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Call for contributions to Queeristan 2012

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

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Below is a Call for Contributions for the important political festival and gathering Queeristan 2012 that takes place in Amsterdam between May 18 and 20 this year. Queeristan is said to be one of the central meeting places for anti-racist queer critique in the area. This year they have a “freaky” framework for the festival:

All the freaky people
make the beauty of the world
(Michael Franti)

With this message Queeristan is calling out whoever is interested in using freaking beauty to achieve a different queer politics. Together, let’s join forces in a festival that will take place in Amsterdam from May 18-20.

What is Queeristan? Certainly not a(nother) country. Behind it there is a nomadic collective of activists based in Amsterdam whose interests do not exactly rhyme with law&order, nor with setting up new borders. Nonetheless Queeristan is all about providing a space. Not only an autonomous space that dodges logics of profit and commercialization, but also a platform to both explore and counter the normative workings of gender and identity. A safe environment for queers and a factory of resistance. Our critique departs from the simple fact that buying “normalcy” in the guise of being either male or female, a Dutch or a foreigner, gay or straight, either one or the other, simply means to be disciplined by a choice made elsewhere, to be docile towards it, to keep your mouth and your eyes shut.

Although Queeristan strives to bring together all sorts of sexual outlaws, we do not want it to be another gay pride: we are not interested in using the beat of our music to celebrate the “integration” of just some queer lives whose skin color, citizenship, cultural and financial means are played as “assets” within a liberal democracy that trades rights as if it were a stock exchange. Instead Queeristan wants to be a festival where dissent unpredictably materializes and becomes shareable in a performance, in a workshop, but also in a work of art, or in partying all night long. There is no fixed formula for Queeristan. There is a togetherness based on affinity with political projects that focus on the body as the site where social aggregation and exclusion can be concretely addressed. Queeristan discerns the battlefield where a geopolitics of consumerism, migration, human rights is enforced. Queeristan resists.

Amsterdam becomes Queeristan the moment we recompose the space we inhabit to uncover the possibility of troubling our private, individual consumer identity. To start using our bodies and intersect the multiple layers of stories and practices that shape them as they tie them to one another. Therefore Queeristan is calling activists, artists, performers, queers to come up with proposals that aim at re-inventing the modes of encounter, feeling, and understanding our bodies and with interventions that seek to spatially short circuit and re-map Amsterdam beyond its neoliberal rhetoric of gay-friendliness and connect it to other places and struggles.

If Queeristan’s politics resonates with yours, come onboard and share the platform by joining the collective in our weekly meetings in preparation to the festival. Or, if you have exciting ideas for a workshop, a performance, an art exhibition, or other, original formats cooked up by your queer creativity: we are looking forward to receiving your proposals - being aware of the nasty logistic limits of time, space and money - to construct the festival that will form Queeristan this spring.

Please send all your inquires and proposals (max 500 words) to queeristan (at) gmail.com

Deadline for submissions is February, 29 2012.

On that freaky note - it is worth mentioning that the German artist and theorist Renate Lorenz’s long awaited book Queer Art - A Freak Theory is out in just a couple of weeks. 2012 is a freaky queer year indeed.

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Queer ‘guerrilla’ activism in China: Reflections on the tenth-anniversary Beijing Queer Film Festival 2011

Monday, October 10th, 2011

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by Elisabeth L. Engebretsen

On June 19 this year, the fifth biennial Beijing Queer Film Festival (BJQFF) closed after five days of screening over thirty queer films from China and abroad, hosting talks and parties, and with people attending from all over China, as well as from overseas. Queer and straight volunteers ensured a smooth-running festival, and a funding initiative assisted youth from inland provinces to attend, watch queer films and socialize in a distinctively queer community, some for the first time in their lives. This is a considerable achievement when seen in context of the persistently difficult socio-political climate for minorities in the country. While it has often been assumed that queer life is invisible, silenced, and poorly organized in societies like the Chinese, where formal recognition and legal protection remain absent, a rather different and more nuanced perspective emerges when we look more carefully into specific events and their particular context, such as this film festival. In the BJQFF organizers’ press statement they suggest that it was perhaps despite and even because of, official bans and police surveillance that they succeeded in hosting the film festival and achieving their aims - celebrating the importance of showing queer films, and spreading knowledge of queer cultures in a society where non-mainstream voices are stifled all too often.

This upbeat and celebratory attitude alongside a flare for ad-hoc activist creativity - or guerrilla-style tactics - are key characteristics of queer social activism in mainland China. Guerrilla activism in general works to empower marginalized groups by creating a temporary platform for transmitting their voices and experiences, and works relatively independently of established channels and vehicles of communication and organization. These strategies are of particular relevance in China, where authorities regularly but quite unpredictably, censor and crack down on dissenting activities. Yang Yang, chairwoman of this year’s film festival, said:

While it is unfortunate that we had to be guerilla-warriors [sic] once again in order to hold this festival, we feel empowered and invigorated by the reactions of the audience and the filmmakers, and we’re ready to continue with our goal of spreading queer films and queer culture in Chinese society.

Of course, many would argue that these are fundamental ingredients of (queer) activism in many places in the world. In the following, therefore, I would like to reflect on certain qualities of queer social activism in mainland China, by discussing the Beijing Queer Film Festival event in some detail. This is not, I emphasize, an attempt to argue an absolute cultural or queer Chinese difference, and I recognize the conundrum of the universality/particularity bind involved. In short, this tense dynamic involves, on the one hand, that some might consider queer activism in China as part of a universal, and similar if not identical, process of rights activism towards equality for all; on the other hand, some emphasize the unique particularity of a given cultural location - such as ‘China’ - against the (implicitly western) global flows of rights, pride, and rainbow flags.

In a recent special issue of the journal Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique on transnationalism and queer Chinese politics, Petrus Liu discusses this dynamic vis-a-vis queer academic practices (Theory), and points out that Eurocentric queer theory typically sees China as a relevant concern “only as the producer of differences from Western queer theory” (Liu 2010: 297). The referent of Chinese specificity, he suggests, often works to establish China as existing in the past, lagging behind in queer developmental progress, or to place China as exceptional, and categorically outside of, and hence irrelevant to, queer theory. In other words, China is important only insofar as it is positioned as a categorical and negative opposite to a generic ‘west’ and to queer scholarly inquiry. In a globalizing world, it is clear that both positions are problematic, as Liu also argues; while queer life in China is undeniably shaped by local culture and history, there is no denial that foreign impulses inspire and help shape current formations of queer identity, politics, and community. The Beijing Queer Film Festival event, then, serves as a poignant example of this local-regional-global dynamic.

Ten years of queer “guerrilla” activism: A short history of the Beijing Queer Film Festival
During its ten-year-long existence, the Beijing Queer Film Festival has encountered its fair share of official trouble. Started in 2001 by a group of Beijing University students and tongzhi (‘queer’), the festival has been organized every other year or so by a changing group of volunteers. The first two festivals (in 2001 and 2005) were marked by official interruptions and bans, forcing the organizers to keep their festival underground and far away from official eyes. In 2005, for example, I was in Beijing conducting research on lala (‘lesbian’) communities there, and attended the festival with some of my local friends. The opening event was scheduled to take place in a central lecture hall at the prestigious Beijing University. Organizers had applied to authorities for permission to hold the event, but not citing the ‘homosexuality’ focus of it in order to increase the chances of getting permission. In the end, officials were tipped off, conducted a last-minute check-up, and upon finding festival material with direct references to LBGTQ, they promptly canceled the event. A mass of people were stranded outside the hall, not knowing what to do. An impressive informal community effort, facilitated by personal connections in the arts community, cell phone messaging and Internet use, enabled the festival to quickly transfer to the Dashanzi art district on the other side of town, where the inaugural welcome and screening event took place to a packed, cheering audience, the next evening.

The third and fourth festivals in 2007 and 2009 were held in Songzhuang village, an alternative arts community, some distance outside central Beijing. This was a conscious choice of location in order to evade official scrutiny and censorship. The 2009 festival also co-hosted China’s first queer arts festival, Difference-Gender, which attracted several hundred visitors to its opening event. However, the organizers met considerable problems as authorities visited the site the day before opening and ordered a cancellation of the exhibition, arguing that this public art show boasted the ‘improper subject of homosexuality’ and ‘pornographic’ exhibits (see, Liao 2009). Organizers negotiated with police until only hours before the scheduled opening, and were finally able to hold the event, albeit with some empty spaces on the wall; the title/artist tags remaining as visible proofs of censorship. In the words of Xu Bin, leader of the Beijing-based lala (‘lesbian’) group Tongyu (‘Common Language’):

It was the triumph of the younger generation of China’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. It was the triumph of their confidence to claim for proud exisitance [sic], triumph of their courage to insist on doing what they believe to be right! (Liao 2009)

The Songzhuang film festivals in 2007 and 2009 received little overt harassment from police and national security, despite the continued presence of official intimidation and innumerable requests for information and paperwork in the run-up to the events. This of course drained resources, challenged volunteers’ patience, and perhaps most importantly, necessitated that organizers remained on their toes, ready to deal with any possible intervention from authorities at any time. Comic relief works wonders in such testy environments; at the opening screening of the 2009 festival, where I was in the audience, one of the organizers humorously addressed the ‘hidden’ plainclothes police in the audience, saying he hoped they would also enjoy the films. All in all, the original programme remained pretty much intact, and this relative success encouraged the organizers to think bigger as they prepared for a large-scale tenth-anniversary festival in 2011.

