Tag Archives: queer

Against Pinkwashing: Filmmaker open letter to the Vancouver Queer Film Festival

From Mik Turje:

Mik Turje Statement on VQFF Pinkwashing

VQFF Statement from Executive Director

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Dear fellow cultural producers and consumers, queers and allies,

Like many of you, I have watched the pinkwashing controversy at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival unfold over the past three years. This year I have found myself compelled as a filmmaker in the VQFF’s Changemakers program to make a public statement about the issue. I believe firmly that the the occupation of Palestine is a queer issue, and that as cultural producers we have a responsibility to use media for social justice. This means media that is unafraid to come out against apartheid, colonialism, and pinkwashing.
My statement (attached below) is in response to the VQFF’s statement released on July 28th (also below). It is with the intent of holding the VQFF to task around this issue as a community that I am making my statement public. If you feel compelled by any or all of this statement, I encourage you to email Drew Dennis, the Executive Director of Out On Screens with your thoughts on the matter.
Drew can be reached at drew@outonscreen.com.
I would also like to reach out to any fellow filmmakers in the VQFF’s program this year about the possibility of drafting a joint statement. Please email me at dandyshots@gmail.com if you are interested.
Please share this with your networks.
In solidarity,
– Mik Turje
Ps. Please see these other public statements on the VQFF’s pinkwashing:
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Mik Turje
Co-Director: Hands in The Dirt
August 7, 2014
Dear Drew Dennis and the Out on Screen Board of Directors,
It has been a great honour to be accepted to show my film in the Changemakers program at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. After speaking to you and reading your statement released on July 28th, I am encouraged to see a response from the festival to the public outcry around the issue that has been building since the initial screening of “Invisible Men” three years ago. I am also relieved that it was not the intent of the VQFF to send the message of solidarity with Israel that it did by printing the Yad B’Yad advert. Despite this, after much reflection I feel that that the response from the festival has been inadequate and am called to address it publicly.
Though the statement and our conversation has made it clear that the VQFF has no position on the issue, I believe that choosing neutrality in a situation of oppression is a form of complicity. I ask the festival to recall the famous ACT UP motto “Silence = Death.” Our queer history is marked by the principle that silence about oppression must be broken, and that this is a matter of life or death.
The siege on Gaza over the past three weeks has seen the death toll (majority civilian, disproportionately children) exceed eighteen hundred. Four-hundred and forty-thousand people have been displaced, nearly nine-thousand injured, and over forty percent of Gaza has been depopulated. The Israeli army has acted with impunity, targeting schools, hospitals, power plants and UN shelters, resulting in the total collapse of essential services such as sewage, electricity, and medical care. This is not a conflict between two equal parties; this is an occupation where the occupier consistently violates international law, and where civilian deaths on one side outnumber the other a thousand to one. At any time, but particularly in light of this I am lending my voice to others who are asking the Vancouver Queer Film Festival to use its voice as a well-respected organization to make a difference.
The ongoing occupation in Gaza is a queer issue for two very important reasons.
1) Whether we like it or not the project of pinkwashing has involved us. It dehumanizes Palestinians in our name, it frames Israel as a liberal democracy in our name, and it fuels islamophobia and racism in our name.
2) Queer is a political identity, and that to wear it, we make a commitment to act in solidarity with all other oppressed people. This includes those opposing occupation, displacement, and apartheid from Turtle Island to Palestine. Our queer liberation is tied to the liberation of all people.
