Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Small Town Queer/Small Queer Town

Fellow blogger, FT, recently started a new blog called Small Town Queer. The blogging project aims to demystify the fact that "not all queers live in cities like San Francisco or Toronto. Some of our hometowns aren't big enough to have a scene or a gay bar." I find the idea honest, interesting and socially, politically (and queerly) very important. Queerness is not all about the big city.

Incidentally, I've recently come to the realization that I am by now a small town queer myself: a small town queer living in a rather queer small town that goes by the name of Peterborough, Ontario... It seems surreal that after two years of living here (the smallest place I've ever lived in), my life has taken radical turns for the better: I'm definitely more queer than I've ever been, I have crossed boundaries that I had established for myself (socially, politically, physically, sexually), I developed a deeper understanding of queer, racialized, and disabled embodiment, and I've pushed the experience of my intimate relationships to unchartered terrains. Framed differently, I feel I started "to transition" (in all the possible senses of the word) in this wicked little town.  

In "Friendship as a Way of Life" (1981), French philosopher Michel Foucault claims the following: "To be 'gay,' I think, is not to identify with the psychological traits and the visible marks of the homosexual, but to try to define and develop a way of life." Indeed, the reason why it's called "queerness" and not simply "homosexuality" is because it's a way of life that extends far beyond the square of a bed. Though this way of life may be known as a mainstream consumerist urban hedonistic one, being gay/queer is not just about the big cities; a queer "way of life" encompasses alternative modes of alliances, subcultural practices and non-mainstreams forms of representations, all of which can be rural.

In In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (2005), queer/cultural/literary theorist, J. Halberstam unpacks the concept of "local homosexualities" by bringing our attention to queer narratives that unfold, and are grounded in nonmetropolitan settings. For me, this is what Peterborough has come to represent: the demystifying of the urban fantasy that homophobic violence is concentrated in rural areas. In Halberstam's words, "[s]ome queers need to leave home in order to become queer, and others need to stay close to home in order to preserve that difference." And that's what Peterborough has come to symbolize for me: a queer space puts into question the gay imaginary that demands that one comes [out] to the big city, quite literally.

Last week, I saw Rae Spoon on stage at The Spill, a small artsy cafe/bar here. I discovered Rae Spoon rather randomly last winter when a former lover took me for a night out in Toronto, the big city. It was love at first sound. Rae is a female-to-male transgender singer and song writer from Alberta who, while undergoing his transition, did not have recourse to any hormonal treatment so as to conserve his singing voice. The first time I heard Rae, I was immediately taken by the poetic narratives of being trans (and transitioning) in the Canadian prairies. Through his music, I was transported to a site of geographical and cultural relevance that I had never experienced: rural Canada. Through Rae's lyrics, I lived, however remotely, the experience of the small town queer...

What I didn't realize the first time around was that I was in my own ways a queer stuck in a small town. What I didn't realize either was that I was also a queer trying to constantly run away from this small town by spending as much time as I could in Toronto, the big gay city par excellence. However, sitting at The Spill with a few loved ones, lying my head against those red bricks, rocking my neck to Rae's music, drinking beer that I couldn't afford and that my friends had bought for me, realizing that I knew most (if not all) of the crowd who had turned up on that night, watching the happiness, soaked in golden light in everybody's sway, and above all, knowing that if anything happened to me right then, right there, there'd be a riot of people to stick up for me . . . 

. . . That's when it hit me: this small town (that doesn't even have a gay bar) is queer in many more ways than I thought it was, and this town has also come to embody the real meaning of queer relationships and queer families as that where a community and/or collective come together for days, months, years, and live together independent of blood ties or sexual attraction. In other words, this town has become my family, and on that night, blessed by the music of Rae Spoon, The Spill became a home for this family of queers, queer-identified, queer-allies and queer-friends.


Anonymous said...

Gorgeous post! I hope you won't mind me linking to it on Twitter.
I'm glad you got this inspiration. As a small town queer, it's a little harder to feel you have a place.
I'm going to check out Rae Spoon!
FT a.k.a. Small Town Queer

supi said...

that you came to this happy realization is such a happy thing!

Astraeus said...

Oh such lovely post, kama

Amak said...

@ STQ:
Thanks. I'm really glad you liked it.

@ Supi:
It is indeed! :-)

@ Asterus:

Anonymous said...

Too much use of the word Queer! I studied LGBT theory but being a brit, I cannot get used to it!!! It turns our struggles into an alternative indie cult, used by academics in the 'know'. Just my view haha! Keep up the blogging though -queer ;)

Amak said...

@ Anonymous:
Thanks so much for your comment! I started off with the British LGBT too but realized that the 'queer' spoke more strongly to my political commitments!

A Strange Boy said...

Lovely post!

Amak said...

@ A Strange Boy:
Thanks so much!