Going To, Making Do, Passing Just the Same: exploring attachment to territory

The Other Side of the Fence: Racialized Geographies and Gestures of Reappropriation is the first of a series of events  

The Other Side of the Fence: Racialized Geographies and Gestures of Reappropriation took place on Nov. 8. The half-day seminar was hosted by Suzy Basile, Rémy-Paulin Twahirwa, and Nayla Naoufal, as part of the exhibition Going To, Making Do, Passing Just the Same, which is currently postponed due to government restrictions.

Curated by Edith Brunette and Francois Lemieux, Going To, Making Do, Passing Just the Same will be exhibited at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, located inside Concordia’s J.W. McConnell Building. 

Basile is from the Atikamekw community of Wemotaci Quebec and is a teacher at the School of Indigenous Studies at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT).

Twahirwa is a community organizer and a Ph.D. student at the London School of Economics, who has gained expertise in issues related to discrimination, racism, and socio-economic inequalities and has been involved in social justice causes, such as human rights, particularly those of (im)migrants and refugees.

Naoufal was born in Beirut and is based in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. Naoufal is a cultural worker, art writer and independent researcher. She is a member of the Centre de recherche en éducation et formation relatives à l’environnement et l’écocitoyenneté at UQAM. Naoufal works with Indigenous artists in Quebec, Canada, and the world, and particularly artists and collectives working with environmental concepts and practices.

The Other Side of the Fence: Racialized Geographies and Gestures of Reappropriation was initially organized to be a live panel. Due to the pandemic, it had to be moved online.

The panel reflects on the upcoming exhibition and the conditions of people’s existence on what is currently known as Canadian territory.

Brunette and Lemieux want to explore the connection of land to people, specifically how land has been modified and damaged for many years due to society’s colonialist and capitalist ways of living. Themes such as the sense of belonging and the connection created with a certain territory as well will be discussed.

The panel focused on environmental racism and its relation to population displacements, the notion of territory, and the attachment that people feel to the land. It also pointed out the realities that Indigenous and other racialized people have been living in relation to the land, such as environmental racism, political dispossession, and mass incarceration.

Guests speakers also touched on subjects such as the resistance from Indigenous and racialized people that has been expressed throughout the years against dispossession, a person or a group of people being deprived of their land or property.

Two other events will be presented either online or on site, depending on future government restrictions. The events include a presentation of the performance Le Fil des jours by researcher and choreographer Catherine Lavoie-Marcus on the semi-abandoned grounds of the Royal Victoria Hospital and a discussion with Marisa Berry-Méndez, a researcher and writer who has expertise in immigration and settlement issues.

Going To, Making Do, Passing Just the Same remains postponed until further notice, and The Other Side of the Fence: Racialized Geographies and Gestures of Reappropriation will be available online

Student Life

Playing dress up: gender and performance

Dr. Emer O’Toole and Panti Bliss discuss subverting gender norms

“I love being the least-interesting or least out-there person in the room,” said Emer O’Toole, an assistant professor at Concordia’s School of Canadian Irish Studies, referring to the full-to-the-brim auditorium packed with people emblematic of Montreal’s liberal, artsy, vegan-granola-queer-fringey sensibilities.


O’Toole, who holds a PhD from Royal Holloway University of London, sat down with Ireland’s Person of the Year, gay rights activist and drag queen performer, Panti Bliss, to strip down the notions of performance and gender as part of The Globe and Mail “Thinking out Loud” series Feb. 16.

Photo by Sara Baron-Goodman.


Last year, O’Toole invited Bliss to Concordia to speak about the now-infamous “Pantigate” scenario, wherein Bliss became an “accidental activist” by publicly calling out Irish journalists for being homophobic, and spurring an international conversation about gay rights in Ireland. This year, their dialogue turned towards what it means to be a gender nonconformist in today’s Western society.


“There are repercussions to acting outside the role of our assigned gender,” said O’Toole, stretching out one of her 100 per cent naturally hairy legs.


