Posts tagged with lgbt
For Transgender Youth, a Home on Tumblr
Lucas Fabray was 22 years old when he realized that he was born in the wrong body. It happened at the grocery store. Fabray, who was born and raised as a girl, began looking at the older women around him. “They were casually pushing carts, holding their baskets, sorting coupons … and I realized that I didn’t want to grow old as a woman,” he recently wrote. “It was just then I realized that I wasn’t in the right form, and that I had to do something about that.”
That was in 2002. The internet had already become the predominant research tool for people of Fabray’s generation, but it was, well, limited. Once back at home, Fabray started looking up terms like “transgender,” “female to male,” and “gender identity disorder.” What he found was educational — but foreign. “There were these few guys that were out there that had these sort of super masculine names: Hudson. Alpha Dog,” he recalls. “They were like the forerunners, and they wanted to give back and make some awesome resources. And they’re awesome! But they scared the hell out of me.”
Fabray says that at that age, he wasn’t ready for surgery or hormones — and he wasn’t sure he ever would be. Living as an “alpha dog” seemed almost as alien to him as living out his life as a woman. And yet, 10 years later, the web no longer presents such limited answers. To the contrary, it’s become a place that reflects how complex, fluid, and nuanced we now understand gender to be.
Fabray’s story about the grocery store is his answer to the first question — “When did you realize the term transgender referred to you?” — on something called the “30 Day Trans Challenge,” a questionnaire first posted on Tumblr in the fall of 2011, though it had appeared elsewhere on the web before that.
The idea behind the challenge is simple: Participants answer one question about themselves each day over the course of a month (or thereabouts). In this variation, aimed at people who identify as transgender, the questions run the gamut: technical (“What is your binding choice and why?”), logistical (“Bathrooms”), legal (“How do you feel about the trans laws where you live?), personal (“Have you ever been outed?”), and profound (“How do you manage dysphoria?”).
The answers are no less varied — both in substance and style. Some respondents knew their gender identity was in question from the moment they were conscious of gender itself, while others wrestled with it until they were young adults. Some say they are both transgender and transsexual; others call themselves straight or gay. And while most respond to each prompt with text, there are variations to that, too — Fabray with original art, others with video responses, often alongside updates on the way their bodies have responded to surgery or hormone treatments.
Taken as a whole, the blog confessions show that the transgender experience is far from singular — instead, it is as diverse and multifaceted as the human experience itself. Which, according to advocates in the field, is exactly why projects like this have value. “Everyone’s experiences are going to be different, obviously, but the more you hear about others, the more easily you will be able to navigate your own,” says The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s Aaron McQuade. “The more educated we can make people about a [group] that our society has been grossly uneducated about forever, the better it is for everyone.”
According to the Transgender Law Center, between 2 and 5 percent of the population is transgender; and McQuade says that just 7 or 8 percent of Americans know someone who identifies as such. But the population has been more visible in recent years — competing in beauty pageants alongside biologically female contestants, appearing on reality television, and modeling in the pages of glossy magazines. Earlier this month, the American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees announced that it would replace Gender Identity Disorder with the less-stigmatizing “gender dysphoria” in the next edition of the DSM; the University of Iowa also announced that it would add questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to its application forms, a move praised by LGBT advocacy groups.
For McQuade and others, some of this increased acceptance is directly related to people sharing their stories — online and elsewhere. He says projects like the challenge, and another called “I Am: Trans People Speak,” are powerful ways of speaking not just to young people wrestling with their own identity, but also to their friends, families, classmates, and coworkers.
For Fabray, though, the process has been just as much about taking the time to reflect on his own experience as it has been about sharing his story with others. Because he creates a drawing to accompany each response, he says the question it is intended to answer “sort of permeates the entire process.” “I kind of wrestle with myself,” he says. “It’s a really good process to be able to pause and ponder what you’re doing.” Sometimes, he’ll get questions or responses from readers who recognize their own stories in his. And occasionally, a reader will challenge him on an answer, forcing him to reconsider his own thinking.
