During the summer, I told my friend I might perform a lip sync at my school’s annual drag show – how the QSCC typically ends Pride Week. She looked at me, impressed, saying, “Wow, U of T doesn’t even do that!” Being a school located in a city like Toronto, I was surprised by this too.
This year, there were two student performers, myself included, followed by a set carried out by Sapphyre Poisone, a professional queen. Death drops, wig reveals, clothing strips, incessant suggestive gestures towards one’s groin. I was deceased and resurrected, having witnessed a goddess (i.e. man-in-wig) of camp.
Following this final performance, my gay, cis-femme friend ran up to me – jaw dropped, pupils almost out of focus, saying, “What the fuck, I was so turned on by that entire thing!” This, to me, exemplifies one of the many reasons drag is such a fascinating medium.
Though cross-dressing is a centuries-old, cross-cultural tradition, drag, as we know it today, took shape throughout Harlem’s Ballroom Scene in the 1980s. A disenfranchised community of black, queer, and specifically trans individuals spearheaded its development. These individuals were seeking a safe avenue to explore and express their gender identities with candor. This is important to keep in mind when assessing the performance of blackness and casual trans-misogyny of contemporary mainstream drag culture.
Drag is destabilizing. It confronts us with our personal intuitions about gender. As audience members, we are forced to reflect on the ways we respond to these hyperbolized, aesthetic means through which gender is actualized on stage by the drag performer — much like my friend’s aforementioned “surprise arousal”. We, as audience members, bring as much to the performance as the performers bring to the stage.
On the flip side, performing proved to be a surprisingly personal experience. Being onstage itself was a blur. The adrenaline and overpriced drink I downed right before going on stage made most of the performance flash by, though there are some mental snippets that will stay with me for a long time.
I didn’t choose the most “fishy” songs, but going through the motions of my performance felt peculiar while simultaneously rejuvenating. It was foreign to me to maneuver through these conventionally “feminine” shapes and movements while thinking, “Yes, this feels natural and this is also how I should be presenting myself in this very moment. This is allowed.” It was liberating. I was able to explore myself and how I present my body in front of a bunch of accepting strangers. This is a huge difference to when I was growing up, where these were the exact mannerisms I was previously beaten up and ostracized for at home and at church.
I don't think a younger version of myself would have envisioned current me doing anything like this. To be given a safe space and platform to explore the aspects of your gender expression. From body motions/shapes to wardrobe and make-up, you naturally suppress when in public is overwhelming enough; to do so and be received with acceptance and appraisal is nothing short of a blessing.
I definitely exist in a privileged space to be able to engage with this practice, and return to my shell as a cis-male-passing individual. Still, I am thankful that the QSCC hosts such a niche tradition and encourage anyone who may be interested to perform next year.
Halloween may be over, but campus remained full of colour and wonder for another week with this year’s MacPride.
MacPride is an annual event organized by McMaster’s Queer Students Community Cen-tre that took place this year from Oct. 31-Nov. 5. The week brings LGBTQ+-identifying students, faculty and staff together to celebrate diversity in gender and sexuality and to create a space where identifying individuals can be unapologetically themselves.
“I think MacPride is a really cool opportunity to create spaces for students who identify as LGBTQ because we often don’t see representation or visibility among faculty or in the uni-versity’s institutions,” said the QSCC coordinator. “A lot of these institutions are built to kind of exclude LGBTQ students, so it’s really important to create a campaign that tells students that they are welcome and there are spaces for them if they ever need them.”
The week was filled with a variety of events ranging from educational to entertaining. Each event aimed to build community and representation across campus for LGBTQ+ identifying individuals everywhere. From drop-in style board game fun and banner painting to informative workshops on LGBTQ+ relationships, sex and bodies, there were events for every taste.
“A lot of the events are focused on bringing people together,” said the coordinator. “I think a large part of the struggle for queer students is finding other queer students, so just providing events that are very simple allows students to sit down together and kind of just talk and they can connect over that shared experience is really important.”
