Hello readers! I’m thrilled to be returning to write regularly for you after a slightly longer than I intended hiatus from the blog. Before I get into the meat of the post (Queer Arts and what that means) I’d like to foreground it with where I and my mind have been for the past six months. Last semester I was taking numerous classes that centered on women’s writing: Feminist Literary Theory, a course focusing exclusively on Toni Morrison and an Independent Study examining the (entirely unrelated) selected works of Edith Wharton and Margaret Atwood. Invariably, a recurring theme in each course was that of authorship and creation: what are the conditions that women create under (be they positive or negative) and how do these conditions vary by time, nation, class, race, culture, sexuality, etc? In discussing how art is created by any marginalized group this question is of central importance because it not only helps us interpret the artifact but it may also help us frame the impetus behind the creation. Alice Walker once wrote: “I write not only what I want to read…I write all the things I should have been able to read” and this is an attitude that I try to embody everyday as a writer and is also a mission to uncover my own literary ancestors. Where are my Queer Ancestors, my Queer Creators? What Queer Art can I look back to, refer to and use as a starting point for how my voice fits into a dialogue that I can never seem to find.
Years ago, when I was writing a paper on Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God I came across Alice Walker’s series of spectacular essays, collected in In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens that questioned where her (black, female, American) literary ancestors came from and these essays were incredibly inspiring to me. Some of these essays were part of our reading in the Toni Morrison class and coming across them again was particularly refreshing in that they were establishing a literary identity that resisted the established norms of what constituted “good” (albeit white, male and thus apolitical) literature. This attitude, in combination with the resistance to write to a dominant (white) audience in the Black Arts Movement and instead write in a way that entirely ignores the White Gaze (as Toni Morrison does so well) culminated in an approach to the creation of art and one’s own relationship to it that not only challenged me, but reinvigorated me as well.
It made me reevaluate the question: Where is the Queer Literature I should have been able to read? Not wrapped in innuendo (Walt Whitman and his phallic cattails) or drag (Wilde, Woolf, Collette) but instead I longed for a visceral, unapologetic expression of queerness that forsake any notions of a heterosexual audience and plunged fully into our experiences as a marginalized group that defies hegemony with our resistance to be pinned down by gender normativity and/or socially constructed wants and desires.
So like, I should just take a course on Queer Lit. and hush up, right? (Sorry, I still have not taken this course at JMU but I have heard it is GREAT. So take it.) Just google queer writers and keep going? That still didn’t seem like the answer for me, because, well, aside from hearing of the Queer Lit class I have never read any Queer literature in a course at JMU (aside from good old Walt) and that just seemed, well, wrong. Our voices are not in the active dialogue and we are passively skimmed over when we happen to appear textually (often as a joke or titillating gossip) or subtextually (and we can just skim whatever that critic was saying about a queer subtext in the novel anyway because we are short for time) and we really just shouldn’t rattle around with heterosexual privilege at all because that would really shake up a large chunk of our cherished literary canon. I’m using English literature as an example because it is what I am most familiar with, but I’m sure my reading of hidden Queer voices (just as Alice’s search for her Mothers) can be applied to almost any artistic medium that we exalt: film, literature, music or art. The “valued” pieces always seem to uphold heteronormativity in a way, anything Queer is depraved, subversive, in need of censorship, warnings of viewer discretion or is indicative of a special taste (because heterosexuality is just plain-old-everyone-can-swallow-it-and-smile-vanilla flavor). My search, then, is for distinctly Queer art forms (those that resist modes and representations of heteronormativity) that also hold little to no regard for a heterosexual gaze or audience.
And thus, dear reader, we arrive at my ulterior motive for this post (and you thought it was all to INFORM you. What vapid selfishness!) If you know of any Queer Artists, let their names (and links to their work!) fill the comments section. I would not only like to know more artists, I would also like to possibly begin to write blogposts that highlight their work throughout the semester. Think of it as a collective project, folks!