Engender discussion

Genderfest Winnipeg set to bring two weeks of panels, performances and parties

From media representations of gender, to inclusive parties and queer art, Winnipeg’s Genderfest has it all. 

The DIY festival, which grew as an extension of the University of Winnipeg’s Gender Week, kicked off on Jan. 31 with a bash at the Pyramid Cabaret.

“The idea behind the dance parties is to really celebrate each other, and celebrate our differences and all of what makes us unique,” Jonny Mexico, one of the original founders of the festival, says. “It fosters a wonderful environment for people to come hang out and celebrate.”

Events during the festival often create an environment for audiences to contemplate gender, and this year’s lineup is no exception. 

On Feb. 4, Outwords magazine hosted a panel featuring journalists Jen Zoratti and James Turner, who discussed gender in Winnipeg media. This particular type of event seems to be unique to the festival, and to at least one organizer, it could not have come at a better time.

“It seems like there’s a bit of a disconnect between some of the communities involved with Genderfest and mainstream media,” Meg Crane, co-editor of Outwords, says. “We just wanted to create a space where we could bring all of those people together.”

The festivities continue on Feb. 6 with Different Strokes for Different Folks, a showcase of local queer artists and performers at The Handsome Daughter (61 Sherbrook St.)

“I’m excited that we have been able to provide a safer space for folks to come and be themselves and share their stories,” Taylor Kell, one of the event’s organizers, says.

“I’m hoping that the event will bring together the community and show how passionate and powerful we can be,” Kell adds. 

While some Genderfest listings are restricted to those over 18 due to content or location, all events are held in physically accessible spaces, and are also required to have gender neutral washrooms. 

However, organizers acknowledge that accessibility isn’t necessarily limited to the physical. 

“There’s lots of different things that we’re looking at to try to make it more inclusive and accessible to people,” Mexico says. Festival organizers are also working on live streaming some events online for those who can’t make it out of the house.

A handful of Genderfest events charge an admission fee to offset costs, but all events are also required to have a “pay what you can” option in place so that no one is turned away due to lack of funds. While organizers seem to have thought of everything, that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to criticism.

“We were called out last year for not having all of our events in physically accessible spaces, and so we owned that, and went ‘yeah, you’re right, this sucks - let’s fix it,’” Mexico says. “We encourage the dialogue with
the community.”

The festival happens over the course of two weeks and includes a queer and trans people of colour open mic night, an afternoon of zine making and presentations from Vermont based activist Eli Clare on queerness and disability. 

“The festival really is a platform for people to host events and provide a platform for voices that are often muted,” Mexico says. “Which is awesome, because where is that in Winnipeg?”

Genderfest 2015 wraps up with a closing party at Club 200 on Feb. 14, but until then, Winnipeggers are encouraged to check out the many events that the festival offers.

For more information and to see full event listings, visit Genderfest Winnipeg on Facebook.

Published in Volume 69, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 4, 2015)

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