An online Queer Studies course
7.15 PM every Thursday for 12 weeks
This unique community education program looks at culture and identity through an LGBTQ+ lens.
We have gathered together an eclectic mix of Scholars and Artists to bring to us Big Bold Ideas about who we are and who we can be.
There will be 12 sessions, each covering a different topic and hosted like a conversation, via Zoom. Each session will have time for questions from the attendees via chat box, attendees’ video and mic will be turned off by the host for the duration.
In each session there will be a ‘Break for Art’. This is a little festival within a festival, consisting of 12 mini performances by Queer Artists, followed by a chat with the artist. Participants can ask questions of our Scholars and Artists in the chat. And there is plenty of time if we need it.
Each session will be Live Captioned (subtitled) and a transcript will be available after the event. Each session will be recorded and these videos will be made available online after the sessions.
You can see the sessions below.
If you want to contact us about this programme email our Education Officer email@example.com.
View earlier webinars below
Queer Futures Pt 2:
Transcript – view below or download as PDF:
Queer Hedge School – Week 12:>>:
- Dr. Thomas Strong, Lecturer, University College Dublin.
- Dr Francis Ray White, Senior Lecturer, University of Westminster.
- Dr Lisa Hager, Associate Professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Waukesha.
- Dr Kath Browne, Lecturer, School of Information and Communications in UCD.
- Ellen Reid, Researcher, University of Limerick.
Break for art artist:
- Phillip McMahon, Playwright, director, creator, THISISPOPBABY.
Queer Futures Pt 1:
Transcript – view below or download as PDF:
Queer Hedge School – Week 11:>>:
- Dr Cormac O’Brien, Lecturer, University College Dublin.
- Dr Emma Hurley, Psychologist and Researcher.
- Dr Páraic Kerrigan, Lecturer, School of Information and Communications in UCD.
Break for art artist:
- Jack O’Rourke, Musician.
Transcript – view below or download as PDF:
Queer Hedge School – Week 10:>>:
- Dr Kath Browne, Professor, University College Dublin.
Break for art artist:
- Tonie Walsh, Curator of Irish Queer Archive.
- Heteroactivism book: https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/heteroactivism/
- Google Scholar profile: https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=OWZxuHUAAAAJ&hl=en
Transcript – view below or download as PDF:
Queer Hedge School – Week 9:>>:
- Kath Browne, Professor, University College Dublin.
Break for art artist:
- Richard O’Leary, Storyteller.
Transcript – view below or download as PDF:
Queer Hedge School – Week 8:>>:
- Fiachra Ó Suilleabháin, Lecturer in Social Work.
- Dr. Lisa Hager, Associate Professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Waukesha.
- Ellen Reid, Researcher, University of Limerick.
- Madame Askew and The Grand Arbiter, time-traveling tea aficionado, obsessed with tea, fashion, and the proper uses for headgear.
Break for art artist:
- Leo Lardie, Queer Comedian.
- Jaime Nancie, Queer Musician.
Ellen Reid’s presentation
- More from Dr Lisa Hager: http://www.lisahager.net/tag/lgbtq-studies/
- Steampunk further reading list with Compliment Dueling game rules and appendices (courtesy of Madame Askew and the Grand Arbiter): https://bit.ly/lgbtqsteam2020
- Blazing Trails in Transgender History: An Interview with Jules Gill-Peterson: December 2020: Close Up | Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences | University of Pittsburgh
- In Praise of Bad Transgender Objects – Dr. Cáel Keegan: Text – In Praise of the Bad Transgender Object: Rocky HorrorCáel m. Keegan / Grand Valley State University – Flow (flowjournal.org) YouTube Presentation – Cáel Keegan – Fellowship Recipient – YouTube
- “This Charming Butch: The male pop idol, girl fans, and lesbian (in)visibility” by Barbara Brickman (2016): https://onlinelibrary.
- “‘I Can Have Both’: A Queer Reading of Morrissey” by Eoin Devereux, Aileen Dillane and Martin Power (2014): https://www.
ingentaconnect.com/content/ intellect/jepc/2014/00000005/ 00000002/art00006;jsessionid= 5td64dfocfl32.x-ic-live-03
- Homosexuality at Online Hogwarts: Harry Potter Slash Fanfiction by Catherine Tosenberger (2008): https://muse.jhu.edu/
article/237810/summary?casa_ token=WRxqI7aldK4AAAAA: zyEnijowkgVN4YWkdZY5lYgrmKlddx p8PhdpCkgNMDGS1JrLnCd7ZPtE79jh aPAAp3YsWBWLAQ
- Queer Fan Hashtags as Production Interventions by Annemarie Navar-Gill and Mel Stanfill (2018): https://www.jstor.org/
Transcript – view below or download as PDF:
Queer Hedge School – Week 7:>>:
- Dr. Francis Ray White, Senior Lecturer, University of Westminster.
Break for art artist:
- Anziety, Drag Queen.
Sex and Shame:
Transcript – view below or download as PDF:
Queer Hedge School – Week 6:>>:
- Thomas Strong, Lecturer, Maynooth University.
- Emma Hurley, Psychologist and Researcher.
Break for art artist:
- Phil T Gorgeous, Drag King.
Transcript – view below or download as PDF:
Queer Hedge School – Week 5:>>Rita:
>> Rita: There we go, I’m unmuted. Look, what can I tell you, I’m going to have to get it tattooed on my hand, turn on the mic!
Sorry about the sound quality when we started, just fiddling around with the tech, but we’re all good now. You’re so very welcome to the fifty digs of the big old Queer Hedge School, dangerous ideas, and tonight we’ve got such an interesting session. It’s all about queer kinship. But before we get into that I’ll do a little bit of housekeeping.
If you look down at the bottom corner, there’s a box that says cc, that’s the captioning, please do turn it on, even if you don’t need it, it’s great to follow it along and our captioner this evening is Michelle again, who does just such a fabulous job.
You can talk to us all in the chat and I ask that you make sure the button in the chat is panellists and attendees so everyone can see what you’re chatting about. We have one scholar rather than two scholars with us this evening, but that gave us a wonderful opportunity to bring in Thomas and Ellen and Fiachra, who are going to be talking in a little while.
And we have of course with us Kate Brennan Harding, the wonderful Kate Brennan Harding, our queer arts curator, and this evening our queer artist is Gemma Hutton who will join us in a wee while, because she has to put the child to bed!
So, the first thing I want to do is introduce you to Thomas, Ellen and Fiachra. The first thing we’re going to do is run a video, two videos. The first is a really gorgeous piece from the archive that Paraic Kerrigan brought to us, it’s our very own Arthur Lee being interviewed for RTE in 1979. And Arthur and his partner are talking about queer kinship. Then we’re going to go straight from that to a video that Thomas has made, and I’m in the going to tell you anything about it, I’m just going to let you watch it. Then when those videos run, Thomas, Fiachra and Ellen are going to talk to us about building queer kinship today. Looking at things like Grindr and that kind of good stuff.
So, without further ado, Sarah, will you run the videos. Did I say you’re all very welcome in you’re all very welcome!
Video: How long have you been together Art?
>> Five years, nearly five years.
>> Is it unusual to have a gay relationship that looks like being permanent?
>> I think in the sense …
>> Rita: It looks like we’ve got a bit of tech bother going on with our videos, I’m sure Sarah will sort that out for us. Sarah, if that one’s being difficult, you can stick Thomas’s on in the meantime and we’ll just do it backwards.
>> I think there are, in the sense of a formal relationship, I think that it is, yes, it is.
>> Why do you think that is?
>> Relationships are not reinforced by the society around, you are very much on your own and if you take ‑‑ again it goes back to the development of, because your sexual development is taking place in such an, I would say impoverished surrounding, that when you actually come to relate to somebody that you don’t really have the capacity to do so. You may have it ideologically, but when it comes down to actually living and sharing with somebody, I think it becomes, it’s more difficult.
>> I think also, most gay people explore their sexuality or their relationships in very furtive fashions, most gay people would only be gay a couple of nights a week or something like that, you know? They can’t tie it into their work or their family or the community that they’re living in, you know? So, most relationships between gays are for a couple of hours, like friends they go and have a drink with, you know? Then they go back and they live a hidden life, in terms of themselves, they live a straight front life. And so, there’s no possibility of a relationship developing, most of them wouldn’t be game to set up a situation to encompass both of them in a living situation. Most gays are living at home or living with straight friends, they are working, living as straight people for 99 percent of their life.
>> Has it been difficult to maintain this relationship?
>> Yes, there’s been lots of ‑‑ there’s lots of conflict inside yourself. From not having related to people very closely myself when I was younger, to start relating to another person with their own complexities, their own identity, and again myself. And at the same time exploring ‑‑ like your own needs and trying to accommodate another person’s needs and things like that, without the society around you giving you any feedback. You don’t see other gay couples, you don’t see other gays relating to each other, society is not accommodating gays at all, you have to make it in an isolated way. So, in the sense of that, you’ve got to accommodate a lot of frustrations.
>> There’s no sense of, you don’t get a sense of identity from society.
>> How are you getting on? Are you top or bottom or what …?
>> Rita: And we’re going to go straight over to Fiachra, Ellen and Thomas. Fiachra, would you like to take it away?
>> Fiachra: Thanks very much Rita. And hi to everyone. And watching the videos there, I don’t think Arthur has changed that much in all that length of time and we’re sending him all our love this evening, I hope he’s watching.
So, I’m delighted to have this opportunity to chat with Thomas and with Ellen this evening, and thanks so much for the video Thomas. And Ellen, I’m looking forward to hearing from you in a minute, if you want to do some creative video live, you’re free to do that as well.
But I suppose Thomas, I was really interested watching the video there with Arthur and Laurie and then it’s in contrast in lots of ways to your video there and I suppose, but it is all around gay love, and I was wondering how do you think queer kinship looks today? And what are the comparisons and the differences between Arthur and Laurie’s video and your video with Anthony?
>> Thomas: Thanks, so the video, basically I didn’t make it in the sense of contrasting it to Arthur and Laurie’s talk there, but kind of setting them up against each other, because there is 40 years between them in that sense. So even when Laurie was saying in the video in that sense, you don’t get a sense of identity from society as well. In the same way you don’t get a sense of queer kinship from society, so in the way that we have to establish that ourselves.
Now have we done that 40 years after that? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. But I want to look, I wanted also to point out a particular part of queer kinship and the queer culture that we have that I kind of call Grindr culture myself specifically and it relates to so much that we’ve talked about over the last weeks, which is Cormac addressing homonormativity along with discourse, how we talk about the way that queers effectively are, you know, trying to stage ourselves in society and how to normalise ourselves as well.
And also, the lesson learned from that is that not every individual wants what ‑‑ it’s a kind of, not enforcing what we individually want on others, in that sense. So, some want long term relationships some just want many sexual partners. But also what Steven highlighted last week, that in his story he was out with this guy George who was then, they were discussing how Ireland turned into a better place, but at the same time Steven was ‑‑ Steven’s boy toy you might say, George I just want to go and get bum fucked in Phoenix Park while Stephen was congratulating saying Ireland has come so far.
Also, what Paraic was talking about the media spheres and spaces that we access and are regulated by media hosts, media producers, also how we are regulating these spaces through the content. So, I kind of wanted to talk about the queer, Grindr culture because it does provide opportunities, but after all this time it does also provide limitations also in a way that we react.
Now my lived experience what I’m talking about here is a gay man’s experience, meeting in a rural area, with different expectations and meeting with different ideas of kinship maybe even and then maybe being disappointed about that. But also looking at how do these guys meet up? It’s through this app. Why is it that we’re not getting this kind of, the Grindr culture establishes queer kinships that are conflicting, what I mean by that is a point that addresses what the other scholars have been talking about, that is that Grindr is an app, what is an app? A product, effectively something that is supposed to generate sustainable revenue for a company. So, it has another purpose than serving itself as a queer space, it is something that’s meant to make money.
So, the first-hand objective of an app is not to make sure that the queer participants of that space are safe, or that they are well maintained, it’s that they are using this space for whatever purposes, it doesn’t care what purposes. And this specially surfaced in the pandemic.
Now I haven’t used Grindr about a year or anything like that but during the pandemic I heard my friends that used it, it’s a very frustrating space to be on because of the way interactions are set. Because it’s not a place for deep seated kinships as well.
So, in that sense, I’m not talking about finding a partner for life, I’m talking about establishing, having a diversity of kinships in that sense, different kinds of kinships it doesn’t allow for that diversity.
So, it highlights a problem, that is that we probably need kinship spaces, spaces where kinships can foster, digital or physical. Think community spaces such as The Gay Project of course we’ll talk about that, and this, what we’re doing here allows for spaces for kinships to form. One of the attendees last week said you’re like a queer family to me. I think that’s a really good way of saying that we need to keep on doing these spaces in that sense.
>> Fiachra: In the run‑up to this evening I was reminded of an article I read by Judith Stacey from the US in 2004 where she actually wrote an article called cruising to family land, and talked about how this thruple became a thruple through cruising initially but then became a family of choice and a community of choice.
Another example in her study was a Les‑bi gay family, co‑parenting family who never had to employ a babysitter because of the community of kinship that they had around them, developed from their family of choice through the queer community. And I just think that ‑‑ I was thinking of how queer families, queer communities, queer kinship can expand the notion of kinship and I suppose I might come back to you later Thomas about another question that I have for you.
But I was wondering if I could Ellen, around that, about expanding repertoire, the kinship repertoire, maybe you might talk to your experience and talk about where is ‑‑ whereby Bi folk within our queer kinship
>> Ellen: Yeah thank you so much for having me, I’m really excited to be here and it’s great to talk while not being in the chat box. I suppose what I found really interesting about your piece Thomas was this idea of discretion, and that whole, you have to travel so far away before you can be yourself. Because I think the first time that I explored the idea of having different partners, other than just Sis male partners was when I moved to Manchester, and it was the first time that I was like, my God I have the opportunity to do this, when it was always just speculating.
For context, I live in Limerick and we don’t have any queer spaces at all. But I suppose in terms of expanding queer kinship, I’m always interested in the idea of the logical family as oppose the biological family, because I think that for queer people, we’ve never had ‑‑ we have never been able to depend on heteronormative culture, we’ve always had to make it ourselves, and I’m really interested in conversations that people like dean spade have been having for years and years about mutual aid and how mutual aid can be a source of queer kinship.
There’s some great funds started in Ireland, particularly in the trans community for trans harm reduction and small trans library, which if you have any spare coin you should definitely support them if you can. But that was always, it was DIY culture making a family of people and helping and supporting each other, and I always go back to that phrase from queer nation, about an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. It’s about everyone together, it’s not necessarily a nuclear family.
And we’re kind of fed this lie that if we, I think Cormac talked about it a lot when he spoke about homonormativity in the earlier weeks, about oh if we just have marriage rights and if we just have X, Y and Z everything will be fine. But in reality, the people that have supported me the most are the people that I’ve met out clubbing or that I’ve met in support groups that we have made ad hoc for different reasons. But I think that’s been the strongest bonds that I have had, not necessarily in the romantic relationships, that there’s always going to be a family that will be located within those queer spaces. But I am worried, and I think Thomas touched on it a bit, about this whole idea of capitalism and commodifying those queer spaces, because then it’s like poorer queer folks don’t have a chance to get into those spaces and to meet people. Which is why I’m super into ideas of mutual aid and very interested in creating those spaces ourselves, rather than letting X, Y and Z create them with monitory gain in mind.
>> Fiachra: I think that going back to, something that struck me at the start of Arthur and Laurie’s interview was this positioning of the length of the relationship that Arthur and Laurie had equated with the quality of the relationship, and that kinship, that suddenly that they were together five years gave them validity, it goes back to those notions of respectability and the acceptable queer in society. And I think the issue that you mentioned there Ellen, I suppose around mutual aid and solidarity, and really resonates with me, because it’s something that I often talk about around the need for solidarity, and how our rights have been supported or our community has been supported by people outside of the community, and within the community and communities.
But also, that we can sometimes not show support within the community, and so I suppose just going back to you Thomas, I suppose ‑‑ I know you have a mixed background, Zambia, Denmark and you’ve lived in Ireland now for a while. So, from your experience how does queer kinship manifest and how can they be applied here and elsewhere?
>> Thomas: Yeah just a bit of, you can kind of say I’m a Mongrel in that sense a little north and south. My mother’s from Zambia, I was there many times while growing up in Denmark, maybe too many times I’ve contributed to the bank of CO 2 in the atmosphere.
So, I finished my masters in African studies two years ago where I explored also in its homosexuality as it is not performed but how you access structures, where you can find spaces for queers. Primarily gay men in Zambia, I also had the pleasure of having personal experience of dating gay men down in Zambia as well. It’s not an easy life, it’s 14 years in prison, socially it’s reflected in society, in media, in politics, in religious spheres, that it’s simply not okay to be gay.
So obviously it’s kind of brings a perspective that it is also ‑‑ kind of a spatial and temporal dyke, so you have in Denmark homosexuality was decriminalised in 1930, Ireland 1993 and Zambia somewhere in the future. We can learn a lot of things, I haven’t lived that long how it was to know in Ireland and Denmark during the time when Arthur and Laurie were talking, I can at least say in Zambia it’s interesting to observe how kinships are formed in a space that is extremely queer unfriendly, you know, where queer kinships are so difficult to establish just in general.
And then ‑‑ it’s funny how, I think this is something that maybe older Irish people can relate with. You have to find the cracks and crevices where the kinships can then manifest. We become really good at doing it, there was something The Gay Project put up a picture of, a set of images of gay men through time who have established different kinds of relationships, 120 years ago, how they’ve established their love, but of course in societies where it was not accepted.
And we can still of course draw on those challenges even today where we legislatively have been given a lot of rights. But there’s not really an answer to it from my side other than the communities that we have are today in modern, North-western Europe, the best chance we have of establishing kinships, in my view.
>> Fiachra: I think I’ve run out of time, but if I could squeeze in two more minutes, to go back to Ellen, just to say Ellen, I suppose using those words cracks and crevices, where are the cracks and crevices for bi folk in our queer kinship spaces, do you think?
>> Ellen: This is interesting, because I’m doing research on bisexuality in Ireland for my Ph.D. and the research that is available currently says that people kind of orient themselves in different ways depending on the gender of their partner. So you end up being say, like I am, I identify as nonbinary so I have, but in the past when I did identify as a woman when I was with women I would act “More gay” if I was with a Sis man I would act “More straight” now thankfully I am in a position where I have a lovely Sis partner and he is very accommodating towards me, but I think it’s quite difficult for bisexual people to kind of orient themselves in different ways because we do think of everything in such binary matters, that you try and fit yourself in, dependent on what makes you feel comfortable, and I think that there’s a really interesting study that was done in the 80s actually by bisexual women who put themselves in lesbian communities and they were so terrified to disclose their bisexual identity in case they would be excommunicated, and the same thing has happened in recent studies in Italy where it’s come out, if you are bisexual you probably shouldn’t disclose that identity.
So, it ends up being a case where I think this is what is so attractive to bisexual people, is identifying as queer, because it means that you don’t have to depend on the binary and it means that you don’t have to depend on any specific culture. Am I gay enough, am I lesbian enough, am I X enough, you know? There is still this kind of Catch 22 situation where bi people are considered too queer or not queer enough. So, where there’s a space for bi people in Ireland, I’m not quite sure.
I think that for me anyway the most accepting places have always been in activist projects where merge, people like reaction Ireland, those groups like that, that it’s not necessarily focused on a specific peer group, but we all acknowledge our similar struggles and things like that within that.
So, I think it goes back to what you said already Fiachra about solidarity, and I totally agree in establishing queer spaces and queer kinships but we need to find other ways than relying just on identity if that makes sense.
>> Fiachra: Thank you both very much, I have gone five minutes over, I am going to hang my head in shame and hand you back to Rita and say I am very sorry, but it was so interesting I could have talked to you all night. So, I’m going to mute myself fairly quickly and say thank you to both of you.
>> Rita: Thank you Fiachra, I know it’s so hard. Everybody is just so interesting. And what I forgot to do, really, I’m completely upside down this evening but sure look! I forgot to introduce you to Fiachra!
So Fiachra really, is one of our board members at The Gay Project and is a lecturer in applied sociology is that right Fiachra?
>> Fiachra: Yeah in UCC
>> Rita: And I didn’t introduce you to Ellen properly either. And you all know Thomas, but Ellen is doing a Ph.D. at the minute, queer kinship is part of that and Ellen will be presenting on the 17th as part of our fandom stuff, because one of Ellen’s specialist fields is that when thing, fandom, she’s going to talk a little about Harry potter and JK Rowling and also about her very own specialist love which is Morrissey, and how do we deal with Morrissey these days really? So, Ellen will be back with us on the 17th talking about all that good stuff.
But now that I’ve made up for my bad manners and not introducing people properly. I am going to give you to our fabulous queer arts correspondent Kate Brennan Harding who will no doubt do a wonderful interview and introduction because she’s far better at this than I am. Kate over to you.
>> Kate: Hello everybody, Rita thank you for that introduction although there’s currently some banging going on in the background, it’s my stepson talking of kinship, if you hear that he’s going to bed, we’re rolling with the punches!
Lovely to be back, I had to miss last week because I had a death in my family and it was just, that’s the way obviously things go, but thank you everybody forgiving me the space to be able to separate and go away and come back.
Now Break for Art is back for me, I missed last week and I’m so glad that Stefan was on last week because I love him, but I also love this next person that I am about to introduce. I first saw them as part of outburst in 2018, being Dick van Dyke, being amazing as part of Queertopia, and Queertopia is a troupe of amazing activist performers full of glitter and possibly one of the queerest and best things I’ve seen in Ireland ever, I think they’re amazing.
So, my next guest is Gemma who has also just I believe been putting a child to bed, Gemma how are you?
>> Gemma: That’s us, we’re just being busy people with kids. Not what I thought we would ever talk about.
>> Kate: Talk about kinship, we’re literally living it now in a different way. Gemma, we’re going to be showing an excerpt from your amazing play that you are in the middle of, well a show you are in the middle of, I suppose preparing and Covid put the kybosh on a lot of that hasn’t it? But you showed it three times as part of outburst at the weekend, how did that go?
>> Gemma: Mm‑hmm! I’m a very interactive performer, so when Covid came I had it in the back of my mind that I needed to think that this could be a possibility, that it could be filmed without an audience, it’s still hard to write that way with the balance between the two and the inevitable happened, we got locked down the day that I was meant to do my show.
Normally you would get three live performances to engage with an audience and get feedback, I didn’t get that. So I literally just went straight into filming, so I kind of threw everything into the online show that premiered for outburst and from there I’ve been collating feedback and it will be sculpted into a shorter piece that can go to festivals, it’s about an hour and 20 minutes at the minute I’m hoping to get it down to an hour.
>> Kate: The show is called I’m mother, and the concept came to you because, well you are now a mother. But it developed hugely, do you want to talk to us about how it developed and tell everybody a bit about what it’s about before we go into the excerpt.
>> Gemma: Sure, very quickly, I had an idea about two or three years ago, called heteronormative and I wanted to discuss how I was coming to terms with coming out as a lesbian, a bisexual then a lesbian, then queer, kind of popped up into my language and my vocabulary, it’s really coming to terms with the fact that I feel almost like queer people are cheated from coming through their formative years with the identity that they finally come to.
I know queer is always evolving and changing and means many different things to different people but for me it was a summary of how my sexuality and gender felt, queer was the perfect word but I didn’t have it growing up, we’re not thought about that, it was nothing but a slur. So I started talking about being brought up in a heteronormative construction and that showed because now I’m a mother evolved to analysing my relationship with my mother, who was an alcoholic, who I ended up mothering and becoming her carer, and it’s about relationship of having my experience of being a mother queered and then being a queer mother, how I learned the skills, translated them and evolved them.
Also, the fact that I come from very working-class roots and how I connect working class so tightly with queer community, which I talk a little bit more about the lack of shame being a currency in queer and working-class communities, there is no shame in being poor. There is no shame in being other, as long as you are loyal and look after each other. I really found that actually when I was running around working-class estates that’s where I fell in love with the idea that you can create your own tribe. Then when I moved to Belfast that I learned that queer was my tribe.
So, it’s just about that journey that I went on, but also there’s a lot about Peppa Pig in there as well.
>> Kate: Yes, there is. For the parts that I have seen, I haven’t seen the whole show yet. It’s very funny, you’re very real, it is that thing of, is it your most personal work to date?
>> Gemma: Absolutely. This last year writing this show has essentially been therapy and very much releasing myself from all the shame and guilt that I have from experiences and that sort of feeling that you have when you have an alcoholic parent, it’s like a middle-class town, Bangor and people knew who my mother was. I went to a grammar school of all girls, there is no boundaries for people and bullies, and it took me to now really to work through that shame and guilt and how we repeat cycles of shame and guilt that we are brought up with, with constantly being told by my aunties and my mum, don’t like men, hate men, be a Nun, all men are bad. I actively have had to work through be programming myself because I don’t want to pass that trauma on to Frankie my daughter, I want to give her a skill set rather than teacher everything is bad, I want to give her the tools to learn that and know.
That’s been a lot, I pretty much put everything out there, but it’s been very cathartic and wonderful and the response I’ve had from people reaching out to me who told me similar stories who said it’s so good to have a connection, has just already, it’s all been worth it now really.
>> Kate: It’s that relatability that people are craving and people like us, who have grown‑up where we’ve grown up in a heteronormative environment, nearly everybody has, and it’s not living in the shadows, but it’s living separately and when somebody stands up and says something and shares a story that’s similar to yours, the relatability is worth tenfold.
I think because obviously we’re putting Frankie to bed, you missed at the start there was a video, that was an interview done with Arthur and Laurie.
>> Gemma: No, I saw it.
>> Kate: Okay good, it’s just touching on the subject, it was amazing to see it and so eloquent and beautiful, but at the same time you’re looking at something that’s 40 years old, but you can still see how it’s videoed and framed, the unsaid is done in shame and it’s done in taboo and it’s like we have come a long way, but we still have that shadow lurking around us, or I think we do. What do you think? Because there’s marginal differences in Northern Ireland as well in terms of, there’s definitely I think Queertopia opened my eyes up to the level of oppression felt by people living in Northern Ireland.
>> Gemma: Yeah there’s still a long way to go. I think the difference between now and 40 years ago is marketing and capitalism.
>> Kate: Completely.
>> Gemma: That’s it, you can slap a rainbow Smirnoff vodka bottle on to things and all of a sudden you accept people, but actually if you went in and poked that shop or business that have a rainbow outside the shop, would they be okay calling me mama and my partner mummy for Frankie? Or would they, then ever a kid says where’s your daddy to Frankie, would they let me have that space to talk or would they tell me that it’s bad to talk about sex ‑‑ maybe not in a business, but in that kind of context of actually if you scrape very, very little off the surface it is exactly the same conversations that we had 40 years ago.
>> Kate: Completely, it’s like a veneer of rainbow to make everything nice and pretty, but as long as we play by the same rules instead of playing by the rules, we went to invent by ourselves.
Listen I’m going to an excerpt would you introduce what we are about to see.
