Keith Haring’s AIDS Activism

Keith Haring was an American artist and activist in 1980s New York, whose artwork raised awareness on social issues at the time. One the main awareness campaigns Haring participated on was AIDS awareness and activism. As an openly gay man Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 19.40.18and someone who was suffering from AIDS himself, Haring wanted to break the silence and stigma on AIDS as “gay cancer.” Through Haring’s style and images he was able to reach a larger audience and spread the awareness of AIDS.

 

Haring’s main style for his artwork were cartoon like figures with bold colors and lines as seen in pop art and graffiti art. He believed that art was not only for the rich and elite but rather for the average everyday folk. He was quoted saying, “My contribution to the world is my ability to draw. I will draw as much as I can for as many people as I can for as long as I can.” Because of this, most of his artwork was seen in public spaces like subways and street. Haring would turn empty ad spaces into his artworks. This idea of art for the common person helped his AIDS awareness campaign as many people who would be affected by AIDS were able to see his artwork.

One of his more famous artworks for AIDS awareness and activism is called Silence=Death. In this piece, there are stick figures outlined in bold white lines inside a pink triangle. The figures vary from covering their ears, their eyes, and their mouths. The figures inside the triangle represent all of the people suffering from AIDS who felt as if they havSilence-Deathe been silenced and casted away from society because of this disease.The pink triangle the figures are inside of adds to this message of oppression since the pink triangle symbol was used during the Holocaust to indicate the people that were being singled out for their homosexuality. Haring wanted to give all the people
suffering from AIDS a voice and have their concerns be heard since at this time not much was being done on AIDS awareness.

Another artwork of his that raised AIDS awareness was a piece titled Ignorance=Fear, Silence=Death. The piece has three yellow figures outlined in think black lines behind an orange background. Like the figures in the previous work, each figure has their eyes covered, their mouth covered, or their ears covered. The figures also have a pink “x” across their chest which represents that actual disease of AIDS. The figures again represent people with AIDS, who are too afraid to voice their concerns and have been silenced by society. The top of the piece has the words “Ignorance = Fear” and the bottom has the words “Silence = Death.” During this period, there was a lack of knowledge on what AIDS and HIV actually was because people were afraid to speak up about the condition. People were afraid of the stigma behind the disease. Before the term AIDS and HIV were used, it was called GRID, which means gay-related immune deficiency. So the lack of knowledge leads to fear of the disease. The “Silence = Death” part is about all the people that
refused to get tested or recognize the seriousness of the illness will die. The public’s silence on the issue of AIDS was leading to more death, and Haring wanted to make this known.

ActUpBThrough Haring’s artwork, AIDS awareness and prevention was brought to the public’s eye and it opened up conversations about the disease. As someone who suffered first hand from the disease, Haring wanted people to speak up about AIDS so more research could be conducted in order to understand a disease that was and still is affecting millions of people.

We All Need A Normal Heart

The Normal Heart Front Cover

The 2014 film The Normal Heart, written by Larry Kramer, is a recreation of Kramer’s 1985 play The Normal Heart. With a star filled cast, The Normal Heart is a beautiful drama that shows the unfortunate troubles of gay men at the start of and through the rise of the AIDS epidemic. Although this film existed in play form first, it was recreated as a way to reach a larger audience and show how seriously terrifying and mysterious the AIDS epidemic was for those living through it.

The Normal Heart starts off by showing the sexual liberty gays have recently acquired along with the happiness from their freedom. But the film quickly changes tone once gays realize they are being diagnosed with a rare and nebulous homosexual cancer. Once the main character, Ned—an openly gay writer, has a friend who becomes infected with this gay cancer, they start to seek out help. At this point, they go to Dr. Emma Brookner who is the one of the only doctors willing to work with patients infected with this mysterious disease. Dr. Brookner is looking for someone to be a leader and share her information with gay men; she finds Ned to be that man. At a meeting with Dr. Brookner, Ned, and many other gay men, Dr. Brookner shares her research and information with these men about how she thinks the cancer is sexually transmitted, and that the men should “cool it” because there is a high chance they will infect each other and die. The sexually liberated men scoff at her, but Ned knows how serious this disease is and decides to start an organization to get help and raise awareness for the disease. The rest of the film focuses on the development the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) organization intermixed with the personal struggles the gay men are facing at this time. The GMHC becomes one of the leading fighters to get support politically, publicly, and medically to combat the gay disease.

