Gay men on the new subway walls

Widely reported, in the middle of stories about the extension of the 2nd Avenue subway in NYC, a piece about Vik Muniz’s mural in the 96th St. station, with over three dozen mosaics of typical New Yorkers waiting for a train, including this gay male couple holding hands:

There’s a nice story about these men, “Meet the Gay Couple Holding Hands in That Groundbreaking NYC Subway Mural”, an interview with the men by Alexander Kacala on the (informatively named) Unicorn Booty site on the 3rd.

New York is the gayest place in the world. We all know this, right?  I don’t have stats on me right now, but you sign on to a dating app and instantly are bombarded with the profiles of a hundred men less than a few feet away. In short, New York is gay AF [flag on gay AF, below].

So why did it take so long for us to get some gay AF public art?

… Not only did New York get a brand-new subway line and three shiny new subway stations, it also got its first permanent, non-political LGBTQ piece of public art.

… The 96th Street Station is especially bougie [flag on bougie, below]. One of the things making it extra fabulous is a captivating mural by Vik Muniz. “Over three dozen mosaic portraits depicting everyday New Yorkers waiting for a train adorn the walls of the new line,” Buzzfeed writes.

One of those portraits is of married couple Thor Stockman and Patrick Kellogg.

The couple is particularly proud of their participation in the project because they don’t feel represented in popular culture. “Our friends were happy that this is gay representation on the walls of New York City, but our friends were even happier that this is gay representation that is not incredibly beautiful and skinny,” Kellogg tells The New York Post.

…. TS: I should have expected all the hate spewed out on the internet — ”Disgusting perverts!” — but I am still surprised by how upset some people get over something so minor as two men holding hands. Some are saying it will get defaced. But the big surprise was a lot of the criticism from gays and lesbians that we’re too white, too male, not queer enough, too old, too out-of-shape — you name it — to properly represent NYC’s vast and varied LGBTQ communities. And to that I kind of have to agree, but I also encourage everyone that if you don’t feel that the art out there represents you, to make art that does. Write the stories and songs, make the paintings and comics and films that show the world just how fierce and fabulous we are.

PK: I was shocked at the internet trolls. Upon seeing the mosaic, some commenters replied “yuck” (and worse, much much worse). It’s weird that two men holding hands would cause a strong reaction in 2017. We’re not even kissing. One webpage spun out a whole conspiracy theory about how this mosaic was trying to get more people to become gay, that Muniz was part of a “Hollywood cabal” of pro-gay artists churning out propaganda.

A piece of background, about Muniz, an artist I posted about on 9/29/11, in “Vik Muniz (and me)”, about his mosaics. He’s an originally Brazilian artist, working in NYC for some time; much of his work is explicitly “political”, on various fronts. His stuff is sensitive to queer issues, to a degree that some just assume he’s queer.

On complaints from LGBTQ people that Stockman and Kellogg are insufficiently representative of the diversity of the community: there’s no way, of course, that one couple could represent this diversity; only if about a third of the travelers in the mosaic were identifiable as LBGTQ would it come close to representing the diversity of the community, but then it would fail to represent the diversity of New York City.

On the shocking hateful responses to the image of two men holding hands: I’ve never understood the depth of these reactions, which both terrify and enrage me. Terrify me, because they seem always to be on the verge of setting off gay-bashing. Enrage me, because they have te effect of constraining my freedom of action in ways that straight people would never accept.

Linguistics note 1: gay AF. Short for gay as fuck ‘really really gay’. In an idiom pattern

Adj as Expletive (for Expletives hell, shit, fuck, at least)

gay as fuck is one of the two sources of the tv series title Queer as Folk, the other being the British informal aphorism there’s nowt so queer as folk ‘people are funny’ (i.e., people behave oddly).

Linguistics note 2: bougie. A complicated story here, part of which goes back to French bougie ‘(wax) candle’; but the relevant part of which goes back to French bourgeois (from bourg ‘town’) ‘of or characteristic of the middle class, typically with reference to its perceived materialistic values or conventional attitudes’ (NOAD2). An abbreviated version bougie (with several alternative spellings) of bourgeois (in the sense ‘taking on the attitudes and lifestyle of the middle classes’ (GDoS)) came into slang use some time ago (first attestation in GDoS, 1976), often with negative connotations (of pretentiousness and the like). This use of bougie is especially widespread among U.S. black speakers, but it has wider usage as well.

Then, in an interesting development not recognized (yet) in GDoS, the word has been ameliorated to uses conveying ‘stylish, fashionable, fabulous’ (possibly ‘faabulous’) — as in “The 96th Street Station is especially bougie” in Unicorn Booty’s gay-hip intro above.

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