Queer Euphoria through Art and Photography

Curated by Levi Gutierrez (they/them) and Jessica Phounsanoy (she/her)

What is in the life of a queer person? Queer people are not just their sexuality, but individuals with experiences to share, be proud of, and to express. History has also always been told from a Eurocentric, heterosexual, and cisgender point of view. Because of this narrow walkway, the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals have continued to be ignored. When queer experiences are told, they are often spoken about in a solemn manner, discussing the violence and death during their lives, yet that is only a small portion of it. This exhibit aims to showcase queer euphoria, talent, movements, and calls to action from the 1970s to the early 2000s. We hope to honor and explore various arts and movements that queer people are seen in and have created.

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Untitled work by Jerome Caja from Archives of American art, Smithsonian Institution.

Jerome David Caja was an artist who drew influence on everything during his lifetime. Caja lived from January 20, 1958 to November 3, 1995, unfortunately passing during the height of the AIDS epidemic. His art strongly expresses the sexuality and happiness of queer people through various explicit content. In this piece, we see two people engaged in intercourse. This type of representation through art allows gay people to be seen. It also deconstructs the idea of gay sex is unnatural - otherworldly. Queer love is natural and real in the same way that heterosexual love is. By creating exhibits that focus on the sexual activity of queer people, Caja pulls from his experiences and further normalizes sex and love for the queer community.

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San Francisco Gay Day Parade by Marie Ueda, 1977, taken from Online Archive of California, thanks to GLBT Historical Society.

San Francisco’s first Gay Freedom Day occurred a year after the Stonewall police raids in Greenwich Village, New York. Since then, pride parades in San Francisco have become a yearly tradition. Marie Ueda captured this picture of the parade in 1977, showcasing a crowd of disabled activists holding a banner with “GAY RIGHTS.” It is crucial to showcase the disabled bodies of the LGBTQ+ community, as this is the reality for many gay and disabled people. The solidarity shown within this photograph of two marginalized communities is very telling of the social climate of the 1970s, where homosexuality was widely unaccepted aside from these communities.

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"Portrait of Ambi Sextrous" by Doris Fish, 1978, from GLBT Historical Society.

From Sydney, Australia, Doris Fish was a famous transgender activist, actress, and writer known for co-writing and  her role in Vegas in Space which was released in 1991. From Australia to San Francisco, Doris Fish and many others on the gender spectrum simply wanted to live their lives as authentically as possible. For Doris Fish, they lived their life through their creative and bold expressions of gender, and through their experience they always found a family-like bond within the trans and drag community. 

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"A Sister of Perpetual Indulgence" by Jean-Baptiste Carhaix, 1983, from GLBT Historical Society.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence debuted as a controversial organization during Easter weekend in 1979 adorned in a full nun’s outfit while using makeup styles that were popular with gay men. They addressed many concerns from the gay community in political activism, human rights, and especially religious intolerance. Using innovative street theater, and various other protest methods they opposed actions that created shame and stigmatic guilt, directly challenging systemic gender issues.

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Marcha Gay (Gay Pride March) by Yolanda Andrade, 1984. From Radical Women: Latin American Art.

Born in 1950 in the small town of Villahermosa, Mexico, the work of photographer Yolanda Andrade captures the robust Mexican LGBTQ community and their culture. Marcha gay is a photograph of one of the first gay pride marches in Mexico City in 1979. Andrade’s everyday documentation of queer Mexicans allows us, the curators, to present a nonwhite, non-American perspective of pride and queer communities as a whole. It confirms the idea that being queer is not an inherently white trait: a sentiment that has been debated over in some homophobic communities of color.

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Castro Street Fair - Man with Car and Masked People by Crawford Barton, 1977. From GLBT Historical Society.

Founded by Harvey Milk in 1974, the Castro Street Fair was a community street celebration for the LGBT community. The goal of the fair was to promote the area, register voters, and show off an empowered community, proving their strength to their city as both people and voters who have the power to change their situation. From community organizations sharing information, vendors, and local talent, it was a day of empowerment and joy for the LGBTQ community. This photograph shows two masked people sitting with a smiling man in sunglasses, radiating energy much like the rest of the fair.

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Screencap of Sylvester Celebrates Video by Charles Cyberski, 1987. From GLBT Historical Society. Link to video here.

Sylvester, gay and Black, known as the first male diva of disco, is the personification of gay and black origins of disco, and he delivered empowering performances that brought Black and queer joy to communities. Not only was he an icon for the queer community, but also another prime example of Black Excellence. In this video he celebrates his 40th birthday, including footage of his performances at the 1985 Cable Car Awards.

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June 1996's issue of the Ingersoll Message by Ingersoll Gender Center, from Feminist Community Archive of Washington.

