The Insulation of Heteronormativity and Inequity By the Medical System

As a society, we are taught from a young age to believe that racist, classist, sexiest and other such acts of bigotry and discrimination have been purged from society and the public consciousness as a whole, and are rather remnants of a more primitive, less educated state. However, as ubiquitous and idealistic as this belief is, it is a romanticized construct established by the hegemonic power structures which have, in turn, established a false consciousness within society and an erroneous understanding of the discrimination and inequality that currently pervades culture. This construct is exemplified, with eerie eloquence, in the story of baby Bay, a baby girl born to partners Krista and Jami.[i] Upon Bay’s first check up at six days of age, it was discovered that their agreed upon doctor, Dr. Roi had decided to refuse to take Bay on as a patient as a result of her mothers’ sexual orientation.[ii] The birth of a child is generally an overwhelmingly joyous event, one that is pervaded by themes of exultation, jubilation and glee. However, in the case of Bay, her first exposure to the world was one riddled by overt heteronormative, heterosexist and marginalizing scripts.[iii] It is in relation and response to such overt and blatant examples of the detrimental and destructive influence that heteronormative and heteropatriarchal power structures have on people’s lived experiences that a critical analysis and adjudication of these systems is needed in order to bring about vitally needed change.

It is easy to look at this example as an isolated incident in which an individual doctor acted in accordance to her own personal beliefs, and by doing perpetuated heteronormative and heterosexist rhetoric. This example is, however, illustrative of the greater non-inclusionary paradigm and systemic issues which ruminate about the medical system. The case of Bay is illustrative of the systemic and insulated heteropatriarchal, heteronormative and cisgender rhetoric that is situated in the current medical system, particularly in the American Medical Association (AMA) ethos.[iv] [v] The AMA code is one riddled by ambiguity and seemingly apparent contradictions. On one hand, it actively prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation or preference; that is, a physician is unable to negate treatment on the grounds of one’s sexual orientation.[vi] [vii] However, a physician can withhold treatment if they feel that the patient’s character is at odds with their own ethical, spiritual or moral principles.[viii] [ix] First and foremost, this established clause in AMA rhetoric re-enforces the established power structure, and in turn neo-liberal, classist and educational scripts as it confers an unequal power relationship between doctor and patient. That is, in order to obtain treatment and help, at times in dire circumstances, one may be required to conform to normalized and standardized scripts, in order to obtain help. This apparent choice that a doctor has, in regard to being able to selectively choose who is eligible for care, further exemplifies the institutionalized nature of patriarchal, cisgender, heteronormative power structures in the medical system and culture as a whole. Continue reading


Fads, Fashion, and Fine Lines : A Look at Cultural Appropriation in Modern Society. By Rosa Queen

The fine line between cultural appropriation and cultural celebration has long been a point of controversy for those living in melting-pot nations, where foreign assimilation into Western culture is the norm. Cultural appropriation is seen as the adoption of elements such as symbols, artifacts and practices from another culture. This is especially true of dominant cultures appropriating parts of minority cultures. However, when this dominant culture uses these symbols without any respect for the historical, cultural and traditional concepts behind these artifacts, lines are crossed.

In Chelsea Vowel’s piece, “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses,” the reader gets some insight into the separation between appropriation and appreciation of Indigenous culture. In her article, Vowel brings up the point that there are several restricted symbols in Western culture that cannot be mimicked without punishment, such as a doctorate degree, and in the same way, there exists several artifacts from Native culture that similarly should not be mimicked as they are symbols of achievement. However, even in light of this parallel, it is becoming more and more mainstream to see models adorning headdresses in fashion shoots, sporting Native style face paint and wearing Métis sashes.

