What does it mean to make an event or performance “accessible?”

Transgender Seeking Sunny Drake photo by Hillary Green 7

I will never forget the year I spent being unable to use my hands for the most basic tasks. The challenges in my day were going to the toilet, turning the pages of a book and opening a door. I remember the shock when overnight I went from able-bodied ignorance to struggling to work, cook, clean and participate in social and other activities I’d taken for granted. I remember the painful moments of being left behind and left out. Yet I also remember the profoundly inspiring ways that my community rallied around me, fed me and supported me to return to creating theatre. My experience also shifted who I’m in community with and laid the groundwork for the immense gift of having deeper connections with people with a wide array of disabilities. This has made my world much richer – by getting to have the smarts, perspectives, love, friendship and community of many fabulous people. Whilst I have had ongoing challenges with my arms in the eight years since the original injury, I don’t claim to know what it’d be like to have a longer term or wider-reaching disability – my experiences give me only a small window into the world of disableism.

In the lead-up to a run of my theatre show No Strings (Attached) at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, I’m thinking a bunch about what it means to make my work “accessible” (oh and raising money too – click here!). There are so many layers to access. In reality, every single one of us has access needs – it’s just some of our access needs are prioritized over others. I’ve been deeply inspired by reading and conversations with disability justice activists – particularly those who are Black, Indigenous, persons of colour, queer and/or trans.

A central part of access is about being connected with community and listening deeply to what it means for people to be able to engage with a performance work. How do we promote a culture of what Mia Mingus calls “access intimacy“: where the access needs of our friends, loves, and communities are met, felt, and deeply understood?

Given that this is a big shift in where many of us put our time and resources, I’ve also been reflecting on why it is important to make my work more accessible. For me, it’s not just about simplistic notions of equality and wanting to offer my work to others. It’s about creating vibrant dialogue and action alongside others to propel us towards living in the world I want to live. It’s about the ways that having a wide array of people in my audiences creates juicy connections and conversation. I see my work as one thread in a larger conversation – it’s meant to spark reflection and discussion, healing, questioning and change. It’s both a response to other threads of the conversation and meant to be responded to. So if I’m not engaging the right people, that conversation becomes less vital, and the work loses its potential and potency. This is why I feel strongly about spending time and generating money and other resources to make sure Deaf community, sober folks, low income peoples, parents, people with disabilities and others are a part of the conversation that bounces inside and outside the theatre walls.

So, I’ve started to list some access considerations in relation to performances and events to guide my own performance planning and act as a resource for others. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

 

Some access considerations for performances and events

Show content & artists:

  • A show is more accessible to many folks when under-represented stories get told. Seeing one’s own reflection in the work can be a powerful experience. Important questions therefore include: who makes the creative works? Have there been people of colour, queers, women (trans and non-trans), other trans folks, sex workers, poor and working class folks, people with disabilities, and survivors in the centre of producing and creating the work?
  • Having artistically compelling work is an important part of people being able to engage with performance, so having the time and resources to cultivate one’s skills and incubate a piece of work is also an access issue.
  • Have the performances’ content been carefully screened for transphobic, racist, sexist, sex-work-phobic and other hurtful content? If you’re curating a performance night, do you know what others will be performing? Have you discussed your stance on content? There is a big difference between making work that is challenging versus work that perpetuates oppressive ideas and behaviour. For instance, if you are depicting a transphobic incident, does the performance actually unpack or transform the transphobia? Or does it simply replicate it without challenging audience members to be critical? Another way to consider content – are you asking people in the audience to sit through things more painful for them than for you? As a white person, if I’m exploring racism in the piece in a graphic way, I’m asking folks of colour to risk being triggered in a way that I don’t have to be – just like outside the theatre walls. Contrast this to a person of colour making a piece of work that is uncomfortable for white folks – this is challenging the usual power dynamic rather than replicating it. We need to take into account the context in which we’re creating work including systems of power.

