Category Archives: Critically Queer

Bitch and proud!

As a woman (or womon, if you prefer—personally I like riot grrl) I have made myself a personal goal to reclaim the word ‘bitch’ and make it something positive. Does that make you uncomfortable? Good. That’s a place to start.

We can do it!

Part of image “Rosie the Riveter” by J.Howard Miller

Us queer folk are well versed in the art of reclaiming words. It comes with the territory.

Members of minority groups inevitably get labeled. Whatever the linguistic origin of those words, they are designed to hurt. Labels are made to put an oppressed group in their place and lay bare their differences as a negative. Take the word ‘queer.’

The word itself originated from the Old High German word ‘twerh’ meaning oblique. The word itself is an adjective and means odd or off-centre. It was first recorded as an adjective to describe gay men in 1922. As men who are odd and off-centre, I suppose.

In the 1980s the gay community decided to reclaim the word. It was impossible to ignore the fact that ‘queer’ was being used as a weapon by homophobes. So instead of ignoring it we tamed it. We removed the sting and made it harmless. Something to be proud of, even.

In most of North America today, ‘queer’ is simply used as a term to encompass all members of our community: gay, lesbian, trans, bi, or any other descriptive word s/he’d like to use. Hence the name of this blog.

Today queer can still be used in the context of an insult, but it’s a weak one and we don’t give much credence to it. The few who still use ‘queer’ in a derogatory context are backward and bigoted. Today, if someone calls me queer, I can look at them square in the face and say, “Yeah, I am. What’s your point?”

Now let’s take a look at ‘bitch.’ The word’s dictionary definition is “a female dog.” This was always the case, even in its Old English form. I can’t imagine why this would ever be considered an insult. I live with two female dogs. They are kind, intelligent and full of personality. When they play with male dogs, they are not lessor beings. In fact they often take the lead.

I would be proud to be grouped among them. More so than some members of my own species.

Still, ‘bitch’ has a long and sordid history. It’s been used to describe women in the lowest and meanest ways possible for about 600 years, to denote women as ugly, mean or hysterical.

To this day, ‘bitch’ is used to dismiss women with important things to say and do. It’s certainly not uncommon for powerful, intelligent women, especially those in business or politics, to be dismissed by a rival as a bitch.

Some women have already been reclaiming bitch, and wear the badge proudly. There are multiple pop-culture examples, from bumper stickers to online memes discussing how awesome it is to be a bitch. In 1996 the feminist quarterly entitled Bitch published its first issue. The publication is still experiencing success.

Others feel uncomfortable with the idea of reclaiming ‘bitch.’ It has been used for so long to subjugate and victimize women who are strong and outspoken. Just like ‘queer,’ it can be hard to feel comfortable and come to terms with the word—all the more reason to embrace it.

Women, trans and cis, make up more than half the human population and yet we can find daily examples of subjugation and abuse. We need as much empowerment as we can get, and language is one of our strongest tools. Language evolves.

Just like ‘queer,’ it’s impossible to avoid hearing ‘bitch’ in a negative context, so we have to change it.

So here’s to all the bitches and their supporters. Next time someone calls you or someone you love a bitch, look them in the eye and tell them, “and proud.”

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Looking for Cookies

Doing my Master of Social Work program here in Toronto has been an eye-opening experience so far. Ryerson University uses a specifically anti-oppression framework in their program, which is part of the reason I chose it, what with my history of activism and having worked at PTS where we talk about anti-oppression on an ongoing basis. In this process, I’ve come to a revelation: I’ve been looking for cookies.

I’m not talking the sugary kind that you eat (although if any of you cute queers wanted to bake me some I wouldn’t be opposed ;) ). I was looking for ally cookies.

Ally cookies, for those who don’t know, is a somewhat mocking idea that marginalized folks have used to discuss the recognition that privileged folks try to get for essentially as Kayla, the volunteer and programs coordinator calls it, “not being a douchebag.” So much so, that jokingly PTS through the years has internally talked about instead of cultural competency workshops instead “How not to be a douchebag” workshops.

I’m an activist by nature, fundamentally I believe that one needs to actively engage in the creation of change. That creation can come from many different avenues other than marching on the street, but I do that too. And no, I don’t think activist is a dirty word. As a result I genuinely believe in the importance of anti-oppression and challenging the multiple marginalizations within gender, sexuality, race, ability, profession, class and more.

As a result I try to advocate on issues even where I am privileged, including importantly race. Now racism is a very real issue that needs to be discussed and challenged in the queer community, which is why I was so happy when QPOC-IT started. And those of us who are white do, in what I know to be true, have a role to play in that. But, that role is one of ally working in solidarity instead of white saviour.

