To All the Straight White Boys I’ve Accidentally, Temporarily and Unhealthily Loved Before

Acknowledgements
For TJ, TW, ELB, AS, JM & BP – thank u, next x

 

Oscar Wilde (1891, p.47) once wrote, ‘Life imitates art far more than Art imitates life.’ As a writer who uses their own life and personal experiences as the greatest source of inspiration for their work, I cannot say that I entirely agree with this statement. I see life and art more in the concept of a cycle. Of course my life has been greatly influenced by literature, cinema and music. I have been fascinated by many icons who I’ve been inspired to imitate in life in certain ways but when it comes to creating my own art, the only thing I am interested in imitating is the life that I have lived myself. Although I often weave cultural references throughout my work to enhance relatability with my audience, the themes that recur most frequently in my writing focus on my (often problematic) relationships with others and most significantly my relationship with myself. However, something I do share with Wilde is a fascination with how we portray our identity both in life and in art. In The Decay of Lying (1891, p.39), he writes, ‘…what is interesting about people in good society… is the mask that each one of them wears, not the reality that lies behind the mask.’ This notion of performativity and constructing an identity has had a great impact on my life and has an undoubtable large presence in my writing. I often strive to be a voice for certain marginalised groups and a voice of the generation of millennials. The witty and humorous voice I use throughout my writing to make sense of my own life has become my signature identifier, so much so that it is arguable that my writing is a performance of self as voice itself. Voice is the mask I wear when trying to imitate the reality that lies beneath. Throughout my creative portfolio I have explored these ideas in memoir and diary entries. In this project I will further explain the relationship between these ideas and my creative work, with reference to other writers and artists whose views support my own.

*

Andy Warhol is the artist who I believe shares the most similar views, intentions and experiences with myself. Warhol was one of the most infamous pioneers of the Pop Art movement that transformed the art scene in New York in the 1960s. Before the rise of Pop, Abstract Expressionism had dominated the scene for years and brought notoriety to Expressionist artists such as Jackson Pollock. Expressionist artists produced work that was viewed as an expression of intense soul searching which incorporated the use of moody colours and cathartic marks (Ingram, 2014, p.22). Warhol felt their world was very macho and in his memoir, POPism (2007), he described Pollock as a badly-behaved drunk who was very stupid and unpleasant to be around. Warhol recounted how Pollock would approach a homosexual and ask them whether they had, ‘Sucked any cocks lately?’ (2007, p.17). The robustness of the Expressionist Artists paired perfectly with their tortured, tormented art but to the new generation of artists it just seemed embarrassing. Alongside Pop artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Warhol brought art back from abstraction to reality. When discussing this movement Warhol (2007, p.1) said, ‘Pop Art took the inside and put it outside, took the outside and put it inside.’

As the son of Czechoslovakian immigrants, Warhol grew up in Pittsburgh during the post-war Depression years feeling like an outsider. When he was eight-years-old, Warhol was confined to his bed for ten weeks after being diagnosed with St Vitus’ Dance disorder. Whilst his siblings played outside, Warhol spent most of his youth in his bedroom surrounded by posters of Hollywood stars, playing with paper dolls and copying advertisements out of fashion magazines. Everyday his mother would bring him a bowl of Campbell’s soup and a bottle of Coca Cola. When reflecting on what he loved about America in his book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, Warhol (2007, pp.100-101) stated:

 ‘America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same thing as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and you just think, you can drink Coke too.’

These little things from everyday life made the secluded Warhol feel included and inspired his belief in the mythology of branding: that a simple bowl of soup or a sugary drink could bring him happiness. They made him feel like an insider and that is what Pop Art embodied.

The intensions of the Pop Artist were radical. They opposed the established rules that the Abstract Expressionists restricted the art world to with their exclusive and elitist cultural references. Pop Artists aimed to bring the fun back into the art world and lift it out of the darkness of Expressionism. Their art may not have been seen as complicated or highbrow with the requirement of previous knowledge but it was relaxed and instantaneous. Whereas Expressionists believed that the creative process was an expression of an individual artist’s inner soul, Pop Art could be created by anybody. It was a celebration of everyday modern life. In POPism, Warhol (2007, p.1) explains that, ‘The Pop Artists did images that anyone walking down Broadway could recognise in a split second.’ His art – which included brutally realistic prints of the American Dollar, Brillo pads and Marilyn Monroe – was for the ordinary man and woman. It was inclusive, raw and unedited but the Pop Art movement wasn’t well received by everybody. Warhol’s ‘leave it as it is’ attitude insulted many critics and members of the general public (Ingram, 2014, p.31). Countless people laughed at his work, they believed it was nihilistic and accused him of just copying the packaging of brands. However, those who supported Warhol believed his work to be of a natural beauty. When Warhol created his first Coca Cola canvas he made two versions: the first incorporated the use of Expressionist marks and the second was just an unadorned, outlined Coke bottle in black and white. In Popism (2007, p.6), he recounts how he showed them to his early mentor, Emile de Antonio, who stared at them and said,

