another context

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SUNDAY, 8 DECEMBER 2002, 11:15 AM
It's an intervention. An inter-vention. Like invention. Like venting. Like the inter-state. Venting across state lines. Is that a federal offense?

My life is an intervention, a strategy? Why? Why me? Why can't I simply live and have fun and consume like the rest? Compunction. Why am I a prick of conscience?

I love the bodies of men, the smell and taste, beard burn. Why do I love images of men, making images of men? Why do I project my image over (under, through?) theirs? I make costumes out of other men. I wear their emblems of experience in lieu of my own. (Emblems torn from yet other's experience. Perhaps. I have a theory that there's never been a leather man -- for real. Just images of leather men re-enacting the theory of leather men. I mean, who would wear those hats in public? For real?)

Inventing an identity, a preoccupation with inventing identity doesn't mean that I don't have an identity, you know. I know who I am (was? might be?). I like fantasizing about who you are; what that feels like. What you feel like.

I know a man who re-birthed at age 50 and inverted his name -- like Eben to Nebe (which were the names of another man I knew, who, too, at age 20, inverted his identity). He insisted that, through a ritual act, he was another, re-born. That's hard core. It's also kinda permanent. I prefer to change identities at whim. And keep my primary identity, my life experience, in my hip pocket.

Do pants have hip pockets anymore? I probably should have said "back pocket." I am wearing back pockets as I write, but "back pocket" reminds me of hanky codes, yellow, black, red... Hip pockets hold (held?) flasks and tools. Secrets. Back pockets broadcast.

Painting broadcasts, too; at least, as I paint and post painting. Post, paste, cut and paste, postings of paintings on the Internet. The global gallery.

So, Foucault's "art of life" is a compelling idea. It gets to my discomfort with straight society.

I don't mean this in a purely sexual way. Straight society is more pervasive than straight sex. I mean, c'mon, Will and Grace is straight. Circuit parties are straight. How is the Advocate different from Newsweek? Oh yeah, it's "bi"-weekly. No, no these things are simply reflections of the worst of straight, middle class and aristocratic life. They simply valorize a different object of affection.

So call me a hippie, but wouldn't it be great to be able to escape the trappings of the middle class? Wouldn't it be great to live according to a different sense of time than that of the industrial / technological state? I'm not calling for a back to the land strategy, but I am asking for some serious contemplation of the systems that define our lives. I'm asking myself to consider the ways that I might be able to re-define my way of living, establish a different aesthetic for living.

A lot of people, who know me, might read this and say that I've already done it. I certainly live a queer life. Yet, the edges of my life are always under assault. Again, I don't mean this as an acknowledgement of homophobia -- although sometimes I hide behind this reasoning. I mean it in the sense that the mediation of society, the constant assaults on my time seems more and more to be about social control. It's about tiring me out enough that I simply get into line. Certainly, it's about insuring that I don't have the time to question, act and re-align myself to the possibilities that life offers.

It's taken me almost three months of sabbatical to be able to see this clearly -- or, more precisely, to hear the voice of a man who is long dead. In writing about Foucault, his colleague, Paul Veyne writes:

" We can guess what might emerge from this [Foucault's] diagnosis: the self, taking itself as a work to be accomplished, could sustain an ethics that is no longer supported by either tradition or reason; as an artist of itself, the self would enjoy that autonomy that modernity can no longer do without.... It is no longer necessary to wait for the revolution to begin to realize ourselves: the self is the new strategic possibility."

"The self is the new strategic possibility."

"The self is the new strategic possibility."

"The self is the new strategic possibility."


I've been reading today and found this:

"I think that what the gay movement needs now is much more the art of life than a science or scientific knowledge (or pseudo-scientific knowledge) of what sexuality is.... We have to understand that with our desires, through our desires, go new forms of relationships, new forms of love, new forms of creation. Sex is not a fatality: it's a possibility for creative life." -- Michel Foucault, 1982

How is it that 20 years later it still rings so true?


