To speak and/as connect—beyond the silencing of violence, and the violence that is silence

Amelia Walker, Travis Wisdom, Shawna Marks, Sarah Pearce and Biannca Challans

“Before writing trauma this way I did not think of cycle, smell, check

Remember you are there you live here a home changes”

—Cee Devlin, Begin: now go deeper

On July 13–14 2017 the fourth annual South Australian Gender, Sex and Sexualities conference took place at the University of South Australia’s City West campus. Founded in 2014 by Petra Mosmann and Adele Lausberg, the annual staging of the conference brings together academics, artists and activists who work in the gender, sex and sexuality space. We write “staging” because of the necessity that this conference act as a meeting place between these three, often separate, sites of critical inquiry, each of which addresses violence, in all its articulations. The metaphor of the stage reflects a critically creative intervention into contemporary society, knowledge, and culture—an installation that calls out, as theatre, literature and art often call out, the absurd cruelty in oft-unspoken everyday customs, norms, rituals of language, and other practices that ultimately need not limit and harm life and lives as they presently do. The stage also represents a coming-together of those who want to—who must, for survival’s sake—enact this calling-out in and upon the various scenes and stages we daily play upon as thinkers, writers, makers, academics, queers, artists and/or human animals in this violent world. The conference then represents an opportunity for a coming-together of like-minded individuals to collectively strategise and share ways to make change happen. In support of this coming-together, the conference provides a necessarily safe and supportive space in which we can confront all that renders us unsafe, or indeed tries to squeeze us out, to cram us down, to deprive us of space(s) for simply living, loving, breathing, speaking, for being and becoming who we are.

The full title of the 2017 conference was “Art(i)culations of Violence: Gender, sex, sexuality and the politics of injury and revivification” (henceforth “Art(i)culations”, for simplicity). Our focus on violence and the redressing thereof came at the suggestion of committee member Shawna Marks, who proposed that the 2017 conference raise awareness of the violences people face, including intersections between racially-motivated and gender-based violences. Fellow committee member Travis Wisdom then suggested that this be adapted to also encompass non-consensual bodily modifications on children, and that the conference highlight ways in which intersex and non-intersex people in the LGBTQIA+ community can work together to make our world less violent and more liveable. To support this aim, we sought the expertise of Michael Noble, who—in addition to his important PhD research into the life and works of seventeenth-century author and translator Nicholas Culpeper—has long been recognised and respected as a pioneer for intersex activism in Australia and elsewhere. A scholar of profound wisdom, intelligence and ethicality, Noble invested incredible energy into the conference. He became an educator and a mentor for us all, generously sharing his knowledge and experience, often exhibiting commendable patience with us as we struggled to grasp issues that had not previously crossed our radars. Without his insights and recommendations, “Art(i)culations” could not have been what it was.

Noble enlisted keynote speaker Morgan Carpenter, the co-executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia, who spoke compellingly about intersex bodily modification, autonomy and consent. Our other keynote was the creative writer and researcher Quinn Eades, who specialises in writing the body, and who with poetic eloquence probed critical issues of queer wounds and woundings, ghosts and ghostings. Eades encouraged the audience to move around during his talk and gently guided those present through topics of trauma and violence, a move that acknowledged the safety inherent in the conference space and how this underpinned the aims of the event. Eades also delivered a queer writing workshop, in which he guided participants safely through processes of writing their own bodies and bodily experiences. This workshop was attended by general community members as well as academics, reflecting our goal to bring together activists, artists, and academics in the conference space. This special edition then is an exercise in sharing work at the nexus of art, activism, and academia in that many pieces written in or as a result of the collaborative, community writing workshop are published in this special issue, some as peer-reviewed works of creative writing research, and some simply as non-peer-reviewed works of creative writing in its own right.1

The conference focus on violence prompted all committee members to consider the many forms and processes that violence can take and through which it may occur. Crucially, violence is not only—or perhaps ever—restricted to the physical. Assaults upon the body leave their scars in places unseen, as is observable in cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and as queer writing on wounds and wounding eloquently details (Brown 1993; Munt 2007; Eades 2017). Furthermore, there exist many forms of violence in which no physical wound or action necessarily occurs at all. For instance, postcolonial theory elucidates the very real, lived and material implications of epistemic violences—when domineering cultures silence, devalue, intervene in, co-opt and degrade, or otherwise suppress the knowledges of the people they attempt to suppress (Spivak 1988; Morris 2010). This often entails linguistic violence—depriving people of the words and grammar needed to speak, write, think, read, hear and thus live as they (or maybe we) desperately need to live (Fanon 1952, 18). Additional kinds of linguistic violence include naming, shaming and labelling, among other semiotic acts, as Judith Butler’s early work on performativity details (Butler 1993), and as any bullied schoolchild ever stung by the common (but senseless) adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” would likely agree. Then there are psychological violences (Elouard and Essén 2013), social violences (Wilchins 2000), cultural violences (Oyedemi 2016) and violences of privilege (Harris 2017), to name but a few of many that bear so harshly upon so many lives.