Pinkwashing is not innocuous. It is intentional, and it causes harm. It is a tactic used by the Israeli government which uses queerness to represent Israel as a modern, liberal, democratic state concerned with human rights and to divert international attention away from the state’s violation of Palestinian human rights. The Yad B’Yad advertisement also was not innocuous. As with all pinkwashing, its function is to make people living in liberal democracies like Canada feel a sense of affinity with or investment in the Israeli state. The implication of this message is that Israel must practice apartheid, colonialism, and violence in order to preserve freedoms like gay rights.
As queers with a conscience, what is the way to move forward? The answer is simple. Palestinian civil society (including all Palestinian queer organizations) is united in their call for solidarity through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This includes the boycott of Israeli cultural products such as film. I understand that the festival has struggled with the difficult questions of censorship, free speech, and the power of film and media to engage with the issues constructively.
Unfortunately, the Israeli government shares our belief in the power of media, which is why they have been targeting many cultural institutions including film festivals with increased support in recent years. It is no coincidence that the advertisement ended up in the VQFF program – it is part of a larger attempt at pinkwashing the atrocities on the ground in Palestine. In response to this, the VQFF is being called to adopt a policy of cultural boycott.
I was initially pleased and relieved to hear that the festival will be donating the proceeds of the Yad B’Yad advertisement to Just Vision, a Palestinian/Israeli media organization working to end the occupation. After doing research on Just Vision’s films, I have found that these films perpetuate the oft-repeated misrepresentation of the Israel/Palestine conflict as a conflict between two warring parties, equally responsible for a “cycle of violence”. The solution, according to Just Vision, rests on the facilitation of nonviolent dialogue. Though it is important work, this constitutes the erasure of the systemic disparity of human rights, the ongoing theft of Palestinian land and lives, and the denial of any sort of meaningful Palestinian recourse within a legal framework.
Stonewall was a riot: a riot instigated by young trans women of colour who were then further marginalized from the gay rights movement for being too violent (too femme, too trans, too Black and Latino). As queers we are called to learn a difficult lesson about how the rhetoric of nonviolence can silence the most marginalized voices – those disproportionately black and brown bodies for whom rebellion is a matter of life or death. To view our history of queer struggle as nonviolent is to sugarcoat and whitewash history. There is a parallel to be made between the rejection of the queer people of colour who started our movement with fists and bottles, and the erasure of Palestinian resistance which does not fit the comfortable image of peaceful dialogue and mutual understanding.
I am encouraged to hear that the festival will be engaging with an external facilitator in the fall. Regardless of the conflicting perspectives of members of the film festival, the social justice mandate of the VQFF obligates you to speak out against injustice. As this is revisited, I ask that this lead to concrete action, including:
1) That the festival come out against Israeli apartheid and make a statement which explicitly addresses the issues at hand including a condemnation of Israeli war crimes, and a statement opposing pinkwashing
2) That the money from the Yad B’Yad advert be donated towards humanitarian aid to the victims of the ongoing massacre in Gaza
3) That a specific policy be drafted about pinkwashing, and a boycott of Brand Israel cultural products in programming, advertising, and all other aspects of the festival be adopted.
I know the Vancouver Queer Film Festival to be a forward thinking and dedicated community organization, and I have decided not to pull my film as an act of good faith that this issue will be taken seriously when it is revisited in the fall. Though the mandate of the VQFF may end at celebrating queer lives through film, your moral obligation does not.
Sincerely and with the deepest respect,
Mik Turje
Co-director: Hands In the Dirt
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Summary: Anarchy without Opposition by Jamie Heckert