"It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present. Y'know what I mean?" "Little" Edie Beale, Grey Gardens, 1975

I ran, crying, to the door. My mother grabbed me and pulled me back into the hospital lobby. I shrieked, "I don't want to go!" She replied, "If you don't, you might die." I cried some more.

Really, the only other things I remember about that day were pulling myself together in the men's room and being wheeled into the operating room. Oh yeah, I remember the ache in my stomach and being pissed that I was missing a friend's birthday party. Funny thing, I also remember not really wanted to go to the birthday party. That is, I didn't want to go until I found myself in the hospital. I guess the memory's also about confronting death or, at least, being forced to consider it. It suddenly seemed real. I don't think my mother would lie about something like that.

I think that facing the possibility of my own death, when I was ten, changed me. I know I became cling-y. I found it hard to let go of familiar things. For the next couple of years, I couldn't stand the idea of throwing anything away. I had a panic attack at the thought of discarding the oddest things -- old boxes, pet food canisters, candy wrappers... the list goes on.

I'm still afraid of death and loss. More precisely, I'm afraid of the process of death and of losing. I still think that I could die this afternoon or tomorrow or next week. It makes me driven to get things done, to try to make some sort of meaning out of my life. No one knows if they're going to have a long or short life, but somehow I'm haunted by the thought that I don't have a lot of time. It could all stop soon. It's a relative idea, I know. None of us have very much time. Carpe Diem!!! (Shit, did I really just write that? All of this drives me toward cliches about clocks, ticking and marching toward some nameless horizon... These cliches aren't helpful in either explaining or fending off the fear, like religion, they try to explain too much and have no density of experience. I don't want to be placated. I like being driven. Sometimes.)

This brings me to a different thought. I've been thinking about the future. As a kid, I would dream about the future -- construct elaborate plans. I noticed that I don't do that much anymore. It might be that I'm jaded by the immateriality of those forgotten dreams. It might be that I'm in the middle of a dream trajectory, developing that pesky, deferred art practice. (The enormity of that project still eludes me.) On the precipice of finishing an MFA, I feel like I did when I was graduating from college. It's a mixture of loss and loneliness, a sense of conclusion JUST at the moment when you're figuring out the game. It's like when we learn to actually get something from an educational process we're forced to leave it. It's a sick joke, really. Like snatching food from a starving man. No, that's too grandiose. It's more like clearing the plates before setting the silver.

I suppose this is really about how I allow experience to change me. Does one have to raise stakes and relocate to be changed or to feel change? How do we re-invent, grow, transform? My experience tells me that real change is radical -- like leaving home, school, a relationship, place. It's also an embrace -- of a home, school, relationship, place. I have to remind myself of this, in this moment, when I'm being "graduated." I'm not simply being shuffled off. I'm being offered an opportunity to see the world differently.

I'm remarkably different from when I entered the program. I've grown, changed and I'm beginning to mourn the simple truth that the fertile ground on which I've tread is about to be deeded to others. I need to remember to yearn for and embrace other, newer, dangerous, disorienting dreams. I need to learn to honor and let go of the past

In his correspondence with Adams, Jefferson says something like, "I prefer the dreams of the future to the history of the past." I keep returning to this thought and the idea that someone whose life was as engaged as Jefferson's might, in the waning years of his life, still be focused on the future. I keep thinking that it's hard for us (for me) to do because we live in a society that's so brainwashed by crisis and consumption. Yet, I think about his generation and realize that he faced crisis, too. Certainly, there are differences in the level of mediation that we face and what he faced. He didn't worry about making dinner, doing laundry, or, for that matter, paying his bills. He didn't have television, radio, the Internet, movies and the millions of cultural markers that distract us from introspection. Sure, sure, turn it off. Not so easy. The culture is infused and to hide from it, to turn it off is not to truly live in this age. If we throw blind eyes to the society, we can never be involved in the visioning for it's future. The question facing me today is how we learn to navigate the distractions, the mediation AND still dream of the future. More than that, how we learn to act on those dreams.

