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.

Coming to Self Acceptance

Heartstopper is a British television show on Netflix that centers around two British boys and their love story as well as the experiences of growing up Queer. Nick and Charlie, along with their friends, represent many different aspects of growing up in general along with growing up as LGBTQ+. The show specifically emphasizes self-love and acceptance along with taking the time to discover yourself. One of our main characters, Nick comes to acceptance of his sexuality throughout the show as we see his and Charlie’s relationship progress. Part of why Nick’s story is so impactful is the space that he’s fortunately been given to discover himself. Charlie, despite finding it difficult to hide their relationship at school, respects Nick and allows him to take his time, and does not pressure him. Nick’s mom allows him to comfortably come out to her by not rushing him or jumping assumptions. She treats him with love and support and accepts him like he is. Nick’s story is one of many storylines in the show that revolve around self-acceptance during the stages of growing up. Overall, this show places much emphasis on the importance of self-acceptance along with finding confidence in expressing yourself.

In this way, Heartstopper is similar to all the works we have read in class. They all grapple with self-acceptance regarding sexuality and creating space for themselves. It should be noted that while it holds similar themes, Heartstopper does contain more hopeful content than the other media we have read in class, but regardless it does still cover the theme of self love and acceptance like the readings of this class. For example, Saedee Jones covers his journey of coming to acceptance of his gender expression and his identity as a Gay Black man despite biases and discrimination. The specific issues each author grapples with both differ and intersect due to different intersectional identities and histories, but general themes stay the same. The authors and the show aim to reclaim their stories and experiences and to show their journeys to self-love to help others like them not to feel alone. They also give voice to many experiences and bring representation into the media space. By doing so, they validate the experiences of the unheard and motivate others like them to accept their identity and feel comfortable speaking on them in media spaces.

The US in need of a sex education reform

The Netflix show Sex Education is a great example of how queer and diverse sex education can be implanted in an education system in order to avoid the stigma around sex as a topic itself but also expanding the focus of a very heterosexual sex education system in the United States.

The show Sex Education takes places at a high school in the UK, which places a group of high school  students and their families at the center of the show. In the show the students deal with their self-development, discovering their identity as well as their sexuality. Queerness plays a key role in the show since many characters identity as queer and they spend a great amount of time learning about themselves and who they are. Another key aspect of the show is sex education, and how the sex education needs to be reformed in order to make all students feel included and their questions answered in class. I believe that the show does a really good job of presenting the struggle many teenagers and high school students face as they try to understand their identity and sexuality and how hard and nerve racking that can be, especially when you take into account how society is still not fully inclusive. Even though the show talks about the social struggles of queerness, it portrays queerness as so natural and normal that it is easy to imagine that it helps a lot of people in the queer community to find comfort and confidence from the show. Especially when focusing on the aspects of the show portraying sex education as something really important and natural, we learn how diverse sex is and how our society needs to expand its focus from a heterosexual sex education. The show creates awareness for queerness especially in regard to sex.

In Jones’ poem “History, According to Boy” it can be observed how the lack of diverse sex education and societal acceptance of queer individuals has caused Boy to internalize his feelings that deviate from the norm. Boy is seen among his peers, especially the other boys, as a social outcast but he is unable to live as his true self (Jones 89). He notes the way his parents hold each other in their sleep and craves the touch of a loved one, but notes the way his expression of joy hurts his approval of his father, and later, his reaction to a gay porn magazine (Jones 92). These reactions are great example why queer people do not feel included in society and feel like something is wrong with them and their sexuality. As their sexuality is not being acknowledged and obviously not included in America’s sex education, they feel left out and misplaced. The US needs a nationwide inclusive sex education system to ensure diversity and a save learning space for queer people.

Supernatural: An Exploration into Camp

Supernatural occupies an interesting space in queer culture, internet history, and fandom. Produced in 2005, it continued for 15 years, boasting 15 long seasons. The show centers around two brothers and an angel, (Sam and Dean Winchester and Castiel, respectively) who fight against supernatural entities, expanding in later seasons to incorporate richer, more complex storylines.  

“The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful” (Sontag, 13). 

It was clear that Supernatural was never intended to be a queer show nor was it intended to garner such a large audience of teenage fans. It also likely never intended to be camp; however, the show embodies it. The characters are so stereotypical that it is often painful. Dean is a hypermasculine, stereotypical “bad boy.” He is a ladies’ man, slightly misogynistic, and really, really likes beer and pie. The plotlines are awful, the CGI is low-budget, and the show cannot go two episodes without Dean having sex with a “perfect” woman.  

