- Queering Utopia:Deep Lez and the Future of Hope
Unca Trans sits on a tree stump in the midst of a viridescent Ontario field. Legs crossed, occasionally tugging at his beard, he narrates his return to the land and the agrarian revival of the 2020s. Cloud shadows pass in accelerated time and Unca Trans fidgets in his stop-animation puppetry as he describes the radical social movements of the early 2000s and how, following the success of First Nations' land claims in 2015, he left the comfort of his urban genderqueer enclave to take over his family's farm and organize rural communities around issues of food justice and transgender health advocacy. The 'Unca Trans' short film—just over five minutes, produced by Allyson Mitchell and Christina Zeidler—appears to present day audiences as a utopian fragment, at once a remembering of a better future and an insistence on the radical potential of our contemporary moment. The film was produced in 2007, though the clip we are shown is identified through opening text as a segment of recordings "recently discovered in the collections held in the archives of the Canadian National Library, June 2077." The interview with Unca Trans is said to have taken place in 2045 when "a documentary film crew interviewed people involved in the major social upheavals that occurred at the beginning of the 21st century" (Mitchell and Zeidler 2007). For its 2012 viewers, the film shows the discovery of a ghost from a time that has not yet come—an appearance that calls our attention to the possibilities comprising our present.
When first introducing Unca Trans to a multigenerational room at the "In Amerika They Call Us Dykes: Lesbian Lives in the 1970s" conference in 2010, I experienced an utter collapse of such present possibility. I found myself in the wreckage of social movements, far from the interlocking feminist concerns of land rights, gender and health justice. In the [End Page 126] two panel presentations before mine—on the erotic nature of archival historiography and a rereading of Stone Butch Blues—several women had stormed out of the room, each declaring loudly that such academic language was antifeminist and that the younger generation was apolitical and once yelling, '"Nonconsensual phallus!'" when an image of a dildo was presented in a slide.1 We were the first panel after a heated plenary that had erupted into a debate about the exclusion of trans women from the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival; we were one of few panels at the conference overtly addressing trans identities. I held my breath, waited my turn, and thought: What Would Unca Trans Do? How might he help to summon a collective dialogue in this room, acknowledging the links between academic work, lived experience, and direct action? How might such an anticipatory ghost figure urge us to reexamine the necessary multigenerational relationship between feminisms and utopian longings? I frantically searched for accessible and academically permissible words to ask, How can we begin to recognize one another as likely allies in building antiracist and trans-supportive movements?
These will be my guiding questions in the exploration that follows, which I pursue in part by reading a classic lesbian feminist text coauthored by one of the women who left the room that day (though perhaps not in anger)—the Radicalesbians' (1970) "The Woman Identified Woman" statement—in conversation with samples of current lesbian and queer discourse. I draw generously from José Esteban Muñoz's concept of "queer utopian memory," outlined as a critique of the present shaped by desires for aspects of an uncertain past and a longing for a queer future (2009, 35). My analysis is also profoundly shaped by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's "reparative reading," described as a generous analysis of texts, which asks not what is true, but what can a given interpretation do? (2003, 123). In other words, I attempt an alchemy of those seemingly irresolvable tensions between bodies and gender and generations within contemporary feminisms. Through this I hope to locate potentialities within a text from the past, whether historically true or not, that are useful for developing strategies for coalition-based feminist politics today.