J.B. Ghuman JR’s Once Upon a Dream

First published on VICE.com, August 30, 2014. Read the original, with photos, here.

What if John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe stole a time-traveling DeLorean and teleported to the future to get married?

That’s the burning question answered in Once Upon a Dream, filmmaker J. B. Ghuman Jr.’s new art project. The photo series casts Jason Sellards (a.k.a. Jake Shears from the Scissor Sisters) as Kennedy and NYC nightlife legend Amanda Lepore as Monroe.

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Trans Writer Sybil Lamb Wrote a Novel About Surviving a Hate Crime

First published on VICE.com, August 17, 2014. Read the original, with photos, here.

Trans author and artist Sybil Lamb was living in George W. Bush’s version of The Hunger Games—also known as post-Katrina New Orleans—when two men beat her with an iron pipe, taking a chunk out of her skull, and then left her for dead in a rail yard. She received emergency surgery for over five hours, and the subsequent brain damage affected her balance, memory, and language abilities.

Lamb has transformed this experience and her travels around America into a new book called I’ve Got a Time Bomb. Like her survival, the book is magical—and I don’t mean charming or full of glitter. (OK, maybe a little glitter.) I mean magical, as in a logic-defying story that deeply moves the reader. Interested in learning more about Lamb’s novel, I spoke to her about her writing and survival.

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A Warhol Girl with Banksy Talent

First published on The Daily Beast, August 3, 2014. Read the original here.

Forever ago in the mid ’60s, a sylph of a girl named Edie Sedgwick captivated the world—or at least Andy Warhol, and through his Factory and his films and his photos, everything and everyone else that mattered. She was the American art world’s “It Girl,” the source material for numerous plays, books, and movies, even the alleged inspiration for Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Perhaps that’s part of what inspired the name of the eponymous heroine in Adele Griffin’s addictive new YA novel, The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone. In a phone interview, Griffin says the book is, in part, homage to Sedgwick, whom Griffin stumbled upon as a child when a library mis-shelved the biography Edie: American Girl in between the Nancy Drews and the Hardy Boys.

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My oasis is a garden in which nothing survives but the flowers I always hated

First published in The Guardian, August 3, 2014. Read the original here.

We grew common begonias when I was little: in terra cotta pots tucked on occasional tables, as borders around the “real” plants (irises, lilies, pansies, impatiens and endless roses), and in the shady areas in the lee of the porch where little else would flower. Growing up, begonias – waxy of leaf and spindly of stem, whose washed-out flowers seem to retain only the memory of color – were everywhere.

And how can anyone love a common begonia?

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Smells Like Teen Terror

First published on The Daily Beast, August 3, 2014. Read the original, with photos, here.

Once, after the midnight premiere of a summer blockbuster, I got trapped on the top floor of a giant multiplex. Three packed showings let out simultaneously, and the theater, in all its infinite parsimony, had shut down everything but the bare minimum required to allow us to exit: one narrow stairwell plunging down four flights, lit mostly by dim emergency lighting.

It didn’t take long for a bottleneck to form at the top of the stairs, which quickly became an impatient crowd, all of us punchy with exhaustion and excitement. Soon people were shouting. Then shoving. The crowd began to lurch violently, as small motions rippled out into panicked attempts to break away. Thankfully, before a full-fledged riot could begin, people pulled down the stanchions and velvet ropes that blocked off the other stairs, and we exploded safely outward in a dozen different directions.

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The Power of Queer Books

First published on The Daily Beast, August 1, 2014. Read the original, with photos, here. Written with Sassafras Lowrey.

SASSAFRAS LOWREY: When I was seventeen, the adults I lived with went through my bedroom and found the lesbian books I’d secretly checked out from my county library. I kept them stacked between my high school math and social studies textbooks. Just six months before, I’d run away from my mom’s house and among the items I brought with me were two gay books I’d secretly purchased from the bookstore at the mall. The adults I stayed with found those books, too, and read my journal. They called my school, had me paged to the office, and told me never to come back. I knew then that queer words were powerful.

Three days after I was kicked out, I was crashing on a friend’s couch. I had no idea where to go, or what was going to become of me. I went to my county library looking for answers. I looked at every book shelved under “homosexuality.”  I was searching for answers about what it meant to be young, queer, and on my own.  That day, I didn’t find any books that could help me. Sitting on the floor of that library, I made a promise to myself that if I survived, I would somehow find a way to write the kind of queer books that I was searching for.