Often I find myself calling out racism in a conscious attempt to stop the oppression that exists. However, at times I mess up as I look for recognition from people of colour for what is essentially just being a decent human being. I take up more space at times calling out racism then people of colour who are there, which only further reinforces the racism that exists in some ways. Perhaps this comes from white guilt or settler guilt, perhaps it simply comes from arrogance, but I definitely need to sit back and be quiet more often.

So what I suggest for myself and others is that we put away looking for ally cookies. In the queer community we have many different factors that marginalize us and let those of us with more privilege, not work for, but work in solidarity with marginalized folks. So no more ally cookies for me, but if you ever want to have a date some time we can eat the other kind.

Jade Pichette:

Former Education and Outreach Co-ordinator

Toronto Queerism Columnist

My time at PTS (a student placement story)

I joined PTS in June, as a co-op student after finishing classes at Everest College in the Addictions and Community Service Worker Program. I am training to be an Addictions Counsellor and I have a personal vested interest in this field of study. I want to give back to and make a change in the Queer Community of Ottawa by helping others take back control of their lives. I had left Ottawa to better my life, and I did. Though I wasn’t born in Ottawa, the city is my home and I want to make it a better place for the next generation of GLBTTQ people. So I came back here to do my education. I feel that this is the best way to say to all those people (that said I would never change, that I could never change) “Fuck you!” “I can, I have and not only will I continue to change, I will BE the change, I want to see in the world.” “I can, I will and I have made a difference, and I will continue to for as long as I am able”

I came to PTS knowing very little about the services they offered as I have been out in Ottawa for going on fifteen years, though I have known of PTS for quite some time. I was nervous at first, not knowing what really to expect. If someone had told me five years ago, that I would be working in an office, I would have told them they were crazy, but here I am. It has taken some getting used to and I am still working out the kinks and adjusting, but the team here are great people and with their help, I am fitting in pretty good.

One of the duties I was assigned is to develop a peer lead addictions group program that will be run for and by members of the Queer Community in Ottawa. I was very pleased when I was asked to do this. Wanting to give back to the community, I feel this is the best way I can leave a lasting impression. I hope that long after I leave Ottawa to help queer folks in other parts of the country, my work will live on.

One of the other duties I have is to be here for peer support for youth on Wednesday nights. It amazes me to see such a wonderful group of diverse young people coming together to support each other. When I was that age I thought I was the only gay person in the world. It’s a nice feeling when you know that younger people have more resources at hand and that there is more positive support for them then I did at that age and it’s also a nice feeling to know that I will have a hand in that, again leaving a lasting impression through the work I am doing here at PTS. So if you are a youth and need someone to talk to, I am here.  See you around.

Mario

… So When Did You Come Out?

So when did you come out? When did you know? These are questions that as someone who has been out in the queer community for about a decade over and over again. In fact it is often the most frequent question asked of queer people, including in the communities themselves.

For me I don’t know what to answer. Do I saw ten when I was brought as a queerspawn to Pride for the first time? Or how about thirteen when the school found out my mom was bisexual? Or how about fifteen when the school found out I was pansexual? Or how about sixteen when some of my friends found out I was trans or seventeen when other people found out? Or eighteen when I started being in poly relationships? Or how about every time I meet someone new or do a workshop?

Each and every one of these times I’ve come out and I don’t really know which I go with. The core of this is heterosexism and hissexism. In other words, the assumption within society is that unless someone tells you otherwise that they are straight, cis, monogamous, vanilla and that their friends and family are as well.

Once the mere aspect of coming out was a revolutionary act – and for some people in certain communities it still is. To come out was to loose your friends, most of your family, sometimes children and to live a completely different life. Many people currently (in mostly white, western, cis communities) however, still live the life they were living before coming out. One of the recent examples of that is Anderson Cooper who came out to mostly, “oh that is great and it is about time.” Formerly people in public roles were publically outed by radical queer groups to prove the existence of queers everywhere and to challenge hypocrisy, which would then cost them their jobs.

I think within the queer community too much focus is still put upon coming out and more needs to be put on the recognition that coming out for many people is the start or continuation of their life not the be all and end all of it. In the words of Christopher Atkins: “Who cares who comes out of the closet or not, so long as you’re happy?”

So let us focus on what makes us happy and healthy. Let us reinvent the concept of ‘coming out.’ How would you reinvent it?

