When I was asked to be the guest editor of this issue, I immediately thought that, as a writer, performance artist, and visual artist, I am constantly exposing myself: on stage, websites, blogs, social media sites, Instagram—and, yes, all of those formative years utilizing the free therapy known as open-mic nights. I encouraged the writers in this issue to write about the subject they know best: themselves. I’ve always been far more interested in hearing what writers and artists have to say about themselves and their work than hearing some Artforum-style critique that is as dry and stale as the bread of the patriarchy. I’m excited that much of what you will see and read will be from the artists.
But following the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the term and theme of “Exposed” took on a whole new meaning.
In the sacred space of nightlife at a gay club, queer men and women, queer people of color, gays and lesbians, and transgender men and women were dancing, celebrating, kissing, laughing, performing, and—most importantly—existing. These individuals were not cowering before a heteronormative society ruled by fear and religious dogma or hiding themselves away in a private pity party of one. No, they were simply sharing space, building community, living, and loving. And for this, they were exposed. An individual armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, who was not the author of their life, declared that evening that he would be the author of their death.
I am heartbroken, devastated by the event, the wrongful taking of lives that evening, and the responses of many individuals to this tragedy. The Texas lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, a Republican and evangelical Christian, tweeted just hours after the horrific event, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” The pastor Roger Jimenez of Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento, California, asked from the pulpit, “Are you sad that fifty pedophiles were killed today? No, I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida, is a little safer tonight. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is—I’m kind of upset he didn’t finish the job!”
Quickly following this, within days, there were more attacks: a gunman heading to the LA Pride festivities in Los Angeles; an armed hostage-taker in a Walmart in Amarillo, Texas; and a shooting in Oakland, California, during a peaceful vigil for the lives lost in Orlando.
It is a time in which we could be scared, hurt, afraid, devastated, broken, and without hope. As a trans lady, I have led a life in which I have daily been accosted by the bigotry, discrimination, fear, hatred, and violence that others would eagerly see me subjected to. But I’m still here. I’m still alive.
I chose the writers and artists in this issue because they are a diverse, eclectic group of individuals who are creating community with their works, words, bodies, creations, and stories. Their art and activism stand as a place for healing, solidarity, and empowerment: deep lez anti-capitalist installations and nightlife art; dancing in the night, bodies sweating, bodies breathing, bodies loving; bodies sacred and alive; dolls pieced together, narratives that have the chance for rebirth, their beauty at once haunting, and captivating, painted like the faces of the departed to whisper final, sweet, farewells; remembrances of the past; inspirations for the future; bellies out, mouths open, words spoken, with doughnuts and culinary delicacies in between; disassembly of the culture that starves, kills, mocks, makes you feel worthless; an ally that truly knows what pride means; mythical phantasms that portray fairy-tale portraits that resonate more with you and your personal reality than your 9-to-5 job; images so lush, so decadent—how can they mirror your own?; feminist, queer, mystic-spiritual collages that make you realize the importance of each piece, layer, and decision made toward the collective whole.
I am so proud of these individuals, and I’m more than happy to share not only their works but also their artistic processes and their words.
Because now, more than ever, each one of us—writer, artist, performer, DJ, witch, curator, painter, joker, queer, ally, creator—we need you. We need each other. Because if I’ve learned one thing after the Orlando shooting, it is this: We are now exposed. We are now vulnerable. It’s open season against us, and we are raw, we are targets, we are hunted. But we are not weak, we are not choosing a racist, bigoted, slut-shaming, body-shaming phobic system—a violent and bratty child born from old, hateful patriarchy and its new right-hand man, Donald Trump.
No, because we are artists. We are not the authors of others’ deaths. We are the authors of our lives. And now, it is vital to shower the world with our paintings, our words, our activism, and our ability to create space, to build community, to find common ground, to show solidarity, to honor peace, life, and love above all—to kiss, to make love, and to fuck as we please. Now, more than ever.
I encourage you to look at each individual’s work, words, images, and presence as a gift because that’s what they are. Embrace it. Embrace each other. We may be exposed, fragile, delicate little creatures. But the worst danger is not being hunted or hated; the worst danger is to surrender in fear and lock up the beating, pulsing, fist-size beauty that is your heart.