queeringanarchismHow might being “against” systems oppression and domination actually support those systems?  How might “being radical” end up distancing radicals from the people they want to be engaging?  This is a summary and analysis of “Anarchy without Opposition,” by Jamie Heckert, a chapter in Queering Anarchism.  Heckert unpacks the ways that anarchists often set themselves in opposition to systems of oppression, and he claims that this opposition can actually be a kind of counterproductive attachment.  By defining themselves against what they’re not (oppression, capitalism, the State, and so on), anarchists can end up reinforcing those very structures.  As an alternative, Heckert suggests a queering of anarchism, which would make it more open-ended, relational, dynamic and compassionate.  He draws together strands of queer theory, anarchism, permaculture, non-violent communication, and buddhism, creating a narrative that is both theoretical (highlighting ideology and opposition as bordering practices) and personal (sharing stories of his own attempts to navigate spaces with openness and compassion).  He writes:

My aim in this essay is to queer that notion of anarchism in a number of ways.  To queer is to make strange, unfamiliar, weird; it comes from an old German word meaning to cross.  What new possibilities arise when we learn to cross, to blur, to undermine, to overflow the hierarchical and binary oppositions we have been taught to believe in? (64).  

In the simplest terms, I think, Heckert’s problem is the way in which (LGBT and anarchist) identities and ideologies can end up preserving rigid borders and oppositions, which close off possibilities for more openness, compassion, and newness.  At stake in this problem is the capacity to embody anarchy: ways of being and relating that are fluid, loving, kind, creative, and open to difference.  He asks:

what kinds of politics might become possible if we all learn to be less concerned with conforming to certain labels and more capable of listening to the complexity of our desires?(66)

Heckert differentiates State-oriented LGBT politics from anarchist queer politics, suggesting that the State-oriented version seeks to sustain and legitimize identity, whereas queer politics “might ask how the identities themselves might already be Statelike with their borders and policing” (66).  He makes a similar point about anarchism, asking about the way its borders are policed:

How much energy that could go into creating other-than-State-like ways of living gets lost to efforts to appear anarchist enough?  I know I’m not the only one who suffers from anarcho-perfectionism!  Likewise, I’ve seen loads of energy to into arguments about whether so and so is really anarchist or not, or such and such is really anarchism (66).

The general problem he’s getting at is the ways in which identity and ideology function as bordering practices that close off possibilities: “when I again get caught up in my own thoughts, my own desires, my own stories about who I am, and who you are, what should have happened, how the world should be… then I see so little outside the dramas of my own mind.  Everything I see, everyone I meet, I reinterpret through the lens of those fictions.  I take myself and my beliefs very, very seriously.  Just like the State” (74).

In this sense, Heckert is arguing that ideological and identitarian boundaries are part of seeing and thinking like the State (or more radically, that those are the State, insofar as the State is a way of seeing and organizing the world):

“Here’s a queer proposal: the State is always a State of mind.  It’s putting life in boxes and then judging it in terms of those boxes, those borders, as if they were what really mattered.  It’s trying to get other people to do what you want them to do without so much regard for their needs, their desires.  It’s self-consciousness, self-policing, self-promotion, self-obsession.  It’s anxiety and depression.  It’s hyperactivity stemming from the fantasy that being seen to be doing something is better than doing nothing, even if what you’re doing might cause more harm than good.  It’s resetnment at self and others for not doing it right, for not being good enough.  It’s the belief that security comes from control.  And it’s a source of temendous suffering in the world.  It’s also something I do…” (73).

So what’s the alternative?  “What might an anarchy refusing to be contained by the borders by its opposites look like?” (67).  For the skeptics, he explains that he’s not saying anarchism should include everything; he’s saying that “interesting things are likely to happen if folk inspired by anarchism make connections with folk who see things differently, who do things differently” (67).  This isn’t recruiting, either: “To do so is not simply to try to convince others that anarchism is right, but perhaps even to let go of such judgments” (67).

At some points, Heckert calls for an anarchism with “no borders, no purity, no opposites,” which seems a bit unrealistic in practice, since our lives are full of all kinds of borders and boundaries, some of which are desirable, and others that we can’t simply get rid of (refusing to “see” the borders of private property will probably land you in jail).  But I think his main point is that we don’t have to take these borders for granted; they can be queered, unsettled, and shifted.  In this sense, this isn’t a call to get rid of all borders or divisions or oppositions, but to pay attention to what happens to them; to attend to them, to loosen them up, rather than assuming that they’re necessary or good or right.  Heckert admits that identity and other borderings can be useful:

Taxonomies of species or sexualities, categories of race or citizenship, borders between nations or classes or types of politics–these are fictions.  To be sure, fictions have their uses.  Perhaps in using them, we may learn to hold them lightly so that we, in turn, are not held by them (64).

Furthermore, the really important and interesting stuff happens at the borders, not inside them.  Heckert draws on permaculture’s insight that edges are the most productive and fertile parts of ecosystems, suggesting that anarchism would benefit from attending to the social edges, where people and communities permeate and connect: “The more that anarchism, a many branched river in our social ecosystem, mixes and mingles with swamp and stone, soil and soul, the more diverse forms of life will benefit” (69).

