On the tail of a wonderful vacation on the Florida panhandle with my extended family, and as the Out & Equal staff embarks on an intense last few weeks of planning what I know will be our best Summit ever, I find myself reflecting on how equality activism and the resulting need for self-care, family, and art interweave and are sustaining me through difficult times.
Ever since I was young, I found myself visiting museums, dusty markets in far-off cities, drag king and burlesque shows, and underground art spaces to absorb art – global and local – and help make sense of the culture around me and myself. A conversation with my first girlfriend in my twenties inspired a wild goose chase around Paris on my way to Senegal in 1997, and with the help of a generous and adventurous Tunisian motel owner, I found the artist Peter Beard on his one-night-only visit to his photo exhibition.
Presiding over what seemed to be *the*highbrow art event of the weekend, he barely looked at the surrounding well-dressed crowd from an uncovered mattress-throne on the floor in the back corner of this pristine setting- as only eccentrics can do. I sat with him for a few minutes while he drew me a picture of an elephant, and we bonded (at least in my head) over our love for Africa and women – me: any women who would tolerate my bisexuality, and him: famous models like Iman.
One of his most famous photographs features him inside the mouth of an entire crocodile, writing – seemingly unfazed – in one of his journals. This photo has crept up in my own consciousness lately as a metaphor for our entire movement right now. The sun is burning, and we are in the mouth of a beast, but somehow — we keep moving… we keep creating. Sometimes for fun and to see if we can, but many times because we need to survive the absurdity.
After nine years overseas living in the Middle East – closeted and mostly disconnected from Queer culture apart from brief summer trips home – I returned to the US two months prior the election in 2016, and relished diving back into visiting spaces with Queer art – what is still, in many parts of the world, forbidden look at much less celebrate.
But, there was something else emerging that was new to me personally… artists collectives and projects that were helping convene social justice communities across intersections as a way to build community, to replenish activists spiritually, and as a form of protest itself. These exciting spaces are featuring marginalized voices and stories in profound ways – often reminding the world that there are real people and stories behind the newspaper headlines about bathroom access, immigrant rights, and refusals to bake wedding cakes.
I had the privilege to attend Stanford’s Executive LGBTQ Leadership course this summer and was honoured to be among some outstanding leaders who have overcome obstacles, worked hard, and emerged out of the “closet” to a high degree of success by anyone’s standards. Two things were clear… we were all proud and excited to do whatever we could from wherever we could to keep the fight for equality going. *And* we were getting tired. Tired of having to sometimes be the only one out in our workspaces. Tired of having to explain our orientation or identity, even though we know we must. Tired of the extra burden we carry if we represent more than one marginalized group. And sometimes tired of being afraid in the current climate and culture- what might happen to us, our friends or family members at the hands of harsh rhetoric or hateful acts.
Recently, my favourite new museum, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City, has announced an exhibit called, “Brave, Beautiful Outlaws,” which features a selection from artist Donna Gottschalk’s 50-year collection. These beautiful, highly personal photos feature Lesbian activists in love, in solidarity, and in friendship. They remind me of some of my most treasured moments with my friends – all of us coming together in love, and sometimes in secret, to take care of ourselves and each other while we keep the fight going. I smile when I see the photo by Diana Davis at the 1970 Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day rally, holding up a playful sign that pokes, “I am your worst fear / I am your best fantasy.” Anyone who is familiar with the stereotype of straight men fantasizing gets the joke, but I also see it another way… a metaphor for what I think all people really long for… the desire to be free of hate and to just be themselves.