For many of us trying to define ourselves in a primarily binary world is uncomfortable, and in the end, impossible. Seeing ourselves in these polarized “male” or “female” versions of the societal “norms” is like attempting to fit a puzzle piece from one puzzle into another. It just won’t fit, no matter how badly someone else might hope that it will, no matter how angry someone gets because of it, it simply does not fit. I understood this at a young age but was unsure of how to articulate it, and in all honesty afraid of vocalizing it at all for fear of what my homophobic father and people at school would say or do. I clearly remember the first time I saw the movie that changed my perception of myself forever though, Set It Off.
I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada. A city that is most widely known for The Strip and its tourist attractions. The Vegas I knew was a bit more volatile. It’s flashing lights consisted of the red white and blues of the local police harassing the people in my neighborhoods, so when I came across a movie with four leading woman of color, from neighborhoods similar to my own, with a character that I could relate to on so many levels, I was struck. Queen Latifah plays Cleo, a strong, proud, take no shit, lesbian. Finally, there was someone on screen who I felt mirrored my anger and shared my preferences. I was her and she was me and that was okay.
Representation matters and although comfort with myself and understanding the spectrum of gender and sexuality didn’t come for a long time after, this was a turning point in the acceptance of my strength and my power. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me.
I don’t recall seeing a lot of real representation that I could relate to on that level for a very long time, but that movie, and her music gave me strength. In hopes of giving you strength or opening a few people’s eyes to the long history of talent and torment of the LGBTQ communities, here are suggestions for exploration outside of going to the Pride Parade this month that will support LQBTQ art, literature and the movement as a whole.
Visual activist Zanele Muholi portrays black lesbian and gay identities and politics in contemporary South Africa. “The portraits are at once a visual statement and an archive,” she has said, “marking, mapping, and preserving an often invisible community for posterity,” she said of her “Faces and Phases” series.
Cupid Ojala’s drawings, performances, photography and books are “observations of transformative, masculinity, and dating from a queer transgendered man’s experience.”
Cuban-born American gay visual artist, Félix González-Torres, is a minimalist and conceptual artist who creates installations and sculptures that reflect his perceptions of his personal and political experiences. Gonzalez-Torres died in Miami in 1996 from AIDS.
New York City native Alvin Baltrop captured the gay cruising spots and hookup culture in NY, a part of the city and the personalities of people that the city didn’t want to see at the time. He faced racism in the white gay art world, as well as the larger galleries. It wasn’t until after his death that his work was and continues to be celebrated.
José Manuel Hortelano-Pi
The artwork of José Manuel Hortelano-Pi is extremely intimate. His paintings’ main subjects are male bodies that catch the eye of the viewer in a flirtatious and provocative gaze. Originally from a small town in Spain, he now lives in Madrid.
Living Out Islam: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Muslims by Scott Alan Kugle
“I realized that I’m not alone—these people are going through the very same things that I’m going through. But I’ve managed, because of my in-depth relationship with God, to reconcile the two. I was completely comfortable saying to the world that I’m gay and I’m Muslim. I wanted to help other people to get there. So that’s how I became an activist.”
Prelude To Bruise by Saeed Jones
Visceral and authentic poetry written about a black, gay boy growing up in the south. Described as “a dark night of the soul presented as the finest of evening gowns” by Publishers Weekly and one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014
Maurice: A Novel by E. M. Forster
This book was not published until 1971, after Forster’s death due to public and legal attitudes toward homosexuality. There was a note left in the manuscript saying, “Publishable, but worth it?”
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
This book was burned, referred to as “filth” and got Whitman fired from his job at The Department of Interior in 1855.
When We Were Outlaws by Jeanne Córdova
“A sweeping memoir, a raw and intimate chronicle of a young activist torn between conflicting personal longings and political goals. When We Were Outlaws offers a rare view of the life of a radical lesbian during the early cultural struggle for gay rights, Women’s Liberation, and the New Left of the 1970s.”
Pride at its roots, is a march of activism. Let us not forget that June commemorates the Stonewall Riots that were the catalyst to the LQBTQ movement. It is through protest and advocate organizations that things have come this far, allowing many of us in the LGBTQ community and our allies to openly celebrate our identities and show others who struggle with their own, that they are not alone. Take a moment to contribute to one, or many, of these organizations if you have the ability.
The National LGBTQ Task Force
“The National LGBTQ Task Force advances full freedom, justice and equality for LGBTQ people. We’re building a future where everyone is free to be themselves in every aspect of their lives. Today, despite all the progress we’ve made to end discrimination, millions of LGBTQ people face barriers in every aspect of their lives: in housing, employment, healthcare, retirement, and basic human rights. These barriers must go. That’s why the Task Force is training and mobilizing millions of activists across our nation to deliver a world where you can be you. Check out our strategic plan.”
Sage: Services and Advocacy for LGBTQ Elders
“SAGE leads in addressing issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) aging. In partnership with its constituents and allies, SAGE works to achieve a high quality of life for LGBT older adults, supports and advocates for their rights, fosters a greater understanding of aging in all communities, and promotes positive images of LGBT life in later years.”
National Center for Trans Equity
“The National Center for Transgender Equality is a national social justice organization devoted to ending discrimination and violence against transgender people through education and advocacy on national issues of importance to transgender people.
By empowering transgender people and our allies to educate and influence policymakers and others, NCTE facilitates a strong and clear voice for transgender equality in our nation’s capital and around the country.”
Share, be Proud, Love yourself and HAPPY PRIDE MONTH!