Tag Archives: queer performance art

Justin Chin: 1969-2015

Laurie and Debbie say:

Just before Christmas, Justin Chin died, at the age of 46. Justin was an award-winning  queer poet and performance artist, who wrote (among many other things) about being HIV positive. He was also featured in our Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes.

nude of Justin Chin from FAMILIAR MEN

About this picture of Justin, Laurie says, “I photographed Justin in his home, in places he chose, surrounded by his things. One of the feelings I absolutely wanted to include in Familiar Men was joy, so making this picture of Justin was a real gift.”

In Justin’s obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, Justin’s friend Kirk Read said: ““He was a soft-spoken visionary who could go on a rant about generations of gay men dying and then toss in a completely inane pop culture reference and have it all make sense. … He brought gravity and levity to the microphone.”

Friend of Body Impolitic Steven Schwartz has a Justin Chin recollection:

The first time I saw Justin Chin perform, it made an impression I will never forget. This was in the 1990s. HIV was still very scary and HIV+ blood was something that policemen feared and everyone else viewed with a near-magical awe.

Justin was lactose intolerant. The piece was addressing how that lactose intolerance played out where he went to school — because he was offered milk every day as part of school lunch.

But the moment that transfixed me was when, as he was telling the story, he took out a syringe, and drew some of his own blood.  There it was, on the stage — HIV+ blood, the boogeyman of boogeymen. He injected it into the milk carton he also had on stage with him.  Towards the end of the performance, he opened the carton, and drank the milk — and the
blood. Everyone was afraid of the blood, but it was the milk that was, to him, dangerous and poisonous.

I have never seen anything like it on stage, for its bravery, for its inversion of expectation and understanding, and for the way it changed perspectives in a moment.

Justin wrote several poetry books, including Gutted, winner of the Thom Gunn Award for Poetry and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, Harmless Medicine, and Bite Hard. His  essay collections are Attack of the Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms, Burden of Ashes, and Mongrel: Essays, Diatribes, & Pranks. His one short story collection is 98 Wounds.

We’ll close with two excerpts from “Grave,” a Justin Chin poem about death.

In the harsh glare of an easily
reprehensible life. The channel changer is lost
in the crack of an infinite sofa.
       Everything falls apart, everything breaks
down, torn into a million
              fragments, Jericho everyday.
I want to be the blameless
victim in this canceled puppet show,
the marionette every mother loves, the one
souvenirs are modeled from.
You know what they say,
God never closes a door before making sure
that the windows are barricaded
and the fire escape is inaccessible.