In my estimation, "werq" is work's second or third cousin. I see them as related because I see werq'ing as labor with roots deep in queer femme of color performance (see: Paris Is Burning). I see it as labor for the purpose of creating and teaching self-love, for pleasure, to destabilize the pervasive impenetrable forces of The Boring (e.g., heteronormativity and the like) in the culture at large with the power of attitude, and I also see it as the labor of archiving history. Werq'ing a style or a stage is the domain of ferocious people. In my ignorant days of yore, the way I thought of werq'ing was untethered from any historical space or time. Madonna imported wholesale motifs, language and aesthetics from the ball scene, and gave middle class America a counterfeit rendering of a community of queers of color - divorced from a politic or a critique. There has been a resurgence of "interest" in ball culture in some communities/localities as of late - still untethered from a politic or a critique for the most part in my opinion.
What the Hell Do I Know?
I think it's important to mention that (1) I'm not from or of the ball scene and (2) I seek to be in conversation with queer theory and politics but do not seek to claim queerness. In preparing for a workshop I'm teaching on the politics of "werq-ing" at the Empowering Women of Color Conference this weekend, I've been thinking a lot about werqing. For me, werqing has a lot to do with gender. The way I do or perform gender is political and intentional. I seek to destabilize notions of feminine respectability, fat invisibility and the grateful subservience expected of women of color with my chunky jewelry, my over-sized sunglassses (aka "bitch stunners"), and my short dresses.
Point of Destabilization #2: Fat girl invisibility is not my thing; cheetah print is. I've worn tight clothes for a long time, and that includes the gratutious display of muffin top, jelly roll, goodies of every variety beneath a nice loud print. I do not see my body as unattractive or off-limits, and see my fat as an extra fun thing to accessorize. When I dress up my fat body without the intention of hiding it I am sending a clear signal to everyone who can see me - and myself - that I will not be forced into invisibility.
Point of Destabilization #3: The grateful brown girl thing isn't cute to me/I am uppity. So, I know that the no matter how post-racial the US thinks it's being, there's still embedded - deep, deep, deeeeeeep in the culture's psyche - that brown girls are supposed to be grateful and submissive. I go out of my way to come across as uppity. I identify as uppity so feel free to think that of me all you want because you're right.
I Am Not Responsible for Your Interpretation of My Art
No, not everyone gets what I'm doing, but that's alright. I'm not making art for them.
I will be offering a workshop at the Empowering Women of Color Conference entitled "The Politics of 'Werq-ing': Femmes, Fashion & The Labor of Performing Gender" at UC Berkeley this Saturday, March 16, from 3:40-4:40pm. Find out more and register online here.