Episode 5: Hidden in Plain Sight

24–26 May 2013
Tramway & Stereo, Glasgow
Voguing, drag, clubbing, and the politics of communities making different performances of gender and sexuality visible.

What we wrote about the event at the time: What is the link between the exuberance, flamboyance, artifice and (ironic) embellishment of queer, gay, lesbian, trans or bi artforms – voguing, drag and lipsync, deep house – and the communities, politics and specificities that produced them – a politics of race, class and gender, of public health, of mourning and militancy, affect, emotion and melancholy? This Episode is our attempt to think this through a little, with people in Glasgow and members of the House & Ballroom community, leading international choreographers and dancers, deep house and ballroom DJ’s…queer theorists, performance artists, archivists, theologians, visual artists and filmmakers.

Voguing, drag, clubbing, and the politics of communities making different performances of gender and sexuality visible.

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Our languages, habits, desires; our race, sexuality and gender: none of these originate from within our selves so much as they’re prescribed by social norms. 

Are these norms a sort of unwritten script, hidden in plain sight but never commented on?  Are our identities the performance of that script, one we’re unaware has been handed down to us? Forced to mime our emotions - now cheap commodities - our impulses are conditioned, controlled and manufactured: imposed, organized, propagandized, and maintained by force to our detriment.

"When do we get to that magical moment of realization that our biggest threat is not a pandemic of infectious disease, it is our belief in messages that serve us no purpose but to destroy our minds, detriment our spirit, devalue our souls, so that we become spiritually, politically, collectively impotent." The Legendary Co-Founder Michael Roberson Garçon

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This last year we have met and worked with many people who reject and challenge the insidious nature of a key element of society’s prescribed script - the oppressive and controlling notion of compulsory heterosexuality.

This challenge, in its most radical form, doesn’t defensively seek equality or assimilation into conservative social institutions so as to alleviate the symptoms of homophobia and hetrosexism, but rather proposes a direct challenge to the route cause of such symptoms: a rejection of our cultural conditioning, and a radical re-thinking of what an identity or self might be.

"Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence." David Halperin

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The social spaces1 and kinship structures that support this rethinking of the self are (like the normative ideas they reject) also often hidden in plain sight, indifferent to, passing for or deliberately undetectable to mainstream society, even while they explore the artificiality at the core of prescribed identities.

In what way do such social spaces allow unpredictable relations between identity, gender and sexuality to be nurtured, or rethink bodies as a ground for negotiating social relations? Or are they too utopian, never managing to cultivate a language of failure that might allow us to grasp and change our material conditions now?

How might traumatic cultural memory be used as a resource for the construction of new forms of public culture?

"There is a kind of social field…hidden in plain sight…like a secret, sacred public performance space that periodically rises and falls with the tides of insurgency. [It] moves in the space of its own denial or disavowal and our capacity to renew it: its capacity to renew us is what we live for." Fred Moten

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And what is the connection between the rich languages, habits and gestures and the fugitive social spaces that produce them? Can we understand voguing, drag, lip-syncing, deep house, mimicry or exaggerated appropriation as ways of thinking through a politics, by enacting it so as to better understand it?

What does it mean that the tools used to create such modes of being are engaged directly with feelings, with mourning and militancy, with affect, emotion and melancholy as well as exuberance, flamboyance, artifice and (ironic) embellishment?

What might it mean to explore, here in Glasgow the links between these artforms and the communities that produce them? What do they have to say about public health or racism, about poverty or kinship, feminism, art or knowledge?

“…music already activates us socially, sexually, intellectually, aesthetically. I see all these modes of being as having political currency. It is not the case that our politics merely reproduce our modes of being. Rather, it is through these that the conditions for our politics are reproduced.” Dont Rhine, Ultra-red

 

This Episode was reviewed in The Skinny by Jean-Xavier Boucherat. Episode 4 and 5 were reviewed by Mark West in the Glasgow Review of Books. The three boychild performances were reviewed by Tom Coles in the Glasgow Review of Books.

  • 1. Which variously might self-identify as trans, gay, bi, lesbian, queer…

Credits

Presented by Arika and Tramway

Supported by Creative Scotland, Glasgow City Council, Glasgow Life, PRS Foundation, Goethe Institute Glasgow and The Skinny