Thank u, next

Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 15.36.10

I spent a long time dismissing Ariana Grande. It was the easier option. Her giggle-pink “gumdrop” dresses echoed the candyfloss in her music; I imagined her lost to the commercial pop wasteland. What a thing to be lamented – and there truly is no better word for it – those angelic vocal abilities. Swamped under sticky harmonies and oversaturated lyrics, baby baby baby, moonlight and clouds and kisses. The pouting photos. Pretty purse. Tiny girl.

But underestimating Ariana Grande is a gross miscalculation of what she represents –  the power of a woman with a voice, the healing escapism of pop culture, the triumph of love over pain. It is a denial of the agency and thought involved in crafting her narrative, one that has been marked with incredible trauma, and suffered from burning scrutiny. And in a strangely unfeminist way, it is also a devaluing of her grace and resilience, only for its pretty package. An ultra-feminine woman singing like syrup, is not worthy of gritty, hard, serious conversation.

Grande’s music is characterized by a sweetness that is deceptively surface-level. It is classic pop. She sings about love and goodbyes and dreaming. She creates and inhabits a carefully constructed fairytale. In August 2018, the singer stated that titling her latest album Sweetener, was about “bringing light to a situation, or to someone’s life, or somebody else who brings light to your life, or sweetening the situation.” It was pouring sugar on bitterness. It was compassion. It was surviving.

Sweetener marked an ongoing cathartic process for Grande. Life had taken a turn. Amid an endlessly soaring career, Grande had experienced the loss of her grandfather and several highly publicized breakups, including with famed rapper Mac Miller, a relationship she deemed “toxic” on Twitter. In May 2017, her concert in Manchester, England was bombed by terrorists, leaving 23 dead and hundreds injured. Her speedy engagement this year to comedian Pete Davidson was ridiculed by many. She talked about dealing with intense anxiety.

Struggle is not a sweet subject. But in Grande’s songs, that reality did not persist. Although lacking in cohesion, Sweetener was lauded for the very idea it existed and operated on – reclaiming one’s narrative. Grande was facing personal tragedy with hope, determination and tenderness, not because it was required, but because she knew this was what she deserved from life. Everyone deserved it, the ability to rise and grow and smile from pain. The mode of mainstream pop was unconventional, but the intention was not. In “God is a Woman”, Sweetener’s first single, Grande sang about owning and embracing her desire and sexual prowess, and in pleasing her partner, not because she was obligated to but because she took pleasure in it. In “no tears left to cry”, the music mirrored her words, transforming mid-way from ballad to dance pop; she sang “I’m loving and living and picking it up,” and  “We way too fly to partake in all this hate/We out here vibing.” Every song was an ode to loving  – loving herself, those around her, through her situation, whatever that came.

Here was a woman, watched by millions, who had suffered. A woman often dismissed as childlike and superficial. A woman with a strong and incredibly loud voice. And she was using it, not only for enjoyment, but to shape both her public and personal narratives in order to reflect who she was. Beyond a pop princess and online personality, Ariana Grande was just a person.

Since the release of Sweetener, Grande’s struggles, and persistent cathartic journey, have not ended. In September 2018, her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller passed away from a drug overdose; people online blamed her for leaving him and letting him spiral. During a performance at Aretha Franklin’s funeral, Grande was publicly groped by a pastor. Only days ago, her engagement to Pete Davidson, whom she had been living with, ended. And with the world watching, she had no luxury to disappear – most of all, from herself.

Pop music is not always a site for frivolity. The breathy, celestial flutterings of Grande’s music are also a safe space, not only for herself, but for all her fans and listeners. Pop can be a place of warmth and security, a sonic embrace, temporarily freeing from the grit and anxiety of daily struggling. Amid personal chaos, Grande retreated into this fairytale she had created for herself with music. Snippets of her recording in the studio emerged. Before anyone could blink, she was out with a new single: “thank u, next”. In it, she sings about her various exes, thanking them for all they had brought to her life, good and bad, and choosing to move on to someone else: herself.

“thank u, next” is reminiscent of the likes of Taylor Swift, who has long been poked and prodded and skewered by the media for making pop music about her exes. The cover art for the single is similar to the promotional material for Swift’s album Reputation, pasting up published headlines about the singer. It is evident that Grande carries forward a torch Swift lit long ago. Both, in their own ways, critique the media-driven narratives surrounding and shaping them as powerful and talented women in a cut-throat, highly scrutinized industry. Both have sang and spoken about empowering women, but through the very direction of their art, implicitly embody that mission too. Through their art and perseverance, they seek to love and heal themselves; and merely by watching them do so, we are inspired to do the same.