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Members of the 2011 BJQFF Organization Committee (from left to right): Yang Yang, Cui Zi’en, Stijn Deklerck, Wei Jiangang, Fan Popo. (Photo: BJQFF)

In April this year, however, organizers had to adjust their plans due to official pressure. The Chinese government has become more edgy in the recent couple of years compared with the early 2000s. This is due to both domestic and global events, reaching far beyond the ‘improper subject of homosexuality’ - such as international sports (2008 Beijing Olympics) and trade (2010 Shanghai Expo) events, environmental disasters, ethnic minority riots, and a string of popular uprisings due to increasing socio-economic inequalities. The official cancellation of DOChina, an independent documentary film festival scheduled to take place in May, signaled that Songzhuang village was no longer a safe haven for alternative art events. As it soon turned out, other art locations around Beijing were also experiencing a severe climate of government control and censorship, so it was becoming very difficult to find venues willing to host the queer film festival. As Stijn Deklerck, member of the 2011 BJQFF organization committee explains:

Apart from Songzhuang, we also made screening agreements with several other locations.  One by one they told us however that hosting the Beijing Queer Film Festival was too risky.  They were afraid of being shut down by the authorities, and they told us that they didn’t want to work with us anymore.

The organizers finally decided to hold their festival at the Dongjen Book Club, an activity center in Xicheng District in west Beijing. Worried by the overall climate of fear, they decided not to publicize the exact name and address of the new festival location. Only the times of the screenings were made public, and people could only obtain the screening address after booking a ticket.

On Sunday 12 June, it became evident that the safety measures adopted were far from enough to keep the authorities at bay. Representatives of the Beijing Xicheng District Public Security Bureau, Culture Bureau and Bureau of Industry and Trade turned up unannounced at the Dongjen Book Club and demanded a sit-down with the BJQFF organizers. After a short talk, in which they made references to a number of Chinese laws, they declared that the festival was illegal and that it had to be cancelled. They announced that they would post police officers at the Dongjen Book Club during the festival, and they expressed that there would be harsh consequences if the organizers disobeyed their orders.

In an emergency meeting, the BJQFF Organization Committee unanimously decided to still hold the festival but at a different location. It was paramount that the festival not be silenced and erased, as Cui Zi’en, noted film-maker and long-time queer activist, co-founder of the festival, and member of the 2011 organizing committee:

The BJQFF was started as a platform to question and challenge mainstream culture. Since mainstream in China is mainly constructed by the government, we all felt a duty to not let the BJQFF be silenced by government bureaus, but to challenge their decisions on which films are acceptable for screening.

With only three days left till the festival opening, scheduled to start on June 15, the organizers started to engage all kinds of bars and cafes in Beijing. Uncertain if the authorities would find out about the new locations, they decided to avoid a concentration of activities in one single place. The opening ceremony on the evening of June 15, which attracted over 100 participants, for example, took place at the Vinyl Cafe, a hip venue in downtown Gulou Dajie, a popular tourist and hipster area of old back alleys and modern bars and restaurants a stone’s throw away from Tiananmen Square. Fan Popo, director of the Beijing LGBT Center, and one of the BJQFF organizers, described the atmosphere preceding the opening thus:

We were alarmed by the fact that the officials found out about the Dongjen Book Club, because we never publicized that the festival would take place there. What was even scarier, was that the authorities also knew about the previous talks we had with other screening locations. So we decided we needed some new safety measures, and one of them was to keep switching locations during the 5 days of the festival.

Another strategy employed by the organizers was to give the outward impression that the festival was indeed cancelled, informing all the people who had already booked seats that the festival would not take place. Only invited guests, volunteers, personal friends and LGBT organizations were informed about the new schedule and locations. This strategy posed a significant dilemma, namely that the possibilities for participation were severely limited, making the festival into ‘just’ a community gathering for those already established in the queer activist circuit and their immediate circle of trusted allies. However, in the difficult political climate of today’s China, other strategies aiming at more openness and general inclusivity have proven time and time again to result in total clampdown and cancelled events – generating very difficult dynamics within queer networks.

Despite all these difficulties, the film festival did open on June 15, and went on to host five full days of screenings and talks. Though not all screenings originally scheduled could take place, more than 30 films were screened in four thematic clusters: Film-makers’ Profile, Overseas Nation, Queers from Diverse Cultures, and National Panorama. To mark the tenth anniversary volunteers put together a special Beijing Queer Film Festival Retrospective Program; it consisted of a documentary film with film clips from BJQFFs ten years, and a panel discussion focusing on the development and future of queer film festivals in Asia.

Global connections and regional outreach
Although the film festival is located in Beijing city, and many of the organizers are based there, it is important to emphasize that the BJQFF has national and even international importance and reach. The program has increasingly included work by directors and activists based elsewhere in China, for example, and a growing trend in the film program is a focus on documenting personal experiences and histories. This contributes to diversifying ‘the Chinese queer experience’ and ‘identity’ quite significantly. At this year’s festival, more than 15 Chinese queer film-makers presented and discussed their work, with many of their films premiering at the festival. A focus on personal oral histories and narratives was running like a red thread through many films. Take for example “The next generation” (Xia yi dai, 下一代), a 90-minute documentary film that presents accounts by ten LGBTQ and straight university students from various parts of China (watch original episodes with English subtitles here). Directed by Queer Comrades-webcast host, Jiangang Wei, the film presents honest, personal accounts of love, family, education, sex, and the future. Similarly, the fifteen-minute “My journey of self discovery” (Faxian ziwo zhi lü, 发现自我之旅; directors: Ana Huang et al.) is a collage of selected shorts from a long-term lala (‘lesbian’) community workshop of digital storytelling, many with autobiographical contents (watch shorts from the Lala Digital Storytelling Project here. For updates on English translation/subtitles, more here). Then there was the tenth-anniversary collage film, “Our story - Beijing Queer Film Festival Ten Years” (women de gushi: Beijing ku’er yingchan shinianji, 我们的故事 - 北京酷儿影展十年纪), a documentary based on material recorded by the different BJQFF organizing committees over the years, telling their own stories about their participation and organizing.

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BJQFF opening screening. (Photo: BJQFF)

Eight film-makers attended from outside of mainland China to share their films and personally talk about their experiences. They included queer cinema pioneer Barbara Hammer, Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival organizer Sridhar Rangayan, Taiwanese queer documentary film maker Mickey Chen, and Chinese-Canadian video artist Wayne Yung.

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Barbara Hammer. (Photo: BJQFF)

I asked Barbara Hammer about her thoughts on the BJQFF this year; her response:

The fortitude and strength of the LGBTQI organizers at the 10th Beijing International Film Festival was truly amazing.  Regardless of police shut-down, the show always went on. Humor, consistency, and darn good programming was enhanced by bringing together international guests.  One night we all gathered, friends of the festival, and brain stormed how it could continue and in what guise or form. Many ideas came out that night. I look forward to continuing to support Beijing queers in any way I can!

In this way, the festival’s importance extends far beyond the actual event itself, and beyond Beijing city and its local queer activists there. The BJQFF is an explicitly inclusive and proactively engaging in outreach beyond the limits of identity, and beyond the limits of one particular city. This includes the positive welcoming and active recruiting of non-queer volunteers and participants as queer allies, building a funding programme that encourages attendees from regional China, and inviting overseas queer film makers not only from the generic ‘west’ but from Asian countries, such as India and Taiwan this year.

In addition to film-makers, volunteers, and regular participants, the 2011 BJQFF sponsored 25 individuals from China’s “remote areas” (pianyuan diqu, 偏远地区) to attend the festival. ‘Remote’ in this context refers to regions beyond the hyper-modernized coastal region and economically developed areas such as Chongching and Guangzhou. Such ‘remote’ areas are generally considered to offer less opportunities for queer community building and networking. BJQFF operated an online-based ‘viewer registration’ program where interested people from all over China could sign up, and in the end 25 lucky people were selected to attend the ten-year anniversary festival. In this way, the festival event and rationale provide a social and educational agenda beyond an already formed community based in the metropolis. This outreach focus strengthens the intimate links between the practice of alternative art, culture, and politics throughout China. As aptly expressed by one of the lucky funded participants, Songzi, a young man from Nanning, in the southern Guangxi province, when asked by Queer Comrades about his impressions: “I thought it was very interesting; I saw a lot of films that I really liked … I hope that more people can accept our community …”

These conscious strategies toward expanding inclusion, diversity, and participation, then, contribute to expanding a queer academic, and activist, focus on ‘Beijing’ to one that is simultaneously trans-regional and trans-national without resorting immediately to a one-to-one comparison with ‘the west’; it expands the definition of “China” as well, showing on-site audience and distant observers alike that “China” indeed is no homogeneous culture or location; within China there are marked regional differences in terms on queer activism, culture, and related practices. Additionally, the continued emphasis on showing films from mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong - locations that share history, culture, and language in fundamental ways, but which also differ significantly - help foster cross-regional conversations and reflections on queer life and activism in Chinese societies. Thus, the BJQFF provides an important occasion for coming together and engage in conversations, education, and, let’s not forget: to have fun, despite the continued climate of censorship.