It's been suggested to me to locate, contextualize (I just love the way that word feels on the tongue) my work amongst other queer artists. I'm struggling with this notion of context (the sensual qualities of its pronunciation aside). I'm struggling with the idea of being lumped together with any group of thinkers. I know it's ridiculous and unavoidable. Were all gathered, grouped, sorted and catalogued. I wonder from whence that impulse comes? The impulse toward lists and groups and tribes and clans and families is so very, well, impulsive. Yes, families. Yes, yes, that's a context for my work, a preoccupation. It infuses the work. It's universal.

I seem to queer any family that I deign to touch. I make it different, strange with my ideas and actions. It's mostly about the way I live my life. I just love the way that my mother often says, upon entering (or leaving) my home, "You weren't raised to live this way."

It's funny, my house has an aesthetic of the wounded, declining gentry. My grandmother married into an old Yankee family, just holding onto the house after an affair with the 20's stock market. I'm the beneficiary, the heir of an aesthetic of an earlier age. That I've housed it all in an old barn, stable (or, as they say it here, snotty, "carriage house") seems beside the point. But maybe that is the point? Maybe the context, the container for the emblem, conveyor of meaning, is the point. Is that why I queer things? I switch their containers?

I'm confused, too, about this queer thing. What the hell does it mean? All these labels, all these acts of containment. Yes, queer is more liberating than, say gay or lesbian, but, still, it too contains, defines, establishes me in an easily understood encampment of discourse. It defines me in a way that's conclusive, concluded. Well, maybe it is a fear of death that creates this resistance. Or maybe, it's myself. I mean my SELF.

I could say that I'm working in the same spirit as Gran Fury or David Wojanarowicz or Paul Cadmus or Felix Gonzalez Torres or Wolfgang Tillmans or John Kirby or, even, Robert Mapplethorp. At best it would be a conceit, but mostly it would be a lie.

I've been painting me a world, a heredity, a past. I make material a history that never occurred. I sometimes, too document a history that has occurred, but only through my imagination. Does that make sense? Does it provide context? Is it too much trying to eradicate the past that that I have lived? It is very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present. Edie Beale, in her queer world, taught me that.


You're just confusing the issues. You know that queer is a revolutionary act. It's is the strategy of change and you're just labeling all the gay bois who are content with Will and Grace and circuit parties and bad manners and two week holidays in P-town. You're marking them as vapid, unworthy of that which YOU claim. You're being the bitchy, arrogant queen that you profess to hate. Hypocrite!


I just want to be loved. Like anyone else.


I want to be loved like no one has ever been loved before! I want to be loved for what I see in the world, not for acknowledging the beauty that other people see, name, embrace; the beauty that has been sanctioned as "right." I don't want the Good Housekeeping seal on my ass or my cock or my fuckin' forehead.


You're just afraid of being forgotten. You're afraid that your ex-boyfriends don't think about you anymore, that you didn't matter to them. You're afraid that your biological mother doesn't think about you. That's why you focus on the biological father. You safely believe that he never knew of your existence, he never had the chance to reject you. He doesn't know you exist. He's safe. He can't reject you.

You think you're sly. You're not.


That's a lie! It's a stinkin' fuckin' lie! Liar!


Ok, maybe that was harsh. I'm your friend, right? It's what friends do: tell the awful truth. It's the kindest thing to tell the awful truth. It may hurt now, but you'll be a better person for it.

Still friends?


You're not my friend. You're not even real. You're just that stupid second voice in my head; that stupid voice that allows dialogical reasoning.


Are you trying to say that I'm somehow just your shadow self, your doppelganger? Like your paintings? That's as bad as all the crap you've hung on the biological father. Or are you the father today? I can never remember which is which. Who am I? The second cousin? Tomorrow, I suppose, you'll be the mother.


