by Asri Alhamdaputra
I’m sick and tired of being the token queer person of color in every space I go to. Here’s an insight to my experience living as a femme non-binary person of color: every time I walk into a room, in an academic setting or otherwise, I feel the need to prove my worth. Namely, there’s always an urge for me to make a statement to the people I share space with that just because “I look like this” does not mean I am incompetent. I feel a constant need to ensure everyone in the room likes me in order to set an example for folks about what it means for a multifaceted complex individual to identify as non-binary. I fear for my safety walking down the street when I am femme-presenting. These are just the tip of the iceberg. Intentional or not, every day I experience some form of discrimination or micro-aggression. But taking that into consideration, my plight as a person of color identifying as non-binary femme is nothing compared to the racism and transphobia faced by Black trans women, to the discrimination and exclusion faced by Black students attending Berkeley, to the racism and sexism faced by Black women.
Last week, I was in the midst of lecture in my film class when a discussion about racism come up. My professor brought up some very interesting points that led to a very engaging discussion with my classmates. Of course, through listening to what people in my class had to say I felt like I learned a lot about the material and how it relates to racial dynamics. However, throughout the whole process I felt two things that are in opposition with each other: 1) I felt compelled to say something to prove my worth to the rest of the class, and 2) I felt uncomfortable and discouraged to participate in the discussion. This oxymoron of emotions came after I took a second amidst lecture to look around; I see that over 90% of the class is made up of white and Asian students. Not a single Black student in my class and I was the only femme presenting queer. Something about that demographic disturbs me to my core. Specifically, how can a group of middle to upper-middle class white and Asian students discuss racism? None of these students have ever experience discrimination in the same way Black people do, nor have most of them ever experience what it means to be the token POC in a room.
Thus, faced in a situation where I’m discussing racism in a room full of people who would not understand my experience as a minority, I would feel equally uncomfortable and compelled to educate. The situation I faced in my class is inherently hypocritical because what we are discussing in class does not reflect the condition of the class itself. What use is it to talk about racism if we are excluding Black and Brown students’ access to education? What use is it to talk about racism if it’s not specifically geared toward dismantling and acknowledging your white privileges to a room of white students? How much knowledge of racism can a white professor teach, knowing that they would never experience real-life racial discrimination and prejudice?
3%, that’s how many Black people make up Berkeley’s student body. That’s not at all reflective of how many times racism is discussed in our classes. For me and other Black and Brown folks, the thing about race is: race is not something that is only talked about within the confines of a class discussion. We don’t only think about race when a professor prompts us to discuss it. Race is our reality and we think about it every single day for the rest of our lives.
What does this have to do with art? For the people reading this, I want you to know that the curators of BAMPFA are predominantly white. I want you to know that POC’s are doing extra emotional labor in our classes every time the subject of race is discussed. Please understand that Berkeley’s demographic does not reflect the communities it displaces. If you are white, understand that BAMPFA is a white space made for white people to preach about diversity in the art world. The next time you are in a class discussion, look around you, be cognizant of the space you are in. Ask yourself: am I taking up too much space? Understand that students of color interact with the space differently than you do. And lastly, don’t forget to support artists of color, especially those who gave up a lot to be an artist, whose skin color or gender identity or sexual orientation or ethnicity and nationality put them in a disposition where being an artist is improbable, yet against all odds they remain a creative being that makes the world a little less boring.
By Asri Alhamdaputra
The truth is a penis
Today an old friend asked me “are you getting a sex change surgery?”
It wasn’t the words that hurts me. It was her reducing me to my genitals.
As if all that matters is what lies beneath your pants.
As if being a trans is reduced down to genitalia
As if gender is a box, it can only be one or the other.
I am more than my penis. I am more than my gender.
I am a man. I am a woman. I am both and neither at the same time.
The truth is I am neither a man nor a woman, yet I am everything in between.
A concept so intricate to fathom that explaining it wouldn’t shed the slightest light to the brightest of mind.
A penis is a penis is a penis.
The world revolves around the penis.
Phallic, glorified, and looked upon, everybody’s looking for the penis.
Privileged when you have a penis.
Censored yet talked about the most.
Objectified yet humanized.
