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When ‘Queer’ is Not Enough

BY ALEX PANISCH

The Queer New York International Arts Festival troubles convention one performance at a time.

Love it or hate it, the term “queer” has become a virtual catch-all for all things not cisgendered or heterosexual. Though it would seem to be a term of limitless elasticity, some would argue that even one of the least defined descriptors in contemporary parlance is riddled barriers needing to be broken. Zvonimir Dobrović is one such man. 

The founder of what is now Queer Zagreb Sezonom (Queer Zagreb Season) and the Queer New York International Arts Festival, Dobrović is always questioning the status quo of queerness. 

“The point of the festival in Zagreb was to think about queer from a different perspective,” explains Dobrović, who is the artistic director of both festivals. “Beyond sexuality and gender to talk about queer as anything outside of the norm.” 

Dobrović started the festival in the Croatian capital over a decade ago and it has since blossomed into a season-long event showcasing everything from performance to film, to visual art to books. “It’s the biggest initiative of queer arts in Europe. We have over 100 events throughout the year so every week we have something happening.” It was only a few years ago that he wanted to start up a festival stateside.

“After doing the festival in Zagreb for so many years I found out that there wasn’t an international queer festival in New York,” explains Dobrović. “I thought it would be good to do it here so to challenge the traditional idea of queer that may be present in New York and to try to open it up a little bit more. I thought that somehow queer had lost its artistic relevance because it became very uniform. We’d like to break those paradigms about queerness.” 

QNYIAF has been rather successful in terms of blurring the lines between queer and not. This year’s line-up features everything from Confusions, a performance piece based Robert Musil’s homoerotic 1906 Bildungsroman, to Denuded, a dance piece “about the body, movement and stillness, breathing and, most importantly, constant contact with the audience,” to the Earl Dax’s Queer Climate Chautauqua—a workshop designed to mobilize people to take part in September 21’s People’s Climate March in New York City and help construct Queer Planet, a temporary art instillation. Dax is the recipient of a grant named for Dobrović’s late husband, Andre Von Ah.

Dobrović is quite pleased with how QNYIAF has turned out. “A lot of artists didn’t want to be labeled as queer, because they thought it would pigeonhole them or that curators would not take them seriously. I wanted to break this idea that queer art is not artistically interesting and that it’s just this kind of representational art. Now after doing the queer festivals in New York, curators come to the festival and they follow what we do.”

Dobrović has big plans for QNYIAF. “We’d like to focus on the local artistic scene, local artists, and local productions. We’d like to connect international artists and local artists to create new work.” 

Though it may only be in its third year, the Queer New York International Arts Festival has already challenged longstanding notions of queerness with its cadre of international artists and performers. Experimental, exciting, and a launch pad for new talent, QNYIAF may be on its way to becoming a New York institution.

The Queer New York International Arts Festival runs through September 27. 

Trans* woman claims self-defense in case

by Gretchen Rachel Blickensderfer
2014-09-17

Like any 22-year-old growing up in a country that has historically prided itself on opportunities available to all, Eisha Love had dreams. On a website, she showcased photographs of herself, saying she was looking to get a start in life. “I am a hard worker and a fast learner,” she wrote. “I know I was born to model.”

But as a transgender woman of color living in Austin, a neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, Love was a part of an entirely different world that hardly anyone outside of those streets seemed to either care about or notice at all.

It is one of hopelessness, with few if any public services available to those who want to escape from a cycle of brutal daily violence in which the lives of transgender and queer youth are considered dispensable, subjected to ferocious attacks and murder from those who control the neighborhood and—in the opinions of many LGBTQ people living there—harassment from a police department who seem more invested in profiling them than solving any of the savage crimes to which they fall victim.

So it was that—on March 28, 2012, at approximately 10:55 a.m.—Love was read her Miranda rights at the District 11 police station on Harrison Street on the city’s West Side. She had reportedly been involved in an incident that started when she was harassed and physically assaulted at a gas station, and allegedly ended when she hit one of the attackers with her car while she was fleeing from them.

The arrest report the Chicago Police Department ( CPD ) filed says she told the arresting officer, “I was the one that was in the car accident.” The police used her birth name of Darveris and male pronouns in the arrest report that charged Love with aggravated battery, driving on a revoked license and driving without insurance. She was transported to Cook County Jail’s Division 11—a medium security facility—and assigned a defender from Cook County Public Defender A.C. Cunningham Jr.’s office.

