Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
November is Transgender Awareness Month, with this specific week designated as Transgender Awareness Week. And frankly, in terms of support from cis folks in the Canadian queer art community, the week got off to a deeply discouraging start. Sky Gilbert — one of the founders of Toronto queer theatre company Buddies in Bad Times — decided to continue to devote space on his blog to attack trans author, filmmaker, musician and visual artist Vivek Shraya.
It's yet another reminder of the prejudices trans people face even within the LGBTQ community. I'll let these Twitter threads by Jake Pyne and Gwen Benaway articulate how remarkably problematic Gilbert's words are, and devote the rest of the space of this week's column to what we as true cisgender allies should be doing on Transgender Awareness Week, and every week for that matter: shutting up and letting trans people speak for themselves. So may I direct your attention to 10 artists who are among the wonderful trans voices we've had the privilege of featuring here at CBC Arts, including Ms. Shraya herself.
Part of CBC Arts' Queer (Self) Portraits series, Enza Anderson is a Toronto trailblazer whose column "The Hot Ticket by Enza Supermodel" ran in Metro Toronto, Canada's most widely circulated free newspaper from 2004-2010. Watch her talk openly about the barriers she's faced on this journey of both professional growth and self-discovery. She says: "If I'm going to live, I have to function daily like everyone else." Watch her Queer (Self) Portraits episode here.
Gwen Benaway. (Gwen Benaway)
Gwen Benaway is a trans Annishinabe/Mètis poet and writer who has written numerous wonderful essays and articles for CBC Arts, including this piece on the importance of finding trans joy just earlier this week. "The most dangerous part of living with transphobia is not just its potential to kill me — either from violent attack or less direct forms such as homelessness, unemployment or a lack of access to healthcare — but its ability to limit my joy," she writes in the piece. "I believe in joy as a fundamental part of what it means to be human. In our pleasures and happiness, we find freedom from the everyday oppressions of our lives." You can read more of Gwen's words here and here and here.
In 2016, CBC Arts published a short documentary on Canadian performance artist, body builder and personal trainer Cassils, who underwent intense training and fight choreography to develop a graphic and disturbing show about socio-political issues. We follow them as they bring the show to The Broad Museum in Los Angeles, and you can learn more about what they're up to now here.
Chase Joynt. (David Hawe)
Filmmaker and writer Chase Joynt penned this essay for CBC Arts, reflecting on his journey to publish his first book, You Only Live Twice. "The project began as a private correspondence with my friend Mike Hoolboom, a prolific experimental filmmaker," he says. "For years, we exchanged stories about transitions: mine from female to male and Mike's from near-dead to alive. For us, the project was never a task of linear, exhaustive truth-telling but rather an aesthetic engagement with the limits and potentials of personal memory." Learn more about Joynt's work here.
Chanty Marostica. (Ryan Dillon)
In 2018, trans comedian Chanty Marostica's career has skyrocketed. They became the first trans comedian to have a solo show at Just For Laughs Toronto and won Sirius XM's Canada's Top Comic competition, all well in the midst of transitioning. All the more, this rise has happened in part because of how Marostica decided to take matters into their own hands and reinvent the LGBTQ comedy landscape in Toronto so that they and other queer and trans folks could get the opportunities they deserve. Read all about their remarkably inspiring story here.
Casey Plett. (James L/Zero Heat Photography)
Award-winning writer Casey Plett has blessed CBC Arts readers with her words a few times, including this essay about how to write a transgender character and this piece calling for more intimacy in works from marginalized writers. Both are must reads, as is this "artist's guide" to the city of Windsor, Ont. she wrote for us this past summer. Learn about Casey and her latest book Little Fishhere.
Heath V. Salazar in drag as Gay Jesus. (CBC Arts)
Dora Award-winning trans Latinx writer and performer Heath V. Salazar was fabulously the focus of an episode of the CBC Arts docuseries Canada's a Drag as their drag king alter ego Gay Jesus. "A lot of my pieces are very political," Salazar told us in that episode. "So what I really want to do with it is share with people that if this person, theoretically, lived and was able to do all this good and spread all this love, that we are each made of that same matter." That work extends well beyond Gay Jesus, including most recently performing in the "gloriously frank" Toronto staging of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Wolves. Watch their Canada's a Drag episode here.
Vivek Shraya. (Tanja-Tiziana/vivekshraya.com)
"Getting to take up space as a brown, bi, trans person feels like an amazing and wonderful gift," Vivek Shraya told us in this 2016 short documentary CBC Arts produced in honour of her being one of that year's Grand Marshals of Pride Toronto. And it was the first of many occasions we'd showcase Shraya's multi-faceted artistry, including this piece a year later in which Shraya talked about "I want to kill myself," a short film she released on her 36th birthday to shed a vital light on mental health. Learn all about the many, many ways to explore Shraya's work on her website.
Multidisciplinary artist, activist and educator Rowan Sky wrote a piece for CBC Arts last summer reflecting on how poetry about Indigenous connection to our land gave them strength through their gender transition. "Wherever I am in the world and on my gender journey, my connections to land, water and community give me strength and are a continual source of reflection," Sky writes. "I pour out these reflections in my writing." Read the whole piece here.
Syrus Marcus Ware. (Jalani Morgan/Black Lives Matter TO)
Also included in our Queer (Self) Portraits series was visual artist, activist and scholar Syrus Marcus Ware. "In addition to pulling down walls, we also have to be planting the seeds," Ware says in the video. "All of my work has been about watering the seeds." Learn all about that work by both watching that video, reading his essay on madness and Blackness and exploring his website, which details the extraordinary breath of his work across so many different platforms.
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