This is a letter response to queer community critiques from events in Bristol (2009) and Brighton (2011), UK about Travel Queeries and how it displays a lack of critical whiteness, thus perpetuating racism. Critiques of the film highlight how it does not engage in strong critiques of queer whiteness that are dominant in many western queer communities, while maintaining queer culture and media representation as the privilege of white middle class, able-bodied persons. These critiques of both the film and the communities it reflects are totally valid. They bring up important dialogues about assumed privilege, whiteness and the perpetuated lack of voice, space and visibility of queer people of color in queer media and community.
While my first response was surprise and feeling defensive of a project I and so many others worked on for years, as I stepped back to take another look at this project in a larger context, I realized that it totally makes sense to critique racism and Travel Queeries since the film perpetuates queer whiteness as a norm. Throughout the production, there were many conversations about what it meant to represent such a large community as the ‘queer scene in Europe’: what cities would be included, what events and spaces, who to interview and why, and how to show our experiences (me and the other producers, white North Americans) of queer European scenes, while also presenting varied voices and experiences.
The people asked for interviews were met through queer parties, festivals and online networks, people I connected with as an English speaking white queer female/femme American. While I started as an outsider, through networking and meeting more people from different queer scenes, many people through this project have become close friends and I now live in Berlin. While I will never be “from here,” I do consider this to be my community. That is, I do not assume a role of being someone from the outside who is coming in and documenting others and then leaving. This is a community, regardless of how long or where I may end up living,that I am invested in. It is where I wish to engage in both coming together to celebrate and enjoy one another’s company, as well as doing challenging work around constructive criticism, personal/political/community growth and reflection, and healing work that results in actual social change.
The main thing I hear in the critiques of Travel Queeries being named a racist film is a strong response from queer people of color needing to be heard and seen instead of continuing to see reflections of white dominant queerness as the norm, which is what the film reflects. I think this is a totally appropriate and reasonable response. Travel Queeries does reflect white dominant western queerness as radical and barely touches upon the problematic aspects of this privileged ‘activist culture.’ Presenting white centric queerness is problematic in that it perpetuates the invisibility of the complex realities of queerness that people of color and other marginalized people experience. Issues of racism are important and it’s imperative that racism is being pushed to the forefront of queer community dialogues and self-reflections as it is often brushed over or side lined.
There is a reason why Travel Queeries is white centric, because most of the queer scenes in Europe are very white. There are of course queer people of color in our communities, but in many ways whiteness is maintained as the queer norm. This is a larger conversation about shifting norms and priorities and challenging comfort, privilege and structures. These conversations are also about looking at our queer communities and media reflections and representations beyond queer whiteness to include the true complexities of queer identities and realities. Looking also at how actions like how dress code, language and rhetoric, and body politics maintain these dynamics.
Travel Queeries is a unique film in that it represents a scene/community in a moment in time (filmed over two summers) of queer Euro culture. I think the strong reactions to the film really speak firstly to how strong media is, and secondly make it very clear how little media representation there is of our communities and queer culture. While touring the film, I hosted ‘Queer Media Activism’ workshops where I talked about the radical nature of creating our own media as queer people and what it means to have something you can look at and see yourself reflected in. This is something we all as queer people sorely need more of and was one of the many reason for creating the film. While many queer people had really positive responses to the film, feeling validated and having aspects of their queer identities and communities represented, it makes total sense that queer people of color would in fact be disappointed that finally a ‘radical queer’ documentary film still did not include their realities or full experiences of queerness and community. I have been left thinking – what can I learn from this, what can we as a community learn from this, and what now?
With destruction and dismantling come creation and change. I see the use of constructive criticism as a part of deep and positive change and growth in our communities and queer culture. This experience has really challenged my assumptions around not only my whiteness and queer community whiteness, it has also made it very clear how much power and responsibility comes along with engaging in creating film and media. I feel proud of being a queer female/femme filmmaker and wish to continue to engage in this work, which clearly cannot be done without also engaging with issues relating to race/whiteness. I am interested in looking at owning the responsibilities that come with representing others when producing media, learning how to better create my own work.
In thinking about how to own responsibility, I have been thinking a lot about advocacy and being a better active ally to those often marginalized, even within our own ‘radical’ communities. This is the real work in living out our politics and ideals, being actively involved and stepping up to own privilege, as well as stepping down to create space for others. This is an essential act in growing and healing as a community. While this is a learning process for me also, both personally and ‘professionally,’ what might seem like a drama or disaster is in fact an opportunity for growth and reflection.
While Travel Queeries can be used in these community dialogues as a tool for reflection and change, there is also clearly a need for more queer media projects and representations of queer realities that do not only reflect white queer focuses/agendas. As we exist and work out of a DIY culture that challenges social barriers and the boundaries of ‘who can do what’ and ‘the “right” way to create work,’ moving forward in our communities by continuing to create our own media is essential. Travel Queeries is just a jumping off point for a world of the possible queer films or media projects that can exist.
I hope that people understand and appreciate that these critiques of the film are something that I have taken seriously and to heart. While this is one letter and there so many more points or issues to discuss around the film, I hope this addresses some peoples’ concerns around the film and my intentions.
In July 2011, I will be hosting a workshop-discussion at Queer Festival Copenhagen around this issue. This letter is being e-mailed out and posted on for people who wish to discuss points of race and queer media further. I will also post this letter on the Travel Queeries website as soon as I have funds to put up again.
Love and Solidarity,
Elliat Graney-Saucke, Director/Executive Producer
Margaritte Knezek, Director of Photography/Co-Producer