“The Queer Experience” is a multimedia art exhibit showcasing work by 30 queer, trans, and other WashU students. In a world where LGBTQIA+ identities are not always welcome, it is crucial to hold space for queer and trans joy. By uplifting LGBTQIA+ experiences, this exhibit intends to inspire the WashU and St. Louis communities to come together and consider the role that LGBTQIA+ stories and art play in social change. Spanning from sculpture to photography, the works intimately explore themes of the body, religion, love, and the home, and expand outwards to larger analyses of society.
This exhibit is hosted by the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement in partnership with the Spectrum Office and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion for Civic Action Week, to inspire students to take action on issues they care about.
This show is curated by WashU students Aspen Schisler, Chethan Chandra, and Sophie Lin. If you have any questions about the exhibit, please email one of the curators at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions about the Gephardt Institute, please email Student Engagement Specialist, Sophie Devincenti, at email@example.com.
Content Transparency: Some works contain references to religious trauma, self harm, struggles with mental health and emotional abuse.
Opening Night – Friday, Oct 20, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Viewing Hours – Oct 20 – Nov 14, Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Closing Night – Tuesday, Nov 14, 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
TQE Event Registrations
There are not currently any upcoming events scheduled. Please check back for new events to be added.
In the meantime, if you’d like to explore campus events, please visit Happenings at WashU.
Some artists have chosen to remain anonymous or use pseudonyms due to the sensitive nature of this show’s theme. Those listed below have consented to share their information. Not all works are listed.
“Two Women Kissing” examines the relationship of the feeling of safety with your partner despite the endangerment because of the relationship. I started writing the first few lines to this poem while my girlfriend read Dante to me as I fell asleep. Being in a lesbian relationship in the current political climate has become increasingly treacherous; my existence is dangerous. However, when I am enclosed in my partner’s arms, I know I am safe. The sound of her voice and her presence is my comfort and the reason I fight and continue fighting in face of the laws being implemented all over the country.
These poems chronicle the pain, beauty, and joy I’ve found in the process of exploring and expanding my gender identity. They document my journey of learning how to recognize the light within myself and let it shine out into the world. By displaying these poems on a bulletin board, I’m inviting you to view the memories I’ve chosen to save over a lifetime of discovering who I’ve always been. I believe that holding onto these flashes of hope is fundamentally resistant to the forces that seek to box transgender and non-binary folks in. We’re all navigating the endless struggle and the eternal blessing of constantly trying to bring ourselves into the light. Everything I’ve written here is an attempt to capture both the suffering and beauty in that process, to cling to the joy that comes with breaking free.
Almost Equal is a foundation paper piecing quilt pattern I created myself. It uses the mathematical symbol for congruency, to suggest a sense of near equality. While it is a rose-colored statement about social equity, justice, environmentalism, and to a greater extent, queerness, its use of math to describe nuance felt symbolically interesting. Visually, the geometry around the shape suggests a sense of perfection and balance, while the white image reads more rushed, almost as a “meh” or “good enough”. Which symbol serves the viewer as joyful and which as resistance is encouraged to be open to interpretation.
History, place, and community are inseparable. My work challenges the linear and static by revealing what messiness lies beneath. Working with data points from Mapping LGBTQ St. Louis, I lay out sites of queer resistance. They include protests, community gathering places, cruising sites, bars, and clubs – sites where survival transmutes into joy. In honoring this joy, I challenge the viewer to consider multilayered, vivid histories. I imagine how these places alter the fabric of the city and posit commemoration as an act of care. By translating sites of resistance into a constellation, I envision change as an undulating, organic form interwoven with our memory of St. Louis.
This piece was created to showcase the vulnerability of being open in expressing queer love. Given my own personal experiences in the fear of being judged for being publicly queer, I wanted to make a piece that proudly shows off a lover’s marks. I wanted to bring an authentic feeling of touch to this piece so I did all of the rendering by blending in the charcoal with my hands, thus bringing in the aspect of both an artist’s and lover’s touch. Pride in being queer is something I want to be able to share through my work and I want to convey the strength it takes to show the world the love many had to hide away.
