Wow! Everyone should read this post, and indeed their entire blog! Although Mingus is speaking specifically to a Queer Korean-American audience, what she says here may be applied to other contexts too. Very powerful!
Wow! Everyone should read this post, and indeed their entire blog! Although Mingus is speaking specifically to a Queer Korean-American audience, what she says here may be applied to other contexts too. Very powerful!
A powerful and painful piece because it’s so damned true! I experience this every time I have to ask a sighted stranger to guide me somewhere, fill out forms for and with me that ask for very personal information because the forms are in formats I can’t read myself, etc. And of course, I experience it every time a sighted stranger comes up to me and asks me how long I’ve been Blind and what caused it, questions there’s no way to answer without going into my personal history! Mingus is absolutely right. It feels as oppressive as it is! And she does a brilliant job of laying out why it’s oppressive!
Source: Forced Intimacy: An Ableist Norm
Ouch! But so true. It’s the lesson of Nevel Longbottom, though. Isn’t it? (paraphrasing Dumbledore) “It takes courage to stand up to your enemies. But it takes even greater courage to stand up to your friends!” So let’s all help each other cultivate that courage please? A really important start would be to creat circles of support for those who have friends or, especially, relatives that they’re going to have to confront. This can be really scary, especially for those who fear isolation. But knowing you’ve got a circle of supportive friends to whom you can go to decompress/debrief/just plain not feel alone after you’ve pissed off your other friends/family can make all the difference in whether some one has the courage to stand up or not!
Source: Charlottesville was my Fault
So a while back, I was re-reading (well, re-listening to actually, since I experience it through audiobook) my original Leroux Phantom, and I noticed something I hadn’t before. Actually, it surprises me that I hadn’t till now! Because, when I think about it, it’s likely been a key reason why I’ve always gravitated more toward the stage-version than the Leroux novel. LOL Sorry Leroux purists! And don’t get me wrong. Of course I recognize Leroux as the source of it all – the original, and I love it for that as well as for its own particular way of telling the story. But it’s always been the stage-version that’s most powerfully fired my love of Phantom, and, as I said, I think I now know a key reason, which as to do with the way the two versions handle the issue of “normalcy”.
In the Leroux novel, Erik (the Phantom) expresses a strong desire for normalcy. He expresses the wish to “live like everyone else” (chapters 22, 23 and Epilogue of Damatos translation) – to have “a nice, quiet little flat with ordinary doors and windows like everyone else, and a wife inside whom I could love and take out on Sundays and keep amused on week-days” (chapter 23). And indeed, the house on the lake, the furnishings of which are frequently described as bourgeois common-place, seems to be trying to replicate a “normal” man’s house as much as possible (chapters 12 and 26 of Damatos translation). The only unorthodox spaces described as being in Erik’s house are his own room, which is done up like “a mortuary chamber” (chapter 12), and the “torture chamber” (chapters 22 through 25). But these spaces seem to come less out of a defiance of “normalcy” than from a desire to punish himself by living like the corpse he has always been told he looks like (chapter 12), and to punish and discourage intruders (chapters 22 through 25). It is also expressed in his work on a mask that will make him look “like anyone”, i.e. with a “normal” face (chapter 22).
In the stage-version, however, this desire for “normalcy” is downplayed if not dropped. The Phantom here certainly expresses a desire for love and compassion, and a wish to be lead and saved from his solitude (Act I scene 6, Act II scenes 8 and 9). But he does not express the desire to be “like everyone else” that the Leroux Phantom does. Moreover, his lair in this version (in the original staging at any rate) is not an attempt to mimic a “normal” home, but rather a temple to “the Music of the Night”. And indeed, in the lyrics to that song, he puts forward an alternative to the harsh, daylight visual standards of physical beauty that have excluded and marginalized him, offering instead an aesthetic where sound is paramount, and where visual assessments are softened by candle-light. True, he wants acceptance. He wants some one “to see, to find, the man behind the monster” (Act I scene 6). But he wants this at least somewhat on his own terms. Thus, the stage-version Phantom can be read as being OK with not being “normal” as long as he’s not alone in it – as long as he’s not driven into maddening isolation by exclusion and marginalization.
