A wise theatre artist friend of mine once said of the creative process, “It takes multiple positions to achieve perspective.” A reference to Renaissance-era forced perspective drawing (ask your art school friends), in this case it was a model for collaboration, the idea that multiple people’s ideas must be considered in the artistic process to achieve a solid product. I’ve been thinking a lot about this in the last year in reference to the way our community engages in dialogue.
Two incidents in particular spring to mind: Elisha’s Lim’s issue with Xtra’s refusal to use the gender-neutral pronoun “they” in an article, and Lexi Tronic’s confrontation with editor Danny Glenwright over his publishing her birth first name on Facebook. Both situations ignited verbal warfare, pitting Xtra against the trans community and its allies. Despite the valuable dialogue that resulted, both situations point to a profound problem. Not so much for what was said, but for what wasn’t.
I was the writer in Lim’s case and I found it fascinating (and unfortunately telling) that during the whole saga, not one single member of the queer community ever thought to ask me about my perspective or my experience in the situation. I would hazard no one even considered that I had an experience or that my version of the facts might differ from Lim’s. I’ve never spoken publicly about this, partly because I respect Lim and wanted to focus on promoting their work and partly because I didn’t want to appear petty. But in the wake of the Glenwright/Tronic conflict I realize I had another reason for holding back. I was afraid.
I followed Tronic’s case closely, talking with my trans friends about it, a number of whom disagreed with her stance (one went so far as to call her actions a cheap publicity stunt). I thought an alternate take on the subject might be interesting, but none of them were willing to speak on the record. One literally laughed out loud at my obvious ignorance. Contradicting the dominant ethos of the community would not only damage their reputation, they said, but also open them to attack and endanger their career.
Whether or not their speaking up would have these results, this points to something deeply troubling. We’ve had extensive dialogue around censorship in the last two years (in the wake of the Pride Toronto debacle) and ongoing conversations about diversity. But if people don’t feel safe to disagree with the dominant cultural discourse, we’ve failed on both counts. Censorship can be explicit (as in the government throwing you in jail). But it can also be implicit (when people feel afraid to express their opinions for fear of being ostracized). Diversity means welcoming not just different kinds of people, but considering different ideas, ideologies and politics. One of our fundamental strengths is our diversity. If diversity of opinion is silenced, the greatest weapon in our arsenal is left to rust in the shed.
So here’s my challenge to the queer community: the next time a story appears in the media that confirms your existing beliefs about the world or a particular institution, don’t immediately accept it as truth. Talk to someone who disagrees with you and try to legitimately consider the other side. More often than not you’ll find your first instincts were right all along. But perhaps, every once in a while, you’ll see things in a new and unexpected way. Building and sustaining our community is like a huge collaborative art project in certain ways. Only if all our different positions are considered can we achieve true perspective.