I admit I feel lucky to have such female artists spearheading the creative industry around me. Artists like Ariana Grande learn to to undo all that is done to them, and be completely unapologetic about it. They remind us that personal choice and exercising agency over one’s narrative, in whatever way they find most healing, is the ideal example to set within discourses on self-love, women empowerment and feminism. And their skilfully crafted stories, songs, selves, which have such power, pushing their way onto radios and Instagram feeds, force us to listen. But of course, listening is a meeting in the middle; we too, must make the effort to listen with awareness and intelligence.

After all, a truth in a pink wrapper is still as important. And if it’s too bitter, there is much sweetness, still, to be found, and made, in the world we live in.

 

Photograph courtesy of The Fader

 

Frida Kahlo, Making Herself an Exhibit

 

the-two-fridas

I am younger than I am now and wearing a green velvet dress. My face is painted and I have violet flowers tucked within my dark hair. My earrings drip to my shoulders and I feel dazzlingly happy as I sit in the passenger’s seat beside the man I love (and who loves me!) in his fast car–we are going to a faraway party in Western Pennsylvania. It is winter and still bright outside, the windows are sealed, but as we leave his house and round through the winding roads leading to the highway, a blue silence like a haze descends over us. His fingers grip the steering wheel, his knuckles whiten, and his mouth becomes menacing.

“I can’t believe you,” he hisses, still staring at the road ahead.
“What? What?” I ask, bewildered. I have no idea what I have done wrong.
“Think,” he spits, letting his tongue slap the roof of his cold mouth, “You like to do that, don’t you?”
I search the interior of the car for clues. Door handle. Dashboard. Radio nozzles. My slinky purse on the floorboard.
“What?” I beg.
His face is tight like a canvas tent pinned to breakable earth. I stare at his profile and after a punishable time, he snarls, “Your chin. It’s disgusting. You disgust me sometimes.”
I instantly free my hand of my glove and brush the sides of my face and feel the distinctive bristles, a family heirloom–my mother and her mother were flowery too. I want to shrug. I had felt resplendent.
“People will laugh at you. Everyone can see,” he scolds me.
“I don’t think it matters,” I say weakly, but he continues to humiliate me and to augur an inevitable humiliation by others until I am crying and he turns the car around. “If you loved me, you’d take care of that.”

I see my tears transforming into sea ice as they drip downward and this slender ice grass grows high and sharp in the car like an ice meadow. My knees shake as the glacier glass ascends around us with polar majesty–can’t he see? Blue ice stalks grow over the armrest and between our legs, from the vents, on the dash, while the polar chill strangles all the flora and fauna of my being, and everything is winter suddenly. When we reach his house, I assume we are finished for the evening–or forever–but instead he shuts off the engine, and says quietly, “I’ll wait here. There is a razor in my cup.”
As I open the car door, I imagine the ice stalks following me, becoming water, and flooding out of the car, but as I turn back around, the ice has not melted but grown thicker and now the man is encased in the ice, unrecognizable as a blur. I slowly let myself back into his house and climb up to the bathroom, where I stare at myself in the mirror. Am I a barbarian? My makeup is ruined, two smudgy charcoal trails that fall over my cheeks, my hair is fussed and raging from our argument. I pick up the razor and lean over the sink, still tearful as I shave off the undesirable thistles of me. As I do it, I wonder what I am doing. Then, like a clear burst of air, a bird of thought, Athena’s owl, Frida Kahlo’s spirit flies into the room. That unmistakable whiff of moustache, the monobrow, but mostly, her defiant eyes. I go to the party, shaven. I drink and dance, but in my heart, I feel the drought coming, the cracking of something once fertile, but it isn’t my dermis – it is something else.

frida.png

Frida Kahlo, Julien Levy, American; From the collection of: Philadelphia Museum of Art

How and why do so many folks find inspiration in Frida Kahlo, and not just in her paintings, but in how she lived her life? “For [American Art Historian] Parker Lesley, she epitomized ‘the Byzantine opulence of the Empress Theodora, a combination of barbarism and elegance” (Phillips 95). Is it this — her timeless brutal regality without mystification? And is it part thrill of her unorthodox face, more familiar and universal than the faces on most world currencies? With her radical choices, she gives us permission to be ourselves. Carlos Phillips Olmedo, Director General of Museums Dolores Olmedo, Frida Kahlo y Diego Rivera Anahuacalli, claims “There is art that is so highly personal in nature that it becomes universal. This is true of the art of Frida Kahlo” (Henestrosa & Wilcox 10). London’s Victoria and Albert museum’s current exhibition, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, seeks to answer this question and more. And it succeeds, without falling into idolatry, hagiography, or beatification. Or an uninventive mise-en-scène of a mad misunderstood genius. Or myth-making.

