Luna Merbruja wants people to recognize that superstars like Laverne Cox are not the only trans women of colour doing important work.
Merbruja, a trans and queer latina performance artist who lives in California, is coming to Ottawa to deliver a keynote performance and spearhead a writing workshop at Carleton University’s Hanky Panky Pride 2016.
“I’m coming from the States to Ottawa to be doing this performance and I’m super honoured,” she says. “But also . . . it’s really important to bridge that gap between activism where we have these idols that we know about like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, but what are some local women? What are their names and what are their needs and what are they fighting for?”
Whenever she goes to a new city to give a presentation, Merbruja says she tries to make connections with local trans women of colour because the work being done outside of the spotlight needs to be recognized too. Community members and allies need to be aware of the challenges specific to their community and the local activists who are doing the work, she says.
The many buttons of Hanky Panky Pride. (Submitted)
Hanky Panky Pride kicks off on Jan 25, 2016, with Merbruja’s keynote on Jan 26 and her writing workshop on Jan 27. The keynote is billed as a performance rather than a talk because it blends performance art, poetry, humour and audience interaction, she says.
“For me, a performance is actually breaking that fourth wall and asking the audience questions,” Merbruja says. “I usually ask the audience, ‘What are you in the mood to hear?’ and that sort of gives it a sense of originality, that it can’t be repeated a second time because each audience is going to ask for something different.”
Her keynote and writing workshop will focus on the importance of telling your story in an authentic way, something she knows about personally after writing her memoir Trauma Queen.
“I didn’t expect to become someone who did keynotes or even become a performance artist, but writing this memoir actually opened up so many opportunities to become an artist that were not possible in my own imagination before,” Merbruja says.
In her writing workshop, Merbruja hopes to inspire participants to express the stories their bodies are carrying.
“I feel that as a writing facilitator I’m often just asking questions that provoke people’s own answers and brilliance,” she says.
Hanky Panky Pride’s week of events includes a two-spirit workshop by Kole Peplinskie, a drag show and a talk show panel inspired by MTV Canada’s 1 Girl 5 Gays.
Hanky Panky refers not only to fun and sex, but also pays tribute to the power of symbolism throughout LGBT history, says Merissa Taylor-Meissner, programming coordinator of Carleton’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre. “In the 1970s when [queer, gay and bisexual] men’s sexuality was heavily stigmatized, they would wear handkerchiefs in their pockets to indicate that they were queer and what sex they wanted to have,” she says.
“This year I really wanted to focus on queer symbols throughout the ages and how LGBTQ people have made community through these symbols.”