in the shadow of the american dream…

in the shadow of the american dream…

history/mystery/periphery/party + revel : June 11, 2016

On Saturday night we came together for an evening of performance that celebrated queer knowledges and practices. Two hours after we left JACK, fifty queer people, mostly Latinx, who had also gathered together to celebrate each other, to move together in a space of their making, were killed in Orlando, FL. These deaths must be mourned. Our laws must change. And our performances and parties must continue.

I don’t want the shadows of this tragedy to erase the beautiful offerings by each invited artist at JACK on Saturday night. For now what I can do is to take up the precious scraps I collected from each performer and try to use them as a way forward. Thank you to all the performers, to the festival organizers: Tara, Aretha, Eleanor, and Elliott, and to Movement Research, and to everyone who showed up on Saturday night to participate.

I’m thinking about the rage and the energy and the resistance that queer artists like David Wojnarowicz and Assotto Saint, along with so many others, displayed in the face of the AIDS crisis, which often involved forcing government officials to confront the actual bodies of those whose deaths they were collectively responsible for. I imagine* a mylar sheet like the one Michael Mahalchick covered himself with on Saturday night, when he transformed his body into a surface to be projected on. I imagine this sheet being thrown over all those who threaten, condone and perpetuate violence and hate. I imagine projecting the images of the more than fifty beautiful people we have lost, while Jonathan Gonzalez leads us in a chant: get into it get into it, until the images and the sounds seep into their skin, until they understand, in their bodies and minds, that they cannot remain untouched by the suffering that they have caused.

A participant is a “partaker, comrade, fellow soldier.” In these militarized and gun-infected times, coming together, showing up for each other, whether in the club or street, is a defiant and celebratory action. Partaking is caretaking. I am feeling more than ever how we must look out for each other—and learn from each other, always widening and extending our coalitions. Performance trains us to deal with the unexpected. Performance rips apart and rearranges realities. But the worlds that performance creates only become real when we are there to co-create them. Let’s be there.


*Note: In this imagined performance ritual, I have totally recontextualized the performances of Michael Mahalchick and Jonathan Gonzalez. Mahalchick, in his performance, projected adolescent photos of himself onto himself under the mylar. Gonzalez, in his performance, repeated variations of the phrase: “I’m trying to get into it.”

Jaime Shearn Coan

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