In closing:
Chinese queer festivals and events such as the BJQFF constitute crucial interventions into dominant cultural and political representation of sex and sexual difference in Chinese society. Perhaps the most fundamental importance is that self-identified queers and their straight allies directly and unfiltered present their lived experiences and personal desires to the audience; they are not mediated, explained or objectified by medical or academic ‘experts,’ as has long been a requirement for public discourse on homosexuality in post-Mao China (see, Cui 2002). Therefore, on a local level, these events help push queer voices up from the underground, generate self-respect and pride, and present knowledge of non-normative sexuality to the general population. On a global and theoretical level, the socio-political communication of queerness, self-respect and pride in these contexts, trouble the globalizing ‘brand’ of “pride” that celebrates public visibility, unmediated displays of queerness such as Pride Parades, and which in turn relegates ‘Other’ strategies to the closet of shame, silence, and arrested development. A specific focus on Chinese queer activism, then, such as film-making and -screening, contributes to expand our definitions of queer politics beyond the dominant ‘queer theory’ lexicon. Perhaps, then, a detailed examination of the event of the BJQFF, such as the one attempted here, could help challenge us to re-configure entrenched ways of thinking sexual meanings and pride globally, in ways that position different practices in proximity, dialogue, and coevalesence; and furthermore, in ways that show “China” as central, not peripheral or even irrelevant, to thinking Queer Theory and non normative sexual politics in our transnational times.

Finally, I end with the intriguing analysis offered in BJQFF chairwoman Yang Yang’s opening speech:

In my opinion, a queer film festival is not an event only open to “marginal people” who come to escape the darkness of mainstream society. A queer film festival is a platform void of prejudice, a place where people can freely express, show, explore themselves and where they can enter in meaningful exchanges. Every film, every director, every audience has their own viewpoint and so does every one of the organizers. The only one thing that the festival stands for is that everybody who participates can freely voice their own opinion. The festival has a large significance not only for the queer community but also for the whole of society, because sometimes we all can’t see ourselves clearly, sometimes we all need to explore the influence we have on others to understand ourselves, sometimes we’re all living oppressed lives and we hardly realize that we can free ourselves through freeing others.

Our biggest enemy consists of a small number of authoritarian organizations that are using the powerful national propaganda machine to subtly construct mainstream ideology. And our biggest worth, our ultimate goal as a queer film festival is to challenge and oppose this mainstream ideology … The revolution hasn’t succeeded yet. Queers, keep up the good work!

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Sources:

Beijing Queer Film Festival Organization Committee. 2011. 5th Beijing Queer Film Festival Press Release. June 19. (Email received June 20, 2011)

Cui, Zi’en. 2002. “Filtered voices: Representing gay people in today’s China,” in the IIAS (International Institute of Asian Studies) Newsletter no. 29, p. 13 (translated by Chi Ta-wei).

Liao, Karen. 2009. “Difference-gender: China’s first queer arts exhibition” (publication date June 15, 2009).

Liu, Petrus. 2010. “Why does queer theory need China?” in Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, special issue on ‘Beyond the Strai(gh)ts: Transnationalism and Queer Chinese Politics,’ Liu, Petrus and Lisa Rofel (eds.), 18(2): 291-320.

Yang, Yang. 2011. “致辞” (zhici, “Speech”) (uploaded June 13, 2011).

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Elisabeth L. Engebretsen is research fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland. Email: elisabeth.engebretsen@helsinki.fi

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Note on upcoming event:
On October 28, 2011, the Nordic Institute for Asian Studies in Copenhagen, Denmark, will host a one-day workshop on Queer theory and activism in China, which will feature talks by 2011 BJQFF chairwoman Yang Yang, Hongwei Bao (Goldsmiths College, London), Benny Lu (Goldsmiths), Elisabeth Engebretsen, as well as talks and screenings of recent films by Cui Zi’en, Wei Jiangang, and Fan Popo. Register and get more information here.

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We Who Feel Differently

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

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A couple of weeks ago, the multi-disciplinary artist Carlos Motta released his fascinating research-based art project We Who Feel Differently with talks in Bergen and Oslo.

We Who Feel Differently is the result of Motta’s extensive work on queer activism and the question of alternative thinking, centered around numerous interviews with activists in Colombia, USA, South Korea and Norway. Motta has collected an amazing number of voices and material, and he has been generous enough to present it all for free on a compelling homepage: wewhofeeldifferently.info. Great!

I have just started to read, listen and watch all the fascinating material in the interview, journal, ephemera and theme-sections, and look forward to spend much time on and with this homepage in the future. Here is how Motta presents the structure of the project:

We Who Feel Differently is a database documentary that addresses this question and other critical issues of contemporary queer culture.

Interviews features conversations with fifty queer academicians, activists, artists, radicals, researchers, and others in Colombia, Norway, South Korea and the United States about the histories and development of LGBTIQQ politics in those countries.

Themes outlines five thematic threads drawn from the interviews in the form of a narrative. This section has also been produced as a book.

Journal is a sporadic publication that presents in depth analyses and critiques of LGBTIQQ politics from queer perspectives. The first issue is “Queerly Yours: Thoughts and Afterthoughts on Marriage Equality.”

We Who Feel Differently attempts to reclaim a queer “We” that values difference over sameness, a “We” that resists assimilation, and a “We” that embraces difference as a critical opportunity to construct a socially just world.

I hope Motta’s project will generate critical discussion and debate about politics of difference and sameness, queerness etc. It surely is a gold mine to all scholars, activists, artists and others interested in queer activism, transnational solidarity and alternative perspectives on the “site” of queer politics. I hope to write more about this project in the future!

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CFP for issue on Crip Theory in lambda nordica

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

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lambda nordica: Journal for LGBT Studies has sent out a call for contributions to a special issue on Crip Theory. NB! The deadline for abstracts is on May 1 2011:

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Call for Papers for a Special Issue of lambda nordica: Crip Theory

Crip Theory is a new set of theories that analyses disability by using insights from queer theory, feminist theory and intersectionality studies. Crip theory is used to understand and influence attitudes and discourses concerning disability and impairment, but it has a much wider scope than that. Concepts like the normate, stigma, and accessibility can be used to study how an ableist society determines our mental structures.

Disability and impairment are key notions for an intersectional understanding of post modern society and can be used to analyse other concepts as citizenship, democracy, stigma and exclusion. In an effort to present the newest research in the field, lambda nordica: Journal for LGBT Studies is planning to publish a special issue on Crip Theory in the spring of 2012, and we are looking for abstracts with a crip perspective. The articles can be theoretical or empirical, but some aspect on Crip Theory should be thematised in each article. The focus will be on a Nordic context, in which we explicitly include the entire Baltic regiona. Abstracts and articles can be written in English, Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish.

Suggested topics include:
Disability politics and activism
Religion and disability
Class and disability
Sex and disability
Illness-Disability-Normalcy
Charity and disability
Disability and Citizenship
Gender and disability
Disability and identity
Age and disability
“The Crip Revolution” - Independent Living, agency, and citizenship

We are looking for abstracts of 300 words no later than 1 May 2011. Send them to guest editor Jens Rydström (jens.rydstrom (at) genus.lu.se. The articles should not extend 7,000 words and may be written in English, Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish.

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lambda nordica is indeed the most important academic LGBTQ journal in the Nordic countries, so if are not already a subscriber, sign up right away here, or ask your local library to do so!

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Queer in Eastern/Europe

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

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There are lots of new publications coming out these days that I wish I could get hold of. The latest is Lisa Downing and Robert Gillett’s edited collection Queer in Europe - a book collecting perspectives on the translation, morphing and travel of queer through different European countries and contexts. It seems to move country-by-country through the continent (although Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, and the other Nordic countries have been swept together under the rubric “the Nordic region”; but as the text is written by the always amazing Ulrika Dahl, I’m sure it is a great one). The book is unfortunately only in hardback (as so many of Ashgate’s ‘Queer Intervention‘-books - a shame!), but hopefully it will be releases in paperback too, or/and be bought by a library close to you in the near future. Here is what the publishers write:

Queer in Europe takes stock of the intellectual and social status and treatment of queer in the New Europe of the twenty-first century, addressing the ways in which the Anglo-American term and concept ‘queer’ is adapted in different national contexts, where it takes on subtly different overtones, determined by local political specificities and intellectual traditions. Bringing together contributions by carefully chosen experts, this book explores key aspects of queer in a range of European national contexts, namely: Belgium, Cyprus, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, The Nordic Region, The Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Spain.

Rather than prescribing a universalizing definition, the book engages with a wide spectrum of what is meant by ‘queer’, as each chapter negotiates the contested border between direct queer activist action based on identity categories, and more plural queer strategies that call these categories into question. The first volume in English devoted to the exploration of queer in Europe, this book makes an important intervention in contemporary queer studies.

