After a seven-hour car trip to Asheville, NC, I arrived at the University of North Carolina Asheville for the Queer Art/Queer Action conference, that ran March 26-29. Two groups from the University of Cincinnati, GenderBloc and Equality UC, attended the conference during Spring Break.
I must first start with how beautiful everything is out there. I mean, we drove past some crazy stuff in Kentucky and Tennessee (like the first KFC and a 50-foot-high white cross juxtaposed against an adult store), but once we entered the mountains, the scenery was just awe-inspiring. And Asheville is a breath of fresh air: People will talk to you (and not in a creepy “hey girl, hey” kind of way), and they are generally nice. Not to mention, for a town in the South it is extremely indie, liberal and radical: an oasis among a desert of backwoods and republicans.
We of course check in to the hotel and take a short drive to the scenic campus of UNCA. We rush to check in for the conference, gobble down some food (which was impressively delicious for campus food in the student union) and head over to see a screening of Hedwig And The Angry Inch followed by a lecture by John Cameron Mitchell. He read of a personal narrative of his time in Russia and answered questions from the audience.
It is important to note the people in the following pictures are one and the same.
On the next day, Friday, March 27, I awoke bright and early for conference activities. I first attended a panel on ancient sexuality. When I arrived, I learned that any session labeled “panel” was code for “people reading their academic papers,” and after the first paper was presented I skipped out early to attend another session titled Queer Teaching/Queer Learning. I listened to a delightful poet named Lee discuss being an out professor. I was actually pretty intrigued by her paper, and it was one of the few presentations that kept my attention. She used the word “canoodling” quite frequently, and discussed how queer students gravitated toward her classes. I also watched a presentation by Caroline Cottingham that also held my interest because she had a Powerpoint – a breath of fresh air when the most visual stimulation I was receiving was a woman brushing back her hair behind her ear while reading her paper.
After an hour and 15 minutes of paper reading, I decided to stick to everything labeled “workshop” for the duration of the conference. That lead me to JAC Stringer’s Bending Desire: Sexual Desire and Genderqueer Identities and Performance presentation. Stringer defined all of the basic terms and discussed drag performance, as well as included photos of people from his own drag troupe the Black Mondays to illustrate his points.
Following a lunch break, I attended more workshops, but the highlight of the afternoon was a one-person band by the name of One Tough Cookie, that reminded me of Adelaide Windsome from Tranny Roadshow. The artist, Rae, sang short songs with a children’s key board, accordion and xylophone. Topics ranged from sexual assault to eating disorders to the government to sex and relationships. Rae was extremely interactive with the crowd and took shout-out requests for songs or specific instruments.
The keynote speaker for that night was poet Joan Larkin. She spoke briefly on how she has seen poetry change and then read some of her poems. Larkin even unveiled some new work for her latest book – a novel composed of sonnets.
After all of the conference activities it was pretty late, but not late enough not to go out to a bar. Turns out John Cameron Mitchell (see pictures above) invited some of my friends out to the bar LaRue’s Backdoor. (Charming name isn’t it?) The fine establishment is a bit bigger than my living room and featured a painting of The Last Supper on one wall and bunt cake tins on another.
I did have a fairly good time. The bartender was a doll, and some random gay men explained to me why I was “fierce,” and then decided to demonstrate my walk. (You would have thought it was a taping America’s Next Top Model in there). As I was going to leave, John Cameron Mitchell did the thing that just about everyone does to me when they first meet me: He pulled my hoodie off of my shoulders and felt my chest tattoos as he cooed “Oh, I love your tattoos.” This lead into discussion on Hedwig’s makeup and what queen had such handy work, and it all ended in an awkward half hug, half handshake type of goodbye.
On Saturday, March 29, the final day of the conference, I woke up bright and early again. My first session was lead by Talka and Rae (from One Tough Cookie), and they presented the Tranzmission project. Tranzmission is an organization serving queer and trans inmates, filling orders for books and placing inmates with penpals. In prisons, inmates are assigned to living quarters based upon sex, which is problematic for transpeople. Often trans and queer people are abused and isolated in prisons, and Tranzmission offers resources for these inmates.
Dean Spade was the keynote for Saturday, and he presented some fairly radical topics. He explained that the problem with the current queer activism is the fact that it is run by white, gay lawyers. For example, according to Spade, in California the large organizations that are run by the white, gay lawyers decided to tackle Proposition 8 because they had done everything else. California had anti-gay hate crimes legislation and civil unions with all the same protections as marriage. This is the type of activism Spade hates; the only type he wants to do is the kind labeled “impossible” or “politically inviable.”
Spade spoke on giving away our money as well. It is the capitalist in us that thinks we have to save every penny for ourselves, but if we want to see real change, we should donate that change.
Spade also introduced an interesting four pillars model of activism. Service, policy and law, consciousness raising and power are each a pillar. All of the other pillars are put into place in order to gain power, but most of the time, organizations just focus on one pillar, when they need all of the pillars to work together in order to be successful.
Overall I had a wonderful time at the Queer Art/Queer Action conference and exploring Asheville, NC. I met some great people, was introduced to new topics and grew as a queer and an activist.
I will leave you with a final photo of my view of the beautiful mountains as I departed Asheville.