Feminist Men – Kym Dominique-Ferguson
All of the interviews in our Feminist Men Blog series are uncensored and unedited. We did not impose a structure and allowed the conversations to take natural turns. In some cases, interviews ran long and contained too many questions to include in the post. Therefore, the only curating that took place was in the interest of the length of the article. Enjoy!
In conversation with Kym Dominique-Ferguson
J: Yeah, so. I guess I should start off by saying, “do you identify as a feminist?”
K: I identify as a young feminist. I believe I have a long way to go in terms of my knowledge of what feminism truly is. Because I’ve grown up as a man in this world, and I’ve benefited from a lot of privilege that comes from being a man, even though I am Afro-ascended, which comes with its own set of non-privileges. So I’m not gonna pretend to know everything and if I’m being checked on something that I didn’t realize I was doing, or saying, or expressing that, goes counter to what I believe the feminist philosophy is, I’m willing and open to be checked and to learn.
J: And when you say putting it in to practice, what do you mean by that? How do you put feminism into practice as an artist?
K: In 2011, I started up an open mic show called Madpoetix: Soirées Intimes – and a part of my mandate, as the artistic director of Madpoetix productions, was to ensure that there was equal representation of women in the features. So, it started off being one feature per month, six of those months out of the year were reserved for women. Then we upped it to two people a month and I tried to keep a balance, because, in my mind this was kind of my way of contributing and saying ‘hey, I want equality for women’, and equality on stages is one of the ways in which, I believed, I could contribute to the community.
J: Ok. So then after putting that, initiative in place, were you then kind of thinking ‘ok maybe there are other ways that I can contribute’? Was it an active choice after Mad Poetix, to take more action, or was it one of those things where you looked back and you went ‘oh, I, I guess that I was, being more proactive after that without even realizing’.
K: It’s a little bit of both. I think that sometimes, I just did things that I felt were the right things to do, and I didn’t necessarily think of it in terms of ‘oh, this is a, a feminist act.’ And, like a lot of other people out there, feminist was a dirty word for me. And I have this thing where I feel like all ‘ists’ are dirty words. But, over time and talking to friends who are feminist, and really understanding that it’s about equal rights for women, and equal rights for men as well, in terms of relationships and stuff like that, there’s a lot that I learned. Like I produce a show called ‘The Art of Performing Aural Sex’ and it’s an erotic poetry show. And – because I’m a performer, I have experienced, from women, this sense of entitlement to my body. Grabbing me, thinking that they can flirt with me anyway, anyhow and I didn’t really put it into context until many years later. Thinking about sex and sexuality and what was expected of me. Because I had more of an understanding of feminism, about respecting women’s bodies, respecting their boundaries and stuff like that, that made me able to be like, ‘no, you’re, you’re actually not respecting my boundaries. You’re not respecting me when I say no’, for example.
J: Right. Because yeah, there’s an interesting thing where, both of us, men and women, have been socialized equally, badly, I guess. Because there are stereotypes that society perpetuates and, it’s on both sides, you know. So we’re both suffering. And, and both genders, we’re all trying to sort of deal with –
K: And the rest of the genders too
J: Well yeah for sure, we’re all kinda trying to deal with whatever, sort of, strange, situation or system we’ve been thrust in to and these expectations – that often we don’t even realize. Like I don’t know if that’s how you feel but it feels very insidious. And to me, sometimes I’ll catch myself saying things, or thinking things –
K: What feels insidious?
J: The influence – like sexism, and, misogyny, and anti-feminism and stuff like that. I’ll catch myself saying something and I’ll go ‘that was – that was internalized misogyny.’ You know. Do you ever have that? I don’t know if that’s something that you’ve clocked, where you’re like ‘woah’.
K: I may not clock in right in the moment, but there are times when I’ve looked back and been like ‘awe man.’ You know, I don’t really wanna give examples, but it’s because I’m the kind of person – I reflect on my actions of the day, and I reflect on my actions prior. I’ve actually gone back to people and been like ‘yo, I’m really sorry about that (thing) I did 5/6 years ago. That, was uncalled for’, you know, that was sexist, misogynist, whatever, whatever. Because I think it’s a part of my growth as a human. I try and make a concerted effort to, make amends and to continue to try and be better. One of the ways that I did that artistically was with the show that I produced. I presented five black afro-descended – afro-ascended women of different artistic disciplines. So we had theatre, we had a singer, we had a vocalist that used a looping pedal, we had a tap dancer, and we had a spoken word artist – spoken word/hip-hop. And we blended all their work together, and assembled a script, and told a story throughout the script using, their different pieces and we added choreography in it and everything. And we, the majority of the cast and the people working behind the scenes were women – women of color. Everybody was people of color, and I made a concerted effort not to, dominate. So it was more of a collective piece. And there was no presence of men at all on stage. Unless they were speaking about a man. And, yeah so that was kind of my way of contributing because I’m acutely aware that, black women are kind of at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of the hierarchy of – I don’t even know what the word is – the hierarchy of, privilege, we’ll say then. Yeah, privilege. And the women spanned from dark skinned women to, light skinned women. I wanted there to be a wide range of talent, diversity, body types, and, the way that you take them in as performers as well. Because, again it’s just my small way of being like ‘hey, I hear you, I see you, I respect you, I love you, and I want, I want to contribute in a way that is beneficial to you.’
