Done with Diversity

This weekend Love Intersections co-hosted the first of two community gatherings called “Done with Diversity: Reframing the future for Indigenous and Racialized Artists”, in collaboration with several Indigenous organizations and other artists of colour, including Full Circle: First Nations Performing Arts, Visceral Visions, co.ERASGA, Vancouver Moving Theatre, Britannia Community Centre, and Rungh Cultural Society.  The idea for the gathering grew from Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires, which is a multi-year, Canada wide initiative to decolonize the Canadian arts system, led by Indigenous artists and supported by racialized artists, by centering Indigenous arts practices.  The central question we gathered around what  “What does a decolonized Canadian arts system look like?”.  The two gatherings are funded through the City of Vancouver’s “Host Your Own Engagement” program.

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“Done with Diversity” is certainly a loaded phrase – and we deliberately chose it because as racialized artists and artists of colour, we are so fed up with the liberal ways that this idea of “diversity and inclusion” tokenizes us through the narrative of equity and equality, but in reality, the systemic barriers remain in place.  We want more than just tokenistic gestures: we want to work towards decolonizing the Canadian arts system (and Canada) through centring Indigenous arts practices.  Below are some of my thoughts from conversations at our gathering on Saturday, and some questions that opened up from our conversations.

I left the gathering on Saturday with a deep sense of gratitude to be amongst black, brown, yellow bodies (and allies) in a facilitated space that allowed us to speak, to be present, and to be our whole selves.  It was such a power space to be able to talk about the traumas of systemic racism, and the impacts of colonialism to Indigenous communities, in a space that allowed us to be vulnerable, scared, angry, and make mistakes, without fear of retribution.

Several themes emerged from our gathering on Saturday.  We talked at length about the need to connect, to have space to share, build solidarity and relationships.  To have the time, energy, and resources to work together is deeply impacted by systemic barriers, and is a racialized issue.  How can we find ways to get together more, to imagine new possibilities – new worlds – outside of the colonial paradigm?

The notion of relations and relationships was also a key theme that emerged from the discussions on Saturday.  Neoliberalism is a deeply pervasive systemic issue, that dictates much of our lives, particularly in the arts community, where values are placed on production (literally).  When “what you produce” is the key factor on how artists get rewarded, what other impacts get left out when the metrics are governed by neoliberalism?  What happens when we centre right relations, with our communities, with our ancestors, with our future generations?

These ideas and conversations that we had on Saturday are only the beginning of what we hope will be a future of working together towards a decolonized Canadian arts system.

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Untold Queer Stories: 2018 Storyhive Series by Love Intersections

I recently watched the new Star Wars film (The Last Jedi).

While my partner was far more excited than I was to line up an hour early to get our prime seats (honestly, I was just excited to see Kylo Ren, on whom I have a huge crush :P)…the first 10 minutes got me hooked.  Not because of the dramatic opening battle, or the CGI, but because immediately in the first few minutes of the film, I started noticing the Asian characters in the film.

As a Chinese person who rarely gets to see someone like me on screen, I can tell you the feeling the exact moment I saw the first Asian character in Star Wars – the officer on the bridge of the First Order’s ship that had about 2 seconds of screen time in the first 15 minutes of the film – I saw him.   The central character, Rose, (who is played Kelly Marie Tran, a Vietnamese-American actor), of course really stole the show.  But I can tell you that even with her and Finn taking up most of the POC spotlight, I noticed all three of the other Asian characters in the film as well.  The dude on the bridge, Rose’s sister, and a gambler in Canto Bight.

Somewhere in my brain, I’ve parked those memories of representation on screen, from a Hollywood film I watched 2 weeks ago.  If something as simple as Star Wars can imprint a memory of seeing someone that looks like me in on screen/in media, how could more frequent, more visible, more empowered images of people of colour – let alone queer people of colour – make me feel?

In August last year, I got a message from Jen (Co-Artistic Director of Love Intersections), that we got a grant from Telus’ Storyhive program, to fund a 6 episode series on “Untold Queer Stories”.  This exciting opportunity will allow us to use this platform to share more untold queer stories…including our own, and why we formed Love Intersections – a group of queer people of colour who use the arts to make visible the invisible.  We don’t want to just be “represented” on screen: we want to tell our own stories, in a way that WE want them told.

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The Storyhive series marks a big milestone for us, as a group of queer artists who started this thing because we were frustrated at the way that we were being represented in media. It marks an opportunity to bring our stories from the fringes into the mainstream, and to seize the means of storytelling into our own hands: to tell stories that could (and should) also be told.

