Fierce & Free


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.

My co-conspirator Kristen Parker Lovell made this & you should watch it.

Trans in Media 2

photo by Cathy Opie from the article

photo by Cathy Opie from the article

An article made me mad so I wrote a letter.  It never got published.

Dear Editor,

I am a person who has taken sanctuary on the land called “the Commune” in “Out of the Woods,” which presents a regrettably limited portrait of a movement I hold dear to my heart.

My complaints about this article are less important than my need to state a few urgent facts it failed to mention: A trans woman named Amber Monroe was found murdered in Detroit yesterday. Eleven other trans women of color were murdered this year so far in the U.S. Their names were K.c. Haggard, India Clarke, Mercedes Williamson, London Chanel, Kristina Gomez Reinwald, Penny Proud, Taja Gabrielle DeJesus, Yazmin Vash Payne, Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard, and Lamar “Papi” Edwards. Every night at Sylvia’s Place, the emergency shelter for queer and trans young people in NYC that was founded as the legendary *Sylvia Rivera’s dying wish for her community, young people from across the region crash on a concrete floor because it’s better than being in the streets, and at least there is queer community there. We live in a country developed on stolen land, populated with slaves, ecologically damaged, deeply mismanaged, and — feel free to listen directly to the voices emerging through the Movement for Black Lives, which articulate quite clearly the ongoing impact of racism and patriarchy in our culture.

I mention these facts because they are essential to the bigger picture of queerness in America, and critical context for understanding the desire for queer separatism in 2015 beyond what was hinted at in the article.

Private queer spaces like “the Commune” and Sylvia’s Place are essential for those of us who are critical of the values of the “mainstream” culture we do not seek to join, but organize to change. Many of us who seek shelter in them are survivors of violence, oppression, misogyny, transmisogyny, homophobia and isolation — all direct results of a culture perpetuated by articles like “Out of the Woods.”

On the land, we do our best to create new paradigms for loving and protecting each other and the earth, honoring each other’s gifts, and holding ourselves accountable in community. Many of us are activists in a variety of movements – police brutality, sex worker’s rights, HIV prevention, queer youth homelessness – and we use our time in queer-only spaces to heal collectively from the culture we are surrounded by elsewhere.

These spaces are far from perfect — and this article, with its cis white class-privileged gay male lens, only furthers the minimizing of women, trans people, and people of color in some of those spaces. But at least within them we are doing our best to live out our values instead of just musing about them, and making progress through our differences.

To expose our community in an article that ignores these issues at large in the greater culture and simply “discovers” us like “Captain Cook getting his first glimpse of Kauai” misses the point and continues a long-held tradition in mass media of othering instead of listening. In the context of misogyny, murders and broken families outlined above, it was an act of journalistic irresponsibility.

It is also my understanding that the article breaks an agreement with stewards of “the Commune” about sharing its name and identifying details – as Femmy Rose said eloquently in their comment on the article on the NYT web site. And my understanding is that other land projects named in the article actively declined to be part of the article.

Thank you for reading these words.


*Incidentally, Sylvia Rivera was one of the leaders of the Stonewall riot in 1969 along with her best friend Marsha P. Johnson, that kicked off one story within the gay liberation movement but does not represent the experiences of all queers, as one story never could. Incidentally, Sylvia’s role in that movement as a co-founder of STAR was recently whitewashed in the trailer for an upcoming film which centers the experience of white gay men as a stand-in for a much more diverse movement – not unlike this article.


Kristen Parker Lovell - Stonewall trailer response

Awake in the pink light of dawn, having feelings about the video shoot we are attempting today – a music video for Mizz June’s song “Light the Way.” This morning I am struggling with the word “director” within a process that – from the start – has attempted to collapse traditional hierarchies within the filmmaking process.

The song was originally written by Star Amerasu, chosen by Mizz June to be sung by the character she created for our movie, and recorded this winter and spring with Princess Tiny. From day one June and Ky’iera and all of the main performers have controlled the narratives of their characters and how they choose to represent themselves in the immortal language of film.

We move slowly in this process. We think a lot about what messages we send, what values we represent. We have lots of dinners where we talk about ideas and tell stories and only get through part of the agenda. The “we” is constantly shifting – which complicates things and adds to the magic. The ideas need to hold up through many different filters and changes. We keep re-writing the script and we accept this as part of our process.

Sometime this winter, as Light the Way was in the works, June and I invited somethKristen Parker, Angel Favorite, Dominika Ksel and Jack Jackson into our imaginations, along with Carlo Maria, Emmersun Lunarbow, and others involved in the movie dreaming process. Ultimately it’s Angel who had the capacity to make this shoot happen quickly enough to coincide with Miss Major’s visit to NYC, and many friends from the Werrrqshop like Danielle Rye and Ka Sue Jeong and Qing Xzavier are working on makeup, accessories, costumes…. friends like Lucretia John and Willow T C Rosenberg and Tilly McGill DeWolfe are stepping up on food and costumes, dancers we’ve met through Sylvia’s Place Ma’at Black St. Jamesand Dawn Kimberly Cole, and my roommates Carlo Maria and Chris Roberts who have been with us every step of the way along with so many other friends and helpers.

Angel officially plays the role of “director” in today’s shoot, as the creator of the storyboard and the shot list and the person whose wisdom guides the lights and cameras. And yet – is the real director Mizz June and Kristen, whose ideas and imaginations guided Angel’s visions? Or Star, whose lyrics have moved us emotionally through this journey? Is it all of us combined? What words fit my role as person with a certain aesthetic who finds and redistributes resources and moves the process along? How do we properly honor the work contributed by all the people who are giving to the best of their ability and imaginations?

Why do we have words in the first place? Whose language are we even speaking?

