In my recent explorations of Queer! with a capital Q, I have discovered that my artist-self and my queer-self might be conflated…or even more than that, they are most certainly deeply intertwined.
If Queer! simply referred to my sexual orientation or gender identity, it could be separated from other aspects of “I,” but my definition of Queer! pertains more to non-normative values than social identity. I am Queer! with a capital Q because I subvert normativity; because I am a rebel, an edgewalker, a trailblazer. As I was dancing my grief in my apartment the other night, followed by some angry splattering of paint on canvas, it suddenly occurred to me that my artist-self is also subversive and rebellious. My artist-self cannot sit still. My artist-self communicates in movement better than words and believes in the use of dance and theater to give voice to the voiceless; to scream about injustices and the soporific effects of capitalism. Or is that my Queer! self?
The above image is what I am calling an “embodied, artistic, reality check.” My therapist asked me, “What do you want? What do you need? What is true? What is not true?” My response in her office was a collapse in my body with a shrug of my shoulders and a huge exhalation (I don’t know what the fuck I want!). Luckily, I work with a brilliant art therapist so out came the paper and oil sticks and I created a foundation upon which I could later build. This piece of “art” is stuck to the wall of my rather stark apartment and as you can see, I have been adding sticky notes to the four quadrants as I come up with answers to the questions. Rebellion and subversion? You betcha!
TRUE = I have a body
TRUE = Most things don’t matter
NOT TRUE = I am defined by addiction
NOT TRUE = I am defined by trauma
To all the people who want to tell me (who DO tell me) that I am too traumatized to be in relationship, that a history of disordered eating and drug addiction means my brain is “fucked up,” to those people I say NOT TRUE so piss off. Those things do not define me; they are a part of my history and I personally think give me superpowers because I lived a nightmare but woke up and am now here to share what I learned from that dream with my fellow travelers.
I want to mention that I do not identify as a visual artist. I am a dancer and sometimes actor. However, I use visual art quite a bit in my personal life to process emotions, to identify needs and wants, and sometimes just to externalize the cacophony of my inner voices. And then I dance my art. And then I write about my dance. And then I paint my writing. And then I dance my painting… and on and on it goes. One does not need to have years of training and earn their living as an artist to engage in this type of artistic reflection and expression. It is our birthright to dance; to create art that reflects our inner lives and outer worlds.
I recently read that the Balinese have a saying, “we have no art, everything we do is art.” That short phrase sums up my entire existence and makes me wonder if “I am not queer, everything I do is Queer!” Although really, I think “everything I AM is Queer!”
Us Queers! make good artists because we are used to life on the outside; life looking back in. When you’re constantly looking in and constantly told you’re wrong or freaky, you end up with a massive amount of Feelz and those Feelz need somewhere to go. For me, the Feelz either go into artistic expression or self-sabotage. These days I’m choosing the former over the latter, but that wasn’t always the case. I know it’s not always the case with my fellow Queers! Drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, unemployment, harassment, violence, isolation, bullying, suicide…so many of us internalize the hate that permeates the air we breathe and it destroys us. And just because Caitlyn Jenner was on the cover of Vanity Fair doesn’t mean the hate is dissipating. Just saying…
I’m getting more real in these blog posts. I read Jamie Ray’s post on A Boy and Her Dog titled, “For Ryan,” and my heart broke into a million pieces. Ryan, I never met you but I will dance your name. I will dance your journey as it chooses to come through my body and I will create a work of art for you. I’m so sorry your body had to be a vehicle for the illness of our country.
I don’t know if I’m an artist because I’m Queer! or if I’m Queer! because I’m an artist. I don’t know if I make queer art or artistic queers (there’s a fun thought!). I do know I’m tired of being told my artistic life is unacceptable and my Queer! identity should be punished. If my stories serve to link us together and offer even a small amount of healing, then I will keep telling them in any way my Queer! artist self wants.
*Shout out to my photographer friend who taught me how to queer up a self-portrait. xoxox