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up is an exhumation of a subversive feminist-artist-activist who is still able to teach us new ways to live and think. By unearthing Kahlo’s personal artifacts (literally, the artifacts presented were revealed in 2004 from Kahlo’s sealed bathroom), we do not supersede her paintings. Instead, swimming through the blue exhibit rooms (painted blue in homage to her Casa Azul home in Coyoacán, Mexico), visitors temporarily evolve the lateral organs of fish and are able to feel all the vibrations, impulses, histories, and pressure gradients in Kahlo’s life, which imbued her easels and her untraditional canvases (her own plaster corsets and prosthetic leg) with her singular force.

The exhibition’s co-curator Circe Henestrosa writes, “It is her construction of her identity through her ethnicity, her disability, her political beliefs and her art that makes her such a compelling and relevant icon today” (14). Henestrosa’s words echo Olmedo’s idea that it is the highly personal aspect of Kahlo that draws in her acolytes; Kahlo exemplifies how mess and integrity in your art and lifestyle is attractive, whereas being too broad and noncommittal in order to please does not actually appeal in the long-term. The exhibition, which also throws light on modern Mexican history, reminds us that this daughter of a German immigrant and a Mexican woman “wore many hats” as people say today–she even reinvented her own birthday, turning her clock forward by three years, so she could be a daughter of the 1910 Mexican Revolution.

frida dress.png

Frida Kahlo’s wardrobe inspired by the the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Photograph Javier Hinojosa

Some reviews of this exhibition bemoan a lack of Kahlo’s paintings or suggest we are ogling Kahlo with a modern gaze. Jonathan Jones of The Guardian writes, “This exhibition reinvents Kahlo as a 21st-century artist whose life was a kind of performance…” and “I suppose this is what artistic fame looks like in 2018.” I would counter that all lives are performances and in the most enlightened scenario, the performance is a person living out their essences for their own fulfillment and pleasure, which Kahlo demonstrates. There is a difference between performance and self-publicity; I wager that Kahlo was less interested in self-publicity than contemporary artists and social media darlings are today, but she might have been just as much a performer. For example, while viewing her painting Self Portrait Along the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States at the exhibit, the curators remind us that Kahlo stated, “The most important thing for everyone in Gringolandia [America] is to have ambition and become ‘somebody,’ and frankly, I don’t have the least ambition to become anybody.” Kahlo didn’t want to become somebody, which is what the performer does. Kahlo was comfortable with the existing contradictions of her life, body and history; a publicity campaign-minded person also prefers a more linear and uncomplicated message. For instance, the exhibition takes us into Kahlo’s home where she spent most of her life, a place just outside of Mexico City. She and her partner Diego Rivera collaged her home’s interior walls with tiny votive (or retablo or ex voto or lámina) paintings (she collected more than 400), because they were part of Kahlo’s national and maternal history, not because she actually believed in god and the saints (Gotthardt). The votive influence is also felt in her own art and the V&A exhibition features many such votives to consider along with their context within Mexican history.

votive unknown.png

Votive by unknown painter (Mexican, 19th century). Image courtesy of El Paso Museum of Art

Other reviewers wish there had been a more unequivocal focus on her communist politics, or her atheism or feminism. I will note The Communist Manifesto was being sold alongside dozens of Kahlo biographies at the robust gift shop, and a black-and-white video of Kahlo, Leon Trotsky, and Diego Rivera at Casa Azul plays early in the exhibition. In addition, an exhibit highlight was Kahlo’s plaster orthopedic corsets, one of which featured the unmistakable symbol of proletarian solidarity, the red hammer and sickle. Seemingly, co-curators Claire Wilcox and Circe Henestrosa chose to “show” Kahlo’s story instead of “tell” it, which means the likes of Chekhov and legions of creative writing teachers would enjoy the storymaking of this exhibition.