The film does not strictly focus on the disease, but also how this disease affects the personal lives of the gay men at the time. As if gay men weren’t already misunderstood enough, the gay cancer (which we now know is AIDS) adds another level of the struggles gay men face. The film depicts how gays during this time receive little to no help from anyone apart from other gays, how they become more feared than ever due to the rise of this mysterious cancer, how being gay is still full of doubt, fear, and confusion in addition to this crisis, and how it still is not safe nor secure to be openly gay to the public.

Although this film is largely about the AIDS epidemic, it still showcases many things presented in our sexuality unit. One specific aspect from our unit that The Normal Heart focuses on is Ned’s sexuality, his understanding of it, and his relationship with his family because of it. Until the latter half of Ned’s life, he always believed his sexuality was wrong; he had been told a plethora of times that he could change his ways, become straight, and finally be normal. This is very similarly to our reading of Merle Miller’s “What It Means To Be a Homosexual,” where he says,

I have spent several thousand dollars and several thousand hours with various practitioners, and while they have often been helpful in leading me to an understanding of how I got to be the way I am, none of them has ever had any feasible, to me feasible, suggestion as to how I could be any different.

In both cases, we see that these gay men realized that no amount of therapy can change who they are; although it may be a more stressful life, they know who they are, what they are, and nothing is going to change that. In fact, we even see that after this epiphany, both individuals become happier and more at peace with themselves.

We also get to see how gayness crosses over to family life with Ned and his brother, Ben. Ben is a lawyer at a very successful law firm and Ned is seeking his assistance for the GMHC. Ned believes that the support of not just his straight brother, but Ben’s straight company will drastically help their movement. On the other hand, Ben thinks that the “straightness” of him and his company will not make a difference. It is at this point that Ned realizes his brother still doesn’t see him as a healthy equal, that Ben still thinks he is “sick,” and that his brother still doesn’t understand him, even though he accepts him; this is exactly the struggle Martha Shelley describes in “Gay is Good.” Here, Shelley explains that she is sick of liberals saying that it doesn’t matter who sleeps with whom, but what one does outside of bed; to her, this isn’t good enough anymore. She states,

[w]e want something more now, something more than the tolerance you never gave us. But to understand that, you must understand who we are. . . I will tell you what we want, we radical homosexuals: not for you to tolerate us, or to accept us, but to understand us.

In the heat of Ned and Ben’s argument, we hear a very similar frustration expressed by Ned towards Ben’s understanding and acceptance of Ned. Ben tolerates and accepts Ned, but he doesn’t truly understand Ned which, as Shelley agrees, is not good enough for Ned.

In yet another example from the film that connects to our unit, we see that to many in the straight world, one’s sexuality is extremely important and can influence someone’s opinions or actions towards a homosexual. During this time, Ned is one of the few open, politically active gay men; many of the other GMHC are closeted out of fear of having their lives ruined from the rest of the world not accepting them. Even the mayor and his assistant are gay, but they neglect the epidemic due to the potential of them being outed even though they are struggling through the epidemic themselves. As we saw from Joseph Epstein, he stated in “Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity” that,

[f]or this reason, and from an absolutely personal point of view, I consider it important [to] know whether a man I am dealing with is a homosexual or [not].

In a scene in the hospital at which Dr. Brookner works, we see this exemplified when a maintenance worker won’t go into the gay-related immune deficiency (GRID) section of the hospital to fix a TV because his union says he “doesn’t have to risk his life over some contagious fairy.” Another situation like this occurs when two gay men, one of them severely sick with the disease, are asked to leave a plane they are on because the pilot will not fly while they are still on the plane. These scenarios truly demonstrate the struggles gay men faced during this time period.

The Normal Heart is quite an outstanding film that explains a difficult period for gay men. The story encapsulates many of the struggles gay men have faced to get to the point they are today in a powerful story that can open the eyes to many who do not know about or who who do not understand the struggles gay men have gone through. Because of its excellent depiction, I highly recommend this film and believe it rightly deserves its place in this archive.

To get a glimpse of the film, here is the trailer:

Gender Diversity Creeping Into Society

For so long, we have only been able to choose our gender from a dichotomy: male or female. However, within the past two years, there has finally been some progressive activity towards recognition of multiple and varying gender identities. One of the most popular social media websites, Facebook, created a multitude of gender options for its users at the beginning of 2014. Now, in 2015, there are a few progressive universities following suit. While not as diverse as Facebook’s options, the University of Vermont, the University of California, the University of Albany, and Harvard University have all taken steps towards more open gender expression and recognition. While the simple pronouns of he and she may not seem important, to many people in the world, these small recognitions are giant leaps forward in gender acceptance.