“One of these is a piece of shit, simply a little bit of everything. The other is remarkable – it’s our society, it’s who we are, it’s absolutely beautiful and naked, and you ought to destroy the first one and show the other.”

*

Warhol’s ideology of creating art that is accessible and intended for the ordinary man and woman is what my writing relates to the most. At the heart of everything I have written has been the concept of reality. Although I mostly write creative non-fiction, even my fictional work is heavily influenced by my real life experiences and the people who have left an impact on me. For me, there is nothing more original than telling one’s own story. We are all individuals; no two people have the same story but as human beings we can all relate to each other even if on the smallest of levels. Through transforming my experience of reality into art, I am able to add meaning to my personal experience and suggest something about life that can be formulated in philosophical terms. Like Warhol, I believe in the ‘leave it as it is’ approach. I keep the context of my writing raw and brutally honest in hopes that I can accurately reflect what it means to be human in this modern day society. Warhol’s films, such as Sleep (1964) (which was a five hour long take of his lover sleeping), were not so much about the content being watched but the act of watching itself. With my own writing, the content of things I experience may also be seen as nothing special or trivial, but the way in which I imitate these experiences through a carefully constructed and performative voice is what I believe makes my work unique.

In his article, Judith Butler: Performativity, writer Stephen Young (2016) states that ‘ordinary language’ philosophers such as John Austin who initiated the study of performatives, ‘tend to collapse the use/meaning distinction (of words) and replace it with the notion that the meaning of a word is its use.’ This supports my view that the way in which we use words derives their meaning. Austin (1979, p.237) defined ‘performative utterance’ as ‘a speech act that creates events or relations in the world.’ Young (2016) states that Judith Butler, philosopher and gender theorist, pairs speech act theory with Michel Foucault’s notions of subject formulation ‘to explain how social agents reconstitute reality through their performance of language.’ These theories support my intentions of using voice as a performance of self in my writing in an attempt to encourage change in society.

Young (2016) states it is important to understand Butler’s notions that ‘performativity is deeply entangled with politics and legality.’ Butler during an interview with Liz Kotz (1992) states that performativity is linked to repetition, ‘very often the repetition of oppressive and painful gender norms.’ Her notion of performativity is associated mostly with her gender views but it can be applied to other construct groups that are marginalised. Like Warhol, I have experienced life as a gay man who comes from a working class background alongside low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. All of these components which make-up who I am as a person give me a sense of duty to share my voice in a way that contradicts the norms of an elitist industry that is dominated by heterosexual, middle class men. In a similar way to how Warhol uses everyday items in his art, I use an everyday voice and vocabulary in order for it to be intelligible and recognised by as many people as possible, regardless of their level of education. Austin (1979, p.243) argues that using ‘ordinary language’ in ‘non-ordinary’ ways ‘can break with discourse to engender insurrectionary potential.’ In simpler terms, I believe this means that through using ordinary language unconventionally, a writer has the potential to rebel against the social norms enforced upon society and encourage social change. This is why I write; in hope that my voice can reach other people out there who are poor, queer or struggling. The people who feel unseen and oppressed by society. My aim is to make them feel included and realistically represented, to let them know that they aren’t alone and encourage them to use their voices to challenge their oppressors too. I feel a great responsibility to use my voice on behalf of these communities as unfortunately their stories aren’t heard enough, particularly the stories of the working class.