And now that I think about it, I begin to suspect that this shift in the approach to “normalcy” is a key reason why the ALW stage-version was the version of Phantom to be the one to spark Phandom to life, not just in me, but in so many others born since the 1970s. Many of us were othered, especially in the education system. We were bullied or just plain excluded, either by our peers, our teachers or both, for having a Disability/being Queer/being Trans/being “weird”/etc. But, in us, that didn’t inspire us to want to conform and be “normal”. Because, in the people who othered us, especially the authority-figures, we saw, up close and personal, what society calls “normal”. And we didn’t like what we saw! It looked to us like what J. K. Rowling would later call being a muggle – rigid conformity (to dress-codes, to codes of behaviour based on able bodies and minds, to racism, to soul-destroying work environments, to consumerism, to sexism and what we would now call the gender binary) and a deadened imagination. And unlike our parents, we were the generations born post civil rights, post Black power, post Stonewall, post second-wave Feminism, post the beginning of the Disability rights movement. And while we weren’t exposed directly to these movements yet (that wouldn’t come till we escaped, er, I mean, graduated from highschool because, back then, we didn’t have the internet to easily and safely, i.e. privately, seek those movements out ourselves), we got their echoes. And those echoes told us it was the “normal” mongers that were wrong, not us.
Thus, when Phantom first opened back in 1986, it resonated powerfully with those of us engaged in these struggles, especially since it found many of us just as we were heading into our teens. Indeed, for many of us, the ALW Phantom provided the symbolic language with which we expressed and waged these struggles. We related to the Phantom’s experience of being excluded for his differences. But, like him as portrayed in the stage-version, we want/ed to be accepted for who we were/are – to offer alternative ways of being and find people to share them with, not to solve our exclusion by burying or excising parts of ourselves in order to be “normal”.
I think this is part of why so many old-school stage-version Phans like myself have such a strong negative reaction to the Gerik (the 2004/5 film adaptation of the Lloyd Webber musical). As I’ve argued elsewhere, the changes it makes in the story shift it’s message from that of the stage-version. Instead of calling out society for excluding and othering the Phantom on account of his not being “normal”, the Gerik criticizes the Phantom, and Mme. Giry who helped him make his home in the opera house, for his “failure” to have been “properly socialized”. It argues that what the Phantom needed was, not to be accepted for himself, facial difference, “madness” and all, but to learn to fit himself into “normal” society as best he could, and find there whatever place it would grant him. But Phans of my generation know that argument way too well. We got it from our teachers, guidance counsellors, our peers, the medical and other “helping” professions, and even, in some cases (though I’m thankful mine wasn’t one of them) from our parents. Many of us have tried that route, too, in response to their pressure. We’ve tried contorting ourselves into the shapes and appearances society wanted in order to be accepted. Many of us tried it for years or even decades before giving it up because, A, it doesn’t work – you’re never fully accepted because you can never be your whole self – never let your guard down lest your “abnormalities” show. And B, some part/s of yourself always have to remain disavowed and suppressed, hated because they keep you from fully fulfilling the societal ideal and, as you think, being fully accepted. Oh yes, we know well the mental, spiritual, psychic, and sometimes even (though, again, I’m grateful that not in my case) physical violence of that path. And it really, really pisses us off to see our beloved Phantom, the story and character that saved so many of us by inspiring us to begin to fight for our own liberation, turned into, A, eye-candy, and B, an apology for the “normal” mongers! That is not the message of the Phantom so many of us fell in love with on stage and in recordings. His was and is a song of resistance!
