Remembrance of things queer here 

I had started my summer reading and was well into Volume II of Marcel Proust’s seven-volume opus, that quintessence of queer-camp literature, Remembrance of Things Past, when Director Graciela Sanchez asked me to coordinate ¡Qué Queer! San Antonio! for the Esperanza, San Antonio’s stalwart sanctuary for disenfranchised artists and activists founded here two decades ago by Latina lesbianas. As Proust’s first two volumes end in sections titled “Place-Names: The Name,” nomenclature was on my mind; I remembered again that “esperanza” comes from the Spanish infinitive “esperar,” which means both “to hope” and “to wait.”

¡Qué Queer! San Antonio! is a changing exhibition begun to chronicle the “her”itages and “his”tories of San Antonio’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, Two-Spirited, and queer communities through art, artifacts, ephemera, and mementos. It is inherently huge, and it was to combust quickly — the opening was within a month. A call for entries had already been disseminated among artists and cultural workers; I augmented this list, hoping — with Esperanza — that equal representation between genders would be found as work came in. Artwork arrived, mostly after the deadline, then only two weeks out from the show’s opening.

An ad-hoc advisory committee was formed; we waited and hoped, grappling with the fact that ¡Qué Queer! San Antonio! was not intended to be an art exhibit. A list, quite long, was developed of organizations (Alamo City Men’s Chorale to Zebra’z), entities (San Antonio Lesbian Gay Assembly, San Antonio Lesbians Improving Relations, Dignity/San Antonio, and Stonewall Democrats) and issues/institutions (Gay Marriage, Estate Planning, Inter-Faith Relationships, Nondiscrimination, and Transitioning).

If a group no longer existed, excavations began through attic boxes all across the city — forgotten fliers found, rosters of possible names surfaced (“People for Justice,” “Big Pink,” the “Bull Moose Party,” the “Society for Gay and Lesbian Advancement, ” and SALGA was momentarily the “Lesbian and Gay Congress”). Lists of entities whose names had changed were created (i.e. a three-page, hand-written list of San Antonio local gay bars and /clubs, with all the names they went by as they changed hands over the decades).

Groups were invited to Esperanza to represent themselves on the walls. In all, 160 groups are represented next to the works of nearly 30 local, “queer” artists hung high, in salon-style — rather equally divided in number by gender, I’ll add — together representing several decades of local LGBT organizing and art-making. A few groups finally accepted our invitation to mount their own exhibit, notably the San Antonio AIDS Foundation (who devised an interactive “Messages to those lost … ” board) and the San Antonio Gender Association (who solicited writing and /images from members and arrived as a team to mount them).

The exhibit is organized around seven thematic “spaces”: AIDS activism, Latina lesbiana organizing, an ofrenda remembering those passed, pARTies/performances/
play, publications, national activities, and spirituality. It’s like entering a giant scrapbook, an album of activism, amor, attitude, and ideologies. Dozens of queer-sloganed T-shirts hang from the ceiling; matchbooks and political buttons hang intermittently from ribbons.

The show as a survey of San Antonio queer history can be criticized for barely scratching the surface of this city’s astonishing stories. It is a beginning, an endeavor Esperanza intends to re-engage over time, perhaps in different sites across the city. All artists and activists were documented upon entry, not to alienate but to embrace. (Ironically, undocumented workers as the new “gays” is one comparison that can be culled from this the collection.)

A seven-hour series of salient stories plays during the exhibit. Stories also were solicited from the artists to explain each artwork’s significance; these texts hang with other artwork information.

Just as many groups no longer exist, the exhibit also includes works by artists who have died. For those who remember these individuals and entities, seeing the art transcends nostalgia, morphing into automatic memory and mourning. Other visitors are staggered by the amount of advocacy, adversity, and ascendancy shaping the queer communities here.

Esperanza’s staff and board consciously called the exhibit “¡Qué Queer!” though the “Q” word resonates inconsistently in this city; phobias surface as its etymology is entiended or not. There are groups and individuals whose work reaches deep into the riches of the San Antonio drag-queen traditions and the lost legacies of local lesbian bars (“Steak Nights” and “Tuesday Night Discussion Groups”), but who refused to be represented in this exhibit — one from fear of undermining their mainstream success. Out of respect, I’ll obey the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” dictum and not name names. There is still fear here of things queer.

On the other hand, there is Soulforce, an agency acting against “spiritual violence” in the LGBT community whose San Antonio chapter has dissolved; its remnants are displayed with the express intent of attracting local interest in its revival. A new group, too, has been formed from ¡Qué Queer! I called them the “Q2 Kids” but they changed their tag to “gang” — and out of respect for Proust’s budding Volume II girl gangs, I applaud their appellation. Together we’ve been celebrating Contemporary Art Month, meeting in the ¡Qué Queer! space, beginning to develop work around the idea of being young and queer here.

I’ve also coined a name for my own role with this the show: “Queerator.” Characteristics interestingly include: working quite quickly, caring little for so-called “quality,” caring more about equity, quotas, and quantity, presenting queries, asking questions, considering everyone qualified, having no qualms about presentation and re-presentation, being willing to quarrel and quibble, and being quixotic in a quest for what is queer here. In short, ¡Qué Queer! San Antonio! reflects that profound Proustian sentiment:  “Arte es Vida.” 

¡Qué Queer! San Antonio!
9am-6pm Mon-Fri
& by appt.
Through Aug 3
CAM reception: 6-8pm Fri, Jul 27
922 San Pedro



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