In 2015, Paul McVeigh struggled to get his novel The Good Son published, as it told the story of a working class Catholic boy who lived in Belfast during the Northern Ireland conflict. The big publishers were put off by the working class language and McVeigh said, ‘I knew if I toned down the voice and made the book less honest and less representative of the lives of children growing up in poverty, it would have been a much easier and financially rewarding journey to publication’ (Waal, 2018). In her 2018 article for the Guardian, Make room for working class writers, Kit de Waal offers an explanation for this. She shares the findings from a 2016 paper that revealed publishing to be the least socially diverse of all the UK’s creative industries. The paper identified that people from middle class backgrounds make up 43% of the publishing industry in contrast to the 12% who come from working class backgrounds. As a result of the middle class dominating the publishing industry it is also estimated that 47% of all writers come from middle class backgrounds and only 10% grew up in the working class. Waal (2018) quotes Chirs McCrudden, a communications planner, as saying ‘Publishing is an upper middle class industry whose output caters to the upper-middle class tastes.’ Waal explains that in order for working class people’s stories to be heard they need to be told with a middle class audience in mind and confined to stereotypical stories such as the misery memoir.

*

As Warhol did with POPism (2007), I chose to share my life experiences through the genre of memoir in my creative portfolio. When writing the memoir my main focus of the piece was the discontent I felt as a child due to pressures and demands forced upon me by my parents, teachers, religion and everyday life itself. Through the writing I ironically discovered that although the depression and oppression I experience in everyday life inspires me to create art, they also leave me feeling burned out and unable to work. Warhol (2007, p.96) echoed this feeling in his book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol:

 ‘I suppose I have a really loose interpretation of “work” because I think that just being alive is so much work at something you don’t always want to do. Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery. People are working every minute. The machinery is always going. Even when you sleep.’

This interpretation is something I share completely. For me just living is a full-time job. At times I feel that I should be paid a minimum wage for just getting out of bed in the morning and brushing my teeth, overtime rates if I brush them again in the evening. My writing repeatedly reflects this dark view of reality and although I lace my signature humour and pop culture references throughout it, these often serve as a coping mechanism and distraction from the reality of my depression. I perform a light-hearted version of myself in order to protect my true self.

In his book, Not Working, psychoanalyst Josh Cohen explores the paradox created when we stop working and experience both exhaustion and an openness to creativity. As a psychoanalyst, Cohen regularly listens to patients who have become withdrawn from the world and long to feel nothing and be free from the everyday mental labour of just being alive. They will express how they don’t intend to commit suicide but would like to be dead, even if just for a while. Cohen (2018, p.4) states:

‘They suffer an all too human predicament: their impulse to live, to expand their presence in the world by participating in and contributing to it, also begets the opposite impulse, to contact and withdraw into the indifferent neutrality of a rabbit.’

Cohen uses Warhol to represent the archetype of the burnout, one of the faces of this paradox. The term ‘burnout’ was first used in in psychotherapy in 1974 by psychologist Herbert J, Freudberger to describe a state of, ‘physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress’ (Cohen, 2018, p.4). Throughout, Not Working, Cohen analyses the work of the many writers who have been influenced by the burnout paradox. In Graham Greene’s 1960 novel, A Burnt-Out Case, he compares the mental and spiritual burnout of his protagonist, Querry, with the cases or leprosy he witnesses in a leper colony. Believing he’s ‘come to the end of desire’ (Greene, 1960, p.42) he awaits death in a fatigued state of indifference, comparing his cut-off emotions to the amputated limbs of the lepers. Cohen (2018, p.5) states that, ‘…as long as he’s alive, Querry cannot ‘come to an end’. There will always be something or someone to disturb him.’ Here Cohen suggests that it is impossible to live a life of nothingness, pain and pleasure will always stir our desires. He refers to John Keats’ (1997) poem, Ode on Indolence, to express his belief that beneath the pursuits of our desires lies a yearning for their extinction. Cohen (2018, p.8) questions whether our greatest desire it to put an end to desire itself and states that this only leads to another wearisome paradox of human experience, ‘that even the wish for nothing is still a wish.’

In a brief memoir, Japanese Buddhist Kamo no Chōmei (2013) captures the paradox of the ‘desire for non-desire’ (Aulagnier, 2001, p.17).  He shares the story of a time he withdrew from all attachments and built a ten-foot-square mobile hut on Mount Hino where he lived peacefully until realized he had ironically become attached to his withdrawal. Cohen (2018, p.8) uses this example to support his argument that. ‘You can’t seek non-desire without getting caught up in the snares of desire.’ He states (2018, pp.8-9) this is why humans envy the existence of animals, without awareness they live without aims or tasks, but for humans, ‘even living without projects had to be a project’ and ‘to renounce all desires is very different from never having had any in the first place.’

