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Sara Waldbillig challenges the perception of identity

By in Culture

The upcoming “One-Queer Show: Challenging the Identity of Woman” at the Refinery is both a personal snapshot of its star and author, Sara Waldbillig and a historical document.

“We were very conscious in deciding the title of the show. ‘Woman’ comes with certain connotations about my biology, so we went with queer. It’s harder to put your finger on,” Waldbillig said.

The concept of “woman” is still very much central to the show, which is split between a history of lesbianism and an exploration of queer identity. Waldbillig identifies her personally as both lesbian and queer, depending in part on who she is speaking to. In the show, she engages with a deep academic history in order to understand the many applications of those terms.

“Queer” is an especially difficult term to pinpoint, carrying political, personal and sexual meanings. It is something of an umbrella term for gender and sexual minorities.

“A lot of the show was focused on questioning if you can be both lesbian and queer. For me the middle-ground is ‘woman,’ because both have discussed being a woman,” she said. “For so many years, I didn’t explore gender, but I’ve always talked about sexuality.”

These are far from the only labels included in the show, which draws from 1950s lesbian pulp fiction, the historical experiences of butch and femme women, the lesbian sex wars around the porn of the 70s and 80s, and the development of queer theory.

“Our identity labels are still important because they affect communities,” Waldbillig said.

Waldbillig is active in the local spoken-word poetry scene and realized that her poetry could be the perfect medium to share her explorations of gender and sexuality.

Waldbillig’s show is an extension of research work she is producing with the help of a one-time grant from the Neil Richard collection of Gender and Sexual Diversity. She felt that a performance would more effectively spark conversation about her research than an essay or another more traditional form of presentation could.

“By making [this work] into performance it will be more accessible,” Waldbillig said.

In addition to performing several original works of poetry in a variety of female-centred personas, Waldbillig has produced a program which includes all of the works for audience members to take home. It is a true product of research, with extended bibliographies included for all of the works.

“I would read all of this theory and pick out phrases, then put them together into these poems with my personal experiences,” she said of her work process.

The resulting show promises to be intensely personal and highly educational. A true performance poet, Waldbillig’s characters are extensions of herself, enhanced and created by costume choices.

“You can put on or take off gender, or identity,” Waldbillig said.

“If you put on baggy pants and a tweed jacket, are you butch? If I put on a dress, does that make me a femme?” she asks.

Academic or pulp, queer or lesbian, woman or otherwise, femme or butch. In Waldbillig’s work, all of the above are part of the answer.

“One-Queer Show” plays at the refinery Galleria on Sunday Oct. 7 at 7:00 p.m. and Monday Oct. 8 at 2:00 p.m.

Image: Supplied

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