A penis is a penis
But a penis is not your gender
Because having a penis doesnt make you a man
And having none doesn’t make you any less of a man
You are what you identify as
Tricky isn’t it? What does that mean?
Basically, that means
When i say i’m a woman, just fucking respect it.
When i say i’m a man, understand it
When i say i’m neither, acknowledge it
When i say i’m both, believe it
No i don’t need you to fully agree to what i have to say
I don’t need you to advocate for me and pretend to understand my experience
What i do expect is for you to respect me regardless of my gender. Understand that i am a complex human being, just like any other, and i am more than my genitals. What i expect is for you to not ask questions such as “when’s the surgery?”
You wanna know the truth? Here’s the truth. The truth is i am hurting. I am sick and tired of constantly needing to reassure myself that what i’m feeling is valid. The truth is i’m sick of hiding and pretending to be someone i’m not. The truth is i’m tired of conforming to your standards and binaries. The truth is what you think of me doesn’t define me, and i’m tired of having to explain myself to change YOUR perception towards me. As if that matters the world to me, as if your lack of understanding of the concept of gender is my liability.
Must be so nice isn’t it? To have people understand what you are. Who you are. Must be nice to have people around you that look like you, talk like you, and think like you. Must be nice to be have your identity understood, received, and unquestioned.
The truth is everyone’s hurting, and i’m sure you are too.
We’re not so different you and I.
And the presence or lack of a penis doesnt make it any different.
I value you. I validate you. I acknowledge you. And i support you.
But why can’t you do the same for me?
I’m not asking for much here.
Just a little respect and understanding.
Can we start over?
A penis is a penis is a penis.
It seems like it’s everything.
Truth is, a penis has nothing to do with anything.
L’Origine du Monde (1866) by Gustave Courbet
by Asri Alhamdaputra
It was Friday night in the first week of Fall semester. I was getting my usual at La Burrita, and as per usual, I was stoned. A swarm of white guys walked in, presumably drunk, judging from their lack of awareness of acceptable social cues, and being the white man's whore that I am, my high self inspected each and every one of them, closely.
To my surprise, I find my gaydar to be unreliable at the time. These guys gave strong douchey, rapey, preppy boys vibes but their skinny jeans and French-tucked floral button downs spoke otherwise; are these guys gay or fratty?
This thought led me to a series of tangents I still ponder even today: how come more and more straight guys wear traditionally feminine clothing? From the phenomena of the romphim, to shocking pink oversized hoodies being something Supreme would sell, to the peculiarity of straight guys wearing floral shirts to go out; it seems to me that masculinity has become less rigid nowadays. Has Tan France’s influence towards the straights really been that impactful to the point where more and more straight preppy frat boys dress the way Tan does? I doubt it, last time I checked at Kip’s, countless groups of straight guys wearing floral shirts and pink hoodies still gawk at drunk girls from the corner of the dance floor, waiting on their chance to prowl and nonconsensually grind on them. Never have I seen the anomaly of a group of straight guys dancing their hearts out at the club without giving a shit about discrediting their masculinity, nor have I seen drag themed frat parties. Something doesn’t add up here: you see countless burly dudes wearing tight hawaiian shirts on a typical Friday night, but is this a stride we are making towards dismantling fragile toxic masculinity, or is this merely an ornamental trend used by guys to seem cool and emotionally available to hot babes?
Have you heard of the famous painting L’Origine du Monde (1866) by Gustave Courbet? It’s basically a realism piece of a closeup of a woman’s genitals. The piece utilizes the strategy of poetic shock to spark conversations about eroticism in art, while subsequently spearheading the notion of boundaries of representation and actively rejecting conventional notions of what was considered presentable. Sounds progressive right? Well, simultaneously by creating the piece Gustave Courbet took credit for the painting and sold a depiction of a woman’s genitals to other white men who were able to afford his highly valued artwork; It is crucial to keep in mind that the identity of the model in the painting is still up for debate to this day, while everyone remembers who Gustave Courbet was. Besides, there is something inherently voyeuristic and troubling about the piece, not because of the obscenity, but because the painting subliminally represents a pre-established unbalanced power dynamic between two people due to gender inequality which leads to exploitation of the female body. As radical and revolutionary as the piece was to the art trajectory at the time, it is still inherently unethical and problematic.
