featured gallery for September 2012

Elegy for a Queendom That Never Became

"Last week I saw a young queen walking by. Coiffed hair, eye makeup, tight stretch pants, scarves. Maybe nineteen. This was the most endangered type of man in my generation, the kind most likely to die. For years whenever I saw a really nelly queen, I felt frightened for his safety. Being so tough and brave about how they looked on the street showed they were bold about their desires. At one point they seemed to have disappeared, to have been wiped out. But then new ones were created. Do they know their own history? Do they wonder why there are so few sixty-year-old versions of themselves passing by on the sidewalk? What do they want to be when they grow up?"

-- Sarah Schulman, A Gentrification of the Mind (2011)

"It is not just that we have grown up, survived or not, without role models. It is rather that every moment of our social reality, the millieu of everyday existence, screams at us that we can not exist. Finding oneself outside of the binary concept of gender, we have the chance to increase the definitional awareness of what it is to be human. When one realizes that binary schemata -- that the mythical construction of self and other, good and evil, yes and no, right and wrong, all these artificial pairings -- does not really exist ... you can realize the arbitrary mythos of the world and begin creating one's own."

-- Kaitlyn Tikkun (2012)

What is it like to be a really nelly queen growing up without fierce glittery grandmamas to show you how it's done? Or a hot androgynous genderqueer werquing it out without foxy silver inverts to advise us? Or a tiny queen who can't kiki with the vogue ball veterans turned tender with age? How do you figure out how to walk ferociously on a path pockmarked by invisible stilettos?

Why can't ghosts tell stories?

The photographs in this gallery are extraordinary to me. They are the images I wish I had seen when I was younger, to know that such a life was possible: ambiguously gendered individuals celebrating their fabulous and complicated lives, casually flirting with gender in the doorway of the Crowbar, the complex sexiness of the pregnant performer with their dildo, the radical faeries holding each other in the streets, Mark Morrisroe and his campy friends hanging out making films in shabby apartments. All of these images were taken before 2000 and tap into the magic and creativity of queer life at the time.

Coming of age in the early 90s, it never occurred to me that queerness was a sexy, available community or lifestyle. I was taught that to be gay meant dying of AIDS. Considering the sex-positive radical queertopia I now reside in as an adult, that death threat may actually have held some truth.

In my 1990s, the word "transgender" was a faceless mystery; its complexities elusive and unknown. It wasn't until I met the next transgeneration, the current cresting wave of individuals in their teens and 20s who have inherited so much language around the questioning of gender and have access to more of our community's history, that I began to understand that there was life outside the binary concept of gender.

Every generation takes the victories of their elders for granted; every new wave takes the present as a given and rapidly charges forward. If they had stayed alive, would we have come of age with gender-neutral bathrooms? Would there be three socially acceptable genders and a pronoun more graceful than "they"? Would transwomen still be getting harassed and killed on a weekly basis? Would they have reformed the prison system or developed universal health care? Would gay marriage even exist? What would exist that we can't even begin to imagine?

In these images are the faces of my elders, the brave genderwarriors who died too soon and took their futures with them. The ones who worked out so many things my generation was forced to rediscover on our own. The ones who performed tranny weddings, slipped away to the back room of the party with their dates, the emerging filmmakers who could have made the movie that saved the life of a suicidal baby queen, the friends of the photographers whose work is now collected in an archive of grief.

Who DO we want to be when we grow up? Who did THEY want to be? If they hadn't been decimated by the plague, would we, their descendants, be different, more humble? Did we inherit their angry vagabond spirits when they left this earth just as we were arriving? And if so, how can we honor their lives and their deaths, so future generations can just keep exploring?

The problem with images is that they don't have a voice. I can see the makeup and shy confidence, feel the awkwardness and exhilaration. But I want more: I want to hear the stories, and to learn from the wisdom they were able to accumulate.

Instead I can only just look, and wonder.

-- Quito Ziegler, Summer 2012, Grafton, Vermont and Berlin, Germany