From this article, one can see several patterns emerging in the appropriation of such a rich heritage. Firstly, we see the portrayal of Indigenous culture as wild, savage and uncivilized and the use of their symbols promote similar stereotypes. One can also ascertain that the appropriation of such emblems was not consented upon by the indigenous peoples from whom these symbols come from. And finally we see the utilization of these symbols to debase these cultures, such as the use of native headdresses in the 2012 Victoria Secret Fashion show, where these symbols are used to fetishize and exotify these peoples (CBC News,”Victoria’s Secret … headdress”).   All in all, we see that this stereotyping, theft and disrespect of Indigenous cultures in no way “appreciates” what these peoples have to offer.

But this kind of appropriation is not just linked to the use of Native symbols, we see the same patterns around the world. Western culture’s use and abuse of cultural symbols and heritage without any knowledge of their value only go to further cheapen their meanings. We see this in the appropriation of Maori warrior tattoos, Katy Perry dressing as a geisha for the 2013 AMAs, Urban Outfitters selling tights with Hindu gods printed on them and much more. This is clearly not a problem that has passed, appropriation has been reaching its peak as of late through the use of such cultural symbols for the shear purpose of aesthetics or sexualisation. Just a casual look at pop culture reveals examples such as Lady Gaga’s hyper-sexualisation of the burqa and its demeaning reception (Aimen, “Dear Lady Gaga, ‘… message”).

But what does this all mean? How is this not just examples of cultural exchange? Why is this a problem?

Cultural appropriation only goes to further marginalize minorities by taking their respected symbols and commercializing them. Turning these artifacts into items of fads and trends only go to further disrespect and degrade these cultures by disvaluing their symbols. On top of this, the use of cultural artifacts in this manner also goes to promote negative stereotypes of these peoples (Nittle, “What Is … Wrong?”). This of course plays into a common pattern of racism, and disempowering the beliefs of others by cheapening objects or ideas that are sacred in an ethnocentric manner. And like reverse racism, there is no such thing as appropriating Western cultures. The classic argument against cultural appropriation usually reads along the lines of “If natives speak English, why can’t I wear a warbonnet?” or “If Muslims can wear suits to the office, why can’t I wear a see-through burqa?” The main counter-argument lies in the reason behind these acts. Native Americans were forced through residential schools to speak English and wear European clothes which is still raw in the minds of many. And for other minorities, the way to find a place in white-collar Western society today is to wear a suit, as other cultural forms of dress are systematically looked down upon and considered “unprofessional.” These aren’t necessarily cases of appropriation, more so adaptation to fit into the ethnocentric Western cultural model. Once again, we must look at the power structure of these acts of appropriation. The general trend is white cultures (traditionally having more power) taking emblems from marginalized cultures in order to market them not as a celebration, but for commercialization.

These trends and fads are especially dehumanizing in the cases of appropriation from cultures with a history of colonialism and racist violence, providing more evidence towards white culture taking from other cultures that it deems is lesser. Cultural appropriation further highlights the imbalance of power between the previously colonized and their ex-colonizers, such as that of the case of Indigenous peoples (Uwujaren “The Difference … Appropriation”). Although some decolonization has occurred in the sense of nations and boundaries, the long lasting views of these peoples will continue to be overshadowed by Western perception and thus the effects of colonization lives on.

What cultural appropriation shows us is that melting pot nations have built their cultures, not on multiculturalism, but assimilation. In this way, Western culture is taken as the norm and standard. This enables Western cultures to single out the heritage of other peoples in order to sensationalize and commercialize, rather than fostering understanding. The significance of such a mindset being fostered in youth is that cultural appropriation allows for the propagation of racism, racial violence and white privilege. As Vowel mentioned in her article, acknowledgement and apology is what is needed now by society in order to start righting the wrongs of cultural appropriation. Unfortunately these are simply bandage fixes for an overarching problem of ethnocentrism. Mutual respect, the abolishment of Western xenophobia and cultural understanding offer us more long term solutions, but are much harder to accomplish due to the amount of time needed to heal these wounds. Perhaps in due time, we will be able to more easily navigate the line between appropriation and appreciation through ongoing cultural education and giving the respect due to these marginalized peoples.