I’ve never liked touch. To me, the act of skin brushing skin or someone’s hands patting a shoulder feels too personal. Too invasive. For a time, the thought of someone getting too close to me brought the idea of infection to my mind. A teacher I once had told me we leave skin cells, piles of them, everywhere we go. The thought of being covered in another person’s flakes of skin terrified me. The past few years have introduced me to people I never thought I could find. People who make a room warmer with their smile, who can never find themselves alone because they draw others in, people whose hands feel just like hands, not like a plague. This summer I learned the importance of a hug, given freely and willingly accepted. I learned how to feel loved by people I chose to invite into my life, all of whom were Queer, most of whom consider these friends their “family.” Having to leave those relationships behind and come back to school has become anxiety-inducing and I feel as though I’m straining across some great distance, still looking for their hands to hold.
This papier-mâché sculpture is a representation of the tension between desiring an intense, electrifying touch and being both unable to reach it and hesitant to try.
Made from an accidental realization of the useful combination of condoms and jewelry, the interior shape comes from the silicone ring of an internal condom intricately wrapped in vibrant, colorful thread. They became my version of friendship bracelets as I make them for friends and family, making each distinct to the person – choosing the colors that make them them. For some, the colors sometimes are those of pride flags and serve as a covert means of communication, allowing wearers to signal their identity and find connection with others who understand the significance of the colors and patterns. But these earrings are not just about coded messages; they are also unabashedly “gay ass earrings.” They embrace the joy, playfulness, and exuberance that often define queer culture.
In our society, labels were created to help people find community. Sometimes, people fit those labels to a T, and others don’t. It turns out that humans are more complex than simple dictionary definitions. My work shows what some might consider contradictory identities in unity. On display are visuals that relate to both the transmasc experience with the top surgery scars and the needles and vials and the lesbian experience with the lesbian flag and the labrys axe. The symbolism refers to what some people call he/him lesbians, but the general idea is that trans men, transmasc, genderqueer, and nonbinary individuals can still identify as lesbians if they want to. Queerness has nuances, and sometimes the definitions aren’t enough. But let’s not forget that definitions and labels don’t define us. We define them. As a helpful reminder, pronouns don’t equal gender, gender expression doesn’t equal gender identity, and sexuality doesn’t equal gender.
My painting, Cataract, is an investigation into the divisiveness of queerness, and its effects on the queer individual. In making this work, I enlisted neon-bright colors, the motif of the apocalypse, and the sculptural/architectural forms of Classical Greek art.
The way that my colors can be viewed dually, either gaudy/too much, or beautifully novel, reflects the divisiveness of queerness and changes to gender roles; a tension that has informed much of my work this year. Another way that I expressed this tension is through the human figure. In this work, I show a nude man who has escaped a symbolic architectural pediment, surrounded by an apocalyptic hellscape. By painting the hellscape, I reveled in the chaos, while also examining the obliterating power of queerness. But while the traditions (represented by the pediment) seem to be chaotically bursting into flames, the male figure is sitting there calmly. Through the glowing oranges and reds I chose to paint his body with, the figure is shown to be healthy and alive. The peacefulness of the figure reflects the power in living through this tension, and speaks to an end goal of my investigation: the calm after the storm (or apocalypse).
I paint artwork to celebrate queer joy and shed light on the beauty of the mundane. Here stands Lila, my very best friend and roommate, in our shared kitchen holding sunflowers. Lila loves the kitchen— to be honest I’d say it’s their happy place. She can often be found chopping veggies, scrubbing bowls, or making new dishes I’ve never heard of. Lila is an excellent chef, a beautiful poet, and a proud lesbian. Seeing them thrive every day in our shared little corner of the universe is one of the greatest treasures of my life. I adore Lila and the sheer joy she exudes. This painting is dedicated to her. I love you forever and ever.
This work is part of a series of portraits spanning most of my youth snd teenage years, with the subject matter focusing on figures from music, pop culture, and queer media. I would often work on these in a few long sessions, using a photograph as reference. They were a way for me to compartmentalize and understand my queer identity before I knew what it was.
The Stars and Us is a thank you to my friends in the queer community for celebrating the quiet and small moments with me. I don’t do well with crowds and loud noises so I am incredibly grateful that my friends are happy to celebrate and be joyful with me in more calming atmospheres. When creating this piece I wanted a calm and dreamlike feeling so chose watercolor as my main medium. To show how brightly my friends, the LGBTQIA+, shine to me, I added light up stars in colors found on different pride flags as well as glow in the dark stars on the frame and box.
Around the time I started on this mixed media piece, I had been experimenting with layering methods in painting. I was working on a portfolio about Black personhood, and— with no clue of a subject— I started scrolling through my camera roll. I landed upon a picture of my close friend, Sam. Since Sam is an open and proud gay boy, I wanted his face to be a symbol of queer boys living proudly and happily in their identities. I emphasize that symbol by incorporating vivid colors and floral imagery. I want this piece to not only be an ode to young queer boys, but an illustration of their humanity.
