I’m having a lot of feelings today so I thought I would write them all down.
#3DeadIn3Days #DelwarnSmall #AltonSterling #PhilandoCastile
I have still not yet fully recovered from #Orlando yet. #WhyWeDance
Why We Dance. We dance because we are dying. We dance because we are not dead yet.
We are not dead yet. And neither are any of you.
These are unacceptable times. It is 2016. Ignorance is a choice.
White fragility is unacceptable. Many of us have accepted generations of training that enforced a structure of killings, incarceration, pathology, erasure, and countless other forms of violence to other people on this planet. We gotta own up to it and move forward.
Our planet is in trouble. She needs us to get our shit together, or face extinction.
It’s not gonna happen with our current leadership, and these systems they work to uphold.
Every single one of us alive on this planet today has a choice. It’s 2016, people. Get it together.
These changes cannot trickle in gradually over time. Our people are dying. It is happening every day. The violence needs to stop immediately. #Defund #Disarm #Demilitarize the police
Somos un cuerpx. We are one body. All life on the planet is interconnected. When one of us is hurting, we all hurt too. Anyone with the privilege to ignore this very basic fact needs to break out of their silo and work on their active listening skills.
It is ok for these times to be painful. It will take *all of us* time to grieve for the atrocities we have endured under hundreds and hundreds of years of violence. Everyone grieves in their own way and anger is part of the feelings to work through.
Denial/Ignorance, Justifying, Anger, Anger Directed at Change, Creative Leadership. Someone told me that these are the five stages to overcoming oppression. Learn to see yourself and everyone around you as being in one part of this continuum, and learn to adjust your strategies and feelings accordingly.
No overstepping boundaries. Including emotional ones. People need to be where they’re at in their process.
We all make mistakes. The vast majority of us have lived our entire lives in a constructed world that wasn’t built for us. There is a lot of unlearning to do. Compassion is cool. So is accepting a call-out with grace.
Sometimes it’s really liberating to do that wrrq on the dance floor.
How do we take the dance floor into real life?
We do it by doing it. Make the road by walking. Dance into the future by loving each other as hard as we can, then making the difficult changes that radical love requires.
Conflict resolution. Collective healing. Truth and reconciliation. Structures of care.
Food, water, shelter, drag. Global interdependence. A different map of human survival.
#ThisStartsToday #Defund #Disarm #Demilitarize #Reimagine
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So the New York Times Lens Blog decided to publish my images + an essay I wrote this week. I wrote it over five sleepless nights while grieving for Orlando (Rest in Power. Rest in Joy. #SayTheirNames) and ran out of time to get the words quite right. If you want to hear more of the back-story, there is an interview with Minnesota Public Radio you can listen to.
These images come from a moment in time much earlier in my transformation into queerness, and my “we” has evolved a lot since then. In the piece I wasn’t able to acknowledge the parallel underground movements happening in other extended queer families across the city/country/world – nor was there space to link to the excellent work of Samantha Box or Gerard Gaskin, Elle Perez or Linda Simpson, or countless other brilliant community photographers who have also recorded their intimate perspectives of our people. If this reads as whitewashing and feels typical of the NYT – I accept that as accurate critique and take responsibility for my role in it, however unintentional. And ultimately I hope it won’t overshadow my deep intentionality to use this rare access to a dominant media platform to communicate messages about queer love, death and community to a very broad audience.
My first queer family was a Jewish one, which I wish I had stated more clearly in the published text. In 2009 I met some genderfuckers while helping out with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, a rad group I hooked up with in NYC after spending several years organizing in the immigrant rights movement in Minnesota. My new friends opened up to me a collective, liberated world of artists and activists that I had not been exposed to before, and I immediately felt like I had found “my people.”
It didn’t take long before I cut off my hair and dove head first into queer community, dancing every weekend I could, until early 2011 when I experienced PTSD and had to put my camera down (more on that story here) and ultimately – redirected my energies into filmmaking, community and movement-building, and curating other peoples’ art.
