Finding My Place at PRIDE

20150627_124100_resizedRecently, I attended my first PRIDE event, the local PRIDE Festival that is now in its eighth year. I’d been thinking about attending all week, but with the Supreme Court’s historic decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the US, I knew I had to attend. I wanted to do something to show my support for the community, to try to actually be a part of the community, and to celebrate SCOTUS’ decision with the community.

Although I’ve dated and been in love with my girlfriend for about seven years now, I still have trouble reconciling myself as a member of the queer community. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never liked labels and prefer to just be myself, whatever that may be. Perhaps it’s because for most of my life I’ve “passed” as heteronormative/thought of myself as heteronormative. Perhaps it’s because I never grew up feeling persecuted for my orientation and don’t have the common experiences that bind together the queer community. Perhaps it’s because I still feel as though I’m straight and have simply fallen in love with a girl. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never dated much (read: “at all). Perhaps it’s because I grew up in Texas, which to this day does not have the most friendly or accepting attitude towards members of the queer community. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the ‘90s and early thousands when the queer community was in hiding and a joke and to be queer was a fate worse than death. There are so many “perhap’s.”

Whatever the reason (and I’m sure it’s variegated and psychologically interesting), the fact is that I don’t necessarily think of myself as part of the visual queer community. Individuals and issues, sure, I’m right in line, but the more visual section that includes PRIDE festivals and parades, alternative hairstyles and make-up choices, and pageantry and pomp just aren’t my thing. Part of it is that I just don’t like attention. I enjoy praise and want to make my opinions and creations known (you are reading my blog), but I don’t want attention. Another part is that for many years I didn’t understand the need for parts of the queer community to want to develop their own sub-culture with their own speech patterns, dress, and actions. I’ve never understood the stereotypes that depict gay men as a certain way, lesbians as another way, and transgenders as a third. As I’ve grown and learned more about the community and other marginalized ones, I’ve come to realize that this pushback is important for oppressed groups. It’s a way of creating a safe, inviolable space that can help people relax, be themselves, share their past traumas, and find supportive networks. Since being queer isn’t as visible as being black or a little person or an immigrant (or etc., etc., etc.), the queer community needed to develop something visible to show the world they existed, they loved themselves, they will support themselves, and that others are welcome. It’s an important movement, and one that I’m glad exists, but I’m still not sure if I have a place in it.

As what it means to be queer has grown and changed, I’ve begun to find my place in the community. Comics like these two from cartoonist Erika Moen have helped me understand how okay it is to question your sexuality and place in the community. Web sites like this one from the Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN) have helped me find a community of my own. Even Tumblr, despite its histrionic and toxic elements, has been invaluable in learning who I am and how I express myself. I try to take minor risks like speaking openly about my support of the community and my girlfriend, even to the kids and elderly that I work with. It is a slow, sometimes embarrassing process, but I am getting there.

Photo taken from:

Photo taken from:

However, I’d never attended a PRIDE event before. Yes, I’d gone to drag shows and queer bars, but I’d never attended a festival or parade. I’ve seen pictures, usually of people energetically waving rainbow flags and drag kings and queens dancing in the street. I’ve seen this amazing picture of Sir Ian McKellan going under the name “Serena McKellen.” But I’ve never gone and I wanted to. So with girlfriend and friend in tow, I went.

The event was both disappointing and a relief. The disappointing aspect was that there wasn’t much to do at it, there wasn’t a parade, and the organizers weren’t as energetic, upbeat, and hands-on as they really should have been. It was pretty much like any other street fair I’d been to but with a lot more rainbow flags and a few more drag queens. Arguably the best part of the day was when one of the organizers, a very energetic and vocal man, got up to announce the Adult Prom they were doing for, “All of you who, ten years ago, didn’t know they could take whoever they wanted to prom and celebrate who they love, this is for you!” He also went on to talk about the Supreme Court’s decision and what it meant, and the crowd cheered and cheered and cheered. It was wonderful.

The flip side is how comfortable I and hundreds of other people felt being with our partners and being ourselves. Recently, I’ve begun to pay attention to the couples I see when my girlfriend and I are out. I scour the many clasped hands, giddy kisses, and small touches to find same-sex couples, but I almost never do. At the PRIDE Festival, that was almost all I saw. Overwhelmingly, the couples were either same-sex or queer. I loved getting to see the two men with matching man-buns leaning against each other. I loved seeing the elderly transgender couple in bright lipstick and hair dye laughing and touching each other. I loved the black gay couple that protected a shivering puppy in their coat and took pictures. I loved the casual assurance of the two girls holding hands as they walked down the street. I loved the young transwoman who had gotten all dressed up today, perhaps for the first time ever, and looked so beautiful. It was so nice to see, and it filled and soothed a part of me I hadn’t known was aching.

Given the relative disappointment of the event itself, I don’t know if I’ll attend it again next year (I just don’t see the point in attending boring events.). But I’d like to begin exploring more queer-friendly spaces. I’d like to tap into that community more. I’d like to see people relaxed in a safe space. And I’d like to get more comfortable with myself as a queer person. After more than seven years struggling to figure out who and what I am, I’m finally ready to go out and explore. It’s a relief.


Allow Me to Educate You, Mr. Jones: A Brief Defense of Modern Comics

Climate ChangedRecently, Jonathan Jones of The Guardian called out modern-day comic book artists for being “banal”, “unenthusiastic”, “dull”, and, at best, “merely serviceable” in their art and expression. According to him, comic book artists have forgotten that they are in fact artists meant to test the limits of the medium and have strayed too far from such celebrated artists as Alan Moore, Joe Sacco, Robert Crumb, and, most bizarrely, William Hogarth, an 18th-century English satirist most known for his engravings. Evidently, modern comics have entered a dark period.