Then last summer I got a message on Facebook from a reader and artist named Michelle Brennan. She and I had friends in common but had never met, never spoken. She had heard about my novel Roving Pack and read it after being diagnosed with cancer. While undergoing chemo she began an art project. Taking a shoebox and a little doll, she brought my novel to life, the way that as children in school we did “book in a box” book reports. She mailed it to me as a gift. Opening that box was overwhelming. As an author, I’m living the promise I made to myself as a homeless queer youth that someday I would write the kinds of stories that I needed. That I would write stories that I still need, which bring queer lives to life on the page. Receiving that diorama from Michelle was the ultimate confirmation that I’m doing the work I’m supposed to be doing. Queer books aren’t just important for queer youth. Queer adults need queer books. We need to see our lives, desires, bodies, relationships reflected back at us in books.

When I received Michelle’s diorama in the mail, I was in awe and immediately posted pictures of it online. So many people got excited, and began talking about the power of queer books in their own lives, the books that had inspired them to come out, and the books that inspire them today. They talked about wanting to make art in honor of these books.

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HUGH RYAN: When I was nine, a teacher took Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire away from me because it was “inappropriate.” Perhaps so, but it was also the only book I’d ever found with queer characters, even if they were immortal, immoral vampires whose lives bore no resemblance to mine in the suburbs in the early 80s. Without it, I was reduced to looking up “homosexuality” in the card catalog of my small public school library. When all that got me were books on Greco-Roman art, I looked up “sex,” which left me piecing together an understanding of my desires from a book on feline reproduction.

Thankfully, within a few years I started working after school and in the summers, and began to buy, borrow, or steal any queer book I could get my hands on. I was lucky enough to come of age in a time when there were books available. But I’ll never forget that feeling of being alone, not just in my town, but seemingly throughout space and time—so alone that there wasn’t even a book to guide me.

When I founded the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History, which is a nonprofit that helps local communities around the country develop art shows to illuminate LGBTQ history, I was primarily concerned with sharing knowledge, spreading those small bits of our history that are hard to find elsewhere. But I quickly came to realize that the act of sharing was, in and of itself, just as important as the information being shared. As adults, we rarely are given the chance to consume, analyze, and give back information on topics we love. That time is relegated (at best) to school, where queer people often don’t feel able to be open and honest. Without having the chance to look at and analyze our own culture, our own history, and the things that matter to us, we are left depending on the analyses of others, which have often portrayed queers and queerness in a negative light.

When Sassafras showed me Michelle’s diorama, I realized this was a powerful way to share important stories that resonated in queer lives, in a format that wouldn’t feel intimidating and was almost endlessly malleable. Together, Sassafras and I wrote a call inviting people to create a diorama based on a book that was meaningful to them in their development of their queer identity. The books could be anything—gay, straight, picture books, math textbooks – so long as the author could explain how it was important to them. After announcing the show, we received nearly 100 proposals from around the world‚—including Canada, South Africa, Ireland, and the Czech Republic—for dioramas that ranged from pocket-sized to life-sized, on everything from picture books to dense philosophy.

Had we not been limited by the space of the gallery, we would have included all of them! In the end, we chose proposals based on a number of criteria: the clarity of the connection between the book and the personal experience; the artistic vision presented (although not the exhibit maker’s artistic training, as we are open to individuals at all levels of skill and experience in art making); and the creation of a well-rounded final show. A few books were proposed so many times that we knew they needed to be included, such as Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, by Audre Lorde (unfortunately, the artist making this diorama had to drop out of the show at the last minute), Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran, and The Beebo Brinker Chronicles by Ann Bannon. The resulting exhibits explode what the form is or could be, and range from classic “book in a box” shoebox dioramas to translucent towers built on a lightbox.

It has been amazing to see the outpouring of inspiration expressed in the proposals we received, as well as the crucial institutional support from the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History, the Lambda Literary Foundation, MIX NYC, and the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library! In our own small way, this show is a gift to the community and an offering to all other queers who like us stood before a card catalogue or library shelf looking for belonging.

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