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.

Jin Xing: I don’t want the world to change me too much

Jin Xing is probably the most renown representative of the LGBT society in China. She entered the military’s dance troupe in ShenYang, China, at the age of 9. She was the first Chinese who received full scholarship from the United States and she came to New York to study modern dance. She then went to Europe, including rome, to travel and teach modern dance. In 1995, 26 years old Jin Xing decided to perform a sex reassignment surgery and become a woman. As a well-known choreographer and dancer, Jin Xing now owns her own dance company, her own talk show. She knows five languages and she is a wife, and the mother of three children.

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One unique thing about Jin Xing is that, she does not see herself as a transsexual, she see herself as a woman instead. She is successful not as a transgender, but as a person, a woman. People also do not refer her as a transgender woman. If you ask a Chinese about Jin Xing, I believe most of them will regard her as “the legendary female dancer and choreographer”, instead of “a successful transgender woman”. In contrast, Caitlyn Jenner, who just got the ESPY award, is still having an public image of a transgender. Jenner’s speeches, including her show “I am Cait”, emphasize on her process of becoming a women and how hard was it. During our discussion in class, many people said they think Caitlyn was really fake in her show. This is completely opposite with Jin Xing, who is also known as the “poison tongue” in China, because she only say the real words. Jin Xing Also, While Caitlyn Jenner is trying to influence the world of transgender people with her experience, Jin Xing is being a role model herself, as a transgender woman, who is a dancer, choreographer, a talk show host, and a talent show judge. Jin Xing is trying to influence the world by being successful while still being herself.

On the other hand, JinJXg Xing’s determination led to her success. At a young age, Jin Xing was determined that she wants to pursue a career as a dancer. She used hunger strike to persuade her mom to let her learn dancing. Being a transgender in China is definitely more difficult than in the U.S., especially at that time when Jin Xing did the surgery. Transgender was still kind of a taboo and being homosexual was a crime in China. Also, the technology was not that advanced. One has to be really determined to make this decision and to be willing to bear the consequence. An accident during the surgery almost paralyzed her leg and doctor told her she may never be able to walk again. However, she practice hard with her paralyzed leg and believed that she will be able to dance again, and she did.

Jin Xing is definitely one the most influential women in China. She has her own unique way when looking at things including politics and problems in China, and they are always presented in a humorous way in her talk show. Those are her personal ideas and she is speaking by heart. She said that, “I don’t want to change the world, but I also don’t want the world to change me too much. I just want to be myself.”JX2

Marco Marco: Going Against the Heteronormative Grain

Marco Marco has been a buzz word in the fashion industry since his beginning in 2000. Having styled movie stars and pop artists, the brand Marco Marco enjoys making a big statement and utilizing pop icons to display extravagant pieces of fashion that has redefined modern fashion. The start of its fame began in 2013 when a video of the Collection 2 Runway was posted on Youtube. The fashion show launched a social media craze when the show began and the models were not slender female models and hyper masculine male models, but actually drag queens and transgender women modeling the dresses and gay men, thicker models, “vogue-ers”, and transgender men modeling the underwear and hoodies.

Marco Marco is renowned for his use of geometric shape, neon color, and form fitting clothing. His clothes, unlike the haute couture brands of modern fashion, are made specifically for the personalities wearing them; meaning each garment fits perfectly with the style and body shape of the model wearing it.  Yes, all fashion runway clothes are made to fit their models, but Marco Marco makes it apparent that with his clothing he is trying to emulate the personality of the model. For example during an interview with The Huffington Post Marco himself said the following about what started his whole perspective in fashion and the use of non-traditional models, “There is a (drag) queen named Vicky Vox… All I wanted was for her to open the first show, and when she said yes, that was the first seed… It’s also nice to give credence to a social group that doesn’t get the appropriate type of attention they (drag queens) deserve. I wanted a legitimate opportunity for my friends to show the world what being a ‘bad ass bitch’ is really about.” Through his experience of watching Vicky perform he became inspired by what she does daily: perform. The bright lights and atmosphere of where he saw her perform became an inspiration for him and he knew he had to make a clothing line inspired by it starring her as the entrance look. Marco Marco succeeded in combining his style with the character of an LGBTQ+ icon from the beginning of his show when he styled Vicky in a beautiful robe and bathing suit that she would wear off the runway as her character.