Ultimately, underlining this empowering and uplifting exhibition is a tension between the Flaubertian notion that the artwork is all that should matter, and the alternative, that the artist’s life is worthy of study, and enhances our experience with their art or with our world. Furthermore, there is a subtler idea, that artists themselves are deserving of our time, but only if we are engaging in discourse concerning “serious” matters, like the artist’s politics or gender-bending. If we are entranced by Kahlo’s stained lipstick print on a photo of Rivera or the grey-green stone beads she most likely acquired from Maya sites in southeastern Mexico, we are somehow superficial, plebeian, mere idolaters. All these ideas are myopic and do not apply to this exhibition. One easy reason is that humans, particularly women, are still enduring in binaries, boxed like madonna or jezebel as caring wife or career woman, or problematic sub-boxes like muse, manic pixie dream girl, feminazi. Kahlo provides us with a modular life; she does not live in a box–she lives in sieves. Things pass through her and she passes through them, from Tehuana headdresses to medical operations to being Madame Rivera to engaging in her infidelidades to being a person with lifelong physical disabilities. All these passages infuse her artwork and give us a new way to consider being human or woman or artist or bodied or partner or citizen.

In the United Arab Emirates today, because of her physical limitations, Kahlo would be considered a Person of Determination, which is a new and bold take on inclusive language issued by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. This distinction, decreed in time for March 2019’s Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, is a far cry from the language many folks grew up using around disability– and language changes thinking. ‘People of Determination’ signs are now found everywhere in the UAE, from airports to queues at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. And if there is any doubt in the language, look to Kahlo for affirmation. The exhibition reminds us that Kahlo once said, “I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy as long as I can paint” and Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A, states, “Her rejection of gender orthodoxy and conventional fashion–as an artist who also transcended disability–allowed her to forge a unique identity which spans ages, gender and geography in its global appeal” (Henestrosa & Wilcox 11). In fact, the opening text within the exhibit is organized under the titles ‘Roots’ and ‘Sickness’ because these two elements of her life are the muses of so much of her artwork. It is gratifying to understand the multifarious influences in her life and not perpetuate the idea of the artist being visited by some mythical muse who imparts ideas in the artist’s hands like the spirit visiting the Four Evangelists. There is hard reflective work and corporal pain inherent in every painting, evidenced in works such as The Broken Column. Furthermore, through ‘Roots’, we learn of her photographer father, who liked to take self-portraits, perhaps animating her own lifelong obsession with self-portraiture.

garden.pngJohn Madejski Garden, Samantha Neugebauer

On the afternoon I visited the exhibit, the crowd was surfeit with matriarchal magnetism—mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, girlfriends, all huddling over captions, smiling, reading, and nodding their heads together. It was especially arresting to see young boys enchanted by Kahlo, grasping their mother’s hands and asking questions about her life, ideas, and art. There was innocence and hope inherent in these little boys’ fascination; they had not yet been conditioned to fear powerful women, to feel intimidated, or to fight (sometimes subconscious, sometimes conscious) urges to want their women conformed into boxes. Outside, in the museum’s John Madejski Garden, children leaped inside a steel face of Kahlo for photos of the flower queen. It felt like a safe haven in a world that is as of late (as of always) hostile towards women. Kind of like how, according to curator Adrian Locke, Kahlo’s Mexico felt to many artists, photographers, and academics during the outbreak of WWII and rise of fascism in Europe. At this time “Mexico was viewed as a safe haven that welcomed refugees” (Henestrosa & Wilcox 46). Kahlo, likewise, has become a stiff caryatid holding up new ideas for us to consider, but also someone we can stand below for pride and safety.

Back inside the museum, there was genuine excitement in the air; it was a different energy than the V&A’s relatable David Bowie Is exhibition or even another exhibit of a female art icon, Georgia O’Keeffe, which was on at the Brooklyn Museum in 2016. Both these exhibitions were extremely well-done and expansive, but in some ways, Kahlo’s subversion is more necessary now, more timely. Kahlo did not live to see many of the dark repercussions of communist leadership, so, we cannot predict exactly what her politics would look like today; however, we can look to her art and lifestyle for elements of her politics which would still serve us well, especially if we feel trapped in the grid of capitalism but aren’t sure what to do. For example, many of the costumes on display were handmade or altered by Kahlo herself. Her wardrobe was intentional, inclusive, and I’ll say, the wardrobe of an environmentalist. Her clothing was typically comprised of a huipil (square-cut tunic) and an enagua (skirt) with an holán (flounce). She wore the same accessories and clothing frequently, as evidenced in many photos and paintings reunited in this exhibit with Kahlo’s real wardrobe. She also kept clothing that was imperfect —paint splatters, ink, cigarette burns, and other marks of life. She altered, shared, and borrowed stones, beads, fabrics; some of her famous swaps were from notables like her comrade Picasso and Peggy Guggenheim (Phillips 89). She was generous and inventive. Alternatively, in a recent article about Rent the Runway in the The New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz writes, “…the average American buys sixty-eight items of clothing, eighty percent of which are seldom worn; twenty percent of what the $2.4-trillion global fashion industry generates is thrown away” (46). If we admire Kahlo’s style, why not create our own and eschew the anodyne of fast fashion? We don’t need to imitate her look, but rather follow her attitude towards style cultivation and wardrobe accumulation.

