A weekend conference at the University of South Carolina is timely in a couple of ways.
One, it’s about what it means to be gay in the 21st century, when marriage equality has become a fact of life in countries where passage never seemed likely.
Two, the conference was saved from damnation the same way a lot of modern projects are: by turning to the public for support through crowdfunding.
The 19th annual USC Comparative Literature Conference, which will be held this weekend, May 19-20, will also be hosting the fifth International Queering Ireland conference.
The latter, a bi-annual academic initiative, began in 2009 as a way of questioning what constituted normal in the Irish experience.
Since then, the definition has changed considerably, as both Ireland (in May of 2015) and the USA (a little over a month later) have recognized gay marriage.
“It is interesting, is it not, that Ireland was the first nation in the world to make marriage equality legal by public popular vote,” says Ed Madden, director of women’s and gender studies at USC, “and yet we consistently think of Ireland as mostly Catholic and very socially conservative. And what that vote tells us is that’s not true — and we have to think why. It used to be. Why is it no longer true? What changed it? And what do those changes have to tell us about the status of queer people in society?”
The theme of this year’s conference, Queer Times, tries to address those questions — particularly in the ways time unfolds in both the gay and straight worlds.
“How do we think of our life stories differently when we’re queer?” Madden asks. “What if you don’t fit the traditional life story of ‘have a girlfriend, get engaged, get married, have kids’? What if your life story doesn’t fit the conventional life story? What if your experience of time is different because your life narrative and your expectations of what you can do in life are different?”
Marriage equality has changed this equation.
“The fact that marriage is available suddenly changes the horizon in a way that we can suddenly imagine a different life narrative than one we could have imagined 10 years ago.”
Making the conference a reality this year brought some unusual challenges due to an unforeseen budgeting pinch.
Madden says he had planned the conference last summer with a fully dedicated budget, which ran up against a financial crisis in the College of Arts and Sciences. Madden turned to USC’s crowdfunding platform, making a video appeal that included supporters from around the world.
The USC crowdfunding page has been used in the past for mainly charitable, non-academic causes, like the El Cedro Safe Water Initiative or Cocky’s Reading Express.
Madden says it was the only way to save the conference.
“I will say I think I have set a horrible precedent,” he admits. “I think I had to do it to keep the conference I had planned and I had envisioned and people were counting on who were coming.”
The idea paid off, raising $5,360, exceeding its goal of $5,000.
There will be four free events over the course of the weekend, including three lectures on Friday and Saturday at the Darla Moore School of Business at 1014 Greene St., and a theater performance at the Booker T. Washington Building at 1400 Wheat St.
On Friday, May 19, from 6-7 p.m., trans theorist Jack Halberstam, professor of Gender Studies and English at Columbia University, will deliver the academic keynote address on “Sex, Death & Falconry.”
Ailbhe Smyth, a pioneering scholar in women’s studies programs in Ireland, will address the current campaign for abortion rights in the country during a lecture on Saturday, May 20, from 10:30-11:30 a.m.
Later that afternoon, from 4:30-5:30 p.m., Adnan Hussain, an associate professor of religious studies at Saint Mary’s University in Canada, will address “How Not to Hate Muslims.”
On Saturday evening, there will be a one-woman drag show about Belfast politics: “Divided, Radical and Gorgeous,” presented by TheatreofplucK.
Marriage equality has changed what Madden calls the script by which people live their lives.
He refers to the children’s rhyme of “first comes love, then comes marriage.”
“That’s a script. That’s a life narrative. We can say that marriage equality, both in Ireland and in the States, has enabled or made legally possible a different life narrative. It has changed the horizon of what we can expect out of our lives as queer people. That doesn’t mean we’re equal. That doesn’t mean everything’s great. It just simply means we’ve got another way of imagining our stories. We’ve been basically given a script that’s already established.”
What:Queering Ireland 2017: Queer Times
Where:University of South Carolina
Cost: keynotes and drag performance are free