Celebrating the complexities of queer culture

A carefully written and finely told story, at its very best, has the ability to draw readers out of isolation and into a sense of shared experience and community. It is in this spirit of community that Genderfest Winnipeg and Alison Burdeny have organized Consensual Word Play: A Celebration of Queer Culture, featuring Roewan Crowe, Casey Plett, and Trish Salah.

While the evening will feature readings from these three queer-identified authors and poets, it will follow a somewhat more relaxed structure.

“Rather than have them sit behind a signing table and have folks wait in line, I’ve decided to let everyone roam free and connect with members of the audience individually,” says Burdeny. “I feel like this informal atmosphere lends itself to networking and building community much more.”

The creation of a community space to meet and discuss queer culture is, in itself, a very important act.

“Bringing queer writers together, and celebrating queer writing and art is vital cultural work. Queer culture thrives in vibrant queer contexts where we can be seen in all of our gorgeous complexities,” says Crowe.

Many of these complexities are either misrepresented, not represented, or otherwise censored in mainstream media and literary circles, something which underscores the importance of events such as this.

“[While] we are seeing more trans* characters in both popular culture and literary fiction these days, they continue to be written by non-trans* writers in ways that are often, if not invariably, stereotypical, tragic, and/or phobic. And yet, there is all this really fantastic writing being produced by trans* writers that isn’t necessarily reaching a wider audience,” says Salah.

There are numerous intersecting ways this audience is limited. Burdeny explained that queer literature is often turned down by publishing houses because any references to queer sex are deemed  too explicit, and are either omitted or rewritten as straight.

While a focus on sexuality as the defining aspect on queer culture can be problematic, Burdeny asserts that it also cannot be ignored.

“The sexual tones of the title are meant to acknowledge that sexuality is a very natural part of our existence as queers, and while it is not necessarily central, it is important and deserves recognition [ . . . ] All that said, there are many other important aspects of queer experiences that deserve highlighting as well, including the other aspects of the work of these authors.”

Salah’s own work goes beyond the literary, as Plett notes, “I admire not only Trish Salah’s poetry but also what she is doing putting on the Writing Trans Genres conference at the U of W this May.”

While Burdeny assembled the Genderfest author lineup, the authors are not unfamiliar with each other’s work. There is a true sense of mutual admiration among them all.

“Casey Plett’s short fiction is fantastic; she’s written some extraordinary studies of character and the [society] that treat trans* women’s experiences without sentimentalizing, ‘educating,’ or simplifying in ways that might privilege a non-trans* audience,” says Salah. “Roewan’s writing seems to me, very close in spirit to her activism and her teaching – ethical, critical, and also joyful.”

Consensual Word Play: A Celebration of Queer Culture will be held on Feb. 6 from 7 until 8 p.m. at McNally Robinson. The Writing Trans* Genres: Emergent Literatures and Criticism conference is being held at the University of Winnipeg from May 22-24. Roewan Crowe’s work is also part of an art show, My Monument, opening at Gallery 1C03 on Mar. 6.