A Modern Queer Renaissance
NYC is full of LGBTQ+ creatives that make the industry and art scene what it is. These are the people that are photographed when stunting a look on the street; have their words retold from one media to another; hear their names at local venue shoutouts.
Sharing experiences from different backgrounds, promoting community support, and encouraging self love, these artists express their values through their work and bring what matters most to the forefront. Today we honor the stories, livelihoods, ideas, and dreams of eight different queer artists that are at the forefront of a true modern Renaissance. Each person featured here is a multidisciplinary artist, influential not only in their work but in the way that they affect the people around them.
How would you describe your art process?
I’m very connected to my psychic realm, I guess. Sometimes I like go crazy and record everything that happens to me at that point and listen to it later. Like, ok, this is a real thing now. Physicalizing it helps.
What is the most rewarding work that you feel like you’ve done so far?
I made this performance installation called “sentiment linens” and it started out like the sentimentality of objects and how you can look at an object and see a whole past with that object and think of someone you loved. So I made this piece with my friend Julissa, Tristen, and Darma. We just composed original music to it and created this dance that felt very easy. I think doing contact improv with another queer, brown person in pubic felt really good because it just felt like sentimental love was happening. Even if our relationship in real life was not romantic, it just felt very beautiful to touch someone and to be really soft. Creating something and an energy in the room that everyone could identify with no matter what they identified as. I remember at the end of the piece I felt really good and I was breathing and everyone was connected. The energy was so nice and at the end people were coming up to me and crying and telling me “that was the most beautiful thing I have seen in a really long time” and went home after that because they couldn’t take in any more art. That made me feel that I did a really great job and also like people could connect to this abstract thought that I was having with sheets and feathers and soft things. Soft things while being soft. To be able to do that felt very important to me.
What is something you are working on now that you are excited to put out into the world?
I’m working on this zine that’s about ambiguity and androgyny because I’m interested in how people see my body right now, obviously. I went to this naked drawing party and everyone there was a cis woman except me, which was interesting to see how they interpreted my body and wanted to celebrate my body in all the ways that I didn’t want to be celebrated. Seeing what things people really zoned in on and accentuated was interesting. Like this one woman drew diamonds on my nipples and I was like, “What?!? Are you doing?” In that same exact week I went to the Door which is where I go to therapy and this boy was like “What is your race?”. I’m half black half Mexican and he’s black and it made me really sad that he didn’t know I was black. He was like, “Are you LatinX? Are you….?? I’m getting a lot of different vibes.” That’s fair but it’s just a big wake up to realize that people don’t know what they are seeing when they look at me because I don’t exist within one thing and people don’t know how to categorize me. So I’m interested in other people like that. Holding the viewer accountable for trying to guess what somebody is because I think that’s stupid that we project identities onto bodies. So I’m making a zine about that. I’m also writing a new album right now and I’m interested in what people want me to be as a performer but corresponding to my identity and how I perform my identity. Because recently a lot of people have been like “You have the potential to be just like Solange or FKA Twigs” and I’m like those are just light skinned black women and I’m trans. My music is a different entity from theirs so having people wanting me to be that really freaked me out. Why can’t I be Frankie Consent? You know? So I’m trying to hold the audience accountable in that as well. I wrote this one song where I’m screaming and then doing gospel riffs and then back to screaming and I performed it at Powerplant a week ago and it was really cool! People didn’t know what to do and I like confusing people a lot now. So that’s what my work is about now. Holding my audiences accountable in my art because they want me to be something that I’m not.
What do you do that makes you feel successful?
A few things, I try when I do tasks or things that I need to do I try and remind myself how I finish them. Sometimes I mark them off but a lot of times I don’t get around doing that. Yesterday I just wrote down things I did for myself for today. Like: I nourished my body today, I ate some food, I went to work so I made some money. So that’s on like a smaller level of reminding myself of things that I’ve completed but I guess what I believe is success is for me to be physically and mentally healthy. That whatever I put out in the world artistically that I can do that fully. That I’m not making things for other people that I’m making things for myself. Ultimately that inspires people and can be relatable to other black people and other people of color. I also want to have money for my people and I want to provide for them. In Chicago there are so many small organizations that if they had a little bit of money they could do so much with it. Capitalism just doesn’t allow people to live their best lives.
I’m also bipolar but I think that being mixed has something to do with that because I always felt in the middle and not white enough or black enough or anything. I always felt like this imposter with myself and in my community and I feel like somehow that’s related to being bipolar. It’s like a shifting self and having all these selves in one person.
Do you think that influences the way you work as an artist?
