More than 200 people gazed in suspense as the projector screen flicked off, leaving the auditorium pitch black. Just then, from the back of the auditorium, drag queen Vaginal Davis – clad in a sexy low cut red dress – burst into song.
The performance was just a preview of things to come for the “Gay Shame” conference, which commenced last night in Angell Hall.
University of California at Santa Cruz senior and Gay Shame Eric Stanley said the University’s chapter differs from his school’s. “So far, it’s interesting, it is really good. … We’re more activist. This is more academic. We do direct action while this is more of an academic conference,” Stanley said.
Stanley said he thinks the University’s conference is especially beneficial because queer theory and gay and lesbian studies have been dying in the academic world. He added this is a much-needed revival.
“I came here because I was interested in seeing Vaginal Davis’s performance this evening. I wanted to see the stuff she’s doing now in relation to the ‘Gay Shame’ program. I wanted to see what performance artists have to say about gay shame,” LSA senior Carrie Matherly said.
University alum Ben Fife said he feels that this event was especially pertinent to the campus. “The event was lovely. It seemed necessary. I like the idea of a real queer presence on campus, not this ‘aberzombie’ thing we’ve got going,” Fife said.
Part of this “real queer presence” is directly related to the shame felt by other oppressed groups, including the disabled, George Washington University English Prof. Robert McRuer said.
McRuer said he will speak for the panel on Saturday. He said the panel is an intersection of shame, queerness and disability that is mostly presented through autobiographical and performance mediums.
“We are looking at how shame structuralized both the gay and disabled community movements. And how to work through that shame in productive ways,” McRuer added.
Matherly said in general, the conference expanded visibility about the gay perspective. It allows people to further familiarize themselves with the lifestyle, he said.
The conference included an opening talk by Women’s studies and English Prof. Valerie Traub and went on to a screening of Andy Warhol’s film “Screen Test #2”, introduced by essayist Douglas Crimp. The event ended with Davis singing and reading from her gossip column, “Intimacy and Tomorrow.”
The event was sponsored by other campus groups, including the Institute for Research on Women and Gender and its Lesbian-Gay-Queer Research Initiative and the Program for Women’s Studies.