An important problem with all this (and I wished he spent more time on this) is the fact that these ways of being aren’t just beliefs that we can change by thinking critically or declaring ourselves otherwise.  As Heckert puts it: “declaring a politics to be nonhierarchical, anarchist, feminist, safe, or queer does not magically make this happen.  It takes a different kind of magic: practice” (70).  Both the positive and negative ways of being are held in our bodies; they’re accumulated habits of relating to ourselves and to each other, and they’re often-unconscious attachments and investments.  And working at being otherwise means working that through our bodies, and shifting our unconscious desires.  How?  I think Heckert’s suggestion is that we practice radical acceptance: of ourselves, of others, of the world, and of its hierarchies and borders (even if we want to tear them down): “there is no such thing as evil; there is nothing to oppose.  Instead, we might learn to both empathize with the desires of others, and to express our own” (71).  This is a politics “that starts off accepting everything just as it is.  From the basis of acceptance, we might then ask, what service can be offered?  How can anarchy be nurtured, rather than demanded, forced?” (71).  His final questions in this paragraph are particularly important, I think:

What ways of living and relating can we practice that are even more effective at meeting the needs of everyone for life, love, and freedom?  And in what ways might we learn to accept the pain we feel when that doesn’t happen, instead of distracting ourselves with resentment or chocolate?  And in what ways might we learn to be gentle with ourselves when we realize we’ve been drawn to strategies of distraction or even domination? (71).

So is he saying that we should just accept the status quo, try to love everyone, and be nice?  I don’t think it’s that simple.  I think that acceptance is the alternative to moral judgement, for Heckert.  It’s about escaping the normative fictions that encourage us to think about how things are wrong and bad and should be different.  This closes off our capacity to work with what’s actually here, because the here-and-now is too imperfect and messy for rigid borders of identity and ideology.  In contrast, acceptance entails finding ways out of the borders that constrict our perceptions and affections, we can see and feel more, be open to more, and create new relationships that have been closed off by the borders we’re transgressing.  Radical acceptance entails a recognition that domination and exploitation are happening, with or without our acceptance.  When domination becomes something that’s not monstrous, totally unacceptable, and something outside us that we can oppose, then we can also begin to work with ourselves more gently, because we’re prone to dominate and mess things up too:

to hold tightly–to shame, resentment, or any emotion or any story of how the world really is–is to be held tightly.  This is not freedom.  To hold gently is to be held gently.  This, to me, is freedom.  No opposition, no tension, between intimacy and spaciousness (72).

Another strength of Heckert’s piece is his clear, personal, and humble writing style.  It can be really challenging to speak to the importance of compassion, love, and openness without sounding naive, and I think Heckert pulls it off.  It’s even more challenging to point to the ways that anarchism can be hypercritical, ideological, holier-than-thou, and so on, without lapsing into this tendency oneself, by claiming a new critical insight that reveals yet another thing that people are doing wrong.  In short, critique of being hypercritical is still critique.  Heckert moves on and beyond this paradox by gesturing towards alternatives, foregrounding compassion, empathy, openness, and discussion.  There’s a danger here, too, which I think he avoids pretty effectively.  The danger consists in turning this alternative into a new imperative, a new ideology, or a new prescription for behaviour.  I think part of the strength of this essay is that Heckert admits that these open ways of being aren’t a static destination, and that he lapses into ideological certainty often; he doesn’t have it all figured out.  After proclaiming that his anarchism “has no straight lines, no borders, no purity, no opposites,” he readily admits:

Okay, I’ll be honest.  My anarchism can grow rigid, bordered, oppositional.  I know the satisfaction of imagining myself more radical than others.  The thing is, this comes with the risk of being not-radical-enough, or even not really anarchist.  It also gets in the way of betting along with people, of working together, of even meeting (68).

I can relate to this.  As someone who became politicized through learning about oppression and exploitation through university and anarchist activism, I was (and still am, sometimes) attached to a politics fuelled by resentment: of myself, my friends and family, and my guilt about my own privilege and complicity in systems of oppression.  I think Heckert is talking about this kind of resentment, and it’s different than anger: this kind of resentment makes me afraid of not being radical enough, it makes me want to hit people over the head with the Truth rather than having a conversation, and it keeps me from being able to meet people where they’re at and be open to difference and new insights.  Being more open, for me, has meant cultivating some of the qualities that Heckert is talking about: accepting and loving myself, being curious and open to learning, and understanding the ways that I’ve reproduced rigid borders in the ways that I relate to people when I’m trying to be pure or self-righteous, or when I’m feeling insecure.  I used to think “love” and “openness” was a bunch of hippy shit.  Now I find myself agreeing with Heckert: I want love, intimacy, and openness to be at the core of my politics, not as a new moral imperative or strategic insight, but because these are things that make me feel more alive, connected, and capable of transformation.