The Final Secret of David Wojnarowicz
NYU’s Bobst Library is an empty cavern where fluorescent lights hang down like stalactites and lone students wing through the stacks like bats. My ears are straining to catch some sign of life when I hear the squawk of a recalcitrant brake as the librarian wheels a metal book cart my way. If my soul could salivate, I’d go wet inside. Saints’ relics, the shirt off Justin Bieber’s back, lost tapes showing what really happened that day in Dallas—I couldn’t give two shits about those curios. I’m about to hold David Wojnarowicz’s final secret: the Magic Box.
Through his art, Wojnarowicz gave voice to the unspeakable, be it the banal brutality of the suburbs, the roaring horror of AIDS, or the beauty of two faggots fucking on an abandoned pier in downtown Manhattan—all subjects he came by honestly. His father was violently abusive, alcoholic, and eventually killed himself; his mother was often absent and rarely parental. By the time he was a teenager, Wojnarowicz was hustling among the junkies and pimps in pre-Disney Times Square. Yet like an alchemist, he somehow distilled shit into gold, turning a painful childhood into powerful, layered artwork that was at once raw and intensely structured. His paintings, essays, and installations graced everything from the 1985 Whitney Biennial to ACT UP protest signs. If playwright Larry Kramer was the conscience of 1980s queer America, Wojnarowicz was the id—full of rage and lust, love and fear.
And he understood that that rage could be his weapon. In his essay “Do Not Doubt the Dangerousness of the 12-Inch-Tall Politician,” Wojnarowicz wrote that “to speak about the once unspeakable can make the INVISIBLE familiar if repeated often enough in clear and loud tones.” This was his central project, his central problem: how to make legible the queer outline of his life, which America would have rather seen destroyed, or, failing that, kept silent. Wojnarowicz believed that this articulation had the power to “shake the boundaries of the illusion of the ONE-TRIBE NATION,” his dismissive term for the false sense of shared experience that was at the heart of every two-and-a-half-child, three-car-garage, prefab, Norman Rockwell–style American dream. It was all part of the “pre-invented world”—the shit we are handed at birth, like language and capitalism—which was built to serve the needs of those in power and which Wojnarowicz rejected vocally and often.
Hobbes Ginseberg is a 20-year-old Los Angeles-based photographer who doesn’t want to make a big deal about their gender but prefers the pronouns she or they. They moved to Seattle after completing high school, and a year and a half after that followed their dreams to Hollywood. We met when I was in LA visiting artists on official VICE business last month, and I was immediately struck by Hobbes’s alert, inquisitive presence. After having known each other for no more than five minutes, we decided we should work together on an issue of MATTEmagazine to be released at the New York Art Book Fair this week at MoMA PS1, and went to the roof of the hotel, where I made the above cover portrait. I only had four frames left on my roll of film, but somehow each picture turned out to be interesting. Hobbes is someone who uses their self-image as their art, so this wasn’t actually that surprising. A mix of politically engaged self-portraiture in photography in the tradition of Catherine Opie, Cobain-scented soft grunge internet phenomena, and something indescribably glamourous and completely their own, Hobbes’s Selfies made me want to find out more about them.
VICE: How did you start taking pictures?
Hobbes Ginsberg: I used to do a lot of street photography. Taking pictures started for me on a trip to New York in the summer of 2010 and I had this “professional” point-and-shoot camera that I borrowed from a friend. I started taking photos of all the people I saw on the street who interested me visually. I had a vague idea of what street photography was at that point from deviantART, and on that trip I saw an exhibition by Henri Cartier-Bresson and some other old guy I dont remember. It took off from there. I did a lot of street work in Nicaragua.
When did you start taking pictures of yourself?
About two years ago I stopped shooting outside for a long time, and felt a need to turn inward so I just took a ton of selfies. It was easier for me to try new things that way. I borrowed some lights from the yearbook team at my school, and thats how I first got into studio work.
What kind of role does taking pictures of yourself play in your life?
In terms of my oeuvre, most people care the most about my selfies, and its what cemented my current aesthetic. It also the work I make that is the most cathartic for me. I get into these moods where I feel really shitty, and the way to fix it is to take photos.
Stop Media Lies About Transgender Kids
Last weekend, the UK’s Mail on Sunday, a publication not traditionally known for tasteful headlines, ran an especially rancid pile of shit on its cover: “NHS to give sex change drugs to nine-year-olds: Clinics accused of ‘playing God’ with treatment that stops puberty.” You know what that means, don’t you? That the UK’s NHS (National Health Service) is definitely NOT giving nine-year-olds any “sex change drugs” and won’t be any time soon.