“Art(i)culations” sought presentations discussing violence in all its many modes and permutations. By bringing these presentations together, we aimed to recognise (to identify and radically re-think) intersections between different violences, as well as potential alliances between groups and individuals subject to violence in differing, yet connectable ways. We were inspired by the seminal and ongoing work of Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw (Crenshaw 1991, 2018), among other proponents of “intersectionality”, who have since the late twentieth century asserted “the need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed” (Crenshaw 1991, 1245). “Intersections” had indeed been the theme of our previous (2016) conference. Partially as a result of conversations arising at that conference, we were, however, conscious of certain risks that arise when white queers and/or feminists and/or people of privilege attempt to engage (with) intersectionality, a theory notably born of black feminist political struggles.2 Ironically, even in the very act of seeking to change and undo situations of privilege, privileged activists and/as academics are notoriously capable of violence and harm, including through the “whitening of intersectionality” (Bilge 2015). To temper this risk, feminist sociologist Sirma Bilge of the Université de Montréal recommends practicing intersectionality together with Stuart Hall’s theory of articulation, which by Bilge’s (2014, 65) account doesn’t search to unite differences under one singular political banner but instead encourages an ethic of non-oppressive collaboration. 3

Hall’s theory of articulation (1985) plays on two meanings of the verb “articulate”: to speak, and to connect. Articulation can thus be understood as the radical act of speaking or otherwise making known (for instance, through writing) connections previously unrealised. The unrealised connection might in some cases be one that existed but was not spoken about—for instance, the connection between some violent act and the later distress caused. In other cases, the connection could represent an opportunity to forge connections between things that are not necessarily always connected, but which can be, in certain situations and for certain purposes—as in the case of a strategic alliance between groups whose needs and experiences are vastly different, yet sometimes compatible, as the needs and experiences of the many diverse groups implied within the acronym LGBTQIA+ are arguably different yet compatible. For Hall, articulation was about working “in and with difference” (1985, 92)—a way to find common ground and pursue common agendas without overriding important differences, and without one group’s cause becoming co-opted or exploited by another. As cultural studies theorist Tony Bennett, a contemporary of Hall’s, notes, articulation thus offers both a theory and a practice—a praxis—“according to which the elements comprising any hegemonic formation could always be broken apart, and be given new meanings and political directions, through the conduct of politics as—for Stuart—mainly a set of ideological-discursive struggles” (Bennett 2016, 284).

In line with Bennett’s explication, a key benefit Bilge (2014, 69) identifies in articulation is its emphasis on relationships of “contingence”, which suggests joining or touching without merging or absorbing the one into the other, always maintaining the possibility of separation at a later point, and which also evokes contingency as possibility or chance. This includes chances and possibilities of the incidental and relational, which for us serves as a reminder of the key ways in which chance meetings, incidents and interactions often shape creative processes, especially those of the arts, arts research, and indeed all research—for these three, while not conflatable, are articulable in that they may all be called processes of knowledge-creation, albeit via different methods, in differing contexts and for distinct purposes. Hence the bracketed small “i” in “Art(i)culations”, which draws emphasis to the word “art” and thus to the important place presentations of or about visual art, theatre, poetry, prose, music and other creative mediums held at our 2017 conference—as they have in previous years and, we hope, shall in future continue to hold.

The works collected in this special issue all, in and of themselves, enact their own creative and critical articulations. Bringing them together within one publication evokes points of contingence between them and the issues they raise. The special issue is separated into three sections, each of which includes art images, critical research papers and creative writing. Each section reflects particular sub-themes of the overarching theme. Section one focuses on historic, institutionalised, social, linguistic, epistemic and symbolic violences, showing how these seemingly intangible forces inflict deeply-felt violences upon breathing bodies and lives. For instance, in his rigorous critique of government-driven and institutional narratives about anti-queer violence in 1980s Australia, Curtis Redd asks whether such narratives are “about addressing and redressing the past, or… about rewriting it?” As Redd points out, this rewriting obscures both past and present acts and implications of anti-queer violence—a “subjugation of queer knowledges” that ironically enacts “a form of symbolic violence in itself”. Similar points are raised by Alex Dunkin, who scrutinises Australian patriotism and national holiday rituals, illuminating “how blind adherence to socially condoned behaviour may lead to devastating outcomes”.

