Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

You Say Tomato

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

You Say Tomato

Article excerpt

We all have traumatic high school memories. Mine just happened to involve mental health wards, straitjackets, and the schizophrenia drug Thorazine. For much of my youth in suburban Chicago, especially while I was locked up after being diagnosed an "inappropriate female," painting was my only outlet. Without my art, I would probably be dead--not a successful artist-writer-activist living in the nation's capital. I found that through painting and writing I could externalize what had always been an internal struggle. Shortly after writing my memoir, The Last Time I Wore a Dress (Riverhead, 1998), I changed my name from Daphne to the gender-neutral Dylan.

To me, art is not a choice. I do it to help heal myself as well as others. Sometimes it's emotionally abstract, and sometimes it's more straightforward, but it's always painfully honest. I have this line in a current painting that reads: "You can't see your reflection without light." By putting my rawest emotions on the canvas--becoming a sort of emotional mirror--perhaps I can help illuminate the suppressed emotions in other transgender people.

Mostly I paint about my experience living in this body: the struggles I face being transgender, queer, and an ex-mental patient. I want my art to help people see the absurdity of it all. After all, I was locked up in the United States of America for not acting like a girl. When the insurance ran out and I got my freedom, I learned to be comfortable being me in a very public way. You can see that in my art, my writing, and even on my skin.

The word tomatoes is tattooed across my knuckles because I relate to the silly debate over labeling a produce item. …

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