YOU should know that I'm already the biological mother. And besides, maybe truth is in the contradictions, in the confusion about identity.


You look like shit in drag.


You should talk. Martha Stewart wanna be!


Now who's the gay boi?


I never said that I wasn't a gay boi. You've always been so literal! Hung up. That's what I'd call it.


Oh, that's entertaining, coming from you! You're the one hung up on identity. YOU'VE been boring me with this shit since you discovered the idea of identity crises in the sixth grade! You just think it makes you more interesting.


YOU know better than that. You know that identity confuses me. It's so facile, so ephemeral. That I can't figure it out isn't my fault. I think it's the fault of the concept. It's a faulty concept!


So, that's why you can't decide who you want to be? Why not just put on another costume, appropriate another person's desire, experience, being?


That's not, quite, what I do.


Isn't it? Isn't it what you rail against? Find so distasteful in others?


No, it's not the appropriation. It's the lack of reflection.


So, you want everyone else to be as conflicted, obsessed with identity as you are?




See! See! You admit it! You're obsessed.


No, you're putting words into my indetermination. You're scripting me. It's not the conflict, it's the consideration of being, of becoming. Why are we content with who we are, who we've been... why can't be be concerned about who we're becoming? Why do we worry about consistency? Why is it that who I am today must relate, not contradict who I was yesterday and may be tomorrow?


That's never bothered you.


It's very difficult keeping the line between desire and being. Ya know what I mean? It's very hard to know if there is a delineation between who I was, am and will be. Ethan would tell me that it's a fiction, this preoccupation with time. Doesn't exist. It's a system of thought, just a linear contrivance to allow us a way of understanding experience, but I persist.

I like the multiplicity of time, the subtlety of moments. Being held by moments, caressed by their intimate hands. They happen rarely, perfect moments. Once you realize them, they slip away. Fleeting. Ephemeral.

That might be queer. Living for fleeting moments of joy, trying to document those moments. Whether they are good, happy moments or hard moments, perfect moments are joyous. They are human, lived, experience, fully alive. Sometimes they are real, sometimes fiction. Imagination might be best. The daydream of the perfect moment can't be taken away. It can always be conjured no matter the context.

I'm no queer artist. I'm queer, that's for sure. That can't be taken from me or denied. The containment of it's embrace, though, is troubling. It denies the whole scene. It relies too much on a determination, a limited understanding of who and what I am. It's just a point on the compass and doesn't encompass the whole of my desire, curiosity or potential. It's a trap. It denies being.


Oh, really......?


As a teenager, My bicycle was the emblem and actuality of my freedom. I was an intrepid rider, both to get to places and to get away from wherever it was I found myself. In everyday life, I rode to school, to see friends, to buy comics and to explore Yale's campus. During the summer, my bike and I would be dropped off in Wellfleet, Massachusetts at my aunt's house. Wellfleet's a quaint town, traditionally know for it's fishing fleet, but in the later half of the twentieth century developed something of a reputation for it's galleries and art scene. My aunt like to comment that this was mostly because Provincetown, just to the north, had been taken over by the queers. I wasn't really concerned with that, didn't really understand what it meant and attributed it to the same sort of rhetoric that defined my political teachers as "communists," and the nice ones as "hippies." Besides, we had queers at home. As my mother liked to call them, the "girls" lived two houses up and the "boys" lived five houses down (ah, the insistent infantalizing of queer people!). I always found them nice enough, but my mother would admonish me not to go into their house on the rare occasions that they would hire me for yard work. Anyway, I wasn't interested in seeing queers. My desire to ride to Provincetown had far more to do with my interest in exploring the world, getting out of the house, being independent. It would pass the day.