I feel like modeling to me isn’t about branding or necessarily clothes at all. I see it as a performance and for me to change into different characters and a lot of modeling that I’ve done has enabled me to have a lot of artistic control. I’ve been able to do a bit of styling and some makeup, some directing.. It is about style and clothes but for me it’s being able to move my body and contort my body in so many different ways that it’s like a performance. The clothes are a piece of art and I’m molding into that. I’ve worked with photographers that will move you, which is stupid. Don’t touch me. Without even saying anything like, “Can I move your hand?” In terms of acting, I’ve done visual acting where there is no dialogue. I worked on a film with other Chicago artists on a really difficult time where I found out that I was bipolar. So the film goes through stages and transitions when you are feeling manic and depressed and it’s a fashion film. Each costume is a different mood and I want to work on more acting with dialogue. I feel like New York is a space where I can do that and flourish.
What do you personally identify as?
I identify as queer. I’m continuously changing my mind and changing my mind. I feel like gender is so complicated. And sexuality. And all these different things. I feel like I don’t own my sexuality, I don’t own my identity, and everyone else does. Even in queer communities I feel like I don’t own myself. Everyday I work towards owning myself and gaining back this power that is taken from me everyday. I don’t want to have to explain myself for my actions. I want to be able to coexist.
What do you want to put out into the world? What type of work will make you feel satisfied at the end of the day?
For me to gain back some of this power and empower myself. In doing that, will definitely empower other people. Other crazy people that are just struggling. I want them to be able to connect to my own experiences and to know that their experiences are the truth. Whatever they are feeling, whatever they are going through, that’s theirs. They don’t have to prove anything. I also want to do work that makes me feel satisfied. I don’t know if I will ever be satisfied. I feel like that’s hard. Also, I’ve been thinking about success recently and I feel like that’s not *sigh*. I mean that’s something that will happen! Like I will be at a point that I will be content in my own work and worth and my art will be something I feel satisfied. Something good I can show other people. There’s writings and drawings that I don’t feel ready to put out but I do feel like there would be a point where I would be content. But I’m also very proud of myself for the things that I have done. And I know that it will just continue. I’m in this headspace where I know the work that I’m putting in will push me to things and the place that I want to be.
Saint the Sinner (they/them)
What would you say to artists out there that are trying to do art for themself?
Don’t hold back. Don’t limit yourself. It’s going to be hard, people are going to critique you, but in the end it’s your work and you should be really proud about that. Let your creativity flow! In the end, it benefits you a lot more. If you hold back and let other people decide what you create it’s only going to hurt you in the long run. Specifically with me, I was so afraid to share anything on social media. I lived in fear for so long. If I could say one thing to anything, even myself, it’s to don’t be afraid, break those boundaries, and just go for it because that’s when you make the most meaningful work.
What is work that makes you happy?
When I’m most vulnerable. My work in drag and with photography and performance art is incredibly vulnerable and I put a lot of my emotion into it. I’ve been through so much. The only way I overcome things is through my work. Whether that be through my drag persona, Saint, or me taking a portrait of myself crying. I think that’s when I feel happiest and most proud. I believe it to be most powerful. With my work I hope to impact someone in a positive light and for them to have a deeper understanding of mental health, queerness, and identity. I ask questions in my work and that’s important. I’m trying to figure out who I am and what I am going through. Also trying to overcome a lot of obstacles in my work and that feels really good. That’s when I’m the happiest with it.
Talk a little bit about your bio and what that means.
“I love Jesus but I’ve learned a lot from Satan.” is the basis of what I go off of. I do love Jesus but I’ve learned a lot through pain and suffering which is essentially what Satan is. That negativity. That you can turn into something positive. It’s great to be positive and a great thing to push for but it’s important to acknowledge when you are hurting because those feelings are just as valid. We have these emotions for a reason and we can learn from them and grow from them. I was assaulted last year and I struggled for a really really long time. I wouldn’t be doing drag, or at least I don’t think I would right now. I don’t think Saint would have been born. She came at a time when I really needed her. When I was so so down.
Would you say she’s like a guardian angel?
Yes, absolutely. 100 percent It’s a little cheesy and I feel like everyone says this, but drag literally saved my life. She told me at my lowest that I am going to put on a smile and I’m going to walk into a space with so much confidence. People are going to look at me not because I’m weird or because there is something wrong with me but it’s because I look amazing and I have this confidence and they love that and they gravitate towards that. I had so much confidence on stage and I was able to apply that to my day to day life as Anthony.
Luna Paradise (they/them, she/her)
What would you personally describe your work as?
A beautiful storm, a lovely little glittery disaster. Especially living in the city, I never have the time to fully produce what I dreamed but not just because of the city but because my dreams are wildly unattainable at times. The time, the money, everything. What I end up presenting is this rough, abstract sketch of some kind of fantasy.
I feel like you can get the most authentic content that way.
Yeah, I accepted it for that reason.
How would you say your identity is channeled through your work or that your work helps you connect to your identity?
