Introducing the PhantomFemme

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PhantomFemme is a Queer-Crip, intersectional Feminist riff, in words and music – sometimes together and sometimes separately, on the story and character of the Phantom of the Opera.  It is the name I’ve (finally) come up with to describe my gender/Disability/Deformed identity, so I took it as a stage/pen name as well.  I’ve loved the Phantom since I was ten, because his story, especially as told in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical,  spoke powerfully to my own experience of being different as a Disabled person.  But it also spoke to my desire for creative resistance, and gave me a powerful example and a rich symbolic language with which to enact my resistance!  Thus, Phantom was a key catalyst in inspiring my activism.  But it/he also gave me a life-long love for music and the performing arts, and an abiding awareness of their potential for transformative power.

 

It also, however, sent me on a long, and probably not over yet, journey of thinking/feeling through gender. Because, deformity/bodily difference is very gendered in Phantom, and, at least on the surface of it, in some very problematic ways. The masculine figure of the Phantom gets to be deformed, but Christine, the feminine figure who is his love-object, doesn’t. But that leaves a girl who’s Disabled and Deformed in several kinds of dilemma, especially if her particular deformity (or one of them anyway) is more than usually? disruptive of her ability to perform normative femininity! LOL Oops! Yeah. Look up the term “hirsutism” and you’ll know what I mean. Anyway, clearly the story needed/s some creative Queering in order to bust open that dynamic without loosing the magic we all love so well. Or rather, the Queer possibilities already implicit in the story, especially in the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage-musical (as originally staged by Hal Prince and designed by Maria Bjornsen), need/ed to be creatively brought forward and explored. So the figure of the PhantomFemme is my on-going attempt to do that through my music and my writing, and through their live performance!

 

My art as PhantomFemme is also how/where I explore the connections and interconnections between different modes of othering and oppression – gender, sexism, racism, environmental racism, ableism, classism, etc, as I very much understand all those systems as being inter-related. But don’t worry, it’s not all serious :-)! Resistance is just as much about creating joy, fun and celebration as it is about calling out the bad shit, because that’s how you create hope and the space to imagine new and liberating possibilities. So there’ll be plenty of just plain entertainment too. After all, I enjoy a good party as much as the next Femme!🙂 Although, I generally prefer my parties to involve black capes, organ music, and lots and lots of candles.

 

All that being said, not every single song/story/poem I do is obviously or explicitly Phantom-related/derived, or even implicitly so. LOL I do have other interests/sources of inspiration as well! Although, many of those other fandoms/interests/inspirations have themes and/or traits in common with POTO. It does mean, however, that Phantom provides much of the symbolism and imagery I use in my music, lyrics, poetry and other writing, not to mention in my costumes and staging..🙂 But, yes, there will, of course, be a significant number of pieces that are explicitly POTO-related! Naturally! LOL Like I could resist? Though, obviously, I can’t actually use material from the show itself, as that would piss off the powers that be. Yeah, I know!

 

As for what you’ll find on this site, I’ll mainly be posting general life updates and updates on my work. But I’ll also be posting reviews and opinions of events, books, movies, etc, that I find awesome and/or inspiring.🙂 And, of course, reviews and squees whenever I manage to go to Phantom!

 

So that’s who the PhantomFemme is and what she’s about. Feel free to check out my Facebook, and/or follow me on Twitter at @phantom_femme. And, of course, do check out my work and enjoy! (Sub-pages for my music and writing coming ASAP.)

 

P.S. If you feel that PhantomFemme describes your political gender/ability identity too, then absolutely feel free to use it! I cannot exclusively own an identity! Indeed, part of the reason I use it as the name for my artistic practice is so that the term and the idea are out there in the world and available to others.🙂 Maybe just add a number or your location or something to it on social media so the world can tell us all apart?

 

P.P.S. A word about my use of the word “Deformed”, as I realize my describing myself that way may shock some folks. I use it here capitalized to indicate that it is more than simply a descriptor, although it is that – a word that describes the lived experience of my body in this culture. But it is also a word that I’m claiming as a political identity, like Disabled, Femme, Queer, etc,. I was inspired to do this by Mia Mingus’s absolutely amazing blog-post “Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability”, which has been hugely influential in helping me think through the PhantomFemme!

 

P.P.P.S. I am in no way affiliated with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Really Useful Group, or anyone officially in charge of Phantom, and I plan to keep it that way. LOL I don’t think they and I would dig each other’s politics, especially with regard to copyright and intellectual property!

 

P.S.4. That being said, one of my dreams in life is to participate, in some significant capacity, in the mounting of an ecologically sustainable, fair-trade production of Phantom! After all, since, to me, POTO is a story about the need for justice, it’d be awesome if it’s staging could walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Plus, I’d just love to show that it can be done!

#WSF2016 Workshop: Building #Cosmopolitan #Solidarities for effective #Allyship

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So the next workshop we went to at the World Social Forum was on Thursday afternoon (Aug. 12). LOL Again, we meant to go to one in the morning too, but sleep intervened! But we made the afternoon workshop we wanted to get to, and, again, were really glad we did. It was another great one! Though, at first, I wasn’t sure it would be. But it turned out very effective and productive!