“Tumblr is just the place where people are talking about identity,” he says. “You see that you’re not alone. You’re not weird. You’re having feelings that can be out there and in forms that are celebrated. That is awesome.”
Nail Art as Activism
This story was produced as part of a content partnership with The Daily Beast.
Last May, at a high school in a small town just north of Winnipeg, Canada, a teenage girl came out as gay. When a group of bullies began taunting her, calling her “weird,” 20 students came to her defense. “We all decided to paint our nails rainbow to show our support,” says Nikki, 14. “We told the people bullying her that it’s so mean and wrong.”
Now, every month, Nikki and her friends continue to paint their nails rainbow as a show of solidarity. When other students have come out as gay, they know they’ve got a gang of defenders to back them up. “We’re like a big support group,” Nikki says.
Remember when neon nails were all the rage, plastered on the pages of every fashion glossy? Back then, it may have been little more than a chic fashion accessory. And yet today, the idea of intricate, complex, even meaningful nail art has taken on a life of its own.
Over the past three years, the nail art phenom has launched fan clubs and DIY communities all over the country. It has carved a niche in the fashion industry, with beauty editors paying as much attention to elaborate runway nail designs as they do to hair and makeup. (Chanel recently sent models down the runway with geometric, two-tone manicures.) It’s found celebrity endorsers, and prompted legitimate gallery shows (as well as sparked debate over whether nails can be a form of “fine art”). And even in a recession, nail art seems to be thriving: Nail care in U.S. department stores generated nearly $30 million over the first 10 months of this year, a 54% increase from the previous year, according to the NPD Group, a company that tracks cosmetic trends.
Dozens of salons now offer resident nail artists — a career that, only a few years ago, nobody believed existed. “I really kind of found my dream job,” says Brooklyn nail artist Fleury Rose, a fine art student turned nail artist who operates out of a salon called Tomahawk.
Nail art may seem like a new phenom — but it actually can be traced back centuries, when the Chinese were using enamel on their fingers to give their nails a pink finish. In the 90s, hip-hop artists like Missy Elliot and Lil’ Kim started sporting airbrushed and pierced nails; Lil’ Kim had a set with dollar bills encased in acrylic. And yet, more recently, it’s celebrities like Zooey Deschanel, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé who are perpetuating the trend with the mainstream (Deschanel’s “tuxedo nails” at the 2012 Golden Globes went viral), while Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj both have their own nail polish lines. Even Michelle Obama’s nail choice — the greige nail polish she wore during her DNC speech — was enough to spark commentary from Pulitzer prize-winning politicos.
But it’s on the web where nail art has truly exploded. A quick Google search of “nail art” will yield subcultures within subcultures on Tumblr, YouTube, and other social-sharing forums: fingertips adorned with the iconic Les Misérables logo, book jackets of literary classics, miniature versions of Georgia O’Keefe and Warhol paintings, or colors and symbols to combat bullying or raise awareness against domestic violence. And let’s not forget political nail art.
The designs are an ocular feast, so much that they’ve inspired a “nail porn” hashtag on Instagram, and nearly 2,000 posts a day under the “nail art” tag on Tumblr.
If that weren’t enough, nail art will soon get its own anthropological dig — by way of a Kickstarter-funded documentary called NAILgasm debuting in February 2013. The film features interviews with leading nail stylists, independent nail artists, beauty editors, and nail-art aficionados around the world. Director Ayla Montgomery says she was first exposed to nail art on Tumblr (she regularly posts to her own page).
“People used to be kind of afraid of nail art or thought it was tacky, but now it’s become culturally acceptable,” says Montgomery, 27. “The Internet has created its own micro-community of people who don’t really know each, but they know each other’s nails,” she adds.
