My father would often recite the old adage, “you should weep at a birth and rejoice at a funeral”. I asked what that meant and he told me that, “life is hard and when a baby is born it has its whole life to struggle and when a person dies it means they made it through to the other side.” I’m not sure if I believe in this sentiment, but I do believe this is an example of the mentality people from West Virginia and other impoverished areas have kept, helping them make it through. West Virginia is a world that has long been afflicted with tragedy. From the bloody battles to unionize the coal mines to the horrific accidents that hinder the lives of its people, tragedy is hard to escape as a West Virginian and survival seems to be one of the only goals to aspire to.
Sexuality, Gender, and Identity are concepts people from my world don’t usually have the privilege to question. Growing up “gay” in southern West Virginia was no easy task. I was an effeminate child, so hiding my sexuality was not an option. From the day I started second grade I got thrown labels such as, “girl”, “sissy”, and “wimp”. When my classmates and I got a little older the label inevitable turned to the dreaded word: “faggot”. Why didn’t my parents stand up for me? Why did the teachers let this behavior go on? What about me was so different that I was singled out and ostracized by my peers? Why did I feel the need to change the attributes of my behavior that seemed to trigger these reactions in the people around me? Why did Christianity back up this bigotry? These questions followed me no matter where I go or what I do, creating a cage I couldn’t seem to escape.
I have come to the realization that a majority of my past has been a struggle against being oppressed for things outside of my control. Subsequently my work represents this struggle. I am not an activist, nor am I a person in power; I am an artist. The job I have prescribed myself, as an artist, is to record the world I inhabit. Sometimes my work is autobiographical, other times it functions as social/political commentary, at its best it serves both functions. By presenting my work and myself in a way that challenges the ideas of gender, identity, and Christianity; it causes my audience to rethink how they view these issues… therein change will occur.
Even though I feel overwhelmed by the problems in our society; in my personal life, I feel change is occurring. This change is the accumulation of making work that is more honest, research that challenges me both mentally and idealistically, and most importantly living an open life amongst accepting people. For the first time in my life I feel liberated, as if I’m conquering the world in my daily experience. I no longer harbor the persistent self-loathing that society forces on those who play outside its ridged rules.
I will never stop making work that challenges the archaic norms of society. I have built a body of work that is mostly autobiographical and extremely personal in nature. I continue on this path, but integrate ideas based on research into queer theory, Christian ideology, Appalachian culture, and gay subcultures. As I shift my place in the world, I know the issues I tackle will broaden into a larger political and social sphere. My work continues to grow as I gain knowledge and it is constantly changing to fulfill my needs. My art serves as a record of this evolution of knowledge and change;
it will continue on…