Failure to Con/Form Activates Spaces in Houston

This week we reached out to Ching-In Chen, Jorge Galvan Flores, Cassie Mira Nicholson, John Pluecker, Addie Tsai from Failure to Con/Form who gave us an updated report and interview on their TIF Round 10 Project.

Failure to Con/Form was a Houston-based series of rotating reading/performance events in sites of healing and safety for trans, genderqueer, intersex and gender-non-conforming people. The events supported by The Idea Fund in 2018 featured local and nationally recognized trans, genderqueer, intersex and gender-non-conforming writers, performers and artists.

Originally, this reading/performance series was inspired by the history of LGBTQI* community members who have performed queer takeovers or disruptions of non-queer-friendly spaces such as bars, clubs, proms and Baptist conventions. One of the ideas was to use a flash-mob style protest to intervene in spaces of restriction for community members. We organized a story circle with community members to share stories around healing and restriction and build community, with the understanding that those stories would be shared with artists. Once we started organizing our story circle and reaching out to community members, it became clear that many of our community members were greatly impacted in 2018 by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey as well as fighting against anti-trans legislation in the previous state legislative session as well as on a national level. Based on the conversation at the story circle as well as with key conversations with community leaders, we decided to alter our plans to focus on creating two events focusing on healing and safety for TGNC communities in the Houston area, both uplifting long-term leaders as well as providing space for emerging voices.

Our first event was themed “Shelter” and took place in August 2018 in the beautiful oasis of the backyard of the Organización Latina de Trans en Texas. This organization led by Latina transwomen (but inclusive of all) has been doing difficult grassroots work for several years now: supporting documented and undocumented Latinx TGNC folks and establishing the only shelter for trans folks in the City of Houston. When so many shelters profile and discriminate against trans people, the OLTT shelter, called Casa Anandrea, has really been a refuge. The performers for the evening were Wo Chan, Koomah, Vanessa Brandon and Dee Dee Watters. We decided that we wanted to spotlight OLTT’s work to a broader audience as well as help them to sustain the work by using the moment to ask our networks to support the organization financially as well as spreading the word about what they are doing in the community. We chose Koomah, Vanessa Brandon and Dee Dee Watters as Houston-based seasoned community leaders and artists and Wo Chan nationally to share work based around the theme, including homelessness, deportation and housing insecurity due to environmental disaster.

Our second event was themed “Fabricate” and took place in December 2018 at the TXRX Labs maker-space. We selected this space because Lou Stainback has been doing work to open up space for queer, trans, and GNC folks by offering free classes for the community. We wanted to imagine a community where TGNC folks could imagine and “fabricate” the kinds of futures many of us dream of. We invited emerging artists who we wanted to honor as opening up new kinds of spaces and experiences as well as prioritize different kinds of artists than the ones we had featured in our first gathering. The event featured Houston-based S Rodriguez El, Cassie Mira with Lou Stainback and Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué on a national level.



How many months/years has it been since your project was completed?

The project ended in December 2018!

Which aspects of your project were funded by TIF? What was crucial about TIF funding for your project? How did TIF funding contribute to the success of your project?

The funding was crucial to getting these events off the ground! Without it, we would not have been able to pay the artists as well as those who provided space and expertise (such as our nonbinary sound engineer and our interpreters) to the project. Besides in-kind support, this was the only funding we had.

In terms of your art practice, how did the project that you completed for TIF help you to grow as an artist?

Our group members all had varying experiences with organizing and curating projects. This was Cassie Mira’s first time participating as a curator for a project as well as acting as an emcee for a night of performance. Using the skills she developed during Failure to Con/Form, she has since gone on to be a part of Experimental Action’s management team.  

What other projects have developed from your completing this TIF project?

Since completing the project, Ching-In Chen has been asked to write lyric essays in response to Antonius Bui’s Lawndale show, “yêu em dài lâu (me love you long time),” and Cassils’ Station Museum of Contemporary Art show, “Solutions.” They have also been a featured presenter at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, “Coloring Outside the Gender Binary: How Transgender Poets are Redefining What It Means to Be Human” as well as a panel member/interviewee for “VIDA Voices & Views: Transgender, Non-Binary, & Gender Nonconforming Interview.” They also gave presentations including trans and non-binary poetry and performance to audiences in Rochester, New York; New York City; Seattle, Washington; Bothell, Washington as well as part of the live Blood-Jet poetry podcast, “Are We There Yet?: A Live Poetry Podcast Recording” at the New Orleans Poetry Festival and as part of the “Heroes and Collective Resistance” panel at the &NOW Conference at the University of Notre Dame.

Did completing this TIF project bring your work more attention? Who was this project able to attract and what collaborations have been sparked by your TIF project?

This project was awesome because it allowed us to collaborate with each other and to do events that are really needed in Houston, creating more spaces for queer, trans, intersex, and gender-non-conforming folks in the city! One aspect of this project that was truly wonderful and unexpected was how many members of the gender-non-conforming and nonbinary communities came out that many of us had not had the chance to interact with before! Additionally, we were able to bring together community members across generations in conversation with each other. It was clear there was a need for work that would connect with these communities, which would not have been able to happen without TIF!

Do you have any words of wisdom for artists who hope to follow in your footsteps?

Apply! Apply! Dream big and think outside of the box!