A Queer Transformative Learning Rollercoaster
Updated: Nov 21, 2019
**TRIGGER WARNING: MENTION OF HOMOPHOBIC VIOLENCE**
Berlin, 4 November 2019
A little boy with a beautiful smile. Born around the same time as me, but no longer alive. Beaten to death by his father for refusing to have his hair cut off when he was eight years old. A voice reads testimony from the court hearing. “The beating was corrective. My son was behaving like a sissy. I had to teach him to be a man.”
I am sitting in Moviemento, Germany’s oldest cinema, watching Bicha Bomba (Queer Bomb), a short film by Brasilian film maker Renan de Cillo. The story of the boy, Alex, is a sad example of the very real homophobia faced by many people in countries all over the world today. The screening takes place as part of the 14th Porn Film Festival Berlin. The LGBTQIA+ community is strongly represented in the audience. We cry together as we are confronted with the shocking details of this atrocity, just one example of the injustice acted out by a heteronormative society against fellow humans that don’t happen to fit into its binary boxes. It brings home everything that is painful and scary about queer life.
The Berlin Porn Film Festival: a space for learning and recognition
As an event, meeting place, and learning space, the Porn Film Festival is exceptional – which is amazing and sad at the same time. Happening every year, the six-day programme features screenings from all over the globe, ranging from poetic to political and from celebratory to educational. There are also panel discussions (this year on Porn Meets Academia and Healthcare for Perverts), book-presentations, workshops on consent, empowerment, and pleasure, and several parties (some with all-gender darkroom). It creates a space for the artists involved in the production of the films, for sex-workers, porn scholars, and members of the public to enjoy, learn, and meet kindred spirits. Many go year after year and describe the experience as coming home to their community. Which says something about what it is like to be queer during the rest of the year. Berlin and some other big cities may be rare examples of places where there are plenty of opportunities for this community to gather, but such is not a reality for everyone. And even here, people stare as I sit on Hermannplatz drinking a beer with my friends, a handful of people crossing the boundaries of gender-expression. It is the sad truth that many LGBTQIA+ folks need to hide their identity in their home context for fear of abuse if they choose not to.
Even though I only came out as queer and transgender recently and this is my first time at the festival, I feel a sense of connection to the community that gathers around the Porn Film Festival. I think it is because living in a society that has not been made for you, means that you can’t but reflect on the structures and behaviours often taken for granted by straight cisgender people (heterosexuals whose gender identity happens to match the sex they were assigned at birth). That the personal is political is something the majority here knows first-hand. This shared level of experience and reflection creates not only a bond, but also largely makes for meaningful and caring interactions from the outset.
At the closing party in a club in Kreuzberg, two drag queens play a set of Europop. In the room I see faces that have grown familiar over the last few days. Having been around these people almost makes me feel as though this is normal: to dress however I like without being commented on or frowned upon, or even looked at with a bit more than appropriate curiosity. When I introduce myself with my new name Ivan, no-one raises a brow. When it comes to flirting, it is so much more straight-forward and consensual than anything I’ve ever experienced in a heterosexual context. Here, it is good practice to not assume what kind of human you have in front of you, so you ask how they identify, what their pronouns are, what they like, and perhaps whether they would be interested in doing what they like with you. Saying no or hearing no is not a problem, and if it’s a yes, you can happily get ready for action. A year ago, this type of exchange would have been unthinkable for me, for sheer unfamiliarity. It makes me aware of how much of society is stifled by discomfort, and that what I’m experiencing here is rather exceptional and precious.
If you want to do something in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, please consider making a donation towards the crowdfunding campaign for Captain Faggotron Saves The Universe, which runs until 16 December 2019. Produced by queer activist Harvey Rabbit, this film for cinema release is a coming out story that addresses issues including the stigmatization of HIV, rejection from family, the growing terror of the far right, and in the end, who has the right to exist as they are. A celebration of the diversity of queer existence, Captain Faggotron lifts the viewer up, opens hearts to the possibility of a more accepting society, and is a powerhouse for continuing the fight for equality in a world that constantly questions queer people’s right to exist.
What coming out as queer has taught me about navigating otherness
Of course, the LGBTQIA+ community is not homogenous and also has its flaws. Fear of otherness exists here, too, as people group in clusters that give them a sense of safety and comfort, without necessarily crossing into unknown lands. Perhaps the more so because having experienced exclusion increases the craving for belonging and recognition? Subcultures that exist under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella have their own customs, and, in some cases, I have the impression that they, too, could do with some emancipation. For example, some gay bars discriminate against trans folks. Some people inclined towards feminism have issues with how drag queens impersonate stereotypes of femininity.
Another interesting learning opportunity lies in overcoming the sense of confusion as to how to behave in all-gender darkrooms – given that darkrooms used to be and still are largely cis-gay spaces. Despite them being largely non-verbal territory, I’ve had good experiences with throwing in my communicative skills – getting over the fear of asking what I don’t know, being clear about what I want and also about what my boundaries are. And if someone is not open to that, I’m actually not interested in engaging with them.
One of the main learnings I draw from my engagement with the LGBTQIA+ community, which is diverse in itself, is how learning about one’s own otherness – however confusing and painful, but also exhilarating and self-affirming this can be –
can open doors towards learning to deal with other people’s otherness. Such skills are badly needed in a world where fathers kill their sons, where people get shouted at through car windows, or where people are being discriminated against on the job market because they don’t embody stereotypes that are being clung onto for dear life by mainstream society. And not to forget: even micro-aggressions, such as being misgendered or stared at, hurt like a drop of water that hits you in the same spot over and over again. Dear people, please be kind to each other! (Which can also mean calling out what’s going wrong.)
ContraPoints is a smart and exquisitely crafted series of informative episodes
about all matters queer that educates LGBTQIA+ and straight people alike
I have found that being queer and transgender means receiving a transformative education from life, for the better and the worse. It involves developing a literacy of the diverse ways in which people experience their identity, gender, and sexuality – one that is often lacking. Having spent most of my life in an environment with very few LGBTQIA+ people in my acquaintance, I was vaguely aware of this community and its struggles, but actually I had no idea what their reality is like. Knowing about these people’s existence but not actually knowing them, let alone perceiving myself as one of them, was like having this slightly uncomfortable presence hovering around somewhere in the periphery of my lifeworld. It took me 29 years to appreciate the richness and inclusivity as well as the hardship that characterises this community, and to come out of the closet myself. It shouldn’t have taken that long. Therefore, I choose to share some of my personal experiences for educational purposes – which is both scary and rewarding.
I know that we should have learned about all of this in school. That there should have been proper representation of the LGBTQIA+ community in films, books, and politics. That society should have provided laws that guarantee equal treatment. Unfortunately, fact is that much of this is still lacking. If you find yourself wanting to learn more, don’t wait for an LGBTQIA+ person to come your way and answer all your questions. Even I, being generally quite happy to talk, don’t like it when that happens all the time. So if you do meet one, note that they may not necessarily be prepared to act as a representative. They are people like anybody else who probably prefer to chat about what interests them and what keeps them busy. They, like you, have careers, families, histories, dreams, and quirky sides to discover. Don’t force them into the role of The Other! And really, the burden of explanation shouldn’t rest on those who are already being marginalised. Instead, live up to any privilege you may enjoy and educate yourself!
Bicha Bomba (Portuguese without subtitles)
ContraPoints YouTube channel