>> Gemma: This is me having a slight break down in a small room with a camera, about being in lockdown with a small human and how that connected to flash backs of my childhood and how I actually tried to fight with my identity and how it tied in with fashion as well, it was a bit of a conbobulation of little elements in this ten minutes
>> Kate: Brilliant we’ll be back with you as soon as the video is done.
So lockdown has been tough on everyone, it’s been challenging at times, I try to look on the upside of things because at the start of this back in March we were all like you know what, let’s get our DIY done, let’s get the carpets lifted, let’s change the colour of that wall, let’s really bond and nurture our children … well that was nice for about I’d say a month, Max. And now I hate every, every F‑ing wall in my house, despite redecorating them three times!
And I love my child, but she is two years old and I think someone is pranking me with the shit that comes out of her mouth, all right? I think if I ever did believe in hauntings, there is some form of poltergeist whispering bullshit into her ear to gas light me.
Somebody thought it was a good idea to have a Peppa Pig channel, so that’s on for approximately 13 hours a day … and Peppa’s an asshole for anyone that doesn’t have kids, this is a pig that is an actual ass hole. She’s a brat and that’s my child’s favourite mentor at the minute which is great. We’re negotiating on food, I’d like to make a formal apology ‑‑ so I was one of them Dick heads, those foolish, childless arse holes that used to say whenever I didn’t have kids that when I did have them, they would eat exactly what was put in front of them, they’d eat nutritious food, wouldn’t have any of the bad habits I had. I’m so sorry if I ever said that to you.
Karma has truly bitten me on the ass. My child literally think that is McDonalds is some sort of religious food and must have it at least three times a week. I know that sounds horrific, but sometimes the drive through is the quietest moment of the day whenever she knows that she’s about to get chicken nuggets fired into her mouth and I’m all right with that!
We’re also negotiating about ‑‑ I can’t believe I’m saying this ‑‑ style! Fashion. With my two-year-old. It is a constant negotiation, I imagine what goes on in my child’s bedroom is a bit like what’s going on in Stormont at the minute with the five parties, you know? See whenever Peppa and paw patrol get involved that’s when I have to step out of the room. Things get heated. But yeah, we’re trying to work out and negotiated whether Frankie today wants to wear a dress, tracksuit or as the other day she absolutely insisted on just wearing two different pyjamas together with her wellie boots … I don’t know why. I’m not saying that I am Anna Wintour or anything, not really on the cutting edge of fashion, but that was scundering going around Tesco’s I’m surprised someone didn’t call social services on me, whilst just throwing chicken nuggets into her mouth like at a zoo, yeah that’s where I’m at.
And the thing about fashion is I don’t really have any clue about it, certainly don’t have a clue about little girl’s fashion. Now I’m 36 now, so give you a bit of background on me, I’m from a place called Bangor, a little town outside Belfast, thinks it is something because it has a lot of vowels in its name, but it’s not! And I was born in 1984, so I was the generation that used to run around the playground putting the coats tied around our necks pretending we were thunder cats, I was always Lion hope. We had Pogs, we used to circle things in the Argos catalogue for Santa, I used to start in February because I liked to be ahead of the trend. There was a big rivalry, a bit like Biden and Trump, against Index and Argos. It was odd, I don’t know why we all got embroiled in the catalogue wars but that was it at the time, panicking having the Index catalogue and Argos, just in case Santa chose a different approach one year.
I had a selection of shell suits, let’s just go back memory lane and remember the sexy thing that was shell suits. Let’s have a few images … hope that didn’t trigger anybody, maybe I should have put trigger warning there sorry about that. But yes, I had a large selection of shell suits everybody had a large selection of shell suits. This is also the generation that Fruit of the Loom was Calvin Kline for us, you know what I mean, that was as close to a label as we got.
But we had to turn our shell suits inside out whenever we used to throw birthday parties in Indiana Land or Jungle Jim’s because there was that story about the child that didn’t turn their shell suit inside out and got electrocuted to death going down and never found their body in the ball pit but I know that’s true because it was my mate’s mate’s cousin, they never found her, just stuck in the ball pit, gone.
So that’s what I was brought up with, you know what I mean? We used to get exclamation and Charlie in our stockings and we thought we were very fucking posh for having those, you know what I mean? And we used to have the roller ball of glitter, strawberry scented glitter that probably caused several layers of skin to melt off our faces due to chemicals, but we thought we were the bee’s knees, we all thought we were be witched probably if I think back.
But that’s what I was brought up with. The thing with Frankie is that with the notions, there’s a lot more options now for kids as well, there’s no shell suit sad lie, I would like to bring them back, but whatever. But I had to take Frankie … (siren) that’s the fashion police there, they heard about the shell suit I’d say! I had to take Frankie shopping for clothes a couple of weeks ago at Halloween, because small humans grow very fast, raging about it!
And after we had about a 10 to 15-minute melt down literally at the entrance of Asda, glass doors and everything, so full audience, her lying on the floor, pretending to be bed and bubbling at the lips, explaining to me why she needed ‑‑ needed ‑‑ the Peppa Pig princess play house before Santa brought it.
I then just lifted her by the arse of her tracksuit and put her inside a trolley, I didn’t put her into the wee seat, I put her inside the trolley, not great parenting, I’m not proud of it but this is where I’m at lads. Then she was delighted with herself, she felt like a Goonie or something in the trolley.
But we went to the kids’ section, honestly, I now know what a dad feels like out of his depth right? So, we get into the section, and I’m like do we need two pieces, there’s two pieces here, do we need the Disney range, jeans, plain track suits, what are we doing here? So, went around with her, listened to her, negotiated with her, she’s the one that’s going to wear them, if she wants to look like … that, then that’s fine. I nodded politely to a two-year-old. Nodded politely to a two-year-old! That’s how scared I am of another melt down in the trolley!
As we put jeans and two-piece poppy troll world tour tracksuits with stupid wee frills here, she was delighted about, that’s fine, mini mouse things and all of them had pink and sequins and stuff, that’s fine. Then I just had a moment as she was playing with her Elsa light up wellie boots, was I being ‑‑ was I feeding into gender conformity? Was I being a shit queer? Was I being a shit queer here? F sake, bad enough thinking you’re being a shit parent fucking your kid into a trolley now I was a shit queer on top of all of that.
I was stood in the middle of Asda having an existential crisis, listening to Simone de Beauvoir whisper into my ear going “you’re shit” ‑‑ sorry, she’s French (then in a faux‑French accent) “you’re shit”. Just having a melt down and then I snapped out of it whenever I heard mama, I need nuggets, because obviously I can respect that. Food! And realised that I had been standing in the middle of the aisles between the boy and girl section of Asda with a pair of batwing ears on my head that she had put on my head and I didn’t realise I was wearing, people walking past me, with a caged child, holding wellie boots, in the middle of Asda with me thinking I was Batgirl.
So that happened, I felt a bit better because when we went past the boys’ section, she chose a dinosaur t‑shirt because she wanted to scare mummy with it, so I didn’t feel so bad then.
Thank you for everything you do, for all the activists out there, all the parents out there struggling, I think it’s totally okay. Let’s not worry about the memes and mantra and yoga to centre yourself in the morning, just go and have a glass of wine if that’s what you need to do. Look after yourself, I can’t wait till we get to have a live audience and do this in person. Take care.[APPLAUSE]
>> Kate: Brilliant Gemma.
>> Gemma: Thank you.
>> Kate: It’s so nice to actually just have a little laugh as well, that’s the wonderful thing of just talking about ourselves and our identity and then you putting that out there, I can’t wait to see the full show.
In terms of standing in the middle of Tesco or Asda and looking at the gendering of clothes and trying to get it right, where are you at with it now?
>> Gemma: I’m just taking her lead. I think it’s working, because you know what, it’s hard enough being a parent, and if you don’t have a structure behind you ‑‑ so kinship, family however you describe it, my father lives in Bangor but he couldn’t look after Frankie, my mum has since passed and my partner’s parents have passed. We’re literally winging it.
How did people live without Google? To be fair, I’m googling how to make a child poo at 1 am, I don’t know how they did it in the 80s, but that kind of thing of matriarchy passing things down to each other, whether it’s right or wrong, it creates a sense of connection, and we don’t really have that.
I was taught, when I was three years old I had to wear frilly dresses and bows in my hair, because it was ridiculous I was running around in my boy shorts, topless making mud pies, my grandparents were having aneurysms because they didn’t want to take me around like that, like Stig of the Dump, but my mum put me into dresses when we were going to see my grandparents, I don’t want that for her. I don’t want that when she goes to see granddad or certain people, she has to perform genders for others. I know that’s deep for a two-year-old but I remember crying in my birthday dress. I know people think you’ll forget it, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, people realise those points could be significant if that person is queer, because they don’t have that education, so at the minute I am just winging it, like sometimes she sits and plays with her paw patrol cars, sometimes she sits and plays with her Disney princesses and knocks them off a cliff, it’s very dramatic. Sometimes she wears trackies, sometimes a wee leather jacket to be like mama which is very cute. So, I think the important thing is that we talk to her, we don’t just go buy the clothes and put them on her, which is how I was brought up.
So, there is an engagement there to an extent, there’s obviously boundaries but there is engagement with her about it and what she’s comfy wearing.
>> Kate: I know obviously, I can only speak on my own experience, myself as a child, my mum ‑‑ now my mom was very open but she wouldn’t let me cut my hair, my hair is such a part of my identity that I had long hair down past my bum until I was over 18, but I used to tie it up and put it into a baseball cap and if somebody mistook me for a boy I was walking on cloud 9, just delighted. I wanted to be Elvis all of those things around your identity, I didn’t know that it was wrong, but I knew that it was odd, as in other people, all my friend didn’t want to be the opposite of what they were told they were. And it’s like my aversion of frills and dresses and pink was mainly I think about kicking against being told what I had to do, but also being told what little girls were supposed to be like.
Like little girls were not to play football when I was growing up, little girls were to do ballet. And if boys got to do something that I wanted to do then I wanted to identify with them, because they got to do the things I wanted to do. So nowadays, and like I’m a stepparent now and it’s fascinating, wonderful to watch how you take the child’s lead and how he wants different things, he wants Barbie and he wants trucks. And it’s my gendering of things that’s the problem, I’m still stuck on that gendering of stuff, I think so many of us are.
>> Gemma: You start to panic and people are going to go oh she’s made them gay! You know, because I can do that. I have this power that nobody else has. To make people gay. Yeah, that’s the thing. And the thing is there’s an extra lens on you when you are a queer parent, because they are waiting for you to fuck it up. So, they can go, see, you need a mum and dad.
>> Kate: Yeah, it’s completely ‑‑ and then there’s also the fact that queer families so often contain more than just two parents, you know what I mean? So, it’s about broadening what our assumptions are of kinship in families.
I’m running out of time now, but you because you are a parent now, did your queerness change when you became a mother?
>> Gemma: Well again what I talk about in the show, my pro priorities and roles changed. I have been known as heavily involved in Queertopia and activism and I still am. But when you’re a queer activist as well it’s like good by self-care you no longer need it, so I had to actively sit myself down and go you are no use to anybody before having a child if you didn’t look after yourself, you’re certainly not going to be any use to anybody after it.
So really just taking a step back and also making people own it, so I think sometimes when you’re very strong personality, like myself and I know that, you tend to charge forward and go it’s okay, I’ve got it, I’ll do it. Now I have a child I can’t do that. So also it’s about trying to now bring the queer community together and create more accountable, if people wants things to change we as a community must do it and not hide behind one single voice, but we also know not everybody’s a public speaker so that’s again another way we have to work out how people can be activists without having to be at the fore front of things, how we can show you can change things without necessarily having a microphone.
So, we’ve got the 343 space up in Belfast now that I’m the chairperson of, a queer feminist space. So, we allow people to use the space to record things, make podcasts, voice recordings, poetry, perform, anything. We have a radio station where we can do interviews and people can engage through doing community interviews or sharing information. So, I think my role has changed, where I’m still as active as I was, but it’s about me making space and enabling other people to take up the activist roles as well.
>> Kate: You’re inspirational. I just want to read you out a few things. From heather you are a breath of fresh air, hilarious as always thank you. Loved that thank you. I missed it. Great to see some of the show in here. Amazing Gemma loved it. Love this had shown last week, can’t wait for the live version, that’s Siobhan. That was brilliant Gemma can’t wait to be part of the live audience.
So, Gemma thank you so much for being part of dangerous ideas in the Queer Hedge School. Anybody participating and enjoying the show, we have a donor box in the chat box, and if you would like to donate to the Break for Art please do so at your leisure but in the next probably half an hour. I’m going to hand back to Rita, thank you very much.
>> Rita: Thank you so much for, again yet another amazing piece of queer art, particularly lovely for me to have another Nordie in the room! It’s always lovely to hear the gentle dull set tones of the good Bangor accent. Gemma thanks a million for being part of this, I was laughing out loud as we went along, that was really funny, good stuff.
So, and yes please do find the link, maybe Ailsa could stick the donor box link in the chat again. As you know we are doing a pass the bucket for the queer artists, so when this is all done, we’ll divide up between them everything you threw in the bucket. So please do, you’ve been enormously generous so far, if any of you haven’t thrown the Bobs in yet, work away.
So now that brings me to the gorgeous and much better lit Paraic Kerrigan, Paraic was with us last week and it was absolutely fascinating stuff, we were looking at social media and how social media facilitates us, but also creates us and limits us. We could talk about that Paraic for another two weeks.
But this week, we may dip in and out of that, but this week we’re going to talk about your more current research that you’re working on now, that particularly ties into queer kinship, and Paraic and I have had some really interesting conversations ‑‑ I have the best craic talking to the scholars before we ever do this, to kind of get an idea of what we’re going to be talking about.
The thing that really struck me when we were having our conversation, and Ellen used the term earlier, logical versus biological. I’d not heard it put like that before and it was you yesterday actually, when we were talking yesterday, that you said it, talk to us a bit about this logical versus biological family Paraic.
>> Paraic: Sure, all of us in the room and here with us tonight can realise that we all as queer people have had moments where you realise that you’re on the periphery of things, you fall between the cracks and fissures of society and albeit that your family might be accepting and your family might be loving and all encompassing, there are circumstances where families are not that case. We as queers, as we, as Cedric theorized in the fact that the closet is a shaping aspect in our lives, thus finding our family and our tribe is part of that experience, part of that coming out experience, that we negotiate and renegotiate constantly throughout our lives.
We yesterday Rita were talking about the whole notion of energy and queer energy, and somehow the queers gravitate towards each other like magnets, we spoke of experience in school where friends we were five or six with, yet the whole group of people ends up being gay, we find ways of just reaching out to each other and finding each other, but as we come out, back to the original point, we seek people that are part of us and part of our family and the historical research speaks to these notions, and while the term family has certain disagreements academically, the LGBTQ community has reached out, the question “Is she family” has long been asked by gays and lesbians to determine if an individual identifies as a member of that community.
George Chauncey wrote Gay New York, a really important history about early 20th century New York City for queers. He noted in that, that at least as early as the 1920s the term used for close friends within the gay community was sister, and for the older mentors was auntie. So even historically we have used all of these different kinds of terms, vernacular to embolden and create a sense of family.
But why we do this is because it is our logical family and it speaks to these notions of kinship. That queers don’t necessarily align with the homonormative, assimilative ideals of heteronormativity. We have that benefit and Stefan and Cormac said it last week and Ellen said it earlier in her piece, we don’t have the societal obligations as a result of being queer, so we don’t necessarily have to get married, we don’t have to follow the what’s referred to, the chrono‑normative temporality, we as queers can create our own time lines on how we can live our lives, we as queers can reassert our own time lines.
That in itself, queer temporality is different, we are operates in different queer spaces, we can frame and create families that can accommodate the lives and the existences that we want to have, in co‑existing in particular kinds of spaces.
On that note one of the most prominent academics who has coined even the term “families we chose” is anthropologist Kath Weston, she studied lesbian and gay logical families in the San Francisco Bay Area where she conducted fieldwork amongst 80 participants, she found the majority of gay and lesbian individuals fostered the notions of kinship by having houses for example, so you might have watched where you have House Eleganza and you can see the idea of kinship being popularised in mainstream media outlets and queer media outlets.
Those were institutions and societal spaces and sites where people could form and create a family space. So, there’s this huge historical significance for it, I think all of us as queers can identify with trying to find and forge our logical family, that in a lot of instances where we’ve experienced rejection and what not from other aspects of society, we can at least find acceptance amongst each other.
I see a question there what was the name of the anthropologist? Kath Weston, Families We Chose, 1991. I’ll share that as a recommended reading with everyone afterwards
>> Rita: Yes, there’s something there, I’ve written down queer temporality, that’s lovely, we’ll come back to that. So, this notion of logical, one of the things that I would be very concerned about as an older queer, I’m concerned that younger queers are not getting the same opportunities to build queer kinship, and I understand that perhaps as being a direct result of rampant capitalism and the commodification of spaces, is there any research on this Paraic? Is there any ‑‑ you know, we saw 40 years ago in Ireland in Cork queer kinship, and Arthur and Laurie were talking about that and they were talking about how their families of origins might reject them, how we have to create our own families. And we all know that, everybody in this room knows that, that we do find our queers and make our connections, but is it harder today or do I just imagine that?
>> Paraic: Is it harder today? I don’t think so. Having looked at queer Irish history there’s been particular epochs one might say of the past 40 years where we have had moments of perhaps community complacency, one such example would be the 2000 and during that period and Panti has gone on the record on that in various academic sources, and as a testament to the fact that we were relatively mainstreamed in institutions, media and society, that there wasn’t necessarily an effort or a call to arms as it were, to agitate.
Not that that fed into the lack of formation of queer kinship structures, I think it certainly was still happening, but there weren’t necessarily, often time it is can happen through accidental activism and causes that can bring people together that can engender a form of socialisation and kinship formation and I think marriage equality was a good example of whereas that was the ultimate mainstreaming act, conferring a heteronormative institution and assimilative institution, by the way totally nothing to do with ‑‑ that in itself emboldened some sort of kinship structures.
Also, in terms of a very crucial aspect inter‑generational dialogue, where like the aunties of Chauncey’s 1920s New York, where we got to speak with older queers, would with them on the campaigns, learn from them. Most of the things I’ve learned about being a good queer has come from figures like Tony Walsh who fostered me one night and taught me lots of fabulous things about queer existence, I think inter‑generational dialogue is one such way in which kinship is manifesting now and I’m seeing that quite a lot with queer youths.
Not only that, we’re seeing a lot of more public queer figures in academia, and with that we’re seeing kinship structures form. The queers are beginning to somewhat break down the walls of academia, we’re not there yet, question haven’t broken in the academy, but even that in and of itself having public figures like that to communicate and bring queer ideas into the walls of the academy can form these kinship structures I think Rita.
>> Rita: Yes, I certainly see those, one of the things I have heard lots of people talk about, the connection between equal marriage campaign and the repeal campaign, and how kinships were built during one that transferred very easily to another and at the time as well people were saying what are we going to do next? Without having an activist target we’re losing the opportunity and we’re losing this great community that we built through activism.
>> Paraic: Certainly, absolutely. But at the same time, and to come back at Stefan last week we are seeing resistance to the capitalistic imperatives beginning to govern the queer experience as it is, counter cultural spaces such as that of Spicebag are beginning to form which are really important crucial social engines of engendering that kind of social kinship and social structures amongst queers, and I think there is a resistance to that in queer movements against what is considered the sanitization, the assimilation of queers into the mainstream and I think there is movements of sorts happening around that.
>> Rita: I see a lot of that, I must say it’s very heartening, having seen the subsuming of pride by the corporates and having lived through that awful spot, it is great to see. But I want to bring us back to queer Temporality, explain that to me for an intelligent 16-year-old, what is it?
>> Paraic: Okay so how long is a piece of string? Like everything in queerness, everything in queerdom, it is contested, debated, defined, redefined and recalibrated as everyone under stands that’s the nature of queerness, but queer Temporality defines the way in which queers approach time and how time intersects with queer lives and how it can sometimes regulate to a particular degree, but also that we don’t necessarily have the structures dictated by time.
So for example a life has particular milestones or time stamps that it needs to reach under heteronormative standards, so for example you have to by 18 be a debutante, you then have to get engaged, by a particular age have a child, these are particular societal expectations that have been conferred on heteronormative and those who wish to subscribe to that. Queers don’t necessarily have to and they have ‑‑ also reproduction, the whole notion of reproducing and having children, that in itself has a relationship with time and when we’re producing life, we’re reproducing time ‑‑ I know I’m sounding philosophical and talking shite
>> Rita: No, it’s great stuff!
>> Paraic: With queers there’s no futurity and by that we don’t have the obligation of reproducing and it doesn’t necessarily govern our lives in particular ways. Now of course we have the option to do that if we wish to choose to have families but that’s kind of what it is at its most distilled entry point Rita.
>> Rita: Very interesting, so I would think one of the things, is this the right way to put this, one of the queer Temporalities that I experience, is as an older lesbian woman, I don’t have the same barriers that older heterosexual women, so for example I wouldn’t doubt that I might not meet somebody if I wanted to, I wouldn’t doubt that I couldn’t have a relationship if my 80s or 90s. I can still go out dancing and dance till the wee small hours and nobody in my community bats an eye lid at women of my generation doing that. So that’s definitely a difference between, in terms of time and expectations of time.
>> Paraic: Exactly. I suppose that time and expectations of time brings us into the current research I’m doing in terms of births. That’s a time sample of time, we’ll get into that, its kind of reflects all of these.
When we talk about logical families, families we chose we know that because we have been conferred and have access to a lot of rights as LGBTQ people that we can start our own families and create our own families. So, where my research has gone recently is in this area of data for queer lives, and what I mean by that is this whole thing that we’re trying to work through, if we think about it, just think of demographic data, think of the likes of the census or any kind of survey that you might do.
Conceptualising demographic data is generally a historically situated, politically inflected interpretive act. What that does is it translates people, their identities and their bodies into these pre‑determined statistical categories. As you and I well know you can’t necessarily put queers into pre‑determined statistical categories, in fact queer pricks at the surface of any kind of formalised identification, so what I’m trying to do is rather than looking at these identities as ‑‑ queer identities are sites of complex queer temporality and intersectional multiplicity and this friction between LGBTQ lives and data has this very complex relationship.
What my research is trying to do is we need to begin to reflect on how we can design questions, design data infrastructures and design documents that we put our lives on that respond to a call for data for queer lives. Questions that more accurately and respectfully engage with the complexities of our queer existence, and that’s where I’m coming to in terms of the birth certificate.
>> Rita: Hugely important stuff, on this one of the questions I had when we talked about this area of your work and we talked about the birth certificate and it flowed through this series so far, is this idea of the frames that we were given through which to see and understand ourselves, I am always really interested in knowing whose bad idea was that? So, whose bad idea was the birth certificate?
>> Paraic: I can only speak for the Irish and British context and to a degree we can actually blame Cromwell, I know we like to blame him for a lot but we can blame him for this slightly because the earliest formalised registration of births happened during the Cromwell era in Ireland I think in 1617, if I am wrong I am bad with my historical dates. However, 1617 is when we started recording births and dates in Ireland it wasn’t as formalised as we are familiar with, but it happened, that was somewhat the management of the British colony or Irish colony as it was at the time.
Then we come to the Victorian era, and we come to the year 1864 and with that Victorian legislation we have the birth registration act, with that act we have ‑‑ and the birth certificate believe it or not actually has not necessarily changed all that much from the Victorian era, it’s actually quite striking and part of the reason why I want to do this data for queer lives research is because I feel like we need to modernize the birth certificate. Think it have this way I’m sure many of you have seen your birth certificate it has lots of beneficial things, access to biographical and genetic data, it’s proof that we exist, it show that is we were here and we were queer ‑‑ not that we were queer, but you know, you get what I mean.
It’s just a stamp of sorts, the birth certificate in and of itself does not really fit in with the queer experience. And to come back to your original question, the bad idea came from, because of welfare. And the birth certificate was required to access services of the state or the empire as it was at the time. So, to get an old aged pension you had to have a birth certificate and to access systems of welfare and that of course grew arms and legs as time went on.
Of course, when Ireland succeeded and gained sovereignty and became an independent enter Republic as we did, we fostered similar institutions from the UK to Ireland. So, the birth certificate became quite a similar model and we needed that model here for several things, for access again to welfare, when the welfare state became much more permeated into our social structures in 1950s and 60s, but also for citizenship, you needed a birth certificate for citizenship.
This is all well and good when we’re talking about this, but when we talk about dangerous ideas, that becomes quite dangerous and really cumbersome for queers, particularly queer families, when if you are having a child as two gay men, or two women under particular circumstances, only one of those parents can be recognised on the birth certificate. If two gay men in this country have a child, through whatever means, through assisted reproduction or what not, if there is a mother and the mother chooses not to have any part of the child’s life and they don’t want to and sometimes particular arrangements are made, despite the fact that the mother chooses not to, the birth mother chooses not to have a part of the child’s life, they still have all the rights, because the birth certificate is so gendered around the mother in and of itself.
So, what we see begin to emerge is cracks and fissures occur where queers can fall beneath the cracks of these documents because they are so pre‑determined statistical categories, so rigid and eventually tick box they can’t necessarily look at the fluidity of identity. Even though we talked previously about complex family models and families we chose, it’s very difficult to mark those kinds of families with documents like this, there has to be a way to do it, there has to be a way to use the master’s tools to destroy this in a way that’s effective ‑‑ I know I’m being very Utopian and queer in my ideals, but at the very least there has to be a better way of doing it.
>> Rita: This is something we chatted about the first time we ever chatted, and we were kind of talking about this idea and I was saying to you this isn’t a new idea in terms of how we document family, and I remember a conversation at a lesbian lives conference in Dublin in UCD in the 90s, where we were trying to figure out how we could do this, and we came up with the idea of having a book, like a passport, that when you’re born, you get your book, and this is your book, your family book, and only you can put somebody in your family book. So, I decide that you’re my family Paraic, I go along with me book to the registrar and I say Paraic Kerrigan is hence forth my family, stamp me book.
Now how practical this is I don’t know, but it was this, we were trying to get to flip it, where the state doesn’t tell me who my family is. I tell the state who my family is. And so, I would be throwing the birth certificate in the bin, as a terrible bad idea. You’d like to reform the birth certificate; you think there’s room for making a better document?
>> Paraic: Absolutely, it can happen in varying different ways, we are very early stages in the research, just to give it context where we’re at, we’re speaking to groups that have been affected and identifying what groups in the LGBTQ community have been affected by that, of course queer families, trans individuals for varying different reasons, we’re trying to identify issues specific to those communities and also the common threads that run through them.
In terms of ways to do things then, there is actually some simple things we can do, for one part we can just digitise the thing. It’s still in this long form and sometimes a short form written document that you physically have to go into a space, to be present with a registrar and they have to account for your existence. And you’ve described the family book, I think it’s a great idea, and how my colleague Dr amber Cushing theorized this whole concept of personal information burden, what she means by that is when we are made vulnerability by the state because of the lack of recognition, because they cannot see our queer lives, we are burdened with personal information because we now have to insert back or reinsert that back into the story, our story with the state.
That’s what a lot of our participants actually referred to the birth certificate. They were like I didn’t really care about it, but I kind of realised it when I realised my child, I could not be put down as a named parent for my child, this was my story with the state. This is our child’s story with the state and the eyes of the State we’re rendered invisible. So how we can change it, digitise it.
