Art is evocative; it is invigorating; it is soothing, and it is representative. Voicing self through the expression of art takes shape in a vast array of forms, and it is intended to make one feel. But what happens when the artists themselves get placed into a category based on their sexual or gender identities and can no longer express beyond that box? Should an artist choose to be a “queer artist” or deny that part of themselves in order to avoid being pigeonholed as simply that?
Lack of Trans Representation
Recently making waves of creative controversy in Hollywood, transgender actress Trace Lysette, known most recently for her role in Transparent, recently told Vanity Fair about her breaking point. She tweeted what she considers to be a “knee-jerk reaction” to discovering Scarlett Johansson was being cast as a trans man in the upcoming “Rub and Tug.”
“When I saw this, I was like, ‘Enough!’ It wasn’t against Scarlett personally. It was more pointing out the double standard,” she said. “I’m not getting into rooms for cis roles. I started my career auditioning for those roles, and then I went to play trans roles. And now, I feel boxed in.”
This boxing in within LGBTQ roles is a rather new phenomenon. Leading gay characters have been making their way into pop culture; gone are the days where a queer person is cast as a simply fringe role. TV shows are now more representative and inclusive towards the wide spectrum of identities and the long list of out actors and actresses grows each year. But does this make it easier or harder to get cast as anything other than the personal persona of the artist?
Queer Inclusion and… Super Bats?
Ruby Rose recently faced backlash after CW announced her role as the new Bat Woman. The announcement came with another bit of news; writers have adjusted the character to be a lesbian depiction of the iconic super lady.
Rose, in similar fashion to Lysette, took to Twitter to express her disappointment in the lack of embracing encouragement from the LGBTQ community. “I wish we would all support each other and our journey,” she wrote. While she may be thrilled on the new job, is this simply another example of a queer artist being forced into a queer role? Due to the controversy, Rose has deactivated her Twitter account with one final message:
“If you need me, I’ll be on my Bat Phone.”
The Choice of Visibility
While Hollywood is guilty of pigeonhole infractions, it appears that all creatives are required at one point to make a choice to confirm or deny. In the admission or rejection, they not only face the repercussions of what it means to come out; they potentially risk compartmentalization and dismissal.
Take queer artist Jacob Larson, a funk and blues musician based out of Denver, CO. At just 20 years old, he is recently out to friends and family, but chooses not to broadcast through social media and beyond because of the rather unknown territory.
“Nobody in the funk scene has ever really come out before,” Larson admitted to OUT FRONT. “I don’t know any queer artists in my scene.” He said that he doesn’t fear being pigeonholed into being simply a queer artist, but he does admit there is an assumption that he’s straight, and he has capitalized on that in the past.
“I sing covers, like “Brickhouse,” that talk about women,” he continued, “so I think everyone assumes I’m straight. A lot of funk is very sexual, so I’ve always wondered how people would react…”
“I released my first original project a year ago,” he added, “and with that record I used she/her pronouns.” With his older songs, he admits that he chose those pronouns because he wasn’t out to his family yet, but he can see himself feeling comfortable using he/him pronouns going forward in his lyrics.
“You have to balance not worrying about losing part of your audience because I’m using those, but staying true to yourself outweighs losing those few people who may not be ok with me because I like boys.”
With singers like Sam Smith, Hayley Kiyoko, and Troye Sivan using a fearless approach towards same-gender lyrics and erotic music videos, there is a new generation of artists that are being ushered into embracing diversity. Music may defy reason, though, and audiences appear to easily straddle the line of balance and inclusion. Visual artists, however, are having more of a difficult time finding audiences to jump on board.
Art and Visibility
Kara Wabbel is a New York-based, queer-themed visual artist who paints lesbian erotica. She told TimeOut that it has been a struggle to have her art embraced by anything close to the mainstream. Even within her own community she has tried to get her work into galleries, cafes, and bars in queer-friendly area of New York, but has been turned away time and time again. Her art has only found homes in places such as the local feminist sex shop.
Wabbel believes art and queer power are intertwined and doesn’t feel that an artist should depict anything other than their lifestyle and perspective. Can an LGBTQ artist create anything that isn’t inherently, even if not overtly, queer? “Gay is the next civil-rights movement, and artists really inspire people to get their shit together,” she told TimeOut.
Forcing an artist’s agenda continues to challenge each individual. Queer oppression still exists in many forms, and the world of art and entertainment are no exception, but there are many powerful LGBTQ people on the front lines making change.
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