An Open Letter to Chicago’s Queer Community

by: Nicole Garneau (via The Qu)

Note: This piece was originally published on The Qu and has been posted here with generous permission. You can go here to find the original and here to donate to Mark’s memorial fund for her family, which is still almost $4000 short of the goal.

Dear beloved Chicago,

On the morning of Monday, March 12, I had a friendly email chat with Tony Soto about the idea of writing an open letter to Chicago as an update on my international adventures.

I got excited to tell you about moving to Copenhagen to live and work with other artists and architects who are experimenting with ways to creatively intervene in an “urban renewal” project of the City of Copenhagen. I’d tell you about standing in the freezing wind in January and trying to offer hot mugs of tea to strangers as the January UPRISING performance. I’d talk about traveling to Leeds, UK to perform in a 24-hour art event and report back that performance art that deals critically with bodies we call female is still thriving. I’d tell you I was biking everywhere and had become a person who tucks her jeans into tall boots and that my windbreaker is so glowing yellow and out of place because of its brightness that I am recognized in public spaces based on the jacket alone. I would probably have told you that one great thing about the Danes is that they are tall people, so I am a normal-sized person here.

But that same day-Monday, March 12, Stevie got in touch to tell me about the death of our friend Mark Aguhar. So I stopped being excited to write to you all about my adventures because all I could write and think about was Mark and dancing in the Chicago queer community where we had crossed paths. I felt disoriented, trying to be present with friends in Chicago and even understand my displaced self.

I was/am living in a space with 12 other artists and architects. We live in a kind of crazy space on the 11th floor of an apartment building designed to house physically disabled people. That is still who lives here, and we live in a former hospital wing designed for people who needed respiratory support. But that technology has past, so while the building managers decide how to remodel this floor, we live here and have permission to draw on the walls.

The night Mark died, this community-people who really have no frame of reference for the queer party glamour of my former Chicago life-tried to be as present as they could. One particularly sweet Romanian architect just put down his work, moved over in his easy chair so I could lean in, and sat with me watching Mark’s Youtube videos. The German/Scottish landscape architect read Mark’s work on her own, just to try to understand this beautiful complicated creature the world had just lost.

I couldn’t stop remembering the last time I had really thought about Mark. Now, looking at my calendar, I see that it was Saturday, February 18.

I was getting ready to go on a second date. I was seriously trying to find a local Danish lover. I felt strongly that having a lover while on this residency would make life better. So I was getting ready to meet someone for an afternoon walk along Amager beach in a rainstorm.
To prepare for this second date, I went into the big accessible bathroom/shower room to have a wash. It was full daylight and there is a giant mirror in this room, so when I’m nude, there’s just no hiding the full onslaught of information about my body. I was having a terrible attack of insecurity. I’m sure it was everything-this life transition, social challenges, trying to figure out how to be creative, navigating a new city, and also dating. But for me, when the demon of self-doubt strikes, its ground zero is the familiar dark place of body shame. I was in a bad place.

The other layer of this feeling, for me and maybe other people who make a career and life out of constantly reinventing new ways to be fierce-is that I’m conscious of my own body issues, but I’m having a critical analysis of it too. So I’m thinking about the fact that I’m supposed to be a role model and other people tell me that my life/work/way of being in the world gives them permission to be their own kind of fierce and that is so beautiful but it is also a huge responsibility, so when I’m having that self hatred moment in the bathroom with that huge mirror, I feel like I’m letting everyone down.

And that’s when I thought about Mark. And Stevie. And Katherine, and Alice, and Juana, and Nomy, and Anne, and so many body radicals I have known through my life. I thought about Heavy Rotation and strong looks and what is the point of any of that radical queer culture-making if it can’t pierce the darkness of those moments? And I had a really powerful breakthrough–that day, unlike so many other days when I don’t get a breakthrough–I just figured out the following totally simple thing: this is the only body I have. It is just like this, and it’s not changing in the next 24 hours, and it is strong and flexible, and has certain nice points, and it deserves love. If I want to bike or dance or fuck, this is the only body I have to do it, and that is going to have to be good enough. This is the only body I have to take on a date and the only body I have to put next to someone else’s body and they can take it or leave it but that’s just all I’m working with.

So now whenever I think about Mark I also see myself naked in front of the mirror in that shower room in Copenhagen, deciding for about the thousandth time to be fierce.

I love you, Chicago. Rock on with your beautiful sexy happy/heartbroken selves.

Nicole

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