It is so awful that you cannot stop watching. Dean and Castiel are incredibly homoerotic, but the show took itself too seriously to allow anything to bloom. There are moments of intense queer pining followed by GUNS, BEER, AND SEX!!! It is both frustrating and laughable, but at its core, it is campy, playing with gender and sexuality without really talking about it. 

“In naive, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails” (Sontag, 7). 

With likely heavy influence from fan spaces, the directors, after baiting a relationship for years, finally allowed Dean and Castiel to have a moment. Castiel admits he loves Dean, with tears in his eyes, and then is promptly sent to hell. More specifically, he is promptly sent to Super Hell. Talk about Burying Your Gays.

Supernatural is a product of its time, but it is also a timeline of queer attitudes during the 2000s. The representation is lacking, but it also goes beyond the screen. The campy, over-the-top nature of Supernatural allowed for an online community to bloom around the show. One cannot understand Supernatural without understanding the space it has (and continues) to take up online, in queer media, and in its own campiness. 

Storytelling and Visibility

“I like it when our stories change when we share them with new people. I like that their stories will be different.” (Khor, 239).

Through this page, Khor emphasizes the significance of stories, especially in connection with their Author’s Note where they describe how The Legend of Auntie Po is “a story about who gets to own a myth” (Khor, 285). The utilization of the word “change” reveals the complexities of stories in that they figuratively metamorphize overtime especially because of the audience that they are exposed to, which in turn, impacts the perceived intention behind them. By including Mei as the protagonist of the graphic novel, as a queer Chinese American girl, Khor demonstrates how queer stories, and stories comparable to that of Mei, constantly evolve and through sharing these stories provides a sense of hope that more visibility will be provided to the LGBTQ community. Khor highlights the distinctness associated with the queer experience, by stating that the stories “will be different” and they will take on new forms which coincides with Eve Sedgewick’s explication of the way that queer can be defined and how queerness represents possibility. This sense of possibility can be seen through Mei’s character where, although Auntie Po is a figment of her imagination, Mei has the power and ownership to shape both her fiction and reality. The recognition of Mei’s privilege in being able to own her myth illustrates how Khor is actively promoting the idea that queer people and people of color have voices that deserve to be raised, voices that deserve to be heard, and voices that matter.

On top of highlighting the importance of the queer experience, the imagery featured within this page, including the different individuals gathered around the bonfire, demonstrates how Khor provides visibility to Mei’s Chinese culture and the traditions connected to her culture as well. In this way, Khor is accentuating the intricacies of Mei’s identity as a queer Chinese American girl by bringing to light that her story is distinct from her father’s story as Chinese immigrant. Moreover, the fact that Mei is represented within the group around the bonfire exhibits how her queerness, although not explicitly stated and revealed to the other characters, does not need to isolate her and separate her from experiencing a sense of community.

Mei’s experiences as a queer Chinese American girl can be comparable to that of a character named Aneesa represented in a Netflix series called Never Have I Ever. Although this show had the potential to provide visibility to Indian and Asian communities and the queer experience, it definitely falls very short in terms of promoting this representation in an authentic manner. With that being said, Aneesa, like Mei, needs to grapple with her queer and Asian identity, which at times, seem to conflict with each other which demonstrates the complexities of intersectionality and embracing multiple identities. Even though being queer is one aspect of their identities, they are a lot more than their sexuality and although Aneesa is in high school, both her and Mei are young girls that have a lot more room to grow and in gaining experiences to better understand who they are and what they want in life.

Breaking the Binary

The Mythic Being

“The Mythic Being,” which is a series of cartoons and performances by Adrian Piper, has many overlapping themes with our class. To examine these themes, I would like to use the piece from Eve Sedgwick, “Queer and Now.” “The Mythic Being” is a character played by Piper, who is a lesbian, woman-identifying person. They are characterized by a large afro, a mustache, and sunglasses, as well as stereotypically masculine actions such as catcalling. Piper’s goal with this piece is to garner audience reactions and blur the lines of people’s perceptions of gender identity. She does this as she is tired of identifying within her norms as a black, lesbian woman and is instead able to examine the world as a straight, masculine man. She examines how reactions she gets as male presenting are different from those she gets in her everyday life.

