LESBIAN LIVES is coming to Cork for the very first time, and according to Emma Hurley, from UCC’s LGBT+ staff network, “it’s creating quite the buzz”.
Now in its 25st year, this two-day international conference attracts academics, activists, artists, and aficionados from across the globe, to explore all things lesbian.
This year, the theme is Solidarity, and topics being discussed will include activism and Aids care, lesbian science fiction, bisexual women in sport, online dating, reproductive health, queer baiting, crazy cat ladies, queer prison communities, lesbian fashion, intimacy, gender performance, and ‘the femme phenomenon’.
Speaking of femme phenomenon, Cork’s Susan Cox, aka Foxy P. Cox, will be hosting one of her legendary Peacock Parlours at the Bodega on the Friday evening of the conference, March 4, featuring performances by a wild selection of burlesque and drag acts, including hilarious comedy burlesque duo The Wild Geez, and drag kings Slicko and Phil T Gorgeous.
Growing up queer in Cork, Susan remembers how her femme appearance often made her an outlier in her early outings to gay bars.
“It would take me half an hour to get served,” she says. “They’d take one look at me in places and decide I wasn’t gay enough.”
The other side of this – being rejected for female masculinity - will also be explored at the conference through Evie Browne’s ‘Being the Right Kind of Lesbian: Rejection of Female Masculinity in Cuba’.
Cuba is only one of many countries that will be explored in terms of its lesbian lives – other places being looked at include the UK, U.S, Scotland, India, South Africa, Switzerland, Brazil, Portugal, and Poland. The lives of lesbian refugees will also be presented in a paper by Jane Traies.
Closer to home, Melissa Mora Hidalgo will explain how a Chicana butch lesbian from Los Angeles found solidarity and kinship in Ireland’s pubs, barbershops and other ‘manly’ spaces.
And Orla Egan, founder of the Cork LGBT archive, will be recalling the history and evolution of the Cork lesbian community in her talk on ‘Leeside Lezzies’.
Although the conference welcomes all, it is seen as a predominantly female space, and this is something Cork poet Julie Field, aka Julie Goo, is looking forward to.
“I think conferences like this give women in the community an opportunity to meet up in a safe space, to share experiences and ideas, and to just enjoy each others company,” says Julie, who launched her debut poetry collection DANA in 2021.
“I’m really excited about it because I’m very busy in my working life and family life, and all the creative projects I do outside of being a teacher. I don’t feel very connected to the LGBTQI community, and this is a really nice way for me to reconnect, within a women’s space.”
Julie will be presenting a mixture of poetry and spoken word at the event, including pieces on the Magdalene laundries, parenting as a same-sex couple, and issues faced by the trans community.
“The theme of solidarity is one I really stand by,” she says, “so I think it’s going to be a powerful event.”
Trans issues hold an important space in the line-up this year, with organisers believing ‘the welcome to trans women needs a special emphasis as increasingly in recent years they have been the target of hate speech’.
Key speaker Professor Susan Stryker, from the University of Arizona, is best known for her work on transgender topics – a subject also dealt with in many academic papers being presented at the conference, from Finn Mackay’s exploration of testosterone and surgery, to Claire Thurlow’s paper on TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) wars.
Organisers are also aware the Lesbian Lives conference is one of the few spaces remaining where lesbian lives remain honoured, and the focus of dialogue and discussion.
“Now is a critical time to be having these dialogues about so many issues that affect people who identity as women who love women,” says 22-year-old artivist Alana Daly Mulligan, whose poetry films will show at the conference. One of these issues is the brave new world of preferable pronouns.
“The pandemic gave me time to come to terms with myself and just reimagine my identity as a queer person,” says Alana, who works in UCC’s Marketing and Communications department .
“Now, I don’t mind being called ‘she’ but I generally prefer ‘they’.”
One of Alana’s poetry films Hands (2018) recounts an experience they had with their partner in a bar in Cork.
“Queer folks should be able to hold hands or share intimate moments with their partners in public without a second glance. This still happens more than it should. But, I feel hopeful, I think our country is changing for the better.
“With that being said, there’s still so much to do. We have to take a stand with trans and non-binary folks and ensure that we fight for better healthcare services.
"We need to develop more mental health services to support our queer population. Lots of work to be done, and lots of unlearning to do.”
Susan, who’s been performing since 2008, has seen a lot of progressive, inclusive, change in the entertainment industry.
“There are a lot more Queer Irish-based performers now, which is great for a growing scene. It isn’t considered so subversive and underground any more thankfully, especially since the marriage equality referendum,” she says. “It’s honestly a huge honour to be asked to put on a show for this event. I think it’s an amazing thing to happen in Cork.”
Supporting and promoting queer performers and voices was Emma Hurley’s driving force when it came to organising the Film & Queer Creatives programme for this year’s conference.
“We have everything from graphic novelists to fine arts to modern arts to performance and so on, and the conference is unique that way,” says Emma, who first attended Lesbian Lives when it was held at UCD many years ago, and was inspired by American author Kate Bornstein’s keynote speech on the importance of celebrating being queer.
“It’s wholly interdisciplinary, multi-modal, all manner of people contributing and feeding into the conference, which I think is quite wonderful,” adds Emma.
Opening the film programme at the conference is a conversation between Louise Walsh and Greek photographer, cinematographer and travel writer, Tzeli Hadjidimitriou.
“Tzeli is an expert on all things Sappho and Lesbos, so I’m really looking forward to that,” says Emma.
Organisers describe the event as ‘something distinct and special’ – adding ‘there is a friendliness, a warmth, an excitement, an openness, a bravery and generosity that every Lesbian Lives conference has generated’.
And with it being in its 25th year, Emma believes “it’s only fitting that Lesbian Lives comes to the real capital”.
Lesbian Lives will be held at UCC on March 4 and and 5. For more information, go to:
UCC.ie/en/lesbianlives2022 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org