Queer is as queer does
‘Queer’ What is it? What defines it? Is it a subject matter or theme, a code of behaviour? In art does ‘queer’ refer to something inherent in the work or something inherent in the artist?
In recent years it has, within some more cosmopolitan LGBT communities, been used as a coverall term for those individuals and groups not covered by binary notions of male and female, straight or gay.
In the opening session of the Fighting 4 Queerz project I stated that the word ‘queer’ was about a different way of viewing the world, that it had multiple interpretations for people, and that the term was in constant revision and undergoing a process of reclamation.
I can say from experience that calling somebody queer or a queer was seen as an insult and used as such and is still used here in Hull. It was all I could do last year during LGBT50 to persuade the community cast to proclaim with me ‘We’re here we’re queer we’re showing no fear’ It proved very difficult for the group because of all the previous negative, injurious connotations the q word had for them.
In certain geographic places I might identify as a queer writer, when responding to certain criteria for applications and projects, I may self-identify as a queer artist. This shift came about after visiting the big smoke and meeting a wide variety of folk all unifying, under this one term regardless of their sexuality or gender expression. Relieved and enthused by not having to categorise myself in these terms, I embraced the word and proceeded to immerse myself in and write about all manner of queer performance and art. Interestingly Even though I wanted to escape the accepted views, the hetero and homo-normativity, break free of patriarchy – systems where men hold the power – I still felt the need to align myself to a group to feel part of a ‘family’.
Background to Fighting 4 Queerz
Fighting 4 Queerz commissioned by Back To Ours for Pride in Hull is a movement project incorporating boxing, led by Gareth Chambers a Bransholme-born artist whose practice occupies the space between dance and performance art.
‘Fighting 4 Queerz is about a taking over of public spaces, as well as a defiant show of Queer strength that challenges stereotypes of the LGBT community.
‘I’m particularly looking for queer, non binary and trans folks of all genders, who feel a connection with communities largely centred around experiences of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia.’
It is my opinion that by asking participants to first self-identify as ‘queer’ in order to meet the criteria is a barrier to participation. I have met very few folk in this city who would self identify as queer especially within the LGBT community.
Some people view ‘queer’ solely as political, harking back to times when self expression and self-determinism was criminalised by the laws of the land. Every act of creativity from a person denied the right to be who they are becomes inherently political. The personal is seen as political.
In order to challenge traditional LGBT stereotypes as is the stated aim of the Fighting 4 Queerz, project you have to first be inclusive to attract people in whose ideas and perceptions, can be challenged through the process. Then that core message, mediated through the process can be broadcast via the performance, to the wider public in this case during the march at Pride.
Agression and strength
The first session began with a discussion around our own reasons for signing up; notions of visibility; defining queer; and exploring the role of aggression – it is about boxing after all – and how that might be channeled to affect a positive outcome.
Marginalised communities have every right to feel aggressive towards those individuals, groups and organisations who have wronged them. Fighting 4 Queerz looks to channel some of those aggrieved feelings into performance, that will allow the wider world and the individual to see them and their experiences in a different light.
Everyone has a hit list of transgressors to draw upon, to inspire the fight within them: I certainly do.
The second session took place inside St Paul’s Boxing Academy in the city centre, a place made famous by it being the gym of 2012 Olympic Boxing gold-medallist Luke Campbell. The space retains a masculine feel, the ring at one end, the punch bags and boxing ephemera lining the walls. It ought to be noted that St Paul’s does run training sessions for women.
I was more than a little apprehensive being in the space, I’m not a fighter. However I remind myself that fighting and strength can exist in different forms. The fight to live your life, to love who you love, to not be cowed by societies’ disapproving looks, takes a rare strength that few people possess. It is this strength that Fighting 4 Queerz is looking to build upon. By tapping into the sense of struggle both historical and present day, we may stake a place, stand up be counted, through the staging of a series of visually arresting interventions.
The participants gloved up and began learning from a professional boxing coach about defensive stances first, gloves protecting the chin and the side of the face, standing slightly to one side. You want to present the least amount of your torso to your opponent and keep your elbows tucked in.
We proceeded to go through a series of drills using both left and right to punch the pads held by the trainer. These drills became more complicated as combinations were added and footwork, stepping back and forward.
There’s a lot to take in and I found myself getting my left and my right mixed up an awful lot of the time. Despite the difficulty of getting to grips with the new skill, I found myself wanting to get it right, firstly to satisfy the trainer- he immediately took on a role of benevolence and authority – and much to my surprise, to please myself.
I don’t know whether it was the result of physical exertion, the satisfying impact of glove on pad, or just all that adrenaline buzzing around my system but, after completing each series of combinations I felt good. In fact I felt a sense of achievement buoyed by the praise and encouragement from Mike Bromby Jnr.
The line, ‘I’m not sure why but it feels good’ was echoed by some of the other participants at the end of the first session with the boxing coach.
There were other issues that came up surrounding the requirements and responsibilities of making the gym a ‘safe space’ . Also the question over whether we were just appropriating typical masculine behaviour, whether that could be seen as a legitimate way of challenging LGBT stereotypes, but I’ll look into these areas in later blog posts.
Fighting 4 Queerz takes place Saturday 21st July during the Pride in Hull Parade.