Referring to someone not by their name, but by their gender pronouns is so second nature to the human brain that most of us put little to no thought into it after we see what a person looks like; more often than not, we recognize an abundance of masculine or feminine qualities in a person which is then followed by an immediate and subconscious assignment of the pronouns “he” or “she.” What a good chunk of people do not realize, though, is that there are a significant number of individuals who either do not identify as the gender those individuals outwardly express or who do not even identify as the traditional male or female genders.

“Gender’s very flexibility and seeming fluidity is precisely what allows dimorphic gender to hold sway.” -J.J. Halberstam

As we have read from Leslie Feinberg, transgender habits, thoughts, and ways of life are not new concepts or practices, and, in fact, they have not only been around in most documented cultures, but they have even endured through the worst of hardships. This furthers arguments made by J.J. Halberstam as well; Halberstam understands that we as a society don’t have strictly male and female identities, but rather masculine and feminine qualities which we designate as male or female. Consequently, this leads him to ask why we don’t already have multiple gender expressions and identities in our society. Perhaps we, as a society, have made little progress due to the male and female categories being “so elastic” as Halberstam describes; or perhaps Feinberg’s gender continuum already exists—not in the form of multiple gender identities, but rather with these “elastic” categories of male and female. Maybe this is why the gender binary has endured for so long; maybe the elastic male and female continuum is adequate. However, contrary to what the mass populous has deemed satisfactory for so long, many people and institutions have determined the current gender binary to be sub par.

“It is apparent that there are many ways for women and men to be; everything in nature is a continuum.” -Leslie Feinberg

Fortunately, in the past two years, progressive institutions have taken steps forward to queer our normative culture by forcing alternative gender identities into our binary system. These institutions are not simply radically suggesting that individuals should have more than two options when trying to identify one’s gender; instead, they are recognizing these identities by enforcing the various identities under the domain of their own institution. While not standardized between the institutions, each is making small steps towards a, hopefully, national change.

Examples of Gender Pronouns

Some Facebook Gender Options

Recognition as simple as a third gender of neutral—like that at the University of Vermont—or just the option to choose your own gender pronouns—like Harvard University—could make a drastic change in the lives of transgendered and gender-nonconforming people. These smaller changes nationwide could be a more conservative addition to our society’s tight gender binary; after people get used to the small changes, options to have multiple and varied gender options like that at the University of California and the University of Albany—universities at which students can choose between six or more options ranging from the standard male to trans woman to gender-queer—could be a progressive outlook for the future. Although our society may never get to official public recognition of the 50+ gender options listed on Facebook, these institutions are creating a path for future movement in gender expression.

If we’ve learned anything from the past, it is that gender differences and ambiguities exist within the seemingly everlasting male/female binary. We may be destined to stay within dichotomies, but I think we are starting to see that change is eminent. Because of these small, yet revolutionary, changes in gender recognition, I believe these institutions deserve a spot in this archive.

LGBTQ Nerds

Live Long and Prosper My Nerdy Friends!!!

Keeping with the Star Trek Theme, Let’s take about George Takei and nerd culture in the LGBTQ community.

George Takei is an American actor who is best known for his role in Star Trek. George Takei officially came out in 2005 but announced that he had been in a committed relationship with his partner for 18 years. Now that Takei has come out, he has been a huge equal rights activist. I wanted to talk a little about nerd culture and I think George Takei is a very good mix of the two. He is best known for his role on Star Trek and he is looked up to by many.

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Takei was first cast in 1950, a time when asian and gay actors were not given very many roles, but it wasn’t until 1965 that he was cast into Star Trek as Lt. Sulu. This role threw him into the spotlight. After years on comic cons, Takei gained a prominent social media following. He now has eight million followers on facebook and spreads his LGBTQ activism. He is even more of an LGBTQ icon because of his age. Takei just turned 78 a few weeks ago. This coupled the struggle he faced with coming out, makes him an important part of the LGBTQ nerd community.