In relating Piper’s work to Sedgwick’s piece, I find that much of the motivation behind the Mythic Being could be Piper’s distaste for her own female identity as well as feeling as if she does not belong within the norms of being a woman. Piper switches between her male persona and her female persona to represent her own fluid identity, and that she cannot be constrained the norms imposed on her as a black, lesbian woman in the 1970s. Sedgwick’s piece establishes that queerness refers to “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically” (Sedgwick 8). One aspect of queerness and gender identity is fluidity, which Piper uses the Mythic Being to explore. Sedgwick, with her definition of queerness, explains that one’s sexuality and gender is to be determined by oneself, which Piper explores. The Mythic Being represents Piper’s own fluid gender and sexuality, which is essential to queerness according to Sedgwick.

Nannette and Unmasking Queer Stories

Nanette is a comedy special in which the comedian, Hannah Gadsby, tells her story as a lesbian and gender-non-conforming person from Tasmania—a place where until 1997, it was still illegal to be gay and same-sex marriage wasn’t legalized until 2017. The premise of the comedy special is that performing comedy has left her feeling that she has not been telling the full truth of her story—a story that she has long kept silent with her shame. She points out that while she has turned to self-deprecating humor to cope with the trauma she has faced, telling jokes only adds to the hatred that she has internalized since she was a child. While she begins the special on a light-hearted note through joke-telling, the tone dramatically shifts part-way through when she describes her reasoning for needing to quit comedy. She draws in the audience, telling them a heartbreakingly real story about her own shame and self-hatred, the homophobia she has faced from her own family and strangers, and the violence that she has faced from men. The audience for this special is stated explicitly. She says that men, especially cis het while men have a responsibility to change the narrative surrounding what they have been taught about their own gender and to understand their privilege in society. 

This comedy special connects to many of the ideas we have talked about in class. In connection to the theme of mythmaking, it is clear that Nannette attempts to retell a story that has so often been silenced. Gadsby recognizes the ways that these stories have been silenced and glossed over and in response, tells her story completely straightforward to the audience with all of the real tension and discomfort that comes with it—no jokes masking the truth to make it easier for the audience to take in. She states at the end of her special “Laughter is not our medicine, stories hold our cure. Laughter is just the honey that sweetens the bitter medicine. I do not want to unite you with laughter or anger, I just needed my story heard, my story felt and understood…” In this statement, Gadsby states a theme that is repeated time and time again in queer media—a desire for queer people’s raw and unaltered stories to be heard. Adrianne Rich’s “Study of History” conveys a similar feeling of frustration and anguish around the silencing of queer stories. She states “all we have never entirely known what was done to you upstream, what powers trepanned which of your channels diverted what rockface leaned to stare in your defenseless face.” Here Rich uses the river as a metaphor to describe the history of violence that queer people have faced. By saying that we will never know “what was done to you upstream,” she is pointing to the history of queer stories being erased, altered, and misunderstood. Both Rich and Gadsby aim to bring attention to this fact and to share their stories no matter how uncomfortable.

Donna Ferrato

Donna Ferrato is a photographer who documents both the lives of women and the effects of domestic abuse. In one of her prints she writes “I became a soldier in the war on women. The camera, my weapon.” 

An image from Ferrato’s collection that closely relates to this class is Lesbian couple Jay and Kattain labor with their first child conceived with a turkey baster, a revolutionary act of reproductive independence unheard of at the time, Northhampton, MA, 1993. This image was taken in 1993, a time when two lesbians having children would have been a bizarre phenomenon to the general public. If we look at it through the view of The Legend of Auntie Po, this was a reality and a relationship that Bee and Mei were unable to have. Although it was uncommon when the photograph was taken, it was this couple’s reality and they were able to make that life for themselves rather than give it up. 

One of the most obvious connections is between Saeed Jones’s writing and Ferrato’s The eight year old boy called 9-1-1 to report his father…  The image shows a young boy yelling at his father for abusing his mother. Certain versions of the image have text imposed over top, presumably in Ferratos handwriting; this text provides dialogue for the boy; “ I hate you for hitting my mother. Don’t come back to this house.” A rather intense dialogue for an eight year old boy, we can only imagine what the boy has seen and been through. He has had to grow up much faster than we want to believe, similarly to the character that Saeed Jones writes through. Saeed Jones’s writings are through an innocent and fearful veil, while the photograph from Ferrato is showing the anger and frustration that could come from this as well.