So a week or so ago, while reading through my Twitter feed, I came across the following tweet from the official Phantom twitter, @PhantomOpera, which represents the show worldwide (although the London, Broadway and U.S. tour productions do all have their own). And I really wanted to respond, because I found it really disturbing coming from an official voice for the musical! But I knew I couldn’t possibly condense why into 140 characters. I really wanted to say something, though, because I didn’t think this should be left without a response! It was part of a discussion on why the Phantom comes out for curtain-call in his full costume, including the hat and mask, when both have been removed during the Final Lair. And @PhantomOpera’s answer was that they wanted to end the show with his “iconic” look rather than his “broken” look, to which another discussant asked if they thought the Phantom is broken. To which @PhantomOpera replied, and this is what I find problematic:
“A little bit. I think the character behaves less refined when he doesn’t have the wig & mask & that’s not a good image to end the show with”
You can (I hope, if I’ve done this right) find the tweet in question here, and you should be able to call up the rest of the discussion from there.
What I find so problematic about this tweet is that it, in fact the whole discussion at least as far as I saw, equates the Phantom’s revealed “deformity” with his being “broken” as though there were some inherent correlation between the two. It makes this correlation by suggesting that he is less “broken” when he conceals his deformity in order to appear more “refined”. And this is classic ableism! Yes, the Phantom is broken, and, yes, he does have low self-esteem (see further tweets in the discussion which describe the wig and mask as props to bolster the Phantom’s low self-image). But this is not “just” because his face is “deformed”. That’s how ableism operates, though. It locates brokenness in the individual body of the person with the bodily/mental/cognitive difference, and, therefore, treats depression, self-esteem issues, feelings of isolation, etc, simply as part of their “condition”. It treats those feelings/psychological states as part of the person’s individual set of problems rooted in their bodily “deficiency” rather than as legitimate responses to the way society treats them. Thus, the “cure” is understood to be to make the person as “normal” as possible so that they can love themself and fit in, not to change society at large to one that can accept them. This is because, to put it baldly, ableism believes that it is the person’s body that is wrong, not society’s inability to embrace them. And therefore, it maintains that to change society would be neither possible nor, in fact, desirable. Thus, in the case of this tweet-discussion, then, it seems to be suggesting that the Phantom’s self-loathing and depression derive from his having a facial “deformity” rather than from society’s exclusion of him – an inevitable, if tragic, reality (Christine’s ultimate acceptance of him being a one-off, miraculous exception) which, if he were “sane”/”well adjusted”, he would have learned to accept. And the phrasing that he “behaves more refined” when hiding his “deformity” implies that his doing so is a good thing – a step toward “normalcy” even if he is, ultimately, too “broken” to achieve it fully.
As I said, I find the above really disturbing, especially from an official voice for the show! Because, to me, Phantom is and should be about countering and resisting ableism. Yes, the Phantom is broken, but not by his face. He is broken by a lifetime of marginalization and exclusion by a society that’s decided his face is too different to be accepted. He is depressed, yes, but because of a lifetime of being told he’s unloveable because of his “deformity”. He behaves in a deranged and violent manner because he can’t take it any more – because Christine’s fear and seeming rejection, coming on top of this lifetime of experience, were the straws that broke the camel’s back. This doesn’t excuse his behaviour or make it OK. But it does put it into its social and, yes, political context. His problems do not inhere in him. They do not inhere in his face. They were created in him by a society which ranks people’s worth – which ranks people’s very right to exist and survive – according to their ability to measure up to a standard based on the young, White, able, “healthy”, cisgendered, preferably “beautiful” body.
But the answer to that is not to conceal the brokenness. It is not to mask oneself to try to measure up to the very standard that excluded you! As the Final Lair itself suggests, it is to recognize the social, psychological and spiritual harm done when we marginalize and other those who do not measure up to that narrow ideal, and begin to make reparation. That is why that line “Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known? God give me courage to show you you are not alone!” (Act II scene 9) is so powerful! Admittedly, the gendering can be way problematic – a discussion I’ll definitely have here at some point because it’s absolutely necessary. But, even so, it is the moment when Christine recognizes that it is society that has done this to the Phantom, not his own inner nature. And it can, as I have argued elsewhere, be read almost as an apology on the part of her whole society and an attempt at reparation! And this is also what makes the Phantom’s choice to then let her and Raoul go free so powerful too – not because he has refused that reparation out of some recognition that it’s really all his own psychological fault or problem. But, rather, exactly because he has accepted her reparation. He has recognized and accepted her compassion and, with the strength that has given him, taken at least a small step toward refusing to buy in any more to society’s dehumanization of him. He has finally understood that Christine simply loves the other guy, and that her not loving him romantically truly has nothing to do with his face. And that understanding, combined with her compassion for and comprehension of how he has been marginalized, gives him the strength to stop behaving in a dehumanized way – to stop passing on to her and Raoul the violence he himself has endured.