Contents: Preface; Introduction, Lisa Downing and Robert Gillett; Queer in Belgium: ignorance, goodwill, compromise, Bart Eeckhout; Queer in Cyprus: national identity and the construction of gender and sexuality, Nayia Kamenou; Queer in England: the comfort of queer? Kittens Teletubbies and Eurovision, David Nixon and Nick Givens; Queer in France: AIDS dissidentification in France, James N. Agar; Queer in Germany: materialist concerns in theory and activism, Ute Kalender; Queer in Hungary: hate speech regulation and the queering of the conduct/speech binary, Erzsébet Barát; Queer in Ireland: ‘deviant’ filiation and the (un)holy family, Anne Mulhall; Queer in Italy: Italian televisibility and the ‘queerable’ audience, Luca Malici; Queer in The Netherlands: pro-gay and anti-sex – sexual politics at a turning point, Gert Hekma; Queer in the Nordic region: telling queer (feminist) stories, Ulrika Dahl; Queer in Poland: under construction, Lukasz Szulc; Queer in Russia: othering the other of the West, Brian James Baer; Queer in Spain: identity without limits, Santiago Fouz-Hernandez.

The book looks rich, and although not without controversial figures (such as Gert Hekma writing about Netherlands, pace the discussion of his scandalous ‘contribution‘ to the Sexual Nationalism conference in Amsterdam recently), there should be much interesting stuff here.

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Queer in Europe seems to speak well together with Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizieliñska’s new edited collection De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives (similarly from Ashgate in expensive hardback). The editors have over the last years done much important work to decenter queer theory from the Anglo-American focus, and it is great to know that this book exists. Here is what the publishers write about it:

De-Centring Western Sexualities critically assesses the current state of knowledge about sexualities outside the framings of ‘The West’, by focusing on gender and sexuality within the context of Central and Eastern Europe. Providing rich case studies drawn from a range of “post-communist” countries, this interdisciplinary volume brings together the latest research on the formation of sexualities in Central and Eastern Europe, alongside analyses of the sexual and national identity politics of the region. Engaged with current debates within queer studies surrounding temporality and knowledge production, and inspired by post-colonial critique, the book problematises the Western hegemony that often characterises sexuality studies, and presents local theoretical insights better attuned to their geo-temporal realities. As such, it offers a cultural and social re-evaluation of everyday life experiences, and will be of interest to sociologists, queer studies scholars, geographers and anthropologists.

Contents: Introduction: why study sexualities in Central and Eastern Europe?, Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielinska; ‘Contemporary peripheries’: queer studies, circulation of knowledge, and East/West divide, Joanna Mizielinska and Robert Kulpa; Between walls: provincialisms, human rights, sexualities and Serbian public discourses on EU integration, Jelisaveta Blagojevic; Nations and sexualities - ‘West’ and ‘East’, Robert Kulpa; A short history of the queer time of ‘post-socialist’ Romania, or, are we there yet? Let’s ask Madonna, Shannon Woodcock; Travelling ideas, travelling times. On the temporalities of LGBT and queer politics in Poland and in the ‘West’, Joanna Mizielinska; Researching transnational activism around LGBTQ politics in Central and Eastern Europe: activist solidarities and spatial imaginings, Jon Binnie and Christian Klesse; Rendering gender in lesbian families: a Czech case, Katerina Nedbálková; The heteronormative panopticon and the transparent closet of the public space in Slovenia, Roman Kuhar; Heteronormativity, intimate citizenship and the regulation of same-sex sexualities in Bulgaria, Sasha Roseneil and Mariya Stoilova, Situating intimate citizenship in Macedonia: emotional navigation and everyday queer/kvar grounded moralities, Alexander Lambevski.

The pile of books that I want to read is growing each day, and hopefully Ashgate make these available in paperback so more people can get the chance to get hold of them…

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Special issue of Criticism on Eve Sedgwick

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

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After the “primum mobile of queer theory,” Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, passed away in April 2009, there has been several events honoring her important work. Boston University arranged a series of roundtable discussions last year entitled “Honoring Eve” with scholars such as Lee Edelman, Cindy Patton, Michel Moon and others. The event was recorded and parts of it made public on YouTube, and it all is now published as a special issue of Criticism, edited by Erin Murphy and J.Keith Vincent.

The table of contents looks quite amazing, including contributions by an impressive crowd of researchers - among others Eve Sedgwick’s partner H.A. Sedgwick. It looks like this:

H. A. SEDGWICK: Opening Remarks for Honoring Eve Symposium

CAROLYN WILLIAMS: The Boston Years: Eve’s Humor and Her Anger

LEE EDELMAN: Unnamed: Eve’s Epistemology

SIOBHAN B. SOMERVILLE: Feminism, Queer Theory, and the Racial Closet

ED COHEN: The Courage of Curiosity, or the Heart of Truth (A Mash-up)

MICHAEL MOON: Psychosomatic? Mental and Physical Pain in Eve Sedgwick’s Writing

CINDY PATTON: Love without the Obligation to Love

JONATHAN FLATLEY: “Unlike Eve Sedgwick”

HEATHER LOVE: Truth and Consequences: On Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading

TAVIA NYONG’O: Trapped in the Closet with Eve

JOSEPH LITVAK: Sedgwick’s Nerve

BILL GOLDSTEIN: Some Scenes in Proust

KATHERINE HAWKINS: Re-creating Eve: Sedgwick’s Art and the Practice of Renewal

JONATHAN GOLDBERG: On the Eve of the Future

ID 450 COLLECTIVE: Writing the Plural: Sexual Fantasies

RENÉE C. HOOGLAND on Mad for Foucault: Rethinking the Foundations of Queer Theory by Lynne Huffer

BRIAN GLAVEY on Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays by Leo Bersani

DREW DANIEL on Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity by José Esteban Muñoz

KATHRYN R. KENT on The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century by Kathryn Bond Stockton

HENRY ABELOVE on The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America by Margot Canaday

JOHN ANDREWS on The Reification of Desire: Toward a Queer Marxism by Kevin Floyd

FIONA BRIDEOAKE on Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History by Heather Love

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If you find purchasing the issue too difficult or expensive, and don’t have a library with online access nearby, some of the papers can be seen delivered on YouTube. Here are some of them:

Honoring Eve: Feminism and Queer Theory:

Honoring Eve: Writing and Illness:

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CFP til Kvinder, Køn & Forskning tema om transkønnethed

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

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Call for papers til Kvinder, Køn & Forsknings temanummer om transkønnethed 3-4 2011

I 1991 udgiver Sandy Stone det berømte essay ‘The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto’, der af mange betragtes som startskuddet til Transgender Studies. Manifestet er et modsvar til Janice G. Raymonds bog The Transsexual Empire: The Making of a She-Male fra 1979, i hvilken Raymond anklager Stone og andre transkvinder for at “voldtage kvinders kroppe” og transmænd for at være “forræderiske kvinder”. Stone tager til genmæle ved at betone vigtigheden af, at transkønnede begynder at tale på egne vegne og skrive deres egen historie. Samtidig opfordrer Stone til udviklingen af et analytisk sprog og en tænkemåde, der kan begribe transkønnethed på mere nuanceret vis.

Transstudier og transteori (Transgender Studies) opstår således som et forsøg på at vriste forskningen i og om transkønnethed ud af hænderne på de medicinske og psykiatriske eksperter og at gøre op med patologiseringen af transkønnede. Der opstår et tværdisciplinært forskningsfelt, der (gen)skriver historier og undersøger sociale og politiske forhold fra et transperspektiv. Teoretisk fokuseres der på det komplekse forhold mellem kropslige erfaringer og sociale/ institutionelle diskursiveringer af subjektivitet og køn.

Kvinder, Køn & Forskning dedikerer et dobbeltnummer til transforskningen. Temanummeret søger at præsentere den transforskning, som bedrives i eller med fokus på Danmark og Skandinavien netop nu, samt at inspirere forskere til at bruge transteori og -studier i deres eksisterende arbejder. Kvinder, Køn & Forskning er særligt interesseret i bidrag, der f.eks. centrerer sig om:

- Introduktioner til forskningsområdet og teorikomplekset.
- Transstudier og transteoris spændinger, overlapninger og fællesskaber med feministiske, queer og postkoloniale studier og teorier.
- Forholdet mellem transstudier og -teori og cyborg/teknofeminisme og ny materialisme med fokus på krop og materialitet.
- Intersektioner mellem race, køn, seksualitet, nationalitet, klasse, handicap mm. med udgangspunkt i transteori.
- Transnationale transkønnetheder. Globale analyser af transkønnethed. Hvordan ‘rejser’ og ‘oversættes’ transproblematikker og -studier mellem de globale akademiske, aktivistiske og politiske samfund og historiciteter?
- Analyser af transkønnede kulturelle repræsentationer og produkter inden for kunst, film, teater, litteratur mm.
- Analyser af transkønnede narrativer historisk og samtidigt.
- Analyser af transfobi. Hvordan kommer transfobi til udtryk historisk og i samtiden? Hvordan kan transfobi forstås? Hvordan forholder og forbinder den sig til andre fobier som sexisme, racisme, homo- og bifobi?
- Analyser af transkønnedes politiske og sociale forhold historisk og i samtiden inden for etablerede politiske systemer såvel som i aktivistiske og kunstneriske sammenhænge. Herunder undersøgelser af transkønnedes forhold til lægevidenskaben. Hvordan benyttes hormoner, kirurgi mm.? Hvordan opleves og analyseres lægevidenskaben og psykiatrien fra et transperspektiv?

