«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
The dynamics of how state funding comes to influence the degree to which community organizations are able to sustain their existence is not limited to Canada as scholars have shown similar circumstances taking place in Australia and New Zealand (Panelli & Larner, 2010) and the Czech Republic (Lorenz-Meyer, 2013) However, queer and trans of color organizers are concerned not only with the sustainability of their initiatives in terms of economic exigencies but also in terms of their affective orientation toward their organizing work. Thus, even though they acknowledge they are not adequately paid, they speak of their love for this work as what keeps them going. In his interview with me, Patrick shared, “A lot of people work really hard to make these programs work. [In] these community programs we don't get paid the most money, but there's so much love. And if you're not loving it, you're not going to be in it, because it’s not going to pay your rent all the time. That might be called the life of an artists but it could [also] be called the life of a community organizer too. You have to love what you do.” In this sense, Patrick’s notion of love resonates with Lauren Berlant’s attempt to come up with what she refers to as a properly political concept of love.
When I asked her about this decision she shared “the positive and negative aspect of working in a grassroots program is that it’s your passion and it gives you life. But it’s hard to create boundaries of when to draw the line and how much to give. In the first cycle [of the Drag Musical], I gave my all, I put my heart into it, but this cycle, it was hard to balance everything.
We are not able to do this work full time and so it’s something we have to balance with other work” Patrick and Heidi’s description of the intense affective attachments that queer and trans of color organizers have to their work coincides with existing research on the significance of feelings within the community arts sector in general. Gill and Pratt (2008) state, “One of the most consistent findings of research on work within the creative industries is that it is experienced by most who are involved with it as profoundly satisfying and intensely pleasurable... A vocabulary of love is repeatedly evinced in such studies, with work imbued with the features of the Romantic tradition of the artist, suffused with positive emotional qualities. Research speaks of deep attachment, affective bindings, and to the idea of self-expression and self-actualization through work” (2008, p. 14) Yet, as indicated by Ella Cooper, the general manager of the Toronto Neighborhood Arts Network, the intensity of this passionate work can sometimes be overwhelming. In our interview, when I asked her about the big debates and issues that were being discussed in the community arts sector, she responded, "I think self-care is in there. I think people work incredibly hard and Toronto is one of those places where everyone seems like they are on the go and they support that in each other. But there's a moment when it's just a little too much. And that definitely comes up, you know? Around, 'how do you do the work that you do, but support and care for yourself at the same time?'" Feminist scholars in particular have been quick to examine the challenges associated with the relationship between feelings and work. Focusing on the toll of what she refers to as ‘emotional labor’, Arlie Hochschild’s (1983) groundbreaking study, The managed heart argues that people who engage in emotional labor become estranged or alienated from an aspect of the self that is used to do this work. She defines emotional labor as the process of inducing or suppressing “feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others” (1983, p. 7) and problematizes the fact that this work is sold as a wage because it violates the sanctity of individual personhood. Weeks (2007) identifies Hochschild’s approach as one of the two major feminist analyses of affective labor. She outlines the other approach as a socialist feminist effort to add a critical account of reproductive labor to a Marxist account of productive labor. In this account, unwaged reproductive labor (especially household caring labor) is theorized both as a locus of exploitation and as a site from which resistant subjects and alternative realities may emerge. These kinds of analyses speak clearly to the topic of “safe spaces” and feelings-based work that I explored in chapter one, but are not as applicable to a critical investigation concerned not with affect as a kind of work but with having a particular affective orientation toward work. In contrast, Gregg’s (2009) conceptualization of affective labor as “meaningful and productive human activity that does not result in a direct financial profit or exchange value, but rather produces a sense of community, esteem and/or belonging for those who share a common interest” (2009, p. 209) is much more in alignment with the kind of efforts undertaken by Toronto-based queer and trans of color organizers.
Thus far, I have tried to show how Toronto-based queer and trans of color community organizer’s concerns about the longevity of their programming are intimately tied both to their affective orientation to their work and the political economic contexts in which this work occurs.
I would also like to demonstrate how the temporal nature of queer and trans of color community arts concerns not only the ephemeral nature of their existence but also the way in which the timing of these initiatives are connected to the life cycle of community organizers as a generational phenomenon. However, before exploring considerations of life cycles and generations, it is important to explicitly outline how I am dealing with the category of time.
