Valentina Thompson (theseoverusedwords)

For my last ever post on this blog, I am going to be writing about my best friend and poet, Valentina Thompson. A little backstory: I have known her since we were little 10/11 year olds competing for the most reading points in our English class. The competition made us bond and we became friends and she stuck by me all throughout high school and even through college even though I moved across the country. We are from a small city just outside of Los Angeles, California and she started writing sometime in high school—somewhere around our junior year—and our whole friend group knew her as “The Tomboy.” In October 2012 (our freshman year of college), she made a Facebook video coming out as bisexual. She explains how she feels about sexuality and clears up some misconceptions about who she is as a person. Nowadays, she identifies as a lesbian and she attends the Pride Parade in San Francisco every year.

She has grown as a poet since writing on her calculus homework in high school: she runs a poetry blog on Tumblr and she has even been published on Poetry.com; she is also looking into publishing her own book of poems. She is very much an open book and writes through a lot of her pain. Valentina share something in common: we were both told that we suffer from depression and poetry is her outlet. Everything she writes, you can feel in your soul.

One of the poems I want to bring attention to is one she published 10 months ago titled “A Facebook Post about Facebook Posting about Sexuality.”

A Facebook Post about Facebook Posting about Sexuality

The title is pretty straightforward—she vents about what it is like to be “different” in a heteronormative society. She talks about what it feels like to have stigmas have an effect on how she goes about her day. She explains how words make a difference and that she is not asking for much—she is just asking for equality and for people to listen and try to understand.  This poem speaks to how frustrated she is because she feels silenced. She feels the heteronormative pressure that keeps building no matter what she does. My favorite line in this whole poem, though, is “…every single one of us who is out and visible and vocal about what we’re being denied is brave. And special. And worthy.” This speaks so much to me because I know how hard it is for LGBTQ+ adolescents and adults to accept themselves, much less think they are worthy of basic human rights such as equality. It it frustrating to read how torn my friend is about her lack of equality, and that’s just dealing with one aspect of herself. That’s just the frustrating that comes with being out of sync with heteronormative society.

Another one of my favorite poems, that should have attention brought to it is “Broken Fuses and Bathtubs (LGBTQ/Suicide Awareness).” This poem hits so hard with me because the people she is speaking about in this poem are people that I also know. These are people that also understand her struggle and just need to feel worthy and special. This poem also highlights how important it is to recognize that their lives are not something to be sexualized but also looked down on because it is different. It deals with the very real reality that suicide is not just an idea. It deals with the very real reality that there are people that have to hide themselves for their own safety and for their own sanity. The people she lists at the end are people I know I love–they’re people I didn’t realize were struggling. These aren’t just people who identify as gay and lesbian. These are people who are often forgetten when equality is sought. These are people who also identify as bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, asexual, etc. These are people who should not feel forgotten.

The last poem that I will talk about is “Why Your Depressed Lover Keeps Saying Sorry.”

Why Your Depressed Lover Keeps Saying Sorry

 

This poem never fails to make me cry, and she even read this poem aloud at a poetry reading and I come back to it every once in awhile to remind myself that I am not alone in feeling the way I do. This poem speaks to the side of her that has to deal with another sect of misrepresentation and inequality: mental illness. I can tell you from my own experience that dealing with depression sucks. It’s awful. It feels like nothing could ever make you happy again. It feels like someone has turned off all the lights and left you alone in the dark. But then trying to explain this to other people is a nightmare. As soon as I saw this poem on my Facebook feed, I tagged my boyfriend in it and I read it to him that night because there were finally words for me to help me express these feelings to him. Her poetry is rarely gender-specific, so it is something you can identify with and apply to your own life. Being able to identify with the author is so important because you don’t feel like they’re feeding words to you that they think you would want to hear. She speaks from the heart and gives the reader every piece of her.

Valentina Thompson, what can I say. Her poetry is so beautiful and if you get the chance, you should really check out her poetry tag on Tumblr. (i love you val)

Longtime Companion

Longtime_Companion_DVD_cover

I just want to start off by saying that I knew that I was going to cry at some point while watching this movie, but I had no idea it would hit me as hard as it did. It tore my soul to pieces and I could not form coherent thoughts until 45 minutes after I watched this movie, so here we go!