Temaredaktionen for nummeret består af Tobias Raun (RUC) Maja Bissenbakker Frederiksen (KU) og Michael Nebeling Petersen (KU).

Deadline for indsendelse af abstracts: 15. april 2011. Abstracts bør fylde 1⁄2 - 1 side.
Deadline for indsendelse af artikler: 1. juni 2011. Artiklen må ikke fylde mere end 32.000 tegn.
Deadline for essays, debatindlæg og andre bidrag: 15. juli 2011.

Se skrivevejledning her og les mer på KKFs hjemmeside.

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Queer Adventures in Cultural Studies

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

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The great journal Cultural Studies is out with a new fascinating issue entitled “Queer Adventures in Cultural Studies,” edited by Angela McRobbie!

The new issue looks amazing, and after a short read, I can say for sure that Lisa Blackman’s article on performance of queer subjectivities, as well as fabulous Cecilia Sosa’s work on Claire Denis’ film Beau Travail and Judith Butler is good stuff. But the other texts looks great as well! Find a library with online access, and read on. This is the table of contents:

Cultural Studies, Vol. 25, Issue 2, 2011

Angela McRobbie: “Introduction: Queer adventures in Cultural Studies”
Donna Landry: “Queer Islam and New Historicism”
Volker Woltersdorff: “Paradoxes of Precarious Sexualities: Sexual subcultures under neo-liberalism”
Lisa Blackman: “Affect, Performance and Queer Subjectivities”
Cecilia Sosa: “Beau Travail (1998) and Judith Butler: Dancing at the limits of queer melancholia”
Leticia Sabsay: “The Limits of Democracy: Transgender sex work and citizenship”
Tim Lawrence: “Disco and the queering of the dance floor”
Heidi Hoefinger: “Professional girlfriends: An ethnography of sexuality, solidarity and subculture in Cambodia”.

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CFP Polari Journal: Transverse

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

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Here is a call for papers for a special issue of the creative writing journal Polari that looks interesting:

Special Issue of Polari Journal: Transverse

Open Call for Submissions

Polari Journal is currently holding an open call for submissions for a special issue (published online June 2011) featuring writing by transgender, transsexual, intersex, androgynous and genderqueer writers, artists, activists and commentators. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Queer writers may also submit work that features trans characters, lives, culture, or issues.

The special issue will be entitled Transverse. The “verse” in the titles refers to poetry and prose, as well as to the notion of a transgender universe or world.

Polari Journal is an international, peer-reviewed journal. Polari tends towards the shorter forms: short stories, poetry, essays, one act plays/scripts, reviews, scholarly works, photography and visual art. In general, the word limit for fiction, plays and essays is 6000 words. Reviews should not be more than 1500 words. For poetry, the maximum is 100 lines. Review the Submissions Guide.

The Final Date for Submission is April 1st 2011.

Read more on Polari’s homepage.

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New issue of Lambda Nordica: Queer Methodology

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

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Lambda Nordica, the great Swedish LGBT-studies journal, has just released a good looking issue on “Queer Methodology”. The main articles in the issue are all in English, and this is what the editors write in the press release:

“Fanny Ambjörnsson, Pia Laskar and Patrik Steorn of the Queer Seminar at Stockholm University has acted as Guest Editors for this publication that feature articles chosen from a number of papers presented under a queer theme within the interdisciplinary colloquium “Feminist Research Methods - An International Conference” at Centre for Gender Studies, Stockholm University in February 2009.

Various disciplines with different perspectives and takes on queer methodology are represented in this issue that focus on texts written by researchers active in a Nordic context, which highlights the vital and growing interest in Queer Studies in the Nordic countries. The outcome is a diverse and heterogeneous selection of texts discussing queer and methodologies, which makes this issue of lambda nordica a vital contribution to a continued and further detailed discussion of the role of methodology within interdisciplinary Queer Studies.”

The table of contents of the issue looks like this:

Fanny Ambjörnsson, Pia Laskar, Patrik Steorn: “Introduction”

Irina Schmitt: “Do you have a boyfriend? Feeling queer in youth and education research”

Anu Koinvunen: “Yes we can? The promise of affect for queer scholarship”

Mark Graham: “Things in the Field. Ethnographic research into objects and sexuality”

Mathias Danbolt: “We’re Here! We’re Queer?– Activist Archives and Archival Activism”

Patrik Steorn: “Queer in the museum: Methodological reflections on doing queer in museum collections”

The cover of the issue is from the amazing performance artist Mary Coble’s work Blood Script (2008).

You can order an issue of Lambda Nordica here.

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Neoliberalism at play: An interview with Margot D. Weiss

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

– by Mika Nielsen and Tove Nilsson

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At the conference Desiring Just Economies /Just Economies of Desire that took place in Berlin this summer, we hurried to get good seats for the presentation of the paper “Unpacking the Toy Bag: Commodity and Power Exchange in BDSM Communities.” Author of the paper was Margot D. Weiss, Assistant Professor of American studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University, USA.

Weiss’ research focuses on sexual cultures and politics in USA today. Focusing on BDSM, she explores how certain subjects and performativities are made possible and others impossible in the BDSM communities; examining how intersections between consumer capitalism, neoliberalism, race, gender and class affect sex practice. She relates BDSM sexuality to socioeconomic facts, and has, for instance, questioned the transgressive potential of the dungeon.

After Weiss’ presentation we interviewed her about the status of BDSM research in the US, the constructed dichotomy between feminism and BDSM, and her forthcoming book, Techniques of Pleasure: Subjectivity and the Socioeconomics of BDSM (Duke University Press).

In your book Techniques of pleasure: Subjectivity and the Socioeconomics of BDSM, intersections between consumer capitalism, neoliberal rationalities, and racialized,
gendered and classed social hierarchies are crucial. How do you see these structures affect your material?

My book is an ethnography of the “new guard” pansexual BDSM scene in the San Francisco Bay Area. Between 2000 and 2003, I did fieldwork in the Bay Area, combining participant observation at a wide variety of community events with 61 two- to four-hour interviews with diverse BDSM practitioners.

My book analyses this scene as a technique-orientated community, organized around SM educational organizations, classes and workshops, semipublic dungeons, and other community events. Many of these new practitioners are in their forties and fifties, and they are as likely to live in the suburbs as in the city of San Francisco. Most are involved in long-term relationships, either married or partnered; the men are majority heterosexual, while the women are bisexual and heterosexual. And the vast majority of practitioners are white, with the means – or the aspiration – to buy the toys that, together with forms of self-improvement and technique, link community belonging with often invisible race and class privilege. For example, many of the practitioners I spoke with had spent between $1500 and $3000 on their toy collections, wardrobes and, in some cases, play spaces; such investments are a crucial way practitioners becomes skilled and knowledgeable members of the BDSM community.

It is somewhat ironic, then, that for many practitioners as well as social theorists, SM practice is imagined to transgress social relations and social norms. Much of the pro-SM literature produced by practitioners and theorists argues that BDSM is “subversive.” Working from Michel Foucault’s glorification of San Francisco’s SM “laboratories of sexual experimentation,” scholars have imaged SM as a break with both subjectivity and capitalist productivity. This fantasy participates in a logic that cordons off sexuality from the social real, creating the deep irony of a community organized around rules, regulations, codes of conduct and techniques, but one whose members also and simultaneously desire SM sex to be “free” of precisely these regulating norms.

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Michel Foucault

Departing from this Foucault-inspired analysis of the radical alterity of BDSM practice, I show, instead, the way BDSM sexuality – indeed all sexuality – is a social relation, linking subjects (private desire, identity, autonomy, fantasy, embodiments) to socioeconomics (public community, social hierarchies, collectivity, social power). I call this linkage a circuit in order to emphasize the productivity of the exchanges between realms imagined as subjective or private and those understood as social or economic. In chapters on BDSM rules and classes, toys and other commodity exchanges, gender play and “cultural trauma play” (play with race and ethnicity), I show the ways SM community, practitioners, practices, and scenes are linked in complex ways to the social and historical formations of race and gender in the United States, but also to the subject positions produced within late capitalism.

One crucial aspect of this is neoliberalism a cultural formation or a political rationality that produces and validates subjects with particularly marketized understandings of the relationship between the public and the private. In SM, this emphasis on free choice, individual agency and personal responsibility can justify – by obscuring – the forms of social inequality performatively produced and reproduced through community, a disavowal installed in SM through alibis such as color-, gender- or class-neutrality. For example, practitioners believe that SM roles are “freely chosen” in accordance with liberal ideas of choice and agency; SM roles, in this analysis, have nothing to do with forms of social inequality. However, when, for example, practitioners claim that a charity slave auction is unrelated to historical slavery, SM participates in a kind of neoliberal whiteness that disavows social and structural racism through a colorblind, individualist approach to privilege. This logic can create opportunities to “transgress” – or at least feel free of oppressive social norms while simultaneously restricting these possibilities to – and bolstering the position of – those with class, race and gender privilege.

