"Now, How You Sound"

A workshop on the politics of voice and listening

This workshop offers an adaptation of the framework of art as social action as developed by Fiona Whelan, formulated towards articulating an alternative listening and communicating praxis (2018)  in conjunction with Devonya N. Havis’s philosophical praxis that engages  “Ancestral Black Vernacular Discourses” and tactics to “cultivate a unique critical attitude” (2014). It is an exploratorative process within the politics and practices of listening and focuses on the importance of not dividing theory from practice. This workshop follows the six practices outlined by Havis and explores concepts of experience, agency, power, vulnerability and safety as these processes coalesce in communication, negotiation and collaboration.

Devonya N. Havis’ 6 Critical Attitude Practices:

  1. Understands theory in terms of its relationship with practice. 
  2. Holds dissonant paradoxes in harmony while remaining relational, context aware, and activist. 
  3. Understands that power operates in creative, not merely repressive, ways and tracks the material ways in which hierarchies mark peoples as privileged, raced, gendered, and classed. 
  4. Employs ancestral discourses, narratives, literature, folk wisdom, music, and other cultural repositories as a basis for knowledge-creation and preservation. 
  5. Values community that nurtures and supports its members, enabling them to better think and act in ways that are not static but continually evolving. 
  6. Engages in performative play as a means of affirming rites, rituals, and creative practices that contest, celebrate, and continually redefine how one conceives of individual and group identity.

workshop outline

  1. Voo & Pauline Oliveros meditation
  2. Cultural narratives
  3. Writing
  4. Reflection/Discussion
  5. Q&A

Narratives

1

Other Panic, "excuse me, Ma'am, I mean sir, I mean ma'am?!?

2

“My progress hasn’t been linear. I’ve always felt open to mining my past and my wider history to make complete sense of my present. The dialectic between my cock and balls as they once were and as they are now, refashioned through surgery, is the space in which I continually discover my truth. I explore my body now as I would a work of art, its surface populated with divergent ideas that allow me to wander and dissolve into comfort to discover my meaning.”

3

Sign that signifies the confusion of cis-people when confronted with non-binary identity

4

“Trans is empowerment and autonomy – inhabiting my frame and my frames of reference. It’s being present in every part of me. There isn’t a shred or sliver of regret about my convoluted journey. I adore being here in my life. I shouldn’t have to say it but I will for those who, perhaps rightfully or demandingly, need to hear it:

‘I have no regrets at all, not a single moment of regret.’

5

6

“I struggled to hold onto the word ‘woman’ as I lined up with every other trans person in the ever-increasing line for surgery. I struggled to inhabit the word ‘woman’ when the letters H, I and V seemed to take hold of everything in my life and placed gender realignment surgery way out of my reach. I struggled for the word ‘woman’ with my cock and balls between my legs, and then I struggled some more for the word ‘woman’ when the cock and balls had been refashioned into a thing they called a ‘vagina’, my sweet cave. I struggled for days after the surgery when the surgeon came round and pushed a speculum deep inside my newly created cavity, just so he could tell me my cunt-depth, my fuckability. That day, inside my head I shucked the word ‘woman’ as it quite literally meant ‘no-power’ in a patriarchal world; or to be more precise, this patriarchal ward.”

7

8

“I was stopped and addressed by two policemen in a car. They called me over, asked me what I was doing (I said I was walking) and then asked me why I wasn’t wearing shoes (I can’t remember my reply, but I was indignant about my rights). The policeman closest to me asked me if I was Aboriginal. Again I was indignant, replying ‘no’. The other policeman interrupted, gave me a wink, and said ‘It’s a sun tan, isn’t it?’ I smiled, but did not identify my racial background’. I was at the stage when I longed to fit in, and be white. They asked me where I lived and I told them, and mentioned which school I went to (a private girls’ school). They said that was fine, but to wear shoes. I asked them why they had stopped me. They said there had been some break-ins in the area recently, and that they were checking it out. When I arrived home and told my mother and sister, my sister suggested that if I lost weight I wouldn’t be suspected of being an Aboriginal. Needless to say, this incident ended in tears, and left me angry and resistant.”

9

10

“I identify as a genderqueer faggot and a queen, meaning that I’m somewhere on the trans continuum, in the genderblur, gender-bending section. I use female pronouns and identify as femme, but I’m not necessarily invested in people seeing me as either ‵male’ or ‵female.’ Rather, I’d like to create something more delectable and devious.”