Rosa Queen

Works Cited:

“Victoria’s Secret Apologizes for Use of Headdress.” CBC News. CBC/Radio Canada, 13 Nov. 2012. Web. 7 Mar. 2015. <;.

Aimen, Umema. “Dear Lady Gaga, ‘Burqa’ Sends the Wrong Message.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 19 Aug. 2013. Web. 8 Mar. 2015. <;.

Nittle, Nadra. “What Is Cultural Appropriation and Why Is It Wrong?” About News: Race Relations. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <;.

Uwujaren, Jarune. “The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation.” Everyday Feminism. 30 Sept. 2013. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <;.

Vowel, Chelsea. “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdress.” Âpihtawikosisân: Law language, life: A Plains Cree speaking Metis Woman in Montreal. WordPress. Web. 6 Mar. 2015. <;.

Trending: appropriation of Indigenous emblems, symbols, and imagery in fashion and pop culture

Chelsea Vowel’s article An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdress is a much needed interjection into a pop-cultural environment where the appropriation of indigenous symbols and emblems is “hot”, chic, and comes as naturally as breathing. In the article, Vowel explains the significance of “restricted symbols”, of which indigenous headdresses are one. She compares the unearned wearing of a headdress to the forgery of a diploma or the fabrication of a military medal, stating that “[t]hese items cannot be legitimately possessed or reproduced by just anyone, as they represent achievements earned according to a specific criteria” (Vowel, “An Open…in Headdress”). Her argument brings into plain sight what is often ignored by those who appropriate these symbols: that indigenous culture is not merely cute, chic, or exotic – it has deep symbolic meaning and may confer rank, status, experience, and other merits – and it should be respected as thus. I believe that Vowel’s article is a fine educational script, and can also serve as a jumping off point for looking at the appropriation of indigenous symbols and imagery in a broader context.  There are many other less obvious, more subtle, systemic and pernicious ways in which indigenous material has been appropriated. In this blog, I would like to focus not only on the unsanctioned use of restricted symbols, but also on the appropriation of unrestricted imagery, the line between “appreciation” and “appropriation” of cultural products, and the significance of considering the intersection of race, power imbalances, and colonial histories.

The past months have been a truly wince-inducing period for fashion, providing examples of how even non-restricted imagery can be used in a highly problematic (and utterly embarrassing) manner. First, the fashion brand KTZ’s fall/winter collection was released, claiming to be “a tribute to the primal woman indigenous to this land, who evolves into a sexualized, empowered being” (Schilling, “On No … in Milan”). This statement is a brow-furrowing, grimace-inducing chimera of poorly employed equity buzzwords (e.g. empowered being) and pure unabashed exoticization. To make matters worse, the designer, Marjan Pejoski, “borrowed” (read: took without permission) themes and designs from the work of a Northern Cheyenne/Crow designer, Bethany Yellowtail (Schilling). Bethany’s intricate and (as she explains) deeply personal beading patterns and dress designs were lifted without her permission, and without any financial return or even acknowledgement of the original artist. More recently, the fashion company D-Squared released an indigenous “inspired” line entitled D-Squaw (Adrienne K., “New York…Bethany Yellowtail). This line, titled using a derogatory term referring to indigenous women, brought a fusion of indigenous and settler-era British garb to the runways of the Milan. As they described it, they were mixing “the enchantment of Canadian Indian tribes” with the “confident attitude of the British aristocracy” (Adrienne K.). Both of these appropriative acts, from different designers in different countries, are worryingly similar in narrowness of vision and lack of respect.

