|credit: Jon Nalley, Social + Diarist|
Last Sunday at the “Pre-Tax” Benefit for ACT UP at Dixon Place, artist Ariel "Speedwagon" Federow performed a Thank You Card of sorts we want to share.
People like me - young gays and artists from other places - move to New York to find more. We move here for something else, something bigger and brighter and braver, for something meaner, for something that is going to make us say what we want and go after it. We move here because this is where here is and because New York is where people like me come to finally fit. New York is where big dreamers from other places come to learn the words for the things we feel.
At the core of that longing and idealizing of New York is a desire for a home. Home is not just about showing up and putting your things down in a room. Home is about entering into a context that stretches before and after you like a river. This is what we want when we come here. We want to know we are not the only one, and more than that, to know that we are part of something larger. New York is where heroes live. They have been doing anything you can think of, and they have been doing it for decades. They are really good at it. If you’re lucky, you can start to learn by watching.
If you come to New York, and if you start doing what you're here to do, sooner or later you are going to intersect with people whose existence as a hero in your imagination far precedes them as actual people.. You will run into the novelist whose books told you your own story. You will run into the photographer whose photographs taught you to see. You will meet your hero. And you will try to maintain your newly acquired, nonchalant New Yorker poise. But there will be a moment - an internal exultation - of saying this is why I am here. This is where I am supposed to be. And you will learn, little by little, that these people are people, not just heroic objects. Some of them are douchey, some of them are kind, some of them are sober, some of them aren't sober any longer, some of them are curious, some of them are jaded. This is how you begin to understand the implications of who you want to be.
In dealing with your idols as people—actual people—you learn they are the same kind of human you are. The richness and magic of our community is: people exist, people like you, people you can look to for wisdom, noodles, a kind word, or a slap in the face. They can help you get up and keep you moving. This is why we came here: to find others who better than we are, and learn from them so we can be better too. These are our elders.
Now, as a young homosexual, it is impossible for me to think of these elders without thinking about all of the people who died because of AIDS, who I never got to meet and who never got to become someone whose name I would know. All of the people who died—the geniuses, the geniuses to be, the not genius but really nice people, the not genius but really mean people—exist to me as legends, ideas or information.
There is no way to talk about gay elders without exposing the gaping hole, the giant abyss, the sea of tragedy, the wall of names that isn't even on an actual wall yet. It is impossible to think about this without the weight of the dead on my shoulders. So many connections that could have been and never got to be, gone because of a government's criminal neglect and a societal willingness to let the queers (and others) die.
Listing the martyrs is so easy. They are static and behind us. It is harder to engage with the people who are here not as myths but as complicated realities. I want to honor the people who I have learned from, whose cigarettes I have smoked, ideas I have wrestled with, and work I have seen. These people are here, and exist despite a tragedy the depth of which I feel almost disrespectful trying to talk about. I can't imagine the world as it might have been if all of those people did not die. Instead I have the people who lived, who got kicked down into the literal shit of the people they loved, and got up and didn't just keep walking but kicked back. I don't want to idolize them, or romanticize them, or write them into legend because better than romance is offering respect. Instead of a myth, I want to write a thank-you note.
Thank you for being the people we found when we got here.
Thank you for continuing forward.
Thank you for being our heroes.
Thank you for letting us eat your noodles, smoke your cigarettes, and buy you drinks.
Thank you for telling us when we are wrong.
Thank you for admitting when you are wrong.
Thank you for showing us how to survive.
|credit: Yi Ching Lin|
Ariel "Speedwagon" Federow is a performance artist, activist, and storyteller who lives in Brooklyn, NY. www.arielspeedwagon.com