11

12

“My experiences with academia are not always so traumatizing. At the National Women’s Studies Association conference in 2006, attendees loved my anecdote about trickle- down academia. I was on a panel called “Transfeminisms,” so I took the opportunity to ask fun questions, like: “What does it take to pass as a feminist here, in the embrace of the Marriott corporation, global tourism pioneers, and prison industry profiteers?” And: “What does it take to pass as a transfeminist at a women’s studies conference?” No one screamed at me; instead, people laughed and smiled and applauded and asked interesting questions. They were so engaged that I thought: I should do this every day.”

13

14

“Five years old and the summer sun beats down on my black bowl cut, heating my scalp and sending streams of sweat to the tips of my hair and into my collar. It’s so hot I could take off my shirt, but my mom and I have already had that battle:

“Ay! M’ija! What are you doing, you changa? Loquita! Put your shirt back on now!”
“Why? They all get to take off their shirts! It’s not fair!”
“You are a girl. You’re too old to be going around like that anymore.”
“But Mami!”
“Do you want a spanking? Put that shirt on right now, girl, before I tell your daddy!”

15

16

“Sometimes I lie my ass off for even the tiniest taste of community. I let my family and some radical straight people of color call me by my given name in the interest of feeding our tenuous connection. I remain “she” amongst butches of color to hang on to the one community that ever felt kinda good to belong to. I let transmen assume that I am also FTM, that I unequivocally long for top surgery and testosterone. I don’t try to explain the strange feeling that resides inside me, the feeling that someday I will find elders who will help me to understand that there may be a reason why I fell into this female body this lifetime—even as I go back and forth every day between wanting to craft my body into the form my mind tells me it should be and trying to find a reason for the way it is.”

17

18

Meme: bisexual, gay, asexual house-share where one member is really excited about dragons

19

“One of the things that comes to mind for me is how, in the actual, physical act of having to cross borders [as an immigrant], you have to become part of the “underground”—that is, to become invisible and quiet when you get here. You have to force yourself to become acceptable to pass. [And then], you know, whenever people go into restaurants or a bodega or whatever, people walk in and I don’t think that they acknowledge or recognize that the folks that are waiting on them, serving them—the busboys, the back of the house—those are often immigrants and oftentimes undocumented immigrants.”

20

21

“I remember a conversation with a friend of mine who talked about the difficulty and stigma of outing oneself as disabled. I am rarely in situations where I get that choice. Unlike with my friend, people assume that I have some sort of disability. They stare or avoid eye contact. They challenge my own assessment of what I can do. They condescend. They become defensive when I raise the issue of wheelchair accessibility. They force me to accept help I don’t need by manipulating my body, picking me up, or grabbing my arm. They sometimes refer to me as simply “the wheelchair.”

22

23

“I’m a Scorpio, which is the sign of sex, death, and rebirth. The tarot card that corresponds with Scorpio is the Death card, which in a reading rarely means literal death. Rather, the card often represents the death of a situation or habit that is no longer serving you; in other words, it means change. When I was little, I went through some big and scary changes. I grew up in the Caribbean, and more than once my family was forced to move because a hurricane destroyed our home. An outcome of the constant upheaval is that as an adult, change has been unwelcome in my life and I crave stability wherever I can find it. An unintended result of this is that in my twenties, I stayed in situations, especially romantic partnerships, far past their due date. Drawing the Death card meant dealing with change that I wasn’t ready to handle, so I didn’t. Instead I focused on the other symbols of the Death card: the image of the skeleton of death on its ghoulish horse is also often wielding a rose. I’ve always known that after destruction, life carries on — another outcome of growing up amongst hurricanes. Flowers grow from graves; out of death comes life. And now red roses are my favourite flower — hold the baby’s breath. (I adore both flowers, but not mixed together.) I use red rose petals in two of my consistent rituals other than sex magic: tidying up my apartment and candle Magic.”

24

25

“When I moved to England I was 22 and I had never lived by myself before. I remember the culture shock. People would ask, “how are you?” and keep walking without waiting for an answer. There would be queues for the bus, or for everything really, or so it felt, and I was alone. If I didn’t understand something people would speak louder, sometimes slower, and get incredibly irritated. It was clear that I didn’t belong here. All my friends initially were from other places: Greece, Turkey, Algeria, Bangladesh, India, and a few other Italians. Many of us stuck together, cooked for one another, and tried to make the immigrant experience a little less lonely.

