I can say this without lying: I’m an optimistic lonely gay. I know this sounds like an oxymoron but it’s true. Optimism is part of my politics of loneliness, a queerly delicious politics that shuns the empty promises of happy, happy capitalism, or the negative emotional associations with the conservative rage that is used to egg on battle cries, legitimating wars on countries we know nothing about, nor take time to listen to. Or perhaps worse, there is republican love. Have you ever seen the republican boys in office “bonding,” tapping their butts, arms around one another, all singing out against homosexual marriage? Please. Love is a tad more complicated than the exclusive policing of it by men afraid to feel suggests.
I can almost taste the sarcasm on John Keats’ tongue when he talks of the economy of happiness in his famous poem Ode on a Grecian Urn: “More happy love! More Happy Happy Love!” It seems he didn’t need a crystal ball to predict our current moment, one caked in middle-class angst and upper-class greed, and iced with the fingers of those who we’ve all betrayed. Happy times! These two beautifully creeptastic photos of Stephen Harper’s familial love evidence what I see as the modern day Grecian Urn Keats might be thinking about. These two portraits have gotten a lot of media attention these past coupla days. One, although a carbon copy of the other with a different scenic back flair, is in fact last year’s Christmas card photo. The other, this year’s. Some wonder if Harper was so cheap to have simply had the photographer take two shots last year so that he wouldn’t have to pretend to be merrily happy again. Others wonder if he and his family are actually real people, or a sad, scary bad acid trip dream.
I, however, love the twin shots! The fact that his children have not aged, and their clothes are the same as last year provides a fantastic portrait of what I see as a Happy Canadian moment. This facade of smiles reminds us of our sad inability to get Harper out of office and captures our calcified feeling of pessimism. His frozen grin and his wife’s tense smile make us groan because tis shot speaks to our own disastrous lack of optimism. We’ve yet to figure out that we must work to make change happen over top of this horrendous man’s coifed hair. While dancing.
This year alone, as Canadians, we’ve allowed Harper to pull our complacent asses out of Kyoto (WHAT THE FUCK!!!) and have become the only country to openly support Israeli apartheid. Ooops! His merry elves have also been hard at work. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumber, the Ford boys, have single handedly turned Toronto into a yet unflushed toilet cutting funding to anything compassionate from houses for the homeless, art museums, bike lanes, to AIDS funding. We, as Canadians, have somehow become “tax payers” instead of people.
There’s more! Our city has split gay penguins up so they can be productively straight; we’ve somehow employed Christie Blatchford and given her a computer to spread such joyful cheer as her recent article that, in an age of ramped homophobia and bullying, actually tells men and boys that they need to “stop hugging” and become more manly, not “sissies.” Heather Mallick has said that Canada has gone “tabloid.” I think we’ve gone to shit! Not only is this sort of pretty little happiness the conservatives are spreading ugly, it’s dangerous. Happiness seems to be something only the “normal” “taxpayers” are entitled too. This version of Canada is about as unqueer as one could possibly imagine.
But, there is hope. This is a post about optimism after all. Aside from the fantastic Margaret Atwoods or the Elizabeth Mays, and the numerous public figures attempting to fight for change we have everyday wonders to dance a jig to.
The Occupy movements all over North America have provided a glimmer of pizazz for us all. While there are many happy pessimists who would try to shadow the incredible achievements of these various movements, I find this hilarious. The ever eloquent Margaret Wente has tried her best to pee on the tents and vegan bodies of this movement, calling the protesters in Toronto “bitter” and the “author[s] of [their] own misfortune,” blaming the 99% for being too optimistic, and wanting to do “transformational world-saving work” instead of corporate slogging. They are over educated activists who don’t know how the real world works.
Eric Brauer, another gem, was from the get go concerned about the vagueness of the Occupy message. Wanting a portfolio, or a list of demands, Brauer, like many, believed the willingness to be both confused and confusing about the plot points of Occupy was what caused the “failure” of the movement. As a fragmented whole it could not be cohesive. It would appear many critics were more preoccupied with their own feelings of discomfort surrounding not knowing what the occupy movement was about than actually learning how to get out there and do something: “The movement needs the involvement of the public at large, and not merely their passive sympathy,” Brauer stated, and for him “vagueness of message is a poison, and miles away from the clarity of the 99% meme.”
But did the occupy movement fail? No, of course it didn’t. No protest that gets thousands, maybe millions of people interested in finding out more about corporate greed, classism, racism, sexism, real democracy and trying to reimagine a new social realm can be called a failure. I would actually call the Occupy movement a fantastic example of queer misfits getting optimistic.
Queer optimism is not a banal smile that wins out or succeeds because we make happiness law; rather, it is what results from doing the work necessary to make positive changes in this rather negatively inflected contemporary moment. Not changes that reflect a desire for perfection or more financial progress, but the small, everyday changes that makes the Now shine with ethical, political potential.
