QueerCon During Capital Pride – A Retrospective

Most of the Pride Events that I have attended in the past have tended to privilege events of performance and dancing. Pride parades tend to construct queer bodies as spectacles for straight people to observe. There tend not to be a lot of events for the more geeky queer folk.

 

At the same time, most geeky events (fan conventions) tend to be highly heterosexual and not provide a queer space. When there are queer panels, they tend to be off to the side, leaving queer people feeling as though they were included as an afterthought or part of a diversity checklist.

 

QueerCon, part of Capital Pride in Ottawa, made a safe space to be queer and geeky, to push boundaries and imagine new possibilities. QueerCon provided a space for imagining new possibilities while questioning the structures that tend to erase queerness.

 

QueerCon provided a fun space for opening up questions and critiques and this energy could be seen from the attendees who walked around asking questions about why queer voices don’t appear more often in public spaces. People were excited about new possibilities and new opportunities for imagining spaces where queer people could be comfortable being queer. There was a freedom of expression that is rare in other spaces.

 

The day began with an animation workshop that allowed people to access their creative abilities and express themselves in a new medium. People grouped together in unique ways, using the power of play to question and critique the society that oppresses queer lives.

 

Mariko Tamaki spoke about her inspirations for her comics “Skim” and “This One Summer”, sharing her ideas about expressing queerness through the graphic fiction medium. Sophie Labelle continued this discussion later in the day when she talked about her comic “Assigned Male” and the expression of trans experiences. People who attended these talks were able to imagine new possibilities for expression and the use of creativity. Having comic artists speak allowed QueerCon to bring attention to the way that we can write and produce art creatively in a way that allows us to find and share our voices. Comics have the unique power of intertwining art and word.

 

I spoke on a panel on Diversity and Representation with people from diverse perspectives and diverse engagements with queer geekdom such as Mariko Tamaki (comic book writer and artist), Niq Cosplay (cosplayer), Saffron St. James (burlesque artist), Rhapsody Blue (burlesque artist). This allowed us to explore the diverse ways that we queer geekiness or geek queerness. By combining academic voices with cultural producers, we were able to interrogate the ways that we engage with our communities and how we can bring these communities together.

 

There was plenty of play to be had in addition to the discussions and QueerCon invited people to engage with Geek Trivia and questions about cosplay (the creation and wearing of costumes from popular culture). The discussion of cosplay allowed for the imagination of the ways that we can transform characters from popular culture by wearing their costumes. Essentially, cosplaying bodies can become tapestries for imagining new possibilities.

 

QueerCon was a needed addition to Pride, allowing for new ideas to develop in a safe space where multiplicity of voices was encouraged.

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Exciting News: Two Prix Aurora Awards for 2016

Exciting news Speculating Canada followers, the Speculating Canada website and the Speculating Canada on Trent Radio 92.7FM show each won a Prix Aurora Award this year at When Worlds Collide in Calgary. 

The Speculating Canada website has now earned 3 Aurora Awards and the Speculating Canada on Trent Radio show has now earned 2 Aurora Awards.

The success of Speculating Canada is entirely due to you brilliant fans and all of the fantastic authors that have done interviews with me here on the site. Without all of you, Speculating Canada would not exist and I only hope I have been able to create an exciting platform for exploring questions and thoughts about Canadian Speculative Fiction. Thank you all for joining me on this rocket ship journey through realms of possibility where curiosity is our guide.

I also want to thank Dwayne Collins for providing me with tech support and for providing a second eye to read through most of my posts, and I want to thank the brilliant folks at Trent Radio 92.7 FM in Peterborough for bringing me onto the airwaves. 

I want to congratulate everyone who won an Aurora Award this year. So many of you have been involved in various ways in Speculating Canada and I am excited and honoured to be journeying along with you. 

A Revolution Against Normalizing

A Revolution Against Normalizing
A review of Tyler Keevil’s “The Weeds and the Wildness” in Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law (Laksa Media Group, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Tyler Keevil’s “The Weeds and the Wildness” is a tale of resistance to conformity, a revolution against the dangers of enforced normalcy. Keevil explores the perspective of a gardener who is uncomfortable in social situations. He operates primarily from his house and sells products for gardeners through the internet. However, he soon notices that people around them are changing as their lawns are changing. After all, suburban bliss is just a lawn covered in turf away. As people’s lawns are being forced into conformity, with their flowers cut down and replaces by lawns of the same green grass and their hedges trimmed into the same ubiquitous shapes, people begin to lose what makes them unique, showing the same sets of blank stares and expressionless smiles. Every time the white vans go by, another person and lawn are converted into conformity.