The story of the pictures begins here in 2010 with Between Two Worlds: Who Loved You Before You Were Mine, a reprise performance of a play my friend Killer had dreamed up with a collection of friends from JFREJ + elsewhere. The performance seemed to tranifest (a word I use to describe queer imagination come to life) secret dreams that I held too, and when I looked up and realized how beautiful my friends were, I suddenly HAD to start photographing.
It was also a way for me to channel my frustration with the kind of “objective” documentary photography I was reviewing for my job at the Open Society Foundations’ Documentary Photography Project – work that I sometimes loved, but which often frustrated me. I had long gotten over the idea of objectivity, I was tired of looking at neatly composed color images shot on high-end digital cameras, and I kind of just wanted to fuck with all of the rules. A chrome-faced camera felt sexy in my hands, and using it broke a several-year dry spell of photographer burnout.
Ultimately these first friends led me through circle after circle of queers upon queers upon queers, and my work since then to make these circles more inclusive and attempt to stitch them all together for greater cultural transformation is documented on this blog and speaks for itself. Every queer friend I’ve met is gloriously unique – that’s a basic principle most of us share – and it’s our ability to listen, understand, rage together, and hold each other despite our differences that makes us strong.
And probably all of us have found ourselves on a queer dance floor at some point. :)
The work of unraveling white supremacy and cultural imperialism, understanding how it has impacted ALL our behaviors and imaginations, and developing new habits of love and interdependence is critical work particularly in our generations, when (due to the internet and other factors) we’re able to develop more inclusive shared analysis and visions for the future. In my collective we call this “doing the wrrq” and if yr down for it – drop us a note, we are happy to help you figure out how you can best get involved – no matter where you live. If you’ve got more money than time we’d be happy to redirect those funds to artists taking responsibility for various projects, or project expenses (we need to raise $15,000 to get over 50 artists through this year’s summer retreat, for example).
The photos remain as beautiful now as when I first shot them, and I’m proud to see them out in the world now representing my particular memories of the queer love that shaped me. I will always try to contextualize them with active, urgent stories from my global gender-free sisterhood.
Extra love to three of my queer fam in these images, who walked first through the doors they dreamed into being:
* Xavier Ruiz Cabo Flores aka DJ Sirlinda, whose countless beats we marched and danced to
* Taueret Davis aka AfroTitty, whose fierce organizing and performances created new worlds for fat black femmes
* the elegant acerbic and magical Bryn Kelly, whose dead-honest writing exposed us to the hilarious side of life as a poor HIV-positive transwoman
* and to Kate Spencer of New Alternatives, whose generous heart supported countless transient young people over decades of care
(OK so the captions as I submitted them read like a history of love for queer Brooklyn and had links to every artist in every photograph. A lot of those words and links were cut, as were words like “genderfucker” and pronouns like “they” and gentler terms than “committed suicide.” But the rest of the words are pretty much my own, and I’m grateful to the editors for supporting my voice as I spoke for myself.)
Thanks again to Ezra Berkley Nepon for some brilliant last-minute editing support, Sarah Peters for keeping me alive through five sleepless nights of writing through grief, Karina Claudio-Betancourt, Ignacio J Medina and Houston Cypress of Love the Everglades for sharing their voices, and to every one of my fierce and brilliant friends, for being yourselves every day “in a constructed world that wasn’t built for us.”
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Been reflecting a bit on the Forest of the Future, and particularly these words written in 2013, just before winter broke into spring. Reflecting on how far we’ve come in such a short time, and how far we still need to go.
The WORLD needs to change.
I say that with years of experience crackling my voice, not the stoner voice of impossible visions. I believe our gender revolution must be global in scale. We need to take care of each other individually, as chosen families, as networks of aligned friends, as intersecting communities of different persuasions, as geographic regions, and at last globally interconnected – because the queer world is an ecosystem and each one of us is part of it, and none of us should stop fighting until we have ALL been liberated.