Triggering topics:

  • Are triggering topics dealt with in a sensitive and nuanced way? For example: physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual assault or violence, live gun shot sounds, police violence, suicide and childhood abuse.
  • I know as a survivor, seeing graphic sexual violence can be triggering – even more so when it’s a live performance compared to TV. Personally, I find I can go deeper with the content if it is suggestive rather than graphic. I realize there are also rationales for presenting more graphic content, in which case – are there trigger warnings? Are there debrief options or active listeners available?

First Nations/ Indigenous groups:

  • Is there an acknowledgement of the local First Nations/ Indigenous groups given verbally and/or in the program? Although remember this can risk become tokenistic if not coupled with many other layers of change.

Sober access:

  • Will alcohol be served? Particularly in the first year of getting sober, I found it very difficult to be in spaces with alcohol.
  • Are there good non-alcoholic drinks – not just soda/soft drinks – e.g. quality affordable juices or fancy mocktails?
  • Are there sober buddies available to accompany folks upon request?
  • Are there options to have some alcohol free shows?
  • I’ve written an article with more about juggling the needs of sober folks and those who use alcohol or drugs – click here.

Visually Impaired & Blind access:

  • Are you providing audio description for people who are blind, have low vision, or who are otherwise visually impaired?
  • Is seating close to the stage prioritized for visually impaired folks?
  • Are the images on your website described with alt tags?
  • Some mentioned in the comments a group called Vocal Eye who arrange touch tours of props.

Deaf access:

  • Is there ASL or BSL or AUSLAN interpretation for Deaf folks? Have you allowed enough rehearsal time with the interpreters and given them the scripts well in advance?
  • Are your promo videos captioned?
  • Have you done promo videos in ASL? Remember it’s an entirely different language – don’t assume all Deaf folks read English.
  • If it’s a scripted show, have you considered engaging a Deaf person to do the interpretation? For No Strings (Attached) we’re having a Deaf artist team up with a hearing ASL interpreter. Having a Deaf theatre artist on board means the quality of interpretation will be excellent. It’s also a way to prioritize an employment opportunity for someone who faces huge systemic barriers to employment.

 Other languages:

  • Is the work in accessible English that you don’t need a PHD to understand?
  • Are there other language translations for which you could consider projecting subtitles? I’ve worked with folks to translate No Strings (Attached) into three languages for projecting subtitles while touring: Puerto Rican Spanish, Italian and German – it’s made a huge different to engagement with the work.

 Trans and gender non-conforming folks:

  • Are there gender-neutral washroom options as well as gendered washrooms? Can you temporarily transform a washroom into a gender-neutral option?
  • Have the box office and ushering staff been briefed and trained to not assume someone’s pronoun?

 Low-income folks:

  • Are there affordable ticket options e.g. sliding scale options? Are there pay what you can shows? Or other subsidized or free ticket options?
  • Are there options where free or subsidized tickets can be put aside under people’s name in advance? I know some folks who feel too ashamed to turn up and say they don’t have any money, so having their name on the door as a complimentary ticket makes a difference.
  • Are transport tickets provided e.g. bus or train tickets? Some folks can’t afford to get to the show either.

 Parents:

  • Is there childcare provided? Or if you run into public liability challenges, are there informal groups who could organize with each other to do collective childcare?
  • Are there subsidized tickets or pay what you can options to offset the cost of babysitting?
  • Are there matinees or early shows programmed which might better suit the schedules of parents?
  • Are there “baby in arms” options or other “relaxed theatre” shows where a little more noise in the audience would be ok?

 Fat folks & larger folks:

  • Is the seating wide enough to be comfortable for fat or larger folks? Also, narrow seating with armrests can be very difficult for larger folks to fit in.

 Scent-sensitivity:

  • Have you encouraged a fragrance free space in your promotional materials? Scented deodorants, perfume and colognes can be toxic for some folks.
  • Is there fragrance free soap in the washrooms, and are fragrance free cleaning products used?
  • For more info on how to be fragrance free, click here.

