August 20, 2014 at 12:33am
This is a letter I have just sent to an attendee at the last NPNP. I will preserve his anonymity, but I wanted to provide details on the events that took place at the end of the night and that many have witnessed. At the same time, I thought it was a good moment to speak out on casual racism in queer events.
It’s 2014, online privacy is over and it was pretty easy for us to find you in the vastness of the Internet. At least, what happened at NPNP hopefully won’t end in frustration and anger deep-seated in our heads. I wish that this situation didn’t end with a fight. But I did want to let you know my point of view on the whole situation.
When I arrived at No Pants No Problems, I bumped into you at the door. You didn't introduce yourself and just asked me "Where are you from?". I know where that question usually leads, but I gave you the benefit of the doubt: I thought that it was a clumsy way of introducing yourself and that maybe you were joking (I really did!). So I just told you “I’m an East End Montrealer”. You called me a “smart ass” when I answered, but that’s because the question deserved a “smart ass” answer. But then, to my dismay, you actually insisted: you asked “What kind of asian are you?” and named different “ethnicities”. My thoughts just went blank because I had told you thrice: I’m a born and raised Montrealer.
As a QPOC (i.e. queer person of color), what you said to me was unacceptable. Sure, you were “curious”. I want to make it clear that I am not calling you a racist, but that the question you asked and the way you inquired about it were racist (e.g. insisting when I was clearly not going to give you an answer). It’s an insidious type of racism that a lot of us tend to be guilty of. Sure, you may have other friends of color who may not find the question offensive and insulting, but trust me, there are plenty people of color who do. While I have found ways to deal with it in mainstream society, I don’t expect it to happen at a queer party where the notion of “safe space” is tantamount to the course of the event.
I don’t know how involved you are in the queer scene. Sure, the party scene can be great because it is radical and alternative, but there are political motivations that go beyond just having fun and being subversive. Realize that we are a community of people fighting for social justice in order not to reproduce the violent, hurtful and oppressive ways of engaging with people that most of us encounter daily in society. You know, in mainstream society, the reason I can handle these microaggressions (i.e. “what kind of asian/white/black/brown/native/unicorn/#insertwhatyouwant person are you?”) is precisely because I know that those queer “safe spaces” exist where we explicitly choose not to reproduce those mechanisms of oppression.
So to come to the crux of the message, when people call you out on displays of racism or any other form of oppression, please don’t brush it off, don’t start defending yourself, and don’t attack allies standing up for others, just listen! Heck, when I get called out, I swallow it up, realize my mistake and am glad to be told off, because allies can take the criticism. On Saturday night, my friend who went to talk to you was only trying to call you out on what you said to me (the way you acted and not yourself as a person) and her intention was not to put you on the defensive. For sure, I could have come to you myself, but I decided to brush it off just as I usually do because that’s how I deal with it in mainstream society and I don’t feel like educating everybody all the fucking time: it’s nighttime for me too and I also want to dance in my undies at NPNP! However, my friend did not accept that this should end in the vacuum of space and time and asked me if I was comfortable if she went and talked to you calmly about it, and I said yes. I’m grateful that she did. But we’re all human beings, we’ve got feelings, we get hurt, and getting called out was probably not an appealing end to your night.
At that point, you started yelling at my friend and then jumped on her, pushed her on the street, put my friend in danger (the cops? the cars?) and her girlfriend as she tried to separate the pack. Harsh, physical violence. Damn, I never thought this could happen in the queer community. Myself, my friend, her girlfriend, my boyfriend and other people were damn shaken about how it all evolved. You know, calling out is never easy and the unjust retaliation that you displayed is exactly why people get scared of speaking out.
We’re all reflecting on what happened, how to best handle the situation and how to repair the broken ties, because what happened is everybody’s problem in the community. So seriously, I hope you’ll understand the gravity of the situation and that we can all be nice and respectful to each other at some other queer events. However, that will require apologies on your part.
I’ll post this on the NPNP’s event page, because I do think what happened requires explanations to anybody who may have witnessed the insults, the screams, the handfists and the hair pulling (yes, hairpulling!). Yeah, fights are horrible. Don’t worry, I won’t name you, but I did want to speak out about it because racism and being uber defensive about being called out are not acceptable. Speaking of which, since YouTube videos also exist in 2014, enjoy this video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWynJkN5HbQ