This is a revolution we need to lead ourselves, and build up in circles the way a tree grows rings. The bark of each tree needs to grow stronger, moss needs to grow on its visible roots, birds need to nest in its branches. Queer fruits need to drop and burst like balloons, scattering their juices like glitter on the forest floor.
We need not fear the depths of the forest. Take the time to sit inside the tree of our ancestors, reflect on the ways their energy has nurtured us and brought us here.
We need to be curious, we need to explore, we need to play. Climb up on the balcony of our faerie punk tree house and look out at the big picture of what’s unfolding below us.
We need to sit with each other and listen through our tears.
Above all, we need to learn from the mistakes that we make so we can continue to grow wiser together.
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Yesterday I grieved for my white friends, my mixed friends, my friends of color – any or all of us who have internalized the culture of violence and oppression we were raised with.
Because all of us – including those who have benefited from it – have been harmed by white supremacy, patriarchy and the capitalist values which have limited our vision, our humanity, our interconnectedness. All of us have reason to be angry and hurt, and every single one of us has the opportunity to direct those feelings towards our love and collective liberation.
Even if you’re not directly affected by daily acts of aggression and hate – wise up and pay attention – this is happening on your watch. Those of us who have been living with blinders on – it’s time to take those blinders off, and get real with ourselves about the kinds of people we want to be in this world moving forward.
Because the truth is we’ve ALL been fucked up our entire lives, for many generations by this point, by the crap we were taught to believe, made up by some pretty hypocritical people who had radically different values than the ones I consider humane. It has impacted each of us differently and some bodies (black and trans ones in particular) have received the worst of it, but the results are fairly devastating in aggregate. And it is a really treacherous process to purge all this garbage from our brains and our behaviors. It’s no wonder we are always arguing amongst ourselves about it. I like to see that as a sign of change and progress.
Some gentle guidelines, written with love, to anyone who is working through it right now:
c) Listen to the voices of queer and trans Puerto Ricans.
f) Listen to the voices of people who are differently abled.
g) Recognize that none of this is new. None of this is new. It may be new to you but this has been going on for hundreds of years in America, and these voices have rarely had access to the tools for self-determination or space to be heard. To be brown or black or Muslim or differently abled or queer or Latinx or Asian or indigenous or nonbinary or trans or poor or undocumented or homeless in America is to live defensively in your body, to experience a different sense of safety and rest, to filter reactions, to choose when and how to get angry or let things go. But don’t listen to me try to describe it – listen to them.
h) Remember that not all experiences are monolithic – there is variety within people who share cultures or traits. Remember that asking someone to share their experience with you can be a form of emotional labor that requires consent. Be gentle if they don’t want to process with you. You’ve got lots of other folks to process with.
i) Understand that you may have been complicit in perpetuating oppression outside of your consent. We have all been broken by white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalist values – homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, hatred in all of its forms. Once you become aware of it, and all the ways it plays out for people of various colors, genders and abilities – you cannot go back. It is up to you to call out the bullshit when you see it, because all of our lives are interconnected and if you’re not actively helping then you are indeed part of the problem. It is work to purge our minds and behaviors of these ideas. It is work to change. This work is urgent, immediate, and our future. Accept it and move forward with your work. Remember that every day is a new opportunity to practice radical love, and this work will bring you joy and life.
j) Listen to your heart. Check in with yourself. Rage, numbness, sadness, fear, bewilderment, nothing at all, empathy. Who do you love. What kind of a world do you want to live in. Where do you, yourself, in your own personal heart, stand. What do you still need to learn. Whose voices will you listen to for leadership.
k) Now, compare. What is your community saying? Where are your friends and your family and your co-workers and your people at? Hint: if they are not talking about this stuff they are actively complicit in its perpetuation. As perhaps you were once. As I was once, too. (still am. It’s a lifelong learning process.)
l) Consider your sphere of influence. How can you help dismantle hate and other fucked up values? How can you speak to these people you love in a way that will help them understand and change? What larger groups are you connected to? What resources do you have (human, financial, spatial, emotional) that you can direct towards change? If all movements are an ecosystem and each of us has our part – what is yours?
m) Be gentle with yourself in your process. Be gentle with others in theirs. Listen with kindness and openness to the stories you are hearing from people of different experiences. Don’t jump to conclusions – let yourself be changed. Have patience with anger, even when it is directed towards people like you. Understand the continuum of emotions that come with working through generations of trauma. Model the person you would like to become.