New Zealand seem to be doing a lot of things right lately they have a really good system and suggestion. So New Zealand are apparently looking at their official data agency, has proposed ‑‑ this is just one such example of how we can modernize demographic data collection in the likes of the census and birth certificate. They propose a gender by default approach to how government collects data about sex and gender, this proposal is part of a broad consultation, what they want to do have a gender by default approach. Where at birth you have a gender that’s defaulted, but later in your life you can then choose the gender or preferred gender identity that you would wish. It’s pretty much a flexible things, you can go into the digital system when you are of age or when it’s decided by the legislator, you can tick the box not only that it’s open box, so what that is, it gives you the power and the tools to self-identify in a way that’s not pre‑determined.
That’s a way in which we can perhaps look to modernizing the identity documents, by providing just simple ways by which we can give more openness around that.
>> Rita: That’s really interesting, a great idea, fair play to New Zealand they are getting a lot of things right for us. Another thing that I’d like us to touch on briefly, was this idea of legitimate and illegitimate, and how the state gets to decide who’s legitimate and who is not? Who can be a legitimate child, who can be a legitimate parent? Where is this power vested in terms of the state? Of granting legitimacy to citizens and how do we get rid of that?
>> Paraic: So am I suppose how it’s vested at varying different arms of the government and varying different arms of the legislator, and it can sometimes happen at really local basis, such as going into your registrar, we spoke to so many people that have gone into their local authorities, be it in Waterford, in Carlow, be that in Westmeath, and the registrar was just a pure and utter homophobe and just refused to work with these people to help them register their two parent.
Other circumstances they’d meet someone really lovely and sometimes it’s as simple as crossing something off on the birth certificate and writing something else in instead. So often time it is can happen at that level in local authority, but a lot of these issues could be solved at the Department of Justice level. We have organisations such as equality for children who are doing phenomenal work in and around this area, they are really trying to agitate the department to have a broad reaching legislation that may not necessarily be perfect but at least be massively inclusive in and around that.
So where does it get vested? Varying different levels of the administrative structure of our state I think Rita would be the answer to that.
>> Rita: We’re just going to have to burn it down, this is where I come to every week.
>> Paraic: Absolutely. I suppose the take home message I’d like to say is, data is power. And when I say data is power, what I mean is if we have the numbers, we can prove that we need something for queers, I saw something in Slovakia recently where the government, or a body fudged numbers in and around queer community and cut services throughout. We need numbers to prove that firstly we exist, I know it’s somewhat assimilatory in practice, we’re playing by the rules of the game and the rules that have been designed by those structures in place, but we need to break out in that sense and find ways of doing things I think Rita.
>> Rita: And we do. That’s the wonderful thing about the queers, aren’t we enormously resourceful? We find ways. We will find the way to do the thing. And change always comes from the ground up.
>> Paraic: For sure.
>> Rita: That’s not true, it never works when it comes that way down, but real change comes this way.
So Paraic, we’re going to wind it up, we have a nice slow wind up tonight which is nice rather than running out the door. You have a book coming out, tell us about it, you talked about your book last week, tell us about it again.
>> Paraic: Okay my shameless plug on that! A few of you got in touch with me, I definitely will get it out to you, don’t worry, but the book is basically looking at the last 40 years, so since the founding of the Irish gay rights movement and Irish gay civil rights movement more broadly from 1974 onwards, I wanted to look at the ways in which queers used media as a form of activism and the ways in which on one hand the media represented queers but on the other hand how queers utilised the media to actually forward the activist agenda.
I have pinpointed varying different moments that particular movements such as, like Laurie and Arthur there, that was a product of their activism within the Cork gay collective and part of their manifesto in 1980 was to put images in the media of queers, of gay men, that just tried to educate people from a positive perspective.
So the book is looking over a span of 40 years and attempts to look at the key cornerstones of queer advisability in Irish media and somewhat the story behind some of those moments, I am sure some of us remember the famous kiss or near kiss on RTE’s Fair City back in 1996, the shameless kiss, if you can show that at some point in the future everyone will get a laugh, it’s on YouTube, outrageous.
How and ever the story behind that kiss was the kiss was actually meant to happen, the kiss was scripted the actors had rehearsed it, but there was a producer or there was a team on conservative forces on the set that day that said we can’t do that, the soap opera is a valuable media commodity, here we can see capitalism vesting in here yet again to regulate queerness, because we can’t have the queers have an auld gay kiss on RTE at 8 o’clock in the evening because God forbid we’ll upset sponsorship or Kerry gold butter having an ad break, so those are the kinds of stories I tell.
One other before I head, Johnny Logan, Johnny Logan entered the euro song contest in 1979, it was being held in Mayo that year, he had a song called, my God what was the song called, let’s say it was called Jack.
>> Rita: Will be will know what the song is called, put it in the chat.
>> Paraic: It’s written in the book I should know off the top of my head! It was about a friend, just a friend, homo social, and RTE before it went out live on the air said Johnny we have to take you aside here, but we need to change it from Jack, because kind of infers that you and Jack were something more than just friends and we can’t have that going on air on the euro song contest so he had to change it to Joanie before he went on air, to make it sound like a woman’s name, because they didn’t even want to infer that there was any kind of queerness on the RTE schedule.
So, it just tells us those kinds of stories that emerge and how queerness emerged as a public discourse in Ireland. The book is called LGBTQ media visibility and sexuality in Ireland. It’s somewhat of a good blend I’ll send some copies to the gay project as well.
>> Rita: Thank you, now we have yourself, we have Cormac, I believe there’s a history book coming out, a queer history book that you told me about is coming out as well, so I think in 2021 we’re just going to have to have a wee series of sessions talking about big queer books. Big expensive queer books!
So, we’d love to have you back again Paraic if you’ll come back to us
>> Paraic: Always, always.
>> Rita: I am going it thank everybody, really particularly I want to thank the attendees and the participants, because it’s you who are making this so vibrant and so alive for all of us. So, I just really want to thank you all for, on an auld wet Thursday, being part of this queer happening, which is certainly feeding my soul and hopefully doing us all a power of good.
So, I am going to start my thanks with Fiachra, who got landed with this job at the very last minute, literally a few hours before we went on. Fiachra got a phone call going can you help? And fair play, he did. Ellen, also got that phone call and jumped in at the very last minute to help us out. And I have to say you look very fetching in those glasses Ellen, they really are good. Thanks so much and we’re looking forward to having you back on the 17th, to talk to us about fandom and I believe you’re going to come as Morrissey? We’ll not hold you to that.
Thomas, it was so great to have you as a focus and look at some of the amazing work you are doing and people can check out Thomas, look him up, he is on Vimeo, he has Thomas ‑‑ stick it in the chat there where people can find you on Vimeo, he has some lovely videos, I watched one today I hadn’t seen before, which was putting on a sheet, and I laughed out loud at Thomas making the bed, so go and check out that video.
Kate has left us I think, has Kate left us? And Gemma has left us, but I want to thank Gemma and Kate for again another amazing Break for Art. Ailsa as ever has been doing a fantastic job in the chat, and Sarah our Tech Fairy, again has kept us all looking good. And thanks a million, to our captioner Michelle, for another brilliant job. That’s it from us, Thomas, you can turn us off!
>> Thomas: Bye everyone, take care, see you next time.
- Ellen Reid, Researcher, University of Limerick.
- Fiachra Ó Suilleabháin, Lecturer in Social Work, University College Cork.
- Páraic Kerrigan, Lecturer, School of Information and Communications in UCD.
Break for art artist:
- Gemma Hutton, Comedian and Queer Activist.
In groups and Out groups and Queers and Social Media; Inclusion and Exclusion:
Transcript – view below or download as PDF:
Queer Hedge School – Week 4:>>Rita:
- Dr Emma Hurley, Psychologist and Researcher.
- Cormac O’Brien, Jumping in again to present this week’s ‘Break for Art’.
- Páraic Kerrigan, Lecturer, School of Information and Communications in UCD.
Break for art artist:
- Stefan Fae, Theatre and Performance Artist.
Queer Masculinities, Good Gays versus Bad Queers:
Transcript – view below or download as PDF:
Queer Hedge School – Week 3:>>Rita: Hello everybody, you’re very welcome to session 3 of dangerous ideas. And I want you all to know that Doris is singing to me, when Doris is singing there, that’s actually me she’s singing to, she was my big crush when I was wee.So, this evening we have a chock-full programme for you, we have our last session with the lovely Dr Cormac, who we’re all going to miss terribly and our first session with the lovely Dr Emma, so that’s great. We have Sarah Clancy down there waving at us, beaming in from Galway, and we have our Michael and Kate and the lovely Thomas.So, we’ve had some changes. Katie, the Tech Fairy, and St. Katie from last week, unfortunately couldn’t stay with us. But she found us an even better Tech Fairy, which is her partner, Sarah, who you can’t see, Sarah might come on and wave at us just so we can see for a second, there we are, hi Sarah, thanks a million. Sarah is going to be in the back making all the magic work!
So, I’ll do a little bit of housekeeping first to say that the captioning, the closed captioning is, there’s a little box, cc at the bottom of your screen and if you turn that on, you’ll see the live captions. I really recommend that all of you turn that on, because it’s great to be getting it coming at you both ways and it’s extraordinary to see the job the live captioner does as well, Michelle just does such a great job.
I want to show you something we got last week, maybe Sarah will pop up, this was sent to us after last week’s session which is amazing, from Orlagh O’Brien, and Orlagh was watching us online and did this amazing doodle, now I’m getting it a wee bit blurry my end, I hope you’re seeing it more clearly where you are, but I just want to give a huge shout out, and thank you to Orlagh O’Brien for doing this amazing things, look at us all up there in the corner, I’m going to stick Orlagh’s website in the chat box and I would highly recommend you all check out her work, it’s only lovely.
So that I think is all you need to hear from me, apart from thanking you, I want to thank you the feedback is incredible. It’s just gorgeous. We really, really appreciate it. Really appreciate all the feedback and I am now going to pass you over to the lovely Michael, who is going to fill you in a wee bit on what’s been going on, thanks Michael.
>> Michael: Hello, just want to say hi and a big welcome back to session 3 and a big welcome to all of our guest speakers, artists, Tech Fairies and everyone who will be helping us out tonight.
First and foremost, I want to say a huge thanks to everybody who has made a donation, we on our, by tonight our third session have raised 634 euro, so a huge pat on the back to all of you for helping make that possible. As you know your donations are helping to support the artists who are doing work with us here and who as we all know are out of work at the moment due to the pandemic, as the arts generally have come to a halt, so this is really important. Not only that, but this is also a phenomenal achievement, not only is it a phenomenal achievement, but we’re also halfway to the target that we had set of getting to 1200 euro, so with that, I’m going to be posting the donation link again in the chat and we really appreciate your on going support.
In addition, one person kindly set up a Facebook fundraiser, I believe it was accidental, but has been quite successful, so for that reason if there’s anybody out there who feels like setting up a Facebook fundraiser I’m also going to post the link to do that in the chat, and by all means, work away, it’s quite straightforward and easy to do. So, I’m posting that there.
The final plug, as you know we have a social media account, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, please follow us at gayprojectirl and you can always sign up to the newsletter on the website gay project.ie so with that I’ll pass you back to Rita, thank you.
>> Rita: When will I learn! When will I learn to turn the mute off? So, thanks Michael, isn’t that fantastic and amazing, halfway to the target.
So, I’m going to pass you over now to Thomas and Cormac, who are going to get straight in to this session. Cormac is looking again at masculinities, Thomas has been reading furiously and I’m just going to leave you to these two gorgeous fellas now to take us through, Thomas?
>> Thomas: Thanks a lot Rita. So, what we are going to be dabbling a bit into today with Cormac, and sad that this is your last session with us, I do hope that you can make a surprise visit another time in the future. But with the theme of today, good gays versus bad queers could you may be open up a little bit with an outline on that?
>> Cormac: For sure, good gays versus bad queers the trope for want of a better word, is something that we see emerging out of homonormativity and we were discussing homonormativity last week as an assimilatory phenomenon, whereby to briefly catch up anyone who wasn’t here last week, where gay couples it’s not just masculinities, it’s across the spectrum, gay couples aspire and subscribe to the codes and scripts and lifestyle models of heteronormativity, and we termed that homonormativity.
So good gays versus bad queers, that binary starts to emerge then within gay communities or queer communities, whereby what we see are cultural sanctioning and approval and acceptance of gay relationality, gay coupling that very much models itself on heterosexual or heteronormative coupling and that’s very accepted and that’s the way we’re told we should be, whereas the bad queers are people who cannot or will not subscribe to those lifestyle paradigms, for whatever reason.
And those reasons can be political, that people don’t want to life that way, that they don’t want to be gay married, even though they’re coupled. It could be that they want to be in polyamorous relationships, but it could be reasons beyond their control. Like HIV positive or Bi aren’t necessarily they’re two things that aren’t seen as fit.
So, what we see is that there’s this kind of propagandisation if you like of the good gays and good gay lifestyle and that comes down from politics, right the way through. A really good example of that is the campaigns that we saw around the equal marriage referendum. All the campaign postering was very much family orientated and the campaign rhetoric and discourse of that campaign if you like was very much about the neoliberal register, the family, making a family that would then prop up the neoliberal consumerist state.
When I looked at that campaign material, I have to state categorically I was a fervent yes voter, because I believe everybody in the country should have the same rights to the same structures, the queer question as we said last week would really be can we dismantle marriage rather than, because it’s a tool that props up the capitalist state, but as long as it’s going to be there everyone should have access to it.
But if we think about those campaign materials, and one of the key things that differentiates LGBT from the heterosexual community is who they have sex with. Yet there was very little sex in those campaigns. Those campaigns weren’t about sex at all. They were family orientated; they were ableist. There was no disability presented, nothing about HIV positive men in there, when Ireland has one of the highest rates in Europe of HIV penetration in the gay male population.
So, what we were being presented with equal marriage campaign were the good gays.
>> Thomas: That’s interesting, I like going through some of the comments here, will said adequately as well, he was happy for you to also highlight HIV positive people and this being seen as something that is a positive gay character as well.
>> Cormac: It’s not something I’m covering in any of the book sessions on this, but the representation of HIV and HIV positive men in Irish culture and general western culture is one of my major fields of research actually, I have published a lot on that, so we would see HIV positive men being ushered out of sight, or out of public sight. Because it’s all about being easily digestible to the mainstream.
>> Thomas: You’re absolutely right, someone was mentioning last week, someone in the LGBT community would mind Bi people would complicate the LGBT moniker in that sense, so there’s also misunderstandings in our community to misunderstand Bi people in that sense, they also in many ways don’t fulfil the homonormativity that’s set up for instance.
>> Cormac: I think, what we’ve got to sorry I’m going to turn off the chat because it’s distracting me, if there’s a question.
>> Thomas: No worries we’ll take some as they come up.
>> Cormac: Just let me know. Something we were saying earlier Thomas was getting married, monogamous coupling, getting a mortgage together, all those trappings that would be associated with homonormativity, in and of themselves they are not bad things to aspire for, in fact they can be seen as positive things for a lot of people, that’s great, and particularly homeowner ship at the moment in this country is something that’s beyond the reach of a lot of people and for lots of economic reasons.
So, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with those things, there is in the at all. The problem is, when they become state sanctioned and culturally sanctioned as the only way to be a gay person.
>> Thomas: Absolutely. That’s why we want to come into, going to talk about when we for instance, we’re going to talk about differences between urban gays and rural gays. So, could you maybe talk a little bit more about other places in which homonormativity exists more than other places?
>> Cormac: Well I think what we’ve got to think about here is, to roll it back a bit, and to think about can I just ask Sarah tech to put up slide 8 for a moment? And then in a moment Sarah tech I’ll be asking you in a second to put up hang on, I have to locate this slide, sorry.
Yeah, she just put up slide 8 for a moment and in a second, I’ll ask you to go to slide 3. So if we just think about homonormativity and we spoke about hegemonic masculinity last week about this ideal manor ideal model of manhood that rises to the surface in any given era, and what we find queer scholars talking about nowadays is homonormativity, as a way of living, I wouldn’t just apply this to gay masculinities, I would apply this to lesbians as well, is that over the last two decades it’s become like hegemonic masculinity, in that it’s this asymptotic, unachievable, unreachable lifestyle drawn along class and ethnic lines and is achieved by none but the very few.
From the research I’ve been looking at there’s certain criteria that must be met to achieve homonormativity, even though you’re never going to achieve it, but people are striving for elevated levels of disposable income, high end housing and homeowner ship, monogamous partnership and when we look at, particularly gay male communities, some leeway for playing together, the gym toned body with incumbent diet and fitness regime and then unspoken and open secret that we only come across on hook up app profiles recreational drug use. That’s not something that would be said at work or whatever.
But I think to move beyond those more consumerist trappings, I would, one of the most crucial entries in this country into homonormativity I would argue is white Irishness. So, homonormativity just like hegemonic masculinity proves this impossible goal for most gay and queer identified men. Then we are into the realm of what the theorist Sarah Ahmed calls cruel optimism, whereby we’re presented with this very aspirational lifestyle, this lifestyle that the culture presents us through the lens of privilege and presents that as the norm that we should all strive for and in striving for that we do ourselves great harm. That striving for the good life is actually an obstacle to your flourishing.
So we move on to what you were saying thereabout different locales and rural versus urban and that’s where I’ll ask techie Sarah, sorry for the name yeah so what we are seeing really in the modern era, the queerness has usually been understood as an international commercially centric identity and that it’s reliant on institutions and social spaces such as bars, clubs, websites, publications and drop in centres that are both market mediated and crucially Metropolitan. Which means that the places that queers can come together to commune and communicate and form groupings and solidarity and structures tend to be in cities. So, queerness has built up in the modern era around densely populated urban areas.
So, what we’re seeing then is other structures, where we could have organised are denied to us. The second part of the slide there, the historical exclusion of queers from family and political life has meant in Michael Warner’s words, Michael Warner being a very famous queer theorist, that non-Market Forms of association, so not commercially driven forms of association, that have been central to other movements such as churches, kinship, traditional residence. So, the commercial gay scene becomes central to queer identity and living. So, we’ve this overlapping or inter linking of the commodification of gayness and queer identity linking in with needing to live in a metropolis.
Which is going to set up lots of problems then for the exclusion of queers who choose or have to, as we discussed earlier Thomas in our prep today, there’s some people need to stay in rural areas for a variety of reasons.
>> Thomas: Jobs, family, friends, they might have a closer and safer network out there than they would have for instance in the cities, numerous reasons for it.
>> Cormac: Think about, if everybody left the country who would feed the nation? Because there would be no farmers. As we all know there are lots of gay farmers out there. So, there’s this, let me find the right word there’s a kind of disavowal or repudiation of queers who don’t come to the city, for whatever reason. That they don’t emigrate, when I talk about emigrate, I’m talking in the sense of sorry techie Sarah, can you just put up slide four there.
That there’s this negative valance if you like attached.
>> Thomas: You’re absolutely right, there’s also coming from being an urban queer, you know there is a push for wanting someone who is rural, who is queer still as well and should be validated as queer it come out, because they are out in a setting where it feels like they don’t have a chance for coming out because they don’t have the same access to the same spaces, so you’re talking about bars, it’s as if they cannot live a queer life, that’s a perception that you are ban queers might have for instance. A lot of urban queers do have that idea. Then it’s that push, pushing on to a certain homonormativity in this case that they should also fulfil.
>> Cormac: Yeah, for sure. Let’s talk about those pushes in various, the various strands we’ve landed on. First the push to come out, which I completely disagree with. I know it was a mainstay of the early gay liberation movement, come out, come out wherever you are, we think of Harvey Mill. Then we had in the late 90s certain groups of queer activists who outed public figures. Now that’s a different thing if you’re going to be a public figure who is homophobic and then you are caught in hotel rooms like all those American pastors and, evangelicals caught in hotel rooms with sex workers
But someone living in an urban or rural, even an urban setting that’s homophobic, I feel it’s wrong to push people to come out, you don’t know their life, you don’t know how they’re living. By forcing someone to come out you could render them homeless. Let’s not forget just because we have gay marriage etcetera that doesn’t mean homophobia has gone away. That doesn’t mean there still respect people out there who really hate us and hate what we do. So that push to come out, we need to reign that in a bit and if people can come out, they will.
Then there’s like we say the push to be part of something, and I think what Catriona Ni Laoire, a Galway scholar here, she’s talking in terms of emigration in this quotation, this is my writing I’ve quoted her, but she’s not talking just in terms of emigration out of the country, she’s talking in terms of rural to urban, so someone from the country going to Dublin. And what I’m saying, in rural setting the lack of public and social queer spaces can disrupt or hamper an individual’s formation and expression of their authentic sense of sexual self. Which kind of leads to a sense of disconnect, and it not only disrupts the formation of an authentic sexual identity, but in terms of the Emigre’s dislocation, like there’s a sense of, for people who move to urban centres, they have a sense of dislocation while they try to settle in and find their people and find their tribe. But there’s also a sense of dislocation for the men who stay behind.
As she says there’s a discourse of devaluation, shrouding the men who stay behind, even that term, you’ve stayed behind, as she quotes there, “Opposes a traditional backward rurality to a modern and progressive urbanism” with absent peers living a perceivably more exciting queer life somewhere else, the man who didn’t move, the non-emigrant man is left behind, just by virtue of staying behind.
And I think what’s important there Thomas, you might come in on this, is the perceivably more exciting queer life. When in fact we know that people who live in urban settings in Ireland now are putting over nearly about 70% of their income just to pay rent, so there isn’t much money left over to have any sort of a life let alone an exciting queer life.
>> Thomas: It’s very interesting, also we’re talking about you opened up by saying we can’t say that heteronormativity or even homonormativity might work for some people, but not for everyone. So, and I like seeing the chat also because there are different people who are asking these questions about certain people, and tendencies for instance for certain people, lesbians prefer to live out in rural areas, that’s a fun comment to bring out.
I like this idea that of course we all have lived experiences that are different. But within the queer community there’s a bit of, not as much erasure, but it’s forcing other people to live a certain style as you said based on the perceived idea of how fabulous for instance it is to live in the city.
>> Cormac: Yeah and where is that perceived idea coming from? That’s what we’ve got to walk back and ask ourselves? That perceived ideal is coming from homonormativity, which itself is coming from heteronormativity. Homonormativity as we said last week looks very much like heteronormativity except it’s a same sex coupling.
What the question we have to ask here Thomas is, who does homonormativity serve?
>> Thomas: That’s a good question, yeah.
>> Cormac: It’s a way of assuaging the general population, it’s a way of easing their consciousness for the homophobic violence and oppression that has been visited upon queers in this country and still is, so therefore the culture presents, or demands if you like, this very easily digestible version of gayness, which is problematic on oh so many levels.
>> Thomas: That’s true, we were also coming into mentioning how some, you can say right wing structures for instance are there to in a sense protect certain institutions in society from us and therefore it can kind of say that we seem historically, but unfortunately also contemporary, while you can look as other more marginalised groups as being also subjected to certain heteronormativity there’s something about sexual minorities, and that is that we are often claimed as being non-existent and we can bring some examples as well for instance.
>> Cormac: Katie do you want to put up slide sorry Thomas continue.
>> Thomas: No that’s fine, for instance we’ve all heard about Chechnya, I think that’s how you present it in English, the local government of course there has through their incarcerations and institutional violence against queer people have claimed that it is not happening, all these horrible things are not happening simply because gay people do not exist in their view. A local government office actually, a local human rights officer said that she sees flies, butterflies, but she’s never seen a gay man in her life and thus these horrible things are not happening. So, there’s a range of brutal things happening to us.
In Ireland 20 or so years before that there was an easing of conduct, things people would be doing in same sex conduct, it was something the state was trying to erase here in Ireland.
So, another example, it doesn’t have to be as brutal, even in media for a long time for women it has been the whole idea of two women kissing for instance in media has just been an example of women experimenting rather than actual gay love as well. And then of course we mention bi in the community, so how do we make sense of all the societies trying to make us non existent
>> Cormac: I’ll walk us back to nationalism and aggressive hyper nationalism. Could you put up slide 5? I’m using Ireland as an example here and using particularly Ireland, Dev’s Ireland, because that type of hyper toxic nationalism which in our case was tied in with piety, that’s how we made a national identity we needed to distinguish ourselves from the British because we weren’t that different really, so that’s this national identity.
When you want to create this over determined national identity, not only do you need an enemy without, you need an enemy within, we saw the Nazi party do that with the Jews, they were the enemy within.
I’m going to use Ireland as an example but you can find the roots of this in Poland, Russia, all the places we’re seeing problems in. The entrenchment of a largely unquestioned patriarchal national identity in Irish life that has its roots in the notions of the idealized catholic nationalist family. That then gets constitutionalised with Article 41.1 whereby the state recognises the family as the natural, primary and fundamental unit group in society and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights and antecedent and superior to all positive law. Myself and my students often debated I’d love if there was a legal scholar to come in what does that mean, the family is above the law in certain instances? Does that mean you could murder a family member that was threatening to disrupt your family? If you had a really good barrister to argue in court that it was for the good of article 41.1?
Anyway, what we see, the family is one structure of containment and controlling these bodies, I’m going to ask tech Katie to move onto the next slide, and that’s going to so this idea of hyper nationalism as a way to be queer is to be unpatriotic. So that’s one of the answers to what you were say something why do these things happen. Usually it’s seen as working against national identity and queers are the enemy within.
So that then brings a certain amount of shame on to queers so we can say queer shaming then, from both without and within, and by within, I mean the internalised queer shame you’re going to engender and manifest within yourself, from just living in a culture that tells you you’re wrong all the time.
>> Thomas: Merely by existing in that sense
>> Cormac: Queer shame has a singular relationship with other moral princes, nationalist fantasies of moral principles and these singular relationships render moot many comparisons between queerness and other minority identities. In that homosexuality, because it’s this unpatriotic thing, because it threatens to render abject the borders of the hegemonic male body and thus corrupt the borders of nation, it becomes parsed or unpacked under a different set of usually religious morals that are drawn along a binary of nonexistence or existence. What do I mean by that?
So, with other minorities that are oppressed populations, there have always been moral prescriptions regarding how to be that thing, so how to socially perform as a woman, or a worker, or a patriot. But rarely do we see that it’s said you should not be those things. But we’ve seen that with queerness over the course of history, that we said not just that there’s a way of doing it, but that you shouldn’t do it at all.
We see still in some death penalty for queerness in many countries, so the binary of existence or nonexistence. If you just want to move onto the next slide again, and we’ll finish up on this. So, we see these moral prescriptions and they are particularly evident in the anti-gay campaigning of religious right-wing organisations around the globe, they mobilise the heteropatriarchal nuclear family cell as being in danger of destruction.
According to such groups predatory homosexuals armed with a hidden gay agenda who would turn children queer and usher in the outlawing of traditional family life, hence we should be silenced and, in some countries, eliminated. And this has a huge impact then Thomas on queer shaming, because you are living with it so often and for so long that we could really say it becomes part of queer identity, becomes part of the structure of queer identity, it’s not something we ever get over or get passed but it’s forever within us.