“Someone will remember us, I say, even in another time.” ~ Sappho, “If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho”
This collage was created as a glimpse into my relationship with my girlfriend, and it is also intended as a celebration of the wider sapphic experience. The piece includes fragments of poetry, each written in the month indicated, as well as memorabilia from other memories we shared together this summer. Above all, it is a testament to the inherent worth found in the simple truths of existing, of loving, and of queer happiness.
Until Tom Collins and Angel Dumott Schunard’s duet in Rent, I didn’t know queer people existed. As I grew up and into myself, I relied heavily on media, art, and literature to figure out who I was, who I wanted to become, and who I wanted to be around. Most of my art focuses on lineage, memory, and the body: this piece is no different. Citing authors, movies, art, and other pop culture images, I aim to capture the chaos of my personal history and the calm of settling into my sapphic identity. I am also drawn to the myth of Icarus, the inventor’s son who flew too high with his wax wings, and retelling his story as a metaphor for queer love blazing hot and triumphant. “Queer” and “tragic” are not synonyms, and we can exercise joyful resistance by reading Icarus as a glorious figure.
My resistance is seeing the joy in the sun touching his shining face, the joy of dancing in urine-scented streets, the joy of being a wild thing.
Bug-Eyed Blues represents the finding of one’s self and self-worth in a world not designed for their exploration. Growing up will always have its challenges. However, Bug-Eyed Blues represents the feeling of being stuck in the backseat, headed down a road that doesn’t end with authenticity or genuine happiness. With hints of first love, first relationships, and (as stated in said poem) learning the difference between love and desire, this poem reflects on the peeling away of layers bit by bit to unearth the person who I have always been.
The evolution of trans self-perception is the focus of this piece, in which the house represents the body. In pulling from different architectural styles and collaging them onto the larger shape of the home, I aim to make vivid the non-linear, dysmorphic development between body and mind. Transness can create painful patches and intense dissatisfaction with oneself, but I hope to show in the collage the way in which it can create something very special as well; a profound connection with oneself, a protective home in one’s own body. Community binds and protects trans people, and gives them the ability to hope for a safe future for themselves: one where they have a healthy home and a connection with the person they see in the mirror. As such, this collage is both a depiction of that hope and a sign of appreciation for the community who, despite facing continual obstacles, ensures it.
In my artwork, I delve into the complex and deeply personal journey of self-discovery, where one’s identity is not a fixed point but rather a fluid exploration. “Fluid Reflections” is an expression of the emotional turbulence experienced by individuals who dare to question societal norms and explore the vast landscape of gender fluidity. Through this piece, I aim to capture the internal struggle, anxiety, and vulnerability that often accompany this introspective voyage. The swirling, abstract brushstrokes represent the chaos of thoughts, while the subdued color palette evokes a sense of introspection and uncertainty. The central figure in my artwork stands as a symbol of courage, as they confront the weighty question of whether they are non-binary. Their silhouette is deliberately blurred, emphasizing the fluidity of their identity, which exists beyond the confines of binary constructs. The shadows and highlights on their form symbolize the interplay between darkness and light, mirroring the inner conflict and ultimate acceptance that can come from embracing one’s true self.
Admittedly, “joy” is not an emotion particularly abundant in this piece. It was written over the course of several weeks and was finished in a nearly 48 hour straight grind on the floor of my apartment. I would not recommend this strategy to anyone. The grand irony, however, is that I get immense joy out of sharing, rereading, and discussing this piece with others. Some feelings act averse to exposure, so I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to bottle this one up so we can take in the glow together.
Growing up, I was terrified of getting older. Something about aging and the cycle of time scared me. I lived a privileged life to have not been privy to the chaos and horror of the world until I was older. While my mother could protect me when I was younger, eventually I had to grow up and face the world, and my identity, on my own.
By re-remembering my earliest childhood moments over and over, I have subconsciously found a way to alter the memories into idealized moments over time. While I crave the innocence and ease of childhood, I can never properly remember what it was like or what my life was like at the time. To exist without the most important parts of my identity would feel wrong now. Some of my earliest moments of consciousness take place in the bath. I can remember the way my mother used to rinse my hair out with a plastic container. She would place a hand at the top of my forehead so I wouldn’t get soap in my eyes, the kind of care and attention to detail that only the woman who birthed me could provide.