On Proposition 8 and the election of Barack Obama, Takei made a very powerful statement:

“Last night, I was filled with pride to be an American. It was an exhilarating night of celebration. Barack Obama’s victory was a miraculous moment in our history. It was a night of joy, yet, President-elect Obama reminded us of the long road, the steep road, that lies ahead for us as a nation. And indeed, as a Californian, I was profoundly mindful of the challenges ahead. The discriminatory Proposition 8 on the California ballot was winning. Our fight for marriage equality was going down to defeat. It was astounding to think that the hard won equality that made my recent marriage to Brad Altman would no longer be possible for others. The evening became bitter-sweet.”It is now Wednesday morning – the day after the election. The words from Barack Obama’s victory speech still resonates in my mind. What an amazing night it was – the culmination of a turbulent struggle against a disgraceful history of slavery, prejudice and racial conflict. The road ahead is long, the road will be steep, he said. Our struggles for equality for another minority, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender, will be no different. There will be setbacks, disappointments and sacrifices to be made. Barack Obama spoke of the “renewed promise” of America. It happened last night with the presidency. And equality and justice will happen for us as well. We will make it happen. Yes we can.–George Takei, November 5, 2008

 

As the social media fame continues, I hope Takei can keep being an inspiration to other LGBTQ community members who share his struggles. One of the concepts that we discussed in class is the correlation between the arts and queer individuals. Many members of our class talked about how they found something special in the art that they didn’t else where. I’m sure the experience is different for everyone, and I’m sure Takei has felt something similar.

Nerd culture, especially in the past, has been very male dominated. Movies like “Fan Boys” emphasis this domination and create a homophobic atmosphere by using words like “gay” and “queer” as derogatory terms. This is why, at least in my opinion, there have not been many openly queer nerd icons until recently. Jim Parsons, from the Big Bang Theory, Misha Collins, from Supernatural and Zachary Quinto, from the recent Star Trek, are other queer actors in the nerd realm. Hopefully more individuals can take lessons from Takei or and other queer actors and learn to be who they are.

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.”

Bayard-and-Walter

“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.”   

Audre Lorde and a Celebration Through Labels

Audre Lorde, born Audrey Geraldine Lorde, was born on February 18, 1934 in New York City to Caribbean immigrant parents. Her parents came to the United States from the West Indies. As the youngest of three children she was raised in Harlem and was born so tounge tied and nearsighted that she was considered to be legally blind. Growing up Lorde developed a love of poetry early on from her mother teaching her to read and talk around the age of four, and being influenced by her mother’s “special and secret relationship with words’ writing her first poem in the eighth grade. Lorde stated “words had an energy and power and I came to respect that power early. Pronouns, nouns, and verbs were citizens of different countries, who really got together to make a new world”. While in high school she became the literary editor of her schools art magazine and her first poem was published to Seventeen magazine before she graduated high school.

After high school Lorde attended Hunter College from 1954 to 1959 and graduated with a BA studying library science and a spent a year at the National University of Mexico, which Lorde described as a time of affirmation and renewal. She supported herself by working numerous odd jobs as a factory worker, ghost writer, social worker, x-ray technician, medical clerk, and arts and crafts supervisor. After graduating from Hunter College, Lorde went on to get her master’s degree in library science from Columbia University in 1961. In 1962 lord met Edwin Rollins, to which she had two kids, Elizabeth and Johnathan, and the two would later divorce in 1970. Before divorcing her husband, in 1968 she became a writer-in-residence at Tougaloo University. There she met Frances Clayton, who would that became her long term partner.

Lorde self describes herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”. Lorde embraces these labels and uses them as a form of expression and almost liberation. She writes in the Cancer Journals “imposed silence about any area of our lives is a tool for separation and powerlessness”. Lorde used these labels as inspiration and a platform in her poetry for writing to tell of the injustices against woman, African-Americans, individuals of sexual oppression and many others. She looked at these identities, though seemingly different and incompatible, as working together to form one unique identity that encompasses all of her complexities and fully embraces them. In her poem Martha, she eloquently came out as a lesbian through storytelling:

I need you need me

Je suis Martha I do not speak French kissing

oh Wow. Black and…Black and…beautiful?

Black and becoming

somebody else maybe Erica maybe who sat

in the fourth row behind us in high school

but I never took French with you Martha

and who is this Madame Erudite

who is not me?

And in her poem Coal she openly accepts and embraces her race and say it in a way that can be interpreted as uplifting

“I

Is the total black, being spoken

From the earth’s inside.

There are many kinds of open.

How a diamond comes into a knot of flame

How a sound comes into a word, coloured

By who pays what for speaking….