Considered this way, then, I would argue that the Phantom with his “deformity” and brokenness, yes, but also re-found dignity revealed is exactly the image with which to end the show! And I wonder how audiences would respond, given this, to him coming out for curtain-call unmasked and without the wig, or perhaps to re-unmask while taking his bows? Because, I suspect that audiences would get it, and that that could actually be really powerful! At the very least, though, I’d like for those who represent the show – actors, crew, media spokespeople, etc., – to understand the Phantom’s actions and behaviour in their proper context, and to please not use ableist tropes to present the character as exotically tragic or tragically exotic. Don’t re-marginalize, either the Phantom, or those of us for whom his story resonates as our own!
Note: I’ve put the words “deformed” and “deformity” in quotes to indicate that these are socially constructed concepts that derive from the belief that there’s only one “correct” way for a face to look. Recently, however, I have seen a number of activists reclaiming the word “disfigured” and using it to make the same argument with regard to both congenital and acquired facial differences. Because, as they point out, both are othered for their differences in appearance, and in both cases that stems from the idea that there is only one proper and pleasing human figure. And I totally cheer on these activists’ awesome and courageous work! Indeed, I recently heard the term “facial equality” coined by one such person, which I absolutely love! I use the language of “deformity”, however, because that is the term used in the show (Act 1 scene 10, Act II scene 2) and which, therefore, has tended to be used in the Phandom.
Note 2: The above might, perhaps, make it sound as though I am arguing that the Phantom is better unmasked because that is the “truth”. But that is not quite what I mean to convey. Indeed, I love the Phantom in his full regalia and, in fact, find it smoking hot, especially when played by an actor with the right voice and stage-charisma! But, to me, though I suspect to other Phans as well, the power of his “iconic” look does not come from the fact that it hides his “deformity” and makes him more “normal”. Because, in fact, it does neither. It neither makes his mind and heart less broken by the exclusion he has suffered, nor does it allow him to successfully “pass”. However, and this is something I’ll discuss more in future posts, because it is an attempt to claim dignity even without being able to successfully pass, the Phantom’s Phantom persona and, therefore, regalia can be understood as a form of resistance. And that, for me, is what makes it so potent.
So now onto some of the current stuff. And I know this is way over-due! But, believe me, although it’s taken me a long time to get around to posting about it, I haven’t been oblivious! I’ve mostly been following through Democracy Now‘s superb coverage and on Twitter. But I really felt I had/have to post something too!
What’s been happening at Standing Rock is unbelievable in the twenty-first century! We should be way beyond sending cops armed with military-grade and military style vehicles and weapons to brutally repress and displace people who are only trying to defend their land, their water – not to mention the water-source of several million other people, and the burial grounds where their people have been laid to rest. I mean, how would you feel if some corporation barged into your community and basically said “we
re going to do this project whether you like it or not, and we don’t care if it endangers your drinking water, and by the way we’re going to bulldoze your cemetery, too, because it’s in the way”? But then, that doesn’t happen in White, middle/upper-class communities. Does it? And the fact that it’s happening anywhere should be unbelievable in 2016, except that we should be way past where cops can just shoot people for traffic “violations”, too. But we’re not! And when people get rightly pissed about it, what do we do? We send in the cops with armoured vehicles and rifles! We should be way past this shit by this time, but, sadly, we’re not! Racism and colonialism are alive and well! And what’s happening at Standing Rock is a classic instance of both, with environmental racism on top.