The Ingersoll Gender Center is a Seattle-based organization advocating for transgender and gender nonconforming people. This educational content of Ingersoll’s June 1996 issue talks about the definition of pride and what it means for gay and transgender people, and actively combats other definitions of pride. Through this message, we see the developing culture of representation through media outside of the queer community. 

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Queersafe #1 by Sarah Mangle and Emery, 2006. From Digital Transgender Archive. Check out the zine here.

In 2006, authors Sarah Mangle and Emery curated the first issue of the Queersafe zine; Queersafe #1 is an informative magazine for sexually active queer and transgender individuals. The issue mostly discusses sexual health and in-depth informative content on different sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Mangle and Emery also have a short discussion of the terms queer and trans. Traditionally, the now-reclaimed “queer” was used as a synonym for ‘unusual’ or ‘weird’ in a derogatory way towards the LGBTQ+ community. 

This exhibit allowed us to illustrate queer life through art and activism from the 1970s to early 2000s. This method of showcasing the lives of queer folk within their community allowed us to attempt to portray an accurate account of the lifestyle of queer folk. Activism, sex, expression, and music are all parts of the life of a queer person. We are thankful for the opportunity to spread visibility on the euphoric feelings on what it means to be queer. 

Artifact Citation

Andrade, Yolanda. “Marcha Gay (Gay Pride March): Hammer Museum.” Marcha Gay (Gay Pride March) | Hammer Museum, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1984, https://hammer.ucla.edu/radical-women/art/art/marcha-gay-gay-pride-march.

Barton, Crawford. “Castro Street Fair - Man with Car and Masked People.” Castro Street Fair - Man with Car and Masked People - GLBT Historical Society, 1998, https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/glbt/bundles/237717.

Caja, Jerome. “Jerome Caja Papers, 1920-1995: Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.” Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution | Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Art, https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/jerome-caja-papers-6515.

Carhaix, Jean-Baptiste. “Jean-Baptiste Carhaix Papers.” GLBT Historical Society, 1984, https://www.glbthistory.org/jean-baptiste-carhaix-papers.

Cyberski, Charles. “Sylvester Celebrates Video.” Sylvester Celebrates Video - GLBT Historical Society, 1987, https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/glbt/bundles/238690?searchOffset=73.

Fish, Doris. “Selected Archival Objects & ARTWORKS.” GLBT Historical Society, GLBT Historical Society, 1978, https://www.glbthistory.org/objects-artwork-selections.

Ingersoll Gender Center. “Ingersoll Message, June 1996.” cdm16786.Contentdm.oclc.org, Feminist Community Archive of Washington, 1996, https://cdm16786.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16786coll12/id/118/rec/30.

Mangle, Sarah. “Digital Transgender Archive.” Queersafe #1 - Digital Transgender Archive, Digital Transgender Archive, 2006, https://www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net/files/gh93gz63b.

Ueda, Marie. “1977 San Francisco Gay Day Parade.” Online Archive of California, GLBT Historical Society, 1 Jan. 1977, https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/kt0m3nd81b/?brand=oac4. 

Other Works Cited

“About Us.” Ingersoll Gender Center, 3 Nov. 2020, https://ingersollgendercenter.org/who-we-are/about-us/. 

Hawley, J. C. (Ed.). (2009). LGBTQ America Today: An Encyclopedia (Vol. 3). Greenwood Press. https://link-gale-com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/apps/pub/3MZR/GVRL?u=wash_main&sid=bookmark-GVRL 

“History.” Castro Street Fair, 13 Aug. 2022, https://castrostreetfair.org/about/. 

Woods, Arnold. “The Early Years of SF Pride: A Closer Look.” OpenSFHistory, https://www.opensfhistory.org/osfhcrucible/2020/06/28/the-early-years-of-sf-pride-a-closer-look. 

“Yolanda Andrade.” Hammer Museum, https://hammer.ucla.edu/radical-women/artists/yolanda-andrade. 

About the Authors

Jessica Phounsanoy (she/her) - Asian American and first-generation college student that is currently an undergraduate and planning to minor in GWSS while majoring in Health Studies at UW Bothell. 

Levi Gutierrez (they/them) is currently an undergraduate at the University of Washington Bothell, majoring in Educational Studies with a minor in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. Living as a first-generation Mexican American queer student, their interests are heavily associated with representing their communities. In the future, they hope to work with marginalized students and help give them a voice.

Acknowledgments:

Thank you to Dr. Shayne, Tessa Denton, Denise Hattwig, and Penelope Wood for the opportunity to work on this project as well as their guidance, expertise, and encouragement. 

Queer Euphoria through Art and Photography