 Strobe lighting:

  • Have you considered eliminating any strobe lighting? It can cause seizures.
  • If you are determined to use strobe lighting, have you posted a warning?

Physical access:

  • Is it wheelchair accessible? Scooter accessible? That means both entry into the building and within the building.
  • Are the seating aisles wide enough? (at least 36 inches)
  • Are there good audience spots for people who use wheelchairs and scooters – rather than spots tucked up the back or with terrible sight lines? Can wheelchair users also sit with their non-chair using friends? And make sure these seats (i.e., empty spaces) are organized ahead of time so you don’t have to shuffle chairs out of the way – particularly if you’re accepting latecomers to the show. Remember, in a disableist world, it can be very difficult for some people with disabilities to get there on time due to unexpected broken elevators, wheelchair transport delays etc.
  • If the main concept of your performance involves standing rather than sitting in a space, are there chairs for folks who can’t stand for long? If it’s a show that’s likely to be sold out and have “standing room only” – are chairs prioritized for people who need them, regardless of whether they can pay a premium price? Audiences can also support in this by making sure we are mindful about keeping good seats for others. Additionally, pillows and carpeting for folks to sit or lie down?
  • Is the space so crowded that access pathways become blocked?
  • Is the stage wheelchair accessible so you can have people who use wheelchairs as performers as well as audience?
  • Are there railings in the washrooms?
  • If it’s not wheelchair accessible, how many stairs are there? Is there a railing?
  • If the elevator breaks down, have you considered cancelled/ rescheduling the show?

 Listing access details in promo:

  • Living in a profoundly disableist world, many of us will not be able to meet all of these access needs, all of the time. At a very minimum, are access details clearly posted along with event information so that people don’t have to spend their valuable time doing the research? Make sure to include layers of detail like the nearest wheelchair accessible public transport stations and if it’s not wheelchair accessible – how many steps there are.

These actions are not something I can or should be able to do on my own. One of the many things I’ve learned from disabled activists is the power and importance of inter-dependence, as reflected in one of the 10 principles of Disability Justice framework by the groundbreaking performance project, Sins Invalid.

So, I’m asking for your support to donate money towards the access costs of No Strings (Attached). Here’s the link to the Fund What You Can campaign – please donate and help spread the word!

Big thanks to Arti Mehta and Chanelle Gallant for their valuable feedback and input into this article!

Photo by Hillary Green

 

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Where Are Our Olders?

leslieI just heard the news: Leslie Feinberg is dead. I’m sitting in the kitchen on my own, sobbing uncontrollably. The pot of pasta is boiling over and I’m glued to my computer screen, re-reading about hir life in between blowing my nose on my sleeve. Somehow I thought I’d get to meet Leslie at some point. Ze* has been one of my Olders, even though I know hir only through the tattered pages of passed on copies of Stone Butch Blues and Transgender Warriors.  With her* death, I feel a loss of history, of critical perspectives, the loss of a warrior. While the pasta starts to disintegrate on the stove, I find myself wondering: where are all of our Olders?

Of course, there are so many Should-Be-Olders who never make it that far. Racism, trans-misogyny, violence, the AIDS crisis and so many more reasons why many never get to be Olders. And countless who do make it to Olderhood, pass too soon. Leslie, for example, died at age 65 of Lyme’s disease and multiple tick-borne co-infections, attributing her health crisis to “bigotry, prejudice and lack of science”. Her access to appropriate health care was made incredibly difficult by the active discrimination she received as a transgender person.

Clearly, we need to be working to challenge all of these systemic reasons that Should-Be-Olders never make it. But what about my role in the marginalisation of those Olders who do remain? How have I participated in pushing Olders out of movements?

There are so many barriers to older people participating in creative projects, political meetings and social spaces. Younger folks like me may judge them for not having the latest lingo, or dismiss their ideas as “dated” without reflecting more deeply on the lessons we could learn from these very same ideas. We may organise our meetings too late in the evening or up flights of stairs – the able-ism of which affects so many young disabled people too. Barriers could be technological or even about the speed at which we talk. In many cases, our communities have failed to offer the nourishment needed to sustain a long creative or political life, resulting in Olders needing to hole up at home and disconnect.

