resources, reading recs, quotations, & tweets
Here’s what I have for you today:
What I’m reading
&, as usual, my ebook about submissions strategies remains free. You can download it here.
What I read this week:
How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This
The Line That Velma Crossed (I would love to read this, but I can’t, because it’s paywalled. Anyone want to share their The Atlantic login info?)
Jonah Hill, Selena Gomez, and the Rise of Celebrity Vulnerability
Laura Aguilar Was a Proud Latina Lesbian, and She Flaunted It
Personally, I believe that God doesn’t give me the spirit of fear, so why should I be afraid? There have been so many things in my life that I have navigated, dealt with, am still struggling with, that didn’t kill me. And so why should I not sing? Why should I not fight? I always come back to the phrase “come as you are.” There’s such power in that idea: to come with your experience, your struggles, your burdens, all the trespasses that have been made against you, to show up and still have faith and to still know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you will win, that you will persevere. I, and all queer people, experience moments where we feel we are alone or will no longer be accepted, that we won’t be loved, that we won’t make it. And I’m here to say we are. And we will.
I think it is so important and necessary to document, period. If we don’t know where we’ve come from, we won’t have the full knowledge to take us to where we need to go. But I completely agree that it often feels like excavation work. We are literally trying to find the fossils of our Black trans history. Trying to find any recollection, any relic that connects us to our past.
I think visibility and representation obviously are important, but visibility was never going to save us in a world that still isn’t ready for us. Ultimately, I think the most important thing is vitality. The most important goal is, how can we keep our people healthy, safe, and alive, and how can we improve their lives? And that means all our people, not just the ones who have been accepted as exceptional. But we’ve always done that, so it’s in us. It’s innate. We’ve just got to listen to those voices and to each other.
Something I always say is that “I’m a queer-bodied person.” And that’s because queerness is always visible on my body if it is exposed.
So often, and I would say too often, images of trans people have been about—especially in erotic or porn settings—gender expression as a trick. As if a person’s genitalia reveals that you’ve been fooled and “this is really a man” or “really a woman.” I was attracted to your work because I felt that you were doing something more than “documenting” trans and gender-nonconforming bodies as curiosities to be fetishized or as human interest pieces. The models in this body of work are vulnerable as nude subjects before the camera, and yet I feel they are safe within your frame, and that you resist and protect your models from being fetishized and misunderstood because of how you capture them. When I came in contact with your work, I felt that you were contributing to the representation of queer and trans bodies, but also thinking beyond representation—perhaps even navigating your own relationship to gender. It’s often assumed that trans people are subjects, while photographers occupy an objective, masculinist, cisgender perspective. As an artist, I think you make clear that you are a part of the community you photograph, and that you are immersed in the same questions about queer identification, representation, and self-determination.
I was searching for a language and a community that gave form to feelings that otherwise seemed illegitimate in a heteronormative (and homonormative) society. I was learning how to be queer. I worry that it sounds narcissistic to shift the focus of a portraiture project to my own inner landscape, but I also think the motivations of the photographer are relevant and inevitably affect the work. I’ve been thinking a lot about how queer knowledge is transmitted through dynamics of interpersonal relationships between queer people. How a queer education often plays out in relationships rather than within institutions.
Consent isn’t fixed or absolute. It’s in flux and always on the table for renegotiation.
When gender is a binary, it's a battlefield. When you get rid of the binary, gender becomes a playground.
Gender is a continuum. Identity is a continuum. And that, I think, is the future, not only of gender, but of the world.
But how could I have been so resigned? When did I give up hoping anyone would see me?
-Susan Sontag, 1967
Always this feeling of being “too much” […]—a creature from another planet—so I would try to scale myself down to size, so that I could be apprehended.
-Susan Sontag, 1967
I gave up being at home in my body.
-Susan Sontag, 1967
Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good transport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.
-Susan Sontag, Illness as a Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors
Any disease that is treated as a mystery and acutely enough feared will be felt to be morally, if not literally, contagious. Thus, a surprisingly large number of people with cancer find themselves being shunned by relatives and friends and are the object of practices of decontamination by members of their household, as if cancer, like TB, were an infectious disease.
-Susan Sontag, Illness as a Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors
Why do we read a writer’s journal? Because it illuminates his books? Often it does not. More likely, simply because of the rawness of the journal form, even when it is written with an eye to future publication. Here we read the writer in the first person: we encounter the ego behind the masks of ego in an author’s works.
-Susan Sontag, “The artist as exemplary sufferer”
[To be a lesbian] means engaging in a complex, often treacherous, system of cultural identities, representations and institutions, and a history of sexual regulation.
It came from a number of directions. One was the AIDS crisis and losing a lot of people. It made me look at what was left behind and the residue, what is left on everyday objects, and the fact that those objects were imbued with traces of histories. I was also trying to make visible the passage of time by focusing on the residue. And make visible, in a sense, what had been rendered invisible, perhaps suppressed or forgotten. The things that are left behind interest me because they contain traces of our lived experiences.