For obvious reasons, my drag has always been super linked to my gender identity. Whether I knew it or not. Before I recognized and came out as trans, I used to be a very mainstream drag queen that was super uber feminized. Ridiculous shows of femininity because that is what I needed at the time. Now I am coming into my skin and I feel very comfortable as a transfemme creature. I don’t feel necessarily like I defeminized but I androgynized it while bringing other artforms like my music into the mix.
Whatever you want to bring into the space.
What nights that you perform do you feel like you connect to your higher self?
One of the regular parties I do is this karaoke party at the Rosemont every Monday night for the past few months. It is by far the best experience I’ve had doing drag, just because it’s not really about me anymore but it’s about giving up the stage to people that never get to have that experience to perform. Just watching some of the people who first came to the show quiet and shy little beings and watching them blossom has been one of the most gratifying things ever. I’m very thankful to have performed as much as I have. It’s really important to have everyone have that experience. As far as my higher self goes, I feel it connected to other people.
Would you say that all these mediums have made you feel sound and reassured, like a warm blanket?
Definitely, all the mediums that I’ve been employing have been to make sense of a world that is truly nonsensical right now. Which is chill. But not necessarily the most healthy. Escapism is absolutely how I would define my creations. Very much in line with my pisces nature.
What is your ultimate goal in the end of the day to feel?
I have done, seen, or been a part of something different and I have not only left my mark upon that scene, individual, or group of individuals but also have allowed that scene to leave their mark upon me
What would you call yourself?
I call myself a “Dom-median” because I’m a dominatrix and a comedian and the two really go hand in hand with each other. I get a lot of material from my dom work and I bring into my comedian work. I’m also a writer, I published a memoir when I was in college. Having creative outlets keep me sane and keep me going.
How are you able to juggle all of those?
It’s hard, especially because I have depression and it’s been pretty bad. She strong this year!! I haven’t drawn in months. The way I’m able to get myself out of that hole is just to do something. I’ll throw myself in one of my creative outlets. They save me in the end. I find a balance in all of them because they are so ingrained in my being. My dom persona doesn’t just stay in a session. They all come out in a way that I’m really grateful for. If I never found dom work, I wouldn’t be where I am today. By doing that work I was able to regain confidence I never had before. I was able to reclaim my body. I have depression, ptsd, anxiety, the whole trifecta. The holy trinity. I don’t balance my creative outlets, they balance me! I’m learning more on how not to beat myself up if I can’t do that that day.
What was that moment you had that made you proud of the work you do?
With my comedy, I was invited to do stand up after this one night I performed. They were like, “Hey, you are really good at this.” I was working at this diner at the time. I had to leave the floor from working before having a panic attack and long story short, I was pulled aside by my manager and was told “We have to fire you because you took too long to serve someone.” It really messed me up. I felt pathetic for not being able to hold down a job. I felt trapped. I was like, I lost my job over something I couldn’t control. I can’t fix ptsd. That week was my first stand-up show and I was going to my whole thing about that place but now that I don’t work there anymore I can tell them where it is. I get up there. I do my bit and everyone was like really laughing and really enjoying themselves. It was that moment of, I’m really good at this. I felt proud of myself for taking a situation where I felt powerless and where I felt like I was doomed and defined by not only my past. It was that defining moment where I did something I’ve never done before and was good at it.
For my dom work, in college I did an art project where I went back to the frat houses where I was sexually assaulted and I dressed up as a dom and dommed frat guys. I did that and it was so empowering, reclaiming the space. When people find out I’m a dom they are like, “You must be so broken to be doing this”. In a way, yeah, because this has been the most healing thing for me. I grew up dealing with my body not being mine. There was this detachment to my body and my pleasure. In order to be a good dom you have to be confident and assertive. It’s about you. You have to take up space.
Sammy (they/them, he/him)
What would you describe yourself as?
Currently I would describe myself as a non-binary New York creative. I’m Korean, I’m a son, I’m a friend. I am in nightlife and I’m currently trying to create more spaces for my queer pacific asian islander community that I identify with. Overall, be a representative and a vehicle for the movement for people like me. I say creative because I don’t have a set thing that I want to do but I want to do a bunch of things in order to create more visibility for people that look like me and have similar experiences as me. I’ve been getting a little bit into modeling which has been exciting for me. I see it less for me. I want people who look like me to see that and be like I can do that too. I felt that from my friends when I saw what they were doing and it’s what I want to do as well for other people. It’s just validating. I want to validate other people.
What is something you want to accomplish?
Honestly, where I am at right now I am content in the opportunities that come my way. I’ve been able to do new things that I’ve always wanted to do. In nightlife, I started as a party goer and now I’m a party thrower. I want to do more dancing, visual art, and I actually went to school for drawing and painting. All in all, as long as I’m creating and using my artistic gifts. I’m really happy. I don’t know where it’s going to go but I’m excited.
