Yesterday I arrived home from Food Sovereignty Convergence 2019. With our highest proportion of farmer attendees yet, I feel excited and invigorated that we will continue to create a food system. One that relies on agroecology, direct relationships, radical transparency and alternative economic models to halt climate change and biodiversity loss. To open the convergence, we heard three ‘lightning’ talks from the perspective of the women, youth, and LGBTQ communities. Here is my short presentation:
When I was approached to give a provocation on the intersection of queerness and agroecology, my first thought was ‘we probably don’t need to hear about ‘queerness’ from another cisgendered gay man’. My second thought was, ‘I wonder if can say LGBTQIA+ three times fast’.Welcome to the alphabet quagmire of the queer community and the taxonomic paradox of trying to identify people that often, by fluidity of nature, evade definition and exist ‘in-between’.
LGBTQIA+ – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Queer, Intersex, Asexual. Plus. QUILTTBAG – Queer, Questioning, Unlabelled, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Two-spirit, Bi, Asexual, Gay. Or, as the international food sovereignty community has dubbed us, ‘gender diverse’. At first this categorisation made me mad. A small taste of the kind of inner tension that many queer people experience when their gender representation is not recognised. It felt akin to white Australians nomenclature around ‘aboriginals’ (as opposed to indigenous, first nationsor, as we heard during Food Soverignty Convergence 2018, original owners) but it’s not too far off. A more user-friendly acronym I heard recently is DSG. Diverse Sexuality and Gender. I like its simplicity and inclusiveness, but hey I’ve already used a number of complicated words to identify our community.
When I say ‘complicated’ I don’t mean just in terms of the number of successive consonants. Take ‘queer’ for example. I, and many of my contemporaries, use this once derogatory but now reclaimed term, but some are still triggered by it. Our community carries a lot of trauma. We’ve experienced discrimination and violence to varying degrees just as the myriad of other minority groups in Australia and abroad. But don’t walk on eggshells. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake in the language that you use. If you say the wrong thing, correct yourself and move on. If you’re not sure, ask. If you’re corrected, say ‘thankyou’, correct and continue. Never assume a person’s gender identity based on their gender expression and if you’re not sure, ask. Or stick with gender neutral pronouns. It feels clunky at first but you get used to it.
Returning to the land can represent additional challenges for DSG people. We must boldly venture out from the safe zones of the progressive cities in which we’ve built our cultural empires. To divorce our largely urbanised community and step into perceived enemy territory felt dangerous to me, someone who was often misread as ‘straight’. There are many that don’t blend in as well as I.
Country towns are where the conservative people live, right? I now farm near of Bendigo, the epicentre of far right activist group Reclaim Australia. When you’re in a country town, suddenly the thing that connected you to a thriving, colourful community, only connects you to 5 people in a 50km radius. Isolation is not unique to DSG people, but combined with a fear of discrimination or violence, it’s a powerful force that may contribute to our underrepresentation in this space.
Sometimes our fears and perceived challenges, do not reflect reality. While walking down the main drag of Kyambram in North Central Victoria holding the hand of my best friend, a person approached. I felt a rush of anxiety and distress as I imagined how they would berate us for our unholy buggery. “Those old men were just talking shit about you”, they said, ‘could you please kiss each other when you pass them just to mess with them?”. I glanced at my best mate as the fear of retaliation from the ‘old men’ wrestled my stubborn need to assert my right to exist freely. We kissed each other with a loud ‘Mwa’ and looked back for approval from our new friend. She met our eyes with a thumbs-up and a smiling ‘yeh!’. It was an exercise in breaking down my preconceptions about rural communities.
In contradiction to the aforementioned challenges, my personal story is one of acceptance. I’ve seen nothing but open arms and non-judgmental attitudes in all my farming mentors throughout my journey from vegan to food sovereignty warrior. I applaud the small-scale farming community for showing such acceptance and acknowledge the privilege of being supported and not vilified. I have not once felt ostracised or told that the ‘queer’ world and the ‘farmer’ world can’t coexist. If you think of a Venn diagram to describe these worlds, I had imagined two completely separate circles. But in reality, the overlapping space is well and truly there.
The question now is how do we increase that overlap? What can our movement do to overtlyexpress our openness and build on this diversity? How do we combat hatespeech and quell discriminatory attitudes? How do we ensure ours is a safe space for our DSG farmer allies? And most importantly, how do we create the same safety for our less privileged comrades in the SEA region and beyond.