My friend Roxanna just called to check in on me and reminded me that being an Older is not necessarily just related to age, saying that in fact I am an older in many ways in my community too. I’m only 37, yet there are many situations in which I’m called on to be an older. Sometimes this is because I’m an older relative to those around me, or I’ve had the privilege and commitment of years honing the skills and roles I’m passionate about. However, other times, I’m an older because of the ways we haven’t made space for those Older than me.

I’m not just talking about queer, trans*, two spirit and transexual Olders. I’ve started to realise the way I prevent connections with a broader community of Olders too, because of my incorrect assumption that older people are inherently more conservative. Earlier this year I was invited to give a trans* talk at a church. The congregation was mostly aged 60+. When I asked in activity how congregation members had felt limited by expectations of their genders, one woman said “When I was younger, I used to really worry about what others thought was appropriate for a woman. Now I really don’t care what others think, and I’ll cut my hair however I want, wear pants or skirts and be as bossy and outspoken as I like. Life’s too short for anything else”. There was fervent nodding amongst many of the others. Huh! Perhaps many older non-trans people are potential trans* allies in ways I hadn’t even imagined. And it dawned on me: what an arrogant ass I’ve been to think I’m more radical than many older folks!

Since then I started noticing many older people open to conversations about gender and politics and other juicy topics. Yes, older people can be the keeper of traditions, both liberatory and oppressive traditions, and other times they can be the creators new ones. Many may be more attuned to what’s really important with an awareness of their days growing shorter and a keenness to leave a legacy of which they’re proud.

Olders like Leslie have left profound legacies. She’s been an example of how workers movements can celebrate gender diversity. How white trans people can be active on challenging racism. In Stone Butch Blues ze celebrated the ways sex workers and queers can make community, learn from each other and have each others backs– which is especially relevant today because of the way gay rights movements have thrown sex workers under the bus, including sex workers who are queer and/or trans women, in order to present an image of queerness or transness that would appeal to the mainstream. In honour of Leslie and in this spirit of making a place at the table for everyone, I’m renewing my commitment to appreciating, celebrating and working alongside Olders who are still alive. And I’m replenishing my commitment to my own future olderhood by nourishing myself this evening with that over-due bowl of pasta, a long warm shower and the companionship of loved ones.

* Leslie used the pronouns she/her or ze/hir, so I’ve interchanged these pronouns throughout. I love the sentiment behind this which ze said: “I care which pronoun is used, but people have been respectful to me with the wrong pronoun and disrespectful with the right one. It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect.”

A friend pointed out that white people’s use of the term “Elder” could be culturally appropriative of Australian Aboriginal communities and other First Nation’s & racialised communities. Thus, I’ve changed my article title and language from “Elders” to “Olders”. Even though the term “Elder” is used by some white communities e.g. many Christian communities, I haven’t been able to find out where the origins are and out of respect for the importance and sacredness of the word and role for many Indigenous and racialised communities, I’ve decided to change my language.

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Like Sunny Drake on facebook, follow on Twitter or instagram, connect on Linkedin

Check out video, photos, theatre shows and workshops on Sunny’s website

 

the Boy Tit Finale Summer Collection

5 many ways to fight v2 FOR WEB

Dear Boy Tits,

I love you dearly and yet it’s time for us to part. These outfits are my dedication to you: fashioned from thrift store tugs of war with old ladies, raiding my partner’s closet and crossing back and forth between gender segregated clothing aisles.

15 you are beautiful FOR WEB

Every single moment of the last thirty seven years you’ve stayed loyally by my side (or at my front, as it were). You’ve cushioned my heart from many blows and boyantly helped me stay afloat through stormy years. We’ve played many a silly game together, like pretending you’re puppets talking with each other, or bouncing you up and down until you slap each other on the back like old men at the bar.

