The Intercept’s After Orlando Massacre, Queer Art Takes a Political Turn “triggered” me with the naive, or also self-serving and defensive, question: What isn’t political about queer art? I don’t consider myself Post-Orlando, because I am not yet Post-Matthew Shepard or Post-Brandon Teena or Post-Columbine–too much of these events, these individuals, remain for me still, though more fashion forward thinking queers might just yawn and move on… perhaps revealing a dimmer, more smothering truth: What is so queer about being political? I acknowledge the counter-productivity of queers killing queers with critique, when every gesture called queer must be microscoped for language, affect baggage and everything else that keeps us feeling so alone in our politics, and so misunderstood by others… but aren’t we used to that by now? Drawing the frame as feminist or queer invites critical response. Isn’t that the form in which we work and live and try to make love? In dealing with the good and the bad which is queer, I am currently writing a larger piece on what Dudes Do in Art and how that informs or perverts the spectacle when one of us ‘makes it’ which is my peace gesture to all the self-identified queer artists I refuse along the way in whatever it is that I am doing. Don’t take any of this personal because I believe art might just be a failed medium. I do think queer artists go after each other in really detrimental ways considering we are supposed to be making the world safer for beings to share perspectives in lesser marked ways; however, certain rogue individuals confuse the term queer with their feeling of carte blanche. Queer is about excess, and its limitations. But a smaller moment has occurred in print, a hiccup in the developing of queer history as lived in the now, today, written up in New York Times Magazine on the triumph of visibility that is Relationship a new coffee table book of photographs by the “homecoming king and queen of the trans movement” according to Jill Soloway creator of “Transparent,” and I have to say something… I am not surprised, but really history isn’t made in real time so let’s not imagine a savior among us just yet, besides who remembers their homecoming king and queen after all this time anyway?
I realize that the author is playing visibility with the show title transparent, which is what the show is doing as well, but the politics of who sits on the throne of representation… those who willfully become the face and branding of a liberation movement is and will always remain a minefield. I watch “Transparent” and I like it. It is contributing to a conversation, however “worldview-changing empathy machine” as labeled by its very producer Rhys Ernst is a pitch I won’t catch. How in 2 seasons of a show does worldview change??? Empathy, yes, I agree we need more empathy. So from this shared desire for more empathy production, I will attempt understanding a person who believes their visibility works on behalf of a greater good, that their inclusion and success is representative of structural change instead of re-branded business as usual. I love the optimist, but I recognize that one is made such only by a comparative judgment of who is pessimist and what between them constitutes real. I don’t expect everyone shares the same “triggers” (a word I hate and quote in jest as a means to implicate myself in the variable success/failure of call and respond queer online lyfe) but the article is loaded with a very non-queer perspective that I believe makes this pair destined to assume the world is now safer for them: CalArts, Hampshire College, SVA, supportive parents, and homemade tabbouleh sound like a recipe of success. Persons of such pedigree are good at arguing on behalf of themselves, demanding that their ideas are valuable given the considerable monetary investment in their matriculation, they are not merely consultants–they should be producers, Amazon should sponsor Trans Pride LA and they take credit for brokering such a deal, when consulting for “The Danish Girl” Rhys Ernst recommends the studio also give a tangible donation to a different trans project directed by none other than: Rhys Ernst. These schools, these successful families, these typical steps over the escalator of success here claim identity as their means to exceptionalism.
I understand the allure of believing the world will only better embrace Modernity while looking at your life’s work, and that somehow life will be forever illuminated by your particularly queer narration, because it is so much easier to believe your inclusion, your means of success is a reflection of good rather than just another iteration of violence. But queer art isn’t simple or happy go lucky, it’s difficult. Your urban designer boyfriend’s clothing crisis, or your mother’s prom dress accessorizing consultation make the NYTIMES reader feel good about their society, so I understand the impulse to trivialize gender regimes so as to keep a reader reading and feeling on the right side of history for doing so, but this is dangerous, and persons of branded education and considerable means should be accountable for such callused-from-feeling-maybe-too-good lapses of judgment. While wealth might be the means to eliminate violence in your own life (end your encounter of street violence by hiring a driver, end bullying by going to a more expensive school that markets itself for loving your difference, quit your job under an unappreciative boss and sit on your ass waiting for another to come along), it is also the violent means with which you live (streets don’t have to get safer for those you no longer walk alongside, lesser funded schools don’t have to become nurturing because the children in them are sacrificial as the important voices of today came from elsewhere naturally, and bosses don’t have to change because there will always be someone poorer who must take their shit).