Being queerly optimistic is harder than it sounds. In a cultural climate that sees us in the constant pursuit of happiness and fulfillment any feeling of lack is understood to be humiliating. I, though, am asking that we rethink our own lack. I have a ton of it and see it as necessary. Lack is not financial deficit, it is power. My lack is called loneliness, and loneliness is humiliating– a rarely desired trait in the Western citizen who is supposed to be socially bloated, whole, and rich. However, I think we need much more humiliation, something that has been lost on Western society. What concerns me most is that the western-democratic society we supposedly inhabit is emphatically and unapologetically not willing to concede to humiliation, humbleness or apology. And it’s not social; it is individualistic. Loneliness, then, is that feeling of discomfort one tastes on our tongues when we hear our Prime Minister speak about staying in Iraq just a wee-bit longer, or we hear about how Canada got a failing grade in human rights at the past G8 summit. Or when we here that Health Care in Canada is at the bottom of the rung globally for compassion, service and aid. As a socially altruistic country, we’re failing globally and we’re failing ourselves. Loneliness, and the lonely identities that pronounce it, are our reminder that something is very wrong in Canada and we’d best get to changing it.
Queer optimism is lonely because it promises nothing other than hard work, unreciprocated care, restless love, uncomfortable feelings, and chaos. As Michael D. Snediker says: “queer optimism can be considered as a form of meta-optimism: it wants to think about feeling good, to make disparate aspects of feeling good thinkable.” But a queer dis-ease with perfected Happy Canadiana is what we all really need to embrace if we want to stop the Harpers and Fords and Wentes from occupying any more space at our kitchen parties.
So, let’s be the “feminist killjoys” Sara Ahmed has asked for! Let’s be the Grinch who stole Christmas back from the capitalists who decided to enable an economy that turns away from love and rescues only the wealthy from themselves. And one way to do this? Embrace a different consciousness, one filled with glitter!
Enter Glitterfesto stage left, an open ended movement dedicated to change and ethics that was created to create. Yes, there’s a new movement afoot and Glitterfesto asks us all to aim high, not in a capitalistic way waving our credit cards and wagging dogs in purses; rather, this movement asks us to reach for the glittery stars of potential, and what the fabulous activist, glittery cellist and thinker Jasmine Rault has called “utopic aspiration.” Saying yes to a “euphoric utopian striving” instead of settling for a bloated, blinded, and deadened happiness with the moment we occupy, Rault pushes us and our feelings further, beyond the quarters of corner offices and self-help gurus. Take a chance on change, she challenges, and do it with a dance, a hug, lots of color, and lots of compassion.
Rault’s partner in crime is the bedazzling artist, thinker, and activist T.L. Cowan who calls us all in the western audience to get up and occupy our spaces, to take up room, to remake art and play political. To laugh and kiss and get sexy. Because politics is incredibly beautiful, and should be curvy in its confusion, soaked in its potential to gather, help, and hold you. So what we need, T.L. Cowan has said, is a “cabaret consciousness” which she explains without explaining anything too rigidly, “is a way of knowing and being that privileges variety, risk, challenge, radical politics” and perhaps above all, confusion. Produced by the cabaret form, the fantastic costumes, acts, misacts, misfits, and bamboozle of the art of cabaret captures for Cowan a vagueness that labours, that does work, that asks questions without already claiming to know the answer, and that seeks to reclaim “confused” feminist and queer affect. And like the occupy movements, both Rault and Cowan argue against clarity, and for queer optimisms that are always “for something” but never comfortably settled or solidified on approach.
If you’re looking for a 12 step program as to what Glitterfesto does, you’re out of luck. Which is the point of a movement that wants to get all people moving. “A public declaration of affinity” Glitterfesto travels through debates, creeps along borders and Stay Out signs, permeates the impermeable, and cracks a lot of jokes that keep people laughing and caring about making a difference. Although “glitter” refuses to “stand for anything” it does indeed stand up for anyone who needs a reminder that there are good people out there waiting to be there for you as you begin the work needed to make large, small, everyday, committed demonstrations and “glitter-based performances” of affect for change. Glitterfesto asks that you shake things up a bit, to take art seriously, and to fight for artistic spaces that can transform realities.
And to be sure Glitter begs us to take a chance on ourselves and our friends, on saying the “wrong thing” to the Right people, on offending our conservative minded neighbors–mentioning to the cabbie that when he calls the last guy in his cab a “fag” that you’re offended and then bopping him with some kind glittery options for him next time. Glitter has no pride and no shame which makes it humble and accessible to everyone. It understands that change requires conversation and time. That’s why Glitter feelings are resilient; they stick to you which makes them possible to share, toss, lick, spew, and dance in because “social justice is fabulous.”
Glitter is a “public definition of affinity” as is this post, in homage to Glitter and those behind it–Rault, Cowan, you, me, that guy over there, that hot lady with the bra outside of her clothes–anyone who wants to become queerly optimistic. So let’s get messy together!