So the workshop was on building what it called “cosmopolitan solidarities”. And the way they were using this language was to mean building solidarities between groups who do not necessarily share the same agenda, goals, or even underlying beliefs/political orientations. We seemed to focus on building solidarity and, ultimately, allyship among diverse groups and people. And it’s an extremely important topic! Because, if you want a broad-based movement, you need to build that kind of solidarity. And it hasn’t always been easy!

What was great, though, was that many folks in the workshop had a lot of on-the-ground, hands-on experience with doing that kind of organizing, so they were able to share a lot of wisdom. One guy in particular had some fantastic stories from the collective he had been part of! And another woman had a lot of insight from her days as part of the collective running a Feminist paper. And the woman who facilitated the workshop had a lot of experience, too, organizing with refugees and around the refugee crisis in Germany where she’s from, and where she’s, in fact, doing her doctorate on this very issue. So it was really great!

In the end, what we arrived at was not a set of best practices, because the one thing that really came through loud and clear was that there is no “one size fits all”, but rather a set of best attitudes or best mindsets. And I hope I can remember all the “ingredients” we came up with! Because, we ended up thinking of it as kind of like a soup – a recipe that could be blended differently depending on the needs of the situation. But we decided that the basic ingredients were: respect, flexibility, real listening, humility – being willing to admit that you don’t have all the answers, awareness of and responsiveness to the needs of the situation and the particular people in the group, reliability, but also awareness that people have to contribute according to their abilities, a sense of humour and an ability to have fun, creativity, and an ability and willingness to adapt. If anyone else who was there reads this, have I missed anything?

Anyway, although the above definitely isn’t news or anything Earth-shattering, it was still a really great, productive workshop. It was really fantastic to hear about everyone’s experiences in actual organizing so that it wasn’t just a theoretical discussion! And I really liked the list of best approaches we came up with. I thought it really useful as something to think with going forward into future work!

#WSF2016: #Decolonizing our #Faiths

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So the first session we actually made it to at the World Social Forum was on Wednesday afternoon. We meant to go to one in the morning too, LOL but it got moved to Friday morning amidst a great deal of confusion! At least we made the afternoon one, though. And I’m so glad we did, as it was really fantastic!

The workshop we attended, then, was called “Decolonizing Our Faiths”. It was presented by the Community of Living Traditions, which is an intentional community living just outside New York City. They are a community of Jews, Christians and Muslims working to live together in peace and fellowship while staying true to their faiths, and also while working for peace and justice in the wider world. It sounds like an amazing community, and the people I heard speak from it were awesome! I went because interfaith organizing is something I’ve been interested in for a very long time. I practice as a Christian, although I would definitely describe myself as a “cafeteria Anglican” LOL. And I know for myself what an important role my faiths, both as a Christian and as a Phantom Phan, play in informing my work for justice and peace! And I know, too, that that’s so for many others around the world. Yet, of course, I also know that one faith alone doesn’t have all the answers and can’t do it alone. So having different faiths work together for change is incredibly important! But it can also be incredibly hard because of all the histories of war, forcing conversion and other imperialist crap that has gone along with the institutions of our faiths for so many centuries, and which has built up a shit-load of mistrust, especially of Christianity because of its historic role of providing the ideological and theological justifications for Europe’s colonization and exploitation of the rest of the world. And this workshop was about exactly that – how faith communities can become aware of their histories of privilege and oppression, and how we can begin to work against them in our own traditions and beyond. It was really inspiring! The Community of Living Traditions are doing great work in that struggle!

So we talked about what decolonization meant, and how it plays/might play out in each of our traditions. We talked about the importance of recognizing the role that economic exploitation plays in driving inter-religious conflict, and, therefore, of being involved as people of faith in struggles for economic justice. We talked about traditions, not as dead continuations of history, but as living processes in the present – that it’s important to respect our traditions, but also to give them room to evolve. And we talked, which was cool, about how other things besides faiths can be living traditions! For example, we talked about how social movements, such as those of and for Black liberation, can also be living traditions, and how important it is to recognize and honour this. And we talked about the importance of having the really tough but necessary conversations, both within our own faith-communities and between them – the conversations about race, Zionism, gender, white privilege, Christian privilege, economic privilege, etc, – and of sticking with those conversations, but in a loving, respectful and supportive way. And we also talked about the importance of communities like the Community of Living Traditions as incubators for new ways of living together, which struck me as a really awesome idea!

For me, one of the most useful and powerful things to come out of the workshop was the concept, not of safe space, but of courageous space. I heard that and went “Wow!”. Because it’s true that, while we need to create spaces where people feel safe to speak their truths knowing that they will be respected, loved and supported, those spaces can’t be so safe that one is never challenged. Those spaces also have to be ones where we are able to have/find the courage to have those tough, uncomfortable conversations referenced above, and to have our comfort-zones pushed toward greater justice and inclusion. So that’s one I’m going to be thinking about a lot – how we create and nurture such courageous spaces!