>> Thomas: You’re right, a deep-seated feeling of not sorry I’m in the way but sorry I’m alive and sorry for being me, unfortunately.
>> Cormac: Absolutely. Then there is a positive spin, I see someone mentioned Roger casement, that’s a perfect example, but there is a positive spin, you are coming from Audre Lourde here, when you are in a culture that tells you it doesn’t want you around and you shouldn’t exist, and all those things, so we can look if there’s, you’re having a really bad day and all you can do is manage to get yourself out of the bed and down the shop for a pint of milk and a loaf and get home again, that can still be considered an act of queer resistance, because you survived in an environment where they don’t want you to survive.
So, there’s hope, we need to bring hope, our discussion tonight has been a little bit grimmer maybe than last week, so we’ve got to imbue this with hope. Like I say, even getting the everyday done on some days can be seen as an act of resistance.
>> Thomas: Every day is an activism day
>> Cormac: Absolutely, there is hope in the air right now, news of a Covid vaccine, a would-be dictator is on his way out of the White House, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because of pandemic and everything we have been all locked down for so long, but I am reading these as really good signals that maybe a corner is being turned and the shit show that 2020 has been is the tipping point and maybe we’re moving somewhere better after that.
>> Thomas: That’s gorgeous, Cormac thanks a lot.
>> Cormac: Sorry, did you say that’s gorgeous or I’m gorgeous?
>> Thomas: Both, definitely both, no doubt about it honestly!
>> Rita: Stop flirting!
>> Cormac: We’re both happily married men now.
>> Rita: That never stopped you flirting.
>> Cormac: It’s true, it’s true. Look I’m even saying his phrase, it’s true, it’s true.
>> Rita: You’re mirroring each other, we’ll get Dr Emma to comment on what that is.
Cormac, can I just thank you enormously, you have just been amazing.
>> Cormac: The pleasure was all mine.
>> Rita: A joy to work with and the brilliant fabulous news is we’ve booked Cormac for another session, when his book is published in March and this book, I have to read this, because it’s a mouthful of a title, masculinities and manhood in contemporary Irish drama and culture. Or, acting the man! It’s published by Palgrave Macmillan and will be out in March and Cormac is going to come and do a session with us just on his book. So, we have that to look forward to and yes, so Cormac I’m going to say bye to you now very briefly. Bye, we love you.
>> Cormac: I love you too.
>> Rita: I’m going to hand over to Kate Brennan Harding for our Break for Art.
>> Kate: Hi everybody. What you saw me was frantically texting Sarah to rearrange the order of what we’re doing because we’re doing everything live today, hi all attendees thank you so much Cormac. I’m delighted this evening, delighted every evening, but really delighted, I have not met Sarah yet and it’s lovely to meet Sarah Clancy in a virtual sense and on this platform and this dangerous idea. She is one of Ireland’s most vibrant and exciting poets, three published works her moment recent the truth and other stories you can find on salmon poetry, beaming in from county Clare, Sarah thank you for joining us.
>> My pleasure Kate, really interesting to listen to Cormac and meet everyone. It does almost feel like we are in a room. If Cormac is still there, I was messaging Kate saying I would be arguing with him if we were in a bar!
>> Kate: I was doing oh to be in a bar, but also, I love that sense of absolute conversation where you change each other’s opinions, we all miss that and I think that this space is kind of giving us all that sense of community. Sarah you had a bit of fun today, we were originally recording your poems outdoors because I wanted to bring the outdoors into proceedings, but a little bit of wind and your dog got in the way isn’t that right?
>> All sorts, that was about the fourth time I recorded it, so I live in the middle of nowhere, so there could be actually nobody around, we mightn’t see a sinner for ages, it was like central station, the minute I went outside to try and record my poems, neighbours were down to ask me would I help move a boat, the dogs were down, the postman was down! I was just going I actually give up, by the time I was finished I was frozen as well, white as a sheet, here we are reading them wrapped in a rug, you can’t see the bottom of me but I’m reading them nice and cosy from the upstairs box room
>> Kate: I love it, I think with spoken word and poetry in this setting it’s lovely to do it live. I’m going to ask you; you’ve changed which are you doing.
>> I changed the hosts nightmare when I was listening to Cormac speaking I was thinking one of the things I was thinking is how, there’s a real upside to being queer, being out in the world being queer, because when you are out in a straight world being queer you usually have two options, if the straight world isn’t suiting you, you can find somewhere else to go. So this was a poem, a find somewhere else to go or someone to connect with you, this was a poem, I was on the most miserable holiday I ever was in Malta, no offence to anyone from Malta, I was in, we were surrounded by elderly Germans who were stabbing each other over sausages at the breakfast table, I was on my own, it had been a really cheap package deal, I wrote this poem about the night life in a bar there. It’s called convention, it’s a poem about being saved by an extremely camp queen man from the utter direness of heteronormativity on a night out, and it’s called convention.
The guy in the corner enthuses that the chief source of contamination in any bin is in any kitchen is bin to counter and vice versa and he’s grimacing knowingly at the waiter’s slim hands as they deliver one more bottle of cheap tranquiliser, an old doll sitting next him isn’t listening she’s busy explaining she suspect religious she is nonetheless a spiritual person, a few more laggards gathered at cheap plastic tables, there’s a wind kicking up big time against thin plastic walls not made for this weather, and the waves in their storm force crashing below us, refuse to have anything to do with our cluster of hot air and bluster in this cafe bar where everything comes with chips and is accompanied by hits even Elvis wouldn’t be seen dead listening to. An old queen in the corner winks at me and says hey there sisters, this one’s universal, slim picking his wink says, I have to agree, though I’m not really shopping but my new found companion across the stable is decrying the state of the current light market, he’s bemoaning the Chinese resurgence in manufacturing saying they wouldn’t know light if it hit them in the face and I think the boats in the harbour are sparking like 100 Chinese lanterns but I don’t mention it, I just watch them, while another would be what he isn’t is explaining that the guy who thought up post its is worth a fortune but good fortune like that isn’t to strike every day so his motto is to wait and watch everything … and now the queen from the corner takes my elbow and whispers now he from the back I’d my eye on you, but the buttocks were a disappointment, a bit too fleshy more’s the pity. If I had to name my one fantasy it would be Michelangelo’s David, oh he’s such a cold bastard but come on sweetheart we’re leaving, thank God for deviants and queer life and the mini bar in my room. And I’m with him to the night, to the sea front, arms linking and we’re drinking, neither of us giving two fucks for convention.
>> Kate: Oh, yes, I absolutely love that. As you were reading, I was thinking about the amount of times I’ve been on holidays and have found the spots, you know it’s the wink or the look, you make friends. It brings me back to what we were talking about earlier, around rural queer life and you are living rurally, and you’re queer and how does that, how does your queer identity fit in with your rural identity and how does it inform your poetry?
>> Sarah: There’s three or four different questions there, the first as I mentioned to you earlier on, I was very late realising that I was a lesbian, I had many many relationships with men, but don’t quote me on that one! From when I was young, and to be honest, even when I was in school, I was quite sheltered, I was the youngest kid. My mother worked in a notoriously gay book shop in Galway Sheela Na Gig’s and I still don’t think I knew what a gay person was which was an odd way to grow up.
I was absolutely obsessed with horses everybody can forgive me now, if you look at horsy women there’s not much different between lesbians and horsy women, so I didn’t really feel I stuck out. I suppose I felt, we were all going around striding around the place in vaguely mannish ways so I didn’t really feel that different growing up, it was a rural background and that. But it really was much later that I started to understand my own sexuality.
It’s not to bring everybody down this evening but I think I had the quintessential Irish experience of having experienced child abuse as a young person and that really distorted my sense of self or who I was or, you know the kind of core of my identity, so it took the years, the years it took me to refine that, it took me those years to discover I was queer as well, so there’s some advantages to having really learned that later and I suppose that meant the kind of teenage insecure years I wasn’t dealing with it, I was probably reasonably secure for other reasons. So, my background was quite rural, to a certain extent I have come home. Though I’m in Clare I’m only down the road from a lot of places I would have worked with horses and that.
But I’m here living with my partner, related to local government Clare is hyper conservative, they are all going to kill me for that now. But it’s extremely, it’s GAA, the catholic church, really good, a lot of good things about Irish rural life are here in Clare and it’s quite diverse but at the core of it it’s a very conservative community and I do run up against it, but the things that I run up against in a way are just being myself in those spaces, just sitting there, that to a certain extent I discomfort people without knowing I had done it
>> Kate: I had written it down here, I have lived in rural settings most of my adult life even though I am a dub, I feel my visibility is a political statement, each place I go into, in Clonakilty or Loughrea, me being advisable is that political statement for me, I love it, I relish it, I want to be the queer, I don’t get, oppressed by it. On occasion but I like making that political statement about just being me. Will you introduce your second poem for us please, I don’t know what one you are going to do now?
>> I’m not behaving predictably.
>> Kate: I love that.
>> The second one, a lot of the poetry that I write is quite political, it’s almost, you can almost class some of it as propaganda, almost she says pretending! But one of the, this is a poem I wrote a good few years back around the time of the marriage equality referendum, because we kept on getting the proclamation quoted at us about cherishing all of the children of the nation equally, while I echo a lot of what Cormac was saying about the referendum, it wasn’t my political campaign, although I was heavily involved in it, getting married wasn’t the issue for me about being queer, there were a lot of other issues.
So, one of the things was that it made me start to think, I know I said this to you this morning, one of the reasons I think I didn’t have to deal too much with being different from being queer was I was too busy dealing with how Ireland treats women! They didn’t give me any time to deal with being queer and this is a poem kind of about that, but also a fine big rant. You could keep adding to it, you could keep adding, you can all add your own verses when I’m finished, it’s called Cherishing for Beginners.
Cherish the meek
cherish the ranchers
cherish the guards
cherish the bankers
cherish the virgins
then ride them and cherish their sisters,
cherish tax exiles and entrepreneurs
cherish the rewards of intergenerational privilege
or if that’s too hard for beginners
sure, cherish the Rose of Tralee for starters,
cherish the goal and the point and the foul
cherish the priest’s dirty sheets
but not the woman who washes them,
don’t mention her
or what she might need,
go on and cherish the IFSC
and its type of laundries
those ones are fine, they are grand sure.
Cherish the men
because they couldn’t help it
if the women and girls went and fell pregnant,
cherish the foetus, the heartbeat,
but not the person it’s in
then cherish the small graves
in their undisclosed wastelands
cherish the shovels
and boot soles that dug them
let there be no doubt about it
Yes, We Can!
cherish the children
if they’re from the right class
aren’t travelling people
and are not for god’s sake
don’t forget too that we must
cherish the mute
and cherish the sheepish
but hate those in need,
worship Fr Peter McVerry himself,
go ahead make him an icon
but don’t hear what he’s saying
Cherish the poor
for how you can use them
to frighten those who are just one rung above
cherish the people
who learned early and often?
what happens to those
with big mouths,
cherish your local TDs,
and the crowd in Listowel
who didn’t care that he raped her?
sure, wasn’t he one of their own?
Yea cherish the rapist,
why don’t you?
Cherish the golf course
and its sprinklers
sure, Irish Water will save us
cherish piece work and internships,
and zero-hour contracts
aren’t you lucky you have a job at all?
Do you not remember the coffin ships?
and are you not grateful?
Yea cherish your own exploitation
cherish the school board,
for our lack of gay teachers,
cherish women’s place in the home
then cut their allowances,
sure, they don’t deserve them
having all of those children
repeat after me Cherish Privatisation;
and if you don’t then you better learn
to cherish the knock on your door
in the morning.
Consider this a warning.
Cherish Dev and Pearse
and blood sacrifice
but don’t mention James Connolly
who said until Ireland’s women are free?
none of us will be, most of all though
cherish outsourcing and remember
your call is important,
you too will be cherished equally
if you can afford it
as soon as an operator
which may well take
another hundred years.
>> Kate: Unreal, I love we’re getting gorgeous messages, loving the tone, what a poem, I think what’s gorgeous about this, every week when we have a Break for Art, we have something completely different. You have just offered something completely different again, that’s gorgeous.
I want you to very briefly talk about, I wanted to bring up the, you talked this morning with me about coming out, after realising that you were gay, coming out and finding a place that wasn’t for you. That you found it difficult to find your community.
>> Yeah, I did. I would say to a large extent, I would say some of it was probably insecurity, but also, I didn’t find when I did try to venture into queer spaces and that, in Ireland I didn’t find them at all welcoming, I found them really difficult places to be in. That could have been because I was an ass hole, you know, you never know, there’s not always one side to this, but in terms of, there was no way to be tentative about it, there was no way to go, is this okay? Do I go here? There was no real way, it wasn’t acceptable to anyone, and while I can understand that as in people celebrating being out, it didn’t leave a lot of room for someone not certain where they stood or someone going would I be safe here? I would say the exception to that for me was slightly older gay men, always, they would always kind of mind you and take you under their wing. But I would say that I have never had a queer community of women, and still haven’t, and I have huge huge is an over statement, but I have a lot of circles of friends but I haven’t had or felt at home in those queer spaces, because I felt really in some way that it was only one aspect, one part of an aspect of my identity and I needed to limit myself sometimes to be there. That I was too much or too loud or too something, you know?
>> Kate: I get that, we have very different experiences in that I came out so young and I just was drawn to everything queer, but one of the things that I’ve noticed in my life is that when I came out first as a lesbian I dived straight into, no pun intended, lesbian culture and all my, I’ve lesbian family is what I consider now. But then as I got older, my late 20s and 30s, I now have a full plethora of gay male family, it was like I felt I had to split my I couldn’t be friends, like I went through a phase, I can’t be friends with gay guys because I am a lesbian, then I discovered really what queer is to me, queer is all of us. Like Jaime Nanci was here last week singing and that, I want to use the word deviance I like using it in a subversive way, but finding ourselves.
But we’re running out of time, so Sarah, I am very excited for this last poem that you’re going to do, my partner sent it to me, I love it. It’s a love poem will you introduce it.
>> I will of course, I better read this poem I was planning to so in that case this is a love poem, it’s one I wrote a long number of years ago, everybody loves it, my partner Anne doesn’t love it so much because I wrote it years before I met her so she calls it the fucking mermaids for everyone who’s here. So, this is a poem called ringing in sick to go mermaid hunting.
Once when I wasn’t, I called in sick for the evening shift
and went instead to meet you at Raftery’s in Kilcolgan,
so, we left your car there and I drove south west
down the summer solstice evening, hitting for the coast
we squinted through sunglasses at Ballinderreen and Kinvara
but didn’t stop, turned for Fanore at Ballyvaughan, you leaning back
feet on the dash singing along to the Indigo Girls and Johnny Cash,
asking me where we were headed, but messing about,
I wouldn’t say, I told you on a day like this, trust me
it will all work out: we’re going mermaid hunting
and the signs are good for catching.
There were no mermaids though, at the pier before Blackhead
just one dolphin doing her bit for inter speciel integration
she came in waist deep to meet us and we were charmed,
and drenched. From behind wet hair you asked me how
I’d known and in my stupid humour I said oh you know
I had my people call her people, that’s how it goes,
this event was arranged for your pleasure dear.
You pushed me backwards off the pier then jumped
yourself and our dolphin circled as if she got the joke,
spearing herself four feet skywards above our heads
then vanishing beneath. Us two fools, we swam through seaweed,
feeling elemental and amateur, you’re half fish you said,
yea but I’ve caught you this time.
In Lenane’s at dusk we had chowder, and a pint,
I sat with salty skin and hair and when you joined
the jobs worth band to sing ‘The Dimming of the Day’ for me,
you made every hair on every sunburned neck there stand.
You slept then as I drove but I woke you in Kilcolgan to send you
down the Craughwell road. Me? I hit for home, but parked
instead at Whitestrand beach, on the longest evening of the year
too full of everything to go inside just then.
>> Kate: I think everyone has had a moment like that it’s gorgeous. Thank you so much for joining us Sarah.
>> My absolute pleasure, thanks for having me and thanks for putting on such a fabulous event.
>> Kate: Rita I’ll hand back to you.
>> Rita: I turned on my mic. Sarah thanks so much, that was only gorgeous, I loved all of that, really, I just lost the title of your middle poem.
>> Cherishing for beginners.
>> Rita: Oh flip, that’s powerful stuff, great stuff.
>> You can all add your own verses anything else you want to cherish to the end of it!
>> Rita: Thanks so much for being with us, now I’m going to hand you over to our Michael who is going to bring us into the break. So, the break is normally five minutes but it’s a little shorter, we’ve only got a four-minute break this time. Michael it’s over to you.
>> Michael: Thank you Rita, I’m going to just very quickly post these links again, and a big thank you to everybody who has donated since we started this session, we really appreciate it. We also have a special request, so The Gay Project is running a media campaign in county Kerry and rural Cork over the next couple of weeks, so if you’re in those areas, keep your eyes out, I’m actually from Kerry so it’s a special thing for me, I’m delighted and it was also really good listening in to the conversations around more inclusion for rural queers and it’s something that’s very close to my own heart so I’m delighted to be doing this work.
But in that we are hoping to find some ambassadors in the region, in county Kerry specifically, out, proud, kind of gay men, GAA players or well-known figures. So, if anybody has any suggestions or thoughts about who you think might be a good fit for that, please fire away, we’re kind of doing some brain storming at the moment and trying to figure out who might be suitable so we’d be grateful to get your thoughts. So, with that, I’ll just post those links like I said and thanks again.
>> Rita: Thank you Michael, Sarah we’re going to go to the break and if Sarah, tech Sarah, not poet Sarah would run the Janelle Monae video, enjoy.
Rita: Wow Janelle Monae, I love her, I just think she is the queerest thing about the place at the minute and that’s a particularly powerful piece for the times we’re in. And all that’s going on, isn’t it great, we have to mention, isn’t it great we’re getting rid of himself, is he number 46, is that what he was? 45. Number 45, delighted to be rid of him.
So, I am delighted now to introduce you to Dr Emma Hurley. You’ll have seen Emma’s biography in the e mail that you got and Emma is here to talk to us about psychology and really what happened …
>> Emma: What happened indeed.
>> Rita: So, Emma I am going to let you introduce us to what you’re going to talk about, then I’m going to come back to you with some questions and certainly you can pop questions in the chat if we can get to them. So that’s over to you Emma you’re so welcome thanks for being here with us.
>> Emma: Thank you, great to be here, and I suppose I want to open this talk with a caveat first of all that we’re going to talk about the historic context of how experimental psychology began, how it fed into constructions of queer identities as either criminal or pathological, and how that shaped how queer, LGBTQ+ people were treated from that time on.
So, if you just bring up the first slide there please Sarah, it will kind of put it in context for us. So what this slide is saying, almost any theory with a long enough tradition is eventually subject to a process of de historicization, what we are saying is that the language that we use now to describe norms and what’s normal or abnormal has become ingrained so that we take it as a given, I found Cormac’s talks around this very interesting. We were talking about heteronormativity and homonormativity. And it’s from that kind of construction within psychology and the zeitgeist of the time in which psychology was born, that that language has emerged, and I think sometimes when we’re swimming in a certain kind of water of discourse, we’re not even aware that we’re reacting to or immersed in this kind of language.
So that if we want to own who we are, if we want to take ownership of who we are, our own identities and how we identify, we need to understand how our identities were constructed from the outside to begin with. I say from the outside, as a psychologist obviously there’s sort of a collective consciousness of how psychologists have constructed queer identities in the past.
So how did it happen is what I want to look at today? So, you might bring up the next slide Sarah?
>> Rita: Emma can I interrupt briefly to ask you if you wouldn’t mind reading out the full contents of the slide for us for those who might have difficulty reading it, because it can be tricky on us thanks a million.
>> Emma: Of course, I don’t have many slides for that reason, but yes, I can of course. So, when men, although I’m halfway over my own slide, I don’t know about you. But when men become conscious of psychological processes of which they have been unconscious or half conscious, not only are they on their guard against the exploitation of those processes in themselves and others, but they become better able to control them from within. So, what that is saying, is that when we become aware of those processes that I was just talking about, of that water that we’ve been swimming in that has been constructed in the past, then we can better deal with it and tackle it and deconstruct it, okay?
So, what I’m going to talk about is what was that zeitgeist? What was the water that psychology was swimming in back then? And psychology is a very new science actually. It began or the rumblings of it began around the 1850s and it was in 1859 that Charles Darwin published on origin of the species. So experimental psychology started in Germany in Frankfurt and was caught on to and caught fire in the UK and the US in particular sorry my dog is really distracting me here, she started to walk around, she’s been calm all day.
So, psychology really wanted to be considered a science, had a chip on its shoulder, it wanted some kind of structure around it within which we could consider and examine the human condition. And evolutionary theory provided that basis. So, what was evolutionary theory about, what was it telling us? Evolutionary theory was telling us that it was the fittest of a species that thrived in an environment, so the survival of the fittest was about how well a certain individual of a species could adapt to its environment. Sorry I’m going to have to let her out
>> Rita: While Emma’s letting out the dog … there she comes, she’s back with us.
>> Emma: So, this idea of fitness and its inherent meaning in that would be that if some individuals in a species were fit then they were superior to other individuals within that species. And within that environment then we also had the people with power, particularly in the US and the UK and other, as Cormac again pointed out, colonised countries in particular, were white Protestants, and these were the people who were in academia, these were the people who were carrying out these studies, educators in Stanford, psychologists in Stanford, statisticians, a guy called Galton, who was Charles Darwin’s cousin, started to look at how we might measure mental processes in humans.
And the idea behind that was to identify the fittest, but also what would have been described at the time as the feeble minded. That was a catchall phrase, again when we look at identities and language and when there were certain words for certain things like buggery and sodomy as a behaviour rather than homosexual as a way of being. So, these actions were to begin within Christian faiths for example considered to be deviant and wrongful behaviour, then became viewed as being criminal behaviour, particularly when it came to men and how they manifested that behaviour because it was seen to be more tangible somehow when Victoria for example just didn’t believe that women could have sex with women.
So, there was a lot of invisibility of certain queer identities. Trans for example was considered to be an extension or lumped in with homosexual behaviours. So, a lot of these identities were invisible, it was just this general language of deviance that was used to describe it, and people like Galton, Lewis Terman, like Lewis Terman is credited along with Binet along with others for developed the first tests of intelligence for example and we’re still taught that in psychology today.
So, they came up with this idea of being able to measure all of these faculties in people and the objective of that in the US at least was to weed out the feeble minded into asylums. So, Sarah if you can bring up that slide with the normal distribution on it for me there please? I’m just going to explain what that does exactly.
Okay let’s stop there for a second, so one of the errors if you like of the researchers at the time was this very simplified idea of genetics, so the theory of evolution inspired experimental psychologists, the general consensus being that we born from innate capabilities, faculties that we had inherited from our parents. It followed based on Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection that humans that thrived in their environment were superior. The basis of this argument was Mendelian. So Mendel was a monk who had done lots of studies with peas, you may have even done it in your junior certificate biology class some of you, he took different coloured peas and he cross bred them and he found that you get consistent outcomes, so you could say that there were going to be four green peas and four brown peas if we cross bred certain peas and so on. Indeed, we can still see that expression in terms of genotype and phenotype in terms of eye colour for example, so that very simple genetic expression still follows.
But at the time psychologists and other researchers believed that heritable traits, psychological traits rested on a single gene, so that to be considered superior or inferior must be captured in this one small single gene and be passed from one generation to the next. By blew open a conversation in terms of genetics and eugenics about who could or couldn’t claim to be, claim space on the planet in effect.
So, the term gene wasn’t coined until 1905 by a Danish botanist called Johannsen. Therefore, white Protestant men generally, women were considered to be emotional and not terribly capable, women still didn’t have access to education, certainly not third level education, they were more successful and therefore more intelligent than other humans. This intelligence was fitness. So, these things became collapsed in this conversation, okay?
And they just had to prove it. So, if you bring up the next slide Sarah. So, Galton, a cousin of Darwin and a guy called Lewis Terman decided they wanted to measure it or come up with some kind of measurement for this idea of intelligence and adaptability and capability and superiority or inferior tea or deviance from the norm. And Galton hypothesized that you could measure it in the same way that other things were measured like blood pressure and so on, if we took many many measurements from many many people we would come up with this normal distribution. I don’t know if you can see that, it’s actually on my screen at least it’s actually hidden but this normal distribution actually provided the basis for measurement in experimental psychology for years and years and years to come.
What they did with that normal distribution, they measured things like intelligence, things like personality, and if you fell outside the norm. So, the norm fell within 68 percent of the central tendency of that distribution then you were deviant or abnormal. And these tests were madly culturally biased, some of the questions on the original test actually asked people how big was a tennis court, how many tennis courts could be fit into X, Y or Z. If you think about the situation in the US at the time, so we had a lot of Irish people had moved to the US and talking about the end of 1800s, beginning of 1900s now. And some Irish settlements like Boston, large populations of Irish people in Boston and so on, but generally there was considered to be this separation between Angelo Protestant settlors who had arrived on the May flower and so on and their descendants and anybody else. And that included indigenous populations, people of colour, there still existed at the time even though slavery had been abolished, we still had Jim Crow law, segregation.
So, the language that’s used when you read these books often talks about things like race. But race and class were totally conflated in those conversations, there was an assumption that if you were from the lower classes you might be a person of colour, you might be an indigenous person, you might be Irish, there’s cartoons from the time depicting Irish people as having simian features and so on, you might be Jewish, and within that conversation when we’re talking about people like Terman and so on, what a lot of people don’t understand or don’t get is that this was a conversation being had not just by conservatists and capitalists and people who wanted power, but by people who considered themselves to be liberal and wanted to care for and look after people.
So there was an idea of these lesser types of people not quite having the faculties to fend for themselves and how would we mind them and so we would test these people and put them into asylums, so there was a very broad brush, this could have been people with what we would now consider to have mental health issues, people with epilepsy, people with homosexual tendencies, people who would identify as trans, people who were criminal behaviour, all put into the same space.
From that then you had people like Marie Stopes for example who developed planned parenthood and we look at that now and we go, giving women access to contraception and so on is empowering. But there was an element of eugenics to that conversation from her and others at the time, which was around controlling certain types of people who were not superior, who were considered inferior, who were taking up space and these studies and research and so on first talked about at least in the UK went over to the US and then picked up in Germany, not surprisingly. And that eugenics movement was a common conversation that was being had, an accepted conversation that was being had.
So, we had this movement in terms of perceptions of queer identities from criminal behaviour, to a physiological genetically heritable trait in the person. And psychologists at the time at least thought that was an advancement in thinking. So, we no longer thought it was a series of criminal acts or disgusting or deviant behaviours, but rather some kind of glitch in the genetic makeup of someone that was physiologically inherent in that person.
So, what would you do about that? There were various theories about what people would do about that, in terms of eugenic solutions to that, and various solutions were floated in the US at least, including euthanasia of those people. They decided to pedal back from that, a massive sterilization programme across all of these groups of people were carried out in the US, South America, Scandinavia, in the UK and as I say, then picked up, Hitler invited academics over, researchers over from Stanford and California to head up and give information about his T4 programme, and Hitler, I’m going to end at this point I think maybe for a moment, Hitler’s T4 programme was about weeding out the inferior from the German population. People dobbing in members of their family who were short sighted, who were homosexual and so on. And the language that was used, they murdered over 40,000 people in that programme alone, and so it continued.