For this blog post, I watched Longtime Companion which was a movie released in 1990 (5 years before I was born) and it follows the story of groups of gay men, who are all related to each other in some way, and it follows their journey from the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in 1981 and finishes the story in 1987 after AIDS has infested their lives. The title itself refers to the term that was used in newspaper obituaries to describe the loved one that was left behind after a death.

I do not want to spoil anything in this movie in case any of you do want to watch it, but I will just have a spoiler alert in here anyway.

First of all, I could not find this movie to watch anywhere. Amazon wanted me to pay $100 just to buy the DVD, but our dear friend YouTube had the movie in its entirety. The quality was horrible but it was still pretty watchable. The story was hard to follow at first because names aren’t important to mention in the beginning, I guess, but after a while, I got the hang of who was who and how they knew each other. Bear with me here:

The beginning starts off in 1981 with Paul and Howard, a couple living in an apartment in New York, and then it pans to their neighbor Lisa, and then it introduces Allen (Fuzzy), and a group of friends: Willy, John, and David. They being this story by reading in the newspaper about this new epidemic amongst gay men that they believe is caused by frequent sexual partners and drug use. No one really knows what it is. Fuzzy and Willy eventually meet each other on the beach, with John’s help. Fuzzy and Willy fall in love, and we are later introduced to David’s lover, Sean. These men are all faced with the possibility that this epidemic will catch up with them and their carefree ways, but because it is so new, they don’t take things as seriously as they should. However, this movie is structured so that every so often, a year passes and a member of the group either dies or receives news that he has the disease. The movie ends so that one of the couple just wishes that it could be over and compares the finding of the disease to the end of WWII.

This movie highlights what it was like for the gay population when the AIDS epidemic first came about. It was written about in the papers without a name at first and the lack of information on this disease lead to the continuous “carelessness” that came about in this time. As time went on and more homosexual males died from this disease, the panic grew, and rightfully so. AIDS is such a scary disease. I had had some experience with it reading some fanfiction that a friend recommended to me (no judgments here, right guys—also it’s called Twist and Shout but standbyme on AO3), and it hurt my soul, but watching it happen is such a different story. This movie does a good job of showing what it was like to live in the constant fear of just kissing your partner, much less make love to them, because there was a constant fear of contracting this disease. It hit me so hard, I think, because I know so many gay men and I can’t help but think that if they had been alive during the rise of this epidemic, there would be no hope for them. I think that the rise of this epidemic is so important to know about just because it lead to a complete shift in the gay lifestyle and lead to research on the disease, where they found out that it could be caused by other things. I also think this epidemic is important in understanding the stigmas that surround the gay community even now because for so long it was believed that gay equaled to having AIDS. This movie was so beautifully written and delivered, and I would definitely recommend sitting through the movie on YouTube.

Consent is [Mandatory]

Poster-101

The “Consent is Sexy” campaign is a sexual rights awareness campaign that targets high schools, colleges, and universities. It promotes not only the awareness of consent, but safe sex, responsibility, and gender equality in relationships. It tries to counter relationship abuse, sexual assault, rape, gender discrimination, and homophobia.  There is more than one focus of this campaign—while it does have to do with getting consent; it also has to do with granting consent. It also has to do with sexual abuse, domestic abuse, rape, and protection. This campaign is so open to everyone and one of the ways that it does combat homophobia is by including them and their needs into this campaign.

Poster-24POSTER-16

While this campaign can be seen as geared more towards straight men on college campuses, this campaign is geared toward gay and straight men as well as gay and straight women. The sex education that we receive is horrid, but the fact that a lot of these campaigns fail to include the LGBT+ community does not help matters. This campaign is sex-positive and doesn’t encourage anyone not to have sex; rather it encourages those who want to have sex to make sure that that they have their partner’s consent. Rather than placing blame, this campaign contributes to sexual health and positive emotional wellbeing of everyone involved and offers focus on benefits and risks of sex.  This campaign strives for equality and recognizes the right to respect and consent for both sexes. On the other hand, because straight are such a large demographic for this campaign, this campaign doesn’t demonize men either. It avoids focus on men as the only gender capable of sexual abuse and instead, it demonstrates that men can also be abused and women can also be capable of sexual abuse.

