Monthly Archives: June 2019

Stonewall: Then and Now

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Laurie says:

I wrote this a week ago, and I said that 9 transgender women (that we know of), mostly black and brown, had been murdered this year.  Two more have been murdered since then. I initially wrote this in anger and I am writing in anger now.

On Tuesday, the body of Brooklyn Lindsey—a transgender black woman—was discovered on the porch of an abandoned house in Kansas City, Mo. She was 32. CNN reports her death has been ruled a homicide due to multiple gunshot wounds. This makes her the 11th black transwoman to be murdered in America this year. From The Root
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My grandmother’s jewelry store,The Waverly Shop, was up the block from the Stonewall riots in 1969. I grew up in that neighborhood and later worked in her shop. But by then, I was no longer in NYC but living on the houseboats at Gate 5 in the Bay Area. I heard about it and was awed that people were fighting back for the first time. (I know more now.)


Marsha P Johnson

At the time, the Stonewall Inn was owned by the Mafia. The people who hung out there were among the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless youth. Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn.(Wikipedia) Usually they got to abuse people anyway they wanted to, but not this time. Sylvia Rivera, a Latina, and Marsha P Johnson, an African American, were in the forefront of the battle. Many people believe that Johnson threw the first brick.

In the late 60’s they would have been identified as transvestites, or drag queens, or transexuals. Johnson and Rivera would not have called themselves “transgender.” The word was not in common use. But they lived almost exclusively as women, and transgender people today consider them two of their own. (NY Times)

For a short time after Stonewall, LGBQ people were united. Then “respectability” kicked back in, and the people who stood up for themselves and for all queers at Stonewall were erased from the history (until fairly recently, and then only occasionally). Gay men, mostly white, took over the movement and ostracized women like Johnson and Rivera.

There is a statue of two gay men (and two lesbians sitting behind them on a bench.) made to honor the people who fought at Stonewall in a small park across the street. They are white and very respectable in their presentation. Very often our public art reflects not the true history but the comfortable story.

Respectability, wanting to appear “normal” in the larger society is always an activist problem. It expels people who are perceived as different in presentation or attitude, and who are are perceived as outrageous. It is a box imposed often by activists themselves.

Both women had difficult lives and no longer survive. They founded the first transgender support organization and were intermittently very politically brave and active in their lives. They got some recognition in the 90’s. Rivera said The movement had put me on the shelf, but they took me down and dusted me off, in a 1995 interview with The New York Times. Still, it was beautiful. I walked down 58th Street and the young ones were calling from the sidewalk, Sylvia, Sylvia, thank you, we know what you did. After that I went back on the shelf. It would be wonderful if the movement took care of its own. But don’t worry about Sylvia.

Finally 50 years later NYC is honoring Rivera and Johnston with a statue. And this all and good but I know if they were still here they would rather see a better world for transgender people and everyone who was in the bar. But transgender people don’t have discrimination protection. They can no longer serve in the military. In 2018 we know that at the very least 29 transgender people were murdered (the most ever recorded), most of them black and brown, and at least nine more have died in 2019.

LGBQ people have made remarkable gains since Stonewall, but transgender people, particularly people of color, have been far too often left behind.

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Show Me as I Want to Be Seen: Exhibition At The Contemporary Jewish Museum

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Laurie says:

Zanele Muhol –  Bona, Charlottesville

I went to this exhibition a while ago and was very impressed. It is rare in my experience that a contexted curated exhibition like this is more than clever, and usually it is more about the curator than the artists. This was absolutely not true of Show Me as I Want to Be Seen. Curator Natasha Matteson creates a brilliant space with superb art to make you reflect freshly on portraiture, self defined identity, and their social and cultural interrelationships. The focus remains on the works. And if this sounds like an exaggeration – it isn’t.  I have also rarely seen an exhibition of diverse contemporary artists where the quality of the work and the concept was so consistently high.
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Young Joon Kwak – Hermaphrodite

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The space is large and the interrelationships of the art makes this, among other things, a very three dimensional experience. Isolating individual works, as I have here,  shows neither the way the works talk to each other nor the viewers place in the complicated conversation. My choice of works here can only give you a small taste of what’s there.

It made me think about the meanings of self representation especially personally in relation to my visual memoir Memory Landscapes project, which is fundamentally about that. I may go back one more time. I think that experiencing Show Me as I Want to Be Seen may influence some of my ideas.

And yes, I did ring the bell.

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Claude Cahun – Masks

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I wrote about Claude Cahun here as a preface to this conversation. I saw the exhibition for the first time a while ago and had planned to see it for the second time about a month ago. But I wasn’t able to so do this til this week. (It was a combination of illness and minor injury. ) The show ends on the 7th of July. If you have the opportunity, go see it!

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Gabby-Rosenburg – lights off on self-hunt
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Museum Text:
In the book of Esther, the title figure reveals her Jewish identity in a risky and successful bid to save her people. Queen Esther’s “coming out” is an archetypal Jewish story of claiming and declaring the self as one wants to be seen. The empowered gesture finds renewed expression in the work of French Surrealist artists, activists, and livelong lovers Claude Cahun (née Lucy Schwob, 1894-1954) and Marcel Moore (née Suzanne Matherbe, 1892-1972). Cahun was born into a family of Jewish intellectuals and chose her paternal grandmother’s last name, the French form of “Cohen,” as her pseudonym—a deliberately rebellious statement under the heightening anti-Semitism of Europe in the early twentieth century. The core of Cahun and Moore’s collaborative work, photographs of Cahun in wildly varying guises, gender expressions, and personas, boldly avows the self while overtly wrestling with its mutable, complex nature.

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Tschabalala Self – Greeneyed

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Show Me as I Want to Be Seen positions Cahun and Moore alongside ten contemporary artists—Nicole Eisenman, Rhonda Holberton, Hiwa K., Young Joon Kwak, Zanele Muholi, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Gabby Rosenberg, Tschabalala Self, Davina Semo, and Isabel Yellin—contending with the thorniness of representation in all its current-day complexity. Any user of social media witnesses daily the constructed, performative nature of the self that was theorized decades ago in postmodern thought and queer theory. Today, we see depictions of more different kinds of identities than ever before. Visibility is arguably necessary for liberation, but it can also be dangerous, as a straightforward “coming out” or “outing” inevitably erases nuance by confining someone to yet another categorization. To represent with integrity an expansive self, the artists in this exhibition use the powerful tools of multiplicity, fluidity, and intentional illegibility.

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Isabel Yellin – Estelle-2017

Many versions of the self exist at once. Like Cahun and Moore’s revolutionary portraits, the contemporary work presented here employs symbolism and synecdoche (the part standing in for the whole) alongside ambiguous, expressive bodies and fierce gazes. These subjects see themselves, and their self-perception and self-determination take precedence over the pleasure and comprehension of the viewer. The themes of Show Me as I Want to Be Seen also resonate with the current wave of self-determination in Judaism, animated by the Talmudic notion of svara, or moral intuition, in which people with complex identities are newly recognizing themselves in Jewish texts, rituals, and communities. Consideration of this empowered avowal of a dimensional self is an entryway to expanding our understandings of others, as they want to be seen.

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Rhonda Holberton – Still Life

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Toyin Ojih Odutola -My Country Has No Name

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