Section one also includes two poems, one by Nat Texler and one by Sarah Pearce, that show how anti-queer violence in contemporary society is not only or simply perpetuated by straights against queers, but also—thanks to internalised phobias—bubbles up in and jeopardises our interpersonal relationships. Texler depicts this through the speaker’s account of being threatened and punched by an intimate partner. Pearce reflects on the felt impact delivered through a biphobic and self-denying lover’s biting words of rejection: “with no cock, it’s just foreplay.” Following this, Jessica Liebelt’s “The Gender Reveal Party” likewise emphasises violences perpetuated symbolically through words and naming, this time with an emphasis on the deep harm inflicted—especially but not exclusively on transgender and non-binary people—through gender-assignment and the emergent cisnormative social ritual of parties at which parents and their friends celebrate the child’s assigned gender in ways that deepen the difficulty of that child (or adult) later rejecting the false assignment and/or (re)claiming their authentic gender. The final piece in the section, “mMyth is” by poetic duo In Her Interior (Francesca Da Rimini and Virginia Barratt), then reminds of the violent ways in which assigned binary gender is reinforced by cultural myths that insidiously permeate so much of contemporary day-to-day life. “mMyth is” also recalls the points raised in the papers by Redd and by Dunkin—about the force and effects of narrative, historicising, patriotism and social ritual—thus issuing a warning not to underestimate myth, nor the symbolic practices through which myths and their social implications are sustained. These implications are inferred in the section’s selection of art images, by Keith Giles, which reference historic tropes, and in which the faces of queer figures are removed, defaced or obscured, signifying erasure and/or misrepresentation at the hands of hegemonic institutions and social forces.

If the first of this issue’s three sections considers histories, myths and their (re)inscription on (and in) our present, the second even more strongly emphasises the real lived impact of contemporary violences on contemporary lives. In particular, it raises problems of toxic masculinities, as reflected in Jessica Seymour’s analysis of how these manifest in the recent reboot of the Mad Max film series, in Shawna Marks’s paper about stealthing, sexual violence and sporting culture, and in Jessie Byrne’s examination of “wounded” masculinities in Australian crime fiction. Brave poems about rape by Heather McGinn and Gabrielle Everall speak of violent experiences that in our society still too-often go unspoken and unreported. So too do incidences of violence against sex workers, as the compelling account by Angel Parker lays bare in no uncertain terms. Lydia Heise’s photographic art pieces reflect this theme of silence-as-violence. For instance, the image also selected as our special issue cover depicts white-petticoated legs swamped in hairy curls of tape ribbon. The figure’s head and upper torso are amputated by the image’s frame, suggesting disempowerment and objectification. The positioning of the tape meanwhile readable as a comment on desires spoken-over, drowned out and thus suppressed by dominant, domineering noises and forces.

The third and final section of the issue then turns to squarely face violence upon bodies and/or/as violence at the hands of medicine, science and the law. The cover art of this section, by Sonja Hindrum, features images within images—posters or projections of children displayed in medical and/or scientific settings, recognisable through the presence of intravenous fluid bags, charts, test tubes and other equipment. That the children within these images are framed within frames enacts a distancing and containment that speaks vulnerability. This evokes the exploitative ways in which medicine, science and related institutions violently subject the bodies—and thus lives—of intersex and non-intersex children to non-consensual interventions including but exceeding irreversible surgical and hormonal interventions. These are issues fleshed out in the collaborative interview piece between Travis Wisdom, Quinn Eades, Aileen Kennedy and Amelia Walker, which confronts current practices of non-consensual bodily modification in Australia and elsewhere and demands bodily autonomy for everyone.

The second piece in section three, by Gabrielle Everall, likewise evokes issues of consent and autonomy, in the case of current practices affecting those individuals deemed “mentally ill”. This includes enforcement of medications that sometimes bear devastating side-effects, and the socially-normalised assumption that people deemed “mentally ill” cannot properly understand or speak for their (and our) own needs. The placement of Everall’s article in this section serves as a reminder of the present need for LGBTQIA+ communities to think harder about issues of inclusivity. It particularly reminds us of the need to create spaces accessible to and safe for neurodiverse people, as well as people with mobility requirements. Articulations between neurodiversity, mental health and queerness are also readable in Cee Devlin’s two critical and creative pieces, both of which evoke the psychological effects of violence and trauma through “body-writing as a political, literary intervention strategy that can be harnessed by the traumatised subject”, in Amelia Walker’s re-membering of lithium carbonate’s bodily side-effects, and in Alison Bennett’s stunning “Leaving My Body”, which articulates physical and psychological forms of violence and trauma, demonstrating the intricate ways in which these often inextricably interweave.

