person in the face. This post was originally entitled “A tranny tries to steal your iPhone.” After the blog came under fire the picture remained but the caption was changed to “A ghetto bitch tries to steal your iPhone.”
My body literally shook with rage. i was irate. i was irate at the transphobia and the pervasive, appaling idea that trans* feminine folk are violent thieves . The amendment of “tranny” to “ghetto bitch” isn’t much better, as it not only racializes trans* femininity, it links this tendency toward violent theft to another racialized stereotype of “people from the ghetto.” And this is only one of the posts on the blog. Many were racist, sexist and fatphobic. Some were even homophobic.
i wasn’t angry about the blog itself, as gross as it was. i was upset at what the blog represented. There are so many barriers in our community that it makes me wonder whether it’s a community at all. Almost every queer i know has noticed them — has raged about them. Groups are intensely hegemonic. It’s not necessarily bad to want to spend time with folks of a similar background. The problem occurs when this desire stems from negative stereotypes about different types of folks and when folks alienate others from their spaces. It makes our community closed off from itself; it shuts down its diversity, its beauty, it’s capacity to grow and learn from itself.
Most spaces aren’t intentionally inclusive. Most aren’t accessible to everyone that might want to be there. Queer is about being different than the heterosexual norm, yet our community does little to foster a positive attitude about diversity. It does little to cultivate spaces that not only accommodate but also celebrate that difference.
My friend, Nico Lang (who wrote the Huffington Post piece on When in Boystown), and i sat down and talked about building a response to the When in Boystown blog, but we wanted to do more than simply call out a blog. We decided we wanted to address where the ideology of that blog originated. We wanted to start a conversation about all the barriers in our community. We wanted to build a starting point for growth and change.
We remembered the arguments in our community last summer. We remembered the racism that tried to explicitly eject certain bodies from the neighborhood. We wanted to build something positive this summer instead. We wanted to open a dialogue around the racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, homophobia, etc. in our community. We wanted our community to rebuild itself from the ground up, in an intentionally inclusive and affirming way.
So we came up with an idea, got other folks involved in the planning process and built this event called “Queer is Community.” We’ve planned a speak-out, followed by a performance event and community discussion. The speak-out starts at 6pm on Sunday, May 27at Halsted and Waveland. The performances begin at 7pm on the 3rd floor of the Center on Halsted.
i’m not under any illusions that this event will be perfect or that it will solve all of our problems — it won’t. Given the state of our society right now, it’s impossible to think that any one thing could possibly be a silver bullet. However, i do hope that it will serve as a decent starting point for a conversation that we desperately need to have about what it means for us to call ourselves queer and what it means to be a community.
We hope this will be the start of a process of growth and change for our community. We hope it will spark many conversations. So we hope you come out and share in that. We’ve created a Queer is Community Facebook page to keep people in dialogue after the event. We don’t want to host the kind of event that is done when it ends; we want to host an event that builds momentum and raises a challenge. Come out, share your stories, receive others, and let’s work together to make queer Chicago affirming of all.