We begin by respectfully acknowledging that all of our programming takes place on land that rightfully belongs to the Three Fires and Six Nations peoples. It is because of their generosity and at their expense that we are occupying this land. As individuals with connections to “South Asian” identities, we are settlers, and are implicated in the historical and ongoing marginalization of Indigenous peoples. Too often, we are not told about the historical and ongoing injustices by our families, the educational institutions we interact with, or the media.
As individuals with connections to “South Asian” identities, our experiences of migration and settlement are complicated. We may have fled the same colonial forces, leading us to arrive “here.” Solidarity requires an acknowledgment of the fact that our histories are caught up with the histories of Indigenous peoples of this territory, histories that are mediated by a shared (but different) experience of colonization.
Indigenous solidarity has to be more than simply an acknowledgment of territory or history. As individuals working to make the Q? Y Art? Project happen, we are constantly (re)examining ourselves and are working to create space for all youth involved in the project to (re)examine themselves. We are aware that this is an ongoing process, and not something that can be “solved” over the course of several sessions. We are committed to talking about Indigenous solidarity in all of its complexities for settlers of colour, which could include all of the above, plus:
We recognize that some of the topics and discussions that will arise during the Q? Y Art? project, may be emotionally and mentally difficult for a variety of reasons. The Q? Y Art? members deeply value a peer support framework, recognizing that “our” communities have been collaboratively resilient for generations – we can make connections to conscious raising in liberation movements, the self-help group model from some countries in South Asia, and to the community building that has occurred in racialized queer and trans spaces in the Global North.
We emphasize that this is not a therapy group but hope that we, as a group, will provide emotional, psychological and moral support for its members during sessions through sharing; further, the facilitators and members of SAQuN will be available as peer support before, during and after the sessions. However, we recognize that we are not trained counsellors and will do our best to refer you to resources and spaces where you may be able to find trained counselling/support spaces.
The program will be grounded in the values that we have detailed with an emphasis on working to create a safer space. The group will create ground rules for the program to help develop trust and an atmosphere of sharing between each other. As a peer support space, each participant is encouraged to participate to the extent that they feel comfortable. There will be sharing space during each session but no pressure to share. We will also be creating some opportunities during the program for individuals to be able to share anonymously.
We each share the responsibility for making this group work by being self-reflective of our feelings and the space we occupy. We help foster a safer sharing environment by respecting the confidentiality of the group, accepting each other and avoiding judgements.
We strive to run this program with the principles and guidelines of harm reduction. Harm reduction is a non-judgemental approach that aims to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of risky behaviours. From a public health perspective, it is primarily practiced in relation to substance use and risky sexual behaviour; however, reducing risk through a harm reduction approach can be useful for other risky behaviours/practices that affect us emotionally, mentally, or physically.
Members of the Q? Y Art? Project are not trained frontline harm reduction workers but recognize and encourage harm reduction practices as a useful way to reduce harm in all aspects of our lives, as individuals, families and communities. We do not judge substance use or other risky behaviours/practices as good or bad and acknowledge that stopping them may not be realistic. Throughout the project, we strive to foster a non-judgemental atmosphere by providing and enhancing knowledge, skills and resources for individuals to be safer and healthier when engaging in activities/practices that are usually considered ‘risky’. We are committed to meeting individuals ‘where they’re at’ and focusing on a person-centred approach in which we respect, honor and support the individuals` ability to make decisions.
Power and privilege mediate our everyday lives. Systems of power confirm marginalization and privilege in all aspects of our lives, whether or not we recognize them. We acknowledge that systems of power benefit certain groups in society, conferring privilege upon them. Whiteness is one system of privilege; cis-normativity is another; heteronormativity is yet another.
Within the context of the Q? Y Art? Project, we recognize that power and privilege are at play. Members have had the class privilege to do this work without pay (because we are currently employed); we can be public (to some extent) about our involvement in this project without fear of reprisal since we do not fear material consequences like our precarious immigration status being affected; we have had access to post-secondary educational institutions which have given us tools and language of privilege, allowing us to have language valued by granting organizations. This list is not exhaustive.
Q? Y Art? Project members and the coordinator hold a lot of power in this project – we have made decisions that will affect the ability of “South Asian” LGBTTIQQ2S/WSW/MSM youth to access arts-based programming, and for Group 1, some of these decisions have been made without the full collaboration of youth we’d like to engage.
Members and the coordinator occupy spaces of privilege in all of our interaction with youth -
While we have worked to make the Q? Y Art? Project possible at this moment in time, we cannot claim to be “creating” an utterly unique program – we are all bringing everything we have learned about community work, about talking through the complications of identity, about arts-based programs, and about how to work towards safety. We recognize that while we may be congratulated on this project, our work is the culmination of each of our lives’ experiences, plus generations of wisdom. By acknowledging the multitude of individuals, groups and initiatives that have brought us to this point, we are trying to de-stabilize the power that organizers hold.
Identity and identifying both others and ourselves can be complicated, frustrating and complicate the ways we interact with each other. As a result, we recognize that self-identification is an important process and tool for us to empower, liberate and define ourselves. Furthermore, we recognize that identities can/do change as we grow/shift/access language and that expressing our ever changing identities is challenging, stemming from other’s need to define our identities. Self-identification is extremely important to reduce the erasure/stigma/ community backlash that may come with other’s identifying us; as racialized folks and as folks with queer and trans identities who are already struggling with expressing our identities in many/most spaces. As individuals working to make the Q? Y Art? Project happen, we are committed to respecting and encouraging ourselves, participants, and those involved in the process to have the option to self-identify.
