Celebrating “Independence Day” felt very strange - almost inappropriate - in a time when our country is forcibly restricting certain people’s independence, simply for seeking the same freedoms we claim to be commemorating. Yet, as I write this, I’m sitting in a beautiful home in Palm Springs, by a pool, drink in hand. It’s an almost comically-clichéd exemplification of privilege. This uncomfortable juxtaposition of my personal circumstance mixed with an inner conflict brings up a series of contradictions on which my intellectual and artistic interests have become based.
To examine this deeper, I’d like to reference an article written for Elle Magazine by R. Eric Thomas, in which he uses the trending series Queer Eye on Netflix to discuss the Queer Duality. With examples from the show’s first season along with excerpts from Dr. Alan Down’s The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World, this article breaks Queerness into two basic components: Queer Exuberance and Queer Concealment. “Our history is at once one of flash and one of code” Thomas explains. In other words, queer people have learned to separate and compartmentalize our personalities. We conceal behavior that seems “wrong” for any given setting (whether that be avoiding shouting “yaas queen” during your straight roommate’s football party or talking about power tools during your gaggle’s weekly brunch) while simultaneously celebrating behavior that allows us to shine (this could be boastfully rattling off your knowledge of football statistics, for our first example, or your encyclopedia of show tunes, for our second.)
This need to both conceal and celebrate manifests in my own work in my constant search for validation from both intellectual theorists and commercially-minded pop-culturists (not a word, but I’m going with it). My solo, for example, on the surface has flashes of humor, skillful spins, and hip-shakes set to exciting and/or recognizable music, while coded beneath are metaphors and expressions of a painful pursuit of happiness. The thing is, while I allow my Queer Exuberance to shine in performance (when I’m safely veiled behind the protection of “character”), I remain quite reserved in my day to day, otherwise channeling exuberance into skill and intellect. It’s the “I can’t be made fun of if I’m smarter and more talented” approach.
So, on the 4th of July, as I let my exuberance out of it’s cage to live my most basic-gay holiday fantasy (complete with tight speedo, colorful cocktail, and inflatable swan floaty device) I became emotionally triggered. This is the thing about queerness that is so special (yes, more special than an inflatable swan): Our capacity for, as Thomas writes, “frank acknowledgment of ever-present pain in moments of joy.” My queerness allowed me the recognition of our national suffering alongside my momentary pleasure. It provided the ability to hold these feelings simultaneously, with no need to discredit nor prioritize either, but to simply observe, without judgement. The article by Thomas goes on to explain that the difficult task of “the merging of two parts” - finding the authentic middle-ground on which flash and code can co-exist - “is the work of a lifetime.”
It’s a skill I hope to continue to cultivate in order to embrace contradiction, strengthen empathy, and overall become a more dynamic artist and global citizen.