The Telegraph, a paper that revels in being openly hostile toward trans people, is now repeating the misleading headline. And what’s with the “playing God” bullshit? As one parent of a trans child pointed out by email: “The Mail wouldn’t be questioning the treatment of diabetic children or children with congenital hypothyroidism on the NHS, so what makes it OK to print this shit about children receiving another kind of endocrine treatment?”
I don’t quite understand everything she’s talking about, but you can’t argue with an angry mother.
Papers pull stupid shit like this all the time; six of them recently admitted they got it wrong by making irrelevant references to a woman’s transgender status in a story about her nearly dying after being attacked by a buck. A buck whose antler pierced her throat, broke her spine, and narrowly missed her spinal cord and a couple of major arteries.
As far as we know, the animal didn’t attack her because she was transgender. Nevertheless, six national newspapers in England decided to print various details about Kate’s history, including her former name and the obligatory “sex swap” headlines. Admittedly the Mail wasn’t, in this instance, the worst offender, and quickly corrected its mistake. And they do run sympathetic—or, at least,neutral—articles sometimes. The point remains, though: The British media, as a whole, can be really, really shit when it comes to covering stories about transgender people.
This article is going to contain a lot of “shits,” because I give one. But does the media? I may be completely wrong, but the people arguing against so-called “sex change drugs” on behalf of vulnerable under-16s don’t, as far as I’m aware, go out of their way to combat gender-based bullying in schools. If you’re not doing anything to stop transgender kids from being beaten up—a.k.a., the most important issue here—then how the fuck are you planning to get away with starting a moralizing headline campaign about the choices they’re allowed to make?
Trans kids are some of the most vulnerable people in society; I know because I was one. Tiny violin time. It was terrible: I got bullied at school for talking like a girl and bullied at home for “acting like a poof”; I hated going to school, and I hated going home. I’ve written about this before, so forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but so long as there are still kids going through what I went through—those who aren’t protected at school and let down by parents confused by the shit they’ve read in the media—it’s a message people need to hear.
Is the Military About to Allow Transgender Soldiers?
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel caused a bit of a stir over the weekend when he said that the US military’s ban on transgender soldiers “continually should be reviewed" during an appearance on ABC’s The Week. In addition to reminding everyone that Sunday talk shows aren’t just several hours of teeth gnashing and inhuman wailing, Hagel raised a few eyebrows among LGBT advocacy organizations, as his remarks come in the wake of a March report issued by the Palm Center that estimated some 15,000 transgender people are surreptitiously serving in the armed forces right now in addition to 130,000 or so trans veterans in the population at large.
But does Hagel’s vague promise to take another look at the issue—coupled with his forthright declaration that “every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it”—mean the Pentagon is actually going to change its policies? One encouraging sign came Wednesday when military officials announced they were considering a request from Chelsea Manning, the former intelligence officer charged with leaking troves of classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010, to be transferred to a civilian prison for gender treatment therapy. Indeed, the latest report suggests Hagel has already approved the request and it’s just a question of working out the logistics. More broadly, transgender advocates and military observers I spoke to are actually quite optimistic about the prospects for reform, even if the timeline remains cloudy at best.
Cry-Baby of the Week
Cry-Baby #1: Lumberton Independent School District
The incident: Some parents complained that their children’s teacher was transgender.
The appropriate response: Nothing.
The actual response: The teacher was suspended.
Laura Jane Klug is a transgender woman who was recently hired by the Lumberton ISD School District in Texas as a substitute teacher. She was filling in as a teacher for a 5th grade class last Thursday when she found out that there had been complaints from the parents of some of her students about her being transgender.
The school responded to these complaints by suspending Laura, which was a legal for thing for them to do because Texas, a state located in a first world country, does not have laws to protect transgender people from workplace discrimination.
Roger Beard, whose son was in Laura’s class, said he complained because he felt that 11-year-olds were too young to understand the (fairly uncomplicated) concept of a trans woman. “There are some things that we accept in society that children are not going to accept in the same way that we do,” he told local news station 12 News. Adding, “I just don’t want them teaching, especially not this age group.”
Thankfully, other parents defended Laura. “My son knows who he is and I don’t think any outside influence is going to change that. I’m more concerned about straight predatory teachers rather than I am someone who lives an alternative private lifestyle. I don’t worry about my son,” said Jammie Marcantel, whose son was in Laura’s class.
Speaking to 12 News, Laura said she had substituted before without incident and wasn’t sure why people were complaining now. “I have always conducted myself in a professional manner and would never discuss my gender identity in school,” she said.
According to another local news station, Laura will find out later today if she gets to keep her job.
