In our first entry, we left ourselves at that point in time in which I had just moved to Brooklyn, and was in between apartments. I had not found anywhere to live yet, but had a two month sublet in Carroll Gardens. This is a form of being in between, a strange often disconcerting place, where one is not really “at home” for where one lives is not one’s own, But it was comfortable = as in, not couch surfing, nor on the streets. The place was near the subway, in a safe hood, on a street that was newly paved, as Smith Street was being gentrified with new clothing boutiques and cafes.
As I had written last time, I had danced the Naraya for the first time in Maine that September. One thing I’ve learned from the Naraya and reading in indigenous spiritual practices, is the concept that qweer people are thought of as “In-betweens” inasmuch as we blend the feminine and the masculine energies in our energetic systems, our bodies, and our worldviews. This changes the way we see the world, as we experience it with a different set of inner wiring, and process our sensual perceptions in ways that may be seen as unusual by the “norm” = which is often set by the majority, permeates the media, and the way most public discourse is created. Harry Hay famously said (bad paraphrase): “The only thing gays + straights have in common is what we DO in bed, everything ELSE is different.” Malidoma Some, the noted writer of the Dagara people from Burkina Faso, points out that among his people gay people are the gatekeepers to the realm of Spirit, it is something our inner wiring allows us to access. Most Native American tribes have more than two terms for gender, allowing for multiplicity of sensibilities within their worldviews.
I like these ways of describing who we as qweer peoples are. Actually, it is my belief that there are as many sexualities as there are individuals, as these matters are entirely idiosyncratic to the individual and their own particular experience. For instance, while I identify as what now is called a “cis-gendered” gay man, I have felt strong erotic attraction to women at times, and have enjoyed cunilingus over the years. Perhaps Kinsey was correct in creating a staging system for homo-erotic sexual orientation. Thus, the terms gay, straight and bisexual seem meaningless these days. What does this do to “identity politics” which has been at the center of civil rights struggles for sexual minorities since Stonewall?
There has been a lot of uproar in the recent years about the use of language to correctly (accurately?) describe folks who called themselves Trans-…another form of being in-between (I suppose). But then, as a being, I do not really feel being “in-between” most of the time, I just feel like me, going through my day, experiencing thoughts, emotions, etc. What I find most problematic is how language is not serving the experience of so many people, because definitions put people and their lives into boxes that do not match their worldviews. The problem is in the language itself and its use, not the people trying to use a set of words that fall flat to fully describe intimate feelings and longings.
These questions do not take away the experiences I have had as an “in-between” through the years, especially as it concerns my relations with the living and the dead. Now through the power of our imaginations I am going to zoom to present time as something just happened three weeks ago that highlights another form of being in-between. I have struggled with how to tell this story, as I wanted to be more reflective (versus reactive) and compassionate. This simple story can give one insight from whence I came, and how far I’ve traveled over these intervening years.
It came to my attention two weeks ago in a set of emails I received from my brother that if you use Google or Yahoo image search under my government name you will see an image I took years ago and sold to the Tom of FInland Foundation, who subsequently posted the image online. My brother (who sells used computer equipment) was thinking of trying to sell some of my art via his business’ e-bay account, as a way to help my grim finances.
Amidst the many images of my work on and with eggshells, there’s that BINKY image, tongue out staring into the mirror “en full flagrante!” I took this image as part of some fun I was having on April Fool’s Day with fellow faeries (a NYC tradition) after riding home on the subway in clown face. In fact, I spent the entire day in clown face, and enjoyed the experience and the perspectives garnered in this form of masking. This was about 10-13 years ago, when I was learning B+W photography and had been taking erotic images of myself as an exploration of my sexual self and the empowerment it gave me. Being in clown face seemed like a fun way to investigate the boundaries of my sexuality, its crazy edge, including my own narcissistic side.
I had already been a model for nude photo shoots since the 80’s, so this was nothing new. What was new with these images was that I was taking the images, thus this was very personal and allowed me a level of control for what I would create with the camera. For me it meant fun, kooky fun, crazy fun = taking it all a step further, to an edge I had not experienced beforehand = I had a great time doing it. AND I liked some of the results, so I printed the few images I thought were worthy of showing and exhibited them at the Erotic Art Fairs the Tom of Finland Foundation used to organize in NYC. I find it even more hilarious that this BINKY image (on my most recent Google search) appears next to me with a ring of kielbasa on my head with a platter of sausages I am about to grill at one of the House of Delicious’ famous Sausage, Sushi, Sake parties, our annual Summer fete.