Other unmissable exhibition highlights included a short clip of Miguel Covarrubias’ film El Sur de México, which features strong female figures from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, an inspiration of Kahlo’s as reflected in her artwork and her élan. The famed Mexican writer Andrés Henestrosa from Oaxaca was a friend of Kahlo’s and Henestrosa gave Kahlo her first Tehuana dresses (Phillips). Furthermore, Covarrubias had stated, “To the average city Mexican, a Tehuana is as romantic and attractive a subject as a South Sea maiden to an adolescent American” (Phillips). Once you familiarize yourself with Tehuana sartorial traditions and post-revolutionary nationalism, it is impossible not to discern its spell on Kahlo.

A key item for poetry lovers is Kahlo’s copy of Leaves of Grass (the Spanish translation of Whitman’s poems by Armando A. Vasseur was found at Kahlo’s deathbed). Lastly, make sure to check out the exquisite bracelet from China that Kahlo wore; it is featured in the exhibition’s last room.

giftshop.png
Victoria and Albert Museum Gift Shop, Samantha Neugebauer

Following the exhibit, one exits, rather obviously, through the gift shop. While the capitalistic cacophony of Kahlo goods for sale might have elicited disdain from the artist if she were around to witness it, there is a sense that the eager shoppers have a specious impulse that by buying a flowery headband or bulbous necklace, they will never detox from the euphoria of their Kahlo experience and the empowerment she radiates. These actions come from a good place; they also support the museum (which has free admission)–and in some cases, contemporary Mexican artisans. There is not only a gift shop of Kahlo wares as your exit, but also Kahlo-inspired souvenirs and books in the V&A’s main gift shop. In this space, you’ll find exclusive pieces of jewelry and other fashion goods, like painted guaje purses, by female Mexican artists, such as Iris De La Torre of Guadalajara, Carla Fernández of Mexico City, and Franco-Mexican designer Sophie Simone Cortina, who all designed pieces especially for this exhibition. One necklace by Cortina called ‘Hummingbirds’ expresses how these birds represent good luck in Mexican culture and the piece also evokes the term of endearment Rivera used to refer to Kahlo’s eyebrows: her hummingbirds. I purchased a pair of chaquira earrings by Carla Fernández, made in collaboration with the Mooy artisans from the San Pablito community, which feature one figure wearing a long skirt and another in trousers. When I asked for this pair from the salesperson, a young seemingly kind-hearted guy asked, “Oh, you want the boy and girl pair or the two girls?” There was another pair by Fernández with both figures in skirts. I was temporarily taken aback that we were still making distinctions on sex related to a human’s clothing choices, especially in such close vicinity to the masterful Kahlo exhibition, one that even featured photographs of Kahlo in trousers. That brief experience was quickly usurped by my eavesdropping as I heard a young Glaswegian-accented boy make pleas to his father to buy some bright plastic bracelets as he slipped several of them up his thin arms. His father quickly instructed him to “Put those back…those are for girls”.

Nevertheless, these two antidotes did not break the magic of Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up. In truth, these final brief episodes bolstered my reverence for the exhibition, its necessariness, and seriousness. Ultimately, it makes me believe, as I finish writing this while brushing the small dark hairs on my chinny chin chin, that we have as much to learn from Kahlo about how she lived her life, in her body, with her uncompromising body hair, and in her clothing, as we do from her paintings themselves.

earrings.png
Victoria and Albert Museum Gift Shop, Carla Fernández

References
Frida Kahlo Making Her Self Up. 16 June 2018- November 2018, Victoria and Albert Museum,
London.
Gotthardt , Alexxa. “A Brief History of the Mexican Votive Paintings That Inspired Frida
Kahlo.” Artsy, 1 Nov. 2016,
https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-the-traditional-mexican-votive-paintings-that-inspired-frida-kahlo.
Henestrosa, Circe, and Wilcox, Claire, editors. Frida Kahlo Making Her Self Up. London, V&A Publishing, 2018.
Phillips, Claire. “Frida Kahlo’s Jewellery.” Frida Kahlo Making Her Self Up, edited by Circe
Henestrosa and Claire Wilcox, V&A Publishing, 2018, pp 85-97.
Schwartz, Alexandra. “Costume Change.” The New Yorker. 22 October 2018: 44-49.