O’Toole has been playing with traditional gender norms for years, and earned a moment in the International spotlight for masquerading her unshaven armpits on T.V. Tonight, she is “pioneering stilettos and hairy legs.”


For O’Toole, rejecting the traditional female archetype was about making a firm choice to subvert expected gender norms. That choice isn’t about rejecting femininity, but rather creating her own definition of what it is to be a woman. “I’m not saying that free choice isn’t a possibility [for girls and women who do employ traditional gender norms], but in a coercive capitalist society, it’s not a given.”


“It’s almost impossible to divorce yourself from the society around you,” said Bliss, asserting that more than just being “intellectual masturbation,” these sorts of discussions about the perception of gender nonconformity are inherent to one’s safety in society.


For Bliss, the label of drag queen and a caricaturesque costume have been a security blanket against harassment. The persona of Panti Bliss, bouffant blonde hair, false eyelashes, stilettos et al., is a performance, and is read by society as such. It is much easier, much safer for him to walk around like a giant cartoon woman, than it is for somebody who is for example, transgender to walk around in gender-bending garb. The difference being that one is read as performative, comical, or theatrical, while the other is seen as nonconforming and “otherized.”


Yet, for Rory O’Neill, dressing up as Panti isn’t “playing a character. This is who I am, I’m just expressing it slightly differently. Certain aspects of me are magnified by the makeup but it’s the same person, the same essence, but the power of that presentation is so much that people accuse you of being two different people.”


“People feel much more comfortable when they can pigeonhole you,” said O’Toole, citing examples of labels like “butch lesbian” or “drag queen.”


“If, though, you dress femme and have one or two masculine aspects, then people are nervous.” This rings true for her, as it does for anybody who chooses to step outside their prescribed gender norm, she explains. In general, society doesn’t know where to put you and they assign you the freak label.


“You don’t have to fit into the patriarchal norm of beauty to be beautiful,” said O’Toole.


According to both O’Toole and Bliss, everybody should make conscious efforts to challenge traditional gender norms.


“There are many more than just two or even three genders,” said Bliss, saying that while it’s great for you if you do fit into one of these traditional archetypes, its “so much more fun and interesting” to fall somewhere else on that rainbow spectrum.


So how can straight-edge men tap into their feminine sides? “All the men should go home and bottom really hard,” Bliss recommends. Or, at minimum, everybody should crossdress—no holds barred—at least once in their lives, just to see how the other side feels. It’s a slightly more ambitious take on the old “walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes” adage.


O’Toole’s recommendation requires a slightly less invasive approach. For her, stepping outside your preconceived notions of gender could be as simple as “wearing your towel differently.”


She councils everyone to go home and after their shower, to wrap their towel the way they wouldn’t normally; for women, wrap it around your waist and set the ta-tas free to air dry, and for men, try making that towel dress. She says you’d be surprised at how even such a small adjustment can make you evaluate your gendered habits a little differently.


For more insights into gender-bending and performance, be sure to check out Rory O’Neill’s best-selling book on how he became Panti Bliss, Woman in the Making, and keep an eye out for Emer O’Toole’s book, Girls Will be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act Differently which will be released at the end of this month.


“I love being the least interesting or least out-there person in the room” – Emer on Mtl

“From the second that youre beorn and the doctor shouts ‘its a girl’”… that starts to define you and limit you – OToole


“when it comes to gender everybody thinks they know women, and they think they understand the fundamental natural elements o fwhat it is to be a woman. Everybody has a gender so everybody thinks theyre an expert on gender”- OToole


“Nobody in their right mind is going to confuse me for a natural born woman, I’m not impersonating women, I am trying to parody the tools that society has attributed to femininity” Bliss


*quotes at roughly 9mins on gender peacocking


*Emer 13:30 roughly

“see that girl over there, shes very attractive but i fear she’d cut my balls off” “thats my sister” OToole


“When we act outside the boundaries set for us by our bio sex people think theres something wrong with us” OToole


“Ive modified this cartoon to appear more serious to you” Bliss


“Tonight ive chosen to pioneer stilettos and hairy legs” OToole

“Im not saying that free choice is not a possibility, but in a coercive capitalist society, its not a given” on “choosing” to apply normative gender norms as a young girl


It’s almost impossible to divorce yourself from the society around you”

more than “intellectual masturbation” these ideas and inherent to your safety in society as a gender bender or non conformist – Bliss


Emer OToole quote 29 mins


people are more comfortable when they can pigeonhole you.. “if you dress femme and have one or two masculine aspects people are nervous” OToole, they don’t know where to put you and they assign you the freak label.