The use of LGBTQ+ models in Marco Marco’s runways makes a giant statement on heteronormativity. Utilizing models who aren’t all the same shape and size pushes the boundaries of what his fashion can do. He is making a statement on what fashion and gender is when he styles drag queens and transgender women in extravagantly colorful gowns and masculine and feminine gay men in underwear with full faces of makeup. For the aforementioned reasons, Marco Marco’s playfulness with the gender binary and the normativity of feminine women and masculine men in the fashion world has revolutionized the fashion world and redefined what is “normal” in fashion today.

 

Censorship Issues With Queer Art

In class, we discussed David Wojnarowicz’s silent film, “ A Fire In My Belly.”  David was an artist of New York around the 1980s whose work represents the under privileged people of society which was seen in “A Fire in My Belly.”   The silent film showed images of poverty, little kids outside playing with fire, people begging for money, a mouth being sown up, and the crucifix laying on the ground with ants crawling all over it.  He was homosexual and died of AIDS at a young age with some of the images seen in this film possibly hinting at the AIDS crisis.   This silent film received negative attention by the Catholic League and Congress members specifically because of the crucifix ant image.  It was removed a few years ago from the National Portrait Gallery because of the uproar it stirred with conservative religious groups who thought the film was sinful.  This goes to show that the debate over queer art is still evident and religious or conservative groups have power over censorship rather than the actual art institute in dealing with this category of art.

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Chris Ofili’s piece shown above called “Holy Virgin Mary” is just another piece up for debate.  This shows a painting of a colored women wearing a blue robe that would be seen on the Virgin Mary. The background is a yellowish orange color mocking that light one would see behind a painting of Mary. The painting uses elephant poop and pornographic photos as a medium. The elephant dung is spread across the left breast and the pornographic photos surround the “Virgin Mary” making it almost look like they are insects such as butterflies floating in the air at first glance, but looking closer one can see they are nude female body parts. This piece offended the Mayor of New York and the Catholic Church causing the Brooklyn Museum of Art to temporarily lose it’s funding showing that the control was out of the art Museum’s hands.

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Displayed above,“Miss Kitty” was another piece that tied art and homosexuality together. It was created by Paolo Schmidlin, and showed a statue of Pope Benedict XVI dressed as a drag queen. The Pope is wearing a blond wig in the shape of a woman’s bob, very high patterned or lacy looking stockings, a women’s shawl sliding down both shoulders, underwear with girly bows on the sides, stud earrings, and a pink barrette pinning the one side of hair back. It also appears that he may be wearing makeup on his upper eyelids, and he is not wearing a shirt exposing his entire chest. His actual body appears to be a male even though his hair and what he is wearing looks female. He is also smiling and tilting his head in a flirty kind of manner.  The sculpture was forced to be removed from Milan because of protest from multiple catholic groups. One of these groups included the Catholic Anti-Defamation League which found the piece very offensive for turning a religious figure into queer. Unfortunately, attempts at keeping queer art in museums is a lot harder than one would think thanks to more control being in the hands of conservative catholic groups. Hopefully, censorship of artwork by the catholic religion will not always remain an issue for the future.

http://www.popcrunch.com/15-of-the-most-controversial-pieces-of-art/?img=116141

http://www.popcrunch.com/15-of-the-most-controversial-pieces-of-art/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2010/12/09/AR2010120905885.html

Kent Monkman and Miss Chief

Kent Monkman is an artist from Canada that has an ancestry of Cree Native Americans. He works with a variety of mediums such as: paintings, film, and performance. His works are modern interpretations of Native Americans in today’s culture, with a heavy focus on the Two Spirit traditions that the Native Americans have. A reoccurring character in Kent’s portfolio is that of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, which is Kent’s drag queen alter ego. I believe that this is a great addition to the archive because not only are there no posts about Two Spirit traditions, but there is also a great representation of queer culture in his paintings.   One can almost always find a representation of one or both represented in Kent’s paintings.

