Sex & Gender
feature: to queer things up – an interview with trans-masculine docu-series creator avatara smith-carrington
By Gender Bent
June 5, 2015
‘To Queer Things Up’ is a documentary web-series described by Rutgers University – Class of 2015 graduate & creator Avatara Smith-Carrington, as “a running dictionary of the word queer as defined by queer identified folk.” Check out my interview with Avatara below.
By Kristen McCallum, AFROPUNK Contributor.
KRISTEN: In a moment that feels to me like every day there’s another attempt to invalidate my identity, I am truly grateful for projects like yours! I just want the whole world to know about it and be just as excited, so let’s start by introducing you… Who is Avatara Smith-Carrington?
Pronouns They Them Their
AVATARA: Ummm… good question. I’m a twenty-something (legally able to drink), trans-masculine, queer, black boi (always remember the “I” and forget the “y”) who recently graduated from Rutgers University and has dreams of queering every space that marginalized folks like myself and more have been denied. But for the moment… my energy is being funneled into something that is very pertinent to not only my identities but others who are close to me; To Queer Things Up.
KRISTEN: Was there a specific event that prompted the idea for this project? How did you come up with the idea?
AVATARA: For the past four years or so I have been breaking, moving, and growing in my queerness and how to define what it is for me. Early on when “queer” was nothing more than an academic term that I saw in university settings or randomly across Tumblr I wasn’t sure how to really claim it for myself let alone define it… so after being blessed by coming into contact with various folks who identify as queer in a variety of ways (sexuality, gender, political… so on) and also made that queerness accessible for me to understand and exist within… I knew it was time for me to do the same for others. I was realizing how beautifully nuanced and subjective queer was as I went from one person to the next asking for definitions and I wanted to create a virtual home for those definitions to be catalogued and recorded so that others could find space that was reflective of queerness and marginalized identities that have a symbiotic relationship to said queerness.
KRISTEN: What were your biggest concerns when starting the project? Were you nervous about negative feedback? Were you concerned about support? Were you concerned about funding?
AVATARA: My biggest concern is being told that by wanting to focus on marginalized and oppressed queer folk, on queer and trans people of color, on queer and differently-abled, on queer and undocumented, on queer and “other” (and my use of other is from a place of love and a personal identifier for myself) … that I am willingly choosing to have a hard time when it comes to finding support, community, and funding. People have told me it would be easier if I fell into what the mainstream media is always forcing down our throats in order to sustain mediocrity through conformity, ignorance, and the erasing of experiences. So I have big concerns but I refuse to let that hinder this process and the dreams that are nurturing To Queer Things Up.
KRISTEN: The word “queer” is very controversial in the community, were you at all concerned about how using it would affect the message you are trying to convey? Or is using it helping to convey the message?
AVATARA: El Oh El… this is one that is becoming more and more prevalent in terms of when I get questions. Queer has a problematic history which most folks are aware of… and even in it being reclaimed, those who did that willingly left folks out of the loop and discriminated because who says racism, transphobia, sexism, classism… the list goes on, that these things can’t also exist in spaces of marginalization. So the aim of To Queer Things Up is not only to reclaim and redefine but also to take up space and provide a platform for those of us who are constantly denied a seat at the table to actually be heard and force our stories down the throats of those who wish to silence and invalidate us.
KRISTEN: You’ve described the series as “a running dictionary of the word queer as defined by queer identified folk” can you explain a little about what that means in regards to the structure of the series? How did you select your initial subjects for the series?
AVATARA: It’s exactly just that, a running dictionary of the word queer and only queer… with each episode acting as another definition and the way I go about picking subjects is by looking for what I don’t see present in media that claims to center queerness and that everything outside of the cis-heteronormative, white, upper-class bs
KRISTEN: As a QPOC who realizes the lack of representation we have in all mediums, how important is it to you that your project aids in closing that gap?
AVATARA: It’s more than important… it’s a necessity in order to secure that we are not overlooked any further, that our narratives are told by us and for us, that we reclaim all that has been taken… this is what sustains us, the ability to see our whole truths in an un-bastardized, decolonized, and de-stigmatized way.
KRISTEN: Is there an end goal for this project? If so, how do you plan to get there? If not, what’s next?
AVATARA: Good question… I guess the end goal is to challenge the media and demand space, but ultimately to create a virtual home of diverse and inclusive queerness so that community can be more than physical, especially for those who are in places where these connections are somewhat impossible
KRISTEN: What does support look like for you and how can we do that? (Funding, exposure, etc.?)
AVATARA: Support looks like watching, sharing, spreading, and throwing your pennies our way. But support also looks like making sure that you don’t speak for us when questions are asked, that if you are allies you respect our voices and our abilities to communicate our stories. Support is more than money (but that is more than welcomed believe me) support is also just watching and sharing space with us and our definitions.
KRISTEN: How do we get involved with the project? (Contact info, social media links, etc.)
KRISTEN: What’s next for you?
AVATARA: I’m working on a couple of things… from ways to queer up media to traveling abroad and sharing space with queer folks who are part of the African Diaspora and listening to their stories.
KRISTEN: Well thank you so much for sharing your story with us Avatara! I look forward to supporting your movements and getting the community involved in doing so as well!
* Kristen McCallum is a Freelance Writer living in Harlem, NYC. Follow her for updates on Twitter/IG @krm_writes and you can see more of her work on her website, www.kristen-mccallum.com .
Get The Latest
Signup for the AFROPUNK newsletter