The key to examining these instances of appropriation is in finding patterns within them. In these examples, I found several. First, there is a noticeable absence of indigenous input, but obvious indigenous “output” or material. Essentially, white and non-indigenous designers have not sought the original ideas of indigenous people or involved them in their process: they have not even recognized the people from whom they have taken, referring to them generically as “Canadian Indian Tribes” (Schilling), and refusing to give credit to the indigenous designers that inspired their work. Secondly, the ways that the lines have been described are unanimously essentializing and fetishistic. Indigenous women are referred to as “primal”, affirming the status of their culture as unadvanced, primitive, and less valuable and forward thinking than hegemonic white culture. Their “tribes” are also referred to as “enchanting”, a patronizing term that conjures images of the magic of nature and the simplistic and naïve beauty of these “Indians”. D-Squaw even provides a glaring juxtaposition of their indigenous imagery against their British imagery – the white colonizer pieces are “confident”, “aristocratic”, and blended seamlessly (ignoring any historical irony) with the indigenous pieces.

Finally, building on this last point, there is willful ignorance of the historical and dynamic nature of indigenous peoples. There is an ignorance of the tension between colonial images (e.g. Old British garb) and indigenous images, and there is a utopic emphasis on a sort of “old world Indian” or “imaginary Indian” – “enchanted”, “primal”, untouched, unaltered, uncolonized, untraumatized. And I believe that this is a fundamental truth that underlies these patterns of colonial logic: colonizers want to have their fun, fashion, and profit with indigenous symbols, but they don’t want to recognize their significance and history, whether that be considering how an object is a restricted symbol, or considering a history of colonialism and inflicted trauma.

Cultural appropriation in the fashion industry and popular Western culture at large is an issue that must be not only addressed, but resolved. The author of the article that inspired this post suggests several ways in which a non-indigenous person can “appreciate” rather than “appropriate”, and I wish to share these with you (especially since her word has much more value in this subject than mine). Vowel first asks simply that restricted symbols be respected: do not wear a headdress or other restricted symbol unless you have earned it. She also suggests that individuals who want to celebrate indigenous art go out and purchase art from actual indigenous artists, rather than appropriative facsimiles. She suggests to non-indigenous artists who use indigenous emblems and imagery to create images of real first-nations people, and to cite who they are and what specific nation they belong to (Vowel). To this, in light of the recent events laid out in this blog, I would like to humbly add one more suggestion. Be wary of pop-culture productions “inspired” by indigenous cultural productions. Is someone being recognized for their “inspirational” value? How fanciful, unrealistic, or falsifying is the resulting work? Who is benefitting from the sale of this work – it is likely not its “muse”. And with these suggestions, I will now be signing off – I encourage you to read the original article from which my piece was informed, and indeed, “inspired” at

Bye for now –


Works Cited

Adrienne K.. “New York Fashion Week Designer steals from Northern Cheyenne/Crow artist Bethany Yellowtail”. Native Appropriations. WordPress. Web.7 Mar. 2015.

Chelsea Vowel, âpihtawikosisân. “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdress.” Âpihtawikosisân: Law language, life: A Plains Cree speaking Metis Woman in Montreal. WordPress. Web. 6 Mar. 2015

Schilling, Vincent. “Oh No They Didn’t: Designers Show “Squaw” Fashion in Milan”. Indian Country. Today Media Network., 3 Mar. 2015. Web. 6 March 2015.

Lilting: A Review

As a movie based on homosexuality I was looking forward to a revolutionary film about the struggles a mixed-race, homosexual couple face in modern society, especially when it is based around coming out to parents. Going into this film, I thought that I would be witnessing something very moving, which would inspire viewers not to be afraid. Instead, it was anti-climactic and slightly disappointing.