In this way, the book shows that SM performance is material: rather than a safe or separate place of “play” (a radical alternative or outside to everyday life), SM community is, instead, deeply tied to capitalist cultural formations; rather than allowing for a kind of freedom from race, gender and sexuality, such SM practice and performance both remakes and consolidates the social norms that produce subjectivity, community and political imagination.

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Is there anything you would like to evolve concerning gender issues in particular, how they play a part and what affect they have in your dissertation?

My work is crucially concerned with gender and gender play. One of my chapters, entitled “Beyond Vanilla: Public Politics and Private Selves,” is an analysis of gender play that parallels social inequality: male dominant/female submissive couplings. Departing from both radical anti-SM feminist theory and Foucault-inspired queer theory, I argue that SM neither reproduces social relations (as a faithful copy) nor transgresses them (as a resistant form of play acting). Instead, I explore the ambivalence generated through the mimetic relationships between gendered, raced and sexualized social norms and SM roles, between the social real and the SM scene/play, within the context of neoliberal understandings of choice, freedom and agency. I analyze the ways the desire to transgress social norms produces a split between the public (of oppressive social norms: white privilege, heteronormativity and sexism) and the private (of personal desire). Such splits rely on a narrative of self-empowerment, where the “freedom” to sidestep or remake oppressive social norms relies on precisely the forms of social privilege instantiated through such norms. The ambivalence I track in this chapter is one way of thinking this split: an uncanny disavowal that names the ways practitioners know and do not know, name and fail to name, the social relations of power – grounded in material relations – that drive SM play.

In 2005 there was an anthology published in Sweden on Swedish queer research.

In 2005 the anthology Queersverige was published with a focus on Swedish queer research. In the preface Don Kulick pointed out that when sex radical researchers like Gayle Rubin are presented in Swedish research, they are not presented with focus on their ideas on sexual practices. Instead these ideas are marginalized. Kulick sees this as a symbol for queer in Sweden being reduced to just issues of sexual orientation (meaning homo/bi/hetero) and gender. Can you see parallells to this in the gender/queer research in USA?

I think, in general, that something similar happens in the US, although it is important to differentiate between work on “queer” (meaning gay, lesbian, bisexual, occasionally trans) topics, which often re-solidifies identitarian categories, and work in queer theory or queer studies, which, in general, pays much more attention to the production and enforcement of those categories. More recent queer studies work on the relationships between sexuality and capitalism, racialization, disability, globalization, etc. has broadened the range of queer studies, and given scholars new tools with which to think through sexuality in terms of social theory. I’m thinking of the issue of Social Text, “What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now…”, and work by Kevin Floyd, Martin Manalansan, Robert McRuer, Lisa Duggan, Tom Boellstorff, among others. At the same time, there remains less work on sexual practice, per se – a situation I hope is changing.

In Sweden there is only one ongoing work in the field on graduate/post-graduate level, which is Kim Herburt who writes about the history of sadomasochism in Sweden. Can you describe the BDSM research in the US? How many researchers are working in the field? What are the themes and focuses within this research at the moment?

I wouldn’t really describe BDSM research in the US as a field: right now, there are a few researchers scattered across different disciplines. You can see this in the three relatively new edited volumes on SM: Darren Langdridge’s and Meg Barker’s Safe, Sane and Consensual: Contemporary Perspectives on Sadomasochism (2007); Thomas S. Weinberg’s S&M: Studies in Dominance & Submission (1995); and Charles Moser’s and Peggy J. Kleinplatz’s Sadomasochism: Powerful Pleasures (2006).

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Because I am interested in linking BDSM (and sexuality in general) to broader socioeconomic formations, I am mostly interested in ethnographic or cultural approaches to sexuality. The only other US-based anthropologist I know who has published ethnographic work on BDSM is Gayle Rubin; there is a graduate student named Richard Martin whose work on BDSM in Germany I look forward to reading. I’ve also found work by Jacob Hale, Patricia Duncan, and Robin Bauer useful in my work and my teaching.

In the literature as a whole, BDSM is most often approached as either an abstract problematic or an individualized orientation. The former – work in philosophy, cultural theory, feminist theory and literary criticism – is useful to theorize SM dynamics or explore the political or ethical dilemmas posed by SM, but I often find it too abstract to account for historical (or socioeconomic) particularity. The latter – work in social psychology, psychoanalysis, and sexology – is effective in dispelling some of the more pernicious stereotypes of SM practitioners, but I’ve found that it tends toward either statistical approaches or individuating desire, whereas I prefer a more social, community analysis.

There is also, as I’m sure you know, a large collection of non-academic journalistic, political, essayist and practitioner-oriented guides, how-to’s and anthologies on BDSM.

At the conference in Berlin you mentioned that one of your chapters deals with feminist resistance against kinky issues. Can you tell us more about that?

Sure. The chapter, as I mentioned briefly above, focuses on “het male doms” – white men who identify as heterosexual dominants. The chapter analyses these men’s anxiety about not being “transgressive” enough. I show that this anxiety stems from the desire for SM sex to stand outside, as a-productive of, social relations – to be “safe” and “separate” from real life gender roles. Exploring the imagined connections between “real world” social norms and the “safe” world of “the scene,” I contrast the two most common analyses of SM play: the radical feminist anti-SM position and the queer pro-sex/SM position. In the radical feminist argument, this seeming replication means that SM roles and play scenes are exactly the same as the social relations of inequality (patriarchy, primarily) that give them form, whereas in the queer argument, SM scenes flout these (hetero)normative conventions, and thus transgress or subvert social norms. This debate, stated baldly, is the SM version of the familiar replication/reenactment versus subversion/transgression binary.

Yet the ambivalence voiced by these men suggests another reading, in which the desire to be transgressive relies on the construction of a boundary between the “real world” (of capitalism, exploitation, unequal social relations, and social norms) and the “SM scene” (a pretend space of fantasy, performance, or game). Unpacking this boundary-making project, I show the ways gendered and raced performativity produces subjects who view their SM practice as private and individual, as a form of self-cultivation and mastery. However, this sense of personal autonomy, agency, and choice also relies on liberal (sometimes inflected as libertarian and/or neoliberal) ideologies of agentic individualism and “freedom,” formulations that are complexly bound to both material and discursive formations. Thus, this fantasy of sex outside material relations, this desire to transgress social norms of racialized gender, produces a split between the public space of the law and the private space of desire that simultaneously creates opportunities (for “freedom”) and restricts those opportunities to those with privilege. The ambivalence of practitioners whose SM desires seem to match up with their social locations, then, illuminates a complex and contradictory social field, where the topography of social power, the justifications of social hierarchy, and the dense interconnections between gender, race, sexuality and class are produced, reproduced, and embodied.

In this way, the binary options for a cultural critic reading such scenes – subversive or reenacting? Political or personal? Feminist or queer? – fail to pay careful enough attention to what is being produced at such moments – a production that includes privilege and power, in addition to a non-normative self-cultivation and practice. Instead, I take seriously the radical feminist contention that sexuality, desire and fantasy are bound up in real-world structures of inequality, that we cannot separate the bedroom/private from the public/social world, while writing against the collapse of SM dynamics into the slavish reproduction of formal inequality.

In Sweden, there has been talk about a new kind of political kinky activism in the beginning of the 21st century. For example, bigger NGOs have integrated these issues in one way or another. At their 2007 congress RFSU, Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, decided to work with issues related to BDSM and fetishism. This year, RFSL, The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, took a similar decision. In general, a more public form of kinky activism is taking place. Can you tell us anything of the presence/absence of these issues in the social movement in the US?

I haven’t seen any of the big LGBT organizations in the US address BDSM or fetish communities. The main BDSM organization in the US is the NCSF (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom), a political and legal group that advocates for BDSM, leather, fetish, swing and polyamory communities. It is not, however, linked to LGBT groups or organizing as far as I know. In general, BDSM and fetish politics are not included in LGBT organizations, especially the mainstream (homonormative) ones, although there are local links and connections (for example, the San Francisco pansexual BDSM organization The Society of Janus participates in the annual Gay Pride, or the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago has links to a variety of leatherman and leatherdyke clubs and materials).

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What parallels are there between the research fields of gender and BDSM and what do you think can be gained in the gender research by including a kinky perspective and vice versa?

I think BDSM has much to teach us about the complex ways individuals negotiate social worlds. Gender – a primary axis of differentiation, of identity, of power, and of subjectivity – is densely linked to sexuality, race and racialization, class, nation, disability, and other calcified social hierarchies. BDSM is one – and I would say a particularly useful – way to think more complexly about how individuals situate themselves within and simultaneously reproduce larger social relations with greater and lesser degrees of control, since BDSM often spectacularizes these relations, thus rendering the contradictions already embedded in such systems even more apparent.

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tove-nilsson-and-mika-nielsen

Tove Nilsson is an activist and Medicine Student at University of Gothenburg with the ambition to rip the system from inside.

Mika Nielsen is a PhD-student in Economic History. For the moment she is a guest PhD-student at Gender Studies at University of Gothenburg.


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Manifest

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Things are happening in Norway these days. The nice little left-wing publishing house Manifest has started to publish some promising queer and feminist texts as of late, and I hope they continue.

