Queer Life in Dirty Looks

In­clu­siv­ity in Queer Spa­ces

The McGill Daily - - Culture - Sophie Mcken­zie Cul­ture Writer

On Oc­to­ber 19, “LGBT Film Series – Dirty­looks:8 Year­son” took place at Never Apart, a lo­cal non- profit that pro­motes so­cial change. The venue dou­bled as a bar, and glowed with color- chang­ing bulbs and fairy lights. Upon en­ter­ing the event, I felt in­tim­i­dated. I was ap­pre­hen­sive about my own queer­ness, as I never felt a sense of be­long­ing in the com­mu­nity.

Dirty looks :8 years on is a queer short film pro­gram cu­rated by Brad­ford Nordeen that, ac­cord­ing to the Face­book event, “re­assesses the past through a fiercely queer and politi­cized lens, [ ask­ing] ‘ who brought us here?’ and ‘ where are we now?’” The pro­gram is a col­lec­tion of queer vis­ual sub­jec­tiv­i­ties, dat­ing from 1966 to 2017, and sheds light on the ways in which the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ties have ar­tic­u­lated their iden­ti­ties over time. Nordeen in­tro­duced the event as a time- based ex­hi­bi­tion de­signed to “il­lu­mi­nate queer his­to­ries and lim­i­nal spa­ces” through film. He also high­lighted the im­por­tance of host­ing Dirty­looks screen­ings in an in­for­mal set­ting in order to make these his­to­ries ac­ces­si­ble to the gen­eral pub­lic.

The screen was il­lu­mi­nated with the im­age of the first short called “Am­phet­a­mine,” a dizzy­ing por­trayal of a drug-fu­eled sex gath­er­ing in the 1960s. Many of the films use ver­tigo- in­duc­ing cam­er­a­work, which gives the im­pres­sion of an un­fil­tered per­spec­tive. One of the other films that stuck out was “Frenzy.” Re­con­structed from Su­per 8 film cam­era neg­a­tives, the 1993 short de­picts a con­cert by a Riot Gr­rrl band, where a lust­ful crowd takes turns per­form­ing oral sex on the lead singer.

The com­pi­la­tion of films had an over­ar­ch­ingly raw, un­fet­tered, and po­lit­i­cal aes­thetic. The film­mak­ers took a clear ap­proach in defin­ing queer so­ci­eties by em­pha­siz­ing the el­e­ments of their iden­ti­ties that are most of­ten per­se­cuted and used as a tool to jus­tify op­pres­sion. These el­e­ments in­clude open AIDS dis­course, ex­trav­a­gant dress, and ex­plicit sex­u­al­ity. Open dis­plays of these parts of queer­ness is the first step to re­claim­ing them. In this way, we not only ac­cept but also cel­e­brate, queer cul­ture. Ex­pressly and un­apolo­get­i­cally queer events like Dirty­looks both high­light tra­di­tion­al­lyun­charted queer me­dia, and unite com­mu­ni­ties via shared re­solve. While Dirty­looks is a nec­es­sary plat­form in this way, there are other re­al­i­ties of queer life that are ne­glected and u nd err rep­re­sented.

How­ever, overem­pha­sis on cer­tain as­pects of queer­ness can also be a source of pres­sure on queer in­di­vid­u­als. Drug consumption and erotic trans­gres­sions are a lived re­al­ity for many queer folks, and hon­est rep­re­sen­ta­tions of this as­pect of queer life is im­por­tant. Nev­er­the­less, Dirty­looks by and large de­picted this re­al­ity to the ex­clu­sion of other parts of queer life. Pres­sures around fail­ing to up­hold this stan­dard can lead to feel­ings of os­tra­ciza­tion from the com­mu­nity, caus­ing some to try to ‘prove’ their queer­ness in ac­cor­dance with stan­dards they can­not re­late to.

Dis­cus­sions of queer ex­clu­sion could also be ex­tended fur­ther to en­com­pass racial and colo­nial power dy­nam­ics. For in­stance, why were most of the films’ ac­tors white? Why were the sound­tracks ex­clu­sively English and Western in sound and style? Why were the films only in English? Could these ob­ser­va­tions re­flect the ways in which queer pop cul­ture has been con­structed in line with over­ar­ch­ing po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests? Rep­re­sen­ta­tions are shaped by what larger sys­temic struc­tures al­low, and the shorts prompted im­por­tant re­flec­tion on the broader frame­works of power in which LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ties are sit­u­ated and op­er­ate. In this sense, what type of politi­ciza­tion are the Dirty Looks films ar­tic­u­lat­ing?

I com­mend Nordeen for mak­ing the de­ci­sion to host Dirty­looks screen­ings in so­cial spa­ces such as bars and restau­rants. How­ever, it must also be ac­knowl­edged that un­fet­tered demon­stra­tions of queer­ness re­main in­ac­ces­si­ble to in­di­vid­u­als who are ac­tively per­se­cuted for their iden­ti­ties. Queer spa­ces that that in­ad­ver­tently up­hold this dy­namic fur­ther the ex­clu­sion­ary prac­tices the LGBTQ+ com­mu­nity aims to fight.

Al­though Dirty­looks is valu­able in giv­ing a plat­form to the queer com­mu­nity to ex­press of­ten os­tra­cized parts of their iden­tity, the rep­re­sen­ta­tion it pro­poses is not all- en­com­pass­ing. There are queer voices who do not iden­tify with com­mon de­pic­tions of queer­ness, of­ten due to the com­plex­i­ties of their in­ter­sect­ing iden­ti­ties that they can­not see rep­re­sented on­screen. Nordeen’s, ‘fiercely queer’ com­pi­la­tion of films should be re­framed as a por­trayal of a spe­cific form of queer­ness, rather than a gen­eral mode of LGBTQ+ uni­fi­ca­tion. Per­haps then the screen­ings would truly work to “un­der­mine his­tory,” as the event promised.

How­ever, it must also be ac­knowl­edged that un­fet­tered demon­stra­tions of queer­ness re­main in­ac­ces­si­ble to in­di­vid­u­als who are ac­tively per­se­cuted for their iden­ti­ties. The film­mak­ers took a clear ap­proach in defin­ing queer so­ci­eties by em­pha­siz­ing the el­e­ments of their iden­ti­ties that are most of­ten per­se­cuted and used as a tool to jus­tify op­pres­sion.

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