#WSF2016!

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Well, this is my first time trying to post from my new iPad, LOL so we’ll have to see if it works! I hope so! Anyway, so Mom and I just got back yesterday from the World Social Forum, which was held this time around in Montreal. It was really awesome! LOL Though now we’re both totally exhausted. It was fantastic, but very intensive! Wow! But it’s the first time a WSF’s Ben held somewhere we could actually get to, so we really wanted to go!

So, as you may already know, the World Social Forum was originally conceived of as an alternative to things like the WTO, OECD, G8/10/20, etc, as a global forum for ordinary people – activists and social movements – to come together to build the future we want. And hitherto, it’s been held in the so-called “global south”, most famously in Cochabamba Bolivia. But this time, in order to challenge and start to break down the north/south divide, they decided to hold it in a country of the so-called “global north”. Thus, it came to be held in Montreal Canada. The cool thing was, though, that it really was global! We had people there from all over the world, and the issues covered truly reflected the concerns of the whole world! Obviously, the refugee crisis, the climate crisis, and global concerns around corporate grabs for land, water and seeds were in particular focus since those are so hugely urgent in so many places. But lots of more specific, regional issues were addressed too, including those from here in Canada and those specific to Quebec and Montreal.

LOL Unfortunately, because of time and energy, or rather lack of the latter, we only barely scratched the surface of all there was to do at the Forum! But we did manage to get to a bunch of really fantastic workshops and panels. And we did also manage to make the WSF Cabaret each night, which was totally awesome! They had some super-talented musicians there! Wow! 🙂 And we met a lot of really great people there too. That was one of the best parts – the networking! We met new folks there, and I also got to see colleagues I haven’t seen in years except on Facebook!

Anyway, I think I’ll post about the actual events we attended separately. LOL Otherwise, this post would get really long and I’d get really tired! But that’s at least the intro. LOL So I hope this works and that this post shows up!

What’s wrong with the Gerik?

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So I’ve been meaning to post this for a while too. I started it over on my other blog, but it struck me that it’s relevant here as well! So I thought I’d post links to the posts I did over there so the discussion’s accessible here too. 🙂 Hope you all find it interesting and useful!

Anyway, as those of you who are Phans know, probably the most controversial thing ever to hit the Phantom community is the so-called Gerik, aka the 2004 movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (Gerard Butler, who played the Phantom in the film,+Erik, the Phantom’s name in the original novel = Gerik). LOL Phans either love it or hate it! Though, all of us do have to give it credit for bringing lots of new young Phans into the Phandom. And thank goodness they don’t stop at the Gerik but, with the typical rabidity of new Phans, quickly familiarize themselves with other, better incarnations of the story – the Leroux and Susan Kay novels! LOL You can probably tell from the above which camp I’m in?

Yes, the Gerik bothered me immensely from the very first time I saw (heard) it, but it would take me years – literally – to fully unpack why. What struck me most was the contrast to the way I reacted when, after seeing the Gerik, I saw the stage-version again! The Gerik brought me down. It deeply depressed me. Whereas, the stage-version gave me the same powerful sense of what the Eastern Orthodox call “bright sadness” – sadness, but with the uplift of a powerful message of hope – that it always has. But, as I said, it would take me a long time to process why I reacted so differently – to begin to articulate what it was that bothered me so deeply about the movie. And I have to give my Mom huge credit for helping me finally work that through too! She really likes the Gerik! And it was in arguing with her, struggling to articulate why I increasingly disliked it, that I was finally able to put the problem in words. Actually, to put it into one word: ableism. For, what I ultimately realized was that the Gerik, through the changes it makes to the Phantom’s and Christine’s back-stories from the stage-version (among other things), takes the critique out of POTO, leaving the 2004 movie to present an almost Disney-like parable in support of a cisgendered, straight, able-bodied, sanist normate (to use Disability scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s term for that construction of the Western ideal subject). In effect, the Gerik took POTO and made it ableist! And this was a horror to me because, for me, Phantom, and especially the ALW musical, has always resonated as a call to exactly the opposite – a call to resist the normativity that allows society to get away with excluding people like the Phantom!

So I did a comparative analysis on my other blog to show, from the texts of the two works, how this is so – what it is about the changes in the Gerik from the stage-version that make it ableist. And I thought I’d share that analysis here, because it strikes me as very relevant to what this, my main blog, is about too! 🙂 Feel free, though, to ignore/bracket off the overt Christianity if that’s not your thing. I am a Christian (though admittedly an eclectic and, by some standards, heretical one), and my understanding of the Gospel message very much informs my Phanship and vise versa! But I totally get that that’s not so for everyone. So this first post simply compares the Gstage-version and the movie, focussing on the ways in which changes to the Phantom’s back-story serve to deflect the social critique so powerful in the stage-version of the musical. Then, in this second post, I focus on what those changes, as well as alterations to Christine’s back-story and to their joint back-story, do to the love-story that is at the heart of Phantom – in particular, at how they tame it from the radical power that it has in the stage-musical. Finally, in this post, I explore what those changes do to the Final Lair – the final scene of the stage-version and the penultimate scene in the Gerik (from the end of the song “The Point of No Return” to “It’s over now the music of the night”) – and how they alter its meaning. And no, that’s not a typo! The posts really do skip from “Tale of Two Phantoms part 2” to “Tale of Two Phantoms part 4”. No fear, you haven’t missed one! I skipped ahead and wrote part 4 so I could get it posted without having written part 3 yet because I felt it was so important. So stay tuned for part 3, either over on Phantom of the Cross or here! Actually, stay tuned for it on both, as I’ll definitely post a link either way.

