By Angela Lemus-Mogrovejo
As I sat down to write this new piece, I wondered for a long time what I might say that would affect people the most. I’ve written about abuse, about suicide, and in general about what I think we as people in the US need to imagine as an alternative to the current administration. I could honestly spend hours and pages writing about any one of these topics.
But I now find myself thinking about something more basic, something essential to why I spend time doing the writing I do in the format that I do. In other words, why do I bother to write at all for an online publication devoted namely to QTPOC artists and writers when I could just not bother? Why such a specific group and why not organizing or other activist work?
Maybe more fundamentally, what use does this writing or any other art have in the face of an administration that is actively working to kill off so many groups of people I share identity with?
I thought about this for a while (as I tend to do) and found myself returning to a conversation I had with my mother just yesterday. In that conversation, two distinct threads stood out for me that bear relevance to this conversation. The first is the current administration’s plans to defund the National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities. The second is the administration’s plan to discontinue federal guidance allowing trans students to use locker rooms and bathrooms that match their gender identity.
On the surface, these two threads are not connected whatsoever. More importantly, they might appear to have no relevance to why I would even bother to write pieces such as this one for such a specific online, QTPOC publication.
So, why do I bring them up?
It is because I think there is a story here that unites these conversations and speaks to what we think of creativity overall, especially for those who are disabled, queer, trans, brown/black, or all of the above. And I think telling this story starts with acknowledging how much capitalism affects our creative mindsets, particularly for those of us attempting to organize against what this fucked up world throws against us.
For better or for worse, I tend to believe in every individual’s capacity for creative expression. Not necessarily because everyone can act, paint, play music, write, or sculpt a work of art but because everyone is capable of inspiring one another. I genuinely believe that at the core of every one of us is a spring of inspiration waiting to burst out if given the chance. The best art for me comes from the everyday lives each and every one of us experiences, from the life conditions we are forced to deal and make do with out of necessity. Whether these conditions are positive or negative, art comes from navigating them as need be, more often than not alongside others who face our same conditions.
In fact, the story of art and creativity in the public imagination more likely speaks of struggle and competition than it does collaboration and shared creative expression.
Of masterful artists spending hours upon hours to create one illustrious piece to share with an adoring crowd of elite fans.
Of poets having one set aside space in which they sip coffee and emotionally pour out words to touch the souls of rich, similarly positioned writers.
Of sculptors having a plethora of resources on hand to craft their very souls, the very core of their beings into self-absorbed pieces for others to consume in order to have the pretense of appearing cultured.
As much as these images may seem to exaggerate, they are not far off from how frivolous most people tend to conceptualize art, and by extension art’s laborers, to be.
And not all of the blame should fall on the general public for why this happens to be the case. A substantial portion of funding in the United States for the performance arts comes from private donations, with the rest being derived from generated income or interest from endowments. As time passes and more and more social programs are cut, capitalism appears to be reorganizing to meet people’s needs for material and emotional fulfillment by adding more and more creative works which people can buy to fill the gaps in their lives. Rather than treat art and creativity as a means of creating new worlds together, capitalism envisions creative works as testaments to individuality, devoid of any influence from or care for others. As a result, art and creativity become a means to prove one’s status in the world,which is more often than not one’s economic position in the social hierarchy.
In an era where we find ourselves facing direct threats to our lives, such as deportation, lack of accessible healthcare, and a lack of safe access to even bathrooms, one would be hard pressed to find a reason for why art and creativity should be valued. More importantly, one would not be mistaken for believing that art is a luxury reserved for the “moneyed elite,” for those who are capable of prioritizing “greater profit for the few.”
But I think this view, while understandable under current conditions, is misplaced.
Or rather, I think the problem of why so much creativity under the current regime is privatized says more about our politics than it does about any one person’s view on art or creative expression.
Because, first and foremost, we cannot have art without material conditions, whether those be of people struggling to make ends meet, those of the fantastically wealthy elite, or those of people somewhere in the middle. Art, and the creative expression which stems from it, can never be outside of these conditions. In other words, as ridiculous as the labor which those individuals I mentioned in my earlier examples sounds, the fact remains that it is still labor.
Art, and by extension creativity/creative expression, is work and, more importantly, it is the kind of work by which people recreate themselves and imagine new futures, work which “make[s] the world go ‘round.” Treating it as otherwise denies just how much goes into the process of collectively imagining not only what new forms of art can exist but also what new worlds can be created in the process.
So, as I stated earlier, one might be inclined to ask what any of this has to do with bathroom bills and arts funding, even more so when it comes to why I write for disabled QTPOC in an online publication. What could creativity and art possibly mean for people who are already faced with so much in the everyday?
I think the simplest answer to this has to do with new futures. Or rather, what the process of imagining new futures for disabled QTPOC looks like.
If we take seriously the idea that organizing against Trump, capitalism, or any system of oppression is a matter of offering an alternative to the world we have now, then I ardently believe art and creativity must be part of this struggle. Art must be at the forefront of our concerns for liberation and freedom from the world we live in now.
Because art and creative expression are terrains of struggle.
Art and creative expression are a means by which groups of people recreate their worlds and, more importantly, create the new worlds yet to be. To imagine new worlds is to speak of creativity yet unrealized, of fighting for conditions of equality and autonomy where people can imagine a better world than the world we find ourselves in now.
If we follow disability justice writer Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha and imagine art and creativity as an alternative form of activism beyond the inaccessible drudge of 20 mile marches, and other actions that only the non-disabled can take part in, then we open up a whole world of possibility for those of us most affected.
We offer the possibility that even those most lacking in resources can have a part in creating a better world.
We offer the possibility that even trans youth who are now being told that a bathroom is too much of a luxury for them to enjoy can fight with their creative voices, as quiet and as fragile as they might feel they are.
We offer the possibility of caring and showing care for those most affected beyond our own elitist conceptions of activist work, of extending compassion to those not able to indulge in “limited ideas of political participation,” as disabled QTPOC artist Kay Ulanday Barrett puts it.
Taking art and creativity seriously as collaborative sites of struggle, rather than simply individual productions of luxury for the elite, means we offer more ways to express our collective need for better worlds.
Why do I bother to write at all for a QTPOC online publication when such musings seem rather frivolous in comparison to the overall needs of trans youth and others facing the oncoming tide of hatred?
Because I don’t find these things to be frivolous.
I don’t think it is frivolous to tell trans youth they deserve to exist without fear in the world.
I don’t think it is frivolous to remind disabled QTPOC that not only do they matter in this world as brownie points for allies but because their voices have and will always shape the worlds soon to be.
I don’t think it is frivolous to tell QTPOC artists that their work is legitimate, and, rather than being an addendum to real activism, can be at the very center of activism’s core processes.
At the end of the day, I am a writer who knows that art and creativity have the power to shake the world we live in now, as well as craft the better worlds we seek in the future.
Laurie Penny writes that much of modern life is “traumatic, unbearable, and profoundly frightening” and yet possesses the dangerous quality that it might not have to be this way.
I cannot help but think she was describing the general state of disabled QTPOC lives and the grief so many of us bear in them. We hold so much inside that it hurts to exist sometimes.
But new futures and worlds are possible.
Wonderful, creative, artistic worlds full of flourishing disabled, QTPOC lives.
And disabled QTPOC deserve to have a hand in imagining just what those futures and worlds might be.