I am black because I come from the earth’s inside

Take my word for jewel in your open light”

Lorde’s perspectives on labels is quite the opposite to some people’s views of labels today. Over the course of the semester, especially during the history unit when looking at Walt Whitman labels were seen as something that is no longer important or of use. It seems that one of the main consensuses was that people are starting to move away from these labels and push them aside in order to define themselves. There is very much a “you do you” attitude amongst the younger generations. The common belief may be that labels put the individual into a box and restricts them from being the complex being that they are. This rejection or unwillingness to accept a label has been around for years, and a prime example of this lack of labeling is Walt Whitman. Within Whitman’s poetry he commonly alludes to relationships between individuals sometimes without giving them a gender and has described these intimate relationships between men but refers to them as “friend” or “comrade”.  In the Calamus Cluster several of Whitman’s poems describe these intimate relationships between two men. In the poems A Glimpse and This Moment Yearning and Thoughtful, Whitman develops and describes relationships between men that could be interpreted as much more than a simple friendship

“A GLIMPSE through an interstice caught,

Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around the 

         stove late of a winter night, and I unremark’d seated in a
corner,

Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently approaching
and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand,

A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking
and oath and smutty jest,

There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, 

 perhaps not a word. “

 

“THIS moment yearning and thoughtful sitting alone,

It seems to me there are other men in other lands yearning and
thoughtful,
 

It seems to me I can look over and behold them in Germany,
Italy, France, Spain,

Or far, far away, in China, or in Russia or Japan, talking other
dialects,

And it seems to me if I could know those men I should become
attached to them as I do to men in my own lands,

O I know we should be brethren and lovers,

I know I should be happy with them.”

Even when questioned about his sexuality and his poems, Whitman denies and runs from full disclosure, while Lorde seemingly does the opposite. Lorde can be cited as saying “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive”. While possibly in today’s standard these labels may be seen as confining and restricting, and that labels do nothing more than divide us and don’t explain how complex we are, Lorde would challenge otherwise. She wouldn’t look at the labels and think that she is being pushed into a box, she would look at these label and see a celebration and argue that we don’t have to pick just one aspect of ourselves to focus on or pick just one label to define ourselves. We are in control of how we define ourselves and these labels allow us to show our difference while also learning to live in harmony with the complexities within ourselves and other. Labels don’t have to be a source of confinement or a box; they can be whatever we want them to be.

“it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences”

Albee and Whitman with the Woolfs

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Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf

When the morning comes….

Edward Albee’s 1962 play’s title Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf comes from a play on words of the 1933 Disney song, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Already mixing dark comedy and literature with the very title, Albee’s play is a hallmark of absurdist theatre. The drama describes the emotional and psychological instability of a couple’s wasting marriage. Hailed as a revolution for drama at the time, it won two awards within the first five years of production. Some critics then say it polarized audiences; some lauded its themes and creative use of tension, while others found it perverse through its sexual and explicit content. And this theme of polarization is what I find key to describing Edward Albee.

Albee is an out proud gay man, known as an accomplished playwright even before WAoVW, but he is most remembered for it due to its raw details. And it is these raw details, written with the intensity of a melodrama that put Albee into question. The campiness of the play and the writer’s sexuality led some critics to read the characters as stand-ins for gay relationships. The play as a metaphor for the ‘absurd’ trials and tribulations homosexual couple’s face and create themselves. At first, I was just going to archive that- the play as a thought that queer agency was created on stage before it was condoned, even if it was obscured. But through more research I discovered Albee’s total refusal to classify Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as queer literature. His stance is even more controversial considering his advocacy for civil rights and LGTBA understanding, but he deems his art to not be affected or analyzed by his sexuality. As Albee accepted his award at the 23rd annual Lambda Literary Awards, he is quoted in his speech saying “a writer who happens to be gay or lesbian must be able to transcend self. I am not a gay writer, I am a writer who happens to be gay.” This remark was met with disgruntlement or abject fury by the audience, his words seen as a dismissal of self and the gay identity. I kind of agree with Albee though in the same vein of the argument Hogan and Caskie make about Sam Smith.