Judith Butler theories on performance


Quebec law proposal 33:30mins


“there are repurcussions to acting outside the role of our assigned gender” OToole


“you dont hve to fit into the patricarchal norm of beauty to be beautiful” OToole


“im actually quite a dull person as a boy” Bliss


A lot o fpeople in this room can relat eto that experience of feeling nervous walking past a car or something because you fear the people inside might harass you, because youve been harassed in that situation before


“Im not playing a character, this is who I am, I’m just expressing it slightly differently. Certain aspects f me are magnified by the makeup but it’s the asme person, the same essense, but the power of that presentation is so much that people accuse you of being two different people”


46:30 feminist and raising little girls


:im so glamorous im constantly in pain” Bliss


on how evrybody should challenge gender norms “the men should go home and bottom really hard” Bliss



55 mins “wear your towel differently” OToole


Activism on your plate

Detroit’s Malik Yakini showcases social transformation through food

Concordia Transitions 2015, held on Sunday Feb. 8, was a day of events organized around a student-run food system for the university. Aside from providing an in-depth overview of Concordia’s food network, its history, and where it could go, the attendees were given the chance to hear from a series of speakers.

One of them was Malik Yakini, the executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and member of D-Town Farms, an organic farm in the urban decay of the city. Equally knowledgeable in history and demographics as he is in farming, Yaniki painted a grim image of his home city and its hopeful start towards redemption through the narrative of food.

The current crisis, according to Yakini, is due to Detroit’s civic collapse and decades of intentional policy against its non-white denizens. Depending on who you ask, around a third of the city now lies empty—the result, Yakini said, of both economic implosion and white flight to the suburbs in response to non-white migration into the industrial heart of the city. (Detroit is listed in the 2010 United States Census as 82.7 per cent African American or Black.) Unemployment figures—a result of what Yakini called “intentional disinvestment”—vary widely depending on who is asked, at anywhere from 20 per cent to over 50 per cent. To a large extent the decay has affected the less affluent, mostly Black population of the city. From a food perspective, what has happened is a disaster.

“As of 2007, the last national grocery store chain closed its doors in the city of Detroit,” said Yakini. The remaining network of grocery stores are deemed by Yakini to be exploitative, not to re-invest into the local community, and of inferior quality.

Organizations like D-Town farms—currently occupying a two-acre location in Detroit’s Rouge Park—see the emptiness as fallow ground waiting to be reclaimed. But to rebuild (and make it better than before) requires more than soil and seeds. It requires a change in spirit.

“The work that we do is guided by values,” he said. “Love is the overriding value that guides everything we do.” Yakini believes what’s required is a re-thinking of our place in the world, of humans as part of the ecosystem and not having dominion over it.

“This idea that human beings were put here to have dominion over the earth is a very eurocentric idea. And so we also have love for the other animals and plants with which we share the planet, and we have an understanding that our survival is dependent on us understanding that we’re part of this matrix of life that includes the other life forms with which we share the planet,” he continued. “We thought that one of the things that we could do is really promote the growing of food as a way of filling that gap.” Filling that gap has meant re-educating his community on the importance and nobility of working with food—all the way to the root: “We now understand that significant and deep societal change is intergenerational. One of our goals from the very beginning was to involve youth in the food movement. It’s very important that we have young people who see work in the food system as being valuable work, because there’s all kinds of class implications about farming in particular. Some people see farming as lower-class work.”