Maybe one day I won’t have to explain why seeing 3 Asian people in Star Wars did something to me.  Maybe one day, fighting for visibility will be a thing in the past.  Maybe one day, the simple act of sharing queer, untold stories, won’t need to be this groundbreaking, controversial, revolutionary act….but for now it is, and we are looking forward to sharing these stories with you, through a lens of love.

Stay tuned for more about our 6 part series, airing in June/July 2018.

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It Runs in the Family: Vancouver Premiere

We recently spoke with Vancouver based filmmaker Joella Cabalu about her film It Runs in the Family – a film about her own family’s story about being Filipino immigrants in Canada, and their relationships to the queer people in their lives.
It Runs in the Family is premiering at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival:
Tuesday, August 16 at 9 pm, International Village
Tickets available starting July 14:
http://queerfilmfestival.ca/films/it-runs-in-the-family/

1) “It Runs in the Family” – why the title, and what inspired you to go on this journey with your brother?

Coming up with an intriguing title that captures the story and spirit of the film and catches people’s attentions is such a challenge! I had a placeholder title during the development and production of the film, but the current title came during an editing session. I had previously talked to a friend about the film and she suggested IRITF. It was in the back of my mind and I relayed it to my editor Alexandra Marriott. When I met with Alex the following day for an edit session, she had cut the title into the opening sequence and we (myself, producer Cari Green, Alex) all had the same “aha” moment! It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek but also intrigues audiences into thinking what “it” could be!

The idea for the film sparked in my mind when I watched the documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So”. Jay had recently come out to me and this film portrayed five American Christian families and how they each dealt with the coming out of their child. But I noticed that out of the five families only one was a family of colour, so it made me wonder what would that story look like for my own family – a Filipino immigrant family.

2) I love the premise of the film – a personal story of an immigrant family and their journey with the queer members of their own family.  What  surprised you about making a film about this topic, and what do you hope the film shares?

The film is cut in a way such that the audience is discovering things about our relatives just as Jay and I were learning about them. So one thing that I didn’t expect going into filming was how constructs like “coming out” are perceived very differently in North America than in the Philippines. It challenged our ideas around the politics of “coming out” and I hope that sparks dialogue amongst the audiences as well.

3) The film has had an incredibly successful film festival run, and is now premiering home in Vancouver! What have been audience responses? What reactions have stood out in the festival run?

We had our US premiere at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival and that was the first time that the cast and crew watched the film together with an audience. And the response was absolutely incredible! We were actually awarded the Audience Choice Award! A common reaction to the film is that it’s refreshing to see a positive representation of an Asian / Filipino family as accepting and loving of their LGBTQ family members. One audience member remarked that it’s inspiring to know that these families exist! 

The Politics of Sexy: Race, Trans, Love

We spoke with Kai Cheng Thom – Artist, Activist, Therapist, Performer – about her journey being queer, trans, Asian, her relationship with feminism, amongst many other things! Here is a sneak preview of the clip:

”[…] When we can talk about being loved, and when we can talk about loving our bodies, and loving other people’s bodies outside of how much they are valued sexually – then we can talk about equality.”

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A few months ago, we spoke with Kira about her journey coming out, and she generously shared with us her life and her dreams.  As a Trans* woman who came out and transitioned in adulthood, Kira explores some of the things she went through, and what it meant to come out later in life.

“10,579Km: A Queer Journey from Damascus to Vancouver”

Our newest film is “10,579Km: A Queer Journey from Damascus to Vancouver”- a story of Danny Ramadan, a queer activist from Syria, who has recently made his home in Vancouver, after seeking refuge from imminent persecution.  Danny shares with us his new life and home in Vancouver, some challenges integrating into the queer community as a gay Syrian refugee, as well some hopes that he has for the future.

Check out the trailer below.  For screening information, please email us! intersectinglove@gmail.com

Qmunity – the queer resource centre in Vancouver – has recently launched a queer drop in for refugees and newcomers, called ‘Routes to Roots’.  The next drop in is on June 7th at Qmunity.  For more info email volunteers@qmunity.ca

What Does Accessibility Look Like? My journey as an Ally in the Disability Justice Movement

Co-written by Weldon Haywood

I recently started tutoring a friend of mine, who has some learning disabilities.  In preparing for a workshop on Accessibility for Disability Awareness Week at Simon Fraser University (SFU), I’ve been reflecting on my journey for someone like myself, who has the privilege of navigating the world, as an able bodied person in an ableist world, with enough resources to have mental health supports.

