Speculating queerly: the multiplicity of queer voices

Queer identities are complicated, multiple, multivocal, and intersecting. They cannot be reduced to simple movie tropes or infomercial clips. Queer identities collide, mix, re-form, create new identities, new ways of understanding the world. It was for this reason Cait P. Jones and I designed the Queer Coll(i/u)sions conference, to create a space where the multiplicity of queer voices can mix and mingle together into a beautiful cacophony that generates new ideas and new ways of thinking. Last March, we brought together activists, artists, authors, academics, and community members that had interest in and connections to the queer community to provide a space for new ideas that percolate through art exhibits, author readings, academic panels, activist panels, and workshops. What amazed us most about this collision of voices was the opportunities for collusion that it created; opportunities for working together, collaborating, and creating positive spaces to display new ideas. People at the conference approached us to tell us how excited they were to finally have an LGBTQ2IA safe space to talk in Peterborough and we could see fast friendships forming between people at the event.

Perhaps that was one of the most important things that came out of the conference—not just the generation of ideas that are expected of such a gathering, but the sense of safety to explore the multiplicity of queer voices. We had over 200 attendees (or participants, since everyone was part of the collective experience) and the message we got most was how much a safe, queer-friendly space was needed.

We are running the Queer Coll(i/u)sions conference again this year (March 3-5 and you can check it out at http://fellows.sadleirhouse.ca/queercollisions/), but one conference doesn’t seem like enough. As a community, we need to create more safe spaces for queer community members to come together and feel safe and generate new ideas as a group. Peterborough doesn’t currently have a “gay bar” or a “gaybourhood” and although my friends in Toronto and other large cities tell me that is a problem, I think it can be an opportunity, a place of possibility for allowing multiple people to come together in different spaces and different ways. A lot of gay bars tend to exclude, creating spaces where only certain types of identities can be expressed. The same can be said about gaybourhoods, which often end up segregating and only providing space for certain members of our community. Even though Peterborough is small, perhaps we have an opportunity to come together to create community out of varying queer identities and perhaps we can claim more space for multiplicity than a bar or a neighbourhood.

This week is Pride Week in Peterborough and that can be an exciting space for exploring our collective voice, but we need to make sure that voices are heard amongst all of the cheering. We need to ensure that we are providing a space for critical questions of the heterosexist community that surrounds us and that we are letting ALL voices in our community be heard.

I have run workshops with various collaborators throughout Pride and there is one message that keeps being raised: “we need change, and we need to come together for that change to help all of us”. This is something we can be working toward, asking ourselves what kinds of changes we want and how we can start to make them happen. Asking about who we can work with to make substantive changes and how we can keep collaborating because there is power in a collective voice.

Some ideas and groups are already coming together this Pride in our workshops, hoping to make substantive changes and create a community. The “Queer Writing as Resistance” workshop on September 13 may have created a new, ongoing writing group because of the euphoria we all experienced from finally writing in a supportive, safe space. Pride Week’s Express Yourself workshop seemed to create an interest in speaking up for ourselves and our community to resist being silenced and the Drama Queens workshop opened up questions about the way we perform in our world and on stage, letting us come up with new ideas for exploring queer arts in Peterborough. As I write this, we haven’t had the ChiSeries Peterborough Pride author readings yet, but this tradition has been going on for 3 years now and always generates excitement about the power of imagination. The focus on speculative fiction creates a space for authors’ stories to inspire new ideas about how we think of our future, our world, and most importantly, the way we can imagine ourselves being involved in our world and changing it. For the first time, Trent Radio will be doing a full day of Pride broadcasting on September 23rd, allowing for a space for LGBTQ2IA voices to fill the airways. This has the potential to become a wondrous tradition to voice various questions, concerns, and ideas that our community explores.

My hope is that, as a community, with all of the creative power we possess,  we can imagine new ways for us to be empowered, to feel confident, supported, and continue to be multi-vocal.

For those of you who want a space to collaborate and imagine new possibilities, consider submitting a proposal to Queer Coll(i/u)sions at http://fellows.sadleirhouse.ca/queercollisions/ (attending is okay too!).

Derek Newman-Stille is a PhD candidate in the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies at Trent University. He runs the 5 time Aurora-Award-Winning website Speculating Canada (www.speculatingcanada.ca). He identifies as queer and disabled and is involved in activism for both communities.

He is currently co-editing an anthology of queer and marginalized fairy tale fiction with Kelsi Morris called Over The Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales From The Margins ( https://overtherainbowfairytale.wordpress.com )