You don’t have to be in high school to remember what it’s like to have teen feelings. Or, if you’ve somehow forgotten, just ask an adolescent.
The sharp organizers of this weekend’s “Up & Out: Coming Home,” a multidisciplinary arts festival in its third year at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis, have created a beautiful space for queer and trans youth to share stories and artwork. Events include a pop-up art gallery, fashion show, panel discussion and art-making workshops.
In this context, queer and trans youth whose lives are not accurately, honestly or compassionately depicted in the media, and who are simultaneously shaping and understanding their identities in part through media images, have a space to work things out, find mentors, take leadership positions in their community, and be themselves.
All of the events are organized by the Intermedia Youth Leadership Council (YLC), which is made up of 10 youths who spread their energy across four creative subcommittees: Up & Out, InFlux (visual art), Open Stages (open mic) and Media Makers (documenting events and developing programming for media-based literacy).
YLC member Simone Williams, 19, got involved with Intermedia about two years ago, initially as a participant.
“One of my personal favorites is a piece by this artist named Roman Feldhahn,” says Williams. “He’s a trans boy and his painting is an interpretation of what it’s like to bind your chest.” Another work of note is a short film about “sexuality and sexual tension as a queer person” that focuses on the body.
“Up & Out” began as a queer film festival before expanding into subcommittees. Initially, the festival coincided with the Twin Cities Pride Festival in June but has moved to the spring so it won’t conflict with high school graduation or summer vacation. This way, “Up & Out” also avoids being associated with Pride events that tend to be white/corporate/gay-male and typically exclude youth and people of color.
“There are plenty of organizations that are fighting against that [whiteness and corporatization of Pride], and we didn’t want our message to be fighting against that, because there are good parts of Pride, too,” says a subcommittee member who asked that her name not be used because she is not fully out. “There should be opportunities for queer and trans youth all year round.”
But though the show is by and for queer and trans youths, that’s not the sole focus of its subject matter.
“It doesn’t have to do with, ‘Oh, this is my life story because I am queer or I am trans,’ ” says the anonymous subcommittee member. “It has to do with, ‘I made this piece that I am really proud of and I want to show it to my peers, and this is a great place to do that and feel safe about doing that.’ ”
Other than the Oscar-winning “Moonlight,” which tells the story of a boy who isn’t out and can’t be for safety reasons, much of LGBT storytelling in mainstream media has revolved around the experience of coming out as the pivotal, and always dramatic, public moment of sharing with someone who doesn’t know about that individual’s queerness.
While that narrative of “being out and proud” is valid, it also suggests an inherent privilege — of being able to be out and somewhat safe. It’s not something that a lot of youths can do.
Intermedia provides a space for youths who may not be out to their families, but want to experience being a part of queer community.
Lillie Walstrom, who participates on two of the subcommittees, notes the importance of spaces for queer and trans youths rather than adults.
“Spaces for queer and trans people tend to be a lot more adult,” Walstrom said. “To have a space where it’s safe to be queer or trans and be with all those people in a youth-based space is really incredible, especially in our political climate.”