«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
Masti: Exactly and share the hard immigrant stories and learning it wasn't my fault. The hard things in my life were common stories that happened to everybody, so de-centering myself from the hardness was really important for me at the time and also so many of us didn't have access to arts. We were working class kids. [As] immigrant kids…[we would hear] “be a doctor, be a lawyer, don't focus on art that doesn't help you” In talking to QTPOC community arts organizers and those who participate in their initiatives, many connected this emphasis on creating safe space in otherwise hostile environments to a particular kind of feminine labor. For instance, Leah Lakshmi PiepznaSamarasinha writer, performance artist and cultural worker who describes herself as "queer disabled Sri Lankan cis6 femme writer, performer, organizer and badass visionary healer" and who is a co-founder of AAFS spoke extensively on this topic when I asked her a question about The term “cis” refers to individuals whose current understanding of their gender identity is congruent with the gender identity with which they were raised.
what I saw as the prevalence of women in QTPOC community organizing in Toronto7. As I continued to learn about different groups doing community arts organizing among queer and trans people in Toronto, I began to notice that there were not very many non-trans/cis-men around. Most of the people in leadership positions in these initiatives and those participating and attending programs, events and activities consider themselves to be queer cis-women with some, but noticeably fewer gender queer and transmasculine folks8. Given Leah’s extensive involvement with activism in the city, I wanted to know if she had noticed a similar trend.
Drawing from her experience doing arts-based political work across the United State and in different countries around the world, she says that she sees Toronto as "femme city" and argues, "as femme-of-center organizers, we have a kind of politics of nurturance that we don't see as separate from the work we are doing… and I don't mean in some kind of self-sacrificial mommy role that's unsustainable". She is cautious in not trying to create a rigid gender binary because she concedes that masculine-of-center people can nurture as well. However, she wants to The predominance of female labor that I witnessed in QTPOC community arts can also be seen in Toronto’s community arts sector in general. Ella Cooper, manager at the Toronto Neighborhood Arts Network, which describes itself as "the place where arts community engagement meet in Toronto…[with] over 1,025 members, including artists, arts organizations, cultural workers and community agencies" (Toronto Neighbourhood Arts Network, n.d.) states, "What I appreciate in community arts is that there's a real blend. There are individuals who see themselves as “they”. There are a lot of "they’s" and "she’s" and less "he’s" you know?" In commenting on her study of community arts initiatives in three different Toronto neighborhoods, (Charlton et al., 2013) Margo Charlton, researcher at the Toronto Arts Foundation (a non-profit charitable organization that attempts to garner support of the arts from individuals, private and public foundations, government agencies and corporate donors) shares that her study found that more women than men are involved in community arts in Toronto. Drawing from the conclusions of this study, as well as her own experiences as a community artist (Many of the employees in arts funding/administration organizations focusing on community arts have had extensive first-hand experience in the field prior to assuming their current positions.), Margo shares that the predominance of women in community arts is quite common because more often than not community arts programming in Toronto is geared toward children and youth, largely seen to be a female domain. She identifies the connection between community arts and the work of social service agencies as another potential explanatory factor, given that the roles in these organizations (which are not very well remunerated) tend to be staffed by women. Again, I want to re-iterate that the groups that I chose to work with are not institutionalized initiatives and are only tangentially connected to more formal organizations such as community health centers and not for profit agencies. Among the community arts initiatives that are more closely connected to institutions - where the pay tends to be steadier and more plentiful - there tend to be more cis men employed than among those initaitives that are less connected in the same way.
There is a clear absence of transwomen that almost all research participants commented on and attributed to transmisogyny both within mainstream society and in their social circles acknowledge the attempts to counter the sexism that often exists within traditional community organizing approaches where activities such as relationship building, childcare and getting the food are not perceived as "real" organizing skills such as coordinating rallies and giving inspiring speeches to large crowds.
Many of the characteristics of QTPOC community arts initatives, including the attempt to create “safe space”, are similar to practices of consciousness-raising (as Masti noted earlier) developed by second wave feminists in North America in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Kathie Sarachild (1970) is credited with the development of consciousness raising which involves women meeting in small groups to share their experiences through personal testimony. These kinds of meetings were understood to be necessary because women held negative self-images of themselves in part because of their subjugation to men. By recognizing that their individual experiences were not isolated events, women began to realize that they were not to blame for their negative experiences (Chesebro, Cragan, & McCullough, 1973; Sowards & Renegar, 2004).