Ultimately it is not the color of our skin that marks us – it is our empathy and our ability to change. I believe that each one of us has the ability to evolve, to practice radical love, to restitch our connections to each other and the earth. By doing so you and I can shift our culture to a place that reflects our values, our humanness, our love.
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recurring thoughts re: orlando. bc I can’t get back to sleep.
five years ago, when I was learning how to handle violent ptsd flashbacks, my therapist had me close my eyes and picture the safest place I could imagine. “like an island beach,” she suggested. I immediately described the hey queen dance floor, 3am, arms around a circle of friends, singing loudly with love. there is no such thing as safety in this world – there are never guarantees. but a gunman opening fire on a queer dance floor, to me, is unimaginable.
those 50 queers. every one of them. their lives and their stories. how many chosen families disrupted. all of their cats and pets.
we will never be destroyed. we are a part of this human fabric and our lives can never be erased. not in 2016. never again.
people who survive daily abuse and microagressions are survivors. people killed on a dance floor are _________. “victims” implies shame and powerlessness. “heroes” or “martyrs” implies intention, a singularity of purpose, a myth of strident individualism that feels fucked up to perpetuate. “angels” improperly invokes religion. how do we name the dead?
rest in power. rest in joy. die dancing.
what forms of life did those souls re-enter? where do we go when our bodies no longer contain our energies?
masculinity. there is a problem with how it is taught and perpetuated, and that problem is global in scale.
a quote others have posted: the gunman was not a radical Islamist – he was a radical homophobe. the problem of trump and America, the very real and somewhat comprehensible dissatisfaction he is tapping into. the problem of reductive thinking, the end game of white supremacy in mass culture. the need for proximity, for person to person dialogue and connection. the challenge of making that happen in a meaningful way.
the problem of guns.
the perpetuation of violence.
the ineffectiveness of laws.
the importance of shared agreements.
the ultimate value of culture.
the absolute, urgent need to shift our culture in whatever sphere of influence we have – work that every single one of us must do every single day. towards values of dialogue, inclusion, and care. the importance of feelings. institutions that honor and reflect these principles. the disruption of business as usual. the dismantling of business.
above all else, the value of love. our personal abilities to make peace, to perpetuate love, to care for each other. this IS our future. this is how we survive.
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THIS SONG WILL MAKE YOU LOVE LIFE. Or at least, help restore a tiny bit of your faith in it.
This is the song + video we made together in summer 2015 at Arts in the Woods! I was the Camp Director this year, after two years of running the Craft Shack, and the whole experience has been life-changing.
Arts in the Woods is an annual retreat at the Easton Mountain Queer Retreat Center for over 50 queer/trans visual artists, performers, dancers, musicians, makeup, and culinary artists. The program uniquely encourages collaborations between different generations of queer artists. Half of the artists are taking a break from transience or staying at homeless shelters in NYC and Boston. The other half are at different points in their journeys. Many of the returning participants are shelter alumnae who worked collectively as leaders for six months to plan the retreat at a weekly intergenerational art salon called the Wrrqshop.
Arts in the Woods grew from a desire by more established queer artists to co-create with young transient artists passing through queer youth homeless shelters. The program dismantles the hierarchies established in dominant systems of culture, nurturing a cohort of young queers to take control of their own representation. All participants agree to respect and learn from each other, as they take time away from the transphobia, police brutality, money troubles, and other pervasive social ills that plague our cities.
Partners include the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Easton Mountain Queer Retreat Center, Sylvia’s Place, New Alternatives, Harlem United, Boston GLASS, LMCC Fund for Creative Communities, Visual AIDS, the Wrrqshop, and Trans in Action.
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