The Times of Harvey Milk

The Times of Harvey Milk is a documentary about the life and assassination of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. He was the first gay man on San Francisco’s board of supervisors which made his time in office extremely historical. Much of the information takes place in “The Castro,” the town Milk resided in San Francisco. The documentary was created by Director Robert Epstein and Writers Judith Coburn and Carter Wilson. The film was made in 1984, a few years after Milk’s painful and horrifying assassination.

In the film, Harvey Milk reads an excerpt from a recorded will that he made in case he was assassinated. He knew, as a gay man in office at the time, he was in an extremely vulnerable position. But, he considered himself to be part of something bigger, part of the gay movement. This puts into perspective the role these influential and historical individuals had and the importance of their bravery. The film documents Harvey Milk as a figure for gay liberation and the state of San Fransisco in the 1970s.

The film divulges individual interviews from people who knew him and were involved in his campaign. Tom Ammiano, a school teacher, claims how Harvey not only brought an astounding amount of humor to his life but also an astounding amount of self worth. Tom, who was more a more feminine man felt as though he belonged when he was with Harvey where with others he felt an outsider. Milk ran for political office in San Fransisco for 3 consecutive years and even though he lost every time, he persevered because he believed things needed to change in the state of California as well as throughout the nation. “The Castro” where Harvey resided became booming with gay life. Harvey helped organize the annual Castro Street Fair where the neighborhood thrived and gay individuals and symbols were broadly displayed. Milk realized then that the town was ready for change and he ran a 4th time for the Board of Supervisors for his district. He was finally elected and this began his time as an influential historical and political figure.

Harvey Milk’s election gave lesbian and gay individuals in San Francisco a voice, one they had been waiting for to be heard. Not only did Harvey pass a stringent gay rights ordinance in his city, he represented hope and progression for the LGBT community by being involved politically. The Times of Harvey Milk documents Milk’s time in office and his continued influence on gay progression. The documentary claims Harvey Milk “represented change.” This artifact mirrors the work of other gay figures, such as Walt Whitman. These historical figures legitimized homosexuality and became icons in the gay movement. These historical icons served as the worlds “firsts.” Walt Whitman, one of the first homosexual poets and Harvey Milk the first gay supervisor in San Fransisco. Their position and work gave LGBT individuals something to related to, look to and resonate with. Walt Whitman’s work is documented in his poetry while Harvey Milk’s work is documented in films like The Times of Harvey Milk.

Museum of Sex (MoSex)

Museum of Sex Store“Museum of Sex Store”

The Museum of Sex (MoSex), located in New York City is a relatively new establishment that opened in 2002. The museum has many guided and guest curators that make up an advisory board and contribute research resources, collections and relevant artists to the establishment. The goal of the museum is to maintain and showcase the history and evolution of human sexuality and its cultural significance. The museum features exhibitions, publications and programs that highlight sex and sexuality to a wide range of audiences and aims to enlighten, spark conversation and engage the public. The institution serves as a museum, sex store and restaurant/bar making a visit to the 5th avenue location extremely diverse and holistic. Patrons come for the fun, educational experience where you can learn about all things sex and leave (hopefully) with a buzz from a Sex on the Beach and and a buzzing pink sex toy.

 Funland “Funland”

In terms of queer culture, this artifact is important because it gives the opportunity for discourse and education on sexuality. When sexuality is kept taboo, conversations are hindered and education is limited which creates confusion, lack of answers and lack of resources for anyone exploring their sexuality, most often the queer community. This artifact takes sexuality, a usually unspoken entity, and turns it into an opportunity for education. When I personally visited the museum, there were many examples of homosexuality displayed. An entire exhibit was dedicated to animal sexuality and contained examples of homosexuality in the animal world. Aside from just queer sexuality, it encompasses exhibits on all things sexual and attempts to normalize sexuality in society through education and discussion. An artifact like this is important for the queer community because it legitimizes the concept of non-normative sexuality through exhibits and art that strives to preserve sexually relevant information. Without knowledge, it is impossible for individuals to grow. Having a museum dedicated to the preservation of sexual knowledge can only further grow our society and continue the acceptance of new information and concepts related to sexuality.

