This year’s Queer Coll(i/u)sions Conference was perhaps more important than ever. Those of us who do social justice work are feeling a sense of burn-out from facing the current American political climate and the global impact of the rise of right-wing movements on all of us who are socially Othered. Some of the Muslim American scholars and participants weren’t able to make it this year because they were advised that if they cross the border, they may not be able to return home to the United States. Some of the deaf academics approached multiple ASL interpreters in the Toronto area and were told that the interpreters didn’t feel comfortable interpreting at a queer conference. We were reminded through these social exclusions of contributors to the conference that we still need to resist, and that challenging barriers is important.
After attending the conference, award-winning speculative fiction author Ursula Pflug stated in a Facebook post about the Queer Coll(i/u)sions Conference: “It’s partly the tagline: art, academia, and activism. I have always been happiest when these worlds are under one roof rather than segregated, as with genre and mainstream. Fewer Trump-like walls, please!”. She observed the importance of the conference’s desire to break down walls that often fragment our voices and the need to approach the act of liberation from oppression from a variety of different modes and media.
The keynote for this year’s conference, Dr. Karleen Pendleton-Jimenez, pointed out that protest is also a creative act, an act of art that also has messages about liberation and the need for change. Dr. Pendleton-Jimenez pointed out the importance of weaving different modalities of expression together and set the tone of the conference as a space where we could be a chorus of multiple distinct voices.
Queer Coll(i/u)sions explored the importance of multiple knowledges and sites of engagement, highlighting the notion that we can only achieve beneficial change by engaging with a plethora of perspectives. Creative expressions were brought to life in art shows, author readings, storytelling, cabarets, and film. These creative works were sites of discussion with viewers and listeners coming away from them with complex questions and engagements that shifted ideas and invited in new perspectives. Roundtables allowed multiple people to engage in critical questions around things like slash fan fiction, lesbian death tropes in film, fairy tales, science fiction, fantasy, role-playing games, resisting gender binaries, nostalgia and engaging with ideas of queer youth. Roundtables normally bring “experts” to the table to talk about their ideas and be questioned by the audience, but these were sites of audience engagement with a recognition that the audience members were experts with valuable things to contribute.
Academic panels engaged with powerful sites of scholarship around topics like queering Islam, queer geographies, critically questioning gender binaries, queer histories, legal structures, trans identities, textual reimaginings and resistances, queer temporalities, the diversity of queer bodies, ageing, teaching, queer deaf identities, queer-crip identities, queer economies, and queer media. These were questions that spoke to our interests as queer people in this historical moment, but also raised questions about where we have been and where we can go from here.
Workshops allowed conference attendees to engage with materials and create their own protest signs, teaching sex education through choose-your-own-adventure style stories, and engaging with drama and performance and how we bring our performances into the public sphere whenever we move through it.
What reminds me that we need to have more queer conferences was the wide range of lively conversations, the number of people who said that this was the first time they felt that they weren’t silenced; where they felt free to express themselves without fear of aggression, and the number of people who noted a feeling of collaboration and camaraderie where they could collectively challenge hegemonic power structures.
Conferences can be sites of protest, sites for imagining new possibilities, and sites for an interweaving. Queer conferences can fulfill a need to feel a sense of belonging, a space for complicating images that are projected at us monolithically, and they can be creative spaces. Queer Coll(i/u)ssions took place March 3-5 at Sadleir House.