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to post that for a while. I hope it’s useful, and that it gives you all lots to think about – whether you’re a Phan or not, a Gerik Phan or not, or an old-school stage-version Phan like me!

Awesome production of #SpringAwakening #musical by @DeafWest #Theatre!

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LOL So I’ve actually been meaning to post about this since the end of April. Yeah, running behind! Sorry about that. What can I say? Things have been busy! Finished up classes, had an awesome visit with family🙂, and then did a very successful gig at the Open Tuning Festival! LOL And then, after that, I’ve been just plain tired. And am still supposed to be getting work done on the first of my comps for my doctorate! Which I am, though probably not as much or as fast as I should. LOL Oops!

Anyway, I heard about this production back at the Cripping The Arts Symposium. And I’ve wanted to post about it ever since, because it sounds absolutely awesome! Heck, I’d love to see it! 😦 Though, apparently, its Broadway run is finished now. Bummer! But I’ve heard there’s a national (U.S.) tour planned? That’d be awesome! I really hope it’ll make some stops, either here in Canada, or somewhere in the States close enough for me to go. I’d love to support it! Anyway, it’s by the Deaf West Theatre Company out in California (San Francisco I think), and it’s their take on the musical Spring Awakening. It’s apparently been a huge hit, too, even winning a whole whack of Tonies! LOL How did I not hear about this before?

So Deaf West are a company that do their shows, including musicals, in both English and ASL simultaneously. Apparently they’ve done Big River and Pippin previously. But what makes their production of Spring Awakening revolutionary is that they’ve allowed it to directly address ableism. And the brilliant thing is that they’ve done it without altering any of the original script or lyrics! Spring Awakening was not originally written for Deaf/Disabled performers, nor was it intended to address issues such as ableism. But Deaf West have taken it and made it work!

The musical is adapted from a play from the 1890s about the challenges of coming of age in an ultra-repressive society. Thus, it’s characters deal with their emerging sexualities, and broader desires, in a context in which to even discuss such things is strictly forbidden, and obedience to systems/figures of authority regarded as the marker of well-adjustedness. And the musical preserves the “Victorian” setting of the play. But it makes it more than a simple period piece by, between scenes, having the characters grab microphones and sing their thoughts and feelings in a contemporary rock idiom. So it’s already intended to speak as much to our own time as to history!

Then, Deaf West took the radical step of, rather than creating a world on stage in which everyone magically knows Sign, as they’ve done for previous musicals, deliberately making some of the characters Deaf and some hearing, adding a layer to the issues around communication and silence already present in the story. They were inspired to do this by the Deaf history occurring around the time the original play was written and in which the musical takes place. For, just prior to that, in the 1880s, the body in charge of Deaf education (which, I’m assuming contained no Deaf people at that time) decided that children should be taught to speak and lip-read, and that ASL should be suppressed. And this, too, ads a new layer to the issues around normalization and conformism already addressed in the musical. You can read more about the original play, its musical adaptation, and Deaf West’s awesome reworking of it here.

The brilliance of this production is that, by picking a story which already addressed issues of intergenerational communication, normalization, conformism and resistance, Deaf West were able to create a musical that’s accessible to both Deaf and hearing actors and audience. And, because this was done so organically, it resonated with both audiences all the way to 8 (I believe) Tonies! And, contrary to much of the commentary I heard from folks at the Cripping the Arts Symposium, I don’t think this is just because it happened to be the 20th anniversary of the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) at the time. I think it’s because the story itself in its musical adaptation was a natural fit. So, when the audience saw/heard it, the universal design didn’t feel like an adaptation or an add-on, it felt like an organic part of the story-telling. And, while that’s easier to achieve with new shows, because it can be written in right from the get-go, it’s much harder to achieve with a revival of an existing show!

So, naturally, I’m now absolutely dying to see what could be done to create a universal design production of Phantom! Because, like Spring Awakening, it’s a story about the consequences and effects of exclusion. So it, too, should be a natural fit! But there would, admittedly, be some major challenges. One of the big ones, of course, would be that it’s very much a story about music and singing. So I have no idea how ASL could be organically incorporated! Also, the show’s original aesthetic – Victorian high romance, yet at the same time very sparse and almost minimalist – would present some interesting challenges to physical accessibility. And that aesthetic is a great part of what Phans love about the show because of the way it works a richly layered symbolism into the experience. So it’s really important, IMHO, that that symbolic richness and aesthetic be respected! (ahem, 2015 touring production directed by Lawrence Connor that totally trashed said aesthetic, and not even for the good reason of trying to make the show accessible.) So it’d require real creativity to adapt POTO for universal access! 🙂 But I’d love to see some one take a crack at it. Because, a musical about the need for justice and inclusion shouldn’t exclude in its design and staging! #POTOWalkTheWalk

Another awesome conference-thing, and an awesome show to go with it!

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So I had the opportunity over the week-end to take part in another totally amazing event.  Though, actually, I wasn’t there in person this time, but listened in via Livestream.  LOL I didn’t quite manage to squeeze in before they closed the registration, so I couldn’t actually be there!  But it actually worked out well, as I’m not sure I really had the energy to do another intensive week-end.  So it was actually great to be able to listen from home!  :-) Thanks, therefore, hugely for making that available!  Much appreciated!

 

Anyway, the event was a symposium called Cripping The Arts In Canada that was jointly put on by Tangled Art + Disability and the British Council of Canada.  And it was all about how to promote Deaf and Disabled art and artists, and how to create an environment where Deaf/Disabled arts and culture can thrive.  It was really fantastic!  Unfortunately, LOL there were some issues with the Livestream as there can be with technology, so I didn’t catch everything.  Plus, I wasn’t able to listen to the final day on Saturday as I needed to try to get an article done (thank God they’ve given me a further extension on it LOL, as that didn’t quite happen).  But those sessions I did hear rocked!

 

Some of the highlights included a fabulous keynote talk to open the symposium on Thursday morning by Ruth Gould of DaDaFest from Liverpool in the U.K. And Wow! It sounds amazing! It’s a Deaf and Disability arts festival that’s been running for 15 years now, and these days gets over 100-thousand (I believe she said) visitors! Amazing! So it was awesome to hear about that and all they’ve accomplished. Then, that was followed by a really interesting series of panels and discussions on funding and finding/creating accessible spaces for Deaf and Disabled arts and artists. Lots of really useful and inspiring stuff that I’ll post more about later!

So then, on day 2, the symposium switched focus to looking at what is/are Deaf and Disability arts. Lots more really awesome discussions! Unfortunately, I missed most of the opening panel due to technical issues with the Livestream. But, from the end of it that I caught and the tweets I read, it seemed to be discussing the issue/s of non-disabled people using disability/disabled characters/disabled people in their art, and whether/to what extent that’s speaking for us rather than with us. Very important, especially when there are so many awesome Disabled and Deaf artists out there struggling to have their work recognized! Then, that was followed by a talk on Disability podcasting and its role in creating and bring together Disability culture/s. Again, very cool! Some great podcasts I’m dying to check out now!

Then, in the afternoon, there was a really interesting panel on a topic dear to my own heart and process – the role of pedagogy in Disability and Deaf arts. So it really explored the issue of the extent to which Deaf/Disability arts are/should be/can be about helping people learn and open their minds to issues around ableism and other forms of social in/justice. And it also considered what role curators of Deaf and Disability arts can/should play in making those arts pedagogical/bringing forth their pedagogical aspects. Very interesting for me as a an artist whose work frequently engages political/justice issues while trying to avoid being didactic!

Then, on the Saturday, they had what was described as a “community brain-storm” to try to come up with solutions for some of the issues raised throughout the symposium. And, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to listen to that because I needed to work on that article. But I was really glad, nonetheless, to hear they were doing it! It’s really great that they tried to bring practical solutions out of the week-end as well as just great discussion. And, apparently, they’ll be producing a resource-guide/handbook type thing out of that brain-storm session. So I’ll definitely be keeping a listen out for that!

🙂 Then, that night, they capped off the week-end with an absolutely amazingly awesome Disability arts cabaret called “Cripping The Stage”. And, being a cabaret, it featured everything from stand-up comedy to performance-art to hiphop. And all the performers were, as they say in the U.K., bloody brilliant! The performance pieces were really powerful, and the comedy had me laughing my ass off! And no, this time I wasn’t performing myself alas. Bummer! But hopefully in future I will. I’d love to have that opportunity! It’d be a huge honour to be on stage with such incredibly talented fellow Crip artists and performers! And I really hope they do this again, both the cabaret and the symposium itself! A lot of great stuff came out of both, and it’d be great to keep the momentum going!

York University 11th Annual CDSSA Conference!

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So Friday I attended another really awesome conference, and I thought I’d post about it.  It was the York University Critical Disability Studies Students Association’s 11th annual conference.  And, as always, it absolutely rocked!  I’ve been going for years, and have even presented at a couple of them.  And they just keep getting better!  The organizers did a great job as they always do.  The awesome part is that, right from its inception, the conference is entirely student-driven and student run!

The theme for this year was “Cripping Canada”, so all the talks and workshops looked at disability in our Canadian context in some way.  But many also looked at Canada in its global context, and where disability is in that broader picture.  Really cool, critical, thought-provoking stuff as always!  I left with a lot to contemplate!

