It was a funny confluence of events that I received the email from Aperture announcing the Queer issue the night before seeing the Charles Atlas show at Luhring Augustine. After having trouble buying a digital version online, I decided I would just get a print copy since I would be near there visiting galleries with our class. In the morning, I read the blog post from the editors, which was essentially the Editor’s Note introducing the issue. The letter starts with the question “Why an issue on queer photography?” and explains the rationale for the issue.
The presumption is that we’ve moved beyond the narrow confines of identity politics and the acceptance of gay marriage is a sign that sexual difference no longer matters. I have always felt troubled by the idea that difference doesn’t matter, because there are plenty of people out there for whom the heteronormative model does not work. Queer experience holds the potential to explode categories of sexuality and relationship, whereas acceptance based on marriage merely privileges a particular way of living. Our culture is still biased against subversive sexual practices like polyamory or BDSM, as well as individuals who present in ways that inhabit more than one category. Here I am thinking of those who are transgender, bisexual, or simply resisting gender norms.
The Atlas show, The Waning of Justice, consisted of two rooms: the first included footage of sunsets taken while he was on a Rauschenberg Residency in Florida; the second was a video of the New York drag queen, Lady Bunny. Both were visually striking but the projection of Lady Bunny in the rear room was mesmerizing. The scale and the clarity of the image was incredible and the vividness of the colors reflected her character. As I settled in and started to hear what she was saying, I was completely blown away; I was expecting something silly and fun but she was giving a fierce monologue about the current state of politics. Her take on it was incisive and informed; she held me in rapt attention. It is so rare to hear anyone speak intelligently and honestly about politics in contemporary media, and as drag has become more mainstream (thank you Rupaul’s Drag Race), we’ve forgotten how truly subversive it can be.
I cannot explain how excited and engaged that video made me feel. My spirit was buoyant and I wanted to dance with her when she broke from the monologue and burst into song. I felt proud and reminded of this amazing creative energy that comes forth from difference. When the world marginalizes your experience, it also strangely offers you a unique vantage point. I believe work being made from a variety of queer perspectives is more important than ever. There is a homogenizing force behind acceptance based on access to marriage; it needs to be resisted by the polyamorous and the gender-fluid who challenge what we’ve been told is true or available. Only then can we begin to imagine an acceptance based on a fuller spectrum of human experience and self-realization.