No, for serious, I mean. Like, rented a little space, enlisted some help, talked some brave friends into modeling, and did it. You know. I did the thing you do when you do the thing.
And it was absolutely awesome.
So, there's a whole backstory to this shot, about getting a notice for an open call at Ouch My Eye at about the same time I saw Boys Don't Cry, and realizing what I could do, and then this happening, and how this is one of the first times I saw something in my head and made it come out almost exactly how it looked before it actually existed. (Onesheet on that entire ish after the jump.) It was terrifying, and liberating, and fantastic, and it got into the show. A real art show, all custom-framed on the wall of a gallery -- the first thing I Put Out There for people to see since arriving Seattle.
Saying the whole experience was completely amazing doesn't do it justice, because walking into an actual gallery and seeing my art up on the wall like that kicked my ass in a way I've never felt before. I suppose it must be kind of like when the band hears their song on the radio in That Thing You Do, and they're all running around the appliance store freaking out. Only fractionally so, because that's like, you know. Radio and stuff.
Anyhow, I priced it way high, so I could cover the cost, the gallery's take, and a donation to charity, but it didn't sell. In light of that, and since I'd like to cover costs, and still do the donation, and afford to print up some prints for the models -- I'm going to do a limited hand-numbered run of these for sale as gigantic 16x20 prints on archival-quality rag mat paper. (Yeah, I didn't know what it was either until I had it printed -- the shit's totally amazing.) If you're into it, ping me and we'll make something happen.
Here's the onesheet I wrote to hang with the print, if you're so inclined.
Do you remember what you were doing in December of 1993? I do. I was seventeen, doing my best to avoid a variety of traditional suburban middle-class holiday traditions. I lived in Connecticut. It was cold outside.
Brandon Teena was twenty-one, and addressing his version of what the holidays looked like to him that time. He lived in Nebraska. It was cold outside there, too.
However, the differences between our Decembers are vast. My life went on, and I'm sitting here today typing this one sheet to hang up next to a photograph in an art gallery. Brandon Teena's life did not. He was assaulted and raped, and subsequently murdered (along with a young woman named Lisa Lambert and a young man named Phillip DeVine). The latter occurred on December 31st, 1993. The assault, rape, and murder all happened at the hand of the same two men, John Lott and Tom (Marvin) Nissen.
Brandon Teena was transgendered, which is defined as "a person who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the person’s sex at birth." In Brandon’s case, he was born as an anatomical female but identified as a male. This is relevant only because the violence he experienced was based on discrimination toward his gender identification.
We call this hate crime. It's real, it's happening with increasing frequency, and it's taking place in our own backyards.
I received the open call notice about BREAST right around the same time I finally sat down to watch the entirety of Boys Don't Cry, the Academy Award-winning 1999 film (which was based on the documentary film The Brandon Teena Story). And inherent in that timing was an opportunity for a true piece of artwork, one that would show the concept of breasts from the perspective of a man like Brandon – who bound his breasts for most of his adult life – while also carrying the message of his story and the unfortunate realityof hate crime in this country.
In 1993, Brandon Teena was assaulted, raped, and shot. In 1998 Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence, tortured, and left for dead. (He was found eighteen hours later in a coma and brought to a hospital, where his injuries were deemed inoperable. He died several days later, on October 12th.) Both of these murders were a result of hate crime.
The reported number of LGBTQ-related violent acts that resulted in death have been on the increase over the last several years. In 2008 alone, of the 1700+ incidents of LGBTQ-related hate crime that were reported in the United States, thirty were deaths deemed manslaughter / non-negligent.
Based off of these figures alone, an LGBTQ-related violent act occurs four times a day, on the average. And death occurs as a direct result a little more than once every other week.
This is a statistical reality, from reports released by the FBI in 2008. Not in 1998, or 1958. And the numbers are getting worse, not better.
It’s my hope for just one person to have a single shift in their thought process as a result of standing here for the past few minutes. And if that one person has that one shift, and leaves this space with it, and has a moment where that one shift carries over into one change in their actions – then I will consider this project a success. It’s meant to convey Brandon’s story, and the story of addressing one’s sexual identity, physically as well as emotionally. The confidence juxtaposed with an underlying shyness, the bold elements fused with terror, the boundless beauty and the desire to hide.
Regardless of how you leave, I appreciate the time you've spent here taking this all in.
Victoria VanBruinisse is a photographer. She currently resides in Seattle, WA.
A generous portion of the proceeds from the sale of this piece will be donated to the Northwest Network. Their mission is to increase our communities' ability to support the self-determination and safety of bisexual, transgendered, lesbian, and gay survivors of abuse through education, organizing and advocacy.