So, I just wanted to talk about we’ve gotten quite dark here I realise. But I just wanted to talk about the conversation and the discourse and the fact that people then at least based on the science that they were aware of, were doing what they thought was in the best interests of society as a whole, and it wasn’t just conservatives or very right wing or nationalist people that were engaging in this conversation, this was a conversation that crossed partisan divides, the language we would now use, a bipartisan conversation.
>> Rita: What really interests me about that Emma and we’ve chatted a wee bit about that, is that’s the way it went. But it didn’t have to go that way. Am I right in saying? That there were thinkers who were presenting a different view, but this is the view, this is the reality that we got. But that wasn’t it might have been different. So, what else was around in the water, that was giving a different perspective to that? But also, I have to say we are fast running out of time. We’ve got about seven minutes left. Until we wind up. But we’ve got you back next week to talk more, but I’d love you to tell us a wee bit about who else was around in the early times of thinking that was that wasn’t this notion.
>> Emma: Yeah, I think it’s interesting that, like we’re all here, none of us are stupid, we all have an inkling or a sense of the role that psychology and psychiatry played in our lives and in the lives of our friends and people who have come before. So as I say, the experimental school today we maybe just stick with this, as the beginnings of this conversation and pick up what sexologists and others had to say about that and maybe talk about the 50s and 60s and so on, the Kinsey report and Shere Hite’s report and so on in the next session maybe what do you think about that?
Okay, so of course the other side of psychology was psycho analysis, which looked at, so Freud burst onto the scene in the beginning of the 1900s, was very active around 1914 to 17, and he characterised homosexuality as a stunting in psycho sexual development. I’m sure many of you are familiar with that theory, that somehow, we’re all developmentally stunted, we haven’t quite managed to get past our Oedipal collection or Electra complex, we still want to kill our father and marry our mother or vice versa.
And what’s interesting about this, is this sort of, again the water he was in was Victorian times, very prudish times the turn of an ankle used to make people swoon and so on. Here was this psychoanalyst talking about sex quite openly and saying that everything, all of our drives were sexually motivated and that homosexual and queer identities were deviant behaviour that could be treated in psycho analysis, and that opened the door for things like conversion therapy.
So, we have a lot to make reparations for and own. But the only way that that can be done, I think at least, is if we make manifest that water that people were swimming in and how that happened. Very similar parallels between then and now in terms of people’s perceptions of what’s going on in terms of competing for resources, mass immigration or perceptions of mass immigration. So, in the US there was people were afraid and worried about mass immigration from the Mediterranean in particular for example. And we had to control populations, this was the language that was being used and of course we now had this origin of species, this scientific endeavour that we could ground further investigation and research into the human condition, and what would keep us healthy as a species.
>> Rita: Yes, and it’s, we know now, well certainly what I know now is that’s not true.
>> Emma: No, and the conversation moved very, very slowly, over many, many decades to the conclusion now in any reputable psychological association, the term that’s used is the queerness and homosexual and trans identities, bi identities, are compatible with mental health, that it’s just not a thing.
>> Rita: Yes. And how that then plays in, so we had this kind of like 150 years of psychological thought in that we are somehow flawed, or we have this idea in the world that there are some people who are flawed and some people who aren’t.
>> Emma: Yes, very dichotomous, very polarising.
>> Rita: How then, this is what we’ll talk about next week, maybe we’ll touch on it briefly. How then does that come into our own communities in terms of how we “other” other queers.
>> Emma: I think you’ve hit on something there, the intersectionality or lack thereof in the conversation. It was very much them and us. But us was queer people, people of colour, working class people, that’s intersectional right there. The people who were “othered” are the people that we now find in those spaces I think, and we can learn a lot actually from that time and that othering and the way that, the language that was used to de base people, to call them deviant, abnormal, disordered and so on, and check in with ourselves and see are we being our best selves in our own community, yeah.
>> Rita: We’re going to talk much more about that next week with Dr Emma, we’re going to talk about pride, no?
>> Emma: Pride and prejudice yes.
>> Rita: Pride and prejudice in our own communities. And with that I am going to bring us to a close, I can’t believe how fast the time goes. It just flies in. I want to thank, really everybody who goes to the trouble of logging in and being with us you’re making it, really, the contributions from you are making it. Our biggest number tonight I think we had 75 online at one point. And that’s not including the hundreds of panellists that there are.
So, I want to thank Sarah Clancy so much for being with us, Sarah you really brought such wonderful views to us and of course the lovely Kate Brennan Harding doing a fabulous job. Mike, one of our main men, thank you. The gorgeous Thomas, thank you. Dr Cormac, I love your Doktor, thanks so much Cormac. Techie Sarah you did a fantastic job. We’ll also thank Michelle who is our captioner this evening for doing a great job. And with that Thomas, you can turn us off!
>> Thomas: Bye everyone, thanks, hope to see you next time.
- Cormac O’Brien, University College Dublin gives us a historical and contemporary outline on queerness.
- Kate Brennan Harding, Media Producer and Presenter is Curating the ‘Break for Art’.
- Dr Emma Hurley, Psychologist and Researcher.
Break for art artist:
- Sarah Clancy, Performance Poet and Activist.
The Psychology of Sexuality and Gender
Patriarchy and its Discontents:
Transcript – view below or download as PDF:
Queer Hedge School – Week 2:>>Rita: Hello, I remembered to unmute the microphone! You’re all very welcome, this is the second week of our dangerous ideas and we’re delighted with how last week went, it was a huge success and your feedback was wonderful. Thank you so much for that. So I’ll do a wee bit of housekeeping first of all, you’ll see at the bottom of your screen there’s a little button that says closed captions, if you would like to read the subtitles as we’re going along you can turn on the closed captioning now.I want to also welcome our extra tech tonight, who is the lovely Katie from GCN, and I have to give a huge thank you to GCN for, giving us Katie the lesbian who saved the day. St. Katie of the disastrous tech queers came to our aid and so we’re delighted to have her. It was Katie who solved the video lag problem for us. So we’re very grateful to have you Katie and you’re very welcome.I also want to make some apologise, I have to apologise to Jamie for spelling his name wrong on the e mails that you got, that’s entirely my fault, I can’t tell the difference between I,a and E! So apologise Jamie, the correct spelling will be on the screen later.I’ve also got a bit of a confession to make. When we were talking about how we were going to run this from a security point of view we decided that we weren’t going to run the chat feature and that people would just be able to message the panelists but when we started last week we forgot to turn it off, we ended up having chat and it turned out to be amazing, it was just great and everybody loved it. So we’re going to keep the chat, but we have the lovely Alyssa now in the background monitoring the chat. So if anybody says anything unpleasant or horrible, we’re going to kick you out! Although I expect you will all be perfectly delightful as you are.
So people are still joining us, we have 67 of you lovelies on the line at the minute. And still coming in. The other thing I want to say just another wee word about accessibility. So we got a message last week in the box from Niall, from Sligo pride and Niall is also part of full spectrum, which is a peer support network for LGBTQ people who have disabilities, so he told me, I called him afterwards and he explained to me that the closed captioning on zoom is very small if you have any visual impairment, and zoom chat box doesn’t have a feature where you can make that bigger, so for people who are visually impaired here this evening, what we’ll do is if there’s any really interesting questions that come in the chat box or anything really important we’ll read it out, but please feel free to get in touch if we can make it easier for you in anyway. So that’s the accessibility bit.
Quick catch up from last week, the videos up online on our website and it’s on the front page, there’s a big button that says dangerous ideas, and the amazingly generous, wonderful people gave us 470 euro last week, which was amazing, can’t believe it, delighted. Katie is going to pop our donation box into the chat box, please give us your money if you have any spare lying around and we’ll use it to support queer artists and to do more of this kind of stuff.
I think that’s probably enough of that! We’ll get right into it. You’ll see here on your screen the lovely Emma Hurley with her beautiful blue black ground, this is Dr Emma. Dr Emma is our resident psychologist. So what we’re going to do now is a wee live evaluation.
I’m going to hand you over to Emma now and she’s going to explain to you what that is. Then Emma will ask Katie to put the link to the evaluation in the chat box when she’s ready., are you cool with that Emma?
>> Emma: I am absolutely cool with that, hello Rita, how are you.
>> Rita: You’re so welcome.
>> Emma: I should tell you a little about myself first, don’t you think? I am a psychology lecturer and researcher in UCC and I suppose my main areas of interest are social and political psychology and individual differences, and over the course of this series we’ll be coming back to those particular areas.
But in the meantime we wanted to check in with you and see how you’re doing, so we wanted to do an evaluation and Katie is going to pop a link in there, work away with that Katie. It takes literally a minute to complete, so it’s just going to ask you about how you’re doing, how you’re feeling, where you’re at.
It’s completely confidential and anonymous, we don’t be collecting any e mails or names for this. Then at the end of the series we’re going to revisit it and ask how you’re doing again. So the idea behind this, it comes from positive psychology, it’s positive psychology measure, and not to get into the nitty gritty, but when we look at well being and depression in psychology, they are actually separate mechanisms, so we’re going to look at how you’re doing positively speaking.
And just to, yeah quickly touch on what positive psychology has to say about that, we’re really aware that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and things are difficult for people, so what could positive psychology have to say about that? I think you and I were talking about that Rita.
So generally, like a lot of people will be familiar with Victor Frankle and his man search for meaning, often misused in psychology it has to be said, but in situations where we can’t really change the situation that we’re in or we don’t feel like we have a lot of control around the situation that we’re in, his work in particular is really useful.
When we look at that kind of thing we’re talking about coming into the present moment, being present with what is, not looking so far into the future maybe, and noticing the things around us, and I’m sure most of you are familiar with say gratitude diaries or speaking gratitude to things. And noticing the little things around us that we can be grateful for.
So my dog for example is lying on the carpet and she is behaving herself for once so that’s something I’m quite grateful for! But the other thing might be something like novelty, so how do you find novelty at times like this? Lots of research done on novelty and noticing or trying new things, not talking about skydiving in the middle of a pandemic, but maybe something simple and new, taking a different route when you’re going on your walk. Maybe engaging in something like this, this is novel and quite special I think.
So looking at those kinds of things, about how you can give yourself a little pep and what we would call broaden and build positivity.
>> Rita: One of the things that when we were chatting about this Emma I thought was a great one that you were explaining to me is in terms of like talking about the gratitude diary and how if we express gratitude it makes us feel better. The other thing you were talking about was random acts of kindness? Love that one.
>> Emma: Big fan of random acts of kindness. Altruism, why do we engage in altruism? We’ll talk about that later in the series in terms of in groups and out groups and what serves us when we do good things.
Random acts of kindness is a really good one. You can do simple things, check in on the neighbours, see can you get them groceries and stuff like that, what happens when we do that, when we volunteer for things, when we help other people, in really simple ways even, is that we get a little pep, it gets our dopamine and serotonin going, so we benefit from that.
>> Rita: I love that one, that’s a real win win.
>> Emma ma. Yeah, it can be something as simple as checking in on somebody you haven’t spoken to in a while and asking how they are doing, that kind of thing. And you can get creative about what that can be.
>> Rita: We could run competitions there you are now, there’s a challenge, what mad random acts of kindness do we all do?
>> Emma: It’s one of the few things I agree, where everybody gets a medal if you engage in random acts of kindness.
>> Rita: So Emma, that has probably given people enough time to fill in our wee evaluation.
>> Emma: Should they so wish, yes.
>> Rita: I’m looking now at my running order so I am going to say bye bye Emma.
>> Emma: Bye bye, I’ll sit back and enjoy the show now.
>> Rita: And we’ll see you next week. Hello Cormac. So we had some really interesting questions last week that we didn’t get to, I know that some questions were e mailed directly to you and we had some questions in the question and answer box. So I’m going to pass over to Thomas now who, am I right Thomas, that you are going to ask some of the questions that came in, in the question and anticipate box?
>> Thomas: In that case, first of all let me just introduce Cormac because I do feel that we didn’t do that properly last time.
>> Rita: Very good!
>> Thomas: Cormac is a lecturer in the school of English, drama and film in UCD and also a Fulbright Scholar. He teaches and researches drama, literary studies gender and medical humanities as a matter of fact you can say he combines all of these in his teachings to make points in our society and our perceived notions of ourselves and others. He has a book coming out masculinities of manhood in contemporary Irish drama, acting the man. Which is available next year in April.
So we were going to probably talk about something related to what we want to talk about this week, heteronormativity and homonormativity, so a lot of all of it was talking about how queer theory can you used in ways of deconstructing or disseminating the ways that we see each other specially in society, but the expectations we have of each other through heteronormativity and homonormativity, but first can you explain the terms?
>> Cormac: Yes, sure. Heteronormativity, while they are mutually inter dependent they are separate things. So there are plenty of heterosexual people and heterosexuality as a sexual orientation is where biologically gendered different people desire each other and form relationships. Heteronormativity on the other hand is a complex cultural phenomenon that nowadays is very much tied in with neoliberalism and and capitalism, like I said last week when we say that “ive” at the end of a word it tends to indicate that there’s a series of social rules and cultural codes and scripts that we’re expected to follow.
So a lot of people see the word heteronormative and think that means there’s an overriding cultural assumption that the norm is heterosexuality but it goes beyond that and what it does is lays down a series of often unwritten rules, and these rules then extend into legislation, we see it in our own constitution with the family being the primary unit of society, that’s in our constitution or how our constitution configures woman by her place in the home.
What heteronormativity is, it’s this set of assumptions built around lifestyles that say that these codes and scripts are, for example built around the patriarchal family unit, that there would be one man and one woman and that the expectation is that they will be monogamous, that they will be coupled, preferably married, that they will pro create and have families and then capitalism comes into it then around, that they will purchase a home and that they will buy their identities as much as buy into their identities.
So heteronormativity isn’t just the assumption that the norm is to be heterosexual, it’s all these other codes and scripts that are attached to it. Now I’ll just finish up on this, in and of themselves none of those things are problematic, absolutely nothing wrong with being a monogamous couple who have children, get a mortgage etcetera. Where they become problematic is where they are pushed or corralled, people are corralled into this as the only way of being, and that if you exist outside of those configurations, that you’re somehow wrong or bad, or that you’re breaking the rules and as we always know people who break the rules you’re punished in some way, that punishment could be through legislation, that you find yourself behind bars or more often that punishment is kind of social ostracisation or harassment, bullying or violence.
So heteronormativity is about living by certain codes and rules and scripts, and we see it even in capitalism, in terms of its much more difficult to shop for one than it is for four, because chicken fillets are sold in family packs of four, you know what I mean? It’s much easier to buy a three bedroomed house than an apartment for one. So the whole society is structured around that idea of the heterosexual patriarchal family unit. So heteronormativity is built into the structures of how we live our lives.
>> Thomas: Very good, it also feeds into conversation that we had where it kind of, you can say drizzles down into the LGBT community, so in a lot of if you were a gay male you’d probably have been on grinder or another dating app and probably have seen how we have also certain trends there that you could kind of say are homo normative or heteronormative in that sense, that we have certain expectations and try to subdue each other into acting after certain expectations. What we were talking about is this little, capitalistic trend in saying that before big abs and biceps were the ways that you could achieve popularity on grinder, but now it has pretty much changed into, because of the accommodation crisis, who can accommodate essentially.
>> Cormac: Yeah that was a conversation we were having. I suppose to talk about that, Katie can I just ask you to flash up, before we move on from heteronormativity and into homonormativity, I just want to show, slide number 7. So this is from Sarah Ahmed, who is a leading queer theorist, a queer theorist of colour. She talks about heteronormativity in terms of, thanks. She talks about heteronormativity in terms of queer lives, so like I was talking thereabout shopping and it’s easier to buy for the nuclear family unit, you know?
She’s talking here, the first quotation, “Heteronormativity refers to more than simply the presumption that it is normal to be heterosexual. She says that norm is regular lay tiff, so associated with rules and regulations, and it’s supported by an ideal, the hetropatriarchal family unit, that associates sexual conduct with other forms of conduct. So the idea of heterosexual procreation all sex, if you’re engaging in that then your other forms of conduct are good citizens, you know what I mean? There by the implication is you are not engaging in heteronormative activity your other forms of conduct are bad citizen things.
But the real interesting thing I find, this second quotation, she uses the analogy of a comfortable arm chair that you have at home, that you have been sitting in for years and the way it moulds itself to the shape of your body, you want me to read out the slides once again? Okay the first slide says “Heteronormativity refers to more than simply the presumption that it is normal to be heterosexual. The norm is regular lay tiff and is supported by an ideal that associates sexual conduct with other forms of conduct.”
The second quotation I’m moving on to now, it’s prefaced, this isn’t on the slide, it’s prefaced by Ahmed using the analogy of a comfortable chair like I said that you have for years, your favourite arm chair, you sit into it, it moulds itself to the shape of your body, it’s really comfortable, to the extent that you don’t even notice how well that chair fits your body and she goes on then and I’ll read out “Heteronormativity functions as a form of public comfort by allowing bodies to extend into spaces that have already taken their shape. Queer subjects, when faced by the comforts of heterosexuality may feel uncomfortable (the body does not synch into a space that has already taken its shape). Discomfort is a feeling of disorientation, one’s body feels out of place, awkward, unsettled”
So what she’s saying there is really reiterating that heteronormativity with its set of codes, rules and scripts that are built and structured around facilitating the kind of hetropatriarchal nuclear family, that queers sit outside of that and it’s not the comfortable chair we can slide into, that the way society is structured to facilitate heteronormativity means we’re left without our comfortable chair, if you know what I mean? Is that okay Thomas?
>> Rita: Cormac that makes perfect sense.
>> Cormac: So discomfort is then kind of a structure of queer identity.
>> Rita: So what do we do with that?
>> Cormac: I think, what do we do with that? I think we’ve got to set about there are certain structures, well it depends on …
>> Rita: What does that look like? What does that discomfort look like in our lives in the world?
>> Cormac: What does that discomfort look like? That’s a really good question. Again it’s tied in with I guess neoliberal capitalism, one way that discomfort looks is the idea of having to buy into an identity and that leads us into homonormativity, where homonormativity is kind of a fairly recent phenomenon that’s come around from the 90s onwards really with the rise of the entrenchment of neoliberal capitalism, whereby queer politics up until the AIDS crisis years would have been about liberation from heteronormative structures, and then from the 90s onwards really LGBT rights movements and politics have moved into assimilatery politics, whereby it’s about, we find our comfort now by emulating and copying heteronormativity.
So issues such as HIV and AIDS and the massive rise of infections we have in Ireland, or homophobic bullying in schools, all those kinds of things have been pushed to the back burner of our rights movement and what’s come to the fore are assimilatery issues that might make the mainstream more comfortable, such as marriage or entrance into the military. So we’ve seen that our politics have become much more about fitting in.
If we take that another step forward, and the gay marriage, I was absolutely all for gay marriage, simply from the point of having the same rights as everybody else. But the queer in me says why don’t we dismantle marriage altogether? Why should anyone have to get married? You know what I mean? Yet I know if I marry Scots Michael, my fella, my tax that I pay will fall drastically, so there is this state the State is corralling us into the marriage model, you know? And there’s nothing that makes white middle class heteronormative people, the worst thing you can do is make them uncomfortable. So what we end up then with is this very easily digestible form of gayness that’s presented to the culture.
It ties into with neoliberalism capitalism in the sense that people buy into an identity, so all of a sudden we see a real homogenizing of gay presentation, or social performances of gayness. So the assumption is that gay men have the economic capital to go to the gym and get really white teeth and become buff and that becomes how we think all gay men look and should be.
Again I’ll repeat, there’s absolutely nothing, that is not a problem at all if that’s how you want to express your life. When it becomes problematic is when it’s the only acceptable form of gayness, and it becomes problematic in particular with queer artists, in drama or poetry or theatre or whatever, because if they want to do something radical with queer representation they’re not going to get the mainstream to buy into, to come. Therefore they’re not going to get the funders to put their show on, because really what these assimilatery homo normative politics, it’s the politics of respectability, saying let us in because we are just like you. And therefore we’re presenting this easily digestible narrow version of queerness, which really ignores, because heteronormative mainstream they don’t want to know about the hassles and horrors and terrors of gay living. They certainly don’t want to think too long and hard about gay sex, they want this easily digestible picture.
Which then when you come to try and say they want this idea that it’s, that gay life is easy and happy and good fun and we’re all having a great time. And no one’s getting bashed up down the corner or not able to come out because they will be rendered homeless if they do. So it ignores the very real challenges and traumas that queers face in every day life.
>> Rita: We have a few comments interestingly, I see that Niall, talking about this very thing in terms of disability rights, what Niall is saying is very interesting, that within the context of his disability and condition, both in the economics of society and in the performitivty of his sexuality, he passes as able bodied for what it’s worth but he knows of others in wheelchairs whose sexuality is cancelled. So that very thing of, he’s not a good enough queer, if somebody is in a wheelchair, how can you be a gay man if you are in a wheelchair because you can’t fit the standard notion of what it should be.
Then we have another interesting question I’d love you to answer, is Leo Varadkar a sanitized version of a gay man?
>> Cormac: If I talk about Leo Varadkar I might get into a lot of trouble! He is, I would say, yeah. A yes answer. But Leo Varadkar actually, Deirdre’s question about Leo Varadkar segues us very nicely into the question of homonormativity. Katie would you throw up slide number four there, sorry, slide number five.
And I will admit these are quotations from my forthcoming book, so it’s a shameless plug and I make no apologise for that. So what is homonormativity?
Homonormativity looks very much like heteronormativity, it’s an assimilatery politics of respectability, whereby gay couples emulate heterosexual models.
So what I’ve written, I’m going to read the quote out in full. “There exists a narrow, limited performance of commodified and market driven gay masculinity, which while it cannot be exactly be considered part of hegemonic masculinity, can operate in tandem with it. This is a mode of gay lifestyle and living that theorists such as Michael Warner, Lisa Duggan and Gavin Brown identify as homonormativity. This model of gay manhood, apart from a same sex partner looks and acts very much like heteronormative masculinity and is inextricably bound up in neoliberal consumerism.
Here there is a model of gay manhood that seeks assimilation into normative structures as opposed to radical queer masculinities which look for liberation from capitalist systems of governance and their incumbent market driven lifestyle and paradigms. And while the assimilatery aspects of this gay manhood are no bad things in and of themselves, they become problematic when they become normative, by which I mean when these cultural codes and scripts are not only popularly understood but more so politically promoted as the only way in which gay masculinity can and should operate in social time and space”.
So I realise that’s all, that that quotation was all about gay masculinity and gay manhood, it equally applies across the gender spectrum, the reason it was focused on men is because it’s from my book which is about masculinities, that’s the only reason. That equally applies to any same sex coupling.
So idea Thomas of homonormativity, of assimilating into normative cultures. And we were talking about the hierarchy, on hook up apps. And what we thought was very interesting about this hierarchy on hook up apps is how it is affected by capitalism.
Up until a few years ago on male hook up apps the hierarchy was the big Dick, muscle tops were at the top of the hierarchy, and they got to choose, and the next level down was the muscle power bottoms and they would be generally the first that they’d go do, and then after that other people found their place within that hierarchy.
And what we found lately, I mean there’s no this is anecdotal, there’s no social study done here, maybe UCD might fund a study on this or something, but the people that have risen to the top of the hierarchy now, the people who get to pick who they hook up with, it’s nothing to do with bodies, or muscle or how you look or whether you’re top or bottom, it’s to do with whether or not you can accommodate. Because there’s such a massive housing crisis out there. So the guys at the top of the pecking order now on hooking up are the guys who can have you over. How many times, we’ve all gone through that rigmarole on grinder or whatever, where you have an interesting conversation with someone who looks like you’re going to have a lot of fun that night can you Accom? No, neither can I shite. It’s all over.
>> Thomas: That’s true, it’s interesting, I can see here in the panel there is a few comments. Someone is saying wondering what Cormac thinks about trans identities when it comes to homo and hetronorms is there a trans normativity? It’s interesting taking trans into the debate, talking about how we have in most western Europe been fighting for same sex marriage, but at the same time there have been trans lives at stake across the world, even in our part of the world.
>> Cormac: Absolutely. If you think about, not in Ireland but in the US when Scotus, the Supreme Court of the US, when they passed same sex marriage, was it the year after us? I think it was 2016 or 2017, in New York, in Greenwich village all these white middle class gay men were tweeting outcome to our same sex party, we’re celebrating having a party. All these trans women of colour were tweeting back we’d love to come to your party but we’re afraid we might get murdered on the way home!
So in answer to the issue of trans bodies and homonormativity, I think, my personal view on this, I’m thinking off the top of my head here, not so much coming from a scholarship point of view, I think trans people sit outside of homonormativity and in a good way, and rightly so, because they’re creating radical pathways to think about gendered bodies and operating within normative structures, whereas they are finding ways to operate outside of them. I think we have an awful lot to learn from the way trans communities are organising, particularly trans communities of colour, in the US.
The whole idea of telling your own story, from what I can tell, that came from trans women of colour in New York, Janet Mock famously said it is crucial that those whose stories need to be told tell their open stories, that’s something we were hearing a lot about over the last decade or so, of your own voice, your own story and only you can tell your own story.
>> Interesting, I think there was one who was asking, you partially answered that, someone asked in terms of how homonormativity affects gay men significantly different to gay women, you came into that as well, but I do think it’s about the lived experience of certain people as well and it’s about also making sure that those people have the space to tell about the lived experience, because we have a lot of assumptions of what people go through, but we kind of, in the same sense, we use it in race as well, to kind of say we often hear people say oh I don’t see colour, or I don’t see race, but in reality you have to then also think about saying for black people, they see colour, they see race, because it is being seen as a person of colour is something that happens every day. In the same sense, if you are a minority in anyway, you will have a lived experience that others will have ideas about, but us with privilege need to listen as well.
>> Cormac: I know we’re moving to Kate now, but a final point before, it’s that thing that Sarah Schulman says about homonormativity and stuff, a very life is presented through a very privileged lens, but presented as the norm and therefore we are all to aspire to this, and I’m wondering if that is the same for race bodies, bodies that are non white bodies, that whiteness is somehow presented to them as the aspirational model, you know? And it ties in with Lauren Berlan’s idea of cruel optimism whereby neoliberal capitalism presents us with this perfect life, but our quest to get that is much more harmful to our thriving than getting that life ever could be.
Anyway, I think it’s time for me to hand over now to Kate, I think, yeah?
>> Rita: You’re going to hand back to me now Cormac! Thank you very much. This is just amazingly interesting and fascinating. And a perfect segue in all we’ve been talking about into our Break for Art. So I’m going to pass you right over to our arts correspondent in residence, Kate Brennan Harding, take it away Kate.
>> Kate: Hi everybody how are we all, yet again posting the arts correspondence from Dublin from the kitchen I grew up in, which in a subversive way is very queer for me.
I am delighted to introduce Jaime Nanci, are you there? Hi, how are you?
>> Hello (dog barks)
>> Kate: I’m worried about my dog barking as well, but that’s perfect. Jaime, you have been someone that I have got to know over the years, from various queer performances, your voice is amazing and our listeners and watchers will enjoy, we will have music from you in a little bit, but I really want to start, that conversation was amazing, what it brought up for me around you, is your picture at the marriage referendum, when the results were announced and the video of you with Michael your husband is one of the most powerful images for me on that day, but to me you couldn’t embody anything that is homo normative, so what has it been like being someone who is a married gay man, who is completely and utterly queer?