As befits a community disadvantaged under the current system, Yakini’s food movement breaks from the past on two issues: first, in opposition to what he calls the entrenched and universal system of white supremacism which privileges the descendents of mostly western Europeans; and second against capitalism, which Yakini has called a method that exploits land, labour, and wealth transfer independent of merit or fair work.

“There are many concepts in capitalism that are unsustainable,” he said, citing unending growth and the belief in perpetual strife over resources. “That thinking is going to lead to our destruction. We think that there is an abundance on the Earth, but we just have to change our thinking and change how those resources are distributed.”

“One of the problems with the food system is that it’s become so large that local communities can’t benefit from it and it is fragile because of its scale,” he said.

By reclaiming the city one acre at a time, Yakini’s dream is to empower and create an alternate system of civic mindedness and equality for both his community and those who choose to stand in solidarity with it.

Their methods and successes have attracted a widespread following, something that still surprises Yaniki.

“We certainly didn’t set out to be celebrities; we set out to improve the conditions in our communities. It’s mind-boggling to go places and meet people who know what we’re doing and who are inspired by it, because that was not our intent. Our intent was to make the conditions in our community better.”

Nor does Yaniki see himself as deserving of any particular praise: “I always like people to know that although I am the chief spokesman for the group, I’m representing a collective of people who work very hard.”


Sci-fi and the future of tech

Literary heavyweight William Gibson weighs in during ConU’s Thinking Out Loud

Close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine a time before recorded music was available: no flipping through iTunes to hear your favourite artist’s new track, no searching on YouTube for the oldie that’s been stuck in your head all day—a time when technology was significantly different than it is today.

William Gibson invited audience members to do just that during Thursday’s session of Concordia’s Thinking Out Loud conversation series. Gibson, an American-Canadian science fiction novelist, joined Concordia communication studies professor Fenwick McKelvey for “Digital Life, Digital Identity — A Conversation About the Internet, Fiction and the Future” moderated by Erin Anderssen of The Globe and Mail.

“One of the most mysterious things about technology is the way in which we lose the previous mode of existence,” said Gibson. As a celebrated speculative fiction novelist, he’s used to imagining new technologies and presenting them in naturalistic prose. In 1982 he coined the term “cyberspace.” His works—ranging from short stories to novels and trilogies—have highly influenced the world of science fiction writing., and he was one of the founders of the cyberpunk genre.

They discussed the ever-changing popularity of technology and how it’s impossible to determine what will become the next big thing. Not only do developers not know exactly what technologies will catch on, but the way in which different groups in society use technology will also differ. Gibson suggested a poor man and a rich man might use technology very differently.

“How do you, from moment to moment, distinguish when are we being active participants and when are we being couch potatoes?” Asked Gibson. “It seems to me that the distinction is blurred in some weird way.”

While the role of technology is not always clear, it can be helpful in particular circumstances. Gibson recounted his experience assisting people across the world via social media during the March 2011 earthquake in Japan. Gibson, among others, was able to tweet links to information Japanese citizens couldn’t connect with since the natural disaster had destroyed certain networks.

Gibson predicts our current separation between self-identity and digital personas will fade for people as we move into the future. “I think they’ll find the way in which we made that distinction very, very peculiar and they’ll try very hard to understand it,” he said. “We experience now what, in the future, will be regarded as a remarkable degree of isolation.”

As a science fiction writer, Gibson is an expert in creating visions for the future. “There are bits and pieces of possible futures walking all around here, but we won’t necessarily notice them,” he said. He looks for the ones that “have legs,” seeking to balance contemporary perceptions of miraculous new technology “in a way that allows the reader the illusion of experiencing the character’s complete boredom with that technology.”


Preparing media for activism coverage

Panel of experts discuss the role of media and the nature of coverage in social movements

How does the media view social movements? Can journalists be activists? From yesteryear’s feminism and anti-war movements to today’s austerity marches and student protests, the question of how the media packages, frames, and interprets such acts is increasingly under scrutiny.

The event came on the tail end of Concordia’s Solidarity Teach-In week, a multi-day program of exchanges, workshops, and discussions leading up to the anti-austerity actions of spring 2015.