A little more than one month later, a grand jury indicted Love on charges of first-degree attempted murder and aggravated battery. She was transferred to the maximum-security, all-male Division 9 and placed in protective custody. She has remained there for almost two-and-a-half years, locked in her cell for 22 hours a day with a male roommate.

Channyn Lynne Parker is a community advocate who has visited transgender detainees at the Cook County Jail for the past 18 months. During one of those visits this past August, Love told Parker her story. It immediately raised questions in Parker’s mind that something about Love’s situation was terribly wrong. “She confided in me that she was facing 10 years in prison,” Parker told Windy City Times. “When Eisha, me and the social worker I was working with began to talk, I was just appalled. It made me question why her case wasn’t being brought into the proper context for the court to hear.”

Parker posted her thoughts on her Facebook page. On Aug. 23, Addison Vincent, a student at Chapman University in Orange, California, saw the post, got in touch with Parker and started a Change.org petition, “#FreeEisha,” that told Love’s story. “A young transwoman sits detained in the Cook County Jail, facing 10 years imprisonment for 1st degree attempted murder,” Vincent wrote. “Her crime? Self-defense.”

As of Sept. 14, that petition had garnered more than 4,000 signatures, along with messages of support from around the world.

In order to talk to Love, Windy City Times had to see her through visitation permitted to friends and family. No electronic or recording devices, pens or notepaper are allowed. Upon approval of an application form, visitors must show their ID at the entrance to the jail. They then walk through a maze of fences and descend underground via a flight of stairs into a dimly lit waiting area with only raised slabs of concrete as seats. Time passes—sometimes well over an hour—before the detainee’s name is announced.

Following a second security search involving an X-ray scan and thorough pat-down, visitors are ordered to line up against a wall. A guard leads them through a long, dark corridor to a metal elevator that ascends and opens into a narrow room with a line of Plexiglass windows on the right each containing a small, red grate in the center. Eventually, handcuffed prisoners in yellow jumpsuits enter from the jail and take their seats on the opposite side of the glass.

Against the male prisoners, Love appeared quite diminutive. Her dark hair was brushed back from her head, she had no make-up on and, underneath her eyes, heavy bags seemed to betray many a sleepless night. Her appearance was a far cry from the pictures on her modeling website that were taken before her ordeal began—a radiant, confident young woman with a disarming smile and deep brown eyes that betrayed her dream to one day be just as successful as Carmen Carrera.

Yet, when she recognized her visitor, her lips curved into that same delightful smile—as if for a moment she completely forgot where she was. A compliment brought a pause and a self-conscious blush. She joked about her hair and then added hopefully, “Someone from the beauty school is coming next week. They’re going to help fix it.”

She spoke quickly as if she believed the visit was going to be terminated at any minute. She alternated between pressing her ear to the grate to listen to her visitor and then turning to speak into it. She talked candidly about life on the violent streets of Austin, the love she has for her family, the appalling conditions of the jail and her dreams that began as a desire to go into the culinary arts and then to become a model—dreams that were cut short by the events of March 28, 2012.

Less than one month after Love’s arrest, another transgender woman of color named Paige Clay, 23, was discovered in an alley in West Garfield Park on April 19, 2012. She had been shot through the head.

On Aug. 15, 2012, the body of Donta “Tiffany” Gooden, 19, was found less than a one-half mile away with—according to the report at the time by Windy City Times reporter Kate Sosin—”multiple stab wounds and incised wounds.”

In its report detailing the homicides of LGBTQ people in 2012, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs ( NCAVP ) noted that the year “remained the fourth highest ever recorded. The disproportionate impact of homicides against people of color, transgender women, and gender non-conforming LGBTQ and HIV-affected people continued in 2012.”

Chicago’s Center on Halsted Anti-Violence Project ( COH AVP ) findings for the year indicated that “23% of reported victims/survivors of hate violence identified as Transgender, including the only homicides reported to COH AVP in 2012.”

The report also stated, “We suspect attention to incidents of hate violence shifted as a large part of the LGBTQ population and organizations in Chicago turned their attention to winning same-sex marriage rights in Illinois during the past year.”

Even growing up in Austin, with drug deals and the sounds of gunshots occurring on the street outside her home, Love had no idea of the rate at which transgender women of color were being attacked in that neighborhood.

Born on April 10, 1989, the eldest sister of a large family, her earliest memories revolve around the knowledge that there was something different about her. At first, she thought she was gay—an idea that terrified her. In a Windy City Times interview, Love’s mother—who asked only to be identified as “Callie”—recalled that her young daughter liked to walk around in her mother’s shoes and put on her dresses. Callie thought it was “cute” but—like many parents of children who express a different gender identity than that assigned at birth—Love’s mother initially dismissed it as a phase.