>> Jaime: A married queer man I guess. For us, we got married in South Africa five years before marriage was legalised in Ireland, I think we had just gotten civil partnership in Ireland, for us it was always a subversive act, it was a political thing. It wasn’t sorry, first and foremost it was commitment between the two of us, because we were soul mates and that was something we wanted to do, just to be clear about who we were to each other. But also it was a fuck you to the establishment to say we are married, I don’t care if you think we’re not.
And that’s kind of been how, with a lot of personal work and self development, that is how I have lived most of my life really. Not consciously, I just have a problem with I respect authority and I respect rules and I’m actually a bit of a rule follower in a lot of ways, but only if I think those rules are right.
>> Kate: I completely get that. I remember watching you guys getting civil partnered and I remember being so proud of, not just you, but friends of mine who were doing it and it was doing it for rebellion, it was doing it to kick against the heteronormative world by ironically taking over the heteronormativity, you know what I mean and making it queer? And I just, I have been kind of getting Minister and more, when it came down to the marriage referendum I was more and more obviously campaigning and fighting for it and I’m engaging and going to be getting married myself, yay! But to me it’s still a subversive act in terms of it’s how I choose to live and present myself out there, you know, I think it’s an important distinction to make that we still are our queer selves.
We had a conversation before we joined in here, around always being different from being very young, you were telling me about that, do you want to say a little more about that?
>> Jaime: I was a sissy, that was it really. I was a sissy. I didn’t know I was gay, I didn’t know I was queer, I didn’t know before I knew I liked boys, I liked Barbies you know, I had the, my parents, obviously my dad is a builder but luckily he always had an artists kind of stole and my mother is from a very eccentric family, so it wasn’t so difficult, but my dad had trained to be a priest, so there was some elements of catholicism that were there.
But there was no, I couldn’t I was just me. I wasn’t trying to be anybody else and I didn’t know that it was wrong, until I started seeing people like Quentin crisp or Kenneth Williams and seeing, the only queers I saw on TV were the fairies and the sissies, often they were the butt of the joke or they were the victim.
Then obviously AIDS came along and I thought being gay meant you just died of AIDS, there was so much that was there. Then I joined, when I came out and started going out on the gay scene that was the first time I started to try and turn my, dim my light or conform a little bit to homonormativity I guess, to try and fit in there because I thought I would fit in there and it took a while to find my tribe and my chosen family I guess.
>> Kate: Yeah I’m going to talk to you a little more about that after we hear from you, the first song, will you introduce it for me please?
>> Jaime: This is a song I wrote, actually again I think this is I’m married, but this is about an adventure at the gay beach in the sand Dunes, it’s a love song, this is called oh medusa.
>> Kate: Thank you.
# oh medusa, if I had his charms I’d easily seduce ya
# oh medusa
# scorching dragon fly carress, up in the Dunes we undress
# see the Gorgona breath
# from the waters to the sand, I begin to understand
# dropped stones are really far more valuable than diamonds
# from the waters to the shore it’s never been so clear before
# turn to stone, I drag you down beneath the waves
# oh medusa …
# oh medusa, if I had his strengths I’d easily refuse you
# oh medusa, and from the waters to the sand
# I begin to understand that I could fill you with a glance
# you sing the gods on to their graves
# your beauty captures and enslaves
# how many sailors dived deep searching for your cave
# let me be your mess
# flays skin from my flesh
# Macerate me
# leave me washed up and parched by the sun
# oh medusa, mm …
# oh medusa …
# oh medusa … oooh …
>> Kate: I know, I’m like, I really needed that to be honest! I think everybody else did, I love your cheeky sexy little look to the camera. Jaime, we’ve got some lovely comments there, not sure did you see them? One was this is wonderful, first time in ages I wish I was watching TV as there would add ad breaks I totally have to pee but I don’t want to miss a bit.
I just want to talk a little bit with you, because I said to you a number of years ago, we went frolicking around electric picnic and hand in happened, and you’re a costume designer, you’re a milliner and you were wearing an amazing Blazer with teddy bears all over it that evening stuck to me. How you present yourself in the world has grown and evolved, have you do you find that you are, I suppose we were talking about this earlier, about you describe yourself mainly as Fem and you come up against people telling you that you’re not, would that be right?
>> I’ve always thought that they was Fem, I think I’m Fem, I don’t know. I think I sound Feme I think I walk Fem, I do a lot of work to accept that, I think I was as much as anybody else thinking I have to be more of a manor I’m in danger or not attractive, all of those things. Going through my 30s I was able to accept it or explore my member anyone tea, with confidence and relish it and look at the history of the queer movement and the sissies and the sissy Queens and the fairies and the trans women, they are all the people that are the champions, so crazy to me to even think that there was a time when I was embarrassed by the fact that I might be more that I’m feminine, feminine presenting or something, but I’m a man, so I’m a man presenting, you know what I mean? To me now, this conversation about the binary is really exciting and interesting, because I can explain myself now, you know what I mean? I feel like oh yeah … this is, I’m not saying I’m feminine or masculine or anything and nobody has the right to say that about anybody else.
>> Kate: That’s exactly it. I suppose I identify in a different way in terms of being told, with love not with badness, but being slagged when I came out about no you’re not batch, you’re too soft and feminine to be butch. And it’s like that butch identity is really important to me, even if I’m not a stone butch or butch enough or whatever people want to say, and it’s kind of like I’m 40 now, I look back fondly at the level of queerness that five year old me had and all the way through, it’s like there’s some part though knows you are not swimming in the same stream as everybody else. And it’s kind of exciting to then get older and own it a bit more I think?
>> Yeah it’s really positive if you can. It makes your life so much easier if you can accept yourself. I think I was saying to you earlier, the biggest hurdle is, for yourself to be your own authentic self is when you look at how you, when you imagine how other people perceive you.
>> Kate: Completely. I’m just, you have two albums now, for people who want to find them and listen to you, you’re on Spotify Jaime Nanci and the blue boys, what projects have you coming up that you can let people know about?
>> Obviously at the minute with Covid … I did a masters two years ago I started a song cycle as part of that, it was about Ireland and Irish weather and about Spain and about moving to Spain and in the middle of all of that I came to Spain and then this whole thing happened, just trying to write. Here I can go out and play some gigs, but they are few and far between. So I’m just trying to really do things like this are super, and I think Emma was talking about finding the novelty, this is such a novelty to talk to people!
>> Kate: And to talk to a bunch of people who kind of, we fit in the same, sort of same stream as us.
>> That’s the thing! I’ve made some really good friends here, but they’re predominantly straight. I met a young Irish queer about a month ago and it was so nice to have a conversation with somebody where certain things just made sense. That’s the queer sensibility that people don’t have. I think the closest thing that straight people have to queerness is wokeness maybe, you know people that are I know that’s controversial really as well, but I think there are a lot of straight people that are queer minded.
>> Kate: Yeah, completely. I think queer is an umbrella for people who fit in the margins. I know wherever I go, whatever city I’m in, in the world. I find and sniff out the queerest place I can find, you know what I mean, it’s not necessarily completely sexuality, you’re not necessarily gay, lesbian, you’re somewhere in there in the margins. Jaime we’re going to another track of yours, but beforehand, anyone watching, we have a donation button, it’s in your chat, I’m pointing at my screen which is probably opposite to you all. This is, we’re basically asking people to put their hands in their pockets, pass the hat around, Jaime is being paid, all our artists, but we are looking to up that so therefore please donate to The Gay Project the link is in the chat box there. Jaine Nanci thank you for joining us
>> Thank you for inviting us, so nice to meet you and I’m really thrilled to be invited to do this
>> Kate: I’m going to post a link to your work to see and hear what you are about. Introduce the next song for me.
>> This is a song originally by the carpenters but in my opinion by the divine bette midler.
>> Thank you very much Jamie that was our Break for Art.
>> Love you guys bye!
# long ago, not so far away
# I fell in love with you, before the second show
# your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear
# baby, but you’re not really here
# it’s just the radio
# don’t remember you told me you loved me baby?
# said you’d be coming back this way again baby
# it’s over baby, baby, baby, baby oh baby
# love you
# loneliness it’s such a sad affair
# oh I can hardly wait
# just to sleep with him again
# what can I say to make you come again,
# come back to me again, mm …
# to play that sad guitar
# don’t you remember you told me you loved me baby
# said you’d be coming back this way again baby
# love you …
# loneliness, is such a sad affair
# I can hardly wait, just to sleep with him again
# what can I say to make you come again
# baby, come back to me again
# come back to me and play that sad guitar
# don’t you remember you told me you loved me baby
# said you’d be coming back this way again oh baby
# you told me baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby
# I love you
# I really do
>> Kate: Oh my God, so beautiful. I’m emotional.
>> Rita: Really gorgeous, Jamie thank you so much, Kate, thank you so much.
>> Kate: My pleasure.
>> Rita: You’re doing a stunning job I have to say, only two weeks in and I kind of think okay it’s going to have to go downhill after this, really! But I trust you. And I know that, Jaime thank you so much, that was absolutely gorgeous. And the saxophone, gorgeous!
So that’s a lovely way now to come back into Cormac, I’m going to pass you over to Thomas again and Thomas has some more questions for Cormac, thank you Thomas.
>> Cormac: Thomas just before you ask me any question. Jaime I am profoundly moved, I don’t know if you can see it here, I’m there’s context to that song and there’s history to that song for me personally and I didn’t think anyone could ever best Karen carpenter’s velvet voice singing that, but you have adjust done it for me, and I just I’m really profoundly moved by your performance, it’s a lot to do with Covid has separated myself and my partner, we can’t be together at the moment, our 15th anniversary we spent apart, the first time ever, that was our song, and you just sang it. Thank you. I won’t emote any more. Because I need to switch gears back into the questions Thomas is going to ask me, but Jaime, you just gave me a gift, you really did, thank you so much for that. And sorry for being a big blouse.
>> Thomas: Honestly you’re not Cormac, I think this is the right space to feel, to express yourself, to emote and be honest about how you feel, that’s probably why so many of us are here.
>> Cormac: I probably listen to that song daily.
>> Thomas: I have to say as well I was sitting here, it did also on an emotional level set its roots in me.
>> Cormac: It comes back to what we were saying about queer art, and homonormativity and the way Jaime said that he found a space for himself outside of normative boundaries if you like around his queerness and found, landed on a way of expressing his art that meant he stood in the truth of his own art, and therefore didn’t have to make his art easily digestible to anybody, so therefore he could be true about it and therefore does what arts should do, which is provoke this kind of affective response in somebody.
>> Thomas: Definitely, I also think there is something, even though I can say because I’m not coming from a scholarly perspective on this necessarily, but there is a profound need in all of us I think to, when we are when we’re struggling to find our place in society there’s always a thing of advocating for ourselves and I think that’s very important to do, and the way Jaime did that so epically with that piece, but I think there’s something that we can all do in our daily lives to advocate for who we are in that sense, because we need to we’re talking about lived experiences before, we can all pinpoint whether we are gay men, gay women, trans and this is already, look how I put that in an order in itself, because that is of course what the moniker already does, when we think about sexuality we think in that order, gay men, gay female and trans, also allowing others to be included and made aware of.
But coming, as I say the lived experiences we need to advocate for and those we need to have in the centre.
>> Cormac: I think also David, Thomas! Sorry, we talk about the lived experience in advocating for the lived experience I think what we also need to be doing is when someone else one of our queer brothers or sisters is struggling is we need to know how to hold space for them until they can advocate their own lived experience again. So that’s queer solidarity, where when someone needs you to put out your hands an said here I’ll hold you until you take the rest you need and you can move on again.
>> Rita: Something I wanted to comment on there just from everything here, I’m thinking about intersectionality, which is something that hear and talk about, but I’m talking about it in terms of our own lives and lived experience and what Jamie was talking about, about finding a place you can stand in your truth and I was thinking about this notion of intersectionality internally as well as externally and we’ve all got so many bits of ourselves, I’ve got mother, grandmother, daughter, lesbian, friend … all my identities. If we have to hide our identities, I notice somebody in the chat was saying that they’re still quite closeted, if we have to hide our identity, if it has to be shoved off to the side, then that feels really difficult for us. And what we want is a place where all our identities can be present, at the intersection if you like of ourselves, everybody standing at the intersection, and is present.
So I just wanted to kind of, as Cormac would say, riff off that a wee bit in terms of intersectionality, it’s not always an external thing. We are intersectional beings.
>> Cormac: Absolutely. We talk about identities and landing on an identity that you’re comfortable with and that we may move, like an example I gave last week was in my 30s up until my late 30s I would have identified as a gay man, now I identify as queer. What we’re not talking about is bisexuality. And bisexuality seems to be sidelined in really, what I would say quite dangerous ways, because by silencing or sidelining you erase and it’s an identity that then gets erased. And it’s this terrible discourse, remember I said about discourse last week, it’s the way we talk about something.
There’s this awful discourse, particularly in Ireland around bisexuality of either undecided, that this person can’t make up their mind, or that it’s an excuse, a closety way of not fully coming out, or that it’s having your cake and eating it. And bisexuality is none of those things. Bisexuality is another sexual orientation, just as heterosexuality is a sexual orientation and we’ve got to remember that, when we talk about intersectionality, it’s not LG T, it’s LGBTQ, you know? And because bisexuality gets this awful discourse in society of one of those three things then there is the truth to stand in for bisexuals to stand in their own truth, it’s removed from them and taken away, and that space is no longer there.
I wonder if we could maybe, Thomas have you any thoughts on that?
>> Thomas: Again, obviously I’ve had some scholarly perspective and literature on it, but I do think coming back to also what is happening from my contemporary gay community, in terms of I’ve got a couple of bifriends and many of them would say that even a lot of gay people would see bisexuals as being privileged in that sense that oh they can just choose, but that’s coming from an ignorant assumption again.
>> Cormac: Bisexuals aren’t choosing. We come back to the notion of human desire and then society comes along and categorises and labels human desire into all these boxes.
>> Thomas: I just wanted to come back to, it’s a good train of thought you are going into, thinking about how it is that we categorise ourselves, obviously we have a struggle here that we have the right for sexual minorities in society that we want to go for. So we keep discussing whether we should go by the LGBT plus moniker or whether or not we should free those up and allow for some kind of fluidity or a gradient of a spectrum where it is that anything can happen in between there.
So there is a bit of a conflict, we had one question last time that did relate to these social groups, it was referred to as saying how can we continue the struggle when it is that we have all these gradients in between, how do we address them? And I just want to say in comments I appreciate somebody pointing out I left out bisexuals that confirmed my own bias as well, but when we come to it, you talking about intersectionality, how we can meet at a certain point where we can all agree on the same thing, but where does the debate go from then on? Freeing up, allowing for fluidity and gradients and nuance in between the spectrum or these categorised boxes?
>> Cormac: I think that’s where this wonderful umbrella term of queer comes in, and it’s not just a term, but it’s a space, it’s a broad identity and it’s also a very good friend of mine, Waterford’s most wonderful lesbian, she’s a therapist and she often says that queer is also a resting place where you can come to, while there’s other things going on in your life, and not necessarily issues of sexual orientation or sexual identity, but that queer is a place you can come to, to rest.
And I think one of the issues we have around intersectionality in Ireland is that we are an homogenously white culture and that when we talk about intersectionality we sometimes confuse that with just the ethnic side of intersectionality, that we think oh yeah, we need to get a more diverse ethnic cultural mix into whatever we’re doing or whatever our event is.
But of course intersectionality isn’t just about ethnicity, it’s also about bisexuality, it’s about trans, it’s about Femme men, it’s about butch women, it’s about every aspect of any person who feels that they can not or will not operate within normative structures and they need somewhere to come to. And queer I think provides that, on all sorts of levels, not just an identity, but a community, a holding space, yeah.
>> Thomas: I think that’s a great answer as well. Do you want to add on to that Rita?
>> Rita: Turn on my mic first! Which always helps. Yeah, a couple of things. I’d love us to get back to the question around gender and kind of homonormativity and what’s Femme men and real men and who decides what a man is, how to build a gay man and all that good stuff.
But also somebody asked could you explain what neoliberal capitalism is Cormac?
>> Cormac: Okay, I’ll pars that very quickly. Neoliberal capitalism, it’s called neoliberal meaning new liberal, it’s an emulation of late 19th century, early 20th century less affaire economics where the idea is that you just, that the betterment of society will, individuals will be bettered and will have better lives if government steps back and let’s business get on with it, don’t regulate business in anyway and just give them, you hear often in America the freedom, what they want is the freedom to make more money.
So neoliberal capitalism has emerged in the late 70s and 80s through Margaret Thatcher and Ronald ray began and Charlie Haughey here in Ireland, it’s all about the creation of markets, so while it has the kind of conservative ethos of very little state involvement in the economy, it’s kind of paradoxical, in that business and industry and the banks in particular will rely on government to do certain things, such as provide a viable currency, prop up the banks when they go under.
So it’s all about entrepreneurial freedoms and rights which sound like good things but it’s not, it creates a very divided society, so neoliberal capitalism is hyper capitalism, capitalism on speed almost. So things like where markets did not before exist, they must be created, so those of you who remember a time when your bins being collected was included in your tax, your tax covered the bins being lifted every week. Now there are bin companies that we must pay.
The same like creating markets around the environment, around water, stuff like that, they’ve been trying to get us to pay for water for years, whereas before all that stuff was just in the general taxation. So constantly the idea of marketing being created, then it ties in with what you’re saying about gender, in that gender is commodified, so markets can be created around gender whereas there is just shampoo, all of a sudden you can create two markets by having man’s shampoo and woman’s shampoo, you know what I mean? So that’s in a nutshell, that’s what neoliberal capitalism is, giving business and bankers the freedom to make as much money as they want, reducing the role of the State, therefore that’s where you get things like zero hours contracts, no health benefits etcetera.
Businesses have the freedom, not just to create as much money as they want, but they have the freedom to treat their workers as they want in the service of creating as much money as they want. Okay?
>> Rita: That’s brilliant Cormac, thank you for that wonderful explanation, and it’s really relevant again, and another question that was asked last week that we didn’t get to was, it could be interesting if you could tie this in with the gender thing, being specifically anti capitalist, should or where is the space or is there space for queer organisations, queer agencies like ours, NGOs, to be specifically anti capitalist, is that a good queer thing to be? We could maybe come back to that I know we’re reasoning out of time and I really want to talk about building the proper gay man.
>> Cormac: I do want to come back to that, obviously my field of speciality is masculinities, it’s what I wrote my Ph.D. on, it’s what my book is on. Jaime said some wonderful stuff there around considering himself Femme, and then could I ever be butch? And I can’t, I didn’t take notes on what he said, I’m going it talk anecdotally here for a minute before I get into academia talk.
For many, many years I the book won’t be out till April, people are asking can they get the book for Christmas, it won’t be out till April sorry. I met with my editor today, it won’t be out till April.
For many years up until really I went to university and studied masculinities and note I pluralise that word, masculinities. For many years people would say aren’t you a great young man? And I cringed when people called me a man. So much that I went on a journey to ask myself am I trans? And I went through that questioning process and arrived at the conclusion that no I am a Cis man and it was when I got to university and started studying masculinities and we pluralise that word because there are many different ways of being a man. And what I discovered was the reason I had been cringing when somebody called me a man was because of the role model of manhood I saw growing up, as a boy in Ireland in the 70s, just wasn’t what I wanted to be. It was misogynistic, it was patriarchal, it wasn’t very well presented. So in my head, when someone called me a man that’s what they meant. And then when I got into in depth critical study of men and masculinities I suddenly realised there are lots of different ways of being a man and I don’t need to be uncomfortable with the term “Man” because it’s not that.
So it brings us onto the idea of building the man. Building the happy homo sexual or whatever. Katie can I ask you to, just slide number three would that be okay there? So this is what we’re thinking about, this applies across the sexuality spectrum of masculinity and manhood, that so often, I hear it on the radio and on TV all the time, people talk about masculinity as if it’s this one monolithic state, you know? And yet the way I’m expressing my masculinity right now is going to be very different to the way it will be in half an hour when I’m no longer in front of an audience of 100 or so people, then it’s going to be different to how I express it when I communicate with my straight neighbour next door and then it’s going to be different how I express my masculinity when I talk to Thomas next week, because we’re two queers, you know what I mean?
So we’ve got to stop thinking of masculinity of this one monolithic thing, we have to pluralise it and realise there are many different forms of masculinity. “Masculinity is not one aye historical fixed state of being that applies to all men at all times, but rather a set of ever changing, geo politically specific models of manhood that are shaped by socio political, cultural, religious and economic forces outside of the male subject. So it’s about the environment creating the way men express their masculinity. “This notion of many different, culturally and temporally models of manhood” meaning they change overtime “Leads to the concept of multiple masculinities. There by not only pluralising masculine characteristics and mind sets, but further making a definite separation between the bodies of men and the social configurations of masculinities that are mapped across those bodies. Men and masculinity, for so long assumed to be one and the same thing, are now intellectually conceptualised as separate but mutually dependent entities”
I wanted to come into that idea because Jaime express it had so well when he was talking about as an artist when I was a kid I was definitely a sissy, got a lot of homophobic bullying over it, because it was 1970s Ireland and boys didn’t play with the girl next door, they played with the boy next doorment then you internalise that as you grow up, you get internalised homophobia, your internalised questioning, it can lead to anxiety and PTSD as people get older, so I think we really need to broaden that out with queer manhood, that there are very many ways of expressing your gendered identity and we need to keep pluralising and spectrumising did I just invent a new word. Thomas, do you have any thoughts there?
>> Thomas: I think it’s very interesting, because even coming from very metro sexual Copenhagen and then coming to what you can say then actually ending updating a rural farmer from Cork, is something that, you can kind of say masculinity is defined very differently in Copenhagen compared to here in Cork as well. Then we have one shared thing of course, that we’re both gay men, but we just look at masculinity in two different ways. But we also as you say, they are also temperature oral in that sense in that they shape overtime, not just where you come from, it’s also your movement through space and time that your masculinity changes.
>> Cormac: Yeah I’d have to go digging on the file system so I won’t, I’ll describe it, often when I’m teaching students I show a picture you know Louis 14th the sun king, big hair, a smock coat and white tights and high heels? And if you look at what’s sold on, as the sexy nurse costume, they look almost identical, so the dominant form of 18th century masculinity is now a fetish ised female sex costume, so that just shows you how these things change over history.
>> Thomas: Yeah, I guess it can also open up to not only sexual minorities or minorities in general as a way of looking, I think for allies who are watching this it can also open up looking at masculinities amongst straight men, as well. There are a lot of norms that straight men are not comfortable with. This is relevant for us because we are two queers, male queers.
>> Cormac: I mentioned in the last quotation hegemonic masculinity which I didn’t touch on, we are coming very close to time, but basically although there are many different forms, ways of being a man hegemonic masculinity is the term we give to, in any given era, in any given culture, in any time, one dominant form of being a man will rise to the surface and we call that hegemonic masculinity however it’s an idealized guy, it’s Superman, the guy in the Gillette add, the guy in the car ad, this man does not exist. Most men, primarily heterosexual men are aspiring and trying to be this guy which leads to a lot of problems then, because internal doubt and self doubt and suspicion, but among men it’s all about competition and peer surveillance, am I being Manley enough? Is he? But all the time aspiring to this ideal guy who can never exist. So masculinity, particularly heterosexual hegemonic masculine Dee becomes problematic because people are always trying to be something they can not be. And then some theorists say if hegemonic masculinity doesn’t exist, does manhood even exist? You know? And I think that might be a question to close on perhaps!
>> Rita: What a great question, does manhood exist? Cormac, I think we’ll have to come back to that one. Does manhood exist?
>> Cormac: Well the first chapter of my book is called the fantasy of manhood.
>> Rita: And something we haven’t touched on this evening that we will come to I’m sure through the course of events is female masculinity.
>> Cormac: Yeah Judith Jack Halverstam, before Jack transitions he was Judith and his first academic book was published under the name Judith, but he wrote his first academic book was called female masculinity and it’s a really interesting book, it’s accessible, not just for academics and Jack talks about the difficulty of prying apart masculinity from the male body and he says when you look at drag kings and female masculinity, that the difference between masculinity and the actual bodies that it embodies, become easier to pry apart, that masculinity and male bodies become easier to pull apart when we look at female masculinity.
>> Rita: So interesting, we could talk about this all night. I’m going to round this up and bring us to a close. Can I thank everybody. Thank you Emma, Dr Emma for your great job, thank you Kate, amazing as always. Thank you Jaime if he’s still with us, Jaime, glorious and gorgeous. Thank you Cormac, Cormac your fan club is also growing! And I just want to say, I introduced you to Cormac people, it was me who brought you Cormac, please remember that!
Thomas, sure what can I say, Thomas, again the fan club grows. He is a complete star. Cormac and Thomas want to have their own chat show. I think we could probably do that! Thank you so much to our captioner who is there in the background and has been doing a brilliant job all evening. And thank you so much to Alyssa who has been doing a fantastic job minding the chat. And of course thank you to everybody who joined us online.
>> Cormac: Can we all just thank Rita. Thank you Rita for making this happen.
>> Rita: You are welcome. It’s an absolute pleasure and a joy. So again we didn’t necessarily get to all the questions and they were great questions. The session will go up on the website, hopefully by Monday, we’re still figuring all this stuff out, but we will get there, so the recording will be up on the website, the transcript will be available. The chat can also be made available, somebody has asked earlier on can they have the chat? Yes absolutely. And please don’t hesitate to get in touch if there’s anything we can do to help you enjoy this more than you are. And with that I’m going to go to Thomas and say Thomas, oh I forgot to thank Katie! Katie from GCN, who saved our bacon, St. Katie the lesbian with the lanyard who came to save us all.
And on that note, Thomas, you can turn us off!
>> Thomas: Goodbye everyone and thank you so much and thank you for the love in the comments, honestly it fills our hearts. See you!
- Dr Cormac O’Brien, University College Dublin gives us a historical and contemporary outline on queerness.
- Kate Brennan Harding, Media Producer and Presenter is Curating the ‘Break for Art’.
- Dr Emma Hurley, Psychologist and Researcher.
Break for art artist:
- Jaime Nancie, Queer Jazz Vocalist and Songwriter.
The History of the Homosexual:
Transcript – view below or download as PDF:
Queer Hedge School – Week 1:>>RITA: Hello, you’re very welcome. I mean Doris, really throwing her leg over that saddle horn! Welcome to Queer Hedge School.I’m Rita Wild and I’m the education officer with The Gay Project and I am ably assisted this evening by the gorgeous Thomas, and the gorgeous Michael, give us a wave Michael, and you can also see on your screens the wonderful Kate Brennan Harding and the very fancy Cormac O’Brien.
First, we’ll do a little bit of housekeeping I must say you’re very, very welcome. We have 115, participants online, which is only amazing. And you’re more than welcome to put your questions in the chat box, but if you all ask questions, we might have a wee bit of difficulty getting through them. But we’ll do our best.