Jade Pichette: Education Co-ordinator

GLBTTQ Job Hunting: 101

Last summer, around this time of year, I sat in a cramped stock room and nervously surveyed the shelves full of chips bags which lined the wall. I consciously kept my back rigid and my hands clasped in a posture which felt reminiscent of a pedantic Victorian school mistress,

whose years of finishing school had taught her the correct utilization of fourteen different kind of forks. I was keenly aware of the man squatting behind a small desk, observing me. The man began interrogating as if he fancied himself part of the Spanish inquisition. He commanded the job interview with the serious gravity of one endowed with infinite wizard power.

“Oh man,” I thought, as he began espousing on the importance of communication skills in customer service, “he runs a newspaper stand, not the fucking CIA.” I suddenly felt sure that he had sawed several inches off my current seat’s legs so that he might tower grandly over his potential employees. He gazed at me thoughtfully, as though trying to read my aura, or trying to get a feel for how many midi-chlorians I had.

“So,” he intoned, “are you, like, a tomboy?” I stared, eyebrows raised and mouth slightly open. The carefully poised interview persona slid off and left me feeling naked.

Today, I regret my response to this invasive and unwelcome question. I could have politely explained that, when people reckon me as a “tomboy,” they are subjecting me to a hegemonic system and applying preconceived notions of what femininity “should” look like on me – a person who doesn’t feel like strictly adhering to the gender binary is particularly important, interesting or useful. I guess I also could have simply excused myself and left. Instead, I just muttered some kind of awkward affirmation. It was only after the interview ended and I was walking home that my “something-a-little-offensive-and-fucked-up-just-happened” senses began to tingle.

I do not think this man was intentionally being malicious or aiming to offend me. However, his curiosity in this scenario revealed him to be ignorant and insensitive like a great deal of straight, cisgender people out there. I have related my experience with a sense of humour because I find laughing to be preferable to becoming filled with rage (though I think being angry at being discriminated against is a totally legitimate response). However, I realize this kind of situation can be very unfunny, even scary, for LGBTQ job seekers.

There are startlingly few resources available for queer people looking for advice on doing job interviews. I have brainstormed a couple of ideas to stay safe. Please comment if you have any tips or pointers to resources as this is far from an exhaustive list. Also, feel free to comment

if you have any personal experiences of discrimination in a job interview situation that you would like to share. I think this is a worthy and important discussion for the LGBTQ community to be having!

Tips for sending applications:

1) While I wouldn’t encourage you to restrict your job search to employers who are visibly LGBTQ-friendly (especially in this tough economic climate), I also don’t think this would be a bad place to start. If you wanted, you could walk around and compile a list of all the shop owners who have little pride flags in their shop windows and apply to those places first.

2) Admittedly, this is a little weird and requires some lurking, but you could also apply to places where you know that other LGBTQ people work. Safety in numbers!

3) The internet is you friend. Check up on companies and see if they have diversity policies in place or if they have ever sponsored a LGBTQ or diversity focused cause.

Tips for Interviewing:

1) Like as if you were going on a blind date, tell a partner, friend, family member or roommate where you are going. Leave an address and the time when you expect to return from said appointment.

2) I need you to know that if the potential employer is making you uncomfortable, you can get up, politely explain you are no longer interested and leave. In fact, if you are really feeling weird, this may be your best option. Being unemployed and broke isn’t exactly a sweet deal, but no job is worth risking your own personal safety. Don’t get caught up in the employer/employee power dynamic like I did; recognize that you are an equal party in this contract. Plus, if you were to stay and DID get hired, you would potentially be working in a really unhealthy environment that could result in a lot of internalized racism, homophobia or transphobia welling up inside you.

3) Be patient. I know that explaining ourselves to the privileged, straight, cisgender, white, country club type isn’t fun. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to. But some people are honestly just ignorant because they have never been corrected. While I don’t excuse their ignorance, I do think that you are doing the person a favour by gently explaining where their errors and assumptions lie. But you are by no means obligated (especially if you feel like the person is a nutcase that will suddenly fly off the handle). If this makes you angry or exhausted, just leave and find a more respectful employer.

4) Dress in clothes that you are comfortable wearing. I do compromise a little, but make sure that what you are wearing still feels right. Conforming to others expectations never does you any favours in the end.

Fern Burge: Queerism Blog Team

Goodbye Kyle, You Will Not Be Forgotten

This past week, the 519 Church Street Community Centre lost their Education, Training and Research Coordinator, Kyle Scanlon. He was found after having committed suicide in his apartment. Kyle was a major contributor to the queer community in Ontario and his specialization in trans programs led to the development of many services helped many people in the Toronto community over the years. I knew Kyle not as well as many others, but I did know him and he did very similar work to me at the 519 that I do here at PTS.

