Gay trans man finds activism through art

Alex Selby, Danville

How do you identify? 

I am a gay trans man. 

What does the word queer mean to you? 

I have a weird relationship with the word queer. I grew up only hearing the word used in a derogatory manner, because of that the term still invokes a slight sense of anxiety.  

Personal relationship with the word aside, I see queer as a call to action. The reclamation of the word has its roots in radicalism, and the push for liberation. Queer defies expectations and what is considered “normal” and unifies those fighting the same fight.  

Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky? 

I’m from Danville Kentucky. 

I grew up attending a rather conservative Christian school, consequently I was introduced to the LGBT community through statements of disgust and violence. By 9th grade I knew I wasn’t straight or cis but I didn’t dare explore my identity while stuck in such a volatile environment. I heard homophobic remarks daily, from both peers and teachers. Hearing the homophobia from teachers was the hardest part, somehow it stung more than hearing it from friends. Having bigoted instructors made me feel extremely vulnerable and made me realize no one would protect me if I ever happened to be outed.   

By 11th grade I was fed up and transferred to the county school, things weren’t perfect there, but it was certainly an improvement. For the first time I was able to be around other openly queer people, and no longer had to deal with homophobia from teachers and administration alone.  

I live in Louisville now, moving here for college was very freeing. People here are a lot more accepting. 

What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity? 

Take your time. There is no rush to stick a label to how you identify, it’s ok to experiment, it’s ok to change the labels you use, and it’s ok to have no label at all. Do what is best and most comfortable for you. Your life is yours to live.   

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it? 

My identity has certainly influenced my art, my involvement in activism, and my merging of the two. I think activism through art can be very efficient. I want my art to educate. I want to draw attention to issues that are often ignored. My recent series of photographs focuses on exposing the gentrification of “gayborhoods”.  The photographs are part of a larger, in-progress body of work that tackles the issues of LGBT assimilation as whole.  

What issues do you see in the queer community? 

There is a severe lack of internationality. Racism, classism, transphobia, and so on are all very rampant within the community.  This all stems from the bigger issue of assimilation over liberation, and the division that came along with that.  

What do you think would solve those issues? 

Education. LGBT history is often erased, there are people within the community who don’t know anything about Stonewall or the riots that got us to where we are today. Corporations need to be kicked out of pride festivals; their presence needs to be replaced with queer organizations that provide education, resources, and opportunities. I don’t want a rainbow bracelet with a bank’s logo plastered on it, I want booklets that teach LGBT history. I don’t want to buy a t-shirt from some corporation that sees me as a commodity, I want to buy a t-shirt from a queer creator and support their endeavors.  

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not? 

Yes, to a degree. There is still a lot of transphobia within the queer community, and that can make things difficult.  

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc

I feel best working on my art. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly stressful at times, but the outcome is always worth it. Even if I’m not happy with a piece, it still serves as a learning experience, and I value that. Making art is most often fun, but aside from that I love it because it’s an opportunity to make a statement and push for change where change is needed.  

Who influenced the life you live now? 

My friends, parents, and professors have influenced me through their support and encouragement. Additionally, queer artist such as Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and David Wojnarowicz have influenced me through their work, activism, and bravery.