Miss Chief, the drag queen alter ego of Kent, is depicted throughout many of his paintings. Miss Chief is a two-spirit person, in Native American culture this means that the person believes that their spirit is both male and female and the person fulfills both those gender roles in their tribe. Their appearance generally depicts a more masculine or feminine version of themselves. In Miss Chief’s case, it is the outward appearance of a female but the outward genitalia of a male.

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(Kent Monkman – The Trapper’s Bride – 2006 – acrylic on canvas)

 

In the picture above, on the back of the horse in the middle of the painting is Miss Chief. On can tell, as you look over Miss Chief’s body, there are both male and female aspects to it. The male parts being the very defined muscles and sharp facial features that Miss Chief possesses. The female attributes are a bit easier to detect on Miss Chief, there are the heels on her feet, the long hair with the ribbon in it, and the long black dress she is wearing.

Kent Monkman 2

(Kent Monkman – Study for Artist and Model – 2003 – acrylic on canvas)

 

In this painting Miss Chief is depicted in the lower right-hand corner of the picture. Miss Chief is painting the exposed man that is against the tree that she shot at.   One can tell that it was Miss Chief who shot at the man, because hooked on the easel in the middle of the painting are arrows with pink feathers on them, these match the arrows that are in the mans body in the bottom left of the painting. Miss Chief is wearing a headdress that is generally seen worn by the Chief of the tribe, but is also wearing pink stilettos, pink covering over the exposed testicles, and Miss Chiefs arrow sheath has the Louis Vuitton monogramed cover on it. This depicts both the male and female parts that make up Miss Chief.

Miss Chief is a lot like the Indian woman depicted in “Coyote Takes a Trip” by Deborah Miranda. In this short story, Coyote is taking the bus down to Venice, as he tries to get his mojo back, where he encounters three old women. He pays no mind to two of them but the third, the Indian he takes a fancy to. He describes this woman in great detail about what her hands looked like, that her skin was wrinkly but not too much, that her makeup was well put on and not too heavy. While he was staring at her, he almost missed his stop, which caused him to get up in a rush and inadvertently his pants fell down. Once righted and off the bus, the two other ladies were laughing and talking about him, and he noticed that the Indian lady was giving him the eye. That then, was when he realized that the lady he thought was a lady was in fact a man.  In this short story and in Kent Monkman’s paintings, the two-spirit individual is hard to pinpoint without having analyzed the works thoroughly. In both the two-spirit character is hidden well and unless you know about two-spirit traditions it is hard to pick out.

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.

Stone Butch Blues

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In March of 1993, transgender activist Leslie Feinberg published a coming of age novel titled Stone Butch Blues. It is the fictional story of a young woman named Jess Goldberg and the many problems she faces growing up as a butch in the late1960’s.

The entirety of the novel revolves around the butch-femme subculture. In short, butch and femme are terms used to describe individual gender identities within the lesbian, gay, transgender and cross-dressing culture. Butch refers to a woman with very masculine traits and behaviors while femme refers to a person (usually a female) with overly feminine characteristics. It has been argued that this concept is solely a lesbian dyadic system where one cannot exist without the other and ultimately gave lesbians a clear way to identify. In fact, many gay women in the mid- 20th century, identified as butch or femme instead of identifying as gay, or homosexual. This seems to be the case not only in the novel but for the 20th century as well.

Within the lesbian bar culture for the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s butch-femme was the norm while butch-butch and femme-femme relationships were not. This was very true for the novel as well. Jess from the beginning of the novel allows the reader to dive into her relationship issues with femmes and the many mentors she had (usually older butches) to teach her what was and was not acceptable in these relationships. It was also very common back then for lesbians to feel like role distinctions needed to be sharply drawn because not being one or the other meant strong disapproval from both sides. Deviance from these identities were stigmatized.

Today many young people would argue that the classification of butch and femme are inadequate ways of describing an individual. Now a days, gender fluidity has become much more acceptable. In other words, the modern day gay community recognizes that labels, like such, are limiting in themselves. If people do chose to identify as butch or femme they often say the label is more of a representation of their gender identity rather than the role they play in a relationship. This notion has made way for the acceptance of butch-butch and femme-femme relationships. So it is safe to say that these labels and their meanings, as well as restrictions, have evolved over time.