That’s such a good mentality to have, a lot of people are usually kicking themselves over what they aren’t doing.
I know, I’m constantly going forward. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better if I just choose one thing and focused on that. But as I said, everyone is different. Everyone has their own path. In life we are told that we have to select one career path and go with that, like your major in college. But being able to do so many different things and just following all of what I am capable of doing is rewarding in its own. It’s not ignoring a whole side of myself. I’ve always been a little directionless. As long as I’m able to reach people and continuously grow my skill set I’ll always be happy.
When people ask me what I am or what I do I just say that I’m an innovator. I do everything because I have many talents and there isn’t one thing I want to restrict myself to. I’m an artist, I draw, I paint, I’ve designed all my own tattoos, I’m a makeup artist, I’m a burlesque dancer, I do embroidery, costumes, I can make headpieces, I can cook, I can fuck, I can live.
Speaking about your burlesque, when you perform what is your favorite part about it?
Well, I do enjoy the taking off my clothes part, but I just get like a rush when people are clapping and cheering because I am doing something innovative with my routine. Probably that, the build up and then getting naked is just the bonus.
Do you have an particular moment where someone said something to you about your performance that made you feel good?
Yeah actually, this woman came up to me afterwards and was like, “I wish I had the confidence that you do” and I feel like people only say that to bigger performers because they are like “you have to have confidence to do that”. Honestly, I wasn’t confident when I first started doing burlesque but I enjoyed it and knew that it was something I wanted to continue doing. I just kind of did it. The confidence didn’t come till later. Now that I do have self confidence, my performances are better. I was good but now I am better. It made me mad at first because I didn’t think they would say that to someone who wasn’t bigger. But then I was like, you’re right, not a lot of people could do this which makes me want to do it more.
How do you balance all that you do?
Well I refuse to work, because I refuse to work for a corporation. I did that for like eight years of my life and that’s eight years of my life I wish I could be getting back. Now I am finally starting to be artistic and expressive like I finally want. I feel like everything is balanced because I’m doing artistically exactly what I need to do.
What is words of encouragement that you constantly have to tell yourself?
For the longest time, I don’t know if it’s because it’s a product of abuse, you think because none of your family loves you, you don’t have any friends, because you are alone all the time. You are like, “Ok, I suck. I’m not a good person. I hate myself.” I thought about myself like that for a very long time. And, for once in my life I was like “Wow, I’m not a piece of shit.” I’m a human being worthy of love and happiness. I don’t deserve bad things to happen to myself. I just have to remind myself that I am worthy and I am worthy of love.
Mateo (he/him, they/them)
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Someone who is constantly just trying to branch out more, constantly creating around me on a daily basis, what makes me feel more connected to myself and what I’m putting out there in terms of work. It’s based on trying to have an authentic connection to something that feels true and genuine. Something inspiring, most importantly.
What inspires you?
People! I fall in love with people all the time. I fall in love with people’s dreams, ambitions, inhibitions. What inspires me is that we can do anything. Seeing the becoming of anything and something nothing to something grand. It’s always in the back of my head. We can do anything and seeing that reflected upon my peers. The people who inspire me, my friends, the people I’m surrounded on a daily basis.
What is a moment that made you recognize your worth in what you are doing?
From being independent at a young age, living as an independent individual, I realized that aha moment when I was able to nest in my own place. Knowing that everything I’ve been through and everything life has thrown at me has put me into this moment. I noticed that I am beautiful, I am worthy of love, we are all worthy of love. My past self used to think, I’m not deserving of everything. I think I can get caught up in that and so many people can. For me it’s just my future self and my present self deserves everything. I deserve to be happy. I deserve to feel like I am in my own. I sat down one day and was like, I’m fortunate to have a job, a home, and to have great people around me that love me and appreciate me. I feel good. I feel good.
When did you know this was the path you needed to be on?
It was a moment when I had no support from anyone around me and I had no one who believed in me. I knew I had to believe in myself. It was the day I told my mom, “I’m not going to go to school for what you want me to go for, you are either going to support me or I’m leaving” and I left. Being young, being queer, and trying to figure out your own identity at such a young age and you have all these outer forces on top of you telling you can’t be. It’s like, what do you mean? This is how I feel and this is how I am, how dare you. For me leaving was so hard and so turbulent but I’m glad I did.
What would you say to people out there trying to figure out that hustle and that grind?
Hey, continue to soul search. Continue to find everything within you. Knowing you are unlimited. Don’t ever feel like you have to go on a path that doesn’t feel right and conform. Do whatever makes you happy, follow that little voice, follow your intuition. You are the pilot of your own dreams.
Stay tuned to Milk for more rising stars.