This weekend just gone was Camp Betty, a queer DIY/autonomist festival of workshops, performances, parties and lots of other stuff. It was a bit like Queeruption if it was in Melbourne, but connected to reviving the 70’s local tradition of holding a queer picnic on the Queen’s Birthday weekend (don’t ask why in Australia the Queen’s Birthday is this weekend in June, it just is, even if it’s not actually her birthday.) There’s so much to write about. I wrote this on Monday night when it was still fresh in my head, and even now, on Thursday, I still feel excited about how good it was. And this, coming from me, who has been off the scene of all sorts of squatted/autonomously organised events over the last four years, and pretty critical of some, too — maybe I’m mellowing out in my old age.
For starters, there was the Melbourne launch Self-Organizing Men. Our merch table was mighty. Gaylourdes worked the crowd into a frenzied physical theatre-style launching of the book and I got to read out a story about waking up with a fully-grown penis. (I think I’ve read that story about four times this year, and people still laugh just as hard at it. Which is encouraging. Because it gets more difficult to read it with a straight face every time. Meaning I should write something else, and soon.)
One of the things I really noticed about Camp Betty that this wasn’t just a ‘queer’ event. It was much more than that — the workshops and panels interfaced with a whole lot of political domains, including the resurgence of gay nationalism, sexwork and trans politics. The latter, especially, is a quantum shift from even two or three years ago. It’s a given, now, that folks respect people’s pronoun choices, and it’s a given that gender stuff won’t be relegated to one token speaker on the ‘miscellaneous’ panel, but will be programmed in as a diverse field of different issues. Ash and Liz gave incredible talks about non-medical transness, on one hand, and femme id on the other. Vek talked about the cultural specificity of ‘transgender’, ending on a critique of the way transgénero has become the bourgeois, respectable term in Latin American gender activist circles, differentiated from more lumpenised travesti and transsexuales who are perceived by middle-class ‘activists’ as disrupting the quest for rights. And there were 30 people at the workshop on trans healthcare. (We’d expected maybe six or seven). Although a lot of the workshop wound up focused on info-sharing about medical stuff, lots of people seem keen about future possibilities for an autonomously-run ‘gender centre’ in Melbourne.
I was lucky enough to be on a panel on state regulation of bodies with folks from Scarlet Alliance, critiqueing the legalisation of sexwork, and Sanja Milivojevic talking about how sex trafficking panics are working to curtail migrant womens’ mobility and are resulting in more enforced deportations of women from the EU and Australia. She made the really logical point that ‘rescuing’ projects are just another form of legalised trafficking. It’s not often that I inhabit spaces where the discussion begins from a baseline of being deeply critical of state intervention. (Except for at home, of course, which is nice, but also privatised.) It really makes the academy look stale, and it reminds me that I have to keep challenging people that way in the academic spaces I inhabit — not necessarily in a nice measured manner, making the polite gesture towards anti-statist, anti-humanist thinking outside the box, but bluntly.
On a social level, it was lovely to reconnect with people I never see enough, hang out with Sydney crew, who are beginning to feel like family, and make a whole bunch of new friends. (Excitements!) I’m still recovering from numerous hangovers and lack of sleep, spoilt for choice at four days’ worth of equally fun afternoon/evening entertainment. Film screenings with Extreme Powerpoint demonstrations, Extreme Cabaret at Upstart Alley, Extremely Camp royal parades at the Queen’s Birthday picnic, Extreme (pole) dancing at Sweaty Betty. Maybe not something I could do every weekend, but once a year = pretty damn alright.