 

Artwork by Frida Kahlo, “The Two Fridas”, 1939.

The Internet Saved My Queer Soul

Francis Picabia Hera.jpg

The internet is weird and scary, but it is undeniable that it is one of the most important tools for shaping the LGBTQIA+ community and culture.

When people broadly talk about how the internet is the bane of their existence, I immediately think of  pre-teen gay kids living in towns of 500 people or less. What physical community exists for them? Would they have access to a GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) or accurate non-bigoted information in their physical space? Realistically, sometimes the only place to see people like them who are living happy and fulfilling lives, is online. There is plenty of terrible information on the web, but the only way to learn about the many facets of their community is to log on. Information on queer health or history is not so accessible anywhere else.

GLAAD, a non-governmental monitoring organization for LGBTQIA+ representation in the media found that of the 109 releases from major film studios in 2017, only 14 (12.8%) of them included characters that were LGBTQ. This represents a significant decrease from the previous year’s report (18.4%, 23 out of 125), and the lowest percentage of LGBTQ-inclusive major studio releases since GLAAD began tracking in 2012. Not one of the 109 releases had  transgender representation.

It is painfully isolating not to know anyone else who is gay or trans. It is excruciating not to have the vocabulary to define yourself. Representation is still so difficult to find in mainstream commercial media, and when it exists, it tends to be drowned in stereotype and tragedy. Access to indie shows, books, art, and music that is created for and by the community needs greater importance. Storytelling is a way we can explore ourselves and our identities and have the power to speak our truths.

The internet amplifies stories and the practice of stories. People become able to look up the historical figures absent from their history class. They can find books that never got a chance to be assigned in a high school syllabus.  They can create and share things that are typically discarded as different or abnormal, and find similarities, celebrate differences.

The positive impact of internet culture on the queer community is quantifiable. While there aren’t many studies on queer youth’s online interactions, scholar  Leanna Lucero has explored the “the numerous ways that multiple marginalized LGBTQ youth use social media as part of their everyday experiences, in an attempt to safely navigate their lives through learning, participating, engaging, communicating and constructing identities in digital spaces.”

She explored participants’ accessibility to social media and the frequency of their activity on various platforms. Her data-driven analysis suggests that social media can be a safe space for LGBTQ youth to delve into the complexities of their sexuality and gender in more nuanced ways.

Obviously, the internet is not always a safe haven. Harassment, bullying, and death threats plague online spaces, and can be especially directed at the queer community. Sometimes negativity and harassment even comes from within the community. But without it, so many of us would feel increasingly isolated, only hearing hateful or ignorant voices from whichever ‘real world’ we happen to be situated in.

But the internet isn’t going away. Social media will continue to evolve beyond our imaginations. It’s important for us to make sure that the internet becomes more of a shelter for queer communities. In small towns and high schools, people don’t always get to see a reflection of their identity in a positive way. Comfort and acceptance can be found in everything from Autostraddle to queer barbers on Instagram. Learning identifying words from folks can make you finally feel at home with yourself. Technology can be our weapon and our shield against the world, and we must continue raising and practising awareness of this power and responsibility in the digital age.

 

Artwork by Francis Picabia “Hera”

 

bell hooks

bell hooks

my feminism –
now don’t be scared by that
word, boy
no pussies allowed
here.

already clicked away?
no matter. bitches like me
been shouting into voids
for damn centuries. they invented
flight, and burned
witches all in the meantime.
time didn’t wait and neither will i.

what is my feminism?
well it ain’t damn
yours, that’s
for sure. my feminism
is a big fat long
prism
i’m still learning to set up –
see, it’s catching the light
see, the kaleidoscope
see, for god’s sake you won’t
go blind.
i’ve learnt my way around
cuts and edges quickly.
this thing is so beautiful already,
look at it, just
fucking look at it.

what is my feminism?
it’s pickle-soaked in white light
but one day i tell you, it’s gonna bleed
all the colors at the same time.
we’ll see shapes of every kind
the magical miracle
things taking flight.

it will hold
every cramp and every tear and every
silence
up for cross-examination
and we’ll wash the stains
back to decent
like the good laundry women

we are and have been
heaped in dirty
piles, the stuff you spilt
when boy oh boy
you didn’t speak.