Talking to my friend and working with him to find ways to navigate the education system has been extremely frustrating, as I am learning that for someone like my friend who has multiple disabilities, there are an insurmountable number of barriers that he faces to receive even the remoteness level of equal opportunity that I received when I attended post secondary.

It has really made me reflect on my own experience attending Simon Fraser University (where my friend is now attending) – and how easy it is to take for granted the luxury of being closer to “the norm”, and how in our ableist and able-body-centred society, it makes life incredibly easy for someone like me, and really difficult for others, like my friend.

Things like taking notes in class – which in my ableist ignorance seems “normal”, and “a given”…I don’t even think twice about taking notes in class, is on the other hand a huge feat for someone like my friend, who has to navigate the services and accommodations that are provided by the school. Without a note taker note taking could take him several hours a day (which takes away time from studying, writing papers, etc), which severely impacts his learning experience.  Whereas for someone like myself it’s not something I even think twice about.

In preparing for a workshop that I am working on with my friend on Disability Justice and Accessibility, called (What Does Accessibility Look Like? ) that is focused on the education system partially in the classroom structure.  I’ve really begun to think about the ways that we can be transforming the communities we live in, so that we can begin to operate on the notion of “assumed differences”.

Norms are really dangerous.  

As queer people, we know that the “norm” of “heterosexuality” and the “norm” of the gender binary “male vs. female” has been dangerous, and often even violent, to our communities.  As a queer, feminist, person of colour, and having been involved with organizing against the norm of patriarchal male privilege, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, white supremacy/white privilege – I wonder how much of  my own involvement in movement building has actually integrated the importance of extending that notion of including differences of our abilities/disabilities? My friend has really enlightened me on the importance of Disability Justice within our movements in creating social change and what it looks like to be an ally to people with disabilities.

One of the things that I’ve been also thinking about through my recent engagements on this topic,is that there is a difference between a rights based, civil liberties based, movement – where rights are granted to you.  This idea that disabled people “should be granted the same rights” as everyone else.

Is that good enough?

Disability Justice offers us a different, more integrated approach – that it’s not about disabled people being granted the same rights as us, it’s the transformation of communities, institution, and systems, that needs to happen so that we create a society that fundamentally appreciates differences. As my friend had expressed to me ‘equallness’ does not mean sameness, since we all learn differently it means providing creative solutions that takes into account different ways students  learn, for example having other alternatives to exams, which in the end gives equal opportunity for success for individuals like my friend.  What I have also learned from my friend is that we need to challenge what inclusion looks like, so that people with learning differences like him do not need to self advocate and approach teachers for alternative learning methods – the alternative learning methods should have already been in place, not as an afterthought.

Afterall, let’s not forget that the idea that making the effort to make something accessible is helping a “minority population” – is a complete myth.  We are not all going to be able bodied for our whole lives, we are all – yes, that’s all of us – temporarily able bodied.
Working towards transforming communities to incorporate a Disability Justice discourse should be part and parcel of the work that we do as activists…and it’s something that I will continue to work on.

Joella and Jay: The Importance of Allyship and Family

One of my favourite ways to explain the importance of allies, is something that I heard from Jen about allyship in the queer community. It’s this idea that while it may be challenging at times, queer folks can (and do) navigate the world on their own…but having an ally can make it easier, and more fun, to navigate the world together.

Allies are also critical to the queer movement, because allies can often access spaces more easily (and safely) than some folks, and can therefore advocate or do work in those spaces.

When we heard about Jay and Joella’s story, we were excited to capture and share this brother and sister relationship. After watching a documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So” on how five American Christian families dealt with their family members coming out, Joella was inspired to make a film about her own Filipino Roman Catholic family and when Jay came out to them. Though the film deeply resonated with Joella, she found that there was a lack of diverse representation of a person of colour’s experience coming out to their family (out of the five families, only one was a family of colour). This influenced the creation of their film “It Runs in the Family”, which documents Jay, his relationship with family and religion, and along with his sister traveling to the US and the Philippines to meet their other queer relatives. They have intimate conversations on how they have reconciled their Roman Catholic faith with their sexual orientation while maintaining their family ties.

“It Runs in the Family” produced by OUTtv Network and directed by Joella Cabalu will have a festival run starting late 2015 with a broadcast television release next summer 2016.

To find out more information please visit the Facebook page.

And be sure to check out the teaser below!

It Runs in the Family – Teaser – Courtesy of OUTtv Network from Joella Cabalu on Vimeo.