They srated this spring with Agnes Bolsø’s highly readable and important pamphlet Folk flest er skeive - Om queer teori og politikk (roughly translated, Ordinary People are Queer - On Queer Theory and Politics). Bolsø’s book is great for people unaccustomed to the importance of queer theory in political debates in Scandinavia, and has lots of good thoughts on how to develop a queer activist politics outside of the framework of identity politics. Her argument for dismantling the weight and value of categorical markers such as “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” when talking about and teaching about sex is (of course) important, and her argument feels both refreshing and fun.

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Now, they have just published the feminist sociologist Hanna Helseth’s new book Generasjon sex (Generation Sex), a critical feminist text on the sexualization of the public sphere in Norway - focusing the ambivalence of agency for women in the age of body-hype and sex visibility. A summary of Helseth’s arguments can be found in this article.

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Lambda Nordica on Queer theology

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

The Swedish journal lambda nordica released an issue on queer theology a little while back, and it is worth looking into if you’re interested in the intersection of Christianity and sexuality. It has essays in Swedish by writers such as Peter Forsberg, Niklas Olaison, Malin Ekström and Daniel Enstedt, among others. (Read the positive review in Svenska Dagbladet here). Especially interesting is the text on the Swedish Lutheran Church’s thanaphobia - their fear of death…

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While waiting for their next issue on ‘Queer Methodology’ in English (due later this fall), readers who haven’t gotten a copy of their issue on Fashion (3/4, 2009), with Del LaGrace Volcano’s image of Bird La Bird on the cover, has some good reading ahead. Warning: The one and only Ulrika Dahl’s article on “(Re)figuring Femme Fashion” does not only give you a tour-de-force of femme-inist aesthetics, it is highly likely that it inspires you to think and write differently…

Read more on Lamda Nordica’s homepage.

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Siri Lindstad: Å fylle L-ordet med mening

Monday, August 30th, 2010

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Siri Lindstad, the Norwegian queer feminist journalist and editor has just released the book Å fylle L-ordet med mening (which perhaps can be translated along the lines of, Filling the L-word with meaning).

Lindstad has travelled around Norway interviewing a wide range of lesbians from different generations, environments and places, resulting in a book of stories from lesbian communities and scenes across the country. As the press-release puts it, the book gives less attention to the ”coming out” process but focus instead on the complexities “of ‘coming in’ as a lesbian, about coming home, but also about getting away or even perhaps fall behind”.

Here is the press-relase in Norwegian:

“Kan man være lykkelig som lesbisk i Finnmark? Kan et utested uten biljardbord egentlig kalle seg et lesbested? Klarer du å kjenne igjen ei lesbe på gifteringen?

Å fylle L-ordet med mening er den første norske sakprosaboken med historier fra lesbemiljøene. Den handler lite om det å komme ut.  Derimot får du høre mye om hvordan det er å komme inn som lesbisk, om å komme hjem, men også om å komme vekk, og kanskje til og med komme bakpå.

Journalist Siri Lindstad reiste rundt i landet og snakket med lesber i alle aldre om miljøer, møteplasser og lesbiske liv. Resultatet ble en bok om kjønn, seksualitet og klasse, med tv-serien The L Word som bakteppe, og med den utskjelte traktorlesba som heltinnen.”

The book is published on the new queer feminist publishing house Kill Your Darling Press, and can be ordered here for 299 NOK.

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Trikster #4: Towards a Queer Horizon

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

[Norsk version]

The fourth issue of Trikster – Nordic Queer Journal focuses on queer political struggles in the present. Despite the critics who describe feminist and queer critique as a thing of the past, the problems in the here and now are just too many to put radical politics to an end.

Trikster zooms in on the medical pathologizing of trans people. With the important Danish documentary Nobody Passes Perfectly (2009) as a starting point, the media and gender researcher Tobias Raun debunks the widespread notion of Denmark as a transgender “paradise”. Through an incisive critique of the state regulation of transsexuality, he sheds light on a political battleground that for long has gone unrecognized by the media and human rights organizations.

While critics tend to present queer politics as a market run lifestyle diversification, Mika Nielsen argues for the importance of anticapitalist queer critique. Discussing the intertwinement of economy and heteronormativity, she introduces a branch of research that has seldom been discussed in the Nordic countries: Queer Economics. If Raun and Nielsen’s articles inspire to action, Jan Wickman discusses the grounds of queer activism in the Nordic countries more broadly in the article “Queer Activism: What Might That Be?”.

The ongoing queer activist conversations stand in stark opposition to the mainstream LGBT organizations’ discussions of what to do in the so-called “twilight of equality”. With the new legislations on marriage and adoption in some of the Scandinavian countries, some tend to think that the fight is over. But for this story of progress to be told, other stories and problems must be forgotten. It is a similar simplified narrative of progress Mathias Danbolt locates in his analysis of the ambitious history exhibition As I Am: LGBT in CPH at Copenhagen City Museum in 2009. In his critique of the show’s portrayal of LGBT activism as a thing of the past, he argues that interventions into queer history should rub against the grain, and take part in the fight for a better future.

But no activist fights without joy, laughter, and dancing! The importance of humor in queer and feminist critique is at center stage in Rikke Platz Cortsen’s introduction to current Swedish cartoonists. And a laugh is not far away when reading the author Kristina Nya Glaffey’s text revolving around the so-called lesbian baby boom. Viktor Johansson deals with a related area in his suite of poems, where he meditates on becoming in a broad sense – of bodies, babies, and identities.

The artist Heidi Lunabba plays with the established gender norms in her temporary beard salon Studio Vilgefortis, where she makes beards and mustaches on passers-by on the street – woman as well as men. While taking its outset in an understanding of gender as a performative act, Lunabba’s beard salon also reminds us that we are never fully able to choose our own gender identity in the present, as we cannot control which gender we pass as in the eyes of others. The fight for destabilizing the meanings assigned to gender attributes are therefore far from over.

While critics seem to line up with obituaries for queer theory and activism, it seems pertinent to remember that a queer world is still in the horizon. It is perhaps here we can locate one of the most important tasks for queer activism at the dawn of a new decade: Not to give in to the pragmatic demand for quick and easy solutions, but to keep imagining new social orders in the future.

Trikster is a multilingual web magazine edited by Mathias Danbolt. Trikster is supported by The Freedom of Expression Foundation, Oslo, Nordic Culture Fund, and Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Bergen. For more information visit www.trikster.net, or contact Mathias Danbolt at mathias@trikster.net or +45 41 15 16 13 / +44 78 31 96 55 85.

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Trikster #4: Mot en queer horisont

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

[see English version]

Det fjerde nummeret av Trikster – Nordic Queer Journal stiller skarpt på aktuelle queerpolitiske kampsaker. Til tross for at kritikere har hevdet at feminisme og queerkritikk hører fortiden til er det dessverre for mange problemer her og nå som tilsier det motsatte.

Trikster setter fokus på kampen mot det medisinske herredømmet over transkjønn. Med utgangspunkt i den danske dokumentarfilmen Nobody Passes Perfectly (2009) demonterer media- og kjønnsforskeren Tobias Raun den utbredte forestillingen om Danmark som et “paradis” for transkjønnede. Gjennom en skarp kritikk av den statlige reguleringen av transseksualitet belyser han et kjønnspolitisk felt som lenge har blitt forbigått av mediene så vel som av menneskerettighetsorganisasjoner.

Mens folk ynder å fremstille queerpolitikk som en markedsdrevet livsstilskamp, peker Mika Nielsen på behovet for en queer antikapitalistisk kritikk. I artikkelen “Ett kapitalt misstag” diskuterer hun hvordan økonomi og heteronormer henger sammen, og introduserer en forskningsgren som sjeldent har blitt lest i Norden: Queer economics. Der Raun og Nielsens artikler oppfordrer til aktivistiske intervensjoner, legger Jan Wickman opp til en mer grunnleggende diskusjon av hvordan queeraktivisme har blitt forstått i Norden med sin artikkel “Queer Activism: What Might That Be?”.

I de seneste år har selv homoorganisasjoner feiret at kampen for likestilling nærmer seg slutten. Men for at forestillingen om fremskritt skal fungere må man lukke øynene for andre historier og problemfelt. Det er en slik forenklet framskrittsfortelling Mathias Danbolt lokaliserer i den ambisiøse historieutstillingen As I Am: LGBT in CPH på Københavns Bymuseum i 2009. Mens As I Am fremstiller homo/bi/trans aktivismen som en avrundet epoke, argumenteres det for en aktiv historiefortellinger som ser forbindelseslinjene mellom nåtidens og fortidens kamper.

Men ingen kamp uten dans, latter og glede! Humorens rolle i queer og feministisk kritikk står sentralt i Rikke Platz Cortsens introduksjon til nye svenske tegneserier. Og gapskrattet er heller ikke langt unna i lesningen av forfatteren Kristina Nya Glaffeys skjønnlitterære tekst “Padder og krybdyr”, som tar for seg den såkalte lesbiske babyboomen. Viktor Johansson beveger seg innenfor en beslektet tematikk i diktsuiten “Önskepapporna”, men fokuset her er snarere på tilblivelse i bred forstand – av kropper, barn, identitet.