I was the youngest kid in my generation. My family's isn't large or close knit. In fact, except for these few summers spent in Wellfleet, I never crossed paths with my distant cousins. We certainly didn't keep in touch, send Christmas cards or talk to one another on the phone. No, it was only during these summer weeks that we ever considered each other's existence. I was always vaguely aware that these kids didn't like my parents and I knew that they only endured their grandmother, my aunt. Being seen as allied to my parents and my aunt, their grandmother, I was always suspect. From the other side, I was aware that my mother thought their situation, with estranged parents, was something worthy of pity. Having never met their mother, I was always unsure of the space that she inhabited. Was she the alcoholic bitch described by my aunt or the mistreated daughter-in-law described by her children. I suppose I'll never know.

I wasn't younger than my cousins by much, just a couple of years, but the gap was large enough to be significant and to imbue in me a sense of not quite getting what it meant to be cool or accepted. I always felt a few steps behind. The cousins seemed to delight in this gap, advising me on the ways that I might be more attractive to girls, cooler to guys, better looking, et cetera. Such advise is not generally requested, but at certain moments and in certain contexts has to be endured. It's also, no matter the strength of your convictions or self-concept, creeps into your consciousness. One particular day, probably attempting to distance myself from the helpful advice of my "peers," I took off for Provincetown.

It was probably the summer of 1978 or 1979 and there were particular styles that my cousins, all girls, were suggesting might help me be seen as cooler than, in actuality, I was. These tips mostly focused on my hair -- including such helpful advice as parting in the middle rather than on the side, growing it longer, and, oddly enough, having it feathered like Farah Fawcett -- but there were other important affects to consider, too. It was important to look tough (or tuff) and to approximate the style of hard rockers and bikers (which is hard to imagine with Farah feathers in my proposed hair). Apparently, suburban teen age girls found the style of danger, if not danger itself, titillating. In this realm, ripped jeans, cut-off shorts and tee-shirts all trumped khakis bathing suits, and polo shirts. Finally, a few accessories might help pull the style together. These consisted of pukka beads or a leather necklace and, strikingly, a colored handkerchief poking out of a back pocket.

I think it was by design, but I'm not entirely sure of it, that most of my cousins' prescriptions for cool could not be immediately realized. Certainly, most of the suggestions about my hair would have taken a minimum of months and the clothing I had with me was all the clothing I was going to wear that summer. Yet, on this day on my bike, navigating Commercial Street, I saw racks and racks of colored handkerchiefs in the store front of virtually every souvenir shop. I bought one in every color.

Before AIDS and after Stonewall, Provincetown in the 1970s was something of a moment in gay history. Oblivious of the reasons or my inadvertent participation, walking down Commercial Street in my short shorts, tee-shirt and with a red hanky sticking out of my right back pocket, I still felt my own kind of liberation. I wonder now what the gay men thought of this? Did they believe that I was aware of the gay hanky code which signaled sexual predilections and that, indeed, I was a thirteen year old who preferred fist fucking? Or did they see me for what I was, a boy who was trying to fit in by appropriating, third-hand, the discrete style of an underground community? If they were savvy, they could see that my ass was signaling the end of the efficacy of the hanky code, that my ass was a herald of an assimilation into the dominant culture. Style trumps transgression.

I'm not sure when I put the pieces together. It might have been when I was sporting the powder blue hanky in high school and someone called me gay. Not knowing why, and thinking I looked tuff (if a little vulnerable) I asked what that meant and they said only faggots wore hankies in their back pockets. Little did I, or they, know that it was more than that. How could we have known that I was signaling my desire to administer enemas to other men. Perhaps one or two, maybe more of my communist, hippie teachers knew, but they didn't see fit to advise me. It wasn't until years later, after being repeatedly asked whether I liked drinking piss that I figured out that "water sports" and the yellow hanky sticking out of my pocket didn't signal an interest in water-skiing. Suddenly, I didn't feel so tuff.