Poster-03

poster-18

Though this campaign is so important in what they promote and what they believe, there have been complaints and problems with the eroticization of consent. So why eroticize it? It’s important to remember the demographic of this campaign and to remember that that is not all they are promoting. The “Consent is Sexy” hook, I think, is to grab attention and pull people in to see what it is all about. This campaign is geared to those in high school and college. I think that, yes, consent is a basic human right and not something should have to be eroticized to be followed, sometimes that’s a step that has to be taken to get the point across. This campaign helps people to realize that not only should people be asking for consent, but people do not have to consent if they are not ready.

Poster-08

Poster-36

One of the things that they also focus on is being safe after consent has been given.  They stress that consent is just one step to having safe sex. Condoms and other forms of safe sex are important, but more than that, respect for your partner is important as well. One of the examples that they use is HIV, and though this is not something super typical for straight couples, it is a big thing in the gay community and the inclusion of that is important. Overall, this entire campaign, though perceived as set for straight couples, believes in equality for both sexes and for people in the LGBT+ community. Consent can be sexy, yes, but it consent is and always will be MANDATORY.

“Del LaGrace Volcano: A Mid-Career Retrospective”

Del LaGrace Volcano is a visual producer and cultural producer born in California, but based in Sweden. Del LaGrace was born with male and female characteristics and was raised as a girl, but now Del lives life as a man and a woman. Though Volcano is not as well known in the United States as they are in Europe, they came back to the United States with the intention of broadening our horizons and exploring the nature of gender and different sexual identities. Volcano’s art exhibit “Del LaGrace Volcano: A Mid-Career Retrospective” in particular is what I aim to explore because it makes the viewer think about what gender and sexual identities are and how they relate to race and other social constructs. This exhibit began in September of 2012 and ended in November of 2012 in the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, located in New York.

19-DelRancinan1

Del LaGrace’s exhibit explored many aspects of what gender is and how it is portrayed in today’s society. One of the portraits on display, entitled “Del LaGrace Volcano, Self-Portrait Collaboration with Gerard Rancinan I, Paris, 2004” is of him/herself wearing a skirt while still maintaining his/her sense of masculinity. This piece is meant to display how masculinity and femininity do not have to take turns being displayed; rather they can be displayed at the same time and can still be beautiful and empowering. Del LaGrace is also holding a body-building pose which plays more into the masculine aspect of this piece, like they are saying “skirts do not make me anymore feminine or masculine, and neither does this pose.” Volcano wants to defy the norm and show that normality is what is weird.

23-Dred

Del LaGrace also explores drag in black culture. Their piece “Dred: BigDaddyMomma, New York City, 1997” is a picture of a woman dressed as a man, which shows that these things go both ways. It is not always a man who wants to be a woman, but rather women want to be men too. Another thing that is so prominent in this piece is the fact that, whether she wanted to keep them intentionally or not, she still has breasts and utilizes them with her drag. She still exudes a confident masculinity. Volcano wants to display that even in black culture—which tends to be stereotyped as a culture in which women are overly sexual and feminine and men are overly masculine and dominant—there are people who deviate from a perceived norm.

21-Liminality

The last piece that I looked at was Del LaGrace’s “Liminality (Self-Portrait), 2004” the symbolism in this piece is much more prominent than the other pieces that I have looked at. In the first one, it was more a display of confidence and acceptance. In the second one, it was more a display of the act that there are exceptions to the norm in different cultures and amongst different races that may not get as much representation as they should—and it was important to see it displayed. This final piece is another self-portrait and he/she is pressed up against a piece of glass and he/she is absolutely covered in shaving cream. The thing that draws the most attention is the fact the Volcano is pressed up against this piece of glass, almost as if being pressed into society and symbolic of being almost forced into societal roles. This piece is so indicative of how Del LaGrace feels about the norms that dictate society. It also looks like he/she is pushing away, as if he/she is trying to become his/person. This is supposed to be symbolic of what it is like and what it was like for him/her to accept the intersex aspect of his/her life and adjusting to it to become his/her own person.

These pieces on their own and as a collection display the differences in intersex and transgender culture and portray them in a way that they would feel and look beautiful and symbolize something on a deeper level. This art exhibit pushed the limit of how people think about people and this community in general. Del LaGrace knows what he/she is about and knows that pushing people to realize that there is now such thing as a normal gender, or even a normal sense of gender, brings attention and representation to intersexuality, drag, and transgender culture.