8 make your own party FOR WEB

I know it’s not your fault that this gender confused world has mis-read me as a woman because of you. There’s actually nothing about you that means girl or boy or anything in particular. It’s just that I feel like I’m wearing someone else’s chest, and even though it’s a gorgeous chest, it’s doesn’t feel like mine.

20 wear it however you want FOR WEBSo, it’s time for us to part, but please know that you are stunning and sexy and loveable. Many another boy or girl or genderqueer would be lucky to have you that close to their heart.

All my love, Sunny

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200 Sunny (6764) Small Edited Version205 Sunny (6675) Small Edited Version

250Sunny (6945) Small Edited Version

260 Sunny (7013) Small Edited Version203 Sunny (6975) Small Edited Version

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320 Sunny (6595) Small Edited VersionLike Sunny on Facebook

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Thanks to Tania Anderson, the incredible photographer, Janet Vu for the David Bowie makeup, (m)-elly niotakis for being the first to suggest a David Bowie concept and Chanelle Gallant and Afi Browne for letting me raid their closets for accessories & those stunning zebra print boots, and Leanne for use of her space.

—  A retrospective of other Boy Tit related posts: —

boy tits photo B&WBoy Tits in the Locker-room

I’ve recently started taking my shirt and binder/sports bra off in the men’s locker room. It didn’t begin from a desire to flash my boy tits around, rather that I was fed up with the incredibly awkward configurations I used to twist my clothes in to hide these bouncy little babies. Moreover, I was incredibly bored by transphobia and cis-sexism*. Read more…

boy muff photo b&wBoy Muff in the Public Pool: this budgie will not be smuggled

I’m busy preparing my boy-muff for a swim in the local public pool after I was inspired by a letter I received from a trans woman in response to my recent article… Read More

 

article-1166157-0433AC7F000005DC-43_634x357National Security Threat: Boy Tits at the Airport

The sagging sagas of the boy tits continue… I’m on tour in the USA and it seems the new body scan machine has replaced the old metal detector Xray machine in most US airports. For the second time this week, my boy tits raised the alarm on the body scanner. Read more…

Fur edited Sunny2Boy Tits take on the Summer

With the change of seasons I noticed myself starting to angst over the thought of another summer wearing a sweaty binder[1]. A titillating thought: as this will be the last summer I have boy tits before chest surgery in October, why not bust out of the binary and give them the flamboyant good-boobye they deserve?! They are, after all, a beautiful part of my body that I love and want to celebrate. Read more…

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2 articles on sobriety: Wet >< Dry and The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Throat

Like Sunny Drake on facebook, follow on Twitter or instagram, connect on Linkedin

Check out video, photos, theatre shows and workshops on Sunny’s website

 

Wet >< Dry

 Juggling drinking/user rights AND sobriety

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I’m about to turn 2 years sober – woohoo! Summer was a challenging time to get sober, particularly with so many queer events in Toronto that involve booze. The warm months are now a time when I fluctuate between deep gratitude that I’m not drinking, and wistful fantasies of swilling beer on patios and swigging bourbon in the park. A lot of sober queer folks struggle to stay sober during Pride month, so I’m reflecting on what our community could do to hold us, whilst also holding space for others to have fun or cope with alcohol and drugs. Both sobriety AND drinking/user rights are access issues in social spaces and within our political movements.[1]

Whilst I love intentionally sober space (yay for Sober Pride!), I also want our communities to be able to hold space for those who use alcohol or drugs as medication or to cope with this shitty world. I’m horrified that visionaries such as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson (both trans women of colour on the frontline of Stonewall) were banned from some LGBTQ spaces because of their drinking or using. The impacts of that likely involved further marginalisation for each of them, as well as a HUGE loss of wisdom and experience to the movements which they kick started.

