«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
I also consider myself to be (and am unequivocally read as) a cis-gender man. Both in the academy and in the QTPOC social scenes that I describe in this study, this has enormous implications for how this project unfolded. By trafficking in questions of sex, gender, feelings and the arts, my dissertation deals with several subjects traditionally not considered worthy of serious scholarly attention arguably given their association with femininity. While people with different relationships to gender might struggle to be taken seriously in academic circles for conducting this kind of study, my unmistakable maleness allows me to "get away with it".
Additionally, as I describe in chapter one, I am one of the few cis-men involved in QTPOC community organizing in Toronto. Many of the people who both coordinate and attend antiracist, queer and trans positive community initiatives were female assigned at birth. And while a good proportion consider themselves to be genderqueer, transmen and, to a lesser extent, transwomen, most of the people that I interacted with, spoke to and worked alongside, identify themselves as cis-women. As a cis-gender queer man, I avoided the affective volatility that I often saw characterize the social relationships among largely queer women of color that I describe in chapter three. By virtue of the limited possibility of forming intimate relationships with women, I was able to side step the intensely passionate connections (and equally passionate conflicts and tensions that arose when these connections went awry) that otherwise characterize the social relations among QTPOC organizers. I was thus able to maintain a degree of separateness that allowed this project to unfold without personally encountering affectively difficult interactions which were quite common among the people that I worked with.
In speaking about the privileges that I experience even as an "insider" among Torontobased QTPOC community arts organizations, I do not maintain the fantasy that by clearly articulating these privileges, they somehow lose their social force. Speaking specifically about whiteness and anti-racism Sara Ahmed clearly illustrates this point when she states "the declarative mode involves a fantasy of transcendence in which 'what' is transcended is the very 'thing' admitted to in the declaration (for example, if we say that are racists, then we are not racists…)" (2007, p. 104). By pointing out how I am positioned in this project, my intention is not to disavow my social power relative to the people I worked with, but rather to clearly show how this position has allowed this study to unfold in a particular way.
Dissertation overview This study is concerned with how the arts function simultaneously as a state technology of governance and the means through which modes of sociality based on race, gender and sexuality are manifest. The capacity of the arts to operate in these ways is premised on their ability to serve as the grounds through which affective economic interactions occur. Chapter one examines debates about the production of ‘safe space’ among minority communities. While some scholars have insisted on the importance of “safe spaces” for marginalized people to connect with each other and to serve as a reprieve from the oppressive nature of mainstream environments, others have pointed to challenges with the practice of safe space such as the way that these settings incarcerate subaltern people while allowing privileged groups greater freedom of movement. I contribute to this debate by ethnographically demonstrating the productive and constraining ways in which QTPOC organizers mobilize “safe space” in their community arts initiatives. Forwarding an understanding of safe space as “affective atmospheres” I show how these settings are supportive by virtue of their feelings-based engagement with participants. I argue that while these settings serve as a refuge against racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia that operate in the lives of program participants, they also exclude those who are uncomfortable operating in an affective vernacular and prevent program participants from entering into mainstream art settings, which are characterized by different affective norms.
Chapter two analyzes the valuation of collective creative work under political economic conditions that foster individual capital accumulation. While the entrepreneur has been lauded as the exemplar figure of neoliberalism, this chapter demonstrates how the particular enactment of entreprenurship among certain subjects may in fact complicate neoliberal imperatives. It looks at how the city of Toronto has increased entrepreneurship-based funding to community arts programs specifically targeting marginalized groups as part of a larger cultural-economic plan for the city. While QTPOC community arts organizers have embraced these developments in order to gain funding to resource their work, they nevertheless reject the incitement to personal economic gain fostered by municipal funding policies in the prioritization of creative and accessible community development. I argue that these conditions produce a kind of “sacrificial entrpreneurship” where QTPOC organizers engage in activities associated with entrepreneurship such as fundraising and self-promotion but face personal financial hardship by funneling the resources derived from these activities into community initiatives. Focusing on sacrificial entrepreneurship as a site through to analyze the intimate workings of neoliberalism allows for an understanding of the contingency of existing political economic arrangements and for the potential to envision how other arrangements may be possible.
Chapter three extends the discussion initiated in chapter two around community arts funding by investigating how QTPOC organizers negotiate the relationships between temporality, affect and political economy in their community work. I analyze the challenges that these organizers face in attempting to transform short term initiatives largely associated with young people into sustainable intergenerational programs. This chapter contributes to the existing scholarship that investigates the sustainability of various organizational and institutional forms. By seeking to understand how these initiatives come to exit as particular temporal phenomena, it goes against the tendency of much of this literature to treat time as the inert backdrop to human activity. I demonstrate how the youthful and ephemeral nature of these initiatives are intimately related to the precarity of the arts funding systems on which the financial viability of these initiatives depend and on the volatile affective orientations of QTPOC toward both their community organizing work and each other. In their struggle for change, these organizers attempt to reconcile the competing demands of love, time and money. Ultimately, I argue that one way in which QTPOC can work to transform their initiatives along temporal lines is to reconfigure the affective and political economic contexts in which these initiatives occur.