But it wasn’t, and Love’s pain and confusion often displayed itself in anguished tears or angry outbursts. Love said she was kicked out of school during her sophomore year. She tried taking jobs, but none of them paid the kind of money that would allow Love both to survive and meet the exorbitant transition-related costs required to fulfill her desperate need to match her body with her identity.

However, on March 28, 2012, Love had a different goal in mind—a surprise birthday present for her mother of chocolate-covered strawberries. Sometime between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., she and a friend drove up in her car—identified in the arrest report as a 1997 Lincoln Continental—and parked adjacent to the Citgo station on the corner of West Madison Street and North Kilbourn Avenue in Austin.

There, they were met by two men—one of whom began attacking her verbally. Love was no stranger to slurs. Callie told Windy City Times that Love had been dealing with them for a long time as a transgender woman on the streets of Austin. But she eventually learned to just keep her head down and ignore them. This time, however, the men wanted Love and her friend out of their neighborhood, and the tirade of anti-transgender insults escalated until one of the men punched Love in the face.

According to the arresting officer, Love “began looking for bottles to use for defense.” At this point, the report maintains that the complainant in the case ran when Love began to look for a bottle and that Love “got in ‘his’ car and followed.”

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American performers get standing ovation in Iran

Updated 6:10 am, Friday, September 19, 2014

In this Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, American puppeteer Julia Miller, second right, speaks as her group members Sara Fornace, right, co-director Drew Dir, second left, and Kyle Vegter listen during an interview with The Associated Press two days prior to the group's performance for the Tehran Mobarak Puppet Festival in Iran. Visits by American artists are very rare in Iran because of the bad relations between the two countries, which have had no formal diplomatic relations since 1979, when militant students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostages for 444 days. Photo: Vahid Salemi, AP / AP

In this Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, American puppeteer Julia Miller, second right speaks as her group members Sara Fornace, right, co-director Drew Dir, second left, and Kyle Vegter listen during an interview with The Associated Press two days prior to the group’s performance for the Tehran Mobarak Puppet Festival in Iran. Visits by American artists are very rare in Iran because of the bad relations between the two countries, which have had no formal diplomatic relations since 1979, when militant students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostages for 444 days. Photo: Vahid Salemi, AP

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Hundreds of Iranian art lovers gave a troupe of Chicago-based puppeteers flowers and a lengthy standing ovation at the Tehran City Theater at the end of their historic performance this week during a rare visit by American performers to the Islamic Republic.

In this Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014 photo, American artists from the Manual Cinema group perform a live cinematic shadow puppet show during the Tehran Mobarak Puppet Festival at the City Theater in Iran. Hundreds of Iranian art lovers gave a troupe of Chicago-based puppeteers flowers and a lengthy standing ovation at the Tehran City Theater at the end of their historic performance this week during a rare visit by American performers to the Islamic Republic. Photo: Vahid Salemi, AP / AP

The artists from the Manual Cinema group presented Ada/Ava, a live cinematic shadow puppet show at the Tehran Mobarak Puppet Festival, in the first such performance by an American troupe at the Tehran event in nearly 17 years.

"You are the best audience we have ever had and met. We have been so impressed by all the artists and puppeteers here," Drew Dir, the co-director of the 10-member group, told the audience after the performance.

Visits by American artists are very rare in Iran because of the bad relations between the two countries, which have had no formal diplomatic relations since 1979, when militant students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostages for 444 days.

The puppeteers’ story is set in New England and uses the fantastic and supernatural to explore mourning, melancholy and the self.

It portrays the bereavement of Ada, a septuagenarian, for her twin sister Ava and her solitary existence after a life built for two.

Sarah Fornace, one of the troupe’s members, said she was surprised by the standing ovation.

"It is a real honor and it does not happen all the time. So I felt really lucky to get one here," she said.

The presence of the group in at the festival led to another rare event — an American flag was hoisted over the entrance gate of the City Theater building in downtown Tehran.

Saeed Leilaz, a Tehran-based political analyst believed the American attendance at the puppet show was an indication of improving relations after decades of mistrust.

"People on both side have no particular problem with each other," he said. "Iranians in general and the middle class in particular seek better ties with the United States."

It was the first performance by the group outside the United States .The Ada/Ava show has been on the stage in the U.S since 2011. The performers arrived on Monday and will leave on Sunday.