Heidi Lunabba leker med de etablerte kjønnsrollene i sin mobile skjegg-salong Studio Vilgefortis. Her kan forbipasserende kvinner – og menn – få anlagt en bart eller et skjegg etter eget ønske, og resultatet setter vante avlesningsmekanismer av kjønn på prøve. Lunabbas prosjekt tar utgangspunkt i at kjønn er noe vi gjør snarere enn noe vi er, men peker samtidig på hvordan vi nettopp ikke selv uten videre kan “velge” hvilket kjønn vi vil gjenkjennes som. Vi har aldri kontroll over hvordan vi passerer, og kampen for å endre betydningene som tillegges kjønnsattributter er derfor langt fra over.

Mens kritikere synes å stå i kø med gravskrifter over queerteori og aktivisme, synes det viktig å fastslå at en queer verden fortsatt ligger ute i horisonten. Det er kanskje her queeraktivismens viktigste oppgave står på veien inn i et nytt årti: å ikke gi etter for dagens pragmatiske jakt på hurtige resultater, men å fortsette troen på at andre løsninger er mulig.

Trikster er et flerspråklig, gratis webmagasin, redigert av Mathias Danbolt. Trikster er støttet av Fritt Ord, Nordisk Kulturfond og Senter for Kvinne- og Kjønnsforskning ved Universitetet i Bergen. For ytterligere informasjon, besøk www.trikster.net eller kontakt Mathias Danbolt på mathias@trikster.net eller +45 41 15 16 13 / +44 78 31 96 55 85.


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Why Gay Marriage is the End of the World (or the queer world at least)

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

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Gay marriage. Adoption. Handbags. Gaybies. U.S.A. Obamamania. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Well…

The queer activist-author Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore has re-published a thought provoking and immensely funny round table discussion entitled “Why Gay Marriage is the End of the World (or the queer world at least)” on the status of queer politics in a conservative US climate. The text was first printed in the October issue of the DIY punk zine Maximum Rocknroll (“The Queer Issue”), and is now luckily available online on Mattilda’s blog Nobody Passes, darling.

It includes the SF-based activist filmmaker Hilary Goldberg, the Chicago activist Yasmin Nair, and the NYC-based activist and organizer of the radical club Switch Gina Carducci as well as Mattilda. It is quite a read. Here is an excerpt on babyboom and adoption:

Mattilda: (…) Kids are the next big thing! How do you feel about the issue of gay adoption, and child-rearing in general, as a central preoccupation of the so-called “movement?”

Hilary Goldberg: Why don’t Madonna and Angelina, in their gay wisdom, adopt some adult queer artists and activists instead? For a fraction of what they spend on a handful of appropriated transnational youths, they could adopt queer artists en masse, and foster a global queer trust fund for the movement. No need for nannies and we’d love them even more than their children, and could be just as dependent, if not more so. Average gay couples could do the same thing, direct their money towards something more expansive and useful than a handbag—I mean a gaybie. I’m thinking of a website that pairs queer artists with gay couples who have big hearts to share their love and help.

Gina Carducci: Yeah, no need for pacifiers, no need to push us around in strollers, and you don’t have to wait nine months for us. We’re right here! Mommy!!!!

Yasmin Nair: If you’re white, beautiful little blonde children are the best, because then you’ll look like a normal and natural family. But adopting one can be next to impossible! Little brown babies make the best gay accessories. Although, like every gay fashion accessory, babies have shifted in trends. I think Mongolian babies are now much more hip. Central and South American countries were once popular, maybe NAFTA opened up free trade in cute Latin babies! Until they discovered that some of those babies were most likely kidnapped. Awkward. They may not have those pesky rules in Mongolia. Of course, if you can adopt an HIV+ African baby whose mother is still around to waste away in the last throes of the disease, so that you can show the world what you rescued the baby from, all the better. (…)

Read more about this, and much more on gay assimilation on Mattilda’s blog.

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If you hunger for more perspectives on why marriage in general might not be the coolest thing in the world to promote - and you can read Swedish - don’t forget to read Anna Adeniji’s fantastic book: Inte den typ som gifter sig? Feministiska samtal om äktenskapsmotstånd (Not the marrying kind. Feminist conversations on resistance to marriage). This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It is fantastic fun to read, and it performs critiques of marriage from a wide variety of perspectives, highlighting all the different privileging discourses this “ritual” is entangled in: migration and racism; heteronormativity and coupledom; legal and economic issues; capitalism and consumerism; religion, etc. It is a mandatory read. For a great critique of the book, see Lene Myong Petersen’s text at FORUM.

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Vi är misfits!

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

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I Trikster #2 kan man lese et reisebrev fra aktivistene Christoph Fielder og Elin Sandström Lundh som i 2007-2008 reiste Nordamerika rundt for å snakke med queerfeministiske aktivister. Nå har Christoph og Elin samlet inntrykkene fra reisen i boken Vi är misfits! – Queerfeministisk aktivism och anarkistiska visioner, som er utkommet på NORMAL Förlag. De beskriver boken slik på forlagets hjemmeside:

Efter åtta år med historiens minst omtyckta president reste vi till USA för att intervjua queerfeministiska aktivister. Vi sökte efter människor som står upp, som gör motstånd, som slåss och som visar oss andra vägar att gå. Andra än de som styrs av normen. Den vite heterosexuelle mannens norm. Resultatet av vår resa blev Vi är misfits! En bok som blandar intervjuer med aktivister med våra egna betraktelser och funderingar kring anarkism, anti-assimilering, rasism och intersektionalism.

Vi är misfits! är en inspirationsbok för alla som ser att denna värld radikalt behöver förändras för att vi ska kunna överleva. Den är ett queerfeministiskt manifest och den är en samling berättelser om människor som gör praktik av den ofta så teoritunga queerfeminismen. Den vill bråka, vara jobbig, den vill sporra läsaren till att aktivera sig. Överallt, alltid.

Vi är misfits! er et must for queerfeministiske aktivister og forskere, og boken inneholder blant annet denne oppsangen fra den fantastiske aktivisten og forfatteren Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore:

Ett tecken på att du gör rätt när det gäller queeraktivism är om folk blir upprörda! Och, var beredd på att förstå saker och ting på ett mer komplicerat sätt än du någonsin trodde var möjligt. Om något eller någon verkar vara din fiende, tänk en gång till, vem är det egentligen som är vår fiende? Öppna upp för möjligheten att tänka om allting du någonsin tänkt.
- Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

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Lost and Found: Queerying the Archive

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

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On May 29 at 17.00 you are all invited to the opening of the exhibition Lost and Found: Queerying the Archive at Nikolaj, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center, Denmark.

The exhibition Lost and Found: Queerying the Archive is curated by Jane Rowley and Louise Wolthers, and “presents a series of spectacular, thought-provoking works that generate new narratives based on private memories and experiences beyond gender and sexuality norms. Using the potent and emotionally laden detritus of society, like found silent-movie footage, garments from the family past, and desecrated and fictionalised photo albums, the works in Lost and Found recreate, deconstruct and reconstruct the past as we allegedly know it, questioning the power structures that are created and preserved through the archives we’ve inherited.”

Participating artists in the exhibition are Elmgreen & Dragset (DK/NO), Mary Coble (US), Ingo Taubhorn (DE), Tejal Shah (IN), Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay (CA), Conny Karlsson (SE), Flemming Rolighed (DK), Aleesa Cohene (CA), Kimberly Austin (US), Cecilia Barriga (CL) og Heidi Lunabba (FI), Al Masson (FR/DK).

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At the opening there will also be a book launch of the publication Lost and Found: Queerying the Archive, published in conjunction with the exhibition. Edited by Mathias Danbolt, Jane Rowley and Louise Wolthers, this 160 page publication takes up questions of the archive, history writing, and memory from a queer perspective.

The book includes new articles by the influential cultural theorists Ann Cvetkovich and Heather Love, as well as articles by the editors, poems by Joe Brainard, and artistic contributions from the artists in the exhibition.

The book is avaliable for only 150 DKK. Order it by emailing Kunsthallen Nikolaj: sh@kunsthallennikolaj.dk or buy it online on Audiatur bookstore.

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Den hvite manns byrde

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Journalisten Anders Haahr Rasmussen har skrevet en meget fin og interessant tekst i Information med tittelen “Den hvide mands byrde”. Teksten tar for seg hva den hvite, heteroseksuelle, velutdannede mannen stiller opp med i møte med kritikken om priviligerthet, som rettes fra feministisk og postkolonialistisk hold. Men hvordan forholder man seg til sin privilegier utover reaksjonær maskulinisme, eller politisk korrekt dårlig samvittighet og skyldfølelse?

Informations “repræsentant fra verdens vel nok mest privilegerede mindretal” leter etter en mer refleksiv og positiv definert posisjon, og intervjuer på veien Maja Bissenbakker Frederiksen, Caroline Bergvall, den fine feministiske mannegruppen Lakaj (Asger Kjærsgaard Larsen, Kristoffer Bunch, Asger Martiny-Bruun) og Sonja Schwarzenberger. Det har det kommet en god tekst ut av.

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