Chapter four investigates the limitations of the kinds of political practices that queer studies scholars seek to foster in the context of their critique of how dominant gay organizations pursue mainstream assimilation. Yet their push for a politics founded on mainstream resistance can lead to other kinds of challenges when, as in the case of Toronto-based QTPOC, radicalness in the form of anti-oppression politics becomes the framework for moral evaluation. Though this approach certainly differs from the normalizing emphasis found in more mainstream gay organizing, I show how the enactment of the valorization of radical politics among QTPOC does not necessarily serve as an antidote to exclusions created by an adherence to respectability politics. Indeed, when approximation to radicalness as opposed to normalcy becomes the favored means of assessment, those deemed to be insufficiently radical are subject to exclusion through a public practice of censure referred to as “calling out”. I not only investigate the negative consequences of calling out – how it produces environments of fear and shame and compromises the humanity of those who are “called out” – but also evaluate transformative justice as one of the ways that QTPOC are formulating alternative approaches to community practice.
Chapter five analyzes the challenges that QTPOC organizers face in their attempts to make their initiatives more accessible to those who typically do not participate. I point out the tension between the production and reception of accessibility work among QTPOC as a way to think about the significance of accessibility in relation to the practice of community organizing in general. Drawing from the work of disability justice activists, queer and trans of color organizers have adopted a number of practices to ensure that people with disabilities can take part in their events. Yet some of these organizers have criticized the way in which disability justice organizing is implemented, arguing that these practice are opaque to those who are unfamiliar with Toronto’s QTPOC community arts scene. Echoing the works of community building/organizing scholars who speak to the importance of expanding social collectives that tend to adopt an inward orientation, QTPOC organizers also stress the importance of encouraging the participation of newcomers. This tension between disability justice organizing and efforts to ensure the participation newcomers surfaces questions about how organizing practices anticipatorily imagine the people they seek to include. I argue that in this process of anticipatory imagination, QTPOC accessibility efforts construct relationships among unknown others in the creation of subaltern counter public spheres.
In the concluding chapter, I attempt to think through what the future may hold for the queer and trans of color community organizations that serve as the focus of this study. In so doing I trace the trajectory of the People Project, a community-based arts initiative run by and for queer and trans youth of color. In many ways, this initiative reflects the core tensions that this study investigates. I show how the People Project labors to create environments that are welcoming and accessible to QTPOC (chapters one and five), how it struggles for financial sustainability (chapter two) and how questions of feeling are central to its operation (chapters three and four). While these concerns are not unique to the People Project, the fact that it has experienced several challenges to its continued existence warrants more careful consideration.
Given the changeability of the political economic conditions that allowed for groups like the People Project to come into being, I speculate about what these groups might look like in the years to come. Ultimately, I draw attention to a dilemma that many QTPOC community organizations (and grassroots initiatives focused on social changes in general) face in their struggle for sustainability: how to continue to pursue their work in the face of dominant assimilative pressures.
CHAPTER ONE: CREATING AFFECTIVE BOUNDARIES: “SAFE SPACE” AND THE
This chapter is centrally concerned with “safe space” and focuses on the work of ILL NANA DiverseCity Dance Company (ILL NANA). Like many other queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) community groups in Toronto, ILL NANA draws on feminist community organizing practices in mobilizing the concept of safe space to create supportive environments for art production. QTPOC organizers contend that these initiatives are necessary because of the challenges that their participants (who are often other QTPOC with limited formal arts training) face both in mainstream art environments and in their everyday lives; challenges intimately related to mechanisms of racialized, gendered and sexualized marginalization. That expectations around creating art in these initiatives focus on personal story telling mean that feelings come to be a dominant mode of social interaction as participants work through the feelings that arise from creating and showing art based on their often difficult lived realities.
I argue for an understanding of safe space in terms of affect or the “atmospheres” (Stewart, 2011) in which feelings are produced. I contend that a certain affective orientation constitutes both the boundaries of QTPOC community arts and the way in which these creative practices are differentiated from professional or “mainstream” arts, which are guided by different logics of art production. As a consequence, QTPOC community artists find it difficult to cross over into professional art circles because they are not able to receive the critical feedback necessary to improve their artistic proficiency in an overly supportive “safe space” mode of art production. In this chapter I show how the affective complexes that enable the production of a particular kind of art based on the personal experiences of minority subjects also serve as a barrier that these subjects must grappled with in their attempts to enter professional art circles.
ILL NANA DiverseCity Dance Company: Creating ‘safe space’ There were nine of us in the room that day. With sunshine streaming through the windows of the third floor makeshift dance studio at the 519 Church Street Community Center, it was surprisingly bright for a February Sunday afternoon. Yet, as much as Torontonians love to complain about the city's cold, dark winters, I am not sure if we were even paying attention to the weather outside to appreciate the sunshine. That day, as people with limited to no experience with dance, we were supposed to show our self-choreographed solo dance pieces to each other for the first time and the prickly energy of our collective nervousness was almost unbearably palpable throughout the room.
We were a part of a two month dance intensive hosted by ILL NANA, one of the many programs that it offers on a free to pay-what-you-can basis specifically to those who otherwise have difficulty accessing dance education. As a queer multi-racial dance company, ILL NANA aims to challenge mainstream ideas about who can dance and what dance is "supposed" to look like. As articulated in various grant proposals submitted to different funding bodies such as the Laidlaw foundation and ArtReach Toronto, the company explains that the intensive is a program that provides dance training to participants and culminates in a showcase where participants perform their own dance works.