 

Artwork by Kraichely Michael, “Dragonfly Kaleidoscope”

 

WELP, MIRRORS!

Written by Anonymous

monica rohan.jpg

You overslept. Wakey wakey. Out your bed you go. Your hair is a mess. Snap. Mild headache. You hobble over to the mirror, to see yourself. What do you see?

You walk around. Everything and everyone around you is a mirror, not because they really are, but because you just can’t have it any other way- you want to see nothing but yourself in everything and everyone. Yuck! Until you’re sick of yourself. Welp! Now your reflection is not the real you, after all. Come on, save the bull for the seedlings. You don’t even know who the real you is, but somehow, you expected the mirrors to have all the answers.

Deranged, frantic, you rumble around, covering every mirror you see, or smashing them. The world around you grows dark and cold, because, now, you got rid of all the mirrors. It’s all too eerie, you don’t want to be seen as that weird one that’s afraid of ittie bittie mirrors. So you wait until everyone is dead asleep, nighttime, then you can wage your total war. The revolution won’t be reflected. Your first casualty, the mirror in your bathroom cabinet. God knows whatever the hell you’re holding in your hands, you grab anything you could use to smash it. You carry a dark heavy cloth across your shoulder. You keep the lights off, you don’t want your mirror to see you. Sneaky. Stealthy. You put that science fair trophy on the ground. Calm. Silent. Over the mirror the cloth goes and you quickly wrap it all around. Tighten it up. Are you trying to suffocate it? This is a goddamn mirror for Gonzalez’ sake, not Caylee Anthony. What gives, you’re too deranged anyway at this point, too far gone. Okay. Now you want to hit it on its skull, knock it over, smash it. You pick up the trophy, lift it up and over with your arm, get that torque right, your left hand still gripping the cloth over the tied-up mirror.

Welp! An arm smashes out from the other side of the mirror and bam! sucker punches you. You wince. Trophy dropped. Your arms scrambling. Mirror shards all over the glossy bathroom floor. Gush. Stunned. Your reflexes too slow. Another hit, bam! Now your nose is crushed, total blood geyser. And you’ve fallen over, sprawled on the bathroom floor, glass shards snipped into you. As you fall, you hit the back of your head on the tub. Bam, right under the Andromeda, you have this towering dark thing that’s just crawled out of the mirror, its outlined figure dominating over you. Welp! How’s your little war shaping up now? It feels like a bad trip, and you want so much for it to be nothing but a nightmare, or some nasty hallucination. Nope, you’re deranged, and this is as real as real gets. You’re still spread all over the floor, you try to scuttle, but bam! Before you could make any move, that thing knocks you shitless with your own trophy. So much for winning. You’re bleeding, your skull, throbbing and your vision, dimming. In your last gasps for sight, that thing reaches out for the light switch. Flick. Surprise! You see it. It’s you. No no no no, it’s your reflection. But nooo, you couldn’t be more wrong, it’s very much you. You you you. Who knows though. And for all they know, they can’t tell and won’t even bother, it’s all the same to them. Okay, now you’re probably unconscious. Fading. Everything is fading into darkness.

You overslept. Wakey wakey. Out your bed you go. Your hair is a mess. Snap. Mild headache. You reach over your forehead, down to your nose. Weird, right, everything somehow is fine. You then reach over to your hip, you could’ve sworn a glass shard was plunged deep just the previous ni… You don’t want to go there. Instantly repress that memory, or bad trip or whatever it was. Nothing. Ever. Happened… You convince yourself. And right by you, you notice it, this large rectangular slab hovering. It has a clear window, you can see through it, right. But on the other side, is an exact replica of everything in your room. And right there, is that thing. Welp, it has also woken up. It slugs over towards you, to the floating glass frame, and you towards it, in tandem. It looks exactly like you, and it is looking right at you. It’s you. You you you. You’re looking back at it. Locked, you both look into each other. What do you see? Welp, mirrors!

 

Artwork by Monica Rohan

The Morning After

Wayne Thiebaud city river mountain 1996

Grab this sick this
Bittersweet easing out
Of animal and
Into self-ness by the scruff of its neck.
Hold it in your lap, in your lips.

