Yes, the title is long and, for some, many of the words, concepts and labels may seem unnecessary almost excessive and perhaps even markers of, so called, ‘political correctness’. For others, the use of so many labels may seem equally unnecessary and offensive by virtue of a possible implicit attempt at mocking. Both these opinions would be wrong because contained within the title of this piece are words, label’s and statements that not only allow people to make sense of their world but also act as signifiers that allow the world to make sense of those very people. Let me explain.Queering Paradigms 8: Fucking Solidarity, was a conference that presented itself as a post-soviet space by which LGBTIQ+ issues could be expressed, discussed, engaged with and performed in an environment that was, although safe, structured in such a way as to inspire and challenge. Attendees were a collective of academics, activists, artists, legal professionals, observers, theorists, philosophers and journalists. All of these people brought with them many different insights, experiences, research and stories of oppression. Glocalities were represented with attendees from both the Global North and Global South. Queering Paradigms (QP) is more than just a series of international conferences and books. QP, founded by Professor Bee Scherer, brings together themes, research and people in a multi-disciplined approach that inhabits a Queer Theoretical arena. Queer Theory (QT) demands that binary and/or socio-political essentialism must be interrogated in an effort to expose power relationships that confine, repress and abuse multi-faceted gender, sexuality and identity performances. Whilst QT has firm roots in Feminism and LGBT studies, QT expresses a Foucauldian understanding of post-structuralist power networks. QT encompasses and is encompassed by Critical Race Theory, Critical Discourse Analysis, Critical Disability Studies to name but a few strands that form the fabric of a theoretical process that has emancipation at its heart. Therefore to ‘Queer’ a ‘Paradigm’ is to analyse and assess discourses, policies and/or practises on the Glocal stage to highlight and rail against oppression in any form.
As complex as that sounds, for me, it was at the very least intriguing or perhaps a better adjective would be exciting. QP8: Fucking Solidarity was a very real and practical example of Queering in terms of academic conferences. To expand that point, the conference ‘flipped the script’ of academic events. The organising collective (the Fucking Solidarity crew) was comprised of people who identify as outside of the White Hetero Affluent Male (WHAM) hegemony who I think of as the progenitors of colonialism and its bastard child, neo-liberal capitalism. As (Anarcho-)Queer/Feminist conferences go, QP8 was a natural and fluid arrangement of statements, research and experiences that Fucked Solidarity in the name of expressing collective understanding of the Glocal experience of LGBTIQ+ communities. Obvious questions were asked such as, ‘what does ‘Fucking Solidarity’ mean? Is it a physical or theoretical exercise? Perhaps it is some loose combination of both that can slip into one and another? Can Solidarity be ‘Fucked’? Should people be Fucking with Solidarity? How does one Fuck with Solidarity? To what end is the Fucking aimed out? Do people need protection when Fucking about with Solidarity? Is Fucking an act of Solidarity?’ All these questions and more were engaged with but the question of if any of them were answered is a binary understanding of truth. Discussions have been started, contributed to and forwarded which, in some ways, can be seen as a mark of success for any conference. Indeed, as a Queer/Feminist conference the trans-national bi-lingual practical organisation was outstanding and as such, an example of Fucking around with Solidarity. Binary understandings of truth aside, it felt like I learnt what Fucking Solidarity means. If anything, Fucking Solidarity is both a cry of frustration when misunderstandings are compounded (‘Someone has pissed in all the bins, have they not heard of Fucking Solidarity?!’) but it can also be the best riposte to any poorly disguised insult in the form of a question (‘Why are you marching with them, you’re not one of them? ‘Fucking Solidarity, that’s why!’).
The ‘trans-national bi-lingual’ nature of QP8 exposed an interesting dichotomy for me when considered within the context of colonial hegemony of Glocal WHAM’s. The two main conference languages were Russian and English. Both these languages are the languages used by two of the largest colonising powers of pre-and current understandings of modernity. It is not so much a criticism of the use of Russian and English but an observation, it is a pragmatic choice after all as delegates and attendees came from around the globe. Languages represented included, but not limited to, Ukrainian, Romanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Argentinian Spanish, Bantu, Arabic as well as my (poor) attempt to speak German in Austrian coffee shops.
