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Radical Queer Semaine

May 6, 2012

Radical Queer Semaine (RQS) is a ten-day festival that happens every year, just towards the end of winter in Montreal. Born in 2009 out of the sordid dissolution of another event, Queereaction, on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riot in NY, RQS is a temporary autonomous zone (TAZ) for anyone interested in discussing gender, sexuality and their various political fronts. Each year they move into a central location and transform that space into an queer clubhouse, hosting workshops on decolonization, how to pee standing up, post-porn, HIV criminalization and intersex solidarity, to name a few, and that’s just during the days. After dark, these two weeks are filled with nights of performance, film screenings and dance floor activism. Goddamn.

Pulling something like this off obviously takes a lot of work, patience and committed personalities. When you’re talking about Montreal activism, that also means a few more challenges including consensus decision making and navigating people’s different languages. I had a chance to talk with the affable Frank Suerich-Gulick, one of the organizers of RQS, for some time about juggling Anglophone needs and Francophone rights.

“In Montreal, there are a lot of people who are Anglophones, who come from out of province and who don’t speak any French, whereas a lot of Francophones will have at least basic English. So if you are running a workshop and have the capacity to run it in either language, you will usually have more people who don’t understand any French than people who don’t understand any English. Which for one workshop can be fine, but after a while it gets frustrating that supposedly bilingual events always happen in English.” One tactic RQS has taken is to conduct their internal meetings in French, leveling the playing-field a bit. Which helps balance the needs of a partly monolingual-Anglo audience with the political and practical importance of actual organizing in French, allowing them to control just how bilingual the final event turns out.

English imperialism is still a big problem, after all, and not just out east. It is one of the big weapons used against Indigenous languages and peoples, a blunt means of asserting dominance over governance and trade. Not that French is that much better in this respect, being equally responsible as a tool of genocide not just here but all over the globe. It almost seems like a cold war, and you just want for both parties to collapse (of course this zine is written in English, spoken by the armies occupying my ancestral Irish homeland, so i bare a centuries-old grudge against this brutish, bureaucrat’s language). There are places, though, where discussions around language are able to open the debate. The growing popularity of simultaneous ASL translation at events, for one. Stella, a sex worker organization in Montreal, publishing safety booklets in English, French and Inuktitut is another. English itself points out, being more gender-neutral than many languages, that some linguistic communities even have work to do in their own backyards to deprogram patriarchy out of their very words. Which is just to say that i hope we don’t miss obvious opportunities posed by parallel struggles for language, culture and survival. Allophones to the front!

Though maybe all we need is body language? Seems to be a big part of how RQS dialogues with the larger community. This year, i count five dance parties, five different opportunities to hear what queer sounds like and feel it rush on down through your bones. That’s right, i’m including the sex party, along side the live hiphop show, a couple DJ nights and a cabaret spectacle. When talking with Frank, i had prattled off about all the reasons i love these parties, including
1) welcoming to people less politicized or comfortable in workshops
2) lets party organizers show off their activism
3) showcases all the different talents that queers have
4) mental/booty health
5) best excuse we get to dress up and feel good about ourselves,
but then he gave me another give reason: mega parties are the biggest source of revenue for RQS. Renting a space for two weeks, paying for food and transportation, supporting all the infrastructure for a massive, centralized event like this cost some money. While they always receive small stipends from a few different university groups, this is their big source of income. Which makes me love them more, because there are few things i respect more than grassroots, community-responsive funding. With federal and local governments proving more everyday how hostile they are to arts and community organizing, we are going to depend more and more on ourselves and the connections we make to keep our movements afloat.

Ways to get involved:
join the collectiveEmail RQS, and they’ll let you know when they start having organization meetings again (probably towards the end of fall). Especially looking for folks that are good at PR or publicity and people that are anal retentive about organizing.
propose an event – Want to host a night of film, a dress up party, a clothing swap, a BYOChicken buffet? Was there some activity you really wanted to see happen but found it missing from this year’s line-up? Let them have it.
host a workshop – Have something you’re dying to talk about in public? Some ideas you want to brainstorm with a few possible accomplices? Maybe you could be part of next year’s schedule.

In closing, in a fit of jealousy, i asked Frank what were some tips he might have for organizing a similar event in other cities: “Start small with a weekend, an afternoon of workshops on Saturday and say a performance night in the evening followed by a dance party. And the next day, well personally i think food is a nice component. But yeah, i would start small, try to figure something out where you need as little money as possible. Have a good team, and ideally a team of people who have connections with slightly different groups so that they can get the word out.”
So, Toronto, what do you think? Any interest in organizing something for this summer, say towards the end of June? Email by April 30th if you want to support this happening.

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