State of the Arts: Queer youth and elders share stories

Queer youth, aged 13 to 22, and queer elders, aged 55 to 86, have posed questions over the past year and exchanged personal stories they’ve shaped to be presented at Call and Response: An LGBTQ Intergenerational Performance Evening in Surrey on Feb. 19 and in Vancouver Feb. 22.

Former COPE city counsellor Ellen Woodsworth wrote about what it was like to be a dyke in the 1960s and ’70s.

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“How, when you stood out then, you were vilified not just by straight homophobes but within the feminist community,” said Claire Robson, co-lead artist for Queer Imaging and Riting Kollective for Elders, or Quirk-e, a group to which Woodsworth belongs.

Woodsworth forwarded her work to members of Youth For a Change, a group of advocates, activists and educators that is facilitated by Sylvia Traphan and Jen Marchbank, a professor in gender, sexuality and women’s studies at SFU, and meets in Surrey.

“And [the teens] were like, ‘Wow. This is amazing. What a history,’” Robson said.

Youth provided Woodsworth with feedback on her work and she will read her polished piece at the event, which will include digital media, spoken word, poetry and stories that are typically relegated to the margins.

Tyler Cogwell-Shears, a 14-year-old transgender boy, will outline what it has been like to explore his male identity in a difficult school situation with an audio recording and images.

Another queer teen will share her story of being booted from her family home and then rejecting placement in a group home that wouldn’t accommodate her homeless 14-year-old girlfriend.

Quirk-e’s other lead artist, Kelsey Blair, helped Quirk-e couple Bridget Coll and Chris Morrissey fashion a film, which includes dancers, from their interviews that were woven into poetry about dealing with homophobia while one of them lives in a residential care home with dementia.

“To have those two ends of the spectrum is quite something,” Robson said.

“Both groups tend to be marginalized in the queer community, which is really focused so much on 25- to 35-year-old[’s] issues. If you look at Xtra! that’s what you see,” Robson added. “I knew that these were cool kids. I knew that they were doing important work, but I’ve been so impressed by their wisdom and maturity and strength. It sounds sappy but really, they’re amazing.”

The Call and Response project has been a genuine exchange with elders learning as much as youth.

“They’ve taught us a lot about being gender fluid,” Robson added. “We have a transsexual presence in Quirk-e… [but] it’s been an education for us to have to think carefully about pronouns and to have to check about pronouns… It’s so much more complicated than when we grew up and what we’re used to.”

The groups joined forces after the elders provided a workshop to the youth group, told them about Quirk-e’s launch of its anthology, The Bridge Generation: A Queer Elders’ Chronicle from No Rights to Civil Rights, which covers the institutionalization and electronic shock therapy queer people faced in the 1940s in Canada to personal and creative expression today, and youth attended.

“I thought that’s initiative that needs to be rewarded,” Robson said. “Why shouldn’t they get to do some art?”

During the process, the two groups learned they share more similarities than differences.  

“A lot of people think that kids need to be provided for, particularly at-risk youth, and people think the same of seniors,” said Robson, a 65-year-old post-doctorate fellow in the same department as Marchbank at SFU. “And the philosophy of all four facilitators [for the two groups] is really f*** that. These youth and these seniors are a resource. Nobody really likes to have stuff done for them. We need to challenge them and get them doing for themselves.”

The Feb. 19 show runs 7 to 9 p.m. at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, room Fir 128 at 12666 72nd Ave. in Surrey. The Feb. 22 show runs 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Britannia Services Centre, Canucks Family Education Centre, 1001 Cotton Dr. For more information, search for Call and Response on Facebook.

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