Angels of Montero

In Tony Kushner’s Angels of America along with the rapper Lil Nas X’s music video for the song “Montero” there is an elaborate use of camp that connects them. There are two similar moments that share related themes in Angels of America it is in Act. 5 of “Perestroika” between the characters The Angel and Hannah Porter Pitt who is a Mormon woman. With Kushner’s elaborate stage directions he is able to convey exactly what goes on between them, “Hannah walks toward her, torn between immense unfamiliar desire and fear […] The Angel kisses her […] Hannah then has an enormous orgasm” (Kushner 261). In this scene, there is an exaggerated use of sexuality with the imagery that Kusher evokes of an angel having the ability to give a character an orgasm. This same type of flamboyant sexuality and the elaborate use of camp is something that is also implemented by Lil Nas X’s “Montero.” One moment in the music video that has a clear relation to the aforementioned scene in Angels of America is depicted after Lil Nas X’s character is mounted by a figure who is supposed to represent a devil. This is shown when Lil Nas X sings, “Call me by your name,” This lyric is a reference to the gay novel by the author André Aciman where two male lovers spend a summer together in Italy. So the overt sexual moment is underscored by this sentimental saying from one fictional man to another.

Montero had a lot of controversy because of its references to religion and Lil Nas X responded on twitter with the following remark, “y’all love saying we going to hell but get upset when I actually go there lmao” (Lil Nas X). Although what he says here is meant to be humorous there is a serious undercurrent to this and the moment in the music video which is the true nature of homophobia. In the same way that Angels in America uses the seriousness and parody of camp to combat a view of religious homophobia Lil Nas X plays into the fantasy that has been common for homophobic people to come up with. I believe that representations like these that use camp as a significant element are important because they show a unique portrayal of queer people that helps to flesh out the different types of stories that can be told about them. Both of these examples have fun with the extremes they go to while also having an intentional seriousness in responding to queer related issues of AIDS and homophobia which evokes the true meaning of camp.

Lil Nas X Tweet

“I’m going to have my very own story now”

Although I’ve only read about half of it, Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is a poetic memoir about his queer, Asian experience from his childhood and onward.  

The Legend of Auntie Poe reminded me of this narrative. When Mei says, “This is Bee’s story. Bee will go to university, and marry a man” (Khor 37), the author not only addresses Mei’s queer experience, but also, the distance that comes with one minority identity layered upon another. Mei is conscious of how being a Chinese American places her in a marginalized position, and at the beginning of the book, she views herself as a sidebar to Bee’s story.  

However, as Mei builds the myth and the role model of Auntie Poe, her perspective on her own life shifts. Role models, like Auntie Poe for Mei, and like Vuong’s mother in his memoir, are key pieces of childhood and support for these queer characters. 

In Ocean Vuong’s memoir, his Vietnamese identity and relationship with his mother is at the core of the book. Vuong structures his book as a letter to his mother, who can’t read. He intermixes retellings of his childhood with wishes about seeing queer representation around him and contemplating his queerness in relation to his Asian culture.  

This parallels Mei’s position at the end of the novel where she is confidently able to say, “I’m going to have my very own story now” (Khor 282), meaning that, Mei sees herself as a main character in her own story. Although Mei needed Auntie Poe as a catalyst to take initiative, at the end Auntie Poe leaves because Mei now has the power to create her own myths. In a similar vein, the driving force of Vuong’s memoir is providing a narrative to represent untold stories. Vuong looks to similar figures that Mei does, independent women like his mother that have shaped his identity. With these figures Vuong and Khor’s characters are able to harness power and make myths their own.

Texts like Khor’s and Vuong’s are essential to understanding the multiplicity that lies in queer people of color’s identities. Just like Mei’s story proves, queer people should not and cannot be reduced to just their romantic relationships, because there is so much more context surrounding their lives. To be a queer person of color is to exist on multiple planes simultaneously. Without representation like this, queer media risks falls flat which can be detrimental to the understanding of queer representation. Both texts demonstrate how race and class intermingle with queerness, and when these themes can be shown to children through the form of graphic novels like Auntie Poe, children can find the pride and representation that they may lack in their lives. 

Here’s a link to an article where Ocean Vuong talks about his novel