And it’s not just Standing Rock either. We have similar struggles here in Canada too! Although, so far, things haven’t been escalated by the “authorities” to quite such a degree yet. I hope? If I’m wrong in that, then please correct me! Though, I hope to God not! But, here, too, we have extraction projects being pushed through the lands of Indigenous people who’ve said a loud and resounding “no” – TransMountain, Northern Gateway, Kinder-Morgan, Line 9, Energy East, and, of course, the tarsands themselves. Not to mention the Site C dam! And the government is still trying to persuade/arm-twist communities in the paths of these projects to accept them, in spite of Justin Trudeau’s promises to respect Indigenous rights. In many ways – not only this, but on Bill C51 and electoral reform too – he’s behaving very much like his predecessor, all the while trying to conceal it behind his good looks and affability.
The good thing is that the folks at Standing Rock and all these other sites of struggle have world-wide support. They’re most definitely not facing this shit alone! Protests in support of Standing Rock in my home city have been large, loud and powerful! And they’ve made a point of making the connection/s between Standing Rock and those other struggles, and, indeed, to the struggles of other marginalized people for justice and dignity – Black Lives Matter, the struggles of migrants/undocumented people, the struggles of Queer and Trans people, especially Queer and Trans people of colour. So efforts at “divide and conquer” aren’t working thank God!
Anyway, my thoughts/prayers/good energies/etc, are most definitely with the land and water protectors right now. I’m in absolute awe of their courage and determination! And I hope, for all our sakes, that they succeed! Because, not only would DAPL contribute to the worsening of the climate crisis by allowing for the expansion of fossil-fuel production, which is absolutely the last thing we need right now, but, as the defenders point out, if that pipeline breaks, which is a “when” not an “if” given the track-record of these kinds of projects when it comes to safety, it would contaminate the water-supply for 17 million people. And for what? So already rich people can get richer? Because the fracked oil that it will carry is not for local use. It’s all for export (they’re still desperately hoping there’s a market for it in Europe or Asia)! And the same is true for the pipelines here in Canada too. They’re all meant to carry oil to ports for shipping over-seas. And meanwhile, Indigenous and other marginalized communities’ lands and waters get polluted and wrecked, disrupting subsistence ways of life, and causing major health impacts. In the words of a song by one of my favourite hiphop groups, WTF?!!!
But the land and water defenders have said they’ll keep defending as long as they have to to stop this evil – this totally unnecessary destruction. And thank God for their devotion and dedication, and may God/Spirit give them what they need to do it! And we, their allies, will continue to support them in whatever ways we can too. because, we’re all in this together! In the words of another song by that same group:
“Protect Mother Earth don’t settle for less!
This is Turtle Island don’t you ever forget!
Resist till the colonizers settle the debt.
This is Turtle Island don’t you ever forget!
We got one planet let’s protect what’s left.
This is Turtle Island don’t you ever forget!
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!
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!
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!
PhantomFemme is a Queer-Crip, intersectional Feminist riff 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 as well! 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 definitely on-going 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 heteronormative ways. The masculine figure of the Phantom gets to be deformed, but Christine, the feminine figure who is his love-object, doesn’t. She is conventionally beautiful. 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 “female 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 (ahem, as originally staged by Hal Prince and designed by Maria Bjornsen, contemporary redesigned productions not withstanding), need/ed to be creatively brought forward and explored. So PhantomFemme is my on-going attempt to do that through my own music and writing, and hopefully through other media as well!
My art as PhantomFemme is also how/where I explore the connections and interconnections between different forms 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 when I’m lucky enough to perform live. 🙂 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 life updates and updates on my creative work, along with essays analyzing different aspects of Phantom through the intersectional politics described above.. 🙂 And, of course, reviews and squees whenever I manage to attend the show live, which, imo, is not nearly often enough!
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.)
Note: the term “healing justice” in my tag line comes from the organizers of Black Lives Matter as heard in the On Being podcast’s interview with Civil Rights icon Ruby Sales. I use it here because the term seems to me to also beautifully describe the kind of transformation for which Phantom calls!
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, not to mention one that’s made as inclusive and accessible as humanly possible! 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!