We recognize that identities are often single words/phrases that can not/do not define who we are, what we stand for or reflect our lived experiences and histories. Thus we are committed to exploring and understanding the complexities of our own and others identities. We recognize that during the Q? Y Art? process, we will not have the capacity to fully explore and understand identity in this sense, and that this is an ongoing process. Furthermore, we acknowledge that many words used to identify ourselves are rooted in histories of colonization, liberation movements and identities that are often made popular and used in western contexts. We aim to deconstruct these ideas and acknowledge that although we may use the same language for identification, what these words mean to us can and do mean different things for each of us, which when given the opportunity can be explored through open and honest discussion.
The Q? Y Art? Project aims to create a space that considers intersectionality; the interaction of our multiple identities. As individuals who interact with multiple communities and identities, we recognize that we interact as a direct result of how these multiple identities play out in different spaces and contexts. We acknowledge that of these identities one is not more important than another and that it is the combination of these and our experiences that create ourselves.
We know that doing any kind of work related to LGBTTIQQ2S/WSW/MSM communities must include a conversation about visibility. We also know that doing work in/with racialized communities necessitates conversations about visibility.
We recognize that for ourselves, for participants in the Q? Y Art? Program and for others involved (including artist facilitators), (in)visibility needs to be negotiated in various contexts. In “South Asian” spaces, our sexualities and gender identities can be erased or highlighted. In queer and trans spaces, our racialized identities can be erased, ignored or exoticized.
For racialized individuals (note that we reject the term “visible minority”) negotiating being seen is always at play. We acknowledge that individuals experience their racialization or their racialized identity in unique and complex ways. For racialized “South Asian” folks, there is no way to not be seen – our skin can give us away. Our accents can give us away. Our names can give us away. We recognize that this has profound impacts on the ways we see, talk about, and understand ourselves.
We are working towards creating safe-ish spaces where there are not expectations around visibility in terms of queer and trans identities. We are not interested in perpetuating the “binary between the closet and coming out” (as Meem says), by expecting that everyone “come out” or that “being out” is a more valued experience of queer or trans identity. We know that for many racialized LGBTTIQQ2S/WSW/MSM folks, there is not one simple “coming out” story that highlights a milestone in one’s life.
The Q? Y Art? Project members and coordinator, along with artist facilitators will work from an understanding of complex (in)visibility – so, we are not expecting specific ways of being queer or trans or “South Asian” from each other, nor from participants. We will be making space to talk about the complexities of (in)visibility often.
As the Q? Y Art? Project involves exploring forms of movement such as drag and burlesque we must acknowledge that participation within these workshops will be informed by our relationships to our bodies. Bodies are defined, regulated, and shamed by ourselves and those around us daily rooted in heterosexism, cis-sexism, and racism. As we, all have complex body relationships, we understand that body love may not be a comfortable or appropriate as a goal throughout this project. We are committed to working towards exploring and getting into our bodies, and acknowledge the challenges that such a process will bring. Recognizing that being in our bodies is not an easy practice – as racialized, queer and trans folks, we often hold in our bodies the traumas we’ve experienced. We are centering self-care through the Q? Y Art? Project, and aim to create a space which embraces our bodies in terms of size, and what we wear (re)affirming that we are attractive beautiful beings.
We firmly believe that ALL art is good art. We believe in challenging the “rules” around what kinds of art are to be valued (and what kinds are to be ignored), because we know that those “rules” are often mediated by the kinds of privilege that individuals experience.
We do not have expectations that participants (or even us, as members and the coordinator) must be “experts” in a particular art form. We don’t even expect folks to necessarily be familiar with the art form. We have made connections to artists who practice art forms that are sometimes difficult to learn (because they may be undervalued in mainstream arts education; because they are a community-specific art form), but have connections to racialized LGBTTIQQ2S/WSW/MSM communities. We do not have an expectation that a “certain” kind of art will be created. This is a chance to explore, to learn, to feel, to reflect, to grow.
We are encouraged by those racialized queer and trans folks who navigate the formal arts education experience, who struggle within the arts funding universe, and who push to make art the focus of their energy, time and experience. We know that all of these experiences are mediated by power relations, and that these experiences can sometimes be more challenging, more traumatic, more exhausting, for racialized queer and trans folks, like when
We are in solidarity with (and some of us amongst the ranks of) those who have struggled to make room for art in their lives when the day-to-day seems daunting. How can we blame each other for not making art when we are fighting racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism and other forms of oppression?
We are in solidarity with (and some of us amongst the ranks of) those who have made room for art, without the benefit of formal arts education. We’ve sweat and cried through mornings, afternoons, evenings, overnights of trying to learn that step, that brushstroke, that line, with little (or a lot) of support, with little (or a lot) of money to get us through. We are artists not in spite of our racialized identities, our gender and sexual identities – but because of these.
We are putting together a book – a compilation of the art created through the programs of two distinct age groups – but we do not have an expectation of what “kinds” of art should be in that book. It needs to be produced by the community we are talking about – “South Asian” LGBTTIQQ2S/WSW/MSM youth.
All art is good art. All artistic expressions will be valued through the Q? Y Art? Project.