This is the draft from my piece on the ‘Diversity Panel’ at Women Say Something last month. Thought it might be of interest to anyone who missed it, or can’t remember it:
Zoo, you have a long history of making queer performance in a variety of settings from art galleries to fetish clubs, and at large events like Sleaze Ball and Inquisition. What do you think is the value of performance in contemplating and interacting with the diversity of our community?
Personally, being able to perform in queer and queer-friendly spaces has allowed me to feel safe whilst exploring various and quite diverse identities and inklings, to experiment with my gender and sexuality and desires and the ways I interpret and present these to myself and the world. That I perform at all only came about as a result of Jackie McMillan asking me to make public some of what I did in private, inviting me to perform a piercing show at Hellfire back in late 2002. I had only been out a very short while (in the scene, and at all really), and being in such an encouraging environment was very empowering. Having who I was and what I liked to do honoured and valued gave be a boost of courage when talking about it to people outside the scene. The shy girl who had spent years repressing who she was, hiding her lamp in the proverbial bushel, suddenly found her way to the stage and nobody laughed. It was a liberation. What I am is acceptable to others. They want to see me being me. Wow.
Beside performing myself, I have been to see literally hundreds of performances by women from under most hues of the rainbow, somewhat obsessively attending events such as Gurlesque (RIP), Pretty Peepers, Queer Central, The Pussycat Club, the Queer Screen film festival, countless community fundraisers, university queer collective nights and venues like the simply astounding Red Rattler. I have watched shows by trans women, queer women, bisexual women, lesbian women, genderqueer women, big women, small women, wobbly women, sculpted women, white women, women of colour, Indigenous women, women with beards, women with Brazilians, religious women, blasphemous women, women with faux-hawks, women with lipstick, women with cocks, women with cucumbers and women with attitude. All of them women who were putting themselves out there to Say Something. All of them women whose words and actions taught me a lot. Who taught me about love, and resilience, and passion, and joy, about the power of laughter and the political value of the carnival. Who got me flustered and passionate and turned on and excited and pissed off and at times utterly bewildered, but who always left me with more than I had before.
Who taught me that if there isn’t a space for us to perform then we bloody well need to make one. Spaces where the performance of fluidity and diversity (of identities, of presentations, of practices) are not only accepted but encouraged and revered allow for a certain playfulness and whimsy that I think is quite beneficial and vital if we are to not only survive but thrive. We cry a lot, and we need to laugh too. We need to create beautiful things to combat the ugliness. We need to be able to perform for each other. Performance, I think, provides some excellent tools with which to demonstrate and work with the diverse histories, geographies and biographies we bring to the table. It can be used to provoke, and to critique. It can be a way to demystify practices and bodies, simply by allowing them to be seen. It can be used to share our stories, to educate each other about where we come from and where we want to go. It can be used to titillate and tantalise, to give us pleasure. It can be used to heal and to nurture, to recognise and validate our points of difference and to celebrate what we have in common. It can be used to give us strength and power.
Being queer in a straight world can be tricky, and painful, and its important to have spaces in which we process what we experience safely, that we can open up discussions and allow for dialogues and debates, that we can parody and subvert and deconstruct and resist the discourses that conspire against us. So these are also generative spaces, where we can reinvent our surroundings and imagine different futures, these are nurturing environments where we can sow the seeds of change and wait for them to take root a bit before we thrust them out into the ‘real’ world. These are spaces of potential and wonder and change and hope. These spaces are important.