During the early 1990s Saitō Tamaki, a Japanese psychiatrist was overwhelmed with requests from parents of young adults who had become chronically withdrawn. Through clinically and theoretically researching the phenomenon, Tamaki discovered an epidemic of social withdrawal or shakakiteki hikikomori which was affecting millions of people in Japan. In Tamaki’s book, Hikokomori (2013, p.48), he states, ‘In reality, they are spending their days assaulted by feelings of impatience and despair over their inability to participate in society.’  Cohen (2018, p.22) argues that the hikikomori desperately long to start again but when they fail to achieve their new beginnings they are once again:

‘…caught in the hellish non-place of the burnout, unable to attain either the peace of the zero state or the gratification of the active state…condemned to repeat the same sequence of resolving to go and not moving.’

Cohen (2018, p.23) concludes that what keeps the hikikomori condemned to this cycle is the pressure of the Japanese education system and the consumer capitalism which gives the hikikomori the illusion that they have ‘infinite possibilities’. Overwhelmed by the choice to do or be something, the hikikomori cannot accept the loss of the freedom to do or be most other things. Cohen (2018, p.23) states that, ‘The hikikomori can preserve their limitless freedom only by placing themselves in prison.’ Finally he poses the question (2018, p.23), ‘Is the culture making hikikomori of us all?’

*

The concept of the burnout can be related to the concept of biopower in the essay, Right of Death and Power over Life, by philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault. Foucault (1978, p.780) states that in the seventeenth century, power over life could be seen in two forms with one, ‘centered on the body as a machine… the optimization of its capabilities, the parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility…’ and the other ‘focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes.’ He states (1978, p.781) that this biopower, ‘had to have methods of power capable of optimizing forces, aptitudes and life in general at the same time making them more difficult to govern.’ Foucault’s concept supports my argument that the things in life that inspire me to make the most productive use of my voice in my writing are also the things that can make it more difficult to do so. Foucault (1978, p.783) adds that:

‘life more than law became the issues of political struggles… the “right” to life… to happiness … and beyond all the oppressions or “alienations”, the “right” to rediscover all that one is and all that one can be.’

 I relate this to the struggles in my own writing and life itself in the sense that I constantly feel a pressure to perform the best version of myself, as evidenced in the context of my memoir, but in reality this consistency of self is impossible to achieve. My body is not a machine and chasing this unrealistic desire is what causes me to burn out repeatedly and redirects my desire towards becoming nothingness.

Warhol too felt great frustration as the result of his desires in relation to his career, his relationships and his sexuality. In 1963, during an interview with Times magazine he said, ‘Machines have less problems, I would like to be a machine, wouldn’t you?’ (Bockris, 1998, p.163). Warhol didn’t just express his desire for the non-desire throughout his art, he performed the paradox as the very core of himself.  Writer Steven Shaviro (Ingram, 2014) suggested that Warhol’s greatest work of art was perhaps himself and the vacant persona he curated. Warhol knew the power of silence, he often referred to himself as a mirror, reflecting society back onto itself. In POPism (2007, p. 52) he expressed how he wanted to mold his life into, ‘Plastic. White-on-white’. He was fascinated by the concept of nothingness. He referred to his work, his life and himself as nothing repeatedly. In The Life and Death of Andy Warhol (Bockris, 1998, p.390), Warhol is quoted as saying, ‘Everything is nothing. From making love to making art, the most exciting this is not doing it.’ However, Cohen (2018, p.48) argues, ‘Warhol’s investment of his whole self in doing, feeling and being nothing was also an expression of his prodigious productivity’ and like the Buddhist monk Chōmei, Warhol’s manifested person and robotic neutrality was repeatedly interrupted by human desire (Cohen,2018).

In art and in life, Warhol’s principal philosophy was to take the unbearable feelings and sufferings we experience as humans, ‘pass them through the looking glass’ and turn them into an artistic embodiment of a silkscreened reality (Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film, 2006). He wanted to create something beautiful out of the ugliest parts of life in a similar way that writers had before him, such as Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey (2006). This ideology of transforming ‘garbage’ into something of value is exactly what I set out to imitate in my diary entries which are inspired by the unraveling of a relationship which triggered aspects of my own most unbearable suffering. However, it is perhaps these unhealthy relationships developed throughout life that are the most important exercises in this transformative process.

*

At the center of Warhol’s mythology was his legendary silver factory, the warehouse where Warhol made most of his art (Ingram, 2014). Warhol filled the factory with a community of artists, drag queens and musicians. Cohen (2018) suggests that these extroverted characters contrasted Warhol’s embodiment of nothingness and therefore his persona was also influenced by the creativity and emotions of the people he surrounded himself with. As Warhol’s fame increased, new and exciting artists would be drawn into the Factory where they would become the main attraction of Warhol’s attention. He would use these unknown faces in his art and make them famous, if only for a short time. This is how Warhol invented the term superstar and one of his most infamous phrases, fifteen minutes of fame. In The Philosophy (2007, p.5), Warhol refers to his superstars as the Bs to his A, “B is anybody who helps me kill time. B is anybody and I’m nobody. B and I. I need B because I can’t be alone’.

To me a superstar is any ordinary person who seemingly navigates life and the sufferings they encounter without letting themselves become completely lost in the process. This is why throughout my diary entries I repeatedly refer to characters by their full names, like Andy did with the many superstars he encountered in The Diaries of Andy Warhol (Hackett, 2010). These characters become embodiments of consistent selves that I desire to be. However, throughout the diary entries I never refer to my protagonist, based on myself, by name. The reasoning behind this anonymity was a way for me to represent my desire to be no one. Subsequently, in allowing my protagonist to be no one this allows them to become anyone. My hope was that any young gay man who reads these diary entries could relate to this tale of unrequited love on such a personal level that they could then explore themselves as the protagonist of their own story.

Warhol himself has successive relationships with his superstars which repeated the same sequence of intense bonding and infatuation and ultimately always ended with a hasty disentanglement of cold indifference and rejection. Cohen (2018, p.36) refers to these relationships as:

‘…interminable rehearsals of our most basic predicament: to love and be loved…If love promises gratification, care and protection, it also puts us at perpetual risk of exposure to indifference, neglect and cruelty.’

He believes Warhol found this double bind insufferable which led him to compulsively fluctuate between rejecting his desires and surrendering himself to them. As I document in the diary entries through the protagonists’ on-again-off-again companionship with the character TJ, I too have found this fluctuation insufferable.

*

Warhol’s most notorious muse and infamous superstar was Edie Sedgwick. Sedgwick came from an incredibly dysfunctional family: her father sexually abused her and two of her brothers committed suicide, one as the result of homophobic abuse from their father. Initially, Warhol saw a lot of himself in Sedgwick.  They both desperately desired love and attention and hid their intense vulnerability behind extravagantly manifested personas. In This is Warhol (2014), Ingram states that Sedgwick became paranoid and miserable during her time as the goddess of the Factory. When reflecting upon this Sedgwick said:

‘Everything I did was really underneath, I guess, motivated by psychological disturbances. I made a mask out of my face because I didn’t realise I was quite beautiful. God blessed me so I practically destroyed it… All those little manoeuvres I did out of things that were happening in my life that upset me…I was a good target for the scene; I blossomed into a healthy young drug addict.’ (Stein and Plimpton, 2006, p.302)

The affection and protection Warhol once offered Sedgwick soon diminished and he redirected the contempt he felt for himself towards her. In David Dalton’s (2006, p.48) biography of Edie, Edie Factory Girl, he says,

 ‘Andy wanted to be Edie, would’ve liked to have been everything she was. A beautiful aristocratic girl, someone so self-possessed that people’s heads turned when she entered the room and whom everybody loved on sight’.

Truman Capote (Dalton, 2006, p.48) said, ‘He would have liked to have been anyone but Andy Warhol.’ As Judith Butler (1991, p.959) states in her essay, Imitation and Gender Insubordination, ‘any intense emotional attachment thus divides into either wanting to have someone or wanting to be that someone, but never both at once.’ Whereas my writing has imitated my own self-destructive behaviour, Warhol captured Sedgwick’s demise through his films which subjected her to further public humiliation. In POPism (2007, p.155), he recounts the moment when Sedgwick finally confronted him and said:

‘Everybody in New York is laughing at me! I’m too embarrassed to even leave my apartment. These movies are making a complete fool out of me! Everybody knows I just stand around in them doing nothing and you film it and what kind of talent is that?’

Warhol (2007, p.156) responded, ‘But don’t you understand? These movies are art.’ Four years after parting ways with Warhol and The Factory, Sedgwick died of an overdose. Cohen (2018, p.45) reflects on her death in Not Working, and suggests that ‘her tragic end was the result of her helplessly low self-worth. Standing around and doing nothing, once the unique basis of her creative achievement had become a humiliating burden.’ At times when I am overwhelmed by the desire for non-desire, I too see my own work as a source of humiliation. The greatest hindrance I have discovered in the process of performing the self as voice is that when you lose trust in that voice it becomes impossible to use it with conviction.