That slowing down or the paying of attention to what’s around you is a position I am interested in; not just observing, but something more active, which has to do with paying attention to the present moment one finds themselves in.
What I’m doing is taking advantage of the first-handedness of objects that represent my own experience, to give value to personal experience. I’m trying to get beyond my postmodern damage—which is how I refer to the generational experience of being trained to critique the critique of the critique. Whereas the archive is about the original, the thing itself, and you get to work directly from a poignant moment, or object, or letter, or experience that you can consider to be both authentic and subjective.
I was fascinated by how a bunch of lesbians had legitimated collecting stuff because, in the words of Joan Nestle, who cofounded the LHA with Deborah Edel and several others, “Anything a lesbian has ever touched is worth saving.”
I was also interested, and still am, in the epistemological and political challenges of the absent archive. What happens if the histories you want to know have left no records?
Your work shows how the stuff we collect, and the feelings attached to objects, can be archived by virtue of making a photograph. The photograph insists that the thing pictured matters. When you hang an image of these cassette tapes on the gallery wall, you make a statement. You say, “These personal feelings are important enough to be made public.”
Both Archive of Feelings and Analogue made me think more deeply about artists as archivists. And about how archives and feelings twist into one another. Each project, in its own way, constitutes a profound response to the ongoing challenge of representation. But for me they are also coming from this cultivation of absence.
I want work on queer archives, and archives of queer intimacy, to help with addressing the legacies of genocide, slavery, and colonialism. The archive of feelings is not just about LGBT queerness; it’s about an attunement to racialized histories, as well as sexualized ones. The queer archive is about making connections with the deeply sedimented histories of violence and survival that form the social, political, and cultural environments we inhabit in the U.S. Unless we do radical kinds of recovery work around archives, and also grapple with profoundly absent archives—by acknowledging missing lives and missing feelings—we can’t move forward.
touch me and let me touch you
for the personal is political
language waivers with desire
it is skin
with which I caress the
-Harmony Hammond, Blood Journals (1994)
I studied abroad in Paris, where I went to my first lesbian bar ever, and it was so unreal — and breathtaking — to be in a room full of queer women. I never knew it was possible to feel so understood and so seen and so visible and so beautiful, in a way. To be seen with desire and to look with desire and to not feel ashamed or edit your gaze. You know, when I’m around straight women, unless I’m very close to them, I do feel this hesitancy or self-awareness of crossing over into space that I’m not supposed to because of that acknowledgment of my sexuality.
Longing, for me, is a relationship to memory, but it’s also important that longing isn’t necessarily tied to a romantic nostalgia about the past. I think of longing as the desire to hold onto a real visual history, when we actively want to remember.
Friends. People are the most important thing. Not the retrospective. Not the work.
When a person aspires to be a brand, they forfeit everything that is truly glorious about being human. Building any brand requires consensus. When we position ourselves as a brand, we are forced to project an image of what we believe most people will approve of and admire and buy into. The moment we cater our creativity to popular opinion is the precise moment we lose our freedom and autonomy.
Now, the creation of a personal brand has become de rigueur with a whole new generation of social media influencers aspiring to become brands. This calculated construction of self has become calibrated, molded and organized around followers, likes, click-throughs and monetization, as hundreds of millions of people live highly filtered lives publicly punctuated with a constant barrage of personal pixels.
Now don’t get me wrong: people can certainly own brands. They can invent and direct brands and they can design, manufacture, and promote brands. But rather than manufacturing a personal brand, why not build a reputation? Why not develop our character? Imagine what we could learn from each other if we felt worthy as we are instead of who we project ourselves to be. Imagine if we could design a way to share who we are without shame or hubris.
Have a great week—
It is hard enough to reconstruct the details of a direct act of violence when it is visited upon you in a conscious state — the physical pain, the shock of violation, the incredulity that your invisible yet sanctified bubble of invulnerability could burst so easily. It takes days, weeks, and months to heal the literal wounds, and then there are the emotional and psychological ones. Especially in the case of rape, the assailant is overwhelmingly someone the victim knows. It recalls one of the most plaintive, heartbreaking cries in cinema, Mia Farrow’s “This is no dream! This is really happening!” in Rosemary’s Baby. It is to suddenly and brutally be confronted with the fact that love is not, in fact, boundless and invulnerable. Worse, that love can be fashioned into a mask concealing hateful antipathy and resentment. Worst of all: That love can persevere through violation. Or, put more directly, that you may not be able to bring yourself to hate the person who raped you.
A more verbose way of articulating what I saw someone say in an Instagram story once: that there are people who are disabled and people who are not-yet-disabled. (i.e.: sooner or later, disability touches us all.)