Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Are You ‘Woke’?

I came to understand the word ‘woke’ the other day. It is, for me, a relatively new term. A young theatre person (a ‘millennial') asked for some advice about a producer friend of mine. They wanted to hire her but they weren't sure. They asked me -- "Is she....woke?” Of course I didn’t know what they meant by ‘woke.’ They responded:  "Oh - woke --- it just means -- is she aware and informed about the latest trans issues?"
I am somewhat put off by the term ‘woke.’ It seems to to me to have an ‘evangelistic’ smell. It’s as if those who fully understand trans politics consider themselves ‘born again,’and  have ‘found Jesus.’ It suggests to me that their thinking is not so much made up of ideas, but instead a shared belief system based on instinctual understanding and faith that is never to be questioned.
I find this unsettling. But it is much more unsettling that the veteran producer they were asking about was eminently and publicly queer and outspoken in her activism. She is  an older woman (over 50) who was on the front lines of queer politics in the 80s. She has performed as a drag king, and is working class. Why would anyone wonder whether she was ‘woke’?
Evidently, it was simply because she was old.
Now I’m not suggesting that all the surviving aging queer activists from the 80s are perfect. I’m also not suggesting that older queers should never be questioned or challenged simply because they are old.
But why do young queer activists assume that older activists don’t know anything -- that they are not ‘woke?’
Could it be that present day millennial queer politics exists in a kind of vacuum? It’s evident to me that many millennial queers have not read Judith Butler or their Michel Foucault. But more importantly they know nothing of queer history. They don’t know for instance that the heroes at Stonewall were not ‘trans’ people -- the word ‘trans’ didn’t exist then -- instead, many of them were sex trade workers and drag queens. These millennials don’t know that hate speech, prejudice, access to washrooms, and issues about the relationship between gender and sexuality are not new. We have been fighting these battles for many, many years. But some millennials just don’t seem to realize that their ‘politic’ has its foundation in the politics of earlier generations of queer radicals.
Is she .......’woke’? 
What a question. 

She was awake and raging, baby, way before you were born.