Surfaces are confusing and easily confused. Emblems, badges, signs all are manipulated, assimilated, evolved to suit their users. My use of hankies, in my context, indeed, did make me cool, if only for a short period of time. Knowledge of other meanings, the use of that knowledge changed my perspective and transformed my understanding of the use of the surface, the style. I adopted another, and another until I found myself in Rhode Island, attending college, where again I found that the prescribed styles, the appropriated surfaces were affected by queer culture. When I came out, the surfaces didn't matter as much as the theory and the practice of my desires. More than that, in the height of the AIDS epidemic, the engagement of my desire was coupled with politics.

Today there are club kids, queer kids, kids who wear their sexual determination. I suppose there have always been kids that have done that, who have used their bodies to crack the surface of heterosexuality. I was an ACTUP kid, using the politics and anger of a moment to chip at the shell of normality that seemed to confine the engagement of my desire. I ran with other ACTUP kids and adults who, to varying degrees, were reacting to AIDS and queerness and the anger on which we built our lives. ACTUP quickly became Queer Nation and then, again, ACTUP and finally imploded because it couldn't sustain it's shape under the weight of anger and loss and the success of its goals. In short, as we gained ground, it seemed less imperative to gain ground or less possible to imagine what the new ground might be.

ACTUP introduced me to lovers and roommates; I made friends at those meeting and action. I made enemies and lost friends when I went mainstream, working with the AIDS service community. Through it all, I've continued to consider what does it mean to be queer? How do my privileges as a white man, well educated, well paid, healthy intersect with the fear and loathing that some ascribe to my sexual determination? Where have I sold out? Where have I broken ground? I imagined a conversation, recently, after a conversation with one of my ACTUP compatriots, an epidemiologist, who was musing about the integration of queer and straight culture in Rhode Island.

"Well, it's a queer state," I said.

"What," he replied?

"I mean, c'mon, Roger Williams was queer."

"You can't be arguing that a 400 year dead guy was queer! C'mon, we don't even have a picture of the guy..."

Roger Williams had a radical idea. He was persecuted and prosecuted for it. Facing conviction and deportation, he fled and founded Rhode Island. Today, Williams' idea seems expected, taken for granted. The language of it is florid, but the meaning is plain. Williams believed in freedom of expression of conscious. He believed that no man had the right to mediate another's relationship with the universe. For this, for placing the individual between the king and God, he was defined as a blasphemer.

I think this is a queer idea.

Rhode Islander's embrace this idea, this spirit, even when they don't know it. It's freedom of religion and associated tolerance, to be sure, but it's also the embrace of personal theologies, individualistic relationships with ethics and morality. It allowed the first capitalists to flourish here, transforming the slave trade into a moral calculus: if I'm flourishing for trading in human lives, God must be pleased with me. It allowed for the first North American synagogue and a disavowal of the death penalty. it allowed for hundreds of years of political corruption. So strange that the outcomes of the freedom are uneven in their balance of goodness and harm, yet, for me, it's created a place which integrates and identity that's transformational by it's nature.

Jumping ideas like this may spin heads. Yet, resistance is resistance, love of freedom can overlook quirks and transgressions, and tolerance seems to balance the function over form. Regardless of the specifics of my theory, whether they will hold water at the end of the day, I live in a place that historically resists orthodoxy, that undermines the systems that close people into normal, sanctioned, pious lives.

If Roger Williams wasn't queer, he certainly established a queer legacy.

Resistance to heterodoxy, whether Williams' resistance of Boston's puritan piety or my resistance to a way of living, seems to be at the core of queerness. When I think of myself as an artist and as a Rhode islander, I realize how deeply I've embraced this spirit, how deeply resistance defines me. I find it hard to join things, to agree to the orthodoxy of belonging. I find it hard to locate my work alongside others, with traditions. It's silly. You can't avoid being located. We're all in conversations -- over history and space and between relationships -- with others.

