Preserving Queer History

There is a museum in New York City, located in SoHo, called the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art. The collection was formed in 1969 by a gay couple in their SoHo loft, Charles Leslie and Frederic “Fritz” Lohman. They explicitly chose to display art by queer artists as it was a barely touched portion of the art world, and remains so to this day. When the AIDS crisis struck New York, the couple began to frantically collect art from dead and dying artists, trying to preserve their shared history from families who did not care. The collection was accredited as a museum in 2016, becoming the first and only museum dedicated to displaying and preserving queer art. In 2019, the museum announced plans to transform the museum into more of a cultural center, with a learning center and research library in addition to the preexisting galleries.

The mission of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art dovetails nicely with Adrienne Rich’s poem¬†Study of History from her collection The Fact of a Doorframe. Both focus on queer history that has been buried for years, intending to bring light to those hidden histories. The final stanza of the poem includes the lines “we have never entirely/known what was done to you upstream”, describing the uncertainty that surrounds queer history (Rich 72). The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art attempts to bring that history to light through exhibitions and accepting donated artworks into its permanent collection. Both the poem and the museum explore queer history, through the consequences of burying and the benefits of preservation respectively. Through preservation of queer art from the late 1960s onwards, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art avoids the the silence described in Rich’s poem, creating a space for queer history to be told.

Community Solidarity – Belize and Roy

Belize’s decision to help Roy Cohn in the hospital with the double blind mirrors the community unification and division occurring in the real world during the AIDS crisis. During their encounter in Roy’s hospital room, Belize and Roy trade barbs back and forth, from race to competence. However, despite his stated hate for the man, Belize chooses to assist Roy to the best of his capabilities. Of course, his position as Roy’s nurse gives Belize power over Roy. Instead of leaving Roy to die like a number of his friends have, Belize advises Roy to “watch out for the double blind” and to avoid radiation therapy (155). When Roy questions Belize’s decision to help him, Belize tells him that it is “solidarity”, from “one faggot to another” (155).¬† During the AIDS crisis, the queer community pulled together to support each other when the powers at be left them behind. Lesbian women reached out to gay men, providing them with services like haircuts when no one would touch them for fear of transmission. In telling Roy about which treatments to avoid and what to watch for, Belize plays a similar role by reaching out and providing support. Yet, Belize and Roy also represent the larger divisions in the community as a whole, especially considering access to AZT and other life-saving treatments. As a rich white man in a position of power, Roy is able to demand access to AZT in large quantities and actually receive it, while Belize and his friends are left to fend for themselves. Belize and Roy are foils of each other, representing the communities affected by AIDS and the opposing actions taken by society in support or against them.

Intersections: identity and class

Eli Clare’s use of repetition on page 41 demonstrates the fluidity of identity, as it changes with new experiences but depends on the environment which cultivates it. Clare conflates his queer identity with his roots and his present politics, mixing all three together in order to find his identity. Clare mentions how tangled his queer identity and understanding of class/roots has become, and how relocating to an urban space with its urban politics helped to untangle the the two.

The inclusion and repetition of words such as class and urban, as well as descriptions of various lifestyles, help to define his point about the muddled mess surrounding his identity. Only once he was away from his home town and in a new urban space did he gain an understanding of what exactly his home was like and how it affected his perception of his identity. While attending an urban liberal arts college, Clare was able to better explore his identity as a lesbian and got to experience a whole new queer world. At the same time, his time at college introduced him to a new level of middle class that Clare had not experienced when growing up in Port Orford.

I think this particular passage, and overall what Eli Clare is trying to convey, is that identity is like water. It flows and changes as you grow older and experience the world, but conforms to the space it is shoved in. Identity, especially queer identity is shaped by the experiences people have, both in urban and rural spaces. By leaving his rural home, Clare was able to expand his own ideas about his queer identity and how it relates to his roots as a lower middle class “country bumpkin” while also discovering where Clare feels most at home (pg 41).

Body & Kentucky Bourbon

The poem “Body & Kentucky Bourbon” describes an unhealthy relationship, with Saeed Jones looking back on the relationship with new understanding. The poem reflects on the deterioration of a relationship that was broken from the start, liquor filling in the cracks of the foundation. The lines “How to name you:/farmhand, Kentucky boy, lover” and “…do I wince at the jokes:/white trash, farmer’s tan, good ole boy” highlights the two tones of the poem (42, 43). In the first line, the names are pleasant and affectionate, conveying a time filled with happiness and love. On the other hand, the second line has a much darker tone, insults that mirror the love in the pet names from earlier in the relationship. The theme of internalized homophobia runs through all of Jones’s poems, and “Body & Kentucky Bourbon” is no different. The line “To realize you drank/so you could face me the morning after” illustrates the internalized homophobia in the narrator’s partner quite clearly (42). With the revelation of the narrator’s partner’s homophobia, the unhealthy relationship becomes clear, as seen in the shift in names. The pet names transitioned to insults, a joke in bed became broken glasses laying on a counter. As the narrator reflects on the memories left behind, traces of the relationship come to light in the bottom of the shot glass, especially similarities between the ex-couple. The narrator and his partner came from similar backgrounds filled with hate, but only the narrator was able to overcome the internalized homophobia and heal from some of the trauma in his past.