So it opened with a really wonderful introduction by an Indigenous elder that included a smudging ceremony – which was really awesome!  Then we went into the first session.

The first session had a panel in one room and a workshop in the other, and I opted for the workshop.  It was by an organization called Deliciously Disabled, and was on disabled inclusion, or not, in Queer communities.  It was really interesting!  Although, frankly, I wish the presenter had cut a lot of the preliminary stuff on disability, ableism and sex in general, which, honestly, every one there already knew, so we could have had a lot more time for questions and discussion.  I wish we’d had a lot more time to actually talk about disabled participation in Queer communities – what’s happening, what’s not, if and where there are safe, accessible spaces for Crip people to participate in Queer communities and how to access them, etc, because that stuff’s not so well known.  At least, not to me anyway.

So then we had a break, and went into the second session – which was just a panel this time, no workshop.  So this panel was on intersections of disability and race, both here in Canada and beyond.  The first speaker discussed transnationalizing disability studies so that it’s more attentive to the way disability is situated in its global contexts – to, for example, the role that war plays around the world in producing both disability and disabling conditions, and also to the role/s that transnational relations of power play.  It was fantastic!  Then, the second speaker talked about issues around mental health and encounters with the Toronto police, and how those issues and the people who live with them were represented in a series of articles in the Toronto Star.  Again, really interesting work!

Then we had lunch, which, blessedly, was provided by the conference, and which, blessedly, was not all vegetarian and vegan LOL!  And, over lunch, LOL I got roped into going to join the meeting of the York AODA Alliance (a York-centered group working to see the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act actually implemented)  that was happening then.  And, actually, it was really great!  There weren’t many of us there, but it felt very productive.  Apparently the group’s only just getting up and going, so there hasn’t been much activity yet.  So the meeting was still largely set-up.  Plus, of course, it’s the end of term, and everything’s about to really scale back over the summer.  But hopefully stuff will get going in the fall!🙂

Then, after lunch, we had the keynote.  It was given by Dr. Tanya Titchkosky, and it was absolutely mind-blowing!  I wasn’t familiar with her or her work before then, though she came very highly recommended by my colleagues.  But her talk was absolutely amazing!  Seriously, she just wrote my manifesto as an artist for me!  Her talk, as best as I can sum it up – and this completely fails to do justice to it, was on engaging disabled imaginaries to unseat normative “man” from his privileged position as difinitive humanity.  And, when they’ve got the transcripts of the conference posted on the website, I can’t reccommend highly enough that you go and read what she said!  In fact, I hope they are, or some one is, given permission to post the recording so you can actually hear her speak it!  Because, part of what made the talk so powerful was her way of delivering it.  She is a great speaker!  She has a wonderful cadence, and a real gift for pacing, inflection and emphasis, without in the least talking down to her audience.  It absolutely rocked!

Then we had another break, and went into the first of the afternoon sessions.  There was supposed to be another workshop during this session, but, unfortunately, it apparently got cancelled.  So it was just the panel.  Bummer, as that workshop was one I was really looking forward to!  But the panel was really awesome too, and, in fact, would have been a really tough choice between it and the workshop anyway.  So it worked out!  Anyway, the first speaker gave a really interesting, delightfully informal talk on “Taking Back Self-Harm” from medical discourse, and giving voice to the actual experience of those who do it.  Really interesting, and not a topic you hear discussed often!  Then, the second speaker, again, talked about intersections of disability, race, class and gender from her experience, both as an activist/organizer, and  as some one who’s done front-line work with people with cognitive “disabilities”.  Once again, really cool!

Then, the last panel of the day was on disability in the education system.  So speakers looked at, for example, the construction of “behaviourally problemed students” in the Ontario public school system, and at ableism in early childhood education, both toward students and toward educators with disabilities.  And again, examinations of how race, class and gender intersect/ed with disability figured strongly.  In fact, that was very much a theme throughout the conference, which was fantastic!

So, alas, that was the end of the conference for this year.  And, as this hopefully gives a hint of, it absolutely rocked yet again! 🙂 I’m already looking hugely forward to next year’s.  I can’t wait to hear what the theme is and what folks will do with it!  And, in fact, I hope I get the call for papers in time, because I’d love to actually present again, depending on the theme and if I have a relevant topic to speak on.  As I said, I’ve presented at their conferences in the past, and it’s been super fun!  So I’d love to do it again now that I’m back in school!

The Rest of ROBAM (Finally)!

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Yowch!  Sorry for not getting this posted sooner!  Though I had an awesome time at the conference,🙂 and I did, it was really, really tiring!  And school’s not over yet!  So it’s taken me a while to get rested and get my shit together.

 

Anyway, the rest of the conference started at 10:30 on Saturday morning.  They provided breakfast, thank God! 😦 But the coffee-maker was broken, which didn’t start the day off auspiciously.  Though, thank God, that ill omen didn’t pan out, as the day ended up being awesome!  LOL And, thank God, I was able to get at least one large coffee so I wasn’t in withdrawal.  Huge thanks to the person who dashed over to the coffee-shop for me!  LOL You’re a life-saver!