See Cry-Baby #2 and Vote!
“I was told to help the gang beat them up and [steal] their stuff,” he says. The gang shouted “fucking homo cunts” as they laid into the couple. Ty tears up as he tells me how ashamed he was, so much so that he couldn’t look at himself in the mirror for more than a week. “If I saw them again, I’d want to apologize—I did it because I was scared, probably because that could have happened to me. It could still happen to me.”
—We spoke to a closeted London gang member who has hidden his sexuality by sleeping with women and beating up gay men
Westboro Baptist Church Founder Fred Phelps Has Died – Fuck That Guy
So, Fred Phelps has gone to live with the big fag-hater in the sky. America mourns. The rainbow flags are fluttering at half mast. Really, you can’t overestimate how cut up the nation is. Who, for example, is left to piss all over the country’s dead soldiers? It’s a responsibility everyone will have to shoulder together.
Saddest of all, the big ol’ flirt ended his days estranged from even the two dozen people he’d made it his life’s work to keep tame and mute. Excommunicated from his church and emotionally exiled from 99.9 percent of the human race, Fred Phelps died as alone as it is possible for a man to be. Pity him for his grim motiveless anger, but let’s at least remember him as he would have wanted us to: as a psychotic, sadistic life-wrecker and overall pretty bad egg. He certainly didn’t want your pity, as the following catalog of ugh will show.
Continue reading about how terrible Fred Phelps was
The US Military Recruited at San Francisco Gay Pride
This year, San Francisco’s Pride celebration fell on the absolute hottest fucking day of the year. Despite the sweltering heat, it was nice to be able to wear my Mickey Mouse tank top with a pair of running shorts without being called a fag for once. A loud, feverish energy dominated the Castro and Civic Center, calling all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and straight residents, along with thousands of out-of-towners into the streets to remind the world what this city is all about: tolerance, community, compassion, and queers. However, in recent weeks, the talk surrounding Pride has largely centered around the military. Bradley Manning was named honorary Grand Marshal of the parade, then quickly relieved of his duties; the Defense Of Marriage Act was struck down; and for the first time since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the National Guard made plans to set up a recruitment booth in the heart of Pride.
Historically, the military has left as much of a stain on LGBTQ rights as any other oppressive majority in America (I’m looking at us, white males). But in the past two years, we’ve seen a rapid increase in the awareness of the military to the LGBTQ community, amidst an understandable animosity. Could they recruit from the very same group they’ve spent generations undermining? I wanted to find out, so I enlisted the help of my friend Misha Aziz, a particularly knowledgeable LGBTQ guy, to come to the parade with me and investigate.
Young Americans, Episode 5
We ask young people about the gender pronouns, labels, and identities they use to define themselves.
Watch it here
Don’t Celebrate Gay Marriage with a Wedding of Your Own
This morning the Supreme Court issued two rulings that made gay marriage a whole lot better in this country. My friends have been texting me since the news broke, wanting to meet up tonight at The Stonewall Inn (where the gay civil rights movement started in earnest back in 1969) to celebrate the end of the Defense of Marriage Act and the law prohibiting gay couples from marrying in California. Unrestrained joy and celebrating with the community are, of course, the natural and appropriate reactions to this news.
Even Edith Windsor, the New York lesbian who took the DOMA challenge all the way to the highest court in the land, said, “I wanna go to Stonewall right now!” when she heard about the historic decision. But it’s the next thing she said that troubles me. She then called a friend and said, “Please get married right away!” Edith, thanks so much for fighting the good fight, but no.
Joyous though this occasion may be, it has led to countless gay couples dropping to their knees and popping the question as if the only way to celebrate our rights is by exercising them, and the only way we are validated is when all the straight people out there (or at least five of them wearing long black robes) tell us it’s OK. Marriage fever is even infecting straights like Kristen Bell, who re-proposed to her fiance, Dax Shepard, after the rulings came down in some sort of well-meaning but bizarre show of solidarity.
To all my homosexual brothers and sisters: I am cheering with you today, but it should be said that just because we can get married, doesn’t mean that we should. Just look at Dese’Rae Stage and Katie Marks, one of the first gay couples married in New York. “It was kind of one of those things, to be a part of history,” Stage told The Atlantic Wire about their engagement on the eve of gay marriage legalization in the Empire State. Now they are one of the first gay couples getting divorced. Julie and Hillary Goodridge, the lesbians who led the charge for marriage equality in Massachusetts, are also among the first trying to figure out how to untie that knot. Like Stage said, this is a highly emotional time, but the decisions that are made after a few too many vodka sodas at Stonewall are going to have lasting implications.