Animal Sexuality“Animal Sexuality”

In class, especially in the unit on sex, we have discussed all things sexual, perverse, hetero and homosexual, normal, abnormal and beyond. This course and this unit is extremely educational and sexually liberating through eliminating “politically correctness” and “appropriation” in societies terms. We talk about sex, jizz, fetishism and sexuality in an open and honest forum. This completely mirrors the experience that the Museum of Sex provides to its audiences. It displays beautiful, historical, cringeworthy concepts of sexuality and everything in between in an educational institution. The work we discuss in class is just as informational, bizarre and erotic as the exhibits featured in the Museum of Sex. It inevitably relates to sexuality but whole heartedly relates to our class because of the content of both educational experiences. This institution greatly contributes to our archive as a resource of LGBTA representation through its material, mission and successful conservation of sexual and queer knowledge.

Linda Lovelace“Linda Lovelace, first pornstar”

Becoming An Image by Heather Cassils

“It calls into question the roles of the witness, the aggressor and the documentor”

Heather Cassils is a performer/artist from Montreal, Canada who currently resides in Los Angeles, California. The goal of zir work is to challenge societal norms in terms of gender and its current perceived binary. Ze does this with multiple exhibits and projects but more uniquely, with zir own body and the bodies of other individuals. Through strict physical training and artistic brilliance, ze challenges bodily gender expectations with zir own body structure and the body structure of other gender non-conforming people.

In zir work, ze attempts to reinvent what it means to be transgender. Ze likes to express trans (and gender in general) as a continual state of being, not necessarily the transitioning from one sex to another through surgery and hormones. Although transition is one way to look at gender and trans identity, Cassils’ portrayal of gender and trans identity is extremely unique and thought provoking.

Zir projects reflect deep rooted themes of gender in our society. Zir work is captivating and challenges gender conformity and stereotypes of gender. Ze focuses greatly on body image and bodily expectations throughout zir exhibits. In all projects, ze uses physical bodies as canvas’, tools and other forms of art. Zir work is metaphorically genius, with interesting messages in every performance and work of art that get the audience thinking about gender and its current portrayal in society.

Of Cassils’ many projects, the one that is most relevant to this class and this unit is zir performance entitled “Becoming an Image” which came about in 2013. This is a show that takes Cassils, a photographer, a 1,500 pound block of clay and an audience and turns them into an extremely valuable lesson on gender in today’s world. The performance goes as follows – The audience is seated in a blacked out room facing, unbeknownst to them, Cassils and the 1,500 pound block of clay. Cassils begins the show and starts pounding and molding the block of clay solely with zir body. The audience hears zir grunts and pounding. As this continues, a blinded photographer intermittently take photos at which point Cassils and the clay are revealed to the audience, but only for the second that the flash illuminates the room.

This a wonderful archive that uniquely represents queer culture. It is an interesting way to think about gender. Often times, we analyze gender as male, female, unisex or in transition. All of these gender identities reinforce the gender binary. Even though transgender individuals challenge the concept of cisgender, it reinforces the notion that you can only be one gender or the other.  But, Cassils challenges this binary and the concept of gender which really makes zir audience think. Why is gender so salient in our society? Why can’t humans beings be just that? Cassils’ work makes zir audience evaluate the relevancy of gender in a beautiful and artistic way.

In class, we discussed how Trans* Identity may in fact reiterate the gender binary by saying “I don’t feel like I am X, I feel like I am Y.” Because of this, Cassils provides a unique view to trans* identity in a way that does not emphasis the dichotomy of gender. Similarly, while I analyzed my archive, our reading by Leslie Feinberg came to mind. Ze talks about how “unnerving” ze is to people because of zirs mix of masculine and feminine traits. Ze talks about how the root of this issue is that the norm is a gender binary. If the binary is eliminated and gender is reared irrelevant people would not have to rely so heavily on gender cues and a lack of gender cues would not trigger such confusion.

Quoted above, this archive calls into question many relevant roles that contribute to our perceptions of gender. Those who witness gender are a part of it, those who physically mold gender are a part of it and those who document gender are a part of it. These are all things to keep in mind for how we can eliminate such rigid definitions of gender and enforce a continuity of being human rather than being gendered.