Here’s the thing: there’s a very big difference between some people being intoxicated within a space versus a space that feels intoxicated. For me, when a critical mass of people at a party or event are drunk or high, it becomes an intoxicated space. If there are only a few drunk people around in an overall sober/ non-drunken space, it feels way more manageabe for me. So the more people who refrain from drinking and using, the more the space can hold both sober folks and some people who are drinking or using.

I get that drugs and alcohol can be about more than coping – they can be about many things including fun, which is super important too! I’m not suggesting that everyone stop using/drinking – just that those who don’t need it, be more intentional about how and when they drink or use. Let’s remember that doing stuff without drinking or drugs can be awesomely fun too! Enjoying music and company and dancing and art events and deep conversations and connections that you are more likely to remember. No checking your sent texts to see the embarrassing things you sent! No trying to remember if you did inappropriate things.

Given that many sexual assaults, violence and other non-consensual behavior have alcohol involved, drinking less can also mean there are more folks around to support a culture of consent and community safety.

Suggestions for organising Gatherings, Dinners & Events

Various friends including Clementine Morrigan, had some great suggestions:

  1. If your event will include alcohol, post that on event promotions (social media, fliers etc) along with other access info.
  2. Organise more drug and alcohol free events, but with no one turned away for showing up either high or drunk. Communication well with guests so that people don’t start policing or shaming the folks who may turn up high or drunk.
  3. Serve tasty non-alcoholic drinks that are treats – not just water and soft drinks/pop. Check out Liz Shield’s tasty recipes here
  4.  Considering many people use alcohol as a “social lubricants” (to cope with nervousness, anxiety, boredom etc), have alternative social lubricants – like activities or games. E.g. interactive food bars (tacos, waffles, burger bars…), conversation prompt games, arts and crafts areas, books, tarot cards, nail painting supplies, or whatever! (thanks Hannah Pepper-Cunningham for this suggestion)

Ally Suggestions for Individuals

Whilst event organisers have particular responsibilities, each and every one of us has a powerful role to play. So here’s my request for the Pride month (and beyond). Unless you need to use alcohol or drugs as self-medication/coping:

  1. Have some sober nights – like if you’re going to 4 events this month, how about choosing 2 at which you’ll be sober?
  2. When you are drinking or using, consume less and be mindful of what spaces you consuming them in.
  3. If you think it would be welcome, check-in with your sober buddies about whether they want a sober companion to go to an event with. Ask them if there’s any other support they might want or need.

The more people who refrain, the more we can hold community and space for both those who are sober AND those who use drugs and alcohol to cope.

Happy Pride!

photo by Tania Anderson

* I wrote another related article last year with more reflections on our communities and supporting sober folks – here’s the link: The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Mouth

[1]Thanks to Clementine, Geoff, Quinto & Amy for politicizing me around sobriety as an access need.

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Racism is to White People, as Wind is to the Sky

Femme Ally Conversation Starter

Boy Tits in the Locker-room

the Boy Tit Finale Summer Collection

Like Sunny Drake on facebook, follow on Twitter or instagram, connect on Linkedin

Check out video, photos, theatre shows and workshops on Sunny’s website

How gender self-determination may topple the world:

 prod640021 How many Pansies does it take to change a light bulb?

Facebook has come a long way from the “man/woman” drop down menu of a few years ago. We can now choose from an expanded list of gender categories by selecting “custom” from the scroll down bar, followed by options like agender, trans female, FTM, pangender, two spirit, androgynous or various other pre-determined choices. I tried typing “Pansy” and it flashed an error message across my screen, You must select one or more custom genders”

Wait, I thought selecting a custom gender was about being able to custom define ourselves? I looked up the definition of custom – “a habitual practice; the usual way of acting in given circumstances.” I routinely rock ruffles in place of cuffs, frequently flounce about in fishnets, and customarily carry a little “too much” emotion in my otherwise “manly” voice. Does that not make me habitually a Pansy?!

Apparently our genders need to be vetted by Facebook’s gender decision making board. Who’s job is that?! Like seriously, “Hi honey I’m home! Today I decided to allow Pixie Ranger and Pansy as genders, but I thought Stardust Unicorn was going a little far so I blocked that. How was your day?”

