A Gala Spring: Three Major CLAGS Conferences

I. Sissies and Tomboys

On Friday, February 10, 1995, at the CU NY Graduate School, CLAGS hosted one of its most successful conferences to date: “Sissies and Tomboys: Gender Nonconformity and Homosexuality.” Comprised of two panels, “Models of Gender: Is Anything Essential About Gender?” and “Sissies and Tomboys,” t he conference ran from 2:30 until 10:00 pm. For both panels, the auditorium was filled beyond capacitywith people sitting in the aisles and watching the proceedings on close circuit TV from another room. Paper presentations on both panels were lively and engaging. The first panel focused in large part around femin ist issues of gender, while the second interrogated psychoanalytic discourses about gender nonconform ity and gender atypicality. Even so, time restraints prevented some central points of disagreement among Susan Coates, Ken Corbett, David Schwartz, and Adrienne Harris from being fully debated.

Another shortcoming of the conference was the content of the second panel : issues of tomboys and tomboyism were under-represented and instead the discussion focused mainly on aspects of “sissy boy” development. There were several reasons for this. First, it had proven virtually impossible, despite strenuous efforts, to identify and locate people doing work on tomboyism from a psychological or psychoanalytic perspective. The issues are, for the most part, not addressed in the current literature. Though concerned in the planning of the conference to strike a balance between women’s issues and men’s issues (as the heavily feminist bent of the first panel reflected) this balance did not chara’cterize the second panel. Matt Rottnek, the conference organizer, received several letters of justified complaint about the second panel. To correct its imbalance, Rottnek plans to solicit papers on tomboys and tomboyism to be included in the proceedings of the conference, a volume to be published by NYU Press in “The CLAGS Series in Lesbian and Gay Studies.” Furthermore, Adrienne Harris, one of the conference participants, will give a CLAGS colloquium on March 6, 1996 in which she will expand the discussion on tomboyism that she presented at the conference. “Sissies and Tomboys” was also an experiment in being the first CLAGS event – aside from our annual benefit – for which we have ever charged admission: $25 per person, with a $5 student and limited income rate. Consequently, we raised $4,000. A CLAGS conference – for once- actually paid for itself!

II. Black Nations/Queer Nations?

In March 1995, a historic three day conference, “Black Nations/Queer Nations?,” took place at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The conference brought together over 500 people to analyze the political, economic and social environment in which communities of the African Diaspora have not only survived, but continue to f ight for the right and dignity to live, work and love as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. Notwithstanding the gains achieved by the lesbian/gay movement, these communities continue to be threatened by daunting challenges: homophobia, sexism, racism, poverty, physica I violence, unemployment and exploitative working conditions. Moreover, these communities are being disproportionately ravaged by HIV/AIDS, cancer, and the lack of accessibility to health care. These threats are made more horrific by the growing power of the New Right (globally and in the United States), xenophobia, and ethnocentrism, as well as the resurgence of many reactionary forms of nationalism. The “BN/QN?” conference confronted these challenging issues and shared organizing strategies in more than 30 workshops, plenaries and political mobilization discussions over a period of three days. “Black Nations/Queer Nations?” has now organized itself as an ongoing working group with three primary goals. First, to begin building bridges within and across different Black “queer?” communities in the African diaspora, and with communities and peoples committed to the struggle for social justice. Second, to develop and solidify networks among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people of African descent. Third, to build a regiona 1/nationa I pol itica I structure that will allow activists from across the country to communicate and work together around national and international issues, while at the same time providing regional coordination and solidarity around more local struggles. “Black Nations/Queer Nations?,” a video documentary produced and directed by Shari Frilot about the groundbreaking confer~nce, will have its world premiere as the closing night presentation of MIX 9th New York Lesbian & Gay Experimental Film/ Video Festival. The screening will take place at Anthology Film Archives on November 12, 1995 at 8 pm. Tickets are $10 with a discussion and closing night reception to follow. The videotape, and an accompanying pamphlet, will be ready for distribution in January 1996. Special arrangements will be made with community organizations around the world to screen the work on a grassroots level. The “Black Nations/Queer Nations?” video project has been made possible by a generous grant from the Ford Foundation -the first lesbian and gay project ever funded by the Ford Foundation. For more information on the ongoing work of “BNIQN?” call voice mail at 212.330.8322 and provide the following information: Name, address, city, state, country, telephone, fax and e-mail numbers.

Ill. Queer Theater: A Conference with Performances

More than 400 lesbian and gay writers, artists, actors, critics and scholars in the theater came together to review, assess, and extol our existence and achievements. They gathered in a first-ever celebration held over three days in late April at four different venues (Judson Memorial Church, La Mama, New York Theatre Workshop, the Public). The conference was site-specific and site-historic. By its very playful and play-full nature, the art of theater upsets monolith ic (usua lly straight) concepts of fixedness. If an actor embodies herself while playing another role, so is being a queer an implicit acknowledgment of displacement of Otherness. Self-representation is complexly linked to human identity. The disproportionate number of lesbians and gay men in theater professions cries out to be known. Queer plays from a half-a-dozen centuries demand to be red iscovered. The emergence of gay and lesbian themes in new American drama cannot be ignored. Shakespeare begs to be queered. Drag has come of age. The blossoming of an out theater aesthetic from the Invisible to the Ridiculous needs to be reaffirmed – and carried forward to the next millennium. New strategies for progressive self-representation must be mapped out. New Theater forms must be nurtured. All of this was begun at the “Queer Theater” conference. We spoke, acted, solo-performed, participated, helped, volunteered. We traveled from afar, gave encouragement, showed support. Old friendships were renewed, new ones forged. Some of us got laid. Some objected to the homogenizing force in labeling a “queer aesthetic”; others hung onto it out of a sense of fatigue with identification labels. Still others argued that as we move to the mainstream, we are no longer at the cutting edge; instead we are slipping into enemy camps by “being honorably and respectably in the margin” as Tony Kushner said at the conference. A lot of questions were asked; many were left unasked. The hard work has just begun. The proceedings of the “Queer Theater” conference will be edited by Alisa Solomon and Framji Minwalla and published as a volume in the CLAGS Lesbian and Gay Studies Series. Randy Gener For the “Queer Theater” Organizing Committee