The panel featured freelancer (and former The Concordian News editor) Kalina Laframboise,

activist and producer Laith Marouf, veteran Radio-Canada journalist and assistant professor in the journalism department Philippe Marcoux, communications department assistant professor Fenwick McKelvey, and multimedia journalist Damon van der Linde.

The discussion revolved around perceptions of objectivity, the perceived hostility of traditional media towards disruptive social movements, and the differences between it and independent community media.

Van der Linde, who claims experience from extensive human rights reporting in Africa and elsewhere, believes the aim for journalistic objectivity precludes a reporter from being an activist.

“One of the biggest problems with news striving for objectivity and being a journalist covering social movements is often—not always—[that] social movements have leaders, a certain amount of power, they have political affiliations, there could also be money involved, and it’s all controlled by people,” said van der Linde.

“No one is asking to give equal space in an article or in a report, or equal credibility to both sides of a story,” said van der Linde, using the example of climate change. “But if you leave out a voice because it doesn’t follow the narrative you believe, then you’re not a journalist.”

Marcoux, owing to his many years working for Canada’s national broadcaster, offered insight on behalf of traditional, established media. “I think it’s really important to point out [that] … no matter how much you insist, [CBC/Radio-Canada] is a public broadcaster and will never be a state broadcaster.” He says influence does percolate within public media, but cautions on overextending its reach. “There is no such thing as a public line that is decided by the government and funneled down to the CBC newsroom. Journalists never hear about the government. The CBC and Radio-Canada [are] not perfect—trust me, I’ve spent my life criticizing them. But the biggest problem about them is not political influence.”

During typical coverage of countercultural events, Marcoux maintained that the people working in front of the camera and behind it are trying their best.

“They may not manage—you are perfectly allowed to think their coverage is biased—but the mistake you would be making is by not understanding that they think they’re striving for objectivity. When you deal with them, understand that they don’t think they have a bias. Use them, don’t use them, try to influence them, that’s up to you—but understand the position they start on.”

So is traditional media an ally or enemy of social movements? That’s the wrong way to look at it, according to Marcoux. “At the very least, they don’t want to be either. That’s the important point.”

This response did not sate everyone.

“CBC/Radio-Canada is just like the Syrian television, or the Portuguese government television. They are mouthpieces of whoever is in power,” said Marouf, one-time executive director of Concordia University Television (CUTV). Marouf maintained Canada’s luck came from having a third alternative to state and corporate media in the form of community media, whose mandate was to give a voice of balance to the mainstream.

“Those who decide to work for government outlets are bound by the editorial positions of their bosses,” he said. “The shortcoming of that is that you have no real control of the message, you are bound by the interests of the media to use that coverage, and you have no say obviously in which direction that content’s going to go.”

Yet the alternative of independent media isn’t too rosy, seeing as they operate in a ‘deeply fractured’ landscape. As an example close to home, he mentioned Concordia’s local media, which for all its efforts and relatively robust funding lacks effectiveness and technological savvy at reaching out the world beyond campus.

“On the one hand these media are very specific in terms of what platform they’re delivering on. With what’s happening at [Concordia] and McGill and UQAM and UdeM, the students have more than $4 million annually in financing—but the outcome for these dollars is very low. Why? Because right now the reality is that people when they’re searching for information on the Internet the traffic is going towards multimedia multiplatform delivery. The mainstream corporate sector … there’ll be audio, there’ll video, and there’ll be text, and they’ll be delivering in a newspaper format and a web format. If Concordia students really want to do something, you have democratic ways to change the realities of these islands of media, and bring them together to have very successful multiplat multimedia outlet that can have much more effect, opening this media out to the community to participate in it, to have access to training,”  he said, citing his time at CUTV in the 2012 student protests as an example of positive coverage that outshone mainstream reporting.

“CUTV was successful at the time [of the 2012 student protests] because of its ability to create a symbiosis between all the social media online, around a live broadcast, with a symbiosis of this live broadcast live-stream equipment, and the bodies of a whole team on the street at the forefront of the social movement, broadcasting you live unedited images from the frontlines.”

