Photo: Alex Woodward

Charlene Sinclair, Fred Moten, Icon Ayana Christian, Michael Roberson & Tourmaline


A discussion about what is at stake in the performance of realness and the practice of passing, and how they are both acts of survival and resistance.

Black, queer and trans bodies tell stories.  Often they are multilingual – talking to numerous cultures, telling many stories simultaneously.  Portraying a sense of ‘realness’, appearing to conform to a set of socially prescribed norms so that you can walk down the street safely, is a form of self-defence. But at the same time, realness and passing call those norms into question – they expose race, sex and gender as politically invented fictions that all of our bodies are asked to perform. ‘Realness’ recognises the need to make a way in a culture defined by these fictions - it insists that bodies in all their differentiation exist prior to these norms, no matter how violently they’re imposed. And in doing so, ‘realness’ works to explode the sheer possibility of any norm-based normality.


The Icon Ayana Christian was the Overall Mother of the House of Khan in the Ballroom community, and is an Icon for walking Femme Queen Face. From the same community, Legendary Co-Founder Michael Robertson Garçon is the father of the House of Garçon, a public health practitioner, advocate, activist and leader within the LGBTQ community.  He created The Federation of Ballroom Houses, co-created the USA's only Black Gay research Group, The National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Group, and the Nationally Diffused CDC Behavioral Change HIV Prevention Intervention Many Men, Many Voices. Tourmaline is Activist-In-Residence at Barnard College’s Center for Research on Women, and Membership Director at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Charlene Sinclair is the Director of Centre for Race, Religion and Economic Democracy at Union Theological Seminary and co-organiser of the Cell Blocks and Border Stops conference. Fred is one of the great poets, educators and theorists of blackness and fugitivity.


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