In the Blog

Amber Dawn: On Top with Sub Rosa

April 15th, 2010     by Desirée O     Comments

Every other Thursday I profile a new incredible woman, each from a different walk of life. Different professions, causes, backgrounds, ethnicities, orientations, and anything/everything else!

So without further delay, let me introduce the awesome Amber Dawn…

Vancouver writer, filmmaker and performance artist Amber Dawn is also currently the director of programming for the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. Her award-winning, genderfuck docu-porn, “Girl on Girl,” has been screened in eight countries and is now part of the gender studies curriculum at Concordia University (anyone of our readers currently studying it?). She has toured three times with the infamous Sex Workers’ Art Show in the US and was voted Xtra! West’s Hero of the Year in 2008.

The editor of Fist of the Spider Woman and co-editor of With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn, she has just released her debut novel, Sub Rosa, (“…a teenaged runaway unable to remember her real name; in her struggle to get by in the world, she stumbles upon an underground society of ghosts and magicians, missing girls and would-be johns: a place called Sub Rosa.”) which is a must-read for all of you shameless women.

What drives you to do what you do?

Once upon a time I was driven by the idea that I rarely saw myself reflected in art, media or even day-to-day social discourse. For clarity’s sake, when I say “myself” I mean a queer, kinky, femme, survivor, Canadian small-town born, poor, sex-worker, feminist with a strong passion for experimental artwork and transgressive identity-based art making. Fortunately, I became more and more savvy at finding like-minded artists (online communities helped a lot here) and I have discovered many wonderful filmmakers, authors, performance artists, etc. that are addressing these very themes. Now my art and writing seems less unique, and certainly less marginal, but more like it’s a part of a movement.

This evolution has been inspiring for me. Now what drives me is the idea that I am included somehow amongst the ever-growing voices of radical, outspoken women. I hope to inspire future artists, especially those that come from under-represented and perhaps tough places.

How does being a woman empower / challenge you?

This question is always a hum-dinger for me. My life is so utterly that of a woman’s. I’ve never even attempted “playing in the man’s world” so to speak. I grew up around women with very few adult men around and even fewer male mentors or role models. I began working in the sex trade - a profession where I performed “womanhood” to the point of burlesque exaggeration. From there, I worked in feminist collectives, housing projects for women, assault support services, women’s art festivals … So for me the question “How does being a women empower or challenge you?” is the same as asking “How does being alive empower or challenge you?” So I guess I’ll answer both of those questions in one go:

Challenges are empowering to me. In fact, if I wasn’t able to identify challenges and barriers, both for myself and the communities I have alliances with, I don’t know if I’d have much motivation nor inspiration at all. Just about everything I do, from writing to fundraising, is a response to the personal or social hardships that I see. I’m not being a martyr, not at all. I just believe that the grit and the gusto of life are 100% connected.

What advice would you give to young women who want to follow in your footsteps?

Well some of my footsteps I wouldn’t advice following in! However, any chance I get I hope to encourage others to use their voice. Storytelling is powerful. First and foremost, it is a decisive act of investing in ourselves. Telling our stories is like saying, “We matter.” Myself, I prefer wring these stories down, but there are many ways to story tell.

Second, silence that nagging bullsh*t about not being good enough. Even if you just silence it long enough to write a poem or an essay or shoot a scrappy short film on your digital camera or whatever it is that you want to create. Allow creation to have it’s own free space. (There is always time to worry if it’s any good later.)

Last, I’d suggest not working in isolation. Sure sure, to see a project through there is always that balls-to-the-wall period where one must work one’s butt off. Balance this with joining or forming creative circles. Peer writers’ groups really worked for me. Heck, peer sex workers’ queer performance art groups have worked for me. What I’m saying if you are not alone. Find your people. Share in the creative process. Cheer one another on!

What is one person, place, or thing every young woman should know about?

Can I preface this by saying I’m not much for universality? That is, I don’t believe there is one anything that is going to resonate with everyone. And I’m way under-qualified to be making any such recommendations.

Being Canadian and a lover of speculative writing and experimental narratives, I’d like to shout out to three Canadian women authors that have greatly influenced me:

Nalo Hopkinson: a Caribbean-Canadian fiction writer. I love her for her ability to blend historic drama with magical realism, with a satisfying dose of the erotic. A plot-focused author, Nalo’s novels are page-turners, and I’ve been known to cry while reading Nalo’s work. Her women characters are complex and often very endearing. My favorite book of hers thus far is The Salt Roads.

Hiromi Goto: Hiromi just published her first YA novel, Half World - a whimsical hero’s quest coming-of-age story. It’s the type of YA novel that any nerdy adult fantasy reader, like myself, will also love. My favorite of her six books is Hopeful Monsters. Her work is utterly unique, refreshing, bizzarre a lot of the times, and yet still very tender and accessible.

Larissa Lai: A Chinese-Canadian poet and novelist. I suggest starting with When Fox Is A Thousand - a folklore-rich, very feminist novel. Larissa writes fiction like only a poet can. Beautiful, every-word-counts kind of writing.

What is the most important thing we can do in order to change the world?

Gosh! Well, continually ask ourselves this very question, for starters. And hopefully continually come up with new answers, too. I repeat Socrates famous quote “know thyself” in my mind quite often. I believe knowing oneself and operating from a place of self awareness is key. Whenever I take up a new project I try to answer some fairly foundational questions, such as: What is it I really want to achieve? What skills can I bring to this? What skills do I lack and will need help from others? Am I the most suitable leader in this project? How can I empower others to be the leaders, and take more of a support role? and so on …

Find out more about Amber Dawn here and make sure to check out Amber’s new book, Sub Rosa, here.

Tags: shameless women

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