Lilting is a film which is based largely upon the death of a man named Kai, son of Junn and boyfriend of Richard. Kai’s death is a turning point for Richard, and on the day of his death Kai was supposed to come out to his mother. Richard befriended Junn and hired a translator to help with their communication, and the rest of the film was a waiting game. It was clear to viewers that Richard had wanted to Kai to come out from the beginning, but for some reason Kai was afraid to tell his mother because he knew that she did not appreciate Richard. Junn is a very strong woman, however she tends to struggle with cultural appropriation. She has a difficult time adapting to the elements of an English country after coming from somewhere so different. This is a large aspect to her character, as it often causes her to become frustrated at the lack of communication she is able to have with others. At the beginning she is made to seem as a very binary thinking woman, which causes viewers to believe that is the reason why Kai cannot bring himself to tell her the truth about Richard. This is where the film could be considered moving. Junn was unaware of who Richard was when he befriended her, and throughout the movie, we see Richard and Junn develop a solid friendship, where each respect each other equally. This is an interesting aspect of the film because it shows that homosexuals are not lesser than heterosexuals just because they are attracted to the same gender. By taking away the aspect of sexuality, viewers were able to see a deeper connection between two strangers which should never be altered based on an individual’s personal preferences. When Richard finally told Junn about his relationship with her son, her reaction was very calm, however left me, as a viewer, very unsure of whether or not she was okay with the news she was given. The scene was somewhat complicated and unclear and could have been more direct.

Although there is not much focus on Kai in particular, viewers could potentially feel more empathy towards him as his character is a clear form of intersectionality, given that he is both an Asian homosexual man. Both Asian’s and homosexual tend to be looked down upon by parts of society, and this therefore gives his character more of a depth and sympathetic vibe than others. As a viewer it would have been nice to be able to see the ways in which Kai’s mother reacted to his coming out.

However, there is not all bad to say about the movie. The synthesis of emotion and intersectional in this film come together to create something that is moving. It gives viewers a sense of reality, and that there is more to life than the material things. It is also a very moving look into what life is like after the loss of a loved one, and the ways social construction affect different groups of people. In a scene with Junn and her English lover Richard, it is clear how little effort her nursing home puts in towards ensuring her happiness, as there is no one around who speaks the same language as her to help them communicate. Richard has to hire his own translator so she can communicate easier in order to help her enjoy her time in England more. Overall, I believe that although this film was slow and lacking detail and inspiration, it was still very well done and proved to readers that there is still a lot of work to be done in regards to the acceptance of all types of people within society.

The experience I had at the film festival was something that I have never experienced before. Never could I have imagined being surrounded by so many people who were obviously so accepting and understanding of otherwise controversial topics. The audience was a certain crowd that one does not experience every day. The festival was definitely something that I would consider attending again.

– gndsgirl11

Girlhood: A Beginning – Darkling

It is rare, in cinema, to see the joys, pains, struggles, and hopes of dark-skin black girls centred and celebrated: tokenized, fetishized, dehumanized, mocked, violated, caricaturized, certainly—but rarely do black girls and teens have the chance to see themselves portrayed as complex human beings. Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood (2014), which I had the pleasure of watching at ReelOut, is not perfect, but it is certainly a start.

Set in the projects on the outskirts of Paris, Girlhood stars newcomer Karidja Touré as Marieme, a sixteen-year-old whose low grades have barred her from continuing her education on an academic tract. Frustrated and uncertain of her prospects, Marieme’s life is changed when she meets a group of three older girls whose freedom and confidence captivate her. Throughout the film, Marieme’s self-worth is bolstered by the sisterhood she forms with her friends, but her development is not without a price: being part of the band of girls requires Marieme to participate in violence, and at home, her already strained family relationships are highlighted as she seeks identity and self. By the end of the film, Marieme is forced to cut all ties with her family and friends, but through the support and love of the band of girls, she has grown into her own person.

A scene in Girlhood that has garnered attention in critical reviews is the one in which the four girls, having booked a night at a hotel room, dance and lip-sync together to Rihanna’s “Diamond.” The cinematography is beautiful and ethereal: the room is dark and the girls are bathed in deep, bright blue light. Marieme watches as first two, and then three of her friends dance together, laughing, their bodies close and connected. Eventually, she joins them, first abashedly and shyly, then with more confidence. It is this scene that truly encapsulates what is powerful and good about the film—that it is a celebration of black girlhood, in all its tenderness and joy, solidarity and friendship. In a film that is often violent and emotionally devastating, the innocent delight the girls take in their own bodies and in each other is a moment of beauty. The scene, and many other aspects of the film, challenges the homogenization and devaluing of dark-skin black women. In a society where racializing scripts dictate that dark-skin women must be relegated to the background of visual culture to serve as walking embodiments of negative stereotypes, and as props to benefit the narratives of light-skin or white women, this extended scene celebrating the beauty and humanity of the four girls is very powerful. In Girlhood, every central character is dark-skinned, and their personalities, emotions, and lives are distinct and believable.