It is the new wave quiet activism, how ‘gay’ can be a part of your reality but not the whole of it. Albee is later quoted commenting to NPR about the negative reactions as “so many writers who are gay are expected to behave like gay writers and I find that is such a limitation and prejudicial thing that I fight against it whenever I can.” His remarks remind me about our class debate on whether or not Whitman was gay. Albee is most assuredly, but that sexuality-identity connection to art is still questioned the same across generations. Does it affect Whitman’s poetry if he was gay? It affects the way we view him now, the way we have archived him in the queer history, but we argued about whether or not he would accept such a classification. Albee, unlike Whitman, is aware of the connotations of the word ‘gay’ but still contests such a distinction to be necessary. I am aware I am archiving Albee the same way history has archived Whitman, but we all should note that neither has agreed to it. Albee can be in queer history because he is a gay man making art, but his work should not critiqued only through that lens. As with Sam Smith, the man is not the art and the stories are not the same. ‘The body is political’ is denied by these artists, for the sake of their works meaning not be marginalized or pigeon-holed into outdated stereo-types of queer art. There is current Queer art, the same way there is Black art and Women’s Art; its existence cannot be denied or forgotten, but it is not all-inclusive and it is not all-political. It can be remembered, as I am making this so archiving it, but it must be remembered with all its origins and all its meanings intact.

 

Sarah Caskie, “Sam Smith: Musician on the Rise,” Contemporary Queer Culture hosted by Sites@PSU, last modified April 2, 2015, http://sites.psu.edu/245spring2015/2015/04/02/sam-smith-musician-on-the-rise/.

Revel & Riot

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Walt Whitman is one of the greatest poets recognized for both his ability to capture the many unique experiences of the American as well as for his intimate poems describing homosexual relationships. He is from an era of American history in which great wordsmiths were revered with respect. Whitman’s poems opened up the opportunity for other poets and writers to come out. Through the early to mid 20th century a sexual revolution was slowly rocking through the US, and its effects translated into more poems and writings. The great queer poet, Allen Ginsberg who wrote through the 1950s and 60s, was heavily influenced by Whitman.

In recent years and as LGBTQ people have been gaining civil rights, there’s been a shift in the forms of activism and literature put out by LGBTQ people. To some of the older generations who suffered a very different form of discrimination than what is present today, the younger generation has become complacent and has begun to view sexuality and gender as unimportant.

Revel&Riot is a website that counters this argument. This website features many resources and information for LGBTQ people and allies. On their homepage they describe themselves as:

Revel & Riot is a non-profit organization working for LGBTQ rights, awareness and equality.
We use the t-shirt to spread that message – a personal and common-place canvas – the perfect medium
to express identity, pride, solidarity, to spark a conversation and to make a profound political statement.

The name Revel & Riot is inspired by the complexities of being LGBTQ in the world today.
While we fight for our rights, for our lives and against all forms of oppression,
love and pride provide the inspiration.

Our funding comes entirely from the sale of our products and donations,
so we thank you for wearing the message of equality proudly, and for supporting our cause!

It also contains a news feed for what’s been happening recently in the lives of LGBTQ people around the world.

The purpose of Revel & Riot is two fold. Revel news articles “celebrate love and art” and support an artistic movement still heavily prevalent in the LGBTQ movement. Gender and sexuality do matter to this generation and the artwork, music, literature and love that can be found under the Revel section of the News tab reminds us of that. The Riot part brings out the activist in us. Through the Riot section of the News tab we can read stories of injustices, homophobia and transphobia that happen in our communities and around the world. This news is meant to motivate us to organize and take action against this discrimination. People can subscribe to the Revel & Riot mailing list and receive updates on current events affecting the LGBTQ population.

The website also provides a list of resources and organizations that they support. The resources give information on topics related to LGBTQ lives to help give people the knowledge of what things are and what they can do to become activists. There is a list of LGBTQ community organizations found through the resources tab that are organized by region. Organizations from the various states of the United States as well as the territories of Canada are listed and can also be divided into what sort of issues they handle (i.e. transgender, People of Color, religion, Sex Ed). We can Revel in the support and love given by resources in our areas, but we can also be empowered by them to Riot and fight for positive change.

There’s is an Action tab that is in the works, but may also prove as a useful resource for LGBTQ activism.

Revel & Right has free downloadable art/posters and they also spread their art through t-shirts and other objects with slogans like “Life Goes By Too Quickly” and “It’s All Fun and Gay Until Someone Loses Their Rights.”