First, I’ll do a bit of housekeeping, if you’d like to use our closed caption facility, that’s live captioning, you see a little button at the bottom of the screen that says closed captions and you can turn them on there. Our captioner this evening is Michelle, and they are working away in the background.
Your microphones and videos will be turned off and will remain off throughout the session. But as I say, you can put your questions in the chat box. And finally, you’ll see in the chat box a donation link to our very fast and very effective, you can throw us a few bob, don’t hesitate. If you feel moved to give us your money, we would be delighted to have it and we will absolutely put it to good use.
And now, I’m going to pass you over to the lovely Michael, who is going to tell you a little bit about The Gay Project.
>> MICHAEL: Thank you Rita. Hey folks, I’ll tell you a little bit about the work that we do, first I asked Thomas to play us a quick video that illustrates the work a bit better than I might in so many words.
Thanks, a mill Tom, I always feel like that video can say a lot more than I can. I suppose in essence, what The Gay Project does is we work with, we’re an Irish NGO, not for profit for anyone zooming in from overseas, I suppose we work with gay, bi and trans men. There are four pillars to the work, we do, we set up social groups, sporting groups, cultural clubs, we provide information and resources, so that could be in relation to sexual health, mental health and parents for example whose young person is coming out might approach us looking for that type of information, we deliver workshops and talks, which is, this is the essence of that, delivering workshops online and training. We also deliver workshops in schools and workplaces. And then the last one is that we advocate for LGBTQ+ human rights and policy protections and there’s a wide range of ways that we do that as well. So, I’ll, with that I’ll pass you back over to Rita.
>> RITA: Thanks a million Michael. I look at that video and think it looks like we all gad about, have a great old time gadding about, and we do, we do a lot of gadding about and it’s very good for us!
So, without further ado, I am going to pass over to Thomas, who is going to play a video for you, which is a recording of an interview that I did with Ruth McCarthy, who is the artistic director of the Outburst Arts Festival. And Ruth unfortunately wasn’t able to be with us live this evening, because she’s right in the middle of her own recordings for the festival, but she very kindly made time to do an interview, so we’ll pass over to Thomas now, who is going to put Ruth up, and Ruth will run for about 30 minutes. Thanks Thomas.
>> RITA: Hello. So, I am really delighted to introduce you all to Ruth McCarthy and Ruth and I are going to have a chat, as a bit of an introduction to the Queer Studies Programme. We’ll hear a bit about that later from Cormac, but for now I want to introduce you to my dear friend, and partner in crime when we were both girls, Ruth McCarthy. Ruth is the executive director or artistic director I should say, and founder of the Queer Arts Festival in Belfast, which is enormously successful. Possibly one of the most successful Queer Arts Festivals on the planet, but anyway, we could talk about that for hours alone.
I thought about how I was going to introduce Ruth and you know, she has that many accolades that it would take up all the time we have to tell you about them. So, I’m just going to say to you, she’s very, very fancy! She’s a very fancy queer. The good bit is she’s from Limerick, so she’s no notions, so the fancy and no notions just run lovely. So, this is Ruth, and Ruth and I are going to have a chat about why big ideas and dangerous ideas are really important.
>> RUTH: Great, lovely. Thank you, that’s a great introduction Rita. Just to clarify, I’m one of the people who was involved with Outburst in the beginning, but it was founded by a group of people and a collective of people, so I’m always, I think that’s very important to say, that it started from a very grass roots community place, but I’ve been there through the whole thing.
>> RITA: So, we had thought about, we wanted to talk about why it’s important that these dangerous ideas aren’t stuck in a dusty cabinet somewhere, but that they’re actually running free in the community, and neither Ruth nor I are academics and most of the rest of the people that you’re going to hear from throughout this programme are academics, they’ve got some really great ideas to share with us. But I wanted you to hear from Ruth as an activist, who is translating those ideas into actions and often in fact creating the ideas first, that then get fed up into the academics to be written about.
So, we’re very old activists Ruth and I, in fact we’re nearly probably artifacts at this stage! If we didn’t move for too long somebody might dust us! And we sat around drinking cups of tea in rooms and talked about these big dangerous ideas, and we’re both really aware that that kind of doesn’t exist anymore. So, Ruth, you’re full of dangerous ideas, how did those dangerous ideas get trapped in university, what happened?
>> RUTH: I don’t think they are. First of all, I would say I don’t think they’re trapped. I think there’s certainly a perception, I think around what we call queer studies or queer ideas in an intellectual sense that it resides in universities, it starts at the universities, but queer studies and queer ideas and queer intellectual concepts, started with activists and artists, in fact that’s where it all came from.
We’ve always had intellectuals who were queer, we’ve always had queer thinkers. But in terms of what we call queer theory now, I’m not a queer theorist and there’s very little queer theory that I’ve read, I’ve read Judith Butler which was very informative but I do understand the concepts and ideas and I do think that quite in depth thinking around queer lives and experiences or LGBTQ+ lives and experience is really important, and sometimes when we’re talking about those ideas a certain language is needed. And I think that’s where things feel like they’re trapped.
So, people use words like hegemony and intersectionality and all of these words that you will often hear that are starting to be used more and more in the everyday in terms of activism but it can turn a lot of people off. But all they are talking about is stuff that you and I probably know to a certain extent already but they’re writing it down, talking about it and trying to understand where it’s coming from and where it’s going. And that’s all that queer theory is, just taking that lived experience and ideas around it and just taking it apart and examining it. And it’s really important to do that so that we can understand a little bit more about what’s going on.
So, when you say Rita that those things of sitting around having cups of tea don’t happen, I think they don’t, I don’t think they happen in as formal ways any more. The nature of community has changed. The nature of queer spaces has changed. And I think that’s the key thing, that when we wanted to gather and find our people in the past we had to physically go to spaces, so you and I came out, there was a women’s scene in Ireland, there was a lesbian feminist scene in Ireland, we all knew each other, we all knew the Galway dykes, the Dublin dykes and the Cork dykes, there was different events at different times of year they’d organise, there was a network, they’d hang out and conversations were had. Then there were women who weren’t involved in the groups who would have smaller groups, people they know have those conversations and people that had no interest in politics or having those conversations just wanted to get on as best they could in life.
But certainly, the world that I came out into was a world of those conversations and I do think it’s changed because those spaces have changed. The unfortunate thing that happens when things get better, is that we maybe don’t need those spaces or we think we don’t need those spaces any more. But actually, the thing is I think we need them more than ever. And I think in part that’s to do with the fact that we know that history, or progress isn’t always necessarily linear, you can sometimes get turned back, like what we’re seeing in the States at the moment. And we need to understand what happens and why that happens.
So, for me that’s why thinking, queer thinking is really important and really examining things and what’s happened, like this is purely from a personal point of view, it’s not to do with ideology, not to do with any “isms”, it’s observations of what my experience is. I’ve been out since 1986, which is a huge amount of time in one way but in the other ways, it feels like yesterday certainly.
But in that time, I was an activist pretty much straight away, but in that time, we’ve seen queer life or LGBT life go from people who became activist because we needed that to happen because we had no rights whatsoever, or very little rights. When I came out it was still homosexuality was still illegal in Ireland, mad to think of that now, my God! But as soon as politics or activism starts to become more professionalised, which it needs to be in some ways, you need to get resources, you have to work with government. But when you start working with people you compromise; you have to compromise.
So, if you’re working with government then you’re working a little bit with an agenda that people are having, then when you become professionalised it attracts people who maybe don’t question things as much because they may be focusing on one or two specific goals, so in order to do that you have to abandon other things. So, I think that’s also what’s happened. So, two things for me that have happened, spaces have changed and the professionalisation of LGBT spaces and working with government has meant that, I won’t say mission drift, but it becomes harder to say the things that you need to say that are critical, because you’re often biting the hand that feeds. And the hand that feeds can be pulled away very quickly.
So I would say those are the two reasons that we are maybe not having those conversations in the same way and just finally to say, without going into a rant about it because it’s something I feel very passionately about, while I do believe that individual rights, like marriage rights and family rights and all that are incredibly important and people should totally have that choice, the focus on that over a number of years has pulled us away from the wider conversations and has pulled us away from looking at underlying factors that cause those inequalities in the first place.
I feel we stopped having conversations about the deeper levels of things and only had the conversations about the rights-based things, which needed to happen, but they need to happen in tandem with the rest of the underlying conversation. Unfortunately, I think it’s left us with a generation I think this generation is amazing by the way, the generation that’s coming up, I’m not going to diss young people I think they’re wonderful from my experience.
But I would say that it’s kind of has made us forget what we were capable of and the conversations we could have. Sarah Schulman talks about it in her book Gentrification of the Mind, if it’s not on your course it should be, everyone should read it, which is about having been untaught not untaught what we knew, but how we’ve been made to forget by being told it wasn’t us who did certain things, who made certain changes and who changed the world. And we did. So I don’t know if that answered your question Rita, but it certainly, I think the reason why a course like this needs to exist is because that loss of space and the loss of a deeper and wider conversation, in a general sense, I’m not saying it doesn’t still happen at all, and I don’t think it’s trapped in universities.
I think a lot of the people I knew certainly who were involved in art and making fanzines and doing very counter cultural stuff wanted to continue thinking and wanted to continue talking and one of the ways they could do that was to go into academia, so a lot of the academics I know started out as activists, or started out as people who really were wanting to change the world and are still doing that, but it’s about finding a way to have that two way conversation and a lot of people are doing that which is very exciting.
>> RITA: Yes, we hope to be part of that. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, so many, there’s so much in what you’ve said there. Then to kind of bring it back to the course and the why of this that you’ve hit on, is that having access to this information, talking about these ideas, thinking about these ideas, allows us to reframe the story, and what has happened us all is that we’ve been given frames, so we’ve been given a way in which to understand our lives, that we didn’t write. That’s not what we think. And it’s that absence of those queer spaces, so people are coming out today and are coming into a world where there’s a frame about who they are. And now in that frame, that big frame is gay marriage for example, and it’s become one of those things that you just accept as normal, really isn’t that a good thing? We stopped questioning the very institution of marriage. Let’s question everything.
So, it excites me, what really excites me about these ideas and what it’s done in my own life is that it’s allowed me to frame my life, reframe my life, in a way that makes the queer the hero of the story. And if we can be the hero in our stories, and we are so much well er in the world.
>> RUTH: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I’ll tell you very briefly about an experience I had this year that has kind of, that summed up to me why we need to do this and why it made me more determined more than ever to do education. I do my education through art and I’ll talk about that again I’m sure shortly. But I was at a conference, a museums conference, kind of a stately homes or something, I was asked to do a talk, there were people there from various, it was mainly like the royal palaces, but there were speakers from lots of places and there was a speaker from a museum in Ireland and they were talking about an exhibition that they were putting together and this person was, I won’t say quite young, but newly out, very enthusiastic, really lovely person.
They were talking about an exhibition that was on around LGBT stuff and someone had offered them the AIDS quilt, it was the woman who was behind the AIDS quilt in Ireland a lot of you might know that the AIDS quilt was a very important memorial, but also very political memorial to those who had died because of neglect essentially. She offered this to the exhibition, it was an incredibly important part of history. And they decided not to display it because it was too negative.
I remember being at the conference and kind of I kind of, there was no badness there. There was no this isn’t about slagging anybody, but it was like how did that happen? How did it happen that now that’s too negative, we want to end it with marriage equality and do all this kind of stuff?
Marriage equality, the fight for marriage equality was not something that I was ever aware of when I came out. It was something that really emerged in the 90s. And the reason that it probably emerged, and Monica Pearl talks about this in her book on AIDS Literature, the reason that it more than likely evolved into that was because of the AIDS crisis. Because suddenly for the first time you had a lot of very wealthy men who were losing homes that they had bought with partners because there were no rights, there were no rights in place, and they were dropping like flies, again because of neglect, and it was awful. So, a lot of the people who got involved during that time were professionals who would not have become activists, and suddenly there was an agenda around marriage rights.
>> RITA: Which makes great sense in that context, it makes perfect sense in that context.
>> RUTH: It does, it makes perfect sense. It goes back to what I said earlier on, about depending on who’s fighting for those rights and where we’re getting the resources to fight for the rights and who we’re having conversations with will lead that agenda.
But my point about that space was that if you’re a young queer person going to that exhibition, or even a heterosexual person or cisgender person going to that exhibition you are missing out a vital part of our history and why that happened and why that was allowed to happen and what happened to those mostly men, but not only men, and so we need to be talking about our own history, we need to be talking about the ideas and we need to be talking about what’s missing, why is it missing.
>> RITA: And who is missing? Which brings us beautifully into the other theme that’s going to run right through this programme and ties up beautifully in terms of this theme, we became very narrow in our focus, there were good reasons for that at the time. But it became the old story, because it was a nice simple one. That people could buy into. But who did we have to throw under the bus to do that?
So, we look back at things like the Stonewall, trans people, why do we have to recover that history? So back when you and I were sitting around drinking tea and shooting dangerous ideas we were much more intersectional than our community have become, a lot of that was down to the numbers, there were so few of us, we didn’t have the luxury to be segregated. It wasn’t because we were good, there was literally so few of us. This is one of the interesting things, kind of sort of aside but also important, that with the trans stuff all going crazy in America and in the UK, often the question is asked by why are you all so chill in Ireland about the whole trans thing? We’re so chill in Ireland about the whole trans thing because we’ve been working with trans people from the get go. There have been trans people in our communities from the get go, because there wasn’t enough of them to have a trans community and there wasn’t enough of us! And here we are now down the road, where nobody bats an eye lid.
Whereas in bigger communities people had the luxury of organising separately, but that’s we’re going to talk about space, one of the tutors, Emma Breathnach is going to talk about prejudice and privilege in our spaces, in queer spaces, and what that looks like and what would an intersectional queer space look like if we had such a thing?
So, one of the themes that’s going to run right through this is intersectionality. We’ve got to do this work; we have got to recognise the depth and breathe of the people who are identifying as LGBTQ+ and make spaces big enough to hold all of us. And that’s why these ideas are important too, because they make the space for thinking in our heads bigger. And if we can make the space for thinking in our heads bigger, we can make the spaces outside of our heads bigger, if that doesn’t all sound too highfalutin.
>> RUTH: No, not at all highfalutin, I do think that Ireland has always, because we have been small, we have always worked together, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t tensions, certainly between the men and women, there was very different needs there often, there’s very different issues that people are dealing with while there are commonalities as well, likewise with trans people and even up north where I live now, I’m in Belfast, everyone’s like there was no sectarianism, nobody cared about your religion in the queer scene, and you’re like, no it was just if you wanted to get laid or have a social life you probably didn’t want to ask too many questions, but it doesn’t mean that that wasn’t there, there have always been tensions but we tried to work together and sometimes we were forced to work together. Things can shift as well.
And while there’s not the same hateful trans phobia within the gay community in Ireland, I think it’s still in the LGB sector still.
>> RITA: It absolutely is, as is racism, as is sexism, as is ableism. We are far, far from the people we would like to think we are.
>> RUTH: Yeah but it goes back to the thing earlier Rita about when you step away from what this was all about to start with, the gay rights movement when it started was very much about sexual liberation for all, it was about looking at relationships and looking at our sexual, emotional relationships, our kinships, how we lived, how we gathered, what family was, who is family? We moved away from that as soon as it started becoming about individual rights and started becoming about specific rights. Again, really important, but you need the parallel conversation happening.
And I’m not saying that the gay rights movement from the beginning was immaculate, the organised movement was certainly quite white, it was people I always said it’s either people who have nothing to lose or people who are independently wealthy enough that they don’t have to worry about losing everything, and to me that’s who the gay rights movement was generally made up, the visible rights movement, of people who could put it on the line one way or the other. And ask those questions, ask wider questions.
Why are we oppressing someone based on the fact that they want to sleep with somebody of the same gender or why are we oppressing somebody who is otherly gendered, or who is different from their gender assigned at birth, or who is faggy please, I use these terms in the most affectionate way dykey or butch or faggy or effeminate, whatever way you want to put it, we need to address that in our own communities, we need to address what is acceptable, what are the good gays and who are the bad gays?
A lot of that is to do with intersections of poverty, of education, effeminacy, of stepping outside lines, this is going back, from my understanding this really helps us look at how our own internalised homophobia and trans phobia impacts on us and our decisions and the decisions we even make politically, because I see it in I’ve travelled the world working with queer organisations and queer artists all over the world, and you can see it in people sometimes, where this idea of respectability politics takes us away from the hard questions, because as soon as you start asking the hard questions you’re undermining authority and you’re undermining the status quo.
So, if you’re an uppity queer who starts talking about poverty, or even simpler than that, how we share resources in the world, who has access to power and who doesn’t, it comes down to that every time. Who has access to power and resources? As soon as you start talking about it in relation to gender, in relation to sex, in relation to power and so many different ways it’s so complex. In some ways it’s so easy but in other ways it’s so complex. And that’s what theory or talking about things helps us unpick and unpack in ourselves.
All of us, all of us, if you grew up in this world no matter how cool you think you are about your sexuality or gender, you are carrying a wild load of baggage, you are swimming in that ocean. So, to understand that in yourself is not only important, like everyone talks about self-development and personal development and mindfulness and all this, the best mindfulness you can have is to be aware of what you’re carrying and why you’re carrying it and how we can make sure other people aren’t carrying that in the future. And I think this type of learning and thinking and just talking with each other, let’s bring it back to that. That’s all it is, sometimes you have to use complex words because over a number of years those words built up to mean a very specific thing, to have a conversation, so it’s just like learning a language, it’s learning, it might sound like it’s a completely different language than English or Irish or whatever you are used to speaking, but it’s just to help us understand more difficult concepts. But when it comes down to it, all we’re asking here is how does this work, who has the power here, who’s this person here, who’s this person, who’s making the decision? And how does all of the underlying stuff affect us around gender and sexuality, whether it’s racial issues, or issues around poverty or other issues of social justice, reproductive rights are another one.
That’s what was amazing during the referendum to see queer activists working with feminists’ activists and it’s that kind of, that’s the practice, so all we’re learning about is the theory of why that’s important.
>> RITA: Yes and in doing that, in learning the theory of why it’s important, that gives us power, like we get x ray glasses to put on, we put on our x ray glasses and suddenly we can see the structures that are oppressing us, suddenly we can see how it’s impacting on us, on our bodies, our homes, on our relationships and once we see it we can do something about it. And in that there is an enormous freedom. So yes, let’s set the ideas free. Let’s set ourselves free. Ruth, thank you so much for helping me introduce this notion of big ideas, being dangerous and changing ourselves and changing the world. You’ve always been an inspiration to me in terms of those big ideas and hopefully now our wee chat will make it easier for some of the people watching to get stuck in to these big ideas.
>> RUTH: Thanks Rita, it’s great and important to talk about it, before we go just to say my specific area is arts. I lead a queer arts organisation, and the reason I’ve always said the reason I do that rather than went into politics or do other types of activism is that it helps translate all of these things that I’m talking about, so while some people find it hard to read books, they might not just even read for pleasure never mind read for deeper learning that way, one place that’s always really great for looking at these ideas and playing with these ideas is in art and theatre, in music, in dance, performance. Look you can walk into a drag club and there’s some of that going on ahead of you. If you follow through on a programme like this, going into a space like that and seeing a show suddenly something else opens up for you. Suddenly you understand why our drag queens are our sacred clowns in one way and can say the things they might say some dodgy shit sometimes, but the art is, art is really important and it’s a way that we can really connect with these ideas and I’m sure some of the people in your programme will be talking about that.
But just to be aware that it’s not always about sitting down and having to read heavy literature, that artists have always translated these ideas and artists have always in fact initiated a lot of these ideas that theorists then go to. There’s a lot of academics that end up working around Outburst, the festival that I run, for that exact reason. Artists are unpacking and unpicking things all the time and asking questions, so the two work very well in tandem together.
So, if you’re not a book reader look to films, I’m sure I can give Rita a hand putting a film list together.
>> RITA: We have somebody who is going to talk to us, Padraig Kerrigan and his specialist field is media and communications and he is going to look at all that stuff. I’m sorry we didn’t get more time to get stuck into the meat of that very important translation of the ideas and the informing of art by these ideas and more recent phenomenon in our lives is drag kings and the whole idea of masculinity and feminine masculinity, and that’s gorgeous, that’s glorious work, and we have, just following on from us now we have Cormac who I met, for the first time at one of your events, Outburst, one of the queen’s events where I believe I was giving him a hard time on the panel as he reminded me so Cormac is going to talk to us about masculinity and feminine masculinity, and that is on the stage right now in the drag kings in Ireland and that scene and we’ve had it with the drag queens, I love that idea of sacred clowns.
I’m so sorry you weren’t available Ruth. The reason why this is recorded and Ruth isn’t doing a session is because she’s in the middle of Outburst, so please look up Outburst Arts Organisation, it’s going to be online this year right?
>> RUTH: Well some of it, we’ve just gone into another lockdown today, so we’re going to try and do some live, definitely record some live anyway, the festival is supposed to start the day the lockdown is supposed to end so who knows, but yes, the good thing is that there will be quite a bit online this year, so we’d be delighted for people to join in, outburstarts.com, the website is being built at the moment so you will be able to see that soon.
>> RITA: Brilliant, Ruth thank you so much.
>> RUTH: You’re very welcome, cheers Rita, bye.
>> MICHAEL: Rita, you’re on mute!
>> RITA: It was all going so well! (laughs)
>> KATE: I’m looking at your body language trying to watch.
>> RITA: Trying to work out what I’m saying, so yeah that was great, Cormac got a mention in terms of the queer queens from Ruth, Cormac’s an auld hand at this. Yes, I was just saying the comments, your comments have been gorgeous, in the comment box. Thanks so much and thanks for all your lovely words of support.
And now I’m going to pass you across to our arts correspondent, Kate Brennan Harding. Who is going to talk to you all about the Break for Art.
>> KATE: Hi, thanks Rita, my God it was so gorgeous to hear Ruth speak there. My name is Kate Brennan Harding, I’m a lesbian, an uppity queer, sometimes an honorary gay man and really pleased to be part of the space created by The Gay Project, it’s just really good to plug back into the community. I don’t know about you guys, I’m feeling a big loss this year of that connection, so we have so many different performances coming up over the series as part of a Break for Art. Some will enthral you; some will leave you wonderfully confused but questioning, some will be living room performances and some will use space outside to generate dangerous ideas, some you can simply sing along to.
I have been looking at ways our artists and performers can create a live experience and show how grass roots have to move online and occupy that space, it’s essentially a DIY scene. I think about how visibility is vital and how the element of surprise has been oppressed, surprise is finding a new way of seeing yourself, how the energy shared is what helps to feed and encourage a performance, as we’re not able to be in a room with a gaggle of people delighted to be in a queer space.
We’re going to start off with Avoca Reaction. I know Avoca for a number of years, Avoca describes themselves as Ireland’s premier non binary drag queen, Avoca, hi, welcome to a Break for Arts, I’m delighted you’re able to join us.
>> AVOCA: Hello, thanks for having me.
>> KATE: You’re a drag artist, actor and producer, what does be a non binary artist in 2020 mean for you?
>> AVOCA: Well, I think after hearing Ruth speak, I want to say I’m a sacred clown, I want that tattooed on me, that’s amazing. Being a non binary artist in 2020 feels like being a rebel, like an outlier, like a circuit breaker, particularly on the drag scene with the advent of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, we saw this homogenization of what drag can be, what’s championed is cismen dressing up as women, whereas the work I like to do and the cabaret I produced pre lockdown times is there to try and showcase talent from non binary artists, trans artists and people assigned female at birth like drag kings.
>> KATE: That’s amazing, I was going to say in coming up with this, it’s so difficult at the moment to try and get what you want to convey out there, are you finding that you are coming up with unique ways to perform?
>> AVOCA: Still figuring that out! I think one of the pressures on artists now is that you have to retrain and invest in equipment to be able to perform online, you need a ring light, back drops, I’m using a kaftan tonight that’s hopefully doing the job! But for me performing to a camera and without an audience is a completely different experience than what I’m trained in and what I’m used to. So, it’s kind of one foot in front of the other, we’re all figuring it out on the fly.
>> KATE: At a grass roots what you do is alternative drag really, do you feel it’s important to represent a different version of yourself every time?
>> AVOCA: In terms of aesthetically or?
>> KATE: In terms of what drag can be perceived as, you mentioned Ru Paul there, this alternative DIY, in your face, back to queer culture drag.
>> AVOCA: We try to keep it really rootsy, what I love to see is not necessarily the most preened polished like we see on Instagram and Ru Paul’s Drag Race, I want to see the passion and people giving it their all. We as queer performers are the ones who take all the marginalisation and oppression and turn it into glitter and magic and get up and we bleed for people, we show our pain on stage in a way that allows for a catharsis
>> KATE: Completely, so we’re going to go on now, Avoca recorded a small piece for camera, one of the main ingredients is the audience, I can’t see you, I know I’m talking to you, I’m inviting you all now to visualise your favourite club and performance space, to see the smiling friends and hopeful new acquaintances; if you know what I mean; just join in the simplicity of fun. Here’s, Avoca Reaction.
AVOCA: # I go out walking, after midnight, in the moonlight, just like we used to, I’m always walking after midnight looking for you …
# I go for miles, down the highway
# I guess that’s my way, of saying I love you
# I’m always walking after midnight, looking for you …
# Now if you see a weeping willow
# crying on his pillow
# maybe he’s crying about me
# but as the night turns gloomy
# someone whispered to me I’m lonesome as can be
# I go walking
# Oh, the night, is my world
# city lights
# painted girl
# in the day
# nothing matters
# it’s the night-time that flatters
# in the night, no control
# through the walls, something’s breaking
# wearing white as you’re walking
# down the street of my soul
# you take my self, you take my self-control
# you got me livin’ only for the night
# Before the morning comes, the story’s told
# you take my self, you take my self-control
# another night, another day goes by
# I never stop myself to wonder why
# you help me to forget to play my role
# you take my self; you take myself control
# I … I live among the creatures of the night
# I haven’t got the will to try and fight
# Against a new tomorrow, so I guess I’ll just believe it
# in case tomorrow never comes
# A safe night, I’m living in the forest of your dreams
# I know that things are not what they would seem
# I must believe in something so I make myself believe if
# tomorrow never comes
# oooh, oooh,
# oooh, oooh
# oooh oooh
# oooh, oooh
>> KATE: I tell you what, first of all we know there’s an issue with the video lagging and we’re really, really sorry, we don’t really understand what’s happening, it’s one computer talking to another. Avoca, that was lovely and I just want to go dancing, I’m missing dancing and it was great, great to have this. Can you hear me okay?
>> AVOCA: I can yeah.
>> KATE: Sorry, you spoke to me, when I was speaking to you last week, you spoke about a dangerous idea for you was to exist loudly in the world and be your authentic self was dangerous, I know I identify with that and have done for many years, do you think performance and creating that space is a way to make yourself safe?
>> AVOCA: Yeah, I hadn’t thought of it before but that certainly, that is one of the benefits of creating your own space, that you get to mediate that space and sort of create the right environment for everybody to come in and be themselves, that’s always been a core tenet of the shows I put on, there’s a space for everybody within that, including allies and cis people who are supportive and respectful within the bounds of what we do.