I am told that people appreciate attempts to speak the lingua franca eschewing the belief that everyone should have a basic grasp of English. Unfortunately, my attempts may very well have been a clear example of my status as a WHAM (albeit in an oppressed minority of that group). I had found an excellent Austrian coffee shop where, of course, I ordered tea. The one thing I do remember from school is some song that went “Hallo, wie heisst Du? Mein Name ist Stefan.” I failed my German GCSE but the greeting from the song has stuck with me over the years. Being terribly British, my mind understood that opening line to be ‘Hello, how are you? My name is Stefan.’ I decided to try out this polite greeting. “Hallo” I said with confidence “Wie heisst Du?” I enquired remaining respectful and polite. The barista replied something that I could not fathom but, even to this WHAM, it did not sound like the German for ‘I am well, thank you.’ Perhaps, my pronunciation was a little off and I should stick to classroom German. “Nein” I said, “wie heist Du?” perhaps a little louder and slower then needed. Again, the response was not what I had expected and now the smile had gone. ‘Ah’ I thought, perhaps because they, clearly, did not understand me the first two times there must be some form of cognitive and hearing loss that I hadn’t considered. Summoning my full WHAM privilege and drawing on the global uptake of English around the world by virtue of colonialisation, the United States and Harry Potter I said very loudly and very slowly “NEIN, WIE HEISST DU?”
At this point, I would like to say that the above story was a joke. I would like to say that I was trying to use some form of narrative device to represent that linguistic privilege of having English as my native tongue. I would also like to say that the above fiction was designed to express my unease at the idea that English still continues to exert a colonialising power over the world. If I did say those things, I would be lying. I later found out exactly what ‘Wie Heisst Du?” means. It turns out, and I am sure many people know this, it means ‘What is your name? Not only does it mean that but it is also in the most informal way imaginable. So basically, I was propositioning someone I had just met and not only that, I was doing it very loudly and very slowly. Maybe propositioning is the wrong word but that’s what it felt like when I find out what I had said. Needless to say, I will never be visiting that coffeeshop, Vienna, Austria or indeed mainland Europe for the rest of my days. Being in a minority WHAM group can be so troubling at times.
The bi-lingual nature of the conference did an excellent job of troubling my security in terms of language. Throughout the talks, sessions and presentations of papers an inspiring team of bi/tri/multi-lingual translators provided their services. They were not professional translators (although they could/should be) but fellow attendees at the conference. Be it Russian to English, English to Russian or Ukrainian to Russian and then to English this group of talented individuals tore down barriers. This Fucked with Solidarity in a manner that can be best shown with a very real example. At the closing of the conference a play was performed by a group of Ukrainian activists with real life experience of the situation of the trans community in the medico-legal bureaucracies of the Ukraine. A number of academically privileged individuals (including me) needed the Ukrainian to be translated to English. A confident and talented individual volunteered and assembled us around a central chair. As the play progressed I noticed that there were at least three full Professors, four Doctors, a Human Rights Barrister and a doctoral student all of whom were leaning in, listening intently to the play through sensitive translation. Privilege, education and status had been turned on its head and, in my mind that is another example of what Fucking Solidarity is/was all about.
Although ostensibly a Queer/Feminist conference concerned with the experiences of the LGBTIQ+ community’s post-Soviet Union, QP8 felt like yet another reminder that injustice and intolerance is a global disease. Solidarity can become more than just saying you are a ‘straight ally’ or a concerned professional. The question of Solidarity and how it Fucks with realities became vitally clear with an opening statement by a ‘post-Soviet migrant’. In the statement, a stark contrast was created in which the ‘academic’ nature of conferences was held against the fundamental lived experiences of LGBTIQ+ migrants:
“Fucking Solidarity is not a space that was created for you, so you can feel all cosy and safe and curious about us and our contexts… We are not your research objects/subjects, not your field study, not your inspiration for greater activism or work…We are also not the screen upon which you can project your longings for an international fight against homophobia and for a joint queer identity/subjectivity. There is also no collective migrant >>we<<, but many people and many stories. Please be respectful and keep this in mind”
You may have noticed that I have made scant reference to the content of the presentations/performances, this is deliberate. The conference, to me at least, was at times harrowing and upsetting. Torture, rape, abuse, assault, violence, familial murder are just some of the topics that were covered. From personal accounts to journalistic reports, oppression was shown to be very much a tragic aspect of the lives of many communities. At the time of writing, I do not know what the content of the forthcoming Queering Paradigms VIII book will be. As such, I am reticent to go in to great detail about specific offerings from the many presenters and performers. The reasons for my reticence are twofold on the one hand I do not wish to mis-represent, mis-understand or mis-use any individuals work that may (or may not) be published in a future collection. My other stronger reason is that I realise that I cannot do justice to the pain, the struggle or the fight that those individuals face day by day. The people that told their deeply personal, troubling and frightening stories exhibited a bravery and a trust that was inspirational. That trust reminded me that Solidarity should always be a constant, no matter how much it is Fucked with. Speaking as a nascent academic who thinks about and is concerned with social justice in all its possible forms, QP8 has become fundamental to my development as a researcher. Not fundamental as in I am looking to study or research these individuals but fundamental in terms of strengthening my will to work. That will to work is inspired by the welcome, the engagement, the humour and the patience that this conference exhibited. On a further personal level, I hadn’t been on a plane for over a decade due to various mental health reasons, the QP8 space helped me to get over myself and be part, in some small way, of a movement that is trying to bring more justice into the world.