 

Btw.  You can find fuller descriptions of all the panels/presentations here, including the ones I didn’t attend.

 

So we started off with a really interesting panel on accessibility and/in urban planning.  There were four speakers, all of whom were either practicing professionals in the field or were studying to be so.  They spoke about their research, and/or their experiences in trying to bring accessibility into the planning process.  And some of the projects were really interesting!  In particular, one of the students was doing her doctoral research on how to plan spaces so that they are accessible to people with dementia.  I should say, in fact, that the whole theme of the panel was to take accessibility in urban planning beyond simple “ramps and lifts” checklists to really think about how spaces do or do not serve those who use them.

 

After that, the sessions broke up into three separate streams – Places, Spaces and Histories, with different panels/presentations in each one.  So then you had to start deciding!

 

I was originally going to go to a different session.  But, on the spur of the moment, I ended up going to a session entitled “Putting Life Into Law”, whose focus was on getting the AODA (Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) actually implemented in a serious way.  I hadn’t originally planned on going to it because, as some one who’s not really that into law and policy, I’d feared it would be boring, depressing, or both.  But boy was it ever neither!  First of all, both of the speakers were fabulous.  And second of all, it turns out there’s a lot of really great and creative organizing going on around this issue!

 

In particular, I learned about two amazing campaigns.  The first was a mapping project called Access Now, which allows users to rate different spaces for their accessibility or lack thereof, and also to search locations to see how they’re rated.  It uses an interactive map, but, apparently, it does have a screen-reader friendly option.  Thank God!  I’d be pissed if it didn’t!  Though I haven’t actually had a chance to check it out yet, so stay tuned.  Then the second campaign was one called “Picture Our Barriers”, in which people can take photos or short videos whenever they face an access barrier, physical or attitudinal (like people with service dogs being refused entry by cabs or restaurants), and tweet them using the hash-tag #AODAfail (or, if you’re not comfortable taking photos or doing videos, you can just tweet a short word-description of the barrier – which should be done anyway for those of us who can’t see the pictures/vids).  Then, those tweets can be tweeted or re-tweeted ad infinitum, including to all our provincial politicians!  Can we say awesome?  Because, it’ll both make the barriers we face more visible to the general public, and, hopefully, generate pressure on our legislators to implement the law they passed.  Needless to say I’m really excited about both of those!

 

So after that was lunch.  And I have to say that I liked the food much better than last year!  LOL Mostly because they had non-Vegan options this time so I could actually eat meat.  LOL Thanks hugely for that people!  Much appreciated!

 

Then, after lunch, I went to a really interesting presentation and discussion on intergenerational trauma.  The speaker used her own family history to analyze how recent trauma (her grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust) had lead to the adoption of dominant ideologies – of race, class, ableism, and what she called “sanism” – as a coping strategy to create a sense of security.  She then explored how this coping strategy had lead to further violence within the family as members who deviated from this adoption of dominant ideologies and values were  punished and repressed for “allowing” the effects of intergenerational trauma to manifest as madness/disability.  And that presentation lead to a really interesting and fruitful discussion around how to heal from intergenerational trauma, both individually, but also collectively and culturally, and the importance of coming to understand how individual family histories fit into larger structures of oppression.  Many of us are hoping to be able to keep those discussions going beyond the conference, as we all felt there was a lot more to say and to work on!

 

So then, the last session I went to was called “Self-Care for Skeptics”, and, again, it was as much discussion as presentation.  Basically, the presenter had created a zine in order to explore, in a Feminist participatory research way, the issue of self-care.  Because, although she recognized the necessity of taking care of oneself to avoid activist burn-out, she was also becoming significantly uncomfortable with the way self-care culture was becoming individualized and commercialized, and was playing into really problematic discourses that glorify the young, fit, able body/mind.  So she showed us some of the pieces – essays, poems and artwork – that ended up in the zine, and we all had a really interesting discussion of the issues around self-care and collective care.

 

After that we had dinner (which I didn’t like nearly as much as the lunch because the chicken was way to spicy for my admittedly wimpy comfort-level), followed by a really interesting performance!  It’s become customary in the past couple of years to have a guest-performance, either on the Friday night, the Saturday night or both, and this year’s was by an artist named Lana K.  I’d love to hear her entire show!  She performed excerpts of a monodrama she’s working on all about challenging ableism and industrialized education by rediscovering alternatives buried in ancestral memory.  It was really cool!  And it gave me some really interesting ideas for some of my own future performances.

 

Then, sadly, we closed out the conference on Sunday afternoon, though, we did so in a really delightful way.  Just as on Friday when it opened, the conference closed off with a potluck and community fair so we could all connect and hang out one more time.  It was really nice!  And I got to hang out with a friend whom I haven’t seen in years except on Facebook!  In fact, that was one of the best parts of the whole conference – reconnecting with current friends whom I haven’t seen in ages and meeting new people.  I made a lot of really great contacts!

