Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin

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Bayard Rustin’s role in the Civil Right Movement has often been overlooked. Rustin remained mostly in the background of the movement, solely an adviser to others, such as Martin Luther King Jr. The PBS documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin delves into Rustin’s experience as a Civil Rights activist and how that was affected by his outward homosexuality.

In 1942, Rustin was on a bus going from Louisville to Nashville when he was asked by drivers to move from his seat in the second row to the back of the bus. Rustin refused, and the police intervened, beating and arresting Rustin for refusing to move his seat.38045_enlarge

Rustin was famously an advocate for nonviolence. “The man who believes in nonviolence is prepared to be harmed; to be crushed. But he will never crush others,” Rustin said. When Rustin became an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. and gave advice on how to run a nonviolent campaign, he noted that King was young and inexperienced in such a feat.

In 1953, Rustin was arrested on a morals charge for publicly engaging in homosexual activity. He went to jail for 60 days and was referred to as a pervert. However, he continued to live his life as an openly gay man regardless.

Davis Platt, Rustin’s first major partner at the beginning of his career, recalled the difficulties of keeping in touch while Rustin was in jail.

“We were determined to stay in touch with each other. There’s no question that I saw him as my lover and he saw me as his lover. It was clear that our letters could not explain clearly what we felt, so we developed a code. I would write about myself as a woman,” Platt said.

Platt, along with many others, always admired Rustin’s upbeat and brilliant personality. Platt described him as having “an intelligence, such a love of life, such a sense of humor, really a lot of wisdom. And he had absolutely no shame about being gay.” However, Platt noted that when they lived together and walked down the street, although they never met any hostility, everyone would stare.

Rustin went on to work for A.J. Muste, an activist in the Civil Rights Movement and anti-war movement. Muste served as a mentor to Rustin, and Rustin claimed that he never made a difficult decision without speaking with Muste about it first. Eventually, Muste voiced his opposition against the fact that Rusin was gay. He put pressure on Rustin to give up his homosexuality, seeing it as a threat to his effectiveness. He tried to break up Rustin and Platt, and pushed Rustin to deny all aspects of his homosexuality.

Rustin was sent to a therapist in hopes of better understanding being homosexual. He was frustrated by the fact that society couldn’t deal with it. The therapist advised him to quiet down about his homosexuality because it was obviously upsetting others and wasn’t a central part of the work he was doing.

As Rustin’s work with Dr. King furthered, he continued to run into obstacles regarding his sexuality. “Adam Clayton Powell didn’t want blacks picketing the democratic convention,” Rustin said. “He want so far as to warn King that if King did not withdraw his support from that demonstration, he would go to the press and say there was a sexual affair going on between me and King. Martin was so terrified by this threat that he decided he would get rid of me.”

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Despite the fact that so many were against Rustin being gay, his path on the Civil Rights journey hardly faltered. The need for a mass gathering in Washington began to emerge, and A. Phillip Randolph, whom Rustin had previously worked with, advocated Rustin as the local choice to organize it. Rustin was a critical contributor in the organization of the March on Washington, and after the March’s success, appeared on the cover of Life magazine alongside Randolph as the leaders of the March.

 “I don’t think without Bayard Rustin the modern civil rights movement would have won half of the victories that it won.”

Rustin’s courage and success as a person rests hugely on the fact that he encountered endless criticisms about his sexuality, yet for years he wore it proudly on his sleeve, and endorsed it brazenly as part of who he was. He lived during a time where he not only had to contest racism, but homophobia as well. Rustin countered both of those disparagements with an undying determination to make America a better country by instilling equality in its citizens. He stood firmly by his beliefs and made historic accomplishments as a result.

Rustin began dating partner Walter Naegle in 1977. The two were together ten years before Rustin passed away in 1987 due to a perforated appendix. Naegle explained: “In the last years of his life he was really returning to where he had started: the belief that we are all members of one human family.”

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“Twenty five, thirty years ago, the barometer of human rights in the United States were black people. That is no longer true. The barometer for judging the character of people in regard to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, lesbian. We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.”   

The Spectrum of Sexuality – #WhereDoYouFall

“Everyone loves someone regardless of their gender,
so why would you think there’s some agenda?
Everyone loves a man and woman somewhere,
so why would you think there’s nothing there?
Where do you fall on the spectrum of sexuality?”

Ryan Amador is an openly gay singer/songwriter based in Brooklyn. Amador produces songs that express his relationship experiences as a gay man. He also uses his music to address his listeners in an attempt to inspire them to evaluate how they feel and, in turn, express themselves. Amador calls his most recent album, titled “4s,” a “short reflection on nature’s influence over human behavior, be it in regard to love, sex, and Mother Nature herself”.