The hotel room scene succeeds in its depiction of the girls, and there are many other instances throughout the film where their playfulness, humour, and fierce love for one another is emphasized. Whether confronting a white shop girl who racially profiles Marieme, or throwing themselves heart and soul into a game of mini-golf, the central characters of Girlhood are portrayed with great nuance. That is not to say, however, that Girlhood does not have its problems. While the film does seem to work to address intersections of class, race, gender, and sexuality in the marginalization of Marieme and her friends, it does not directly deconstruct them, and frequently presents the results of marginalization without their context—a narrative that can contribute to victim-blaming of oppressed groups. Throughout Girlhood, the four girls repeatedly engage in conflict with other girls—usually other dark-skin black girls. It is arguable that Sciamma’s film focuses too narrow on intracommunal violence instead of questioning or challenging the internalized misogynoir that positions black girls as enemies to each other. Further substantiating this notion is the fact that the most prominent aggressor in Marieme’s world is her older brother: black masculinity is often constructed as hyperaggressive, and serves to dehumanize and vilify black men. By focusing narrowly on Marieme’s community, the film fails in many ways to account for larger social forces that contribute to the community’s disenfranchisement. Here, the positionality of the director becomes important: although Girlhood is centred around black girls, Céline Sciamma is a white woman, and her representations of Marieme and her world should not be accepted uncritically. As audience members, it is also important for us to examine our positionality, and our situated knowledge: we must ask ourselves what elements of the film that we accept as true are based in our preconceived notions and understandings as observers. What aspects must we question and challenge as viewers?

Kingston is still a predominantly white city, and for me, this has always been alienating: walking out of the Screening Room as the ending credits played, I did not feel alienated. In the lobby, I encountered many of my black and mixed-race friends, and we tripped over our words in our excitement to utter them.

“The cinematography was so beautiful—that hotel room scene with the blue light—”

“What about the minigolf?”

“I just hope that Marieme is alright in the end—”

Girlhood was not perfect. It should not go unchallenged. But in the minutes following the film’s ending, we were not critically analysing anything. What Girlhood gave us was 112 minutes in which white people were not the focus, and in which the emotional journey of a dark-skin black girl and her friends could be the heart of a beautifully rendered feature film. Watching Girlhood in a small theatre surrounded by people who, like me, left feeling stronger and more complete, is not an experience I would trade for anything.

Thank you for reading!


Lilting – A Friendship Formed By Grieving Strangers: Film Review (Spoiler Alert)

For the 16th consecutive year, ReelOut Arts Project Inc. has engaged the Kingston public by hosting a film festival that highlights independent films that are centered about queer art productions and, as such, embody thematic motifs that discuss and explore related realities prevalent to queer communities and individuals’ histories. One piece showcased at the festival this year is Lilting. With unassuming candor and simplicity, director Hong Khaou’s debut piece delicately addresses the situated power structures and ideologies that cross culturally ruminate about the issues of race, sexuality, culture, health and age.

With eerie eloquence, Lilting addresses the themes of loss, love, isolation, companionship and divergent and conflicting cultural rhetoric, as Junn (Cheng Pei-Pei), a Chinese-Cambodian mother, and her late son’s boyfriend, Richard (Ben Whishaw), grapple with the sudden death of the son, Kai (Andrew Leung). The film documents the precarious development that Junn and Richard’s relationship takes, through a pedagogical story-telling medium, as both characters struggle with reality, loss and rebuilding following the tragedy. The earnest and emotionally proactive performance by Ben Whishaw, emblematically captures the internal struggle that his character experiences as he tries to honour his boyfriend’s memory and wishes, by not revealing the true nature of their relationship to Junn, while simultaneously grasping to hold on to the only remaining vestige of Kai. The situation is further muddled by an absolute language barrier, which results in Junn and Richard being unable to expressively communicate with each other. Richard takes on a translator in an attempt to mitigate this cultural divide, and the budding friendship and banter that spawns between Richard and translator Vann (Naomi Christie), provides a reprise from the onerous undertones of the film.

