«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
We can't expect them to be elders you know?” The relationship between youth and community organizing (or social change efforts in general for that matter) are not only confined to queer and trans of color populations. For instance, earlier works coming out of the Birmingham University Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies made an explicit connection between the creation of subcultures that challenged dominant social arrangements and processes of youth formation. In her analysis of women organizing in Czech NGOs in the 1990s and into the 2010s, Lorenz-Meyer (2013) looks at women's involvement in activist work over the life course. She states that women's involvement in organizing "coincided with young adulthood, a period in the life course where many combined it with, or had just finished, university studies…[and that]…NGO activism is rarely a lifetime pursuit; various NGO representatives have moved out of the voluntary sector, taken up positions in other organizations, higher education or, more rarely, the for-profit sector" (2013, p. 418). She also points out that not all women participate in NGOs and that activist work has the tendency to reproduce class and ethnic distinctions.
For instance, Stockton argues that while Freud's non-pathological reading of homosexuality undercut the more devastating moralistic judgements against same-sex practices in the early twentieth century, his conceptualization of homosexuality in terms of "arrested development" continues to be mobilized by contemporary Anglo-American fundamentalists. Thus Freud's contention that "in every aberration from the normal sexual life [there is] a fragment of inhibited development and infantilism" (2009, p. 24) shows up in more recent works of moralizing psychoanalysts who assert "most homosexuals do not feel like adults. Rather they see themselves as children or adolescents" (2009, p. 24).
Rohy (2009) points out that processes of racialization are central to these associations of temporal backwardness with queer and trans subjects. She states, "the notion of homosexuality as 'archaic' emerges from the invention of modern sexual identity by sexological theories that borrowed not only their rhetoric but also their fundamental logic from scientific racism…[thus]…[m]uch as the African American was judged as backward or uncivilized, the homosexual was deemed a victim of arrested development. Informed by racist theories of 'primitive' backwardness, nineteenth century sexologists construed homosexuality as a regression both in individual development (to immature stages) and in human history (to savage societies or vanished cultures)." (2009, p. x) Instead of attempting to counter these pejorative arguments, Halberstam argues that the constitution of queer and trans subjects in terms of temporal retrogression provides an opportunity to critically examine the production of normative temporal trajectories. Halberstam forwards the notion of queer time as "a term for those specific models of temporality that emerge within postmodernism16 once one leaves the temporal frames of bourgeois reproduction and family, longevity, risk/safety and inheritance" (2005, p. 6). Within this framework he argues that "queer subcultures afford us a perfect opportunity to depart from a normative model of youth cultures as stages on the way to adulthood; this allows us to map out different forms of adulthood, or the refusal of adulthood and new modes of deliberate deviance… For queers, the separation between youth and adulthood quite simply does not hold, and queer adolescence can extend far beyond one's twenties" (2005, p. 175).
Yet while the field of queer studies has explored how the production of racialized, sexual and gendered difference is tied to temporal conceptions of delay, it has yet to examine the role of local affective political economies in the construction of social forms as particular temporal phenomenon. In contrast, the role of political economy in the construction of local temporalities has long been the subject of anthropological study (Cole, 2004; Mains, 2007; Ortner, 1998). For instance, in his analysis of unemployed young men in the city of Meerut in the Indian province of Uttar Pradesh, Craig Jeffrey (2010) examines how a lack of economic opportunities work to exclude men from social expectations of adulthood and to inculcate feelings of inadequacy in relation to desired discourses of “development” and “modernity”. Joining anthropological approaches to the insights of queer theory, allows for an analysis of the generational nature of queer and trans of color community arts initiatives by tracking the lived social relations to which they are connected. Within Toronto, the generational character of QTPOC community groups is Within the context of his text In a queer time and place, Halberstam writes, “[postmodernism] takes on meaning in relation to new forms of cultural production that emerge both in sync with and running counter to what Jameson has called the logic of late capitalism in his book Postmodernism (1997). I see postmodernism as simultaneously a crisis and an opportunity-a crisis in the stability of form and meaning, and an opportunity to rethink the practice of cultural production, its hierarchies and power dynamics, its tendency to resist or capitulate.” (2003, p. 6) intimately related to both public arts funding practices as well as to the affective volatility of the bonds among queer and trans of color community arts participants.
The political economy of community arts is consequential not only for the longevity of queer and trans of color community initiatives but also for the way in which these initiatives are related to the lifecycles of its participants. The available funding for community arts in Toronto is geared specifically toward youth. While the city of Toronto emphasizes the importance of ensuring "access and opportunity for cultural participation to all citizens regardless of age, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, geography or socioeconomic status" (2011, p. 7), they nevertheless place special emphasis on youth. In its most recent iteration of a cultural agenda, Creative capital gains, the City contends that, "young people are the most entrepreneurial and technologically literate members of our society…[they] devise innovative ways to create;
nevertheless, enthusiasm and 'sweat equity' rarely suffice to sustain fledgling youth led cultural enterprises. Sustained funding is essential to their growth and development. Young people want to participate in youth-led cultural activities as creators, consumers, audiences and leaders."
