We are extremely proud to be hosting a trilogy of events as part of LGBT History Month. Book your tickets and join us!
By Bethany Davies
As part of York’s LGBT History Month in February an array of events took place around the city. On the evening of 13th February, York St John hosted a free film screening of Kate Bornstein: A Queer and Pleasant Danger. On entry to Fountains Lecture Theatre, Dr Adam Stock and Dr Kimberley Campanello welcomed everyone to free refreshments. With a glass of red, a few friends and myself took our seats and waited to sit and learn about a woman called Kate Bornstein.
My head was spinning off its axis and I couldn’t quite pin down what emotion it was that I was feeling. The friends that came to the screening with me felt the same and as we sat and discussed our thoughts, we pondered on whether it was the documentary that confused us or the wine we were slowly sipping away at.
On entrance to the screening we had been handed feedback questionnaires to fill in. The opening question on the sheet gave four options for gender. You could tick: 1. Male 2. Female 3. Non-Binary 4. Not Listed as Above
What does it mean to be non-binary? Can you be something that isn’t male or female? That’s two questions.
Then as the film proceeded, terms came flying at me from all directions: gender queer; gender fluid; ambisexual; asexual; demi sexual and sapiosexual. What do these mean? Which one am I? Am I supposed to know these meanings? There’s another three questions – I’ve at least another 98 more I could list.
Kate Bornstein was a woman I’d never met before. Sorry, not a woman, not a man, but someone who identifies as “a tranny”. Not transsexual or transgender, but a tranny. Kate Bornstein has reasons for this controversial decision; “there’s a big battle going on between trannies who want to call themselves tranny and there’s trannies who don’t want to call themselves a tranny. I’m a tranny who does want to call herself a tranny. I use the word tranny a lot in my memoir. I’m just saying.” I searched, and the word “tranny” is said 17 times in the documentary. It’s a term that I had previously associated with being quite offensive.
Kate Bornstein was once a young male Jew, and became a Scientologist in her twenties. Years later, she is now a “tranny” – and still Jewish. She has tattoos and piercings. She always wears a bandanna around her head. It looks pretty good. A crucifix always hangs around her neck. She’s crude. Her identity is playful. She is a performer. An avid tweeter. She has lung cancer. And she is transgender and lesbian.
Those are the things I now know. Oh, and she has a golden penis mounted in her lounge as an ornament.
This documentary showed me a lifestyle in the LGBT+ community that I believe sits at a unique position in the spectrum. Tony Ortega writes in the The Village Voice that, “Bornstein has managed to both anger and delight most camps in the LGBTQ universe.” Well, I’m not surprised. If I was to sit and boil a brew with this woman, I’m not sure how long I’d last. Without having met her, just by sitting and watching her through a screen for an hour and a half, (note: with wine), I can tell that her opinions lie always on the tip of her lips. And most of the time I bet they end up sliding off. Now, this is to be envied. Opinions are too often suppressed, leading to lack of communication and misunderstanding. However, as I sat and watched, I empathize that some people in the LGBT+ community must find her vocalization difficult to handle. She has a fire most people don’t see in the day-to-day. She is strong-minded. Bold. Like Marmite.
The documentary shows Bornstein travelling to support groups and LGBTQ gatherings, showing her equally at home discussing gender and sexuality in the context of university seminar rooms or in sex shops. You get the feeling no topic of conversation is ever off-limits, no matter what the venue. Looking into Bornstein’s world is an eye-opening experience.
My main emotion leaving this documentary was pure confusion. I couldn’t pin-point exactly how the documentary had made me feel. But, the truth is, that Kate Borstein is just a spoonful of Marmite that I’ve never tried before. Her controversial opinions and bold outright statements highlighted just how little I knew about her community and the community of many others.
If you are like me, and you haven’t had the chance to know someone in this community or learn about it through school, the head of the YSJ LGBT+ society, Shannon Clay, provided me with some links that I’ll share below. Acquaint yourself with the knowledge. As Claire Fagin once said, “Knowledge will bring you the opportunity to make a difference.”
LGBT History Month: http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/
The Equality Act of 2010 that protects LGBT in the workplace: http://www.stonewall.org.uk/help-advice/discrimination?gclid=CjwKEAiAlZDFBRCKncm67qihiHwSJABtoNIgZuJDbjiqSa0NwCTQ2rNNctUOIzGufpG3uCDjx9DcghoC1mrw_wcB
Yorkshire Mesmac: http://www.mesmac.co.uk/
by Amy McCarthy and Rachel Louise Atkin
To celebrate LGBT History Month, a group of poetry enthusiasts gathered together in the Eagle and Child to discuss Frank O’Hara’s ‘Lunch Poems’ alongside other legendary LGBT writers – appropriately over lunch. We leave the streets of York to go to the bustling streets of Manhattan. As O’Hara composed his poetry during his lunch hours, the group bounced off each other’s analyses.