The overt symbolism employed by Khaou, in regard to the provocative and engaging use of language as an artistic tool, and the respective lack of ascribed subtitles employed throughout the piece, aptly confers the confusion that both Junn and Richard experience throughout their interactions in the movie, as they are only able to understand an abridged and filtered version of their dialogue. This parabolic imagery is a brilliantly employed creative choice and is symbolic of the disadvantaged position that these two characters hold, in relationship to established situated power structures, in their inability to freely express themselves, their thoughts, feelings and opinions, as a non-cisgendered man and as an immigrant woman living in a Western country. The film also critically analyzes homogenizing held constructs which surround family structures and the corrosive results that such fixed and established constructs can have on the psyche of individuals. The majority of the film is pervaded by an inherent understanding of the presumed disapproval and disdain that Junn has towards Richard and Kai’s relationship, as understood by Richard’s interpretation of the situation, and an assumed set of held beliefs. However, as the movie nears the end, the friction between Junn and Richard climaxes and Richard reveals the true nature of his and Kai’s relationship to Junn. It culminates with the discovery that the aversion Junn fosters towards Richard was more about cultural diverging notions of family structure and responsibilities, and a lack of integration into British culture, than being situated about homophobia.

The entire piece is rote with passive, yet overt, symbolism and is raw in detail, with little revealed about the characters beyond their respective relationships with Kai. By doing so, Khaou ensures that the attention of the viewers is chiefly directed towards the situated themes of the piece. The artistic lens employed throughout the film is shot with a sfumato overtone which envelopes the entire piece with a hazy overlay, adding another dimension of movement and depth to the film, which is emblematic of the confusion that surrounds the multifaceted set of emotions about the piece. In particular, the haze and muted tones which wash over the film are symbolic of the lack of authentic reality and the false truth that is being presented to Junn, with both Richard and Kai’s decision, for the majority of the film, to not disclose the true nature of their relationship. This symbolism, in combination with the hauntingly beautiful flashback scenes to the last moments that each Junn and Richard shared with Kai, are imperative agents in documenting the progression of time throughout the course of the film. It is the truthfulness in the form of symbolism utilized by Khaou that allows the emblematic symbolism to resonate with the audience and thus, add a level of unparalleled authenticity.

Lilting, and the Reelout Arts Project as a whole, are framed within a critical discourse, which confers the need for an intersectional analysis of the institutionalized, situated power structures that ruminate and determine the social worlds that we experience. Both the movie and festival play a fundamentally important role in facilitating a discussion that addresses the existence of an apathetic social consciousness, particularly in regard to gender, race and sexuality, and conferring that change is drastically needed, while simultaneously showcasing tremendous, under-represented and acknowledged talent.

– Elin

Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger: Film Review (Spoiler Alert)

Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger situates is star, “Auntie Kate”, as a true gender outlaw, something she is immensely proud of. As a self described “trans-dyke, reluctant polyamorist, sadomasochist, and recovering Scientologist”, Bornstein revels in rejecting binary thinking and dismantling norms of gender and sexuality. She is a dynamic and questioning individual, and her “outlaw” persona stems from this constant questioning and re-evaluation. From considering whether she truly identifies as a woman, to her reconsideration of her religion, reinvention of her sexual practices with her partner, and re-evaluation of the value of living in the face of a life threatening diagnosis, Kate is an ever-changing outlaw of expectation.

