Soapbox: Trish Kelly on the high price of public honesty

At this time last week, I was getting in a taxi at YVR, coming back from a business trip to Kelowna. Carry-on bag in hand, instead of heading home I got dropped off at the Vision Vancouver office to continue a hard conversation we’d started days before by phone.

Last month, I won the top spot in Vision Vancouver’s nomination race for park board.  After many years as a community advocate fighting for social justice issues, it looked like I might move from the role of impassioned community member pitching a great idea, to claiming a seat at the decision-making table.

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A couple weeks ago, some blogs started posting a video monologue from my 2000 Fringe Festival play. The monologue is a humourous take on the sex life of a single person and the ways that single people can feel isolated and invisibilized in our culture. It also talks about masturbation. As an artist, the monologue is certainly not the most frank or explicit piece of sex-positive work I have published or performed, but some bloggers had a heyday, claiming my monologue disqualified me for a run at public office.

I feel strongly that the work I’ve done in my art and activism to open space for others to think about sex as something normal and healthy and is nothing to be ashamed of, has been helpful and well received. The play was seen by hundreds of people, and the monologue later included in a queer performance art series for wayoutwest.tv.

During my nomination race, this part of my CV didn’t seem terribly relevant. I know that being a park board commissioner is much more about dealing with off-leash dog parks and cigarette butts on the beach than it is a venue for challenging the way our society reacts to women who claim their sexuality. My more recent advocacy seemed more important; writing the first draft of the bylaw to permit backyard chickens, getting the mayor to proclaim Meatless Monday, and helping the park board come up with an action plan to support local food.

Now, just a week after reaching a mutual decision that the sensationalization of my work was not something I could combat within an election campaign, I see that there is an indirect connection between that monologue and my run for park board.

The indirect connection is a question of belonging. In a city where our degree of social isolation has been quantified, and we know the small percentage of us who know our neighbour’s name, I ran a nomination campaign that ultimately was about fostering belonging. I see our neighbourhood assets like community centres and parks as the perfect venue for addressing our isolation and making us more resilient.

I know that some of my supporters are disappointed, and were excited to vote for me this November. Some of them are angry not just for me, but for themselves. I think many of my supporters saw something in me they identified with, as an artist who tackles difficult issues, as a queer woman willing to celebrate sexuality, and even more universally, as a person in Vancouver admitting loneliness.

It’s been a tough week, I’ll be honest about that, too. I’ve been given some lemons, and now I need to make some lemonade. If we can have a public conversation to address the stigma that’s attached to people who are honest about their histories, and their desires, I will take this as a win. If I can begin a conversation about how we can make seeking public office a safe space for women with sexual agency, I will happily accept this detour in my public life.

I’m currently working out the details of a public forum to begin the conversation about the bigger questions that have been raised. Details will be posted to my website votetrishkelly.ca
 
Trish Kelly is a community activist and former Vision Vancouver park board candidate.

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