Or maybe it’s a computer program, and when a pre-determined number of people identify as a particular gender, the lightbulb goes on in Facebooklandier. So how many Pansies does it take to change a light bulb?

And what exactly, do the gender gatekeepers fear about Pansies and Stardust Unicorns? Are they worried that people will get ridiculous and make fun of the whole gender thing? My gender is “shithead”! No wait, wait, my gender is “buttfuck penisbreath”! Because that would be a disaster – children, gender is very very very serious because otherwise white men couldn’t be the bosses of the world and besides, there’s way too much free fun already in this god-forsaken world. Are you trying to make the professional-fun-makers lose their jobs? Just how selfish are you gender non-conformists?

Maybe the gatekeepers are worried that people who define their genders in non-normative ways may topple the entire world. I mean, shit what would happen if suddenly anyone could just define themselves in any way they felt moved to? If we could no longer rely on old assumptions about gender (and many other things), we might actually need to c-o-m-m-u-n-i-c-a-t-e with each other. Like really and truly enquire, listen and share of ourselves. We’d no longer be able to assume that we can tell everything about someone by a limited vocabulary of words which have lost their richest meanings through the asinine assumptions dripping from the vowels and the rotting refuse caked on the consonants . When I say a word like woman or heartfelt or revolution – does it mean the same thing to you? Of course not! Language becomes laden with the baggage of the context in which it’s spoken, signed or otherwise shared. And that context, is a little (or a lot) different for each of us.

OMG and if we started to communicate more fully, we might actually begin to understand each other! Without our continuous misunderstandings, we might stop fighting and blowing each other up. And shit, let’s face it, that would be very very bad for the economy (at least this version of the economy).

I’m not saying we should abolish words or concepts like womanhood and manhood – these are beautiful things (well, people, really). It’s about politely asking these identities to stop blocking the telescope for a minute, so that we may peek through and be awestruck by the galaxy that is gender. The Carnivalesque Magicians! The Nerdy Pirates! The Petunias! The Sissies! The Bears! The Queens!

But what does this all mean? Aren’t these just words? Yes. And no. We create language to communicate important ideas. As our ideas and our understandings of ourselves and the world shift or become unobscured, so too does language need to adapt. Beneath what may seem trivial to some, is a universe of important and genius ideas and experiences. Next time you think something is trivial, I challenge you to drop your judgements (even for just an hour or so) and take the time to listen to why people are making language requests. You might surprise yourself by finding it’s liberating for you too. What’s your custom gender today?

In fact, often it’s not even about change, it’s about re-remembering, reclaiming or recentreing those who have had way more than the man/woman gender menu bar all along. It’s only really dominant western cultures that seem to be fixated on the two gender system. I’m deeply grateful to all the communities who hold warm places by the fire for a many gendered galaxy, and am praying my people will catch up soon. Two spirit people across Turtle Island (North America). Fa’afafine in Samoa. Hijras in South Asia. Sistergirls in Australia. Loosening our grip on the two-gender-man-woman-thing, is an important step in decolonisation.

Plus it’s way more fun.

What do we want? Infinite custom genders!

When do we want it! Now!

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Racism is to White People, as Wind is to the Sky

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Like Sunny Drake on facebook, follow on Twitter or instagram, connect on Linkedin

Check out video, photos, theatre shows and workshops on Sunny’s website

 

Boy Tits take on the Summer

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With the change of seasons I noticed myself starting to angst over the thought of another summer wearing a sweaty binder[1]. A titillating thought: as this will be the last summer I have boy tits before chest surgery in October, why not bust out of the binary and give them the flamboyant good-boobye they deserve?! They are, after all, a beautiful part of my body that I love and want to celebrate.

So if I love my boy tits, why chop them off?