It would be a few years still before I’d have a framework to understand how deeply political this experience was. In the meantime, I was told to gesticulate less, write more like an English person and not an Italian (my sentences were too long, they probably still are), and that I was untrustworthy in relationships because I was “hot-blooded” as an Italian and I would “naturally” cheat or break hearts. It was a time of confusion and not knowing who I was in many ways. I was also trying to make sense of my queerness and I hadn’t yet come across bisexuality. In many ways my early 20s felt like floating at sea without a raft and without any land in sight. Unmoored, I was trying to make sense of living in several liminal spaces.”

26

27

“Probably the first non-binary experience to impact me in a big way was being from a mixed class background. However this concept was not something people ever talked about back then, or even have much awareness of now. Also, because I was bullied for it, I held onto a lot of shame about class. For these reasons, it was actually a long time after coming out as bisexual—and later non-binary—that I started to recognize the resonances between my sexuality and gender and my class experience, and to consider them all together in terms of how they impacted my life.”

28

29

“It feels incredibly difficult — impossible and pointless at times — to resist and fight against their enduring belief that an Indian girl respects her family, keeps her father’s honour, gets married, keeps her husband’s honour, teaches her sons that they are to be honoured, and teaches her daughters that they are to honour. The peripheries might be different — you might have a job or not, you might live with your in-laws or not, you might drink alcohol or not, you might have a life outside of your husband and children or not — but the core remains the same. You are modest and self-sacrificing, servile and accommodating. You come second. You don’t get to be selfish; you don’t get to consider your own comfort first. There’s no room for women who aren’t cisgender and heterosexual. There’s no room for women who want sexual agency. The men will do what they want and they’re not going to listen to arguments or contradictions. They think of their anger as a right and their wives’ anger as an indulgence. It’s a trap, and maybe my mother and my aunts and cousins know this, because with these lessons, they also hand down seeds of femme anger that seem to grow and bloom and twist to fill the space underneath our tongues.”

30

31

“Recently I was chased out for cruising at a bookstore, the owner yelling behind me, “It’s a girl … it’s a girl!” A large part of my cruising experience consists of silently training myself to read body language and social codes, and keeping myself safe and undercover in the process. Even though in the moment I am cruising I may not mentally relate to a female body, it is impossible to forget that I must cover my female identifiers in order to pass, as well as to ensure my own physical safety. Protection becomes part of the turn-on. I mostly watch, stroke my strap-on, and occasionally, when it’s dark enough, jerk someone off. Many people ask me how I physically get off from this experience, as I do not touch myself, or come. I get off the same way I do when I receive a blow job while packing or wearing a strap-on. I slip into a body that is of another faction within my queerness, and I push myself to discover this mental state of arousal.”

32

33

References:

  1. Other Panic Comic
  2. Juno Roche, Trans Power: Own Your Gender
  3. Lost Cis-person meme
  4. Juno Roche, Trans Power
  5. Ocean Vuong, Ode to Masturbation
  6. Juno Roche, Trans Power
  7. Power of Pride: Queer & Sikh
  8. Sara Ahmed, Differences that Matter
  9. Alice Coltrane, Prema, from the album Transfigurations, 1978
  10. Mattilda, Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender & Conformity
  11. Prince I Would Die 4 U (Live 1984)
  12. Mattilda, Nobody Passes
  13. Ain Bailey & Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski, Remember to Exhale
  14. Nico Dacumos, Nobody Passes
  15. Gender Identity: How Colonialism Killed My Culture’s Gender Fluidity
  16. Nico Dacumos, Nobody Passes
  17. Jonathan Sri, Systemic Racism: Australia’s Great White Silence
  18. Dragon love meme
  19. Jessica Hoffman, Nobody Passes
  20. Grace Jones, Slave To The Rhythm
  21. Dominika Bednarska, Nobody Passes
  22. Ishan Kasthuriarchchi, 2020 Colombo Pride, winner dance category
  23. Sophie St. Thomas, Becoming Dangerous: Witchy Femmes, Queer Conjurers and Magical Rebels on Summoning the Power to Resist
  24. Queen, I Want To Break Free
  25. Barker & Iantaffi, Life isn’t Binary: On Being Both, Beyond, and In-Between
  26. M. NourbeSe Philip, extract from ‘Zong!’
  27. Barker & Iantaffi, Life isn’t Binary
  28. Gender Panic, T-Shirtaat
  29. Sim Bajwa,  Becoming Dangerous
  30. Guess My Sexual Orientation
  31. Hening Bech, Nobody Passes
  32. Lee Ingleton, You Will Never Travel for A Thousand Channels, ColomboScope
  33. Lil Nas X, Montero
Scroll Up