I feel extra sensitive about this because of considerations of race, gender and ability as they relate to the filmmaking process, even in our all-queer-and-trans by-us-for-us production. From day one I accepted that being a white person with power “directing” friends of color could be perceived as problematic, and yet, I refused to use my power as a producer to perpetuate white supremacy in film. I am anxious about how outsiders will perceive our filmmaking process, how it looks when reduced to certain words, vs. how it actually plays out for us, what it feels like to collaborate on nearly every decision in a deeply engaged collaborative process that prioritizes relationship-building and difficult conversations.

And I worry about patterns of patriarchy and colonialism and how they play out in our process, even as we try to hunt down the beast and create a wild pony from its carcass.

I worry about how they play out in me.

It is both a miracle and an act of resistance to be queer and trans and in charge of the telling of our own stories. Miss Major is participating in today’s shoot is an honor I am grateful to live through. Working collaboratively on a collective effort that involves the talents and imaginations of so many amazing people is richly rewarding and the thing I am loving the most about filmmaking. I am grateful for the knowledge in Angel’s head that will help the performers look great and well lit and keep the shoot moving forward. Grateful to be part of a community that questions itself, even while we stumble forward, making mistakes and learning from them and moving forward always.

As June sings — “someday, we’ll laugh the pain away….. someday.”


Another collaboration for the Wrrqshop TONIGHT:

In the fall, a few incidents of trans/homophobic hate violence occurred in Central Brooklyn back to back. The Audre Lorde Project (ALP), New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP), The Brooklyn Community Pride Center(BCPC), and Make the Road New York (MRNY) joined together to host an event in which the community could discuss ways to respond and resist hate violence in our communities.
Many people suggested increased spaces to learn to defend oneself/ones community and to reflect on/creatively express rage at violence through art. So, along with the Werrrqshop (WRRQ), we decided to organize a free “Safety Night” where community members could learn some basic self-defense/alternatives to policing & make art! Folks will also have the opportunity to network and learn about other great community resources such as Center for Anti-Violence Education (CAE)! Metrocards and dinner provided!

Friday, March 20 at GLOBE-Bushwick

6-6:30 Welcome & food
6:30-7 Introduction to the night & centering activity
7-7:45 Self defense training 101
7:45-8:30 Alternatives to policing training 101
8:30-9 Art making to respond to/resist violence
9-9:30 Announcements & hang out/network time

This event is free and open to all. Globe Bushwick is wheelchair accessible. The nearest trains are the M at Knickerbocker, and the M/L at Mrytle-Wyckoff (which has an elevator).

family dinner at sylvia's place

family dinner at sylvia’s place

another inadvertantly epic FB post, reproduced here:

Ruminating again on the intersections between racial justice and environmental concerns… particularly after reading this amazing post.

a) underlying root causes (white supremacist capitalist patriarchy causing devastation and destruction; disregard for violence against people and the earth)

b) the movements with momentum that have gotten significant numbers of people on the streets recently//the not-totally-overlapping casts of each, and whether it’s possible to consider that a strength somehow in undermining the greater forces at work//what alliances are possible or already happening.

c) the urgency of each of these movements; the different conceptions of time meant by the word “urgent”

d) I still hear the voice of a queer activist from Fiji in my head, who spoke of how all differences in her country were being set aside in order to deal with the more immediate problem of their land disappearing under rising seas.

e) and the voices of queer filmmaker friends from Kenya, who are restricted by severe homophobia in their culture, which – at its roots – emerged from white supremacist capitalist patriarchy

f) What would it mean to flatten the heirarchy assumed by patriarchal systems?

g) We are all human, we all breathe air and drink water. In our current systems some human lives are valued or violated more than others. We can’t work to heal the earth without simultaneously working to immediately and creatively address the crises caused by these systems.

h) There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in this giant and massive project of decolonizing and healing our earth. There is a role for literally everyone on the planet in this work, and for lots of different kinds of work to happen simultaneously. I continue to be inspired by projects that offer solutions and alternatives to current systems, particularly projects led by people of color and others who have borne the brunt of these fucked-up systems. I think about change that happens in small ways, by individuals.

I gotta go to work now.

But I LOVED reading about these projects — which make all these ideas more concrete.

also still thinking about this, which I posted on FB last month.

download it here!!! WRRQSHOPzineDec2014

WHAT MATTERS at the Wrrqshop

from our recent interview on the Visual AIDS blog:

The decision to make the “WHAT MATTERS” zine was both intentional and intuitive—there was so much going on in the streets and in our hearts, so much to respond to and reflect on and heal from. It was, and still is, an emotional time. One of the beautiful functions about making art is how it can provide a release for hard feelings. It also felt important to acknowledge and capture the sentiments in a format more tangible than Facebook or Instagram.

It felt not just appropriate but, somehow, necessary, to direct the resources we had available at the WERRRQSHOP to doing SOMETHING to contribute to the seemingly seismic shift in public dialogue around police brutality, state violence, racism, all of the issues that play out in the lives of the young people we love, and the others like them who have gotten killed by police. It felt equally important—as two white artists—to acknowledge our whiteness and open up space for other white queers to work through the feelings raised by witnessing the anger and injustice of our loved ones, brought on by a system of racism that I for one was raised to support. Lots to unpack there.

Zines are awesome as they allow different perspectives and voices to co-exist. Everyone gets their own page, first-person confessionals are totally encouraged, it is a good space for release and creativity. The group of people that responded to the call was a really diverse mash-up of age, race, work style, a lot of perspectives and levels of experience. Joan Mitchell Foundation let us print the zines in color which is pretty awesome. Ethan just dropped off a bunch of copies to the Bureau—check one out for yourself and let us know what you think.

making WHAT MATTERS at the Wrrqshop