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Amador’s song “Spectrum” asks listeners the question: Where do you fall on the spectrum of sexuality? The artist’s message of sexual equality stands strong throughout the entire song, however, a deeper idea is buried within the song as well. Amador notes that the title of the song relates to the fact that he believes sexual diversity exists on a scale with a wide array of sexual options for people to make. He connects this scale to a spectrum with a diverse selection of colors on a color wheel.

“My hope is that when people watch this video, they too can celebrate in our planet’s natural complexity, feel some love for their individual self and see we are all just loving each other on the same big white bed.”

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Uncovering and analyzing one’s sexuality through their feelings and emotions is a complex process for anyone, and Amador’s song highlights why; defining sexuality is far from choosing a black or white label. It takes time, experiences, and sincere introspection.

“Spectrum” also successfully relays the notion that acquiring love is what we should aspire to, regardless of whatever dogma might surround that love. Identifying yourself on the sexual spectrum should not be hindered by the opinions or beliefs of others.

“What in nature moves linearly?
Planets and seasons move circularly
What in nature is really black and white?
Flowers and twilight share every shade of light”

In the “Spectrum” music video, numerous couples of several different sexualities and race are featured laying together on a bed, visibly blissful and intimate with each other. Their laughing, playful interactions exude pure love while Amador urges listeners to choose their love. The smiles on every person’s face in the video affirm Amador’s principles.

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While Amador’s lyrics serve as more of a public service message for those struggling with recognizing their sexual status, his music definitely encourages people to be open and straightforward about how they feel towards who they love. Sexuality is experimented by almost every single person, as it should be, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to express those erotic feelings on a platform that goes beyond complete privacy. The film Cruising exhibits gay men being open about and comfortable with going to a public forum to express their sexuality, with no judgments being passed or qualms about the acts of sexuality being performed; sex and love are accepted as attributes wanted by all. Amador’s music undoubtedly promotes deference for expression of love in any and all forms.

“There’s more than two ways you can reach a climax,
and on the spectrum of your sexuality,
let’s find respect for individuality.”

Mandy and Eva

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Photographer Willeke Duijvekam has always been attracted to photographing subjects whose lives deviate from the standard norms of society. In 2006, Duijvekam met subjects Mandy and Eva, 11- and 13-year-old boys who wanted to live their lives as females.

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For the next six years, Duijvekam followed both girls around, documenting all aspects of their lives, both casual and personal, with her camera. Through the project, Duijvekam wished to learn more about gender dysphoria. Her ultimate goal was to show that although the girls were experiencing a rather extreme change in their lives, they were still two “remarkably normal girls.”

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Duijvekam feels her project differs from that of other documentaries about transgender people because of the time she spent working with the girls. When first starting out with the project, the photographer explained that the girls still saw her as part of the outside world, and made frequent visible efforts to “prove” their femininity. However, once comfort was gained over time, Duijvekam was able to capture more candid, genuine moments of how they were living their lives.

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“I think because I followed Mandy and Eva for so long, my eyes were able to penetrate far below the surface. When you begin to photograph you see the outside first.”

For many, gender dysphoria is an entirely unknown concept. It is difficult, for some nearly impossible, to be able to empathize with someone who believes that they are meant to identify with a different gender. Generalizations form from lack of knowledge of the condition, which is why it is important for someone experiencing the transformation to share the basic process of what it means to change your gender.

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Duijvekam chose to leave out from her documentary photos from more dramatic events such as one of the girl’s gender confirmation, feeling that it was a particularly emotional event for her and her family. Instead, Duijvekam’s work focuses on showing the “everyday struggle of two teenagers.” In doing so, Duijvekam creates a parallel between these girls and other teens who are not changing their gender, but may be experiencing some other kind of stressful or life-altering event, proving that although not everyone is going through the same things, everyone is almost always going through something.

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“I was guided by my fascination with the perplexing split between body and mind. But also by the courage of the young people who refuse to allow society’s expectations to dictate their lives.”

 Because the process is undoubtedly different for everybody undergoing a change in his or her gender, the way the occurrence is perceived varies greatly. For example, the film “Ma Vie en Rose” portrays family members and those close to Ludovic generally reacting negatively to his wish to be a female. Support is attempted, but for the most part, his desire to no longer be a boy is frowned upon. This perception conflicts that of what Mandy and Eva experienced throughout their transformation. According to Duijvekam, Mandy’s and Eva’s parents supported their children by allowing them the space they needed to find their happiness. While this may not be the case for others, their parents exemplify how simple it is to be respectful of what your loved ones want, rather than critical.

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This project provides a clear and straightforward look into the lives of two boys who made the active change to make themselves happy. It exhibits the idea that although gender transformation can seem complex, it really is just another procedure certain human beings choose to undergo in order to find gratification and fulfillment in their lives.

 

Duijvekam also presents her photos from the documentary in a book that delves deeper into Mandy and Eva’s story:

The Stories of Mandy and Eva