Connect with Joella on:
Twitter @joellacabalu
Instagram @joellacabalu
LinkedIn: Joella Cabalu

Connect with Jay on:

Website http://jaycabalu.com/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/jaycabaluartworks

Twitter @jaycabalu

Instagram @jaycabalu_artworks

The Politics of Sexy: Race, Body Politics, and Desireability

Nomonde and I had conversation about sexual currency, “attractiveness”, race, and body politics

…and we filmed it for Love Intersections! 🙂
Sexual Currency is not something you choose, you are assigned it – but I think it’s something that, I think it’s important to emphasize, that you can reject. You don’t have to accept the way people see you or view you, you don’t have to accept the way people think about whether you are attractive or beautiful. That is something you choose. And the only way I think you survive this world? Is by deciding what your own sexual currency is going to be.”

Travelling Safety and Etiquette for POC’s: The Fat Black Girl & Gay Chinese Boy Edition

 David and Nomonde recently travelled to Bali, and reflected together on some experiences travelling as racialized bodies

David: Nomonde is one of my dearest friends in the world – since we met in 2010 w11899797_10153467782959462_3467395100888588362_nhile we were both studying at the University of Cape Town, we have become very close friends.  Mondes is now living in Pretoria, and I’m back home in Vancouver, but every year or so, we make an effort to meet somewhere “half way” in the world to hang out, and travel together.

We recently visited Bali, Indonesia together, and something that we’ve had to talk about seriously – though we do (nervously) joke about – is that when we pick places to travel, we literally have to consider the likelihood of one of us getting lynched or gay bashed.

The reality is, that when me and Nomonde are together – whether it be in New York, Johannesburg, or Bali – we stand out, and often makes many situations unsafe.  The negative attention that we receive ranges from awkward, judgmental stares, to literal public mockery (pointing and laughing).

I’ve also recognized that in many cases, especially when I’m with Nomonde, I have the ability to pass more than she does.  My body, my skin, my accent, breeds a reaction sometimes, and while we have shared difficult traveling situations, I also recognize the differences in the challenges that both of us face.

When we are together, for example, people usually speak directly to me only – not to her.  Servers will always hand me the bill, and not to Nomonde.

Luckily for us, we always manage to navigate these situations with humour…especially when people ask us if we are on our honeymoon! 🙂

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Nomonde: The ability to access spaces – and the ability to then exist in those spaces in an entirely natural and joyful way, to fully participate in those spaces – has often been a privilege I have had to do battle for. Because of racial history, my class, education, the kind of work I do – many of the spaces I move in are very white spaces and I have often had to navigate those spaces with extreme caution. My fat black body is perceived as threatening by many white people. When I laugh, or talk, I’m told I’m fighting. When I express myself passionately with gestures, wide eyes and sincerity I am perceived to be angry. Perpetually angry. Eternally threatening. A big, fat, black freak in delicate white, light spaces.

Travelling with 11903843_1006688486037601_7857794658221783731_nDavid, who I adore, and not just because he always makes me feel so safe, has only confirmed and re-emphasised how difficult it can be for non-white bodies to access spaces of leisure. From sitting in a restaurant in New York and being ignored for a solid 45 minutes until David sat down and a waiter arrived at our side seconds later, to wandering a night market in Bali (which shall henceforth be known as the Night-market of Horror) and being laughed, harassed and jeered at while just desperately clinging to some form of dignity, to the reminder that yes I am a person and I do not deserve to be treated this way. To having those spaces turn threatening and dangerous, which I have never experienced with David, not yet anyway. At home in South Africa while at concerts, restaurants and clubs with other black women I have often been physically threatened and attacked by white men ‘defending’ their girlfriends from the existence of fat black womanhood in spaces they perceive as just their own. I have been spat at, stoned, shoved and punched right in my own back yard because I am a black body ‘trespassing’ where I do not belong and so when it comes to venturing to new shores, particularly knowing and acknowledging that David and I are both highly visible as individuals and even more so as a pair, I do intense research about black and poc experiences of the places we are visiting.

We had a very interesting, and amusing, conversation in Bali after our surreal and ugly experience at the Night-market of Horror, about how white travellers often boast about ‘getting to know the locals’ and ‘avoiding the touristy areas.’ While for black and other poc moving in those ‘authentic’ spaces can very often spell extreme humiliation, if not actual physical danger, and those are simply not conversations that I hear when black women particularly speak of travelling and exploration.

I desperately want to end this on a positive note because travelling has been overwhelmingly positive for me. I am beyond privileged to have the money to see the world, to have had the education and access I have had when the majority of women who look like me and come from where I come from struggle daily for the bare minimum of life and I acknowledge that fact with immense gratitude and humility. I suppose I just want us all to remember that there are many ways to kill a person. Always remember the power and the joy that can come from genuinely seeing each other.

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