The practice of consciousness-raising was often also quite cathartic as women would share thoughts that often caused them anguish and agony. In its original formulation, Sarachild wrote “in our groups, let’s share our feelings and pool them. Let’s let ourselves go and see where our feelings lead us. Our feelings will lead us to ideas and then to actions” (1970, p. 78) The development of consciousness-raising is closely tied to the credence “the personal is political” (Hanisch, 1970) in which women increasingly sought to bring issues that were previously associated with the “private” realm into the domain of the “public”. While second wave feminists were later roundly criticized for their inattention to the differences among women (Crenshaw, 1989; Minh-ha, 1989; Chandra Talpade Mohanty, 1991; Moraga & Anzaldúa, 1981), and though the practice of consciousness-raising has been criticized, for instance in its undertheorization of “experience” (Scott, 1991; Spivak, 1972), the emphasis on the political import of “the personal” and concerns related to the private sphere continue to resonate within feminist community organizing. Stall and Stoecker thus argue that a “women-centered model” of community organizing is characterized by “building expanded private sphere relationships and empowering individuals through those relationships” (2005, p. 198). This model resonates with Gutierrez and Lewis’s (2012) description of the organizing work of women of color and aptly describes some of the ways in which queer women of color in particular have struggled against intertwined mechanisms of racism, sexism and homophobia. For instance, in writing against the homophobia in Black and Black feminist organizing efforts, Audre Lorde (1988) insists on the significance of Black lesbian labor in these initiatives not only in terms of protesting and advocating for institutional reform but also in terms of arguably more private sphere activities such as preparing food, supplying sexual health products and mentoring young Black women.
She states, “When Yoli [Yolanda Rios] and I cooked curried chicken and beans and rice and took our extra blankets and pillows up the hill to the striking students occupying buildings at City College in 1969, demanding open admissions and the right to an education, I was a Black Lesbian. When I walked through the midnight hallways of Lehman College that same year, carrying Midol and Kotex pads for the young Black radical women taking part in the action, and we tried to persuade them that their place in the revolution was not ten paces behind Black men, that spreading their legs to the guys on the tables in the cafeteria was not a revolutionary act no matter what the brothers said, I was a Black Lesbian.” (1988, p. 28) Yet it is important to look at how these particular practices come to be associated with queer women of color through the establishment and contingent maintenance of social conventions. Drawing on Austin’s speech act theory, Althusser’s notion of interpellation and Derrida’s insights on iterability, Butler (1993) proposes a performative theory of gender whereby gender is continuously being enacted in ways that may reproduce and/or subvert existing gendered regimes. The work of anthropologists have been helpful in ethnographically elaborating how such regimes play a role in the way that activities such as personal story telling and the emphasis on feelings in consciousness raising groups come to be associated with women.
For instance, Ramos-Zaya’s (2012) work on affect in Newark, New Jersey emphasizes the importance of the role of emotions in the way that women are constituted as racialized and sexualized subjects. She argues that while Latinas and Latin American immigrant women acknowledge the suffering that African Americans as a group experience, they nevertheless focus on particular emotional qualities that they attribute to Black women including jealousy, hyper masculinity, carelessness about personal appearance and a propensity to violence. RamosZayas work provides a counterpoint to the association between feelings-based care and women’s work by demonstrating how processes of racialization and sexuality play into the way in which certain kind of emotional characteristics are applied to particular kinds of women. Thus, while Toronto-based QTPOC community arts organizers understand the work that goes into the production of safe spaces (and the feelings-based interactions that often follow from this production) to be associated with a femme of color approach to organizing, it is important to note that this association is not necessarily possible under different constellations of race, gender, sexuality and emotion.
Theorizing safe space: Making affect I propose that the insights afforded by affect theory provide useful tools in thinking about how to conceptualize “safe space” as created by QTPOC community arts organizers. The genealogy of concept of "affect" may be traced to Baruch Spinoza (1992) who, contrary to René Descartes conception of "man" as the composite of two radically different substances (mental and physical), maintained a metaphysical monism such that "man" is composed of only one substance characterized by an infinite number of attributes. According to Spinoza, affect refers to a body's capacity to affect and be affected whereby this capacity is never defined solely by a body in and of itself but is always supported by the context of its force relations. (Body in this case is not confined to a human body but also simply entities in general). This emphasis on capacity means that affect is not an object or a thing but rather must be understood in terms of "becoming". For instance, in their attempt to forward a Foucauldian concept of "economies of affect" Analiese Richard and Daromir Rudnyckyj (2009) examine the process of making neoliberal subjects. They consider affect to be a form of conduct, or the means through which people conduct themselves and others. In this formulation, affect is less an object of circulation than a medium through which subjects act on others and are acted on.
The work of Kathleen Stewart is helpful in thinking about safe space in terms of affect or the medium through which feeling subjects are produced. In her text Ordinary Affects Stewart describes ordinary affects as "the varied surging capacities to affect and be affected that give everyday life the quality of a continual motion of relations, scenes, contingencies and emergencies" (2007, p. 2) and maintains that "their significance lies in the intensities they build and in what thoughts and feelings they make possible" (2007, p. 3 emphasis added). In her article "Atmospheric attunements" Stewart draws on Heidegger's concept of "worlding" to describe the "intimate, compositional process of dwelling in spaces that bears, gestures, gestates, worlds" (2011, p. 445) and argues for an understanding of atmospheres not as the effect of other forces but as lived affects, the force fields in which people find themselves. To attend to these atmospheric attunements is to take note of how "incommensurate elements hang together in a scene that bodies labor to be in or to get through" (2011, p. 452). Stewart's work allows for an understanding of "safe space" in affective terms such that participants’ emotional experiences in Toronto-based QTPOC community art programming are facilitated by the kind of "atmospheres" that organizers labor to create.