Tonight, I hoped to share with you art.
I wanted to tell you about the luminous Rothko’s I saw at the Phillips After Five event a few days ago, of how I stood in a small room, taking in vast, unyielding color fields, and how only such masterfully derived swatches could make me weep; the canvasses so maddeningly spare, and what they could’ve meant.
In the Rothko room, I was forced to confront emotions through and by color. I was entirely alone with my thoughts and Rothko’s considerations. I lingered over Orange and Red on Red, and it made me think of the sunniest parts of myself. Of sadnesses overcome, of bright days spent under dappled sunlight in an orchard in October. Of bushels of harvest apples, of fields of happy pumpkins. Of the joy, the unbridled levity that stirs in me when I look at my lover’s gentle face.
All this, from a room. From color.
From the curator of the Rothko Room, Duncan Phillips himself:
“What we recall are not memories but old emotions disturbed or resolved—some sense of well being suddenly shadowed by a cloud—yellow ochres strangely suffused with a drift of gray prevailing over an ambience of rose or the fire diminishing into a glow of embers, or the light when the night descends.” (1957)
Later, I snuck into the William Merritt Chase exhibit with my girlfriends, peeked at the paintings for next month’s show: dreamy American landscapes, women draped in white frocks, American Impressionism at its absolute height. Stolen glances of paintings feel more special, as though I’ve taken part of a happy secret, somehow.
I left the gallery and felt understood, and sated, and light.
Tonight, I wanted to write about the incredibly charming and hilarious feminist work I read last month. Lindy West’s memoir Shrill, among so many things, smartly articulated my fears and hopes about body image and how women move through the world.
“My body, I realized, was an opportunity. It was political. It moved the world just by existing. What a gift.”
I find that tonight (re: Brock Turner, American rape culture) her words are ever poignant. West writes in her essay, “It’s About Free Speech, It’s Not About Hating Women”:
“There is nothing novel or comedic or righteous about men using the threat of sexual violence to control noncompliant women. This is how society has always functioned. Stay indoors, women. Stay safe. Stay quiet. Stay in the kitchen. Stay pregnant. Stay out of the world.”
Tonight, I too want to stay out of the world.
This piece was once meant to be a review of beautiful things, artifacts I had been savoring and was thrilled to share, rarified materials that had given me life and light. May was a month of art for me. As I’ve been staggering into June, my heart is too heavy to review them. I am heaving, grieving.
I cannot hold my tongue.
At first, it was the Brock Turner rape case that broke me.
Like the rest of you, I watched tearfully as my little corner of social media was flooded with stark images of a privileged white college student and his family’s attempts to justify his criminal actions. I witnessed the justice system continue to perpetuate an insidious rape culture. I read Turner’s survivor’s powerful letter, addressing the injustices of his petty sentence, and detailing how she awoke from her rape with pine needles woven into her hair, and a body she wished she could take off like a jacket.
Like other survivors of sexual assault around the world, this week I was forced to remember the darkest moments I had lived. I had to confront the cruelest colors of my mind– memories I had left alone in a room, years ago. Again and again, with every Facebook post, with every derisive comment by a rape apologist, by every new update of Turner’s case– I, we, women– were forced to remember.
Unsure of how to articulate our grief and frustration, the staff at Bo(she)mia leant on dear friend Taylor, who wrote an article, On Permanence. Taylor wrote fiercely about her rape, about the enduring suffering of those who live on after their attack. I cannot think of anything braver than what she shared with us this week.
[I shared Taylor’s story because she fearlessly wrote words that I will likely never share myself. Because it is terrifying to expose the darkest parts of your life, of things that give you nightmares ten years later, of insidious flashbacks that interrupt a soft kiss from someone who makes you feel like magic– memories that turns his magic to dry dust in your mouth.]
I thought of how this woman, the survivor of the Stanford rape, had to watch her rapist be granted the most dainty of prison sentences. I think of my girlfriends, of some of the most precious people to me in this world, who had to live on the same college campuses with their assailants. I think, too, of how I lived in the same community, for years, in the proximity of my rapist, who continues to live without consequence. I think of how many other women live so quietly, timidly, their families and friends unknowing that they too had suffered. This is the current state of American rape culture.
I woke up this morning at 6am, screaming. I dreamt of a mass shooting, three times. Hours earlier, unknown still to the world, was the massacre in Pulse nightclub, in Orlando, Florida. It was the night that LGBT communities across America danced and sang and kissed and embraced each other, celebrating how far we have come in cultivating tolerance. And then Omar Mateen murdered 50 people and injured 53 in what is now described as the largest mass shooting in American history.
How insanely violent, how unjustly inhumane, to slaughter en masse, during a night of levity and joy. The queer community is aching, broken. My dreams rattled me, and the actual news report brought me to my knees.
These events reminds us that our LGBT community is incredibly vulnerable. Our women are incredibly vulnerable. The human rights atrocities committed this week alone in America reveal this shaking vulnerability, as if we didn’t already know, as if we weren’t already keenly aware of the fear that marginalized communities live in every day.
I stayed in from the Pride celebrations yesterday, while my friends danced and wore beautiful rainbows painted on their cheeks. I thought to myself, “I am not ready.” I thought, next year, maybe. To many, my queerness is erased by my heteronormative relationship. I have had the luxury of living as a queer woman without fear, during an era of relative acceptance. That fearlessness has been stripped away from me, maybe from all of us this morning.
The world is incredibly complex, and at times it feels like we are hardly getting by.
How can we turn these horrific events into impetus for change? How can we unite frightened, disenfranchised people across a seemingly impassible gulf? I don’t want women to be afraid. I don’t want the LGBT community to live in fear. But it is so fucking hard when we and the places that we call sanctuary are literally fired upon.
Art can be our safehaven, our retreat from the cruelties of the real world, but it is absolutely imperative that we create shared, tangible spaces of community. There have to be safe spaces for us to exist. How else can we encourage each other, embrace each other, love each other? Community is the only way we can move forward. We have to try and try and try. We have to be better.
Bo(she)mia is here to curate and share your words with the world. Let us be your community. Share your stories, your poems, your late-night thoughts, your nightmares, your hopes for a brighter, more tolerant world. Let us be your platform, your safe place. With our words, we are worldbuilders of somewhere we want to belong.
There are people who you have never met who will inspired by you.
We have been coming together for two months now, and it is more crucial than ever that we continue our work.
With all my heart,