Revel & Riot is an example of the modern LGBTQ art and activist movement that is helping to press forward with the LGBTQ Rights agenda. Though it may seem like our great poets and activists are gone or aging, they have left behind a legacy that will continue in a modernized version of activism.

mountain21


 

Born This Way

Lady Gaga is an eccentric, well-known pop artist whose career has never had a dull moment. She is known for her wild antics such as wearing a meat dress to arriving at an awards show in an egg, which she stayed in for seventy-two hours before coming out to be reborn on stage. Since the beginning of her career in 2008 Lady Gaga has won five Grammy Awards and thirteen MTV music awards for her hit songs like ‘Just Dance,’ ‘Poker Face,’ ‘Born This Way,’ and ‘Bad Romance.’ In addition to her music, Lady Gaga pours her heart and soul into supporting the LGBTQ community and fighting for their equality. When she is not on tour or writing songs, she is speaking at pride events, conferences, and being there for her fans which she calls her “Monsters.” For example, she spoke at the National Equality March Rally, the Gay Pride Rally in New York City, in Maine to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and many more across the United States.

Gaga has been and advocate and an icon for the LGBTQ community throughout her entire career, and she continues to use her fame and influence to fight for equality for all of the queer culture. Many of her songs like ‘Poker Face,’ ‘Born This Way,’ and ‘Hair’ refer to her sexuality and many of the struggles the LGBTQ community can relate to. The most controversial of these songs would be ‘Born This Way,’ because a lot of Gaga haters and anti-LGBTQ people were outraged by the lyrics. These naysayers believe that sexual orientation is a choice, which goes against the message the lyrics ‘Born this way’ stand for. Some people take issue with this song due to the reference to loving God, and they do not believe God approves of queer culture and therefore criticize her for putting them together. However, they do not speak for all religions, there are some religious communities that do not condemn queer culture. Although there were many objections to this song, Gaga also gained a lot of fans because the lyrics made a connection with people, and helped them realize it is okay to be different and to love yourself for who you are, because you were “born this way.”

“‘Born This Way’ is about being yourself, loving who you are, and being proud” – Lady Gaga

Some people argue that Lady Gaga is not truly queer, that instead it is an act she puts on to gain popularity and profit and therefore they do not think she should be an LGBTQ icon or advocate. However, Lady Gaga has come out identifying as a bisexual time and time again over the years. It is true she has only dated men, but she says she has always been attracted to females as well and has had many sexual relationships with women. Queer is an umbrella term for many different sexualities like gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and many more. Lady Gaga is queer, and she supports all of the queer community. She is not discriminating against straight people, her point is that not everyone is the same. There are straight people and queer people and everyone deserves love and acceptance. She advocates for queer equality which relates to the conversation in class about gender neutral bathrooms. They are similar in theory as both concepts make provisions to include not exclude. For example, in our discussion about bathrooms, we talked about how it is not about removing separate sex bathrooms, it is about adding a third option for gender neutral people so that everyone’s needs are met.

“Lady Gaga Is Queer. Always Has Been, Always Will Be” – Queer Voices

Another Lady Gaga song that supports my argument that she is a good LGBTQ icon, is ‘Heavy Metal Lover.’ This song is about one of her past relationships where they shared an interest in leather and BDSM. Throughout the song there are sounds of whips slapping, and lyrics like “Whip me slap me, punk funk, New York clubbers, bump drunk.” This type of sexual behavior directly relates to the film “Cruising” because they both have scenes in the leather bars in New York City where gay men in leather explored their sexuality. Also, BDSM is an aspect of queer or abnormal sexuality, which connects to Gayle Rubin’s theory of sex hierarchy with the “Charmed Circle.” Rubin used this circle to describe good, normal, natural, and blessed sexualities in the inner circle known as the “Charmed Circle.” The outer circle describes the bad, abnormal, unnatural, and dammed sexualities known as the “Outer Limits.” Lady Gaga advocates for the outer limits and for acceptance of different sexual expressions.

“There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are” – Lady Gaga

Mentioning the New York gay leather bars exemplifies her knowledge of LGBTQ history showing she has done her research and is part of the queer community. ‘Heavy Metal Lover’ is also another source of evidence that Lady Gaga is bisexual because her lyrics are gender neutral, meaning she does not show a preference for one sex over the other. In addition to demonstrating her knowledge about LGBTQ history, Lady Gaga reiterates her strong passion for the LGBTQ community by using “Baby we were born this way” in the song ‘Heavy Metal Lover.’ This use of repetition of ‘born this way’ once again emphasizes and proves Lady Gaga is a good LGBTQ icon, and ‘Born This Way’ was not a fluke or a publicity stunt.

