C/O Yoohyun Park

PCC’s book club provides opportunity for dialogue about 2SLGBTQIA+ literature

On Oct. 29, McMaster Student Union’s Pride Community Centre held their first Pride Book Club meeting of the year. The introductory meeting allowed members to meet each other and discuss possible queer and trans book options for the book club, as well as the importance of representation in media to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

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Although the first book club meeting was held on a Friday, the PCC will be announcing a different meeting date and time after determining what schedule works best for all book club members. 

According to club facilitators Shruthi Krishna and Matt Aksamit, the Pride Book Club is a space for students to access and discuss 2SLGBTQIA+ literature. Both Aksamit and Krishna noted the significance of having a space for 2SLGBTQIA+ literature available to students.

Aksamit highlighted the importance of having a safe space when discussing 2SLGBTQIA+ experiences and Krishna emphasized that shared experiences among 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals make the book club experience even more unique. 

“It's always really nice to have a space where everyone who is talking about the books relates on some level,” said Krishna. 

“It's always really nice to have a space where everyone who is talking about the books relates on some level.”

Shruthi Krishna, PCC Social and Political advocacy Coordinator

Outside of a sense of comfort and shared experiences, Krishna and Aksamit also highlighted the role of the Pride Book Club in 2SLGBTQIA+ education.

“It provides a sense of learning more about the community, which is something that we're always striving to do and it’s a continuous process. I think books always allow you to empathize deeply and to learn more about other people and other struggles, which I think is really interesting,” said Aksamit. 

“It provides a sense of learning more about the community, which is something that we're always striving to do and it’s a continuous process. I think books always allow you to empathize deeply and to learn more about other people and other struggles, which I think is really interesting.”

Matt Aksamit, PCC Assistant director

Aksamit noted that this can help members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community to understand their common and differing experiences.

Krishna added that 2SLGBTQIA+ literature can also provide insight into how intersectional identities impact experiences within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. 

Aksamit also discussed the role of escapism in fiction, specifically noting that this sense of escapism is often especially important to members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. 

“I think that we live in a world that can be very exhausting to exist in just being queer and trans inherently. So I think that [the project] allows people to escape their reality for a second and just join in on a space where they can have fun engaging [in] discussion with other queer and trans folks,” said Aksamit. 

“I think that we live in a world that can be very exhausting to exist in just being queer and trans inherently. So I think that [the project] allows people to escape their reality for a second and just join in on a space where they can have fun engaging [in] discussion with other queer and trans folks.”

Matt Aksamit, PCC Assistant director

Krishna and Aksamit have many titles lined up for the coming weeks. Krishna specifically noted that they would likely read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Detransition, Baby. Aksamit also expressed excitement about another upcoming title, The House on the Cerulean Sea.

“[The House on the Cerulean Sea] really is escapism to the max. It's a queer story, but it's so heartwarming. And it's really nice to have a nice, warm and heartwarming story. It's really good,” said Aksamit. 

Students are not required to have their own copy of the books that they will be reading. The PCC will be providing students with digital copies of the chosen books. After compiling a list of possible books, books are chosen based on votes from members of the book club. 

Queer and trans representation is often lacking in media. The PCC is a service that provides McMaster University students with a safe space to engage in dialogue regarding 2SLGBTQIA+ issues. With the Pride Book Club, students have the opportunity to find representation in queer and trans books while sharing their thoughts with a supportive community.

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.

By Rob Hardy

School is once again upon us even though we’d all probably enjoy another couple of weeks before we get back to the grind.

When I came to campus last week, it was all so familiar. Many of us were away for part or most of the summer, while MAC had been preparing and continuously changing. The grounds were well taken care of (despite the massive drought which much of our continent had been experiencing). The sun was shining and the sky looked blue and clear as I walked down the path in front of BSB.

I thought to take out my camera and take a picture if only to capture the moment, but as so often happens it fell short of experiencing the moment here and now. So instead, I thought to take it – the beauty, the weather, the unquestionable spirit – all in fully and enjoy just being completely in the present.

Everywhere I went everything was gearing up for the year ahead, while seeming serene due to most of the students still being away. Fridays are always the much quieter day on campus and due to the heat, I’m sure some must have went off to the beaches.

As critical as I can be, it never ceases to amaze me how ideal the university experience is. In a way, as I looked out on at the August picturesque scenery, it felt as though the promise university represents must still exist in a much palpable and recognizable form. If this were not the case, the positive energy that pervades a stroll across campus would simply not be there.

Every organization likes to toot their horn and I am not one to jump on the bandwagon, but I am incredibly proud of being a part of McMaster. School is what you make it, and ours is brimming with resources. Staff, students and faculty are so incredibly generous with their time and help, making this university something of which to be proud. That we have been recognized globally owes much to the fact that so many of us are willing to engage ourselves and get involved.

It’s these little things that add up and show us that from here, we all truly can create a better society - probably never the ideal, but at least better, and often that’s a lofty enough yet measurable and attainable goal. Much luck and success to you all this year.

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