Whatever the nature of the reporting, Laframboise reiterated at the end something all the panelists seemed to agree with “You’re always going to get flak no matter what you write. It doesn’t matter. Everybody’s biased in one way or another.”

Student Life

Panti Bliss strips down homophobia, performance, and gender identity

Emer O’Toole and Miss Panti Bliss to host talk at Concordia

“Your name is knickers?!”

This is the reaction “accidental activist” Rory O’Neill usually receives from people when introduced to his notorious drag queen alter ego, Miss Panti Bliss.

Though, there aren’t many people left in Ireland who aren’t already familiar with O’Neill and Panti. He skyrocketed to fame last year after he appeared on Ireland’s Saturday Night Show and publicly called out certain right-wing Irish newspaper columnists for being homophobic. The ensuing fallout prompted one of the largest national public debates about homophobia and a call for action within the gay community, which led directly into the upcoming marriage equality referendum taking place in May.

Yet, according to O’Neill, the whole hullabaloo, now cheekily referred to as Pantigate, was just a case of putting his foot in his mouth.

“I say I’m an ‘accidental activist’ because I seem to get myself into a lot of trouble, and in order to get myself out of trouble I have to defend myself,” he said. “[Pantigate] became a big story, with the columnists suing me and the broadcaster, until eventually the lawyers for the broadcaster decided to cut their losses and pay out, and that turned what had been a relatively small story into a whole discussion that involved everything from homophobia and how Ireland treats gay people, to censorship, to freedom of speech issues.”

Canadian supporters flocked to Concordia University last year to hear O’Neill, as Panti, in discussion with Concordia Canadian-Irish Studies professor Dr. Emer O’Toole, who specializes in culture and performance arts with an interest in gender issues.

“We were really bouncing off of the Pantigate scenario, and how troubling it is how straight people could sue gay people for using the word homophobic,” said O’Toole. “I know that Panti/Rory was overwhelmed with the Canadian interest in Irish queer stuff.”

On Feb. 16, Panti will be back at Concordia to once again sit down with O’Toole as part of The Globe and Mail “Thinking Out Loud” series across Canada.

“We’ll be discussing gender identity, how it’s constructed, how we experience it, whether or not there’s something essential about gender identity,” said O’Toole about what’s on tap for this year’s discussion.

For O’Neill, gender and performance are inextricably linked. As Panti, O’Neill operates under many labels: spectacle, nonconformist, activist, performer, other. This makes him privy to all sorts of judgments and confidences, for better or for worse.

“When I’m dressed as a giant cartoon woman in public, people feel very free to say things to me that they would never say to me dressed as a guy,” he said.

This includes having total strangers coming up to Panti at a bar, and spilling their deepest, darkest secrets. Secrets like admitting to having had sex with their cousins.

O’Neill says that strangers’ openness with him is all to do with the deep roots of misogyny in our society. People see a man dressed as a woman and think that the man is demeaning himself in some way. In the case of dressing in exaggerated drag gear, this seems to invite people to see O’Neill and other drag queens as less-than-real caricatures or spectacles of people.

“They feel I’m someone they can just tell this secret to and it’s safe. I’ve demeaned myself so I can’t be judgmental or horrified,” he said. “That also plays into how people allow drag queens to say things to them that they would never allow a guy in a suit to say. The way they let puppets or cartoons say things that people can’t get away with.”

The same theory is more controversial on the flip side of the coin, when women dress as men, or adopt non-conforming gender traits.

“When a woman dresses masculinely, people give her a bit more respect, in an odd way because it makes them uncomfortable, but they see it as her elevating herself somehow,” mused O’Neill.

O’Toole, however, had a personal experience in this realm when she decided to forgo removing body hair to challenge society’s notions of femininity, and wound up enjoying her 15 minutes of fame because of it.

“All you’re really doing is saying ‘this convention is arbitrary and it doesn’t have to be this way’ but the amount of shock and irrational anger that people display to your transgression can be really quite overwhelming,” she said. “When this constructed social norm becomes such a part of what we understand as feminine that we actually see women as disgusting and abhorrent if we don’t conform to it.”