There's a double edge to "locating," though. There's the problem of resistance, wanting to fight any sense of the absolute, any truth (so long as it's not my truth). There's also the shame attached to commitment. this might sound strange, but I'm certain that it's not. It's a primary concern for queer folk. To commit to desire, to be seen in public with the subject of one's queer desire is to mark yourself. It takes strength to face such inscriptions. I mean, polite society knows what it can't say, but that's never kept them from pitying you behind your back. I mean, how many times do I have to hear straight women say, "If only you were straight!" before I internalize the wrongness of my location? They think they're being cool and complimentary, down with the queer movement. The compliment gets lost, though, because I hear that my location is inadequate. I bring this trepidation to my location as an artist. I'm not crazy about coming out again (and again and again).

I don't have a choice, though. It's not that someone or some process compels me. No, it's that to pass, to deny, to hide only ends up eating at my soul. More than that, it lets THEM win, it lets THEM assimilate the surface of my identity and to wear it as a badge of THEIR coolness. It allows THEM to wear my pleasure, blithely, as the style protruding from their back pocket. Who are THEY? Well, they are more than the sweet, straight women who prefer a queer sensibility to the inequities of heteronormative society. THEY are people who defer happiness in service to normality.

The first man with whom I fell in love is a fabulous textiles designer. When we met, he was a student and I was a recent graduate. I was recently out and he'd been out for a while. These differences created a confluence of pain and conflict for me, for us, for him. He was engaged in his work and life by pursuing his pleasure his passions. I was trying to understand what I loved and hiding behind the authority of what I knew. I was part of THEM. I couldn't live in both worlds. I couldn't hold onto the authority of THEM and follow the passion of discovery, the art of living. The tension between hegemony and joy is volatile, it forces a choice. There it is, though, the hesitation, the deceit, the impulse to live in two worlds, to be two things at once. Here's what it's like to pass:

I identify with Diebenkorn and CÚzanne, Matisse and Picasso. They come from a tradition that's intent on exploring perceptions, space and the ability to express the essential without being slavish to rendering and representation. They're men and they masculinize painting. Which brings me to Pollack and Rothko and DeKooning. Their abstraction informs the way that I use paint, they way that my work becomes an extension of my male body. These guys give me space behind which I can hide. I was taught in art school to avoid being feminized by identifying with this masculine tradition. But I also identify with Alice Neel and Fairfield Porter and Edgar Degas. They chink my masculine armor, defying the structures of the masculine ideal, revealing other preoccupations. They represent families, suburbia, and desire for bodies. I embrace them for their themes and skill and bodies of work. They fit into a Euro-American canon of respectability and embracing them ensconces me within the establishment.


Here's what it's like being queer:

Gran fury's t-shirts gave me a hard on. I appropriated their aesthetic for my own work, draping ACTUP/RI in homoerotic image and double entendre. David Wojnarowicz changed my life, helping me to see that the bedroom is political and that whom I fuck matters. Dotie Bellamie and Sam D'Allessandro showed me how correspondence, masks, and words iterate meanings that are difficult to reveal. Marlene Dumas? Yes, yes, yes! Repetition, reproduction, re-scripting the familiar as a means of re-defining what we see. Lucian Freud undresses the nude and presents flesh as flesh, flesh for flesh, the body as an object and subject, beautiful and monstrous; the weight of living. Francis bacon changes representation, remaking the surface and revealing the sinews of emotion and consciousness.

I can't embrace either side of the opposition I've described. It's what THEY do. I mean, oh yeah, THEY don't exist. That's a binary, too. I'm not a synthesis of the two or four or fifteen things that I am or pass for. It's more of a dynamic --- drawing from the traditions, voices and experiences that I need at any moment. I have to remember that those traditions might not like me, might not embrace my existence, might not appreciate my embrace of their work. Too fuckin' bad. The imperative is too great. Meaning has not been made, all the pieces have not yet been rendered, wrought or collected. There is a robust need to press on, to enter into the unfinished conversation.