Despite many Kyle Scanlons in the world, he is the first to come up on Google due to all the many things he did, including becoming the first openly trans man Executive Director in Canada in his time at the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youthline, working at the 519 as the Trans Programs Coordinator and then later the Education, Training and Research Coordinator. His work helped lead to trans and queer inclusion at the Toronto Police, Sherbourne Health Centre, AIDS Committee of Toronto, CAS Toronto, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada, the Law Society of Upper Canada and many others. In 2001 he was awarded the Grassroots Trans Community of the Year by SOY and was featured as a speaker at many conferences surrounding inclusively.

Kyle is one of the few people in this world that I truly looked up to in order to help my own life. He was an inspiration to many who met him and will be missed greatly. However, despite Kyle’s passing, his name and impact will live on. His deeds speak of commitment to inclusively, passion and social justice. Let us keep his passion alive and his dedication from being forgotten.

To Send Messages to the 519:

Janet Rowe, Acting Executive Director
Direct: 416-355-6775 | Email: JRowe@The519.org

For people in Ottawa to get support please contact PTS:

251 Bank Street, Suite 301

Ottawa, ON K2C 0K3

Phone: 613.563.4818 | Email: celebrating.self@ptsottawa.org

– Jade Pichette

Education Programs Coordinator, PTS

education@ptsottawa.org

PTS Workshops

PTS provides many educational workshops for schools, community groups, service providers and corporations. With our history of experience with sexual and gender diversity for over twenty-five years we provide a number of different workshops on a variety of queer topics. We are always open to doing specialty workshops however our current list includes:

Special Presentations

PTS is also open to giving special presentations on Queer issues. If you can think of it we could probably do it just give us a shout about what you are looking for.

Creating Safer Spaces

Creating Safer Workspaces

This workshop will discuss the issues of GLBT and queer inclusiveness. We will discuss how to make your organization welcoming to queer people, especially queer youth through the use of language and, safer space campaigns. The purpose is to dispel myths of queer people and discuss the real world challenges of making your organization an inclusive space for clients and staff.

Facing Bullying

This workshop designed for educators teaches educators about the realities of homophobic and transphobic bullying in their schools. It discusses how to identify queerphobia, address it and in future help prevent it. The goal is to empower educators to feel comfortable addressing queerphobic bullying in order to make their schools safer for rainbow youth. The goal is to make schools a safer space as well as ideally an inclusive space for all youth.

Making it Better

This workshop addresses how youth can address queerphobia in their schools. It will go into concrete ways to react when one experiences or sees another experiencing queerphobia. It also discusses initiatives and campaigns that can be put into place in one’s school.

TransAction

TransRealities

At this workshop, we’ll be discussing the terminology in the world of transsexual and transgender identities and experiences through two approaches.  1:  we’ll show the difference between sex and gender and the many misconceptions of these terms through various interactive approaches such as: story-telling, group work and games; 2: we’ll be discussing how trans people navigate through medical and social services and how clarity of terminology can improve quality of services.

Throughout, there will be open dialogue from transsexual and transgender men and women on their experiences in life, the challenges they face and how they celebrate these

Queer Women’s Health & Sexuality

Mental Health and Queer Women

This workshop takes a look at mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse found in the queer community.  We examine statistics and try to decipher the reason behind them.  In addition to this, we will discuss ways to cope with such disorders.

Physical Health and Queer Women

This workshop will examine the physical health issues that women in the LBTTQ community face as well as the challenges of the lack of knowledge of medical professionals about sexual orientation and how to treat patients of sexual minority groups, and the importance of support systems.

Other Workshops

Poly & Relationship Styles

Ever wanted to understand how someone can love multiple people without cheating? Come check out the wild world of polyamory and other forms of relationship styles where people will have one, none or multiple romantic and/or sexual partners in a consensual manner. Its all about love baby and lots of it and, a little bit about sex too.

Heteronormativity

Patriarchy, misogyny, fascism, xenophobia, phalocentricity, heteronormativity… all super awesome words right? [And all super long]. But, seriously, what do all these concepts actually mean? How do they relate to each other and contribute to our oppression? Come discuss the perceived privileges of being a hetero, living in a hetero world – H E T E R O – O – O

To book a workshop email  HYPERLINK “mailto:education@ptsottawa.org” education@ptsottawa.org or call 613.563.4818.

Mental Health and the Queer Community

I think that it is about time that we get real about mental illness in the queer community. Certainly we talk about youth suicide as a result of bullying in the queer community but not much else. And, even if we do talk about queer youth suicide we do it in a way that others people as victims we need to mourn. The truth is we do need time to mourn and grieve the losses of our community. Sometimes these losses are so impactful that we time away. However it is more than just bullying that affects our community another major factor is mental illness.

