Like Holland, Toronto is teeming with great dykes. And like Holland, Toronto would struggle to exist without them.
Dykes are everywhere in Toronto, quietly and efficiently holding things together, being both attractive and practical, just like the dykes in Holland. That’s where I will leave this analogy, though, because obviously the dykes in Holland exist to keep everything dry, and that is the very opposite of what the dykes in Toronto do. And that’s why I pitched this column to Xtra. Because the dykes in this city are doing some really hot shit, and there should be a space dedicated to showcasing that fact.
I was wrestling with the theme of my debut column, so I couldn’t believe my good luck when I ran into Atom Cianfarani the other day at The Common, my local coffee shop. The topic that came up consistently was “emergency” – because it is an emergency, after all, this lack of consistent, engaged attention on dyke art, politics and events.
I like talking with Atom because, like me, she is obsessed with the end of the world, yet for very different reasons. I can’t wait to show off my survival skills to girls, while Atom wants to make sure everyone is crisis-proof and fashion forward. “I believe that a little bit of good styling will make any situation more bearable,” she says. Atom, who had a very exciting life as a sustainable-fabrics clothing designer in New York and now designs green roofs, doesn’t waste any time daydreaming about hacking up zombies in front of sexy bitches; no, she’s gone and actually done something useful by creating kicky and genuinely practical survival kits geared specifically to queer folks.
“Did you know,” Atom says, pulling a red hanky out of her right front pocket, “that a hanky has more than 30 uses?” I did not, but I certainly would like to know what it means when you go around with a hanky in your front pocket instead of the back one. Oh wait. I think I just figured it out.
Atom is showing her queer survival kits at Videofag on Jan 17 as part of a series curated by Natalie Kouri-Towe, Videofag’s Thinker in Residence this month.
“The Queer Apocalypse evening came out of my recent obsession with talking about post-apocalyptic survival,” says Kouri-Towe. “As an activist, my work is focused on social change in the present, but the ease with which I increasingly began to imagine our society unravelling due to environmental disaster got me thinking about how quickly our contexts can change.”
Kouri-Towe conceived of Queer Apocalypse as “a forum for thinking playfully about what it would mean to survive, or even not want to survive, an apocalypse. It’s also a way to think about how queer theory talks about queer life and refusing mainstream narratives that call on us to prioritize the survival of our species by reinvesting in heteronormative forms of reproduction. Instead, I’m more interested in revisiting lesbian separatism as a way to think about what queer survival could look like through communal living, for example.”
Like so many dykes, Kouri-Towe is also interested in skill building, “so bringing together Atom’s incredible knowledge of survival skills into the conversation on wanting/not wanting to survive gives some material meat to the conversation.”
Atom acquired her survivalist training “in New York City, of course. My entire practice/life work is founded in a love of garbage and an ideology of ecological preservation.”
Atom’s coined a couple of phrases to try to explain her work: “upcycled commodity designer” and “urban bioremediation artist.”
“Maybe initially I was forced into using materials that were cast off because I couldn’t purchase new ones,” she says. “My first runway show in NYC, produced by Willi Ninja, was made from a 90-metre roll of white parachute material – surely left over from the late ’80s – and recycled bike inner tubes. I did what I had to do. I’m also really into low-tech problem solving, MacGyver-style. Survival is about making it work. I can do that.”
Of course, it’s probably a dyke thing, and in a larger sense a gay thing, to always be thinking about massive upheaval and survival (see the work of the Lesbian Rangers, for example). So many of us have been told all our lives that we are headed to hell in a hand basket; it’s no wonder the end of days is of particular interest. Lived experience with crappy medical/social treatment also tells us we have to speak out for and take care of ourselves and our queer sisters and brothers.
Marcilyn Cianfarani (no relation to Atom, oddly enough) is a paramedic currently polishing off her MA in disaster and emergency management at Royal Roads University. Her focus is on how queers are treated by emergency services during and after major disasters.
Marcilyn has a lot of really compelling reasons for doing her work — to promote awareness to the mainstream emergency services and general public, to name just one — but the bottom line is that she just doesn’t want to see the shit that happened to queers during the G20 ever happen again. “There is a huge gap between the practitioner community [first responders and emergency services management personnel] and the academic community in disaster and emergency management,” she says. “The academic community continually pumps out this amazing research material; however, it doesn’t get translated to the practitioner community — the people who need to be reading the research in order to make positive social change.”
Marcilyn says there are challenges in emergency services, especially concerning leadership. “Because I am an operational paramedic and not in an emergency services management position, I, sadly, don’t have the capacity to make change internally. I can, however, use my research to create workshops and training manuals that practitioners can use to support the health and well-being of LGBTQ people in the future of disaster and emergency management. Working alongside The 519, I am hopeful we can implement disaster exercises and train with the broader emergency management community within the city. Creating awareness about the specific needs and capacities of LGBTQI2S people in disaster and emergency management is an important step toward supporting disaster resilience.”
Yes, this is The Town Dyke, friends, where I will be covering the creative and political endeavours of this city’s resilient queer female population and where “no opening is too big or too small.” Drop me a line and tell what you’re up to. Please note that I do not use social media, so I appreciate you going to the trouble of emailing press releases and ideas here: [email protected].