Through poetry, art, storytelling, theorising, research and critical prose, the papers in this special issue thus forge their articulations between art, activism and academia in order to call out violences including but exceeding the social, epistemic, psychological, symbolic, linguistic, institutionalised and/as physical. They question medicine, science and law, confronting issues of patriotism, cultural myth-making, cis- and heteronormativity, white privilege, neurotypical privilege and ableism. They also signal contingencies—points of potential convergence and collaboration—between different groups and individuals subjected to violence. Yet, in the spirit of Stuart Hall and articulation, it is important to remember that this work only matters if it is ongoing in the world—if it carries on and through into activism as a process always in-progress, always subject to its own continual critique, re-evaluation and re-making. Hence, it is important to note that the gathering of these papers was a signal to us not only of what the conference raised, but of all that remains yet to raise and/or yet to explore from the perspectives and to the degrees of detail present circumstances demand. For instance, although the LGBTQIA+ community’s need to better support neurodiverse allies does, as noted, surface within this issue, we feel this is an issue requiring greater attention at future conferences and especially requiring attention from those identifying as both neurodiverse and queer. In order to facilitate this and other necessarily ongoing discussions, the 2018 conference is themed around “Space and Place: Conceptions of movement, belonging and boundaries”, with the intention of producing another special issue to redress what this one doesn’t say and build on what it does by questioning how we move through communities, institutions and the world at large. Pertinent, then, is the title of this issue’s final piece, by Cee Devlin—“Begin: now go deeper”. That is ultimately what all of the critical and creative works gathered here individually and collectively remind us we must do. For we have and are always and already, yet barely just begun.


[1] Creative writing and visual art papers that have undergone peer-review are accompanied by ERA research statements. If the creative works are published without an ERA statement, this indicates that they have been treated not as research pieces, but simply as literary or artistic works in their own right. Works in the latter category have nonetheless undergone rigorous selection processes equivalent to those that would apply for any standard literary or art journal.

2 It must here be noted that our 2017 conference committee was mostly white—not by deliberate design on our parts, but probably as a sad reflection of who in our society presently can and cannot with relative ease gain access to the privilege that is postgraduate study. We aim to change this situation that brings us unearned racial privileges at others’ expenses (even while this situation also simultaneously often marginalises and harms us where factors including but exceeding gender, sex, sex characteristics and sexuality are concerned).

3 Birge’s original article is published only in French, but the paraphrased summary of her argument is based on the lines “ne chercherait plus à fédérer les différences sous un toit politique unique” [not seeking to unite differences under a single political banner/roof] and “une éthique de collaborations non oppressives” [an ethic of non-oppressive collaboration] (Bilge 2014, 65). These bracketed translations are by Amelia Walker, with assistance from Christopher Hogarth, Ian Gibbins and David McInerney. However, Walker acknowledges and accepts responsibility for any inadvertent inaccuracies or errors that might remain.

Works cited

Bennett, T. (2016). The Stuart Hall Conjuncture. Cultural Studies Review, 22(1): 282-286.

Bilge, S. (2014). La pertinence de Hall pour l’étude de l’intersectionnalité. Nouvelles pratiques sociales, 26(2): 62-81.

Bilge, S. (2015). Le blanchiment de l’intersectionnalité [The Whitening of Intersectionality]. Recherches Feministes, 28(2): 9-32,307,314,319,325.

Brown, W. (1993). Wounded Attachments. Political Theory, 21(3): 390-410.

Butler, J. (1993). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. New York, NY: Routledge.

Crenshaw, K. W. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review , 43(6): 1241-1299.

Crenshaw, K. W. (2018). On intersectionality the essential writings of Kimberle Crenshaw. New York, NY: New Press.

Eades, Q. (2017). Queer Wounds: Writing Autobiography Past the Limits of Language. In Talking Bodies: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Embodiment, Gender and Identity (ed. Emma Rees). Cham, Switzerland: Springer / Palgrave Macmillan.

Elouard, Y. and Essén, B. (2013). Psychological Violence Experienced by Men Who Have Sex with Men in Puducherry, India: A Qualitative Study. Journal of Homosexuality, 60(11): 1581-1601.

Fanon, F. (1952 [1986]). Black Skin, White Masks. (trans. Charles Lam Markmann). London, UK: Pluto Press.

Hall, S. (1985). Signification, Representation, Ideology: Althusser and the Post-Structuralist Debates. Critical Studies in Mass Communication , 2(2): 91-114.

Harris, K. L. (2017). Re-situating organizational knowledge: Violence, intersectionality and the privilege of partial perspective. Human Relations, 70(3): 263-285.

Morris, R. (ed.). (2010). Can the Subaltern Speak?: Reflections on the History of an Idea. New York City, NY: Columbia University Press.

Munt, S. (2007 [2016]). Queer Attachments: The Cultural Politics of Shame. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Oyedemi, T. (2016). Beauty as violence: ‘beautiful’ hair and the cultural violence of identity erasure. Social Identities, 22(5) 1-17.

Spivak, G. C. (1988). Can the subaltern speak?. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Wilchins, R. (2000). My perspective: Words that kill; Violence against people who break gender rules is not born in a vacuum. It is born out of the smaller social violence that first robs us of our full humanity. The Advocate(Aug 29 2000), 819: 9.