Such an opinion is, quite frankly, bullshit, especially if you’ve been reading any of the nonfiction comics that have come out in the past twenty or so years. In Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science, French cartoonist Philippe Squarzoni uses his considerable skill in portraiture and layout to turn a 400-plus page tome about climate change into an intellectually terrifying visual delight.

Canaan White, the illustrator of Max Brooks’ historical fiction Harlem Hellfighters, chose to create in black and white, rendering emotion more stark and profound while increasing the impact of certain scenes through his keen sense of direction.

Guy Delisle, the creator of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and Jerusalem, uses simple lines, minimalistic backgrounds, and caricature to make more accessible the horror of totalitarian and martial regimes that reduce their citizens to pawns.

AgeofLicenseLucy Knisley, a rising cartoonist who has recently published a two-part travelogue, Age of License and Displacement, experiments with layout to allow the reader to experience the anxiety and uncertainty of a questioning young adult.

Craig Thompson also uses layout to express uncertainty, displacement, and spiritual awakening while simultaneously varying his line work to draw the reader to emotional heights.

Nate Powell is currently illustrating Representative John Lewis’ trilogy March, and it is his use of light, space, and perspective that are making Representative Lewis’ words so powerful, so insightful, and so inspiring.

Need I go on, or do you finally have to good pull list, Mr. Jones?

The fact of the matter is that comic book art is changing and undergoing experimentation of a type almost unseen in the past 100 years. On one end, you do have more minimalistic artists like Scott McCloud, Liz Prince, and Raina Telgemeier. On the opposite spectrum, you have the wild, almost uncontainable art of Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre’s Amanda Conner, the inestimable Craig Thompson, and Deadly Class’ Wes Craig. Boom!, Image, The New 52’s Harley Quinn series, and Batman: Li’l Gotham are all experimenting with style mixtures, character designs, coloring, layout, and subject matter in a welcome change from DC and Marvel’s rigid, formulaic house style.

lilgotham_cover_rvsdThen we have the new focus on story as opposed to art – which is where you find the minimalistic artists and nonfiction comics. No longer is the purpose of comics to entertain, to reel in the same decades-old fans, or to give people what you’ve already seen that they like. No, now artists and publishers are taking a chance to educate their readers, to make them more informed citizens, and to help them form an emotional connection with the artist and writer. And sometimes, just sometimes, telling a really good story and passing along information means not letting the art interfere with the message. I mean, have you seen Frank Miller’s newest work, Holy Terror? Miller’s obsessive, anal focus on the art and disinterest in the story make it almost unreadable.

It is ironic that Mr. Jones ends his article, “When Did the Comic-book Universe Become So Banal?” by calling modern comics “both pretentious and simplistic” because the only way you could think modern comics banal is by suffering from an overabundance of pretentiousness and simplicity. Maybe instead of telling talented, hardworking artists, writers, publishers, and editors that it’s “Time to go back to the sketchpad,” you should go to your local library and educate yourself. Hogarth is dead, Mr. Jones, but comics still live on.

My Long, Twisted, BS-Filled Road to Falling in Love (With Comics)

Blending in to comicsWritten February 16, 2015

Life-long comics-lovers may not know this, but it’s pretty hard to get into comics – and not because of the comics themselves.  No, it’s because you stand there like over-informed, Stalin-era, suspicious gatekeepers, minutely inspecting all who dare approach you.  Are you aware of the Infinite Earths/Multiverse construct in DC and how it differs from Marvel’s Multiverse (Megaverse, Omniverse)?  Can you knowledgeably discuss the changes between Batman’s 35 different costumes?  Have you gone through an intense six-month cleansing and mind-expanding period where you listened exclusively to all the music Grant Morrison mentioned in his book Supergods and took just enough mushrooms to finally understand the Brotherhood of Dada?  No?  Then come back when you’re really ready, buddy. Continue reading

The Existential Dread of Radically Changing Your Hair

For months now you’ve been eyeing your hair with distaste. It is too limp, too dark, too dingy. Its ends are brittle and cracking. It does nothing for your face or form and even less to convey that you are aggressively, unapologetically feminist. ‘How will anyone know I’m capable of castrating a meninist at a glance with this lifeless mop?’ you think to yourself for the umpteenth time. Jane Fonda would never put up with this embarrassment.

So you trawl the Internet, looking for the perfect haircut, and you find Natalie Dormer’s Hunger Games ‘do. Her hair is still long and glorious, like a sunbeam spun into silk. It is feminine and enticing, perfect for luring prey, but the other side is naked and bold, reminding you of teeth being bared. You look at your head. Your turn your chin to the left and then to the right. You tilt it up and then down. You get out the hair ties and bobby pins. You nod. You could do that, you think. You could get an undercut.

And so you do.

But now you wonder if you should. As elderly men gasp and clutch at their rapidly failing hearts and women flock to you, touching the baby chick fuzz on one side of your head and saying wonderingly, “Where did you get this done?” you wonder if you’d taken the change too cavalierly. You don’t have enough stylist cards to pass around. You’ve lost six patrons just today, and your boss is too awestruck to come talk to you about the upcoming program curricula. There are no meninists to castrate with a glance as all of them have suddenly and without prior notice vacated the city limits. You are, through the change in your hair, creating a feminist utopia, but where’s the challenge, where’s the joy?

Fortunately, there are always men to destroy, even if they are no longer in your city. As you power up your computer, men across the world shiver. They know you’re coming.