J: Do you feel like, as an artist, you have more of an understanding of, or more empathy or compassion, to be a feminist because you have a heightened level of self-awareness. Like – that’s what we all say right, about artists, is that, our job is to have a heightened level of self-awareness and empathy compared to the larger population, right. So do you feel like, that trait that artists have, makes it easier for you to practice being a feminist?
K: I don’t think it had anything to do with art.
K: I think it had everything to do with the women that were in my life; my grandmother, my mother, my stepmother, my aunts. I think it’s them that kind of shaped – moulded my way of thinking. And even my dad, though he’ll probably never admit it, my dad’s super-feminist. Like he’s super respectful of women and doesn’t agree with a whole bunch of stuff that he’s witnessed and stuff like that. But I think it’s more my environment. Because I’ve never known life without art. My parents – my dad’s a photographer, artist, had his own company, and so I grew up around it. You know, I grew up around photography and everything that that entails. So, I think it’s more my environment and the women that I had around me that made it easier. Because one of the things that I like about the women that I’ve had around me, is that, they never said to me ‘oh, you should be feminist because xyz.’ They’ll say to me ‘oh no, don’t ever do that again.’ And it’s not necessarily in words, but in a look, you know like, in the non-verbal and the onomatopoeias. And then, what happens is that becomes ingrained in me.
J: Have you seen, working in the arts, there’s – in the corporate world there’s something that’s happening – they call it the post #metoo backlash – is that higher up men in the corporate world are ceasing to mentor younger women. Or women in general, not even younger, but just women. They won’t take meetings with them, even if their PR representative is a woman, the client won’t take the meeting without having somebody else in the room. So there’s this thing that’s happening now where there’s an over-protection. Men in the corporate world are really worried about being accused of inappropriate behavior, so it’s actually having a negative effect on the women in the industry, because they’re suffering from a lack of mentorship, and a lack of, work, a lack of opportunities. Is this something that you have seen happening in the arts community? Because in larger cities, apparently, like Toronto, there’s rumblings that the same sort of thing is, is beginning to happen within the arts. Is there anything – have you observed anything like that?
K: So like collateral damage?
J: Yeah like more established artists, that – that identify as men that maybe are ceasing to, or being less open to giving opportunities to younger women, or to women in general.
K: I can’t say that I’ve observed that.
J: Well that’s a good sign.
K: And I think that men who start becoming afraid of being alone with women and stuff like that, they need to do some self-exploration because, that fear is coming from somewhere. It’s probably an acknowledgement of guilt, you know, that maybe I did some shit in the past that I shouldn’t have done, and I don’t wanna get caught again. Because there is always in the back of my mind, just like, ‘am I being flirtatious?’ It comes back to consent. It’s like – if these guys are getting scared to meet with their PR person one on one, what kind of behavior were you having before the #metoo movement? Maybe you need to start looking at that. Or, maybe you didn’t have the behavior, but what kind of behavior were you supporting by allowing your colleagues to do that, and now you – guilt by association – don’t wanna be associated with that. Don’t wanna put yourself in a “compromising position”. I think it’s like a wave right. The #metoo movement came in like a wave, now everybody’s kinda like, ‘the second wave is coming!’ And it’s like, no, the wave came and it mashed everything up. Now you need to reconstruct. Now you need to build. Now you need to make better foundations. And establish better boundaries. And like, start respecting people. Maybe. Just, just a little bit.
K: I think that people just need to love and respect each other as human beings. End of the day man, just, treat someone with kindness and respect, you know. And even if they don’t reciprocate, it’s not about you. You should be happy with what you do, for your community, for your environment, and not worry about how people are reacting to you. And it’s such a simple thing, but it’s the hardest thing in the world because, we’ve been cultured and socialized to care about what everybody thinks, says, and does, and it’s one of the most damaging things, I believe. I mean, I suffer from it as well. I’m a victim of the society that we live in. Just be kind to people. Mike Payette, when I was in the mentorship program, said that, and that resonated with me on a deep level. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others.
Kym Dominique-Ferguson is a poet by birth, a theatre performer and filmmaker by training, and a producer by nurture. For over a decade he has serenaded Montreal and international audiences with his blending of spoken word poetry and theatre. He successfully produced and performed his first one man show to a sold-out audience back in August of 2015: The Born Jamhaitianadian. Ferguson is also a radio show host on Soul Perspectives for the past 6 years which talks about the issues affecting the Black community here in Montreal, across Canada and internationally. He is currently in development for his first theatre play: The #DearBlackMan Project, officially commissioned by Black Theatre Workshop.