Likewise, the violence towards these people who identify as butch or femme has changed. At its core, Jess’ character is greatly shaped by the experiences of violence hence the term ‘Stone Butch’. Many lesbians in the mid-20th century who identified as butch acquired a personality  that yearned for love but at the same time did not want to be touched. In the novel Jess is raped, beaten up by cops, set up to be injured and spoken to by doctors like she was something other than human.

“About an hour later the cops brought Mona back. My heart broke when I saw her. Two cops were dragging her; she could barely stand. Her hair was wet and stuck to her face. Her makeup was smeared. There was blood running down the back of her seamless stockings. They threw her in the cell next to mine. She stayed where she fell.”

 

As suspicion of communist and queers began to mount, violence was not uncommon during that time. Butch and femmes alike were commonly confronted with a need to defend their space.  Luckily, much of that has changed. With a rise in acceptance of the gay community, the extremely high rate of violence or dehumanization of gays has dropped significantly.

What has not changed over time is the desire. The lesbian community and gay community as a whole have always desired the same thing regardless of time, acceptance.

Like in Erica Jong’s poem Testament (Homage to Walt Whitman), there has been a long history of pain for the gay community.

“& three decades of pain

having cried for those that did not love me

those who loved me- but not enough

& those whom I did not love-“

Stone butches are notoriously known for not permitting themselves to be touched intimately, and consequently are also known for ‘being hard’. While many lesbians may not be that way today, both ways of identifying as a lesbian have yearned to “resolve now for joy.

“If that resolve means I must live alone,

I accept aloneness.”

Despite how much time passes, that is something that will never change. No one in the gay community will gave up a search for joy, happiness and acceptance. In the same manner, no lesbian, whether she be butch, femme or between the two, will stop believing in that notion or lose that hope.

“How to spin joy out of an empty heart?

The joy-egg germinates even in despair.

Orgasms of gloom convulse the world;

and the joy- seekers huddle together.”

 

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The History of Pride Flags

The very first gay pride flag made its first appearance in 1978. The original flag had eight colors. Today’s gay pride flag has only six colors. Each of the colors represent a different aspect of life. The first gay pride flag was created by Gilbert Baker. He is an artist from San Francisco. Among the gay pride flag there is other pride flags that represent different pride groups. Some of these other pride flags are Leather Pride, Bear Pride, Bisexual Pride, Lesbian Pride, Transgender Pride, Asexual Pride, and Feather Pride. These are only a few of the other pride there is many more. The other main one that I want to focus on is the Bear Pride flag, because this was the next pride flag that was created. Craig Byrnes was the designer of the Bear Pride flag. He came up with the official design in 1995 as the bear pride community was growing. Each color represents all the different types of real bears all around the world.

                        

(the flag on the left is the original 8 color flag and the flag in the middle is the present 6 color flag and the flag on the right is the ear pride flag)

Gay pride and bear pride along with leather pride are the top three pride groups that usually attend pride fests. In class we watched a short clip from “Where the Bears Are”. This is an internet show about the Bear pride community. It is a comedy mystery web series which won the 2012 “Best Gay Web Series”. It has become a big hit ever since it made its debut in 2012 with over 10 million hits. This show represents basically one group of gay men who are very hairy and have a larger masculine body structure. These men also usually have facial hair as well as chest hair. The Bear pride community has many different slang terms to describe what type of bear every man is that’s in the community. Another short web clip we watched in class was “Easy Abby”. This is a web series based on a lesbian who has a lot of girlfriends that she doesn’t remember when she runs into them after not seeing them for a little while after they broke up. Both web series are based on gay people weather they are men or women. Before other pride groups were formed and came up with their own pride flags they all would have originally used the rainbow gay pride flag to support their sexuality. But now each gay group has their own pride flag. there is a pride flag for transgender people, lesbians, straight, asexual, and many more different groups.