My treatment of temporality turns away from time as conceived through Newtonian physics which Adam (1990) argues constitutes the dominant conceptualization of time in the social sciences. In this framework time is not considered in its own right but used purely operationally, as the measure of things and events. It is conceived in terms of the movement of bodies and quantitative measurement. Time is also abstracted from social relations so that it is theoretically reversible and may proceed forward or backward. Adam (1990) states that the clock constitutes a coherent expression of a mechanical and causally-oriented Netwonian science as it functions according to the principles of duration, rate, tempo, sequence and periodicity. Adam refers to this kind of temporality as “events in time”. According to the principles of Newtonian science, time is the universal, inert and mechanically unfolding background in which human actions take place.
In contrast to the concept of “events in time”, Adam (1990) draws on the work of George Herbert Mead (1981) to elaborate a notion of “time in events”. Time is no longer the abstract framework within which experience is conceptualized but rather located in things, events, perspectives or roles. Time is in the interaction of the individual and environment such that reality exists in the present and involves a process of becoming. For instance, a person’s present may be defined by the act of writing. Yet for writing to be recognizable as a past present, something new will have to have happened. In this case, going for a cup of coffee may be the event which delineates the old from the new present. Adam thus posits time as actively produced through social practices as opposed to a notion of time that simply forms its inert backdrop. In the case of Asian Arts Freedom School and other queer and trans of color community arts initiatives in Toronto, the temporally limited nature of their existence is a consequence of the architecture of public arts funding policies as well as the affective complexes associated with community organizing work.
Yet though time may be created through social action, it is important to explore not only the production of time, but also the kind of time produced. Thus, while it is certainly significant to show how the short lived nature of QTPOC arts program is constructed, the qualitative characteristics of the temporal aspects of these programs also serve as an important site of inquiry. Mikhail Bakhtin's (1981) concept of the chronotope provides a starting point for this investigation. He defines a chronotope as the “intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationship…[such that]… spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thoughtout concrete whole” (1981, p. 84). According to Lemon, a chronotope “is not simply a point or a plane in space-time, not merely a scenic backdrop or surround of period and place. It shapes the logic by which events unfurl, their syntax, the rhythmic quality of plausible actions and counteractions.” (2009, p, 839). There are different types of chronotopes such that, for instance the chronotope of the road, associated with chance encounters in which the spatial and temporal paths of people intersect, is different from the chronotope of the saloon where encounters are no longer random but are characterized by dialogue revealing the ideas of the characters of the novel. Though primarily concerned with space time in the novel, Bakhtin’s notion of choronotope allows for an understanding of how a particular (space)time (as opposed to any other) occurs in non-literary settings. Thus, in the context of this chapter Bakhtin’s work makes it possible to investigate not only the fact that queer and trans of color arts initiatives tend to be short term endeavors but also to see how this short-term-ness is characterized by an affective intensity in which community organizers' love for their work keeps these initiatives alive as well as by a frenetic energy driven by economic precarity as organizers struggle to financially support their programming through state funding.
Yet the chronotope of queer and trans of color community arts in Toronto is characterized not only by an economically precarious and affectively charged ephemerality, but also as a generational phenomenon with a particular relationship to the life cycles of community organizers. In much the same way that the short term nature of QTPOC arts programming is intimately related to an affective political economy, the generational aspect of queer and trans of color community organizing is likewise inseparable from considerations of love and money.
After several months of attending different queer and trans of color arts events throughout Toronto, I began to notice that at thirty years old, I was often one of the older people in the room.
In my interview with Gein Wong, one of founders of Asian Arts Freedom School, she also drew attention to the youthfulness of queer and trans of color community organizing in the context of thinking through what she saw as the lack of intergenerational connection within Toronto-based QTPOC circles. Towards the end of our interview, I asked her if there was anything that she
would like to talk about that had not yet come up in our conversation. She replied:
Gein: I don't know how you can do this in your research but I think… recognizing the whole thing about generations. People wanting more connections between generations… I am starting to become conscious of this because as I get older, even when I started Freedom School, people started seeing me as a mentor and as an elder in some ways.
Matthew: But you weren't that much older than us [participants of Freedom School]!
Gein: Yeah! Exactly right?! So it was even weird for me to think about that because it was strange. I was young too right? But now that I'm getting a bit older and the distance is coming I realize that in 15 years or 20 years I will be an elder. But since we haven't had that, we don't know how that interaction works, right? I don't know how to be an elder and people don't know how to receive an elder in the community...How does that work properly? Because in other communities, it's there. It's there for generations, and people are used to it and they grew up with it. Whereas in our communities, it wasn't there. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know. But we actually have to talk that out and [figure out] what that means and how it can help everybody. I think it's something we have to talk about. I want to talk more about that....We're always looking for elders but we have to realize that people here never had elders. They don't know how to be elders.