A tipping point may not be long off — ever heard of nail art fatigue? — with a trend that’s so ubiquitous it’s almost become a popular joke. “It’s kind of like when slap bracelets were all the rage, and then you could find one at any Walgreens and it wasn’t so cool anymore,” says Molly McAleer, who conceived the daily nail art feature on the entertainment website Hello Giggles, of which she’s a founder. Rose, meanwhile, says she’s recently seen an influx of men into her salon — requesting things like Jaws nails or intricate campfire scenes.
Intense? Sure. And yet it’s precisely that kind of community that inspires much of the work of Chicago-based nail artist Carlos “Dzine” Rolon. Last year, he recreated the salon his mother ran out of their living room when he was a child as an exhibition during Art Basel in Miami.
“I wanted to recreate that atmosphere in which people came to the house and chit-chatted and got to know each other,” he said, recalling how Tilda Swinton came into the salon and got nail art by Regina, whom he scouted from a low-income suburb of Miami. “These are the people who are so talented but aren’t always discovered.”
Dzine published a book in tandem with the exhibition, Nailed, which traces the history of nail art around the world, from Ming dynasty China to urban American communities in the mid-to-late 20th century.
“Regardless of how mainstream nail art has become, it’s always dictated a form of social class and social status,” he said. “People right now are just acknowledging the pop culture aspect of it. But what’s more interesting is how communities form around nail art, and it becomes part of their identity.”
Even, it seems, among young female activists. In October, during National Bullying Awareness Month, 24-year-old Casey Danton garnered thousands of followers on Instagram after nail polish mogul Leah Anne Rowe posted a picture of the woman’s “No H8” nails on her Facebook page. Danton then started a blog, “Dull Like Glitter: Saving the World One Nail at a Time,” where she posts pictures of her own nails along with tutorials on how to do it.
Feminist activist and organizer Shelby Knox, 26, has used nail art to spread the word about her causes, both on her Tumblr and in public. When Knox spoke at Brockport University earlier this year, days after a female student was murdered by her boyfriend, she painted the Brockport “B” in the school’s colors on her thumb and left the rest of her digits purple in support of Domestic Violence awareness. Her nails got more attention online than they did on campus, but Knox said students who noticed her nail art understood it as a modern feminist’s way of quietly honoring the young woman’s death and highlighting the impact of domestic violence.
“One of the reasons nail art is interesting is that it’s a conversation starter,” says Knox. “People ask you how you did it or what it means.”
And its meaning, as it turns out, can be as complex as the designs themselves.
#1 Must Have: A Blog to Celebrate Queer Culture
When A. Slaven was growing up in rural Ohio, she didn’t identify as anything but a weirdo. “There was so little context for being a queer person in the place where I’m from,” she says. “I didn’t even think about it. I just always felt very different.” It was only when she left the sticks for college in a nearby city — and developed her first reciprocated girlcrush — that she realized there was a name for the way she felt: Queer. Suddenly life was less lonely.
Now 33 and living in Seattle, Slaven is a librarian by day and club promoter by night. Along with her creative partner, lawyer/photographer Adrien Leavitt, she’s the brains behind #1 Must Have — a blog (named for the Sleater-Kinney song) and photozine documenting queer culture. For the last year, the two friends have been posting color portraits of the Seattle queer community — sans captions. The point is to show how queer people of all ages live. We caught up with Slaven as she prepared for the project’s New York gallery debut, at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.
Why start a zine about queer culture?
Part of why we started doing it is that the It Gets Better Project got so popular. We don’t think that you should just suck it up in high school and wait. We wanted to represent taking charge, empowering yourself, not just waiting it out and hoping that some day we can adopt a kid and shop at Whole Foods.
Happy Spirit Day from Tumblr
Spirit Day was created in 2010 by teenager Brittany McMillan as a way to support bullied LGBT youth. This year, Spirit Day is October 19, and Tumblr’s staff joins with communities worldwide — inside and outside of Tumblr — to wear purple in support of anti-bullying efforts and LGBT rights generally.