Sunday, February 28, 2010

A fairy tale of Space, occupation, defense and solidarity

I have returned home. Sort of, I have found myself in a city in some type of bizarre explosion of horns and sirens, helicopters and hundreds of cops and thousands of drunk hockey fans. I tried to avoid the olympics but I think I may have returned just in time for the money-shot.

On a separate note I would like to talk about space, occupation, defense and solidarity. This story is about a specific incident in a specific place with specific collections of people. The story is familiar. It is told over and over again. It is a fairy tale that lives on, evolves into different things, characters shift, places change but the story is the same. So this, this is a story about space, occupation, defense and solidarity, change the elements and it may be your own.

While staying at a rad somewhat queer in all kinds-a-ways punk house in Olympia I had the pleasure of attending their final farewell party. I had met some really rad kids in Oly, found some real amazing things and was generally impressed by this capital town at the tip of the head of the puget sound. And I have been blown away by house parties in Olympia, the incredible diversity of those in attendance, the enthusiasm from the crowd and the fact that neither party attended got shut down by cops at any point, or fielded complaints of incredibly loud music, people spilling out into the yards. I am not used to attending house parties that reach such an undisrupted critical mass. I say undisrupted hesitantly.

As I said the hosts of this party were all kinds of DIY queers and friends. As were many of their friends. All types of presentation of gender were in attendance. Including the hyper-masculine generally disrespectfully acting variety that is known in various places as various things. They were practicing the art of douch baggery in numbers. There were little posses of them through doorways that were gathered in fear, discomfort and definite misunderstanding of the people whose space they occupied. They laughed out of puzzlement, fear and a sense of superiority. Their comments aimed to show that they were bigger, stronger, better at being men, ridiculously entitled and really uncomfortable. This is one incident that happened and the way I managed it. I feel like a good person to mediate in party situations because I am quite often one of the few sober ones present. I take pride in that skill and don't let it go unused. When first approached with these specimens of gender play its most unconscious form I walked through. Head on the muddy ground and posture held inwards. I felt that was stupid, I don't need to take that.

I walked into a room in the house that had been designated the free room. All things from the house that needed a new home got put in there for folks to take. 3 men found their way in too. The men laughed aloud, snickered to each other and pointed as I walked in with my black pleather booty shorts and bra, fake eye lashes and makeup in work boots. I stand 6' 1" and was navigating the crowds with a cane. I had just decided I didn't need to take their shit. I confronted them.
"Can I help you guys with something?"
"No..." "Nuthing" "Nu-huu"
"Well I noticed you were laughing, I wanted to know if you were laughing at me or with me?"
"Uh with you for sure.."
"Ya, so funny thing is, I wasn't laughing. You were laughing at me, and I don't appreciate that. How do you think you'd feel if I just stopped what I was doing to point and laugh at you and in your face all the time?"
And then they brought it up a notch.
"Well it'd be different if I was asking for it, drawing attention an all..."
"Oh, you think I am asking for you to laugh at me? Cause of how I'm dressed. Well guys you aren't exactly right, if I wanted you to laugh at me I'd of dressed up like a clown. This isn't a clown suit and I am not laughing, so you should know that your laughter is not welcome. If you think something about this *scan my body like vanna white on wheel* is funny, then y'all should leave."
"uhh oh uhhhh but.. uh...." *drunk stumbling and mumbling and looking into each other eyes for cues of how to react to having the queen sass them back. and laughter, uncomfortable "oh shit" laughter
"Ya, if you think somethings funny, you need to leave."

I know that I was not the only one catching the receiving end of their non-pliments (a negative remark phrased as a compliment), laughter and sneers. The attitudes of others in the party quickly reflected this. The room that had been set up as a make-out room had a hand scrawled sign taped up to the door saying "QUEER SPACE" taped up to the door. The room was packed with folks upset that their space was filled with douchebagery. Understandable. It made me feel militant. I was enraged that my people were held in a part of this house. A closet is a closet even if you label it as such. I thought we were past that. I stormed out, ready to spot those out of line and assist the house with getting them to move along. I would be reasonable and non-violent, clear and uncompromising and entirely hands off. I wouldn't be using tactics like cops and borders, profiling folks on the clothes that they were wearing, the way they were dancing, the colour of their skin or the people around them. I was from out of town and without personal affiliations to 99% of those present.
I chatted with others in the space who were feeling upset, some who volunteered them selves as bouncers, others who left to avoid conflict or continued descrimination, I witnessed some who drank more, got objectified more and repeated to deal. And I found that they way that each of us dealt with this occupation was completely different, in every way personal. I was upset to see some member of the queer community unable to deal with the occupiers in a way that left them feeling empowered. I want my community to know about conflict resolution, and know that the values that we gather around including respect, extend to those who don't demonstrate it. I would like to pass on these suggestions to members of the queer community in hopes that we can learn and grow from experiences like this.

1.) Use words. Learn words, practice them, listen to them and act according to them as opposed to reacting to them. Words carry long fucked up histories, and can sling daggers. They can also heal, negotiate, mend and build bridges.

2.) Playing by the rules of the occupier feels wrong. It probably always will. Sometimes it doesn't feel safe to do very much about that. A big part however of what makes that the case is due to a lack of communcation, see 1. But sometimes while accumulating skills, allies, strength and clarity it seems necessary that we pretend to be following the rules, pretend just enough for those who have a limited view on things to see, but not enough to crush your spirit.

3.)Violence is not the answer. Physical altercations are usually judged by the rules of the occupier, see #2 and #1. Plus getting beat up sucks for everyone, especially those that you were trying to defend or protect or whatever your personal motives were.

4.) Question your own assumptions. For example if you think that a couple of hets are in the make out room hogging the space and flaunting heteronormativity up in the space as some type of afront, think about how you deal with that assumption. Because the two you are assuming to act in malice may just be 2 reasonable, communicative, sex positive transfolk who won't appreciate it much when you tell them that you perceived a female bodied person and a male bodied person getting down in the queer space and that it was upsetting folks. Firstly they may not want to know that you credit their bodies differently than the they way identify or present- that's transphobia. Also, even if you had asked us what are genders or bodies included and different, it's not actually up to you if what's happening is queer or not. But you may have more luck suggesting that their are folks who want/need to enter the space and feel intimidated or uncomfortable about the level of PDA in the space. They'll probably be willing to listen. See 3, and remember that violence is not restricted to the physical.

5.) Check in. With yourself, your community, your friends and people that you feel are making you uncomfortable (see 2). I believe that we have an incredible capability from ourselves and each others. Try it.

I am sure that I will keep thinking of things that I could add to this list. I have been very pleased, and somewhat overwhelmed with keeping up to comments on here lately. I hope that this continues as an open community resource. We manage, survive, resist and deconstruct oppression and occupation every day. How do we do it? Sometimes it's changing the wording on that sign to say "Queers + Friends Space" and posting it above the bumping sound system, sometimes its chocolate bars and sometimes being all gay up in folks places. Everything has it's time a space of course, but sometimes these things aren't as far apart as we think.

Now I guess that coming back to the olympics in my town isn't really that completely different after all.

No comments: