I have always known my presence to make others uncomfortable. From the length of my hair, the effeminate sound of my voice to the way I interact with people, my aesthetic is and always has been queer. From the length of my hair and how long it is, to the way that I walks, talk and interact with people, my aesthetics tells others that I don’t conform to elements of the binary. As queer/trans people of color, learning to love your aesthetic can be difficult being that the queer aesthetic is often not widely accepted. While the journey to accepting my own queer aesthetic was not easy, learning to love your aesthetic is not only revolutionary, but an act of persistence and resistance.
First, in order to understand how and why the QTPOC aesthetic is a form of resistance, we have to acknowledge the history of said concept. The idea of the queer aesthetic (pdf) became widely popular in the early 1980’s, though had been present in culture since the early 1960’s. The term referenced LGBTQ art or imagery that was based on gender and identity politics, specifically when thinking about the history of stonewall and the pride movement. The aesthetic began alluding to the representation of LGBTQ individuals and the history of the struggles that the community faced in relation to the feminist movement and the early AIDS crisis.
As time progressed, the idea of having a queer aesthetic took on a negative connotation. Being an easy target, QTPOC individuals became the focal point in which the aesthetic began to center on the intersections of one's identity, specifically thinking about the ways race, gender and sexuality could be vilified. The referencing of one's QTPOC aesthetic was done in an apathetic way in which their bodies, choices and their histories were demeaned and often times overlooked.
The negating of QTPOC aesthetics began with activist like Bayard Rustin, when in 1960 Bayard was challenged to negotiate how much his sexuality could be a part of his work in activism. On several occasions, Bayard was arrested and charged as a “deviant” because of his sexuality, keeping him from being at the forefront of pivotal moments that shaped what we now know as the civil rights movement. For folks like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the war on aesthetics began shortly after stonewall when folks from the trans community began to note that both Marsha and Sylvia did not “pass” for trans women, marking them as individuals who were not walking in their full authentic truth.
Now more than ever, the aesthetic for QTPOC is often centered on the limitations forced upon them by white-eurocentric colonization. From hair, to clothing or simply down to the way QTPOC interact and engage with one another, the QTPOC aesthetic is one that is often centered on dismantling what can be now known as identity politics.
Knowing and understanding that the personal is in fact political, it can be said that the QTPOC aesthetic is one that often presents space for critical questioning of the relationship between race and sexuality and how society perceives QTPOC identity. We see this when giving attention to Tituss Burgess and his role as Tidus Andromedon on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, where we see his style of dress, often opulent and flashy, while using his humor to center him as a queer Black man. Or Alok Vaid-Menon who use both their style of dress and makeup to make a political statement about gender and what we think about gender roles. Big Freedia is a great example of the queer aesthetic, knowing that they use both speech, music and style to represent their queer identity. The queer aesthetic is about often about creating a persona and reminding others that our existence is in fact, resistance.
This is especially important when thinking about anti-blackness and the ways that Black queerness is erased from the LGBTQ community as a whole. When we center QTPOC aesthetic as a form of resistance, we are in fact challenging the definition of what it means to live at the margins of gender, racial and sexual identity.
It should be noted that for QTPOC individuals who choose to embraced their queer aesthetic unapologetically, while not explicit, are using it as a form of political warfare. By doing so you are now pushing the boundaries of what it means to be in fact queer and a person of color. You are challenging what it means to exist in a world that was never built for you while forcing others to challenge respectability politics.
Being that popular culture tells us that it is wrong to be both queer and a person of color, embracing your aesthetic now becomes about the resiliency and visibility of QTPOC individuals. When a person decides to stand fully in the intersections of their identity, they are allowing themselves to not only walk in truth, but to stand firm in an image that is often not present in this country. Embracing the QTPOC aesthetic mean you get to fully stand in your full self, being able to decide who you and what you stand for.
In all, using the QTPOC aesthetic as resistance means telling the world that they have to engage with you and not just tolerate the idea of your existence. The QTPOC aesthetic in itself is oppositional and allows for you to decide who you truly are and how you want the world to see you. By embracing all elements of who you are, you are in fact telling the world that your intersectional existence matters and that it can not and will not be erased.
Tell us how we're doing in our Fall 2017 Community Survey (it takes just 3 minutes!).
If you like what we're doing, visit our Donate page to support this space for the QTPoC Community.