In any case, the upcoming discussion between Bliss and O’Toole is sure to tackle the broad implications and tiniest nuances of all that makes up gender identity and performance.

So, the final question remains, why did O’Neill name himself after an undergarment? Again, it was all a bit of an accident.

“When I was in Japan I was in a double act with an American drag queen named Lurlene, and I was using the name Leticia. Japanese people have great difficulty with the ‘L’ and ‘R’ sounds, so being called Lurlene and Leticia was just really awful, nobody could ever remember our names, nobody could ever pronounce them,” he said. “So we decided we would pick a group name, and we wanted to use English words because that was sort of our schtick in Japan, but they should be words that people could remember. So the name we chose was ‘Candy Panty’ because candy and panty are both words that had been adopted into the Japanese language. But what happened was that people just started calling her Candy and me Panty. I used to wear very short skirts at the time, I was very young. So eventually we were called Candy and Panty, and the name stuck. I guess it’s a bit embarrassing, but it’s hard to forget!”

Unforgettable—that is one thing that O’Neill, as Panti or as himself, certainly is.

Join Emer O’Toole and Miss Panti Bliss on Feb.16 at 7 p.m in the D.B Clarke Theatre (Hall Building). A signing of O’Neill’s bestselling autobiographical book, Woman in the Making will take place after the talk.

Student Life

Discussing identity and politics of adoption

Annette Kassaye and Nakuset explore their identities as adoptees in first event of series

On Friday Jan. 30 the Centre for Gender Advocacy will begin a semester-long series focused around race, gender, and political resistance.

Events will be held every month, each one tackling one particular nuance of these intersections between gender and cultural background.

“There is no possible way, as we see it, to separate gender form race or from class or anything else,” said Maya Rolbin-Ghanie, Publicity and Promotions Coordinator for the Centre for Gender Advocacy.

Annette Kassaye and Nakuset will discuss their experience as adoptees. Photo courtesy of the Centre for Gender Advocacy

“We wanted to have a space where some of these issues could be focused on more than they generally are, we feel that any kind of feminist discussion that isn’t looking at race or cultural identities is quite limited in many ways,” said Rolbin-Ghanie. “It weakens any struggle when intersections aren’t acknowledged.”

The first event, “The Racial and Cultural Politics of Adoption: Adoptee Perspectives”, will be a discussion on politics of adoption, with guest speakers Annette Kassaye and Nakuset.

Kassaye, a Concordia graduate, is a transracial Ethiopian adoptee, who was adopted into an anglophone family from the Eastern Townships when she was a year old. She currently writes for an online magazine, Gazillion Voices and Lost Daughters, which aims to be a forum for adoptees to have their voices heard. She is also the founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, an organization which also serves as a platform for Ethiopian adoptees to share their stories.

“Adoption is much more of a political issue than people may realize, and being an adoptee can be as well,” said Rolbin-Ghanie. “She’s going to talk about how women, especially women of colour, come up against certain issues when they’ve been adopted into white families.”

Nakuset is Cree from Saskatewan, adopted into a Montreal Jewish family. Growing up, she found it difficult to assume her own identity as a Native person within her adopted family, and has dedicated her adult life to advocating for Native rights. She is the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, and works with Aboriginal children in care.

The discussion is sure to be eye-opening for anybody interested in identity issues, as well as the general cultural and political implications of adoption, from an adoptee’s eyes.

“Whether or not somebody has been adopted, having this kind of discussion can bring to the forefront a lot of identity issues that a lot of us struggle with,” said Rolbin-Ghanie. “So many of us have to deal with being isolated identity-wise in so many ways, whether its race, being a minority, language, class, gender, and I think the discussion on adoption will raise some really interesting questions about notions of adoption, and how many people see it as a really benevolent act to adopt a child, but theres so many racial and cultural undertones and implications to it.”

The talk will be held Fri Jan. 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. in EV 1.605, 1515 Ste-Catherine St. W.


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