For me, “Transparent” gains most of its complexity in its exposure of wealth. Those gifted with wealthy parents are allowed to suffer the fullest gesture of their every mundane internal conflict. Maura’s brats inundate the plot with every childish whim made into very public shit storms: remodel an already designed house, move back home where there’s plenty of room for you and your multitude of failures, get married again, an expensive wedding in the toilet crying again, major in Women’s Studies (follow always your heart not some normative, patriarchal career path), imagine yourself a tenure-track professor on the side of true justice fucking your students while your colleagues rot underpaid as adjuncts, buy a dominatrix to deliver you the beating you know you deserve being so ungrateful for all the resources you’ve consumed still not acquiring happiness. Wealth does this, it indulges the individual with the delusion that there is no price tag on happiness, that all expenses in its pursuit are justified. This cult of happiness is the blind spot from which ZackaRhys fail to recover sight of others whose needs are more tangible than being seen as beautiful and happy.
I don’t believe that paging through Relationship will be any different than the vast limitations I mourned watching She Gone Rogue. That which the NYTIMES describes as “dreamy,” I call Disney. I know that in LA power-coupling is valuable currency, the article rather uncritically reveals ZackaRhys as serial-cohabiting queers, but the function of the couple and its establishment of a baseline norm from which mass culture can connect and therefore allow you to exist because you’re not that queer, unskillfully avoids dealing with the substantial body of queer theory that challenges marriage/coupling privileges. (And if this attack seems too personal, realize that is the content they provided for me to consume and respond.) Indeed, She Gone Rogue concludes a cliched or at best inarticulate inner conflict via traveling the world in search of a wholeness found in a rather unspectacular representation of a love relationship between Zackary and Rhys, as if all ends happily whole thereafter… though now, thanks to the NYTIMES, we know otherwise… Rogue trans history is embodied by the Rolodex of contestable art stars the power couple were granted access to play their uninteresting love story in the company of… history as a prop in front of which you assume your unimaginative middle class pose.
For the Whitney Biennial the couple pose as life lived beautiful in photos unconvincingly called art, though apparently never intended to be art, by Stuart Comer whose understanding of queerness will be forever at odds with mine in the most uninteresting, uncomplicated ways. I understand when the heterosexual world wishes to end everything on its procreative promise of young love–they who imagine the self so beautiful that it’s unthinkable not to recreate it all over again, I get when gays do the same in buying a condo or a baby… but queer art doesn’t tie the knot, it unravels success coupling it with inextricable violence. Love is a lesser complex journey than the management of composure when reconciling with violence and your investments in it. Photo essays performing heteronormative representations of love sell queerness to the mainstream: You love us, we who mirror you. This commits an erasure of the un-couple-able… the unworkable… those still outside desire… the true perverts without desire to accrue desire… those who refuse Instagram culture because: looking is not knowing.
What is the dream they wish to represent? Trans persons looking more beautiful than the middle class? Or looking and being however the fuck they want alongside whatever lesser the desirable realities they suffer to inhabit? Or in a truly drunken suggestion: maybe simply not being burdened with being looked at? What is liberation via the lens of Hollywood? Who wants their face to become a symbol? Especially when time has her way and that symbol, that face of yours, might only represent the lack in your vision, the selfish nature of the fruits you produced, the cold shoulder required of all business professionals selling ideologies of freedom and safety and love in mass culture. What do they do with their power? Make middle-aged transguy buddy movies? Yes, apparently this broken form (that of the deceptively benign buddy movie where white men demonstrate their power to find power in failure, or in doing absolutely nothing, while somehow sating the expectation of their audience) will yield further explorations of how trans/queer people earned their right to be as boring and apolitical as the society around them… the society whose negligence once made them suffer so???
For those with righteous reasons to be unhappy the need for happy/healthy representations is a disciplinary structure without regard to the many, dare I say the majority of queers not really loved by their families, not affirmed by their work environments, not safe from predatory lovers or the police who intervene… lest we even consider the number of queers suffering among the plight of some 65 million stateless, forcibly displaced refugees. She gone rogue you are!!! Rather than looking to a very recent history of queer critique of corporate pride sponsorship, the limitations of what pride and visibility actually accomplish, or perils in commodified identity, intimacy and privacy, this article celebrates the both of you for making trans queerness palatable thereby congratulating a bored middle class for gazing without scorn. Your professional aspirations are not rogue, working from such a limited script, they are dreadfully stuck in business as usual. The power of a trans movement (if there is a cohesive unit to claim as such, or maybe simply: many isolated individuals contributing to a dialogue with many variable dimensions) is found in its growing, and already vast, body of literature critiquing not simply the middle class Western world but compounding more revolutionary aspirations like ending prisons, strengthening labor rights and healthcare, immigration with dignity, and mandating for a more holistic conception human rights… Trans explorations of identity subvert the very nature of being categorized, and here you’ve allowed the entirety of your careers to be categorized as trans, glazing over the convenient fact that you were born with the power to avoid its more violent gravity… merely picturing yourselves, almost as if gloating: We have arrived!
Perhaps this queer conundrum is more accurately portrayed when letting a general public see themselves choosing which role they play: American Reflexxx? Or maybe the politics of visibility, however the presentation of self and wherever the experiment of presentation, is coercive practice without considering the violence with which people look toward that which isn’t them… however fluid that conception of sameness might be. When called into question, violent culture rarely does anything other than redirect itself toward acceptable targets, however fluid that conception of acceptable might be.