*

Warhol alternated between long periods of celibacy and abrupt periods of passionate, often hopeless desire. Gerald Malanga, a frequent collaborator of Warhol described him, ‘as if he was sexless’ (Bockris, 1998, p.185). In The Philosophy (2007, p.44) Warhol wrote, ‘sex is more exciting on the screen and between the pages than between the sheets anyway…Personal love and personal sex is bad.’ Cohen suggests that to love someone personally would contradict Warhol’s robotic neutrality.  As Brockis (1998 p.93), expressed, ‘Andy was frightened of going to sleep alone but was unable to sleep with anyone else.’

When Warhol did seek out love he would chase the unattainable. In the 1950’s, he fell in love with several beautiful, inaccessible men including socialite Charles Lisanby. He lavished Lisanby with extravagant gifts but he was only ever offered companionship in return, not sex. When Lisanby took up a female lover, Warhol was enraged. In The Philosophy (2007) he alludes to this meltdown as triggering his desire for indifference. As Cohen (2018, p.41) puts it, ‘Measuring himself hopelessly against the ideals of male beauty everywhere surrounding him and conducting serial affairs which culminated in his painful rejection, he became more morose and resentful.’

Like Warhol, I see the loss of the relationship that inspired the one imitated in my diary entries as perhaps one of the most significant triggers for my desire to hide behind the mask of voice. The pain of rejection I experienced created an unforgettable sense of not being enough that has haunted me ever since. When I lost this companionship, I felt as though I had lost myself. However, Butler (1991, p.900) argues that, ‘…the self only becomes a self on the condition that it has suffered a separation, a loss which is suspended and provisionally resolved through a melancholic incorporation of some other.’ Perhaps the loss of this relationship didn’t erase who I was, it in fact helped me to define who I was. For better and for worse, this experience shaped the person I am today and most importantly it forced me to confront the idea of accepting myself as a transgender woman currently serving a sentence in the body of a gay man. This loss of love didn’t kill me. As the protagonist in the diary entries discovers when he wakes up the morning after a potential drug overdose, clutching a lighter that he believed signified his life or death, I survived.

*

‘We are in a society of ‘sex’,’ Foucault (1978, p.784) states in The Right of Death and Power over life. In this society the mechanisms of power speak, ‘of sexuality and to sexuality; the latter was not a mark or a symbol, it was an object and a target’ (1978, p.785). Foucault goes on to add that sexuality became, ‘the stamp of individuality’ (1978, p.784). In Imitation and Gender Insubordination, Butler (1991, p.955) states that as young queer people we are told that who we are ‘is a copy, an imitation, a derivative example, a shadow of the real.’ Butler argues that heterosexuality, ‘sets itself up as the original, the true, the authentic; the norm that determines the real’ (1991, p.955) which implies that homosexuality is merely an imitation which we hopelessly attempt to realise in order to participate in the ‘phantasmatic plenitude of naturalized heterosexuality’ which will only ever lead us to failure. Butler (1991) argues that the idea of heterosexuality as the ‘normal self’ consigns ‘gay life to discursive domains of unreality and unthinkability’ (p.957) and that ‘acting out of line with heterosexual norms brings with it ostracism, punishment and violence’ (p.958). The views of these two theorists reconfirmed the exact purpose of my writing. For as long I can recall, societal norms have consistently led me to believe that I am unnatural, that I am ‘wrong’; a mistake of a human that is not supposed to be here. The most powerful tool I can use to rebel against this idea is my voice, to make myself heard in my own words and to take control of how I am portrayed. My voice allows me to regain the power of my identity, to overpower the noise of society dictating who I am and permits me to speak for myself. As Butler (1991, p.969) puts it, ‘identification and desire can coexist.’ Who I am and what I want are both valid. My voice is valid. My self is inconsistent and unfinished but it is real.

To return to the argument of whether art imitates life more than life imitates art, I still do not have a definitive answer for that question. What I do know is that I have lived a life that I deem worthy of documenting. My life has been complicated, I’ve experienced a lot of loss and great sadness but also a lot of love and great joy. The imitation of my life in my art may be quite sombre but what I hope it shows and helps me to achieve is a sense that I am doing something productive and worthwhile with my life. That everything I have experienced: good, bad and otherwise has been for a purpose. And at the end of life itself, beneath all the humour, pop culture references and the voice, all I really want to be able to say is that my life had meaning. That it wasn’t all for nothing, that I wasn’t nothing. To me, the greatest form of art is life itself.

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