“God blessed me by making me transsexual for the same reason he made wheat but not bread and fruit but not wine: so that humanity might share in the act of creation” – Julian Jarboe
I have always been a person who has loved being in community more than anything else. I think it’s an essential human need to belong. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian community and loved them with my entire being. My home was everything to me, even when I thought they were wrong. And so, accepting that I was transgender was one of the worst moments of my life. Partly due to internalized transphobia, but mostly because I was keenly aware that being trans would forever separate me from my home. From my religion. From my community. It tore me apart. For a while, I begged God to make me different. Sometimes, I was furious at having been made different at all if my difference was so sinful. Later, I found the above quote. In recognizing my transness not as a defect that separated me from my religion but rather as a feature of heavenly design, I found a new joy in the act of finishing the work that God started. This shift didn’t make my former church members accept me or make my parents understand, but it helped me embrace my transness as the gift that it is; what a joy to experience divinity while still living.
In setting up this photography project, I sought to create a space where queer and trans folks could feel comfortable, feel like themselves and be seen—simple needs we are all too often denied. The individuals posing for portraits were encouraged to wear expressive clothing and cosmetics accentuating their gaze into the viewer, establishing intimacy and connection.
Our sense of self shapes our world, molding the voices, rhythms and movements within it. We must recognize and remember our queer ancestors—particularly trans women of color, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera—for having engendered a living archive of human brilliance, joy and resilience. Today and tomorrow, we draw upon and contribute to this archive with our collective existence.
This sculpture was created as a final project for a class I took called ‘The Politics of Pleasure.’ The class explored the ways in which sexuality is politicized and policed throughout history and in today’s society. I created this sculpture to explore the way that queer sexuality and pleasure resists against the heteronormative, patriarchal standards of society. “Fucking the System” argues that pleasure itself is an act of resistance, especially for those who, like queer folk, have been denied access to it. Much of my work utilizes multi-media materials to explore social structures and resistance. I work heavily with collage and found materials as a way to interweave reality with art, drawing out critiques and commentary about our everyday lives.
Queerness is exhausting. How can a person be at ease when they exist in a world where a body is the object of state-mandated violence? How can they take a deep breath when the rock is still crushing their ribcage? This piece creates an intimate insight into queer spaces, and the act of holding one another in an increasingly tumultuous world. Bodies entangled with one another, holding each other with a tenderness found only in spaces where queerness does not have to fight for breath. In spaces like these, to be queer is to be holy, and to elevate the queer body is to acknowledge its sacredness.
The concept originated in my experience of being gender-nonconforming. Sometimes the archetypal binary of male/female seems like an aesthetic concept, a matter of philosophical beauty and simplicity, that my very existence disfigures. To accommodate those like me, the predictable he or she becomes a bewildering array of thems and zirs and eirs, and so forth. By breaking the pattern, I am somehow making the world an uglier, messier place. And what right do I have to do that? Who am I to mar? The yin-yang symbol epitomizes the beauty of the man-woman duality. It is not just about gender, but the world itself: light and dark, order and chaos, birth and death. The universe, split into male and female. Their beautiful symmetry. Of course, I don’t truly believe that I, or other trans people, are making the world an uglier place. But sometimes I feel like a stain on the duality, blurring the lines, inexpressible in poetry. Grey splotch on yin-yang. But what if this very act of confusion, of desecration, is a poem? What if it is a work of art? What if it is beautiful? Who am I to mar their beautiful symmetry? Grey splotch on yin-yang.
Queer joy is often relegated to being without pain by heteronormative standards. However, pain is essential to pleasure. This piece is made with this contexts of this principle: to survive a monster, as the title of the piece suggests, there must be joy. The journey there is not peaceful, or calming, nor made of happy memories. There could be pieces that are, but a majority is dominated by the consistent feelings of loneliness of isolation: especially for those of us isolated from other queer people. In the creation of joy, we must look towards the growth and postitivity, hence the end of the poem. Nothing feels quite as nice as living beyond the monster, becoming more than they would ever be.
i wish i was a squid. i wish i could dive into the ocean and feel the rush of water and the emptiness of mind and not have to worry about everything that comes with being human. i wish that i was just one of an unintelligible mass of mollusks, unidentified and unperceived. i wish you could join me (despite your general disapproval of the squid) and we could sleep in the ocean forever, where you are the only one who can see me, because you see me in the secret unspoken way that i wish you would. maybe if we were squid, that would be enough for me, and there would be peace.