>> KATE: It’s completely vital, I love underground subversive, personally, I think all of it fits in the rainbow, but it’s brilliant, there are so many gorgeous messages coming through from everybody as well. Thank you everybody, that keeps us going, that connection, I perform as well, it’s that connection that we’re missing, so when you see the comments coming through it’s gorgeous. Avoca, thank you so much. Rita, I’ll pass back to you.
>> AVOCA: Thank you.
>> KATE: Rita, you’re muted!
>> RITA: I’ll get there eventually! I think I sound better anyway with the mic off. So that was brilliant Avoca, thank you so much. Kate, thank you so much.
We’re now going to take a five minutes break and hopefully Michael is going to flash up our donation spot in the chat box, because now we’re going to have a bucket collection for queer arts. So, if we were doing this in real life in a room, we’d pass a hat now and at the end of our 12 sessions everything we pick up after all your donations will go to the artists. The artists are being paid, but they’re being paid very badly! And we would love, you heard the story, it’s really tough times for performing artists, they’ve to buy new equipment, they’ve to retrain, they’ve to do all that kind of stuff, so we want queer arts to throw them a bit of money, here at The Gay Project everything you donate in these breaks will go to the artists. And there we are. Michael’s popped up Donorbox.
So, we’ll take a five minutes break. Thomas will run a little video for you, this is one of my absolute favourites, it’s a Willie Nelson song called Sometimes Cowboys are Secretly Fond of Each Other. See you after the break.
>> RITA: The gorgeous Orville Peck, I love that song as well, the first time I heard it I was drinking a cup of coffee, I spat it out, I think it was Gerry Anderson in Derry who played it for the first time.
So, I hope you all had a nice wee break, again thanks a million for all your chats, what a wonderful group of attendees you are.
So now I am going to introduce you to our scholar for this evening, who is the very fabulous Dr Cormac O’Brien. And Cormac is a Dub, but we won’t hold that against him, because he has some other very good qualities, and he is our first scholar of the evening, of the series and Cormac will be with us for the next few sessions, so we’ll have our first three sessions are going to be covered by Cormac.
So, Cormac, I gave a wee bio to people about you, so I’m not going to go into all your accolades and all your amazing plaudits that you have, I’m going to let you just tell us what you want to tell us. I’ve lost, I’ve got a wee bit lost here, so I’m going to refer to my notes! There we go, so what I’m going to do now is I’m going to pass across to Michael, who is going to start Cormac off by asking him a question related to the work that Cormac is doing and we’ll kind of start the chat from there. So, Michael would you like to fire away?
>> MICHAEL: Sure, I suppose one of the things that I often wonder about is in relation to the word queer itself, so we talk about queer theory, we talk about queer studies, I suppose it’s something that’s very alive for me in my own personal life and also in my professional life, even within the community there would be a lot of disagreement and different kinds of understanding about what the word queer actually means, so you might have one person who finds it a very offensive term and another who uses it as a term of empowerment, so I’d love to learn more about the word itself, when did we start to use it, how did we start to use it, why did we start to use it, whatever. How you want to go about answering that, if it’s not too complicated a question?
>> CORMAC: Sure, no it’s not a complicated question at all, it’s something I’ve come up against, not up against, something I’ve come across quite often at conferences where, at academic conferences there’s this terrible tokenisation of, they’ll have the queer panel, so academic conferences are organised into three speakers and the ideal thing is there’s a queer speaker on every panel, but of course these mainstream conferences they’ll say we’ve the queer panel and the three queer academics who put in totally disparate papers me, I come from the arts like Ruth said earlier, I came to academia late in life, I was a theatre director, making queer theatre for many years, and that just reminds me I’m going to side bar here and thank Avoca for that amazing performance, because I actually lost my queer virginity to Laura Brannigan’s Self Control, that was a real trip down memory lane there thank you very much, Avoca.
But to come back to the word queer and why the word queer. You’ll often get heterosexual people who consider themselves allies, and they would approach you in the social spaces of the conference and say why are you using this word queer? Surely that’s an insult. Surely that’s a pejorative? Certainly, those questions will come from people of an older generation, I’m no young fella either, I’m in my 50s, you know? But I can certainly understand why, because it was a term that was used in the early to mid to late 20th century, as an insult, as a very derogatory insult, it was often the last word that a queer person heard before they were the victim of a homophobic murder.
So, to first of all answer it in terms of it being an insult. There has been this sense of positive reclamation of the term. The way certain minority groups of colour have reclaimed their pejorative terms, so that’s a very simple first step to where this word queer has come from and why we use it so often and why we use it with ease and frequency, that it’s a sense of reclaiming it for ourselves, because language is power and there is power in language. So, the first thing is that we’ve reclaimed the language and we’ve taken back the power by saying that’s now our term and we’ll use it thank you very much and it’s not for you to use, it’s for us to use.
To take that a little bit further then, queer then branches out as a term, now in the academy, in academia, it’s the brand name or the name given to a field of study, I’m going to go into that now in a few minutes and how that field of study came about. In the broader sense of queer communities, and I note I pluralise that word, because I think there’s Rita, during Rita and Ruth’s interview, they spoke about easily digestible gayness that is put forth to the mainstream as a way of, I would almost say as a way of heterosexual mainstream people assuaging themselves, that all of a sudden they are very tolerant and very liberal, but what they are getting I’m plucking examples out of the air here, something like Modern Family, where you have this very benign gay couple, I’d call them a gay couple not a queer couple, yeah? So, there’s very easily digestible version of gayness that’s out there, it’s very asexual, there’s no sex involved, they go shopping and buy matching sheets etcetera. There’s nothing wrong with those things in and of themselves if that’s what a couple wants to do, it’s when it becomes the norm and the only accepted way of becoming gay that’s problematic.
But coming back to this easily digestible mainstream idea that can be said on Prime Time or the RTE News of the LGBT community and we hear that term so often. But there are many, many communities and there was a point when we were getting LGBTQXI etcetera etcetera, so queer therefore in the sense of uniting us can operate as this broad umbrella term under which we can all come together. So gay men, lesbians, trans, whatever label you want to put I don’t like to say whatever label, whatever identity you’re comfortably landing on at that particular point in your life. Because there was a point where I identified as a gay man, as I’ve matured and grown older myself and my partner, we’re together a long time, we identify as queer men now, that’s a political stance, that’s where I’m going next with this. Queer as a political position.
But as a broad, where I am right now, queer is a broad umbrella term, under which all what we might call counter normative sexualities can come together, and it’s a way of I’m seeing a comment there from Michele, yes Michele it’s a matter of stopping categorisation. I’m going to get in that categorisation in a few minutes now and how that categorisation, and how that categorisation has been bound up in legalising things and saying certain people can be legal and certain people can’t be legal. Or rather their forms of desire can be legal or can’t be legal.
So that’s another, Michael, that’s another way queer works. Like myself and my Michael, my guy is Michael as well, we don’t even identify as partners any more. When people ask us what we are to each other we say we’re queer kinsmen, we see ourselves as two men, queer men on a journey through life together. So, we’re queer kinsmen.
To come to queer then as a political position. Queer is those of us who wish to agitate and activate and often as Ruth pointed out when she spoke to Rita, we agitate and activate through art as much as we agitate and activate through boots on the ground at protests, or at an active demonstration. And then I mean Act Up is a perfect example, particularly Act Up Dublin and some of the amazing work they have been doing recently, but also I’m thinking of Act Up back in the late 80s and early 90s where they combined amazing art with activism, like putting the condom on Jesse Helms’ house back in the 80s or just walking along the streets, this is pre pandemic, and these wonderful spray paint etchings, I don’t know what you call it when you hold the thing, what’s it called again? You spray through the thing?
>> MICHAEL: Stencil.
>> CORMAC: These wonderful stencils, so art and activism coming together. And when art and activism come together and they are propped up or shored up as Ruth pointed out by queer thinking, artivism Noel, thanks a million (laughs) it’s queer practice, you know what I mean? This coming together. So queer is a political position.
If we even think of the early gay rights movement before AIDS came along, AIDS did change everything, particularly in terms of sexual practice. Gay men in particular in the US were often critiqued for having very robust sexual lives, that horrible P word, promiscuous, which carries a lot of bad, it’s not a word I use, I would say someone has a robust sexual life.
That sexual, those robust sexual lives were not just about pleasure. They were worn as a badge of political identity. It was a way of saying we are different to you. And we will live our lives in a different way and have sex in different ways, and on that difference is why we should have the same rights as you. And then as we’ve seen, there’s a trajectory we can follow then, where a lot of self and sexual policing came in through the AIDS crisis years to arrive at the moment, we’re at now which Ruth and Rita addressed during the talk, where rather than our politics being about liberation, our politics have become about assimilation.
Then if I just finally, the last thing I’ll say on queer or where this word, so it’s a political place, or a political standpoint, where you’re activating against normative structures of oppression, and then to address queer theory as it has come up through the academy. So, we had feminist criticism, since the 60s, the late 60s, or maybe the early 60s with the publication of Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, but certainly in the academic sense it was the publication of Kate Millett’s dissertation in 1972 Sexual Politics which started feminism, and there’s a plethora of amazing feminist literary and cultural critics. And then in the early 80s we started to get my field of speciality, which is critical masculinity studies don’t confuse this with men’s’ rights activism, it’s a different arena altogether, really critical masculinities studies is looking at masculinity and manhood through a feminist lens almost, you’ll know the difference between men’s rights activism and masculinities studies, because we pluralise the word masculinities, in recognition that there are many different ways of being a man.
Then as Ruth mentioned in her talk, in the early AIDS crisis years there was an awful lot of homophobia going on. Particularly directed at gay male communities, so there was this kind of coming together of what had been traditionally understood as feminist criticism, masculinities studies and this burgeoning field that was kind of loosely labelled gay studies, and people like Judith Butler, Eve Sedgewick etcetera started writing in a way that brought all of those disciplines together and all of a sudden we had this thing that was called queer theory, and the essence of queer theory is that it looks at how sexuality has been mobilised or is mobilised as a tool for social control.
When I say sexuality, I don’t just mean sexual orientation, sexuality there includes women’s bodies as a site of political angst, maternity sexuality, as in how you practice your sex, not just your sexual orientation. So, I hope I’ve gone some way towards unpacking that term, queer there for you?
>> MICHAEL: 100 percent, I’ll be spinning from that answer so, thank you very much. I have a lot to digest. Rita you’re on mute again!
>> RITA: I know Thomas also wanted to ask a question; I’ll just go to you now Thomas.
>> THOMAS: Absolutely, could we just maybe beforehand take some of the questions, because it seems as if there is something, there’s a lot going on of course.
>> RITA: I’m whizzing up past them, we have a lot of comments. Why don’t you have a look at the questions there Thomas because there is some, I wanted to ask Cormac.
>> THOMAS: I will actually go forward with my own in that sense, but if I may, just sticking with the terminology Cormac that we’re talking about, queer of course, but also talking about activism in itself and the public expectation of activism and our evolution, in society in keeping up with getting progressive. So I’m from Denmark and you can say homosexuality has been decriminalised since the 1930s there, it was decriminalised in the 1930s in Denmark, whereas people compare it with Ireland seeing that was in 1993, which is comparatively recent, but that doesn’t mean that discrimination is, if you know in that sense better or worse in Denmark, you can say that it’s the same. So, you hear a lot of people say oh it’s 2020 why is it that we’re not better at accepting things, or why are people so intolerant, they should not be intolerant when it’s 2020.
So, this idea of linearity of the whole public expecting us all to be progressive simultaneously, regardless of which culture we are in. What do you see, what is the historical trajectory or the linearity or lack of linearity when it comes to queer rights?
>> CORMAC: Right, I think to answer that question, we need to there’s several different factors, historical factors that need to be taken into account. Colonialism and imperialism and the British Empire being the final of the big empires, I know we could talk about the American Empire and economic colonialism right now, or other, you know Russian Empire and data colonialism, but I’m speaking here specifically in the terms of old imperialism, with the British Empire, the idea of going and invading countries, that’s the type of imperialism I need to talk about here.
So, I want to park, I’m putting imperialism on the table, I’m going to come back to it now in a second. I want to bring in some other historical factors. You spoke there Thomas with your beautiful bow about sorry, I love it, it’s fab, it’s queer fab you spoke about decriminalization, so decriminalization happened in Ireland in 1993. I was 24, now the temptation for me is to say I was illegal until I was 24. But the fact of the matter is I wasn’t illegal, the sex I wanted to practice was illegal. So that separates two things out. And what it separates out is sexuality as identity and sexuality as behaviour.
So, if we take ourselves back a bit in history to the 19th century, when the British occupied about a third of the world was it, they said the Empire upon which the sun never set, because they had so much of the world. And there really was a period of time up until around the Victorian era, when although same sex sexual practice and I’m sorry to use such long winded terms, same sex sexual practice was frowned upon, or not you know, in certain communities or villages or places, it might have been punished or ostracised or whatever, it was still seen as something somebody might do every now and again. Rather than as the whole of somebody’s identity.
So, for example the way we might have a friend now who might every now and again go on a drinking bender, so it was seen as something people did rather than who they are, so if we bring that into 19th century, particularly around the late 19th century, several things start to happen. First of all, the first one we have to bear in mind is that the British Empire is laying down the law on a lot of countries all around the world and with them they are bringing the gender binary, the patriarchal gender binary, which as progressive as we want to think we are nowadays with our legislation and our referenda etcetera, we still live by that binary. I really think for radical change to the gender order and the understanding of gender and sexuality, that’s where we start by dismantling that binary, but that’s a side point.
So, this empire is laying down this way of being, man and woman. This way of being sexual. Around about the 1870s or thereabouts, we also have the rise of the sciences of the mind. So, what happens is Freud and his cohort, their ideas come to the fore and they start being popular. And we’ve the rise of a side field if you like called sexology, or the study of human sexuality, and it’s the first time really that this has had a popular discourse, that people are talking about this, that books are being published.
And of course, as humans what do we do? A very famous line from Dr Who, we categorise, we label, we try to organise people into bunches to make sense of them. So, we have this situation where this strict gender binary that’s heterosexual to its core and homophobic is being laid down and at the same time this new science is forming around the science of the mind and the medical professions move in here as well, and this is where we see a turning point. And Michel Foucault, a major philosopher who died in the early 80s who recorded history of sexuality, he said you can actually pinpoint a time in the 1870s when these new psychologists started to categorise and they invented the word homosexual, it’s really interesting that the word homosexual was invented roughly a decade before the word heterosexual was invented. Homo meaning the same, homogenous, a lot of people think it means man, man sex. But no, it means homogenous, the same people having sex.
So, this new field of psychiatry started to say okay this must be something to do with the mind. And then the medics moved in and said okay well then if it’s something to do with the mind it’s something we must fix. There must be something up here. So, all of a sudden what we see there in the late Victorian empire period is that the homosexual becomes a species. Or as Foucault would put it, the homosexual becomes a persona and is pathologized. So basically, what you have is human desire let’s move beyond sexuality, because sexuality really is a series of labels or categorisations that started getting laid down in the late 19th century under this binary that the imperialists were imposing on their subjects. Let’s move that back, take that right back and think instead of terms of human desire. So, we desire certain bodies Jasbir Puar sorry Rita, we did say we’d provide reading lists etcetera at the end of the session. Jasbir Puar, a fabulous queer theorist, completely intersectional in her work, she said let’s think of sexuality I think I might even have a quotation from her here that I can share the screen with you, I’ve just done a few screen grabs. Yeah, of course it would be the last one I open wouldn’t it?
She says let’s think of sexuality not as identity am I okay to share my screen? Not just yet Tech Fairie. She said let’s not think of sexuality as an identity, but as an assembly, a cluster, a coming together of feelings, tingling sensations and desires and emotions, that’s what sexuality is.
>> THOMAS: Give it a go Cormac.
>> CORMAC: Are we there? She says think of sexuality not as an identity but as assemblages of sensations, affects in academia affect is just a posh word for emotions, affects and forces. That’s what sexuality is, things happening around you and within you, okay? And what we see in the late 19th century, the medics and psychologists move in and start to say okay we’re taking human desire which is basically what Jasbir is describing there that sexuality is desire, we’re going to categorise desire and we’re going to put labels on human desire and we’re going to say certain human desires are okay, and legal and legit and we’re going to allow them, and then we’re going to take other human desires and categorise them as being illegal and against the law and not good, because they disagree with our idea of one white man and one white woman procreating.
It’s interesting when we think back to the Victorian era, the Empire, that sodomy did not just mean anal sex, it meant anything other than vaginal sex; so, you’re a sodomite if you gave your person a blow job, that was sodomy, anything other than procreative sex that was going to produce a baby was considered sodomy.
Now I want to continue here with this, this quotation is some of these queer theorists if they were here, I’d slap them for the way they write their stuff, know what I mean? It can be a bit brain bending but let’s look at what she’s saying, she’s talking about sexuality and the law. She says the law, meaning the status quo, those who rule, is limited in what it can convey and create. She says the limits with which we must concern ourselves are not the legal instruments per se, meaning the police force or the judiciary or the courts or whatever, but she says the law’s reliance on performative language, now what does that mean? We’ve all heard that word I’m sure at some stage? Performative performative is not performance, performative, performance is a show you put on, it’s something you rehearse, you practice, you bring before others knowingly. Performative when we see that “ive” at the end of a word, what it means is there are a set of rules and codes and scripts that we’re following, that’s where the heteronormative comes from, yeah? I’m not talking about heteronormative tonight we’ll talk about that next week, but performative means something that is brought into being by either just doing or saying it.
And the easiest way to understand this is the idea of performative language, from a scholar back in the 1950s JL Austin, who came up with the idea of performative speech acts, whereby we bring something into existence merely by saying it has happened. And the most famous example we use when we’re teaching students is the wedding ceremony. Whereby the celebrant says “I now pronounce you husband and wife” and the legal status of that couple changes. They suddenly have more rights, more privileges, less tax to pay etcetera etcetera, merely by it being stated that this has happened. So, it is brought into being by doing or saying it. Okay?
So that’s a performative speech act. What Puar is saying here is that the law’s reliance, the laws that are created around sexuality relies on bringing certain sexual categories into being merely by stating that they exist. So gay well gay is, I don’t think gay is the word that would turn up in a constitution, but homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, so the law takes this wonderful thing, it’s free, one of the most basic things we have, to express ourselves, but the law takes it and by saying that it goes into these categories, it actually creates those categories, and then regulates those categories, saying that some of them are okay and some of them aren’t okay and they should go to prison or in some countries in the world still that they should be eliminated, and all the while behaving as if those categories had already existed since the beginning of time. Whereas in fact the status quo, those in power, the law has brought those categories of good desire or bad desire into being, naming them first.
Sorry, did I just bend your brain Thomas? Have I I hope that’s clear. I know it can be quite confusing, the idea of bringing something into being merely by stating that it exists, but that’s really how sexuality is constructed within legal frameworks, that they say this thing exists, we will regulate it, but behave as if it has always been known to be this thing since the beginning of time.
>> THOMAS: Very good, it’s all bends into how we look to legislation to allowing ourselves to be defined in a certain way, whereas to get past that in a certain way and say, the beautiful way to express your desire just happens to be with these colonial categorisations as well.
>> CORMAC: Yeah, there’s three things coming together; colonialism, the rise of the sciences of the mind and then how the sciences of the mind got medicalized, the medical professions moved in and said okay these categories you are coming up with, homosexual, whatever, they now belong to us, the medical profession, we see them as bad things and we’re going to fix them. And so, came in the long 20th century of reparative therapy and all the terrible things we’ve heard happen, and it was only in the late 60s then that we started to fight back.
>> RITA: Cormac, we’ve had loads of questions coming in and I’m also aware of the time, we’re coming up, it’s ten to nine.
>> CORMAC: Can we tell Ciara it’s okay to push the kid’s bedtime?
>> RITA: Gender might be a social construct but bedtime is real! So yeah, Cormac, maybe we’ve some really interesting things here, we have Laurence talking about, oh he’s talking about the creation of a dissident Utopian self, there’s a big idea! A lot of stuff about colonialism and its impact on queer people. Mary Queery is saying as a queer Irish person still living within British colonial legacy in Ireland up in the north, I wonder have you any thoughts about partition on queer Ireland, north and south? I don’t think we have time to get into that one tonight Cormac, but it’s such a great question.
>> CORMAC: Well I’ll riff off it rather than get into it, I wouldn’t be an expert on sectarian, north and south, there are better queer thinkers equipped than me, probably somebody like Alison Campbell, you know what I mean? Particularly because I grew up in the Republic and we know the history, us down in the south turned our back, we really did turn a blind eye to the fact that you all were living in occupied territory for such a long time, so but I will riff off the idea, the north and south thing, and what it makes me think in particular is of tribalism, and how when you’ve got a zone of conflict as we had in the north for so long, that you’re going to have two forms of queerness emerge, because you’ve got two different sides. And this idea of two different things, it’s something I wanted to I’m making a bit of a leap here, but what I wanted to bring in, the idea of queerness, because you know where I’m coming from right I’ve got my train of thought now, sorry!
You might get loyalist queers and you might get nationalist queers up north and certain traits or attributes will be latched on to each, so I’m using that as a jumping off point into the final point I wanted to bring to the table tonight. Is the idea of what we might call discursive coupling, and this also goes back to Thomas’s previous question about history and it also riffs off Michael’s question about queer and the history of the word queer?
The first thing I need to do here is give a crash course 101 in discourse. The word discourses. What does it mean, discourse? You’ll often hear it and people sometimes think discourse, we’re having a discourse, it just means we’re having a conversation. Discourse is a word that should always have an adjective in front of it, discourse doesn’t mean that you’re having a conversation, it means the way you’re allowed to shape the conversation. The things that are allowed to be said, the things that aren’t allowed to be said, there’s a certain way with any kind of topic at all, but particularly with issues of the body, embodiment, gender, sexuality we’re allowed talk about those in certain ways, I don’t mean just your conversation over the back garden wall with your neighbour, I mean all the way up the ladder right to the top echelons of power. There are ways we are nowadays it might be called framing the narrative or owning the narrative, but there are particular ways in which we are allowed talk about it.
Think about the discourse around being gay in Ireland, up until not very long ago that was a stigmatizing, scandalising discourse. Being gay was spoken of in terms of taboo, of secrecy, of hiddenness, of wrongness, of sinfulness, so it was a scandalising discourse. Then we had the institutional and church scandals revealed in the early 90s and the discourse, and we had lots of progressive LGBTQ rights, lots of referenda were passed and the discourse around being gay in Ireland has done a 180 where everybody wants to have a gay best friends and I’m told by my heterosexual mother friends that it’s really trendy to have a gay son so we can see the discourse has flipped. Simultaneously the discourse around the church has done a 180, where we used to have to talk about the church in very reverent, respectful terms and if you saw a priest on the street you doffed your cap, that discourse has flipped. So, discourse is what’s allowed to be said, how you can talk about things and what’s equally important, what’s not allowed to be said.
So, we can therefore infer that discourse produces power, if you’re only allowed say certain things about certain things it’s giving power, and likewise if something is producing power it’s also going to take away power. And so I’ll finish up on this final thing, the idea of discourse and queerness and what we call discursive coupling or discursive twinning, and what we see throughout the history of homosexuality and particularly in the 20th century when we had mass media; so film, photography, in the mid-century, television, so we’re getting mass representation, is we see the twinning of very sinister aspects of life with queerness. A really good example would be the 2015 marriage campaign, where you had the anti marriage group called Mothers and Fathers Matter. And their schtick was gay people shouldn’t be bringing up children, queers shouldn’t bring up children, that they shouldn’t get married because they’ll form families, as if queerness was somehow contagious and the kids will catch it.
I’m a very short guy, by their logic if I want to be taller, I’ll hang out with tall people because I’ll catch their tallness, that’s how crazy that logic is. But there’s a dog whistle at play there, that really, they’re discursively twinning queerness with paedophilia, and what we see throughout the history right up until the late 90s or 80s and particularly Act Up were very prominent, we see this discursive coupling in the way queerness is talked about, is it’s linked in with sinister aspects. So, for example in cold war US all queers were communists, yeah? At the same time, if you look at the history of the USSR, they are telling their people that all queers were licentious capitalists, so you’ll find this history of what we call discursive coupling, this twinning of homosexuality, queerness, with nefarious traits, which have nothing to do with sexuality, you know what I mean? So that was just I know I didn’t answer the questioner’s thing about north and south and particularly sectarianism, but it did spark that idea in me, associating traits and the discursive coupling and the history of how a very famous example would be in films, right up till very recently, that trope of the queer must die, that queerness has always been associated with bad and untimely and early death.
>> RITA: So, Cormac, we’ve run out of time.
>> CORMAC: We have? Why do they do that to queer people, they do that because of power, people are power crazy, where ever you see power you will see money trailing along somewhere behind.
>> RITA: I am going to have to do that terrible thing and wind us up. And bring us to a close, really a big part is Michelle who we can’t see here, needs to be able to finish at 9 o’clock. So, we have to let Michelle go. I just want to thank everybody so much, I couldn’t be happier with how this has gone this evening, we’ve had lots of questions we haven’t answered, we have one from queer movements being anti capitalist, we’ll definitely get to that.
>> CORMAC: Absolutely.
>> RITA: We have one from Heather, notions of monogamy and coupling, it’s far too interesting, but we’ve three more weeks with Cormac.
>> CORMAC: Have we an e mail address that people can send questions and we can pick them up when we start off next week?
>> RITA: Absolutely, send to me, Rita at gayproject.ie. This session has been recorded and there will be a full transcript, the recording and the transcript will be hopefully available in the next couple of days on our website, that’s our Tech Fairy’s job, Thomas, to look after that. Cormac is also going to give us some readings and we’ll put up a reading list so you can do further readings, some people have been asking about that, so you’ll have a recording of the whole session and further readings to keep you all going until next week.
One final thing I want to say is that when we set up the Eventbrite invitation originally, we only set it up for one event, we didn’t realise we couldn’t go back in and change it after that. So tomorrow I am going to send you all a link for the rest of the series, so you’ll only have to sign up to that the one time tomorrow. Is there anything I’ve forgotten, my beautiful assistants, Michael and Thomas?
>> MICHAEL: I’m just going to do a shameless plug, I’ve already done it twice in the chat, just in case anybody is not watching, we have a website that’s where the information and transcripts will be going up. That’s gayproject.ie, you can sign up for the newsletter, lots of things like this we’ll host in time and we also have a Facebook and Twitter account, so please check those out.
>> RITA: You’re so good at that Mike!
>> THOMAS: Thanks for all the nice comments out there, apologies for the choppy videos, we’ll definitely improve on that, it’s trial and error first, but we really appreciate all the comments thanks a lot.
>> RITA: Thank you all so much, with that we will bring it to a close, and Thomas you can turn us off!
>> THOMAS: Thank you so much. Good bye everyone, see you.
>> RITA: Bye bye, thank you.
- Ruth McCarthy, Artistic Director of Outburst Arts helps us introduce the programme on week one.
- Kate Brennan Harding, Media Producer and Presenter is Curating the ‘Break for Art’.
- Dr Cormac O’Brien, University College Dublin gives us a historical and contemporary outline on queerness.
Break for art artist:
- Wren Dennehy/Avoca Reaction, Drag Artist, Actor and Producer.