The creators of OUTsider Festival in Austin really did their homework as far as covering a large scope and breadth of queer art and performance in the programming.
Which on the one hand, is refreshing and inspiring. But on the other hand, means that there is just so, so much to discuss. Festivals, conferences, art, and performance itself have this in common: they are in some ways about the synthesis of information and experiences.
The first performance of the day was a screening of Sins Invalid: An Unashamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility. The film centers around discussions of disability and performance, including the ways in which disabled individuals are often asexualized in our culture.
Before the film, two short videos by Sandra Alland were also shown, from her series of interviews of disabled performers in Scotland, entitled, “I'm Not Your Inspiration.”
Nathan Gale spoke of the body fascism of Western culture, and how if a disabled individual identifies as an artist, there's the assumption they are doing art as either a hobby or as a form of therapy, rather than a profession. They also broached the question of how we critique the work of disabled artists, which a really important and valid question we need to be having more discussions about.
Alison Smith questioned how she can be seen as a great artist, and not only a queer artist or a disabled artist, illuminating the hierarchy within the arts which attempts to categorize everyone who isn't a straight white cis male into some kind of niche audience market.
Sins Invalid explores the work of disabled artists attempting to bypass that hierarchy by creating their own performance space to publically workshop and develop the work of disabled artists. One of the performers laments, “There was no place we could celebrate our bodies as beautiful, and disabled, and hot,” so they created one.
The film highlighted the history of eugenics in our nation, and the fact that there were 60,000 documented sterilizations from 1910-1970. “Have you been used as an argument for abortion?” one performer queries. “Have you been called needing a cure? Less than human? A punishment? A sin?”
I found the film quite moving, but as an able-bodied person, I was also aware of how my empathetic reaction could be misread as the patronizing gaze Gale referenced when they discussed “inspiration porn.” Yet, one of the performers in Sins Invalid commented on the power of seeing “people who weren't having to closet any part of themselves.” That openness, freedom, and joy which comes from authenticity is what I like to think I was responding to.
I think this film mirrored Ok's assertion that we must carve a space for everyone in the world if we are to find a space for ourselves. I hope that we can continue to embrace the intersectionality which will one day make all othered and outsider bodies as beautiful as the ones we currently see on the covers of magazines.
Next, I saw a series of short films called “Ancient Future,” compiled by Queer Rebels Productions, which attempts to highlight the experiences and honor the histories of queer and trans people of color.
I'm not sure I can explain the piece better than the OUTsider event blurb itself, which reads: “Irreverent, rejecting exotification, and paying homage to the wisdom of our ancestors and homelands, Ancient Future claims it queer with a series of cosmic cinematic creations by queers and trans people of color. From a queer apocalyptic land, to a 70 year-old bodybuilder, to a young girl fleeing Iran at night, what does our collective future/freedom look like?”
“Ancient Future” reminded me of the connections between queer and nerd subcultures, as many of the queer futures on the table involved alien masks or rainbow laser lights. The films were bizarre, and silly, and moving, at times difficult to piece together into a coherent narrative. But if there is a queer future to be had, I'd like to think it would be so radical we couldn't comprehend it now.
I was also moved that the presenters quoted the late José Esteban Muñoz, and his assertion that “we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds,” as I quoted his book Cruising Utopia heavily in my Master's thesis.
The evening ended with a tribute to Tribe 8 a queer punk rock band and the recipient of the first ever OUTsider Festival Legacy Award for their contribution to queer art and history. The evening included a homage to the band members' current work, including the screening of Shut Up, White Boy and Sticks and Stones.
The former was reminiscent of “Ancient Future” in that it imagines a world in which an ignorant and racist white boy could get his comeuppance at the hands of some Asian dykes. The latter explored the darker side of living in the world as queer, which leaves an influential trans performer Bambi Lake living in poverty in an infested apartment because neither the woman's nor the men's shelter will take her in. Last but not least, Lynnee Breedlove spoke of her work with Homobiles, a cab service for queer and trans individuals in San Francisco.
Though I was not familiar with the work of Tribe 8 myself before this festival, the reunion of the band members and their resulting discussion about what the work and the band meant to them was truly touching. Each member of the band discussed their own feelings of “outsider”-ness. Silas Howard remembered, “I learned you could take the pain and turn your anger outward into punk rock instead of inward.” Breedlove added, “I think everyone feels like an outsider – even the people you think are on the inside.” Tantrum said to Curran Nault of his choice to give Tribe 8 the Legacy Award, “I don't know if you ever stop feeling like an outsider. But you made me proud to be one.”
A repeated theme was that of family: the family which we create for ourselves, and which is strong enough to survive any amount of time or distance life might throw at it. The kind of family which allows singers in a band to invite their fans into the van after the show, and to make them a part of the experience. “We weren't really rock stars,” Breedlove explained. “We were all hanging out.”
The Legacy Award itself was a box containing a gold glitter encrusted dildo with fake blood on it – an homage to one of Tribe 8's more infamous moments, where Breedlove cut off her rubber dick and threw it in the audience. As Howard noted, “As the LGBT movement gets more mainstream, a lot of us do fall off the map.” I hope events like OUTsider Festival continue to ensure that as many of the moments in our queer history as possible are preserved, no matter the complications they provide the current narrative of queer liberation.
This article was originally published by The Horn on 02/21/15.