There will be 47 shows in the festival, including eight foreign ones from the United States, Afghanistan, Armenia, China, Germany, Netherlands, Serbia and Spain.

In this Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014 photo, American puppeteer Lisi Breit, second left, a member the Manual Cinema group, talks to Iranian audiences about the group's performance at the end of their show during the Tehran Mobarak Puppet Festival in Iran. Hundreds of Iranian art lovers gave a troupe of Chicago-based puppeteers flowers and a lengthy standing ovation at the Tehran City Theater at the end of their historic performance this week during a rare visit by American performers to the Islamic Republic. Photo: Vahid Salemi, AP / AP

The festival began its activities in 1989.

"I was surprised that an American group attended the festival. It is a very positive move," said Rahman Bayani a 32-year-old engineer who was in the audience. “It is very good indicating there is friendship between the nations.”

At the David Bowie Variety Hour, you’ll experience an incredible array of styles from across the spectrum of Chicago’s dynamic performance community—from synthpop to hip-hop, from burlesque to body positive. 
Culture curator Jyldo hosts an evening of glitter and glam to celebrate master chameleon David Bowie. Put on your red shoes for a rollicking evening with Chicago club and stage stars—all anchored by Nick Davio’s house band.
About the artists and more information here: 
http://www2.mcachicago.org/event/the-david-bowie-variety-hour/
AB SOTO
CAMP SALONDAWEGA - A Salonathon Presents Artistic Adventure @ Camp Wandawega, WI created and managed by Jane Beachy, Will Von Vogt, & Corrie Bessie. Photo courtesy of Zack Lee Frazier. #campSalondawega

Alison Bechdel just won a MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ grant. She’s already changed the way we talk about film.

 September 17


Alison Bechdel in her studio at the castle of Civitella Ranieri, in central Italy, where she’s doing an artist’s residency. (Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

With one test, cartoonist Alison Bechdel changed the way we think about and discuss film.

In her comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For,” which ran from 1983 to 2008, she offered a basic metric used to illustrate just how male-dominated the film industry actually is.

The test, which Bechdel coined in 1985 in a strip titled “The Rule,” consists of three questions which set a baseline not for gender parity, but for the simple inclusion of women in a film in any meaningful way:

1) Does it have two female characters?

2) Who talk to each other?

3) About something other than a man?

If the answer to all three questions is yes, the film passes the Bechdel test. The concept has made the jump from mostly feminist circles to the mainstream as a bare-bones indicator of women’s roles in film. In April, Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight asserted films that pass the Bechdel testmake significantly more money. Last year, just 15 percent of top filmsfeatured women in lead roles and 30 percent of speaking roles. This comes at a time where we like to think the conditions for women in film are evolving — New York Times critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis sayrepresentation is improving, albeit at a glacial pace. “Maleficent” for example, was the only non-super-hero film of the summer to cross the $600 million mark in worldwide revenue. It’s now up to $754 million according to Box Office Mojo. Young stars such as Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley aren’t being pigeon-holed in the romantic comedy trap, but are leading successful franchises. Even “Lucy,” with its premise based in a myth that seems truthy, gives reason for hope when it comes to strong female leads.

When we discuss women in film, it’s almost impossible not to invoke the Bechdel test. Now, Bechdel is one of 21 people awarded a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, colloquially known as a “genius grant.”

Here’s what you may not know about Bechdel:

  • This summer, she published a sketchbook about an old fling for a love-themed issue of the New Yorker. It begins: “I once had a lovely affair with someone who was kind, beautiful, smart, interesting, sane, and available. I broke it off after a few weeks.”
  • She’s the author of a graphic memoir called “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” which was adapted into a musical, and “Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama.” “Fun Home” was staged at the Public Theater in New York last year. It explores Bechdel’s experience coming out to her father — she learned that her father had had gay relationships of his own — and her father’s suicide a few months later.Slate called it “the first mainstream musical about a young lesbian.”
  • She’s doing an artist residency in Umbria, Italy, at a castle called Civitella Ranieri, where she’s been experimenting with a giant roll of white paper — 5 feet by 30 feet, she said. She used it for large, life-size drawings in charcoal. 
Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
hmelt:

“Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color is an intentional community space. Our mission is to nurture, celebrate, and preserve diversity within the queer poetry community. Through this journal, we are attempting to center the lives and experiences of QPOC in contemporary America.”
Read the inaugural issue of Nepantla, curated by Christopher Soto in collaboration with The Lambda Literary Foundation.
holeboss:

about to get to work.