In Foucault's sense of the self, of the work of queer identity, to cultivate oneself is to "use one's relationship to oneself as a potential resources with which to construct new modalities off subjective agency and new styles of personal life that may enable one to resist or even to escape one's social and psychological determinations (David Halperin, Saint=Foucault, p.76) Foucault goes on to say that "one writes in order to become other that what one is." (ibid). Halperin continues, "Foucault ultimately came to understand both philosophy and homosexuality as technologies of self transformation..." (ibid, p. 77)


I'm confused, too, about this queer thing. What the hell does it mean? All these labels, all these acts of containment. Yes, queer is more liberating than, say gay or lesbian, but, still, it too contains, defines, establishes me in an easily understood encampment of discourse. It defines me in a way that's conclusive, concluded. Well, maybe it is a fear of death that creates this resistance. Or maybe, it's myself. I mean my SELF.

I could say that I'm working in the same spirit as Gran Fury or David Wojanarowicz or Paul Cadmus or Felix Gonzalez Torres or Wolfgang Tillmans or John Kirby or, even, Robert Mapplethorp. At best it would be a conceit, but mostly it would be a lie.

I've been painting me a world, a heredity, a past. I make material a history that never occurred. I sometimes, too document a history that has occurred, but only through my imagination. Does that make sense? Does it provide context? Is it too much trying to eradicate the past that that I have lived? It is very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present. Edie Beale, in her queer world, taught me that.

I'm wrong. I am the heir of the courage and passions of those who have come before me. I am responsible to help create he future.

The biological father creates a fiction of my history, my experience, my desire. In so doing, it evokes nostalgia and activates sympathy. It re-inscribes heteronormative culture. My absenting the mother, privileging the father, the work attempts to engage nostalgia with a discourse about male relationships, asking, "how do men live together, what sympathies do they share, what empathy do they create, how might they face danger by transgressing or appearing to transgress heteronormative practice?"

Nice turn, eh?

There's tremendous power in formulating queer practice as an on-going process of becoming. The nature of queering space, institutions, relationships, et cetera allows me to think differently about my role as an artist, about the locus for social change. For too long, I've been focusing on the surface of queer identity -- about establishing relationships, adjusting my identity to the dominant forces of society, passing, pleasing, not rocking the boat. In short, I've been adjusting to the world rather than acknowledging that my hopes, the fears of the heteronormative world and my need to be seen and acknowledged are forces in opposition. Moving beyond the things I have lost or potentially could lose because of my queerness, allows me to understand what I have to gain -- in terms of freedom, happiness and pleasure -- in the exercise of queer praxis.

Returning again to Foucault's ideas of queer becoming, he posits "queer" as "an identity without essence, not a given condition but a horizon of possibility, and opportunity for self-transformation... Queer marks the very site of gay becoming" (ibid p. 79) Yet, a robust understanding of homosexual, indeed all sexual, practice is in the construction of desire. We desire objects of our affection, We create subjects of desire. We're seen as acting on desire for another, for an innate object of fulfillment. This desire is like the biological father, a yearning for what we can not, can never have. It's a preoccupation without resolution, a fantasy that can't be conjured or found. It looks backward and to a reality that never existed. It's like the desire for the perfect Christmas. It's an illusion we perpetuate to feed consumption and the idea of location and loving context. The perfect Christmas, the ideal identity have never been, will never be. Desire refers to the unattainable and it neglects pleasure. it neglects the potential, the possibility that any moment will offer. It deflects our sensibilities from the pleasure that surrounds us or, at least the potential pleasures that surround us. Understanding, pursuing, defending our search for pleasure destabilizes the stasis of desire, dissembles the power of those who will gain from our silence, our invisibility. Pursuing, evoking, suggesting, discovering pleasure might just set us free. As Foucault tells us, We have to create new pleasure, and then maybe desire will follow." (ibid p. 93) At the very least, it'll be a fun ride...