The annual MacPride march and rally brought hundreds of LGBTQ+ identifying students, faculty, staff and their allies together to march through campus in a prominent demonstration of both LGBTQ+ pride and McMaster’s efforts in working towards an environment in which identifying students feel both safe and welcome.
This week also saw the launch of McMaster’s new Trans Community Group. This initiative serves as a branch of peer support, exclusive to trans students and meant to provide a safer space for trans and non-binary folk.
“A lot of students come from very diverse backgrounds and a lot of those backgrounds aren’t necessarily positive,” explained the coordinator. “It’s really important that when they come to uni-versity they see that these spaces exist for them and that they know they’re safe because it can be very challenging when you’re struggling with your identity to not feel like you have a community.”
As the week came to an end, the main focus of the campaign was clear; more visibility on campus and building a community where students feel like they belong.
“The effect I’d want to see from this campaign is having students who never really felt like they had a community or didn’t feel connected, or didn’t feel safe in their identity found that space, or even saw the supportive environment if they weren’t able to come out to any of the events.” noted the coordinator.
“I hope that they now feel more comfortable at McMaster knowing that people do accept them for who they are.”
On Nov. 5, about 100 students and community members gathered to show support for gender and sexual diversity on campus. The annual MacPride march, organized by the Queer Students Community Centre (QSCC), started in North Quad and made its way to BSB and then Mills Lobby. Andrew Pettitt, from McMaster's department of athletics and recreation, and Rosalyn from The Well in downtown Hamilton addressed a mixed crowd on the importance of the event.
Photos by Sarah Janes.
I write this as a cisgender, heterosexual, white woman who has never known what it is like to face hate for what I look like, how I identify, and who I love. I acknowledge that I’m writing from a position of privilege, and do not claim to speak for or represent McMaster’s queer community.
Recently, I went to an LGBTQ+ focused event for the first time. Never before had I been in an environment where my sexuality was a minority, and where I couldn’t identify with the lived experience of most of the people in the room. I felt awkward about it. I was uncomfortable with occupying queer space. It reminded me that this, in the tiniest possible way, is the daily experience of marginalized queer folk. And I think being reminded of my own privilege in this way was a really healthy thing for a straight white girl.
Learning to be an ally to and within the queer community can start with being present and acknowledging and reflecting upon one’s own privileged awkwardness in order to show support and solidarity. And there’s no better week than next week to start that journey.
From Nov. 4-8, 2013, McMaster will be celebrating MacPride, the week-long celebration of the Mac LGBTQ+ and trans* community put on by the Queer Students Community Centre.
Major events include Tuesday’s MacPride March at 2 p.m. outside of Commons, Wednesday’s Steel Cut Queer Movie Night at The Factory Media Centre (228 James St. North) at 7 p.m., and Thursday’s Drag Show (time and place T.B.A.).
If you’re a tentative ally, know that you’re encouraged to participate. Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend. There are some things you can keep in mind over the course of next week (and beyond), though, in order to be a particularly effective ally.
Make a point to consistently check your privilege and be aware of the bias and perspective it gives you. Don’t try and speak for the community you’re advocating for; this week is about celebrating their voice, not yours. Own up to your mistakes as you make them, and don’t be defensive if others point out your shortcomings. Try your best to create community and support systems by speaking out against oppression when it’s the right time for that, but more often just being quiet and listening to oft-suppressed queer voices.
There’s even Ally Training happening on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in MUSC 213 (registration required) to aid in this process.
I am not trying to make Pride week about viagra pfizer canada allies. It’s not. It’s about celebrating the LGBTQ+ community at McMaster. Allies can be part of creating space and platforms for LGBTQ+ voices, but they’re not the focus and by outlining positive allyship I’m not trying to make them out to be.
I am by no means particularly good at being an ally. I don’t know that anyone would claim to be. Rather, I would say that I am constantly learning, trying, supporting, and growing. And really, that’s what I’m encouraging in others.
I’ll see you at the march.