 

🙂 And, I’m happy to say, I did have more people come up to me and tell me they liked my performance on Friday night.  So that was a delightful little ego-boost too!

 

Anyway, LOL I already can’t wait for next year.  I had a fabulous time, and I know the next one will be just as awesome!

ROBAM day 1.

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So tonight was the opening of the 2016 Reclaiming Our Bodies And Minds conference, to which I’ve been looking forward all year!  It’s an inter-university Disability conference jointly put on by York (my university), Ryerson, the University of Toronto, and one other.  I want to say Humber College, but I’m not sure that’s correct.  Anyway, ROBAM’s always one of the highlights of my year, because you always get to hear about awesome and inspiring intersectional resistance to heteropatriarchal Capitalist White ableism.  So it’s one of the places I go to get re-energized!

 

Anyway, this year’s conference opened tonight with a community fair, in which various groups and organizations made themselves available for folks to come learn about who they are and what they do.  :-) The coolest of these (at least that I know about, as, sadly, I didn’t get to check them all out as I was a bit late) was a group presenting a DIY alternative communications device called the Talk Box!  It’s aimed at making access-technology both affordable and easy to repair without specialized knowledge.  So, really trying to put it  in the hands of those who use it, rather than those of funding gate-keepers and other “experts”.

 

Then, after that, we had the keynote address.  It was given jointly by Vanessa and Lindsay Grey, the pair of awesome sisters  who’ve spearheaded resistance to massive industrial pollution and, thus, environmental racism in their community of Aamjinwaang – a First Nations community in south-western Ontario affectionately known as Chemical Valley.  So they talked about the effects on their community of being literally surrounded by petrochemical plants – polluted air and water, and, of course, all kinds of health problems.  It’s really appalling!  And, of course, and this is where the environmental racism part comes in, this has been allowed to happen because it’s an Indigenous  community.  The powers that be – municipal, provincial and federal governments and general society – would never tolerate that kind of pollution being inflicted on White settlers!  So, given that the ROBAM theme this year is “navigating our places, spaces and histories”, their talk really started us all off powerfully thinking about those navigations and their problems.  You can check out their website – Aamjinwaang Solidarity – to find out more about the situation and the community’s resistance to it.

 

🙂 Then, to close out the evening, they had an open-mike!  LOL Though, things were running late by then, so there was only half an hour left for it.  But it worked out, as it turned out only two of us had signed up!  LOL They sent the call out a bit at the last minute.  Though,🙂 having been guilty of that myself on more than one occasion, I can hardly criticize!  So the first performer was a stand-up comedian.  And she was fantastic!  LOL Great dark humour!  Then, yours truly got up and did my version of the old protest-song Bread And Roses, which has been one of my favourites since the first time I heard it.  But I try to give it a bit more teeth than is usually done!  So my version’s closer to metal.  :-( Not sure it went over as well as I’d have liked.  Maybe my spoken intro was too long?  :-) I did have at least one person tell me it was awesome, though. So that was great!

 

Anyway, tomorrow’s the full day with all the panels and presentations.  So I’d better go check the schedule and decide which ones I want to hear!  But hopefully I’ll have a chance to post about it afterwards too, either that or after the whole conference ends.  LOL What can I say?  I love these things, but they can be a bit tiring!  But I’ll definitely post about the rest as soon as I can!

The Afronaughts Have Landed!

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So a couple of weeks ago, I went to my friend Camille Turner’s new art-installation/happening. It was really cool!  Her work, both artistically and academically (:-) she’s also one of my colleagues in Ph.D Land),  is all about trying to unearth Black histories that have been buried by the White settler enterprise, and reinsert them into our narratives of what Canada is.  Her stuff’s very much part of what inspired me to get started!

 

Anyway, this piece, called “The Afronaughts Have Landed”, explores slavery in Canada.  It imagines that the Afronaughts – the people/beings who, in ancient times, shared wisdom from the Sirius star-system with the Dogon people (of what is now Mali) – have come back to help because they’ve seen the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into here.  And they’ve unearthed evidence of slavery.  So the Afronaughts (Camille and her fellow performers) stood silently around us while we, the audience, sat at a table and looked at their discoveries – old adds for or about slaves from newspapers from what was then Upper and Lower Canada (present-day Ontario and Quebec), as well as from the Maritimes (especially present-day Nova Scotia).  And while we did this, a recording played of a voice (it sounded like text-to-speech) reading out these adds along with other information about Canadian slavery.  It was really fascinating!  Though, also, pretty dreadful.  I didn’t even know we’d had slavery in Canada!  :-( They tend to neglect that part in our history classes, focussing instead on our heroic role as destination of the Underground Railroad.  But we were slave-owners too, of both Black/African and Aboriginal slaves according to Camille’s research!  And this was so for both English and French Canada.

 

Anyway, it was a really cool piece!  I can’t wait to experience her next work!  As I said, Camille’s stuff’s been a huge inspiration for my own.  I love the way she uses art to address politics, and to open up issues people would like not to talk about!  You can check out more of her awesome work at her website.  :-) Very awesome!

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