       

I chose to do my history archive on the history of the most common gay pride flags because not many people realize that there is more than just the original rainbow (gay) pride flag. Along with the gay pride flag being one of the most popular pride flags, the bear pride flag is also one of the three most popular pride flags as well. Bear pride has been growing more popular since 1995 when the official design of their flag was debuted to the community. No matter how many different gay pride flags there is the original gay pride flag (the rainbow flag) will never fade away because it is what has formed our community and shaped the future for other pride flags to come to gay groups that do not have a special flag of their own. We all share the original pride flag, but like to stand out with our own pride flag that represents who we truly are.

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Renée Vivien 19th Century Poet

Renée Vivien was born in 1877 in England and shortly after moved to Paris where she and her sister attended school. When Renée was nine her father died and she was forced to move back to England until 1898 when she became of age and could return to Paris on her own. Renée published her first two books under a masculine pseudonym in 1901 and 1902 then published her third book, Evocations, under her own name in 1903. In all her writing Renée wrote unabashedly about being a lesbian. Many of her poems where about Natalie Barney a wealthy American who she had an on again off again relationship with. Another significant relationship was with Baroness Hélène de Zuylen de Nyevelt, whom Renée spent several years with until she got back together with Natalie Barney. Renée wrote many poems and stories over her lifetime, most revolving around her romances with other women and others featuring tragic heroines fighting against nature and oppressive men. Because of the homoerotic nature of her work it was unsellable in England and the United States and as such none of her poetry was translated in to English until the 1970s. To read more about Renée Vivien click here.

Roses Rising

My brunette with the golden eyes, your ivory body, your amber
Has left bright reflections in the room
Above the garden.

The clear midnight sky, under my closed lids,
Still shines….I am drunk from so many roses
Redder than wine.

Leaving their garden, the roses have followed me….
I drink their brief breath, I breathe their life.
All of them are here.

It’s a miracle….The stars have risen,
Hastily, across the wide windows
Where the melted gold pours.

Now, among the roses and the stars,
You, here in my room, loosening your robe,
And your nakedness glistens

Your unspeakable gaze rests on my eyes….
Without stars and without flowers, I dream the impossible
In the cold night.

Renée writes Roses Rising using nature and flower to represent the beauty of women. She starts out describing a particular women and then moves in to describing roses. Which I think represent all the women she has been with. She describes being drunk from many roses and how the roses follow her. She states, “I drink their brief breath, I breathe their life.” The rose is a common symbol for love, and in this poem Renée uses them to symbolize her past lovers, which is why she drinks their breath and breathes their life. All of her past lovers are in the garden of roses and that’s the miracle. The next few lines come back to the original girl and their interactions. The last line speaks to how Renée would feel without all her roses.
The Touch

The trees have kept some lingering sun in their branches,
Veiled like a woman, evoking another time,
The twilight passes, weeping. My fingers climb,
Trembling, provocative, the line of your haunches.

My ingenious fingers wait when they have found
The petal flesh beneath the robe they part.
How curious, complex, the touch, this subtle art–
As the dream of fragrance, the miracle of sound.

I follow slowly the graceful contours of your hips,
The curves of your shoulders, your neck, your upappeased breasts.
In your white voluptuousness my desire rests,
Swooning, refusing itself the kisses of your lips.

The Touch is a poem by Renée that is full of homoerotic text. The poem starts out with a tree and how it looks like a vailed women. Like her other poem Roses Rising the poem brings in nature to her description of an intimate relationship. Renée moves in to describing sex with her lover using the common symbol of petals to describe female anatomy. In the last part she describes the rest of her lover’s body.

Renée Vivien uses nature to help her describe the beauty of the female form much like Whitmen did to describe the beauty of the every human body. Vivien also compares to Whitmen in her use of the pronoun you to describe her lovers. Yes in Vivien’s poems she is unabashed about her lover’s sex and often puts in description indicators to show that she is talking about a women and not a man. She is also openly homosexual unlike Whitmen whose sexuality is still debated. In addition Vivien predates Whitmen and her poems are written in an even earlier style then what was popular in her time.

Read more of Renée Vivien here.

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/.