(2011, p. 18). This emphasis on the connection between youth and community arts is also to be found in arts funding bodies such as ArtReach, as discussed earlier, and in organizations such as the Toronto Arts Council which prioritizes youth arts. For instance, the council asserts, "culturally diverse youth arts organizations will be given enhanced opportunities to enter the funding stream" (ArtReach Toronto, n.d.) within its programming.
I am not the only one to draw a connection between the predominance of young people involved in queer and trans of color community arts and municipal level funding priorities. In my interview with Farrah, a community organizer who has taken part in different QTPOC arts groups throughout Toronto, I shared what I saw as the youthful nature of the queer and trans of
color arts scene in the city and asked if she had similar observations. She responded:
Farrah: Arts and queer communities are made for younger people, for people of color, right? There's very much a celebration of young bodies, young voices which I think is important but it's also about how do we do inter-generational conversations.
Matthew; So when you said that arts programs are made for queer young people, so what is that? How is that?
Farrah: Funding. I think ArtReach, it's one of the easiest, well not easiest, I don't want to say easiest, but it's the most accessible funding to get. You don't need to have charitable status. So it's the most accessible funding to get. And it's great money. You get $10,000.
…[We] used that funding… it was stretched over 3 years, that's how much we used in terms of funding. We just stretched and stretched and stretched our dollars because we know how to do that. So I think, a couple of things. I think that's one piece. I think there is the celebration of young bodies, but there is more funding for young people… [that’s] all about youth empowerment... But then I think [of] established artists [and that] there's a whole community of established artists that are older. There is a point where, 'I gotta have a kid and feed my family and settle down and I don't have time for all these things.'…It's hard, it's exhausting. But we need to build that [art] in because I think in you’re 30s you still need to make art, you still need to have that release, you still are working through stuff, you are still celebrating pieces of you and how do you do that collectively?
Yet the fact that queer and trans of color community arts in Toronto is largely a phenomenon associated with young people cannot be explained solely by turning to state funding mechanisms. At the same time that QTPOC organizers acknowledge the power of affect to drive their efforts, the workings of affect also have the potential to rip these efforts apart. This affective un-doing of queer and trans of color community initiatives has specific implications for the relationship between these initiatives and the life course of QTPOC organizers. As one queer of color organizer put it, "when friends break up and partners break up, communities fall apart.
And the reason why there is so much youth organizing is because people are coming out, they organize and then they date, find a partner, break up. And after a significant break up of a community organizer, communities fall apart". The conflicts that divide young queer and trans of color social circles as well as the community arts initiatives that they create are often so enduring that it is frequently up to younger generations of QTPOC organizers to establish programming to “make up for” the gap left by their predecessors. While it might seem somewhat absurd to link the generational nature of queer and trans of color organizing to something as supposedly mundane as the break-up of intimate relationships, the destructive power of the negative affects produced through conflict and the enduring nature of the consequences of these affects among close friends/partners is nonetheless well recognized.
I first became aware of this issue when I attended the art event That’s So Gay which showcased the work of Trinidadian born artist Michèle Pearson Clarke. A thin, brown-skinned women in her early forties with a shaved head, Clarke was taking part in an interview with the event curator, Elisha Lim in which she talked about her work, It’s Good To Be Needed. She described her work as a series in which she photographed queer women who are exes but who are not friends, holding hands with each other. She said that the inspiration for this project came partly from her desire to disrupt the pervasive notion that all queer women are friends with their exes. Given that the circle of queer women in Toronto is so small, Clarke shared that she felt as though queer women experienced pressure to be friends with former partners; to refuse to talk to one's ex can feel like "letting 'the community' down". In talking about the difficulty of trying to find women who were willing to be photographed, Clarke shared that she learned tremendously about the affective power of break ups in her exchanges with (potential) subjects. In sharing a fictional anecdote of walking into a bar full of community members and feeling as though one is not able to talk to half of the room, Clarke viscerally illustrated how the separations that exist among queer women catalyzed by break ups can de deep and enduring. In speaking about the nature of the social relations that inspired her work, It’s Good To Be Needed, Clarke draws attention the affective dynamics in queer communities where conflict among friends and former lovers dissolve the bonds not only between the specific individuals involved but also among those more distantly connected to these individuals. It is the dissolution of these more distant bonds that are consequential for the continued existence of queer and trans of color art initiatives.17 While the inability to sustain the affect of love in the context of limited financial resources can help to explain the ephemeral nature of queer and trans of color community initiatives, the affective power of interpersonal conflicts can help to explain the generational nature of these initiatives as primarily associated with youth.