This 2014 documentary by director Sam Feder begins in Kate’s home, where the tone of the film (read: provocative) is set by Kate introducing us to her “giant, flying, gold… PENIS”. A statuette of a golden phallus is presented, on in her living room, installed after the surgery she underwent as part of her MTF transgender transition. The film alternates between excerpts from her lectures, readings, and performances on tour and personal interviews with her and friends, most of which are presented as monologues or dialogues between the subjects. We are introduced to Kate’s eclectic friends, mentors, ex-lovers and partner, and guided through her participation in and subsequent rejection of scientology. We meet her family, listen to her coming out story, and watch as she receives a live phone call from her surgeon breaking the news to her that her lung cancer has metastasized. The tone of the film oscillates naturally from outrageous and provocative to outright hilarious to heartbreakingly sad as it explores each of these subjects.

As I have alluded to, Bornstein loves to question and reimagine all aspects of herself and the world she lives in. In one scene, she explains her very complex intersectional identity: she begins by explaining that she doesn’t see herself as a woman any more, because her social circle (a group of “very intelligent lesbians”) helped her to see that she was not raised or acculturated to be one – that her positionality was different than that of a socialized woman. She thus inhabits a space “between genders”. She also inhabits a space outside of the heterosexual matrix, a matrix in which heterosexuality is the norm, performed by two “natural” opposing genders (Aulette et al. 2011). She describes herself as “trans-dyke” – the “more queer” form of lesbian in her opinion. She also refers to herself as a “tranny”, a traditionally derogatory term that she has reclaimed for the same reason – it is “more queer” than transsexual. I have a feeling that Kate will not stop here – as I have stated, she is a fantastically dynamic individual and will likely be reimaging her labeling, identity, and sexuality even as I write this film review, further cementing her position as “gender outlaw”.

Another pivotal scene sequence in the film comes toward the end, after Bornstein’s cancer diagnosis. The first scene in the sequence also involves a pivotal re-evaluation. Sitting outside on a park bench, Bornstein looks into the camera, smiling and wearing her signature (literally) rose tinted spectacles, and delivers perhaps the most candid line of the film (for an individual who is a performer at heart) – that it “wasn’t until now” that she actually realized “she wanted to live” – that not until she was face to face with death, did she truly want to remain on this earth. This scene was closely followed by a meet and greet after one of her lectures, showing her talking to several LGBTQ teens. After they leave, she remarks on how beautiful, courageous and unique they are – and the film ends with her pleading to all who question their desire to live to “do whatever it takes to make your life worth living… just don’t be mean”. The juxtaposition of Kate’s realization and this footage is effective. Suicide and depression are issues that affect transgender and other gender/sex-marginal individuals at much higher rates than the heterosexual, cis-gendered population (CMHA 2014). Though filmed and released before this event, the themes of this film are highly relevant in the wake of the transgender teen Leelah Alcorn’s suicide. These critical scenes are a combination outreach effort between Bornstein and the film-makers, all of whom are activists – personal and heart-wrenchingly genuine messages for those who feel marginalized and unable to cope or continue on.

Overall, Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger is a powerful piece of art and activism. The film effectively captures the inimitable and outrageous character that is Bornstein: a provocative, ever-questioning individual who is always looking to push boundaries and re-imagine the laws of living. And sometimes, luckily for Bornstein, her audience, and her fans, this re-evaluation involves taking another look at the value of life and living, and encouraging others to do the same.

Outside of my direct experience with the film, my experience at ReelOut Queer Film Festival was positive. The staff were kind, accommodating, and understanding (I needed alternative seating due to a back injury) and there was a sense of community and support at the event. Before the film, the Kingston Trans Fam was able to discuss their work, inviting out transgender individuals and their families to talk to other Kingstonians with similar experiences. If you are interested in learning more about them, their work, their safe space, and their community, their website is

Bye for now,




Aulette, Judy Root and Wittner, Judith. Gendered Worlds. New York: Oxford U. Press,   2011. Print.

“Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans People and Mental Health”.             CMHA, 2014. February 9 2015.