WORDS & COLLAGES: GARRETT BLAD
I hated glitter as a child. And for most of my life if I'm being honest. I avoided it on the materials table in my pre-school art class and don’t think I touched it much since, even when I opened a pack of multi-colored Crayola glitter markers on my 10th birthday, they decayed unused in my closet. Glitter was what girls used in their art projects and I was boy in search of manhood. I tried to catch it in fly balls in the outfield of the North Liberty baseball diamond with my little league team (to varying levels of success). I tried to win it sitting on our living room carpet floor (the kind that leaves raw tattoo-like patterns when you sit on it too long) where I dueled my brother in Yu-Gi-Oh! (greater success here, though my brother would disagree). Fitting-in was paramount. And in my world, that meant being as manly as possible. Facing off, battling, winning. And glitter was certainly not going to help me win anything in small town Indiana.
The night before the People’s Climate March in September 2014, I found myself standing ten feet behind the platform stage of my first drag show at a gay bar in NYC (not many drag shows in South Bend, Indiana...). Lights, show tunes, pole dancing, and most definitely, glitter. And lots of it. Glitter, in this world as I quickly learned, is a more bedrock than accent. Tall queens in heels floated behind me during a break in the show. One reached out, rubbed my shoulder, and spoke with only a purr and a wink. I took a swig of my gin and tonic and grinned bigger than I needed to.
This past spring I stood in the gathering room of Murray Grover Retreat and Renewal Center, somewhere near a Walmart and a strip mall in New Jersey for 350.org’s Fossil Free Fellowship organizing skills training. I found myself in the kitchen the day before the Fellows arrived, talking with Dee, one of the cooks with the Pots & Pans Kitchen Collective - a volunteer team intentionally inclusive to femme/trans/women/queer folk that provides kitchen support to groups fighting for social, environmental, and economic justice. We chatted. I sipped coffee. Conversation was simple and easy. I felt renewed and inspired at Dee's dedication to providing safe spaces in movement kitchens for trans and queer people. I was reminded how closely tied LGBTQ liberation is with other social justice issues. With climate justice. I made a mental note, as a gay man who experiences much less discrimination than others, to be more inclusive and to show up or step back where ever I could to support trans and queer folk.
Later that afternoon I was prepping the art table, a place where fellows could de-stress, chill, or express themselves during the week-long retreat with art supplies. I opened a pack of glitter paper. "Really?” I thought. "Glitter paper?” Red, green, pink - the rainbow was all here. I admit I felt a bit threatened. A bit guilty. Then I looked into the shiny grains, each an ocean of jewels as I tilted them in the light, and thought of my aversion to glitter. How this probably has something to do with my childhood search for masculinity and acceptance. I never expected my life to be turned upside down by art supply materials.
Determined to dissolve this relationship in my mind, I went home, bought a hefty stack of glitter paper, and picked up my X-ACTO knife. What better way to erase this artificial connection between glitter and femininity than to toss some oh-so-muscly-men into pink and glittery scenes! I walked around for a few days with glitter sparkling from various places on my face, arms, and hands, without a care in the world.