Okay, but what’s this have to do with creepy men wearing floral shirts? It has everything to do with it! It tells us that the power move of being seemingly progressive and feminist has been a strategy utilized by men to further oppress women since the early 19th century. It tells us that these frat boys with their French-tucks are not here to talk to you about consent and be there for your emotional needs. It tells us something we have known from the get go: men are trash.
I’m not saying that the sight of men being less concerned about traditional gender roles is pervasive, nor am I saying that men’s views on masculinity should go back to “wearing pink makes you gay!” What I’m merely doing is calling out straight men, from the floral-wearing French-tucking frat bros to the artsy skating co-op sadbois with their nails painted, that accessorizing your outer appearance with knick knacks that make you seem progressive is not enough. It doesn’t give you a freebie to sit out on an active participation to dismantle the patriarchy, it won’t magically make you a feminist man who is radically changing our views towards masculinity, and most certainly, it won't get you laid.
Was this a reach? Probably. Am I being too harsh and generalizing all men as equally trash? Yes. But is there merit to what I say, and am I making the most of my platform to speak my truth as a non-binary femme of color? Also yes. So, girls and gays, let’s all actively call out these men and remind them of the fact that they aint shit.
"Robert Mapplethorpe Self Portrait, image obtained from Elvert Barnes' flickr"
by Asri Alhamdaputra
Mapplethorpe is my hero.
I've never felt like more of a stereotype than by saying these words. As an artsy femme queer majoring in art, claiming my love for Mapplethorpe is like saying the sky is blue. First of all, he's fine AF. Have you seen his self portraits? Leather zaddy alert. But more importantly, his works are deliberately irreverent, putting jarring homoerotic depictions of male sexuality in front of your face. In the 70's, capturing close-up pictures of dicks was unheard of, let alone celebrated. Mapplethorpe was the O.G. gay that paved the way for all of today's instathot gays; Mapplethorpe walked so Adam Rippon could run.
But his ingeniousness goes far beyond the idea of taking explicit homoerotic pictures. He blurs the line between high art and pornography; his photographs are soft and intimate, yet simultaneously harsh and upfront. He normalizes BDSM subculture and elevates it onto a pedestal for the mainstream to acknowledge. Namely, Mapplethorpe laughs at 50 Shades of Grey, representing the BDSM community accurately instead of romanticizing it to fit the fantasies of a middle-aged suburban white mom. He questions the notion of censorship in the world of art, and explores many unconventional iterations of the nude form.
Needless to say, Mapplethorpe's sensual while critical portraits of erotica awarded him the reputation of being the L'Enfant Terrible of the art world. Many museums canceled Mapplethorpe’s show during his solo exhibition tour in the late 80’s on the basis of their hesitation to political involvement with his art.
But let’s be real, all art, with or without intention, is political. That’s just the T. In the late 80’s, during the pinnacle of the AIDS crisis, the heat of the ACT UP’s movement, a time where people still believed AIDS was sent by god to punish gay people, turning down a chance to exhibit Mapplethorpe’s Self Portrait with a Bullwhip (1978) is not just contradictory to what museums are supposed to do (serving for the public’s greater good), it’s discriminatory to an entire group of people who are literally dying by huge numbers daily.
Perhaps that’s what makes Mapplethorpe a legend; his ability to make the viewer scrutinize the politics of museums and the art world in general. Mapplethorpe’s portraits are not only close-ups of dicks; they are close-ups of dicks with the intent of normalizing images of male genitalia for the mainstream to see. It inquired deliberately why the female nude is considered high art while close-up of dicks is subversive and political. It’s close-up of dicks, and it’s art, deal with it!
But sis, let’s address the elephant in the room. Do you think Mapplethorpe was a bottom? I mean, Self Portrait with Bullwhip? Truly this is what the entirety of this column is about, discussing how much of a power bottom Mapplethorpe truly was. He was the messiah us bottoms want and deserve. As a femme non-binary queer, I can only dream of taking a straight up bullwhip up my ass and pose so effortlessly to take a fierce photo. This, of course, adds to the long list of reasons why Mapplethorpe is an important icon in my life. He spearheads media representation for bottoms. Because it’s fun and games for the straights to be an ally for the gays, until the images of penetrative gay sex are publicized. Then, all of a sudden, it’s seditious.