 

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, mental illness affects one in five Canadians directly and the other four will have someone in their life with a mental illness. Mental illness includes any psychological condition that has a major negative impact on a person’s well-being and mental health. This includes depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorders and many more listed in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.

 

Within the queer community, I think there is some extra stigma surrounding mental illness due to our history with psychiatry. Up until 1973, being gay, lesbian or bisexual was considered a mental illness and still today being trans can land you with a mental illness diagnosis, especially if you’re transsexual and trying to access health care in Ontario. Being considered mentally ill simply for who we are certainly acts as a deterrent towards accessing mental health care. And even for those of us who are not pathologized, there is still a very serious concern that our sexual orientation or gender identity will come under scrutiny by mental health professionals.

 

The reality, however, is that we do live with mental illness in the queer community. And, in my experience, I’ve seen higher rates of mental illness in the queer community than in some others, most likely due to the stresses that we live with as a marginalized population. Let us stop dismissing mental illness in our communities and let us say, yes I live with mental illness and I’m queer. 

 

If you are a mental health service provider and want to make it better for queer clients email education@ptsottawa.org. If you want to help end stigma in our communities volunteer at volunteer.coordinator@ptsottawa.org. If you need queer-specific counselling support make use of our Celebrating Self counselling program by emailing celebrating.self@ptsottawa.org.

 

-Jade Pichette

Education Programs Coordinator

PTS – A Centre for Ottawa’s Queer Community

education@ptsottawa.org; 613.563.4818

 
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The Queer Heterosexual?

There is a lot of discussion in the GLBTTQ communities about who is actually part of the “queer” community. Is it only people who sleep with those of the same gender? Does it include trans folks? Where are the lines drawn for queer? 

At PTS, we see queer as those who fall outside heteronormativity. Heteronormativity is a term used to describe the marginalization of lifestyles that do not conform to societies expectation of congruity between physical sex and gender. Instances of this include the idea that people fall into two distinct categories of sex ( HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male” \o “Male” male and  HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female” \o “Female” female) or gender (man and woman), that sexual and marital relations are “normal” only between people of different sexes and only with one committed/married partner at a time, and that each sex has certain “normal” roles in life. The hetero-normative view is that physical  HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex” \o “Sex” sex,  HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_identity” \o “Gender identity” gender identity, and  HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_role” \o “Gender role” gender expression should always align to either all- HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male” \o “Male” male or all- HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female” \o “Female” female  HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_norm” \o “Cultural norm” cultural norms. In the workshops that I facilitate on queer inclusivity, I ask the question: can someone be heterosexual and queer? This may be controversial, but I definitely think it is possible to be both heterosexual and queer!

In the time I’ve worked at PTS, and in other community work that I’ve done, I’ve met people that, despite only being attracted to people of the same gender, were very queer. Some were children of GLBTTQ parents, others were community advocates, and many more rejected the other tenants of heternormativity, including having only one partner, getting married, having children, and having only vanilla sex (not that those are bad relationship styles if they work for you). 

Recognizing that the queer community is about our shared oppressions and living outside of a heteronormative model could work to further our rights and community. Being queer involves recognizing that everyone has a sexual orientation, a gender identity, varied sexual identities and preferred relationship styles and that any assumptions of how those look harms us all.

So let me propose a few criteria for being queer:

1) Challenging heteronormativity in your gender, sexual orientation or identity and/or relationship style.

2) Being (or at least desiring to be) active within a queer community.

3) Experiencing some form of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or queerphobia.

I think there are many people who fit into those parts that are heterosexual. To all those heterosexuals who are queer and also help with PTS, I salute you.

 Image

–Jade Pichette

Education Programs Coordinator, PTS

education@ptsottawa.org

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Carleton Makes a Stand (The Interview)

Following his highly publicized harassment by homophobic memes online, Carleton student Arun Smith is taking the fight against discrimination off the screen and onto the streets. He is partnering with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) for their Challenge Homophobia and Transphobia campaign. The campaign had its kickoff at Carleton on May 24th. It included an info table, postering, and an outdoor meeting of the Challenge Homophobia and Transphobia Coalition, where we discussed future goals, and tactics to attain them. I basically took pictures of everything that had bright colours on it, and I also got a short interview with Arun about the campaign. It should give you a good idea of how they day went, and what we can be expecting to see from the campaign.

In Solidarity
–Riley Evans, Head Writer/Moderator of Queerism

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