I am returning to some photos I took at the start of the month. Yesterday I was angsting out about slow sales to a close friend. He stated that maybe my work had become too “strong”. It coded but clear to me. We are always in this internal battle with ourselves. It’s an internalized homophobia built on years of others projecting their own anxieties about our sexuality. “Your open sexuality makes me uncomfortable,” is the real message. It’s putting attention on my sexuality. It’s challenging notions of what is correct in our society and what is acceptable. Tone it down. Stop lisping. Stop swishing. Stop being openly gay. You’ll be more successful. You’ll sale more work.
Art is an extension of the human experience. My experience is queer. I wave the flag as a political statement because we live in a time where it appears we’ve made so much progress. You’re sleepy. You take it for granted. You think the quest to educate is done, but the truth is we have never been in more danger. Our culture is disappearing with assimilation. We feel safer, but in the background the religious right is slowly chipping away at the advances made in the past 20 years. They are slyly passing new legislation making it impossible to adopt a child, to express your gender, and literally be yourself openly without fear of losing your job, your home, and your right to express who you are. We are not done with the war no matter how many battles we win.
I have my own battles with internalized homophobia. I remember endless hours in front of the mirror in my teen years trying to remove the physical gestures and indications of my gayness. My peers were onto me. They piled into trucks and chased me home from school. My life was in enough danger the school graduated me early my senior year. I did not experience prom. I did not experience the rights of passage so common for high school seniors. I wanted to convince myself it was what I wanted. What kid when given the opportunity to leave school early with their degree doesn’t think that is an advantage? I did not understand what was happening. I could not comprehend why that guy felt a wood plank across the back of my head was the appropriate way to respond to my gayness.
This past fall when Ojai USD made a leap from a pixeled image of a man from chest up to porn in one of my lectures for design class, they validated all my fears. I’d not only been discovered as a gay man, but I was the kind you turn your head on in public. I was a pornographer exposing children to pornography. All I had to do was accept their scarlet letter red A and sign a piece of paper admitting my guilt. What guilt? What evidence of evil wrong doing? All I knew was that tone. You are the LAPD telling me I was robbed at gun point because clearly as a gay man I was soliciting sex in the streets. I was that kid sitting in front of my school counselor telling me congrats you get to leave early because we can’t protect you. You’re not worth protecting.
You know that tone when you hear it. You sense their fear. You wonder what it takes for them to pick up a piece of wood and bash your head in. We don’t experience hate in different ways. We carry it forward to our other experiences and we grow to expect it. The fight is not to remain silent. The fight is to remain true to who we are and walk through the fear. We don’t stop because we are afraid. We claim our rights, raise our head, and remind those people we cannot be defeated by your bigotry, racism, and hatred for anything that is not you.