The easiest way I can explain is to tell you about the turquoise green corduroy pants that I wore ever day in my early 20s. I don’t even remember where I found them. Certainly not in a shop, I used to hate shopping. The clothes I liked never fit my body shape. Plus the shop assistants used to be weird with me because I was frequently shopping in the “wrong” gender section. Clothes just sort of found me and I’d wear them day in, day out, until I stumbled upon the next outfit. So, the corduroy pants lived on me for several years. First they were a little too long. I was terrible at sewing so after I tried taking them up, they became a little too short. They had 2 pleats at the top which looked awful (it was no longer the 80s) so I used to wear long shirts over the top to hide them.

I didn’t particularly like the pants, but they worked. They clothed me and kept me warm. The pockets fit a lot of handy things. We went on adventures and had the best and worst times together. We climbed trees together. Wrote poetry. Rode across Australia on a bicycle. Protested uranium mines and logging of old growth forests. They comforted me through the heartbreak of being secretly in love with my best friend (actually, three best friends in a row!). With all this history and familiarity I was very fond of the pants, even though they didn’t fit me very well.

A few years later, for the first time instead of battling the stores or the whims of the clothes that found me, I saved up and had a friend custom make me a pair of pants. They were brown pin striped pants fitted at the top and slightly belled at the bottom with very cute quirky pockets. I LOVED them! I felt so good in them! They fit me perfectly. I felt like me in them. (Well “me” back then – how my fashion has changed – femme transformation!). So I lovingly gave away the corduroy pants to someone who liked them better than I had. I didn’t feel any malice towards them, even though I wish I’d realised sooner I could have the pin striped pants.

Similarly, it’s not that I hate my boy tits. They’ve given me a lot of pleasure. We’ve had some great times together. They’ve cushioned my heart from many blows. They’ve buoyantly helped me stay afloat when I may otherwise have drowned. I love playing silly games with them like pretending they’re puppets talking with each other, or bouncing them up and down until they slap each other on the back like old men at the bar. Every single moment of the last 37 years they’ve stayed loyally by my side (or at my front as it were).

And so I love them. Yet I don’t particularly like them. I feel self conscious about them, although more so in clothing than naked. I’ve felt betrayed by them on many occasions, although I know it’s not their fault that this gender confused world mis-read me because of them. Some days it’s like I’m wearing someone else’s chest, and even though it’s a gorgeous chest, it’s doesn’t really feel like mine.

This sense of loving and not liking my chest may seem like a contradiction, but only if viewed through a cisgendered (non-trans) lens. From a trans* perspective, it’s very normal (and not necessarily even a bad thing) to have conflicting feelings about my body. And in fact many non-trans people have differing feelings about their bodies too, it’s just they’re not accused of being confused or gender dysphoric as a result.

Like the pin striped pants, there’s a chest that would fit me better, and that’s the one I will co-create with the surgeon in October. If I could give away my boy tits like I did my corduroy pants, I would, because I’m sure they’d look lovely on some other boy or girl or genderqueer.

(Please note: just because I have a less-commonly-told relationship with my chest, it doesn’t mean that I am more radical or evolved than trans people who have more animosity towards their bodies. EVERY way a trans* person feels about their body is totally valid. I’m sharing my experience to expand the array of ideas about trans* bodies.)

So, this summer is my boy tits’ farewell tour and I intend on giving them the decadent finale they deserve. I’m in the process of designing my BTFSC (Boy Tit Finale Summer Collection). I’ve been experimenting with outfits fashioned from raiding my partner’s closet and thrift store tugs of war with old ladies. At the heart of the collection will be a sumptuous assortment of open blouses crafted to showcase slithers of sexy boy tit hugged to my heart with belts, stockings or colourful duct tape (folded over so I don’t get an accidental waxing). Yes, summer be warned: these boy tits are intent on causing a total eclipse this season.

Outfit in Photo: thanks to Chanelle for letting me raid her closet for this fur shrug and polka dot belt.

[1] For those of you not familiar with trans* stuff, a binder is something that hugs my boy tits to my chest so they are a little flatter.

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