Frank O’Hara’s ‘Song’, a poem about people watching ‘where the tough Rocky’s eaves hit the sea’, seemed particularly relevant to us as we were able gaze out and watch the people bustling about in the city below us. This is a poem about movement, evident in its use of enjambment as though the words move too fast for the lines to catch up. The objects around O’Hara take on human forms – books have ‘trousers and sleeves’ and trains ‘run and shout’. New York becomes a people city, and specifically a fast one, where even inanimate objects absorb the speed and activity of those around it. It seemed appropriate to be reading such a poem, and hearing the clinking of glasses and footsteps from the rest of the pub.
‘Ave Maria’ has many layers to it as a poem about sexuality. The overarching theme is censorship of sex. O’Hara argues the youth of America should be allowed to go to the cinema and experience storylines besides their own narrative and therefore understand their sexuality. Yet, the mothers of America would also have the time to engage with their sexuality. The poem says ‘they may even be grateful to you / for their first sexual experience / which only cost you a quarter’; sexual encounters are an exchange and the cinema becomes a place of pleasure. With gay bars being regularly raided and patrons harassed by police, (which led to the Stonewall Riots of 1969), the cinema was a queer space to occupy and to safely meet other people.
Throughout the poem, tension between pleasure and the drama of encounter is explored
Cheryl Clarke’s ‘living as a lesbian on 49’s final eve’ explores sexuality later in life – in comparison to the other poets discussed this lunch time. Clarke explores the nature of desire and whether sex is patriarchal and an experience of power. Throughout the poem, tension between pleasure and the drama of encounter is explored as the narrator writes: ‘Tear off my clothes in the middle of the road’. It is a transitional poem as the narrator first says she shouldn’t be happy to be chosen by a woman just because she is an older woman, but then the poem shifts to acceptance of love.
The group moved on to discuss ‘Many Loves’ by Allen Ginsberg and its explicit content. ‘Many Loves’ contrasts the hyper-masculine figure of Neal Cassady with the delicate body of Allen Ginsberg. Written early in Ginsberg’s career, it is subversive even now as early sexual awakenings are unearthed. Ginsberg allows his masculinity to fade from the picture. Walt Whitman’s epigraph chosen for the poem: ‘Resolved to sing no songs henceforth but those of manly attachment’, is from the Calamus poems from Leaves of Grass – which explores homosexual love. As Whitman was revolutionary in the nineteenth-century, Ginsberg takes on the batten in the twentieth-century to normalise non-heterosexual sex.
When we reached the poem ‘I want a president’ by Zoe Leonard, we thought it had been written yesterday. It was, in fact, published in 1992, but the phrase ‘I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils’ seemed more relevant now than ever. In a space where we could discuss queer poetry with confidence, we examined the way Leonard used words such as ‘dyke’ and ‘fag’ as a method of empowerment rather than demonization. Although some argued that there was an attempt to normalize these words, Leonard relies on the obscenities to create a contrast. She wants ‘to know why this isn’t possible’, and the language in this poem is an attempt to place these two spheres together.
After the food and poetry was over, the group dispersed onto the busy streets of York, perhaps with just a little more to say on the queer history of 20th century poetry.
For more information on the York LGBT History Month events, follow this link: http://yorklgbthistory.org.uk/
York LGBT History Month 2017 runs from 31 January to 28 February, and is packed full of great events. With support from the School of Humanities, Philosophy and Theology, and the YorkYSJ Staff LGBT Network, we’re running two events:
6 February, Eagle and Child Pub, 12.30pm
Dr Adam Stock (lecturer in English Literature) and Dr Kimberly Campanello (lecturer in Creative Writing) are hosting “Lunch Poems”.
Taking its name from gay New York poet Frank O’Hara’s celebrated collection ‘Lunch Poems’ (1964), Kimberly and Adam will host a lunch time discussion and reading group of poetry on LGBT themes, over lunch. Poems will be circulated in advance to ticket holders, but you do not need any previous experience or knowledge of poetry to take part in the discussion. Tickets are free, but do NOT include food.
13 February, Fountains Lecture Theatre, 6pm.
Kimberly and Adam host a film screening:
Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger
Meet Auntie Kate.
Trailblazing performance artist-theorist-activist Kate Bornstein takes us on a mind-bending quest through her world dismantling gender and seeking answers to the age-old question: What makes life worth living?
An award-winning documentary by director Sam Feder
Free refreshments for all ticket holders!