Keevil’s “The Weeds and the Wildness” is a call out to ABnormalcy, to wild, uncontrolled spaces that allow nature to flourish and resist the controlling hand of civilization. Keevil raises questions about the power of “normalcy” to keep people acting and performing life in the same way, removing their uniqueness and “The Weeds and the Wildness” invites questions about how to maintain one’s difference in a civilization that prefers sameness.

To discover more about Strangers Among Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/strangers-among-us-an-anthology-with-a-cause/

To find out more about Tyler Keevil, visit http://www.tylerkeevil.com

Reconnecting

Reconnecting
A review of Ursula Pflug’s “Washing Lady’s Hair” in Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law (Laksa Media Groups Inc., 2016).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Ursula Pflug’s “Washing Lady’s Hair” explores a new drug or medication in a future market called Green. Taking the drug is referred to as diving and this is because it generally evokes images of sea life, drawing on the magic of the natural world and sea life. The drug inspires art in some people, but also provides an opportunity to access parts of the subconscious to find new ways to cope with post-traumatic stress. These alternative pharmaceuticals can be a way of healing, but they also contain the danger of potentially creating chronic users who use Green as an escape from reality rather than a method of seeing reality from askance to gain new perspectives on the world.

Green is connected to the exploration of ideas of the natural world, allowing users a space to see the sacred in the world around them and to explore ideas of the environment and environmentalism and Pflug creates a complex interaction between her characters and their drug use. Her characters explore ideas of the romanticism of a pre-industrial society while also levelling critiques about the capitalist control of choices in modernity and the damaging effects of industrialism both on the environment and on human agency. 

On a personal level, her character Karen is able to undergo self-healing from the sexual assaults that she experienced at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend and the damage and distance that these assaults created between Karen and her mother. Karen’s use of Green and her artistic expressions allow her to explore the complexity of feelings she has about her mother and the numinous power of Green (its ability to allow for a spiritual connection to nature) allows her to find the protective mother figure she was searching for in the form of a mother goddess. 

Like much of Pflug’s writing, “Washing Lady’s Hair” doesn’t provide any simple answers (the issues Pflug explores are far too complex for simple answers), but, rather, evokes questions for readers, asking them to interrogate their own feelings about the relationship between art and therapy, environmentalism and healing. Pflug provides a space for characters to critically question themselves and their choices and to imagine new possibilities. “Washing Lady’s Hair” is a tale of uncertainty and potential and the healing that can come with asking critical questions about the status quo.

To find out more about Strangers Among Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/strangers-among-us-an-anthology-with-a-cause/

To discover more about Ursula Pflug, visit her website at http://www.ursulapflug.ca

Resources

Resources
A review of Kelley Armstrong’s “The Culling” in Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts (Laska Media Groups Inc., 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Kelley Armstrong’s near future fiction story “The Culling” examines the relationship between resources and disabilities. Her story is set in a future where there is resource scarcity and a general lack of water and food resources and this future society decides to deal with resource scarcity by killing disabled members of that society each year. Although set in the future, Armstrong’s tale brings attention to the treatment of disability as simultaneously a resource depletion, the disabled body being treated as socially non-productive, and the eugenic attitudes that are part of modern society as much as they are part of the future or past of social treatments of disability. 

This future society uses multiple methods of de-humanizing disabled people, beginning first with the rhetoric of weakness by suggesting that society would be stronger without disabled people in it. It then treats disabled bodies as drains on society resources, acting as though disabled people are not contributors to that society. The strongest rhetoric for de-humanizing disability is to put a person with mental illness on display in front of the society, strip him down, forbid him resources for cleaning himself, and post a sign above him that states that he murdered his family because people with disabilities are a threat to others. 

Armstrong illustrates the danger of rhetoric around disability, illustrating that the portrayal of disability as unproductive and as threat can lead to social actions of ostracism and violence against disabled bodies. Her near future fiction is not only “near future” because of its temporal setting, but because it is “near” and close to present realities. She uses The Culling to symbolically represent the violence against disabled bodies – the ostracism, institutionalization, and the lack of resources given to disabled people. Armstrong brings attention to the dangers of “normalcy”, creating a society whose violence against the non-normate is deadly. She also links non-normate bodies (disabled bodies) to cultural dissent by having teachers and medical doctors consider any act of resistance to be the same as a disabled body and both be subject to termination. In doing so, “The Culling” suggests that control of disabled bodies is a form of enforced normalcy and the suppression of deviation from an external norm. She illustrates that scapegoating certain people is always a form of social control, distracting people from the controls that are placed on them by letting them direct their fears and hostilities onto another group that is already considered abject, considered Other. 

