by T.L. Cowan and Jas Rault
Many years ago we started writing an essay called “Checking In.” Now this essay is the provisional title chapter of a book we plan to write together some day on experiments in transfeminist and queer (TFQ) networked intimate publics. We hope that the Cabaret Commons is such an experiment. “Checking in” is the feminist method of going around a room at the beginning of a meeting and finding out how everyone is doing, where they’re at, and what they are bringing to the meeting — thoughts, feelings, and so on. A “check in” can take anywhere from five minutes to over an hour, depending on how many people are in the room and how long everyone speaks. This process, of asking and listening to how people are and where they are at is not some kind of group therapy session that starts off a meeting (although sometimes it does feel therapeutic), but, rather, it is about knowledge gathering so that, at the end of this process, everyone in the room will know a little something about how everyone is doing and how that might affect the way things go during the meeting.
Process is central to many trans-feminist and queer organizing, art- and politics-making and, indeed, cabaret-making practices. It’s about care in the face of risk, precarity, excitement, enthusiasm, variously joyful and sad feelings, urgency, and the uneven distribution of resources. It’s about building relationships before, and as the basis of, building movements or events or collaborative work. In her essay on Lizzie Borden’s beloved film, Born in Flames (1983), Christina Hanhardt invites us into the familiar hot-house feel of process:
There is one feature of lesbian feminism and radical politics that might be worth generalizing about: a proclivity for what is often called processing. In [the film] Born in Flames women are mostly talking, debating, and making plans. For anyone who has been to such a meeting, you likely have experienced that moment of clarity when, four hours in, you realize that this might go on forever and there really will be no future. But at the end of an individual campaign that may or may not have been won, the process of making arguments and of building a group can feel like a win even if the world at large can prove to be worse than it was when you began. (Christina Hanhardt 2013: 32)1
This ‘proclivity’ is not especially oriented to a “win” and not conventionally productive — it doesn’t always result in a product — but it makes room for, spends time with, values and revels in the work of working together.
The Cabaret Commons’ Process Posts series is about recognizing the work that goes on before, or in lieu of, the production of a thing. One of the things we have learned over the course of the past almost decade of thinking about and working on TFQ online archives, is that the process you undertake as you design and build a thing may sometimes (or even often) lead you to the conclusion that the thing (the site, the app, the platform, the data scrape, the publication, and so on) that you’ve been working on…still needs more work, still needs more rigorous reciprocality, more accountability to and contribution from the people whose lives and materials you are studying, or archiving. As University of Toronto PhD student Chido Muchemwa wrote recently in an unpublished essay about digitizing practices in the context of national archives and reconciliation: “Sometimes the Answer is No.”2
One of our goals with the Cabaret Commons is that this is a place of heavy processing, of micro processing. We want to think through as many elements as possible, as much consultation as possible, as long a timeline as possible, in order to use research for learning and understanding, not only for perpetual production.
However, as our first two Process Posts by Carina Guzmán (Islandia) and Itzayana Gutiérrez Arillo and demonstrate, process is product — process generates knowledge and it allows us to understand our own place within and outside of the research we are doing. Process is a form of experimentation, it is a method, it is a way of learning, of gathering and sharing information, of knowing.
So here at the Cabaret Commons we practice process and we publish it. We hope you are as thrilled by these Process Posts as we are.
T.L. Cowan & Jas Rault
Co-Directors, The Cabaret Commons
- Christina B. Hanhardt, “LAUREL and Harvey: Screening militant gay liberalism and lesbian feminist radicalism circa 1980.” Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, 2013 Vol. 23, No. 1, 17–37. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2013.805637
- Chido Muchemwa, “Sometimes the answer is No: National Archives and Reconciliation Projects.” Unpublished essay, submitted for Digital Archives for Minoritized Materials: Ethics & Praxis” graduate seminar. Faculty of Information, University of Toronto. May 2019.