It’s crystallizing, your awareness of your
Animality, aloneness
Sitting in an empty subway car maybe
Bandaging your hands with hope that you weren’t too
Giving too
Palatable too
Easily unpackaged
Peeled open and poured shouldn’t you feel victorious?
Regal? Suckersweet?
Well you are

Sugar spun in calcified spirals,
aren’t you?

It lay in the air
Two liquids when they were done
The slow separation – easy
Float of a dream dissipating
The morning after.
The settling down of that clawing mania
Released into a slurry weight for the time being
The lightness of self returns
Floats somewhere overhead.

A separation like rainbow spilled oil
On a wet pavement.
What is there to be sad about?
The finality that hung in the air and
Gathered in the shadows under his eyes, pooling
The ease of goodbye and the promise that neither would be the first
To reach
Trembling for the other’s bandaged hands?
It was there when she met him and it’s there
And here too–

In your confused pride, wide eyes
In the way he reached, pleading for you to
Wrap around him and assure him that he’s different.
In your inability to hear him over
You’re gold baby but
Men, they’ll bite into your blood to suck it from you
It’s in their nature, they’re wrapped around
A twisting lick of hunger deep inside…

You lay down wondering if
He got what he wanted or if he’d be back
For more digging; you hoped you buried
The best of you
Deep enough but then someone else said
Love is believing the other person is entirely real.

And isn’t he?

 

Artwork by Wayne Thiebaud, “Waterland”, 1996.

I no longer knew Xinyu, and her red boots

Reclining Nude by William Scott (Oil paint on canvas).jpg

(1)
two girls were born last night
I helped them put on red underpants right
away, I dressed one in red boots
before she could even walk
the girls ran around the yard:
Come find us! so
we sang a little
song while circling the lychee tree,
but not everyone recognized the song

she wore that pair of red boots only
I have red cowboy boots
flaunting to the neighbor’s kids
the muds couldn’t fall off the soles
some girl spread the word
that Xinyu’s red boots were buddies with feces
a jealous girl, must be she
was from the Blue Water village

our house was in the Red Temple village,
just the toddlers and the wheelchairs
one time there was, the house
was packed with grown-ups
Are they your children?
I forgot to answer her question,
while standing next to the slaughterhouse
her grandpa always took care of the cleaning procedure
I made tea and Niú Zhā Táng, but the French
call it Nougat

(2)
Grandma, grandma!
my mind drifted off when Xinyu asked me the question,
sometimes that happened, not because of her question
certainly not. I told her yes, and continued to observe
my daughter-in-law, and her leather jacket
the black leather jacket
How come they call you auntie instead of mom?
I shushed her, straightaway
that was no question to ask, never

Xinyu used to call her mom, the lady on television
whose job was to communicate
words from the party to us:
Anarchy does not work in human beings’ reproductive process
but only until her real mother came, my daughter-in-law
always in leather jacket, or military uniform,
unwomanly did she behave, who came to pick her up
I saw, her, taking Xinyu away, running very fast towards the buildings
I lost her… together with the other twelve children, and grandchildren

(3)
Five children were born
the first twenty years, one died
followed by the second,
twenty years

I have a pair of glasses, and I read anything:
my grandchildren’s comic books
the back-cover of the snackbar boxes
and the newspapers
there was very little to read forty years ago
therefore a lot easier to remember ——

Revolutionary, regions and State
State to on Family of Association
Ministry the and Fuel I to hope
carefully is beings anarchist
There be an Chairman many Comrades must
populated other must this in-depth
late planning actions in areas to
fourth significant within

(4)
she never listened to me
at this moment, two is can and must
but she doesn’t care, Xinyu’s mother
who dragged my hair and pulled me to the wall
quality not quantity
nonsensical speeches
her modernity fails in
me

I finished cooking gizzard for Xinyu
she changed her tastes after twenty years of urbanization
less oil, less sault, less spicy
I watched her eat the food, drink the soup and leave the table
but her iphone was on
I glimpsed at the title of the article that she was reading:
Raising Fertility: A New Task for China’s Population Development in the New Era

(4)
I will dream about them
men and women, under the age of 40
lining up to pay
pay, pay, pay,
for their maternity fund
the self-operation of the two-child birth subsidy
Achieved!

the line craws next to me
there I see
a small girl comes up to me
black hair, double tail, pink hairing
she drags my coat, and cries
don’t let me go…
I won’t!
please don’t throw her red cowboy boots away
please don’t throw away her red cowboy boots

 

Artwork by William Scott “Reclining Nude”