“No matter gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgender life, I’m on the right track baby, I was born to survive” – Lady Gaga

As many of our classmates can vouch for, it can be very challenging living as queer in a world where not everyone accepts you. During a time of confusion, loneliness, and self-hate, I believe having the support of a pop star like Lady Gaga can only be seen as a positive, and in fact can be the light at the end of the tunnel for many that are struggling. At the end of the day, we need more people who accept us like Lady Gaga.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AIDS ART and ACTIVISM

From the black panther to Banksy street art to the power fist, art has consistently been used as a political tool within social activism. The queer community has an extensive history of using artwork during public demonstrations while fighting against issues surrounding HIV/AIDS. Beginning in the mid-to-late 1980’s, art pieces surrounding the HIV epidemic began to arise. AIDS activist Cleve Jones created the first panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1987. Soon after, one of the possibly most iconic art pieces to emerge from this period, the SILENCE = DEATH poster, was created.

silence = death

Created by Avram Finklestein, Brian Howard, Oliver Johnston, Charles Kreloff, Chris Lione, and Jorge Soccaras in New York as part of the Silence = Death Project, the poster sought to draw parallels between the gays in Nazi Germany and the AIDS crisis. In the Silence = Death Project manifesto, it was declared that ‘silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.’ The poster also read in small print, “Why is Reagan silent about AIDS? What is really going on at the Center for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Vatican? Gays and lesbians are not expendable…Use your power…Vote…Boycott…Defend yourselves…Turn anger, fear, grief into action.”

Shortly later, an organization that would closely identify with the Silence = Death poster formed in New York City. ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) NY, founded by Larry Kramer in March of 1987, became iconic for their vocal demonstrations and non-violent direct action methods, which drew attention to central issues of the AIDS crisis.

Although the specific HIV/AIDS issues have changed with time, artwork surrounding HIV/AIDS activism has remained present. For example the AIDS memorial quilt is still growing with over 48,000 3 by 6 foot memorial panels. More interestingly, symbols and the spirit from early AIDS activism, particularly radical civil disobedience and the upright pink triangle, remain existent in many forms of current activism. Queerocracy, a relatively new NY activist organization that seeks to challenge and fight against structural inequalities that punish people living with HIV/AIDS, relies heavily upon political art in their direct action. Shown below are various art pieces that appeared during some of their events.

queerocracy

 

Ranging from “HIV IS NOT A CRIME, CRIMINALIZING IT IS” to “MY + PUSSY IS NOT POISON” and “MY + PENIS IS NOT A PISTOL” to “KISS ME I AM HIV +,” each art piece has a frank statement. It’s notable that while some of these pieces focus upon government funding and education, many are geared towards destigmatizing and decriminalizing PLWH/A (people living with HIV/AIDs). These new forms of art and activism fight to reduce the criminlization of HIV+ people. HIV criminalization laws exist in 34 states and 2 U.S. territories. These laws punish HIV exposure through sex, shared needles, and in some cases bodily fluids including saliva. Many people are prosecuted regardless of whether transmission occurred or the sexual act posed a transmission threat. In some cases, a person can even be proscecuted if they disclosed their status and the sex was consensual. The Center for HIV Law Policy reported that 180 such prosecutions have occurred from 2008 to 2013 alone.

Another art piece coming from this movement of decriminalization is a beautiful new take on the original SILENCE = DEATH poster recreated by Aids Action Now.

silence=sex

The new poster reads SILENCE = SEX, under which is written “The criminlization of HIV + people perpetuates stigma and prevents prevention. HIV+ people are often caught in a ‘Catch 22,’ wherin disclosure is required by law, but often leads to immediate rejection. Inform yourself: overcome stigma and get laid!” Accompanied with the poster is a brilliant poem by Jordan Arseneault titled, “The New Equation.” Included below is a short excerpt from his poem.

“It’s that awkward moment where you look up at the
SILENCE = DEATH poster
On his cluttered bedroom wall
And say the words
I AM HIV POSITIVE
Only to see him freeze, lose his boner, sigh,
And explain trippingly that he has an anxiety disorder
And “just can’t take it right now.”

It’s that awkward moment when you want to rip a hypocritical poster
off someone’s wall
Or at least half of it:
SILENCE = riiippppppp crumple crumple
SILENCE =
SILENCE = SEX
All those posters say THAT to me now:
Silence equals sex.”

Jordan highlights a story that is all too common, in which disclosure leads to immediate sexual dismissal. This altered recreation of an iconic poster accompanied by Arseneault’s poem produces disheartening, uncomfortable imagery. The feelings triggered by this imagery are what make it so powerful. I think that’s one major reason why art and activism are so heavily connected. Art evokes feelings, and feelings make people uncomfortable. Activism is not comfortable.