Well, to put it lightly, my straight brother was NOT amused when he saw this image. He emailed me that he would NOT be able to connect his business with my name, for fear that this image would somehow impugn his professional reputation. He also surmised that perhaps the reason I was having difficulties being represented by art galleries was due to this image. His concern included worrying that such an image would essentially ghettoize me as being an artist who could only sell to gay men. He also worried that his grandson (who I think is gay) was being bullied in school, and that if someone in his school found that image it would increase the child’s problems. He continued that the image was essentially a stain on the family name, and that I ought to see if I could get the image removed.
I was surprised this image was there (I had not posted it) and texted him, which lead to a day-long back-and-forth about his concerns and my response. At first I was amused and honored by his upset as I thought if more in the art world might see this and respond in the same way = I might get some recognition for being outrageous, leading to MORE gallery representation. He was simply freaked out, did not think the image merited being called “art,” considered the image crass, and in his mind thought it was akin to child pornography (clowns raping little boys!). Where that idea came from I can only assume was in his freaked out mindset.
The texts started getting heated as he kept trying to shame me, which did NOT work, and I found myself getting a bit annoyed by the level of upset I was reading, and how much time I was spending responding to his upset. Of course, texting is probably the worst method of reconciling differences of this type = short snippets of ideas and feelings going back-and-forth in that flat formula over a machine, not even the sound of the voice to hear one another’s views, much less being with one another to see each other’s face and read what we see in the facial and bodily gestures that make up a larger part of communication beyond language.
At one point he noted how he disliked (something I had heard before from him) how gays acting out was uncomfortable, which is somewhat reflected in this online survey I found later on Facebook.
While this piece does NOT speak to this situation exactly – it does reflect his attitude.
Let me be clear, I feel like I have a good relationship with my brother = there is a lot of loving and caring for each other. This whole story began with an idea for him trying to help me sell my art. I am not interested in making him wrong. In the texting we did, my annoyance was the voice I was hearing in his tone = it really sounded like my mother’s, who is known within the family for having a sharp tongue. I pointed out that the way he was expressing himself was similar to how she has criticized things he has done in the past, that people in glass houses ought not throw stones (like any of us, he is not perfect). It was sad to me that he modeled her sharp words in these texts, essentially judged me from the outset without asking anything about why I had created the image in the first place, and used pretty harsh language while blowing up his concern into a real drama between us. By the next day he sent me an email pointing out that he reacted due to his freak-out, which is understandable to me = it is a strong image!
If I deny my brother his feelings, or fail to hold him in compassion for his views, I lose my status of being ‘in-between’ = thus this place is a dynamic place, it is not static; there is energy in being in between one’s past and present. Perhaps this dynamism is the energetic that allows us to moves between worlds, whether they be relations amongst the living on the material plane or that between the realm of matter and spirit. The heart is the muscle that is toned in this exercise. I love my weird whacky life and the crazy things I’ve done, the edges I’ve walked AND I love my brother and my family, the people whose DNA I share, and the experiences we had growing up together. To deny either side of this equation is to deny myself who I am. This dynamic place allows for a view on the world that is much more dynamic and removes the possibility of rigid morality and extremism that is the root cause of hatred and wars between peoples.
As I finish writing this blog post (which has taken me three weeks to complete), I am writing from my mother’s kitchen table; I have been spending Thanksgiving week here in Connecticut helping her around her house and enjoying a family feast yesterday at my sister’s. This past week we have witnessed some awful events ripping apart this country due to events in Missouri. When I woke up this morning, this is the understanding I am left with:
We who are “in-between” can be a powerful voice of healing and reconciliation, a role this world sorely needs right now. We are all facing many challenges on this Planet right now; may we rise up to accept this power of being “in-between” so that we all may work together to rid ourselves of economic + political injustice, war, and tackle the seemingly insurmountable hurdles toward social harmony and ecologic restoration.