unc_queer_conference_logoUNC Asheville Queer Conference 2013

Undisciplined, a performance with Kathleen “Violet” Livingston
Thursday, April 4, 2013, 2:45-4:00pm

In the tradition of queer performance troupes like Taste This with Anna Camilleri, Ivan Coyote, Zoe Eackle, and Lyndell Montgomery, So the Story Goes by Camilleri, Coyote, and Montgomery, and with great respect to travelling cabarets like Michelle Tea’s Sister Spit and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Cherry Galette’s Mangos with Chili, this multimedia performance remediates the topic of butch/femme persuasion and desires.

As Joan Nestle has written in her landmark collection A Persistent Desire, “Butch-femme relationships, as I experienced them, were complex erotic and social statements, not phony heterosexual replicas. They were filled with a deeply lesbian language of stance, dress, gesture, love, courage, and autonomy” (138). Spilling out of 1950s working class bar culture, butches and femmes are now known as having unique and culturally-situated eroticism for each other and also being distinct – and often blurry – cultural identities and expressions. Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sherman speak to this distinctness in their 2011 collection Persistence: All Ways Butch & Femme. We believe that digital media allows us to create / mediate playful, first-person expressions of butch and femme persuasion and desire that connect us as US-born Midwesterners to far-flung queer communities. In digital spaces, butch and femme mix and mingle and are remediated with elements of dyke culture, feminism, gay male culture, drag, gender, geographic, cultural, and spatial politics.

In this performance, two queer rhetoricians use digital media and queer visual culture to interrogate what it means to be butch and femme in various (digital, geographic) spaces. Casey, a Southern-born, soft butch, digital video artist and Violet, a sex radical survivor and femme storyteller/zinester from downriver Detroit collaborate to interrogate butch and femme persuasion and desire. Through dress, mannerisms, performance art, and audio-visual elements, such as images, words, music, and ephemera, performers will interrogate the textures and memories of their expression and desires in various spaces. Casey builds on earlier work in the field of queer rhetorics, such as her autobiographical video “Queer/Contradictions: modes of silence/modes of resistance” to take on the topic of female masculinities in the academy and beyond. Pointing to the silence that surrounds the butch body as a space for what she calls “amplified difference,” she suggests that digital spaces / media inform and construct butch ways of being and knowing.

Well practiced in the art of knowing a butch body when she sees and feels one, Violet will flirt shamelessly with Casey, with the audience, maybe even with herself, expressing femme sexual desire, demanding, as only a femme can be. More than just a merciless flirt, Violet will consider how articulation, or giving voice / expression to our desires, is significant for femme culture and identity. Zine-like “pages” projected on the walls, on her body, and on other consenting participants’ bodies will trace one femme’s movement from “downriver rat” to survivor femme and back again, asking where in our bodies / histories / communities femme sexual power and persuasion lives, how we might access it by being present in our bodies, and ultimately, what it means to be a body in a world that’s, by turns, both violent and loving.

Taken together, the performers will combine still and moving images, words, and sounds in a multimedia spectacle designed to articulate what butch and femme persuasion and desire means for us and to invite participants to consider their own cultures / identities / expressions. In doing so, we play with themes such as movement, migration, shame, reclamation, embodiment, and the tenuous space between want and need.