Rather than concentrating on physical disability as many speculative fiction authors do, Armstrong entwines aging, physical disability, psychological disability/mental illness, cognitive disabilities, and non-normate appearance to create a sense of connection between those bodies and minds that are seen not to belong in a society that is hyper-focussed on maintaining ideas of normalcy that Other certain bodies. 

Marisol has a family history of mental illness and her parents, fearing that she will be culled like her aunt, train her from an early age how to avoid looking different in any way in public, how to pass medical tests that are geared toward rooting out dissent, and how to pass as ‘normal’. She is always aware of the presence of systems of control that exist around her throughout her life and her need to pretend to be as normal as possible, and is more aware as she ages and becomes more aware of her own psychological disability. Yet, she is aware of the work that other people with psychological disabilities have done and is aware that the rhetoric of unproductive bodies is a social lie since she has seen the beautiful artwork produced by her aunt, who was culled for her psychological disabilities. 

It is significant that Armstrong made her protagonist a teenager both because this is the time period when most psychological disabilities become apparent, but also because teenagers are often subject to a normalizing influence, encouraged to conform, and yet are viewed as being rebellious and non-conformist. Her character is at the perfect age to invite social questions even while she is trying her hardest to fit in to a society that has already rejected her.

To discover more about Kelley Armstrong, visit her website at http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com
To discover more about Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, visit http://laksamedia.com/strangers-among-us-an-anthology-with-a-cause/ 

Aw Nuts!!

Aw Nuts!
A review of Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume 1: Squirrel Power (Marvel Comics, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Rather than creating an origin story for Squirrel Girl in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume 1: Squirrel Power, Ryan North and Erica Henderson create a story of Squirrel Girl seeking to create a civilian identity for herself, something challenging to do when you have a tail and squirrel teeth… and even more difficult when your squirrel friends insist on talking to you while you are attempting to have a normal, civilian life at college. 

North and Henderson play with comic book expectations not only by having a reverse origin story, but by having Squirrel Girl create her own theme song (a slight modification of the Spider Man song), having her talk to villains to convince them of better opportunities for them, and this desire to play with genre expectations is highlighted by the small text at the bottom of each page of panels where there is a critique of the panels and choices in them and by the ending of each comic with a series of tweets between Squirrel Girl and her enemies and other heroes. 

Squirrel Girl, despite being preoccupied by the small acts of heroism that enhance people’s lives, keeps getting wrapped up in bigger problems, having to battle villains like Galactus when she really wants to keep other college kids safe from muggers, protect squirrels from animal violence, and deal with bullying. Oh, and of course these battles get in the way of the things she really wants to be doing like going to classes, choosing clubs to belong to, getting to know her roommate, eating nuts, and hanging out with her squirrel sidekick/overlord Tippy.

Squirrel Girl is fun, able to critique the superhero genre while participating in creating it, and is a superhero that people can relate to. With her battle cry of “Let’s get nuts!” and her playful approach to superheroism, Squirrel Girl is a character who can climb into our hearts faster than a squirrel can climb into a bird feeder. 

To find out more about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, visit Marvel Comics at http://marvel.com/comics/series/19750/the_unbeatable_squirrel_girl_2015_-_present

Tales of Her Own

Tales of Her Own
A review of Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins (Joanna Cotler Books, 1997).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue casts a web around traditional fairy tales, drawing them together into one narrative thread by having a character from each tale introduce the next tale as her own. Characters both narrate and are narrated about. These are tales about the telling and about the power of narration itself to reveal, conceal, and create the self.

Donoghue invites her characters to ask who is allowed to tell their tales and who is constructed through the telling of tales. Characters resist the narrative ark of “tradition”, imagining new possibilities for their own deviation from the text. 

These are liberating fairy tales, opening up possibilities, and giving women voices in these tales where the traditional tales limited the options open to women. These are tales of shifts and changes, allowing women to chart new territories through the fairytale landscape, changing their circumstances. Often set at the cusp of womanhood, these tales explore the relationship between bodily and social transition. 

Donoghue evokes the power of witches, those othered and ostracised women, for changing the world around them, opening critical questions, and encouraging women to recognise their power. She resists the impulse to tie her stories up with a heterosexual “happily ever after”, and instead imagines new narrative possibilities, creating lesbian couples, women content to be without sexual relationships. 

Her tales reimagine Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, The Goose Girl, Rapunzel, The Snow Queen, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Donkeyskin, Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid. Donoghue illustrates that an intensive knowledge of folklore allows one to play with the tropes of the tradition, imagining new possibilities. 

You can discover more about Emma Donoghue’s work at http://www.emmadonoghue.com