‘Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives’ by Nia King
Author: Cathy Camper
September 22, 2014
In my former review of Nia King’s work, I mentioned her media presence, via her website, tumblr, and her podcasts We Want the Airwaves: QPOC Artists on the Rise, in which she interviews queer and transgender artists of color. She successfully used indiegogo to raise enough money to transcribe interviews from her podcast and is now publishing them as a book, in order to share these artists’ stories, knowledge and oral histories.
Just last week, I read that Portland Oregon, where I live, has more liberal laws regarding gender issues than many other locations in the country, and is becoming a haven for families raising transgender children. As a librarian at a Portland public library, King’s compilation is the kind of book I welcome, because I know these kids (and future adults) will be hungry for stories of role models like them, people who learned to survive, navigate and create art in a biased, binary world. And I also want this book to share with everyone else, who need to know how amazing these artists are.
The volume includes plenty of personal anecdotes of how folks cope with families, co-workers and friends. Daddie$ Pla$tik performer Vain Hein shares something many transgender folks will identify with: “Once I started hitting puberty and feeling sexual, all of a sudden, everything else changed. All of a sudden, the things that were being told to me didn’t make sense, and they felt wrong.” These artists also talk about how people change, or don’t change with them. Activist Van Binfa chats about his Chilean mom: “[My mom’s] very accepting now; and calls me her son, but at home, my pronouns have not changed in Spanish. I’m ‘la Van’ not ‘el Van.’ I’m ‘he’ and ‘him’ in English, but definitely not in Spanish.” Some of the topics cover rough territory, but King has graciously included trigger warnings to alert her readers. Poet, bruja and mixed media artist Lovemme “Love” Corazón talks about the difficulties of doing memoir writing and sharing it with family member who may themselves be learning of family traumas for the first time, via the book. Love jokes about considering using post-it notes to warn family members of places with “TMI,” where they might want to skip a few pages.
But this is also an inspirational volume for anyone involved in the artistic process. Writer Ryka Aoki emphasizes the importance of getting an MFA for people of color: “Whether or not you think an MFA is a worthwhile thing, when you’re broke as an artist, it sure as hell opens doors,”–and follows it up with advice about the kind of people best suited to pursuing the degree. Nationally acclaimed poet Yosimar Reyes tackles the never-ending issue of getting paid for artistic work, admitting, “In the beginning I would be doing a lot of free stuff, but…now I’m older…so now I’m like, I’m going to send you my contract.” And writer and activist Virgie Tovar talks about tough concessions artists often have to make once a project gets funded or becomes collaborative. Tyler Holmes of Daddie$ Pla$tik offers a great artistic statement: “For me, selling out would be someone telling me I can say something queer, that I can’t make a feminist statement–that would be like prostitution for me. Getting slutty, taking my clothes off, shaking my ass–I’m totally comfortable with that.”
The interviews wander around tons of other interesting topics creative people discuss, everything from martial arts to self-identity. Comedian and educator Micia Mosely ponders the influence of technology, saying, “I feel like technology has interrupted our ability to actually have substantive intergenerational conversations,” adding later, “I think the generational divide is greater than it ever has been because of technology.” About self awareness, Julio points out, “Being queer and undocumented are two of my identities that are part of who I am, but they’re not who I am.”
And although King is asking the questions, she shares her work and insights via these conversations too, which only adds to the richness.
Writer, performer, and activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha testifies, “Growing up I had the feeling I was ‘crazy.’ The ways I saw reality and experienced it weren’t reflected in any media I saw. Finding feminist and queer of-color writing changed that and for real saved my life.” Her statement sums up the importance of sharing this book, a primary source, with kids and adults. I urge libraries and other resources that share books to purchase this book, to share the wealth and to fill a huge gap mainstream publishing has yet to fill.
Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives
by Nia King
Co-edited by Jessica Glennon-Zukoff and Terra Mikalson
Paperback, 9781492215646, 242 pp.