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Femme Monologues and the archival turn

The other night, I went to a screening of Who Took the Bompf, a fabulous doc about the feminist/queer/electroclash band Le Tigre and its demise in 2005, which in some ways marks the end of the feminist-queer-rriot girl era. It was an archive of sorts, of third wave feminism, of rage channelled into poetry, sampling, performance art, music and great costumes.

It seems like feminists, scholars and queers are turning to history these days, to help make sense of the present.

My writing has taken an archival turn, too. On June 1, a graphic memoir serial, The Femme Monologues, written by me, with graphics by visual artist Terri Roberton, will debut in the pages of Xtra! It will appear once a month for the next three months (and we hope it will continue after that, too).

Femme Monologues features short vignettes from a queer/femme/feminist archive. The first story, "On Becoming A Dissident Writer" (part 1 appears June 1) takes us back to the 1970s, and the funky era of feminist culture, when women's newspapers, record companies, publishers, and hey, even garages, sprung up for the first time in Canada. It's about the very first time I got published, in a feminist newspaper and the ripple effect that had on my family... and on me. Hairline cracks in the surface of my life anticipated an earthquake of consciousness that was to change the world.

Media was an essential component of that change. The feminist press in Canada -- Upstream, Broadside, Kinesis, Herizons -- linked us in a variety of subversive, practical, abstract, physical, and affective ways. Whether it was finding out how other feminists across the country were organizing for abortion rights, scamming a pass to TIFF (then the Festival of Festivals) based on your Broadside press pass, or hooking up as you pasted up copy long into the night, feminist and queer media provided us with with different ways of being, feeling and connecting.

I became a feminist activist at the start of the Mulroney-Reagan-Thatcher era. Censorship! Raids on abortion clinics! Cutbacks! Millions were being cut from Aboriginal and women's programs. Feminist group after feminist group was eliminated.It seemed the nation had abjected us, people of conscience, people outside of normal, and that was still novel enough that we felt it, deeply and viscerally and contagiously. The act of documentation, publication, and artistic creation would be a place to situate our anger and dismay at the ways in which the right was gaining power in the post-Trudeau era.

Much of this has, as I've pointed out in other work, remained undocumented, but not forgotten. Indeed, there is now an archival turn -- in cultural studies, in gender studies and, even, I think, in a new generation of feminists longing for history.

Other archives: Lynn Hershman's recently-released film, Women Art Revolution that documents the beginnings and the fierce endurance of a feminist art movement.

And then there's Lesbians on Ecstasy, a band that takes up where Le Tigre left off, with its remixed homages to '70s and '80s women's music.

Terri and I want to document a femme history that doesn't follow any kind of linear trajectory (and femme, for those of you who don't travel in the circles I do, is the term for a queer woman who takes on, ironizes and/or reinterprets the feminine). We want to depict femmes as central -- masculinity is an essential but peripheral counterpoint to this particular story. Terri's beautiful drawings lovingly depict an awkward, ethnicized, (often quite clued-out !) femme and feminist-in-the-making, and the slow transformation of innocence into irony, anger, passion, pleasure, danger, and creative power.

Watch for it, in Xtra (you can get it online, too), June 1, and if you like it, let Xtra know, so they'll keep publishing our stories...

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