|Re-Envisioned Gay A + A Facade, Image by Author, 2007 (source)
Despite the prevalence of homosexuals in the field of architecture—I can attest to their high numbers as a member of this group—I cannot say that I have ever come across an architecture that is distinctly homosexual in appearance. It is not surprising given that the architects of past generations operated from within the closet. While Paul Rudolph’s work is often cited as overtly homosexual—the corduroy banding of his Yale Art and Architecture building is said to be a vision of frolicking boys in trousers—I am genuinely left unconvinced.
For Susan Sontag, the most homosexual of aesthetics is camp, an umbrella term for everything that we homosexuals hold dear: rainbows, Lady Gaga, The View, mushrooms, mugs, Us Weekly, lamps (of all sorts), googly eyes, martini’s, Les Misérables, penises, gold spray paint, The Legend of the Seeker, bright colors, androgyny, Oprah, rhinestones, cupcakes, textiles, pyramids, Dolly Parton, to name just a few. Camp and architecture, however, lead exclusive lives.
Due to the enforced seriousness of the discipline, gay architects have denied themselves their playful inclinations (their propensity for camp), and have insisted on carrying the aesthetic burden of their heterosexual colleagues and clients in order to prove their capacity for high design. To this effect, there is no greater insult for the queer, educated architect, than being mistaken for the ‘gay decorator’. But, while the homosexual architect operates in the realm of understated polite (boring and outmoded) taste, the gay decorator is playful, risque, punk, loud, in your face, garish, silly, humorous, sexy, spontaneous, innovative, absurd, ridiculous, happy, but above all, he remains relevant to contemporary practice. It is my sense that in coming out of the closet as homosexuals, collectively as architects, we have left this gay decorator behind. It is about time he was released to work his magic.
E. Sean Bailey
|American Apparel Advertisement (source)
We live in a designed environment. Our urban context has been shaped by the minds of planners, designers and architects; the freeways we drive on, the parks we nap in and the stores we purchase groceries from. Much of the fabric of reality we take for granted has been assembled intentionally for aesthetics, for utility, or for power. Our sexuality, as defined by culture, is also a designed environment.
The construction and dissemination of culture is largely what differentiates us from the other animals we share this planet with. These cultural memes may convey simple messages such as what food is poisonous and what is safe to eat and they may communicate complexities such as what particular subculture of person we find attractive. We all generate culture in our day to day interactions—learning and teaching, thinking and speaking—but some voices are louder than others. Kalle Lasn writes, ‘from the moment your radio alarm sounds in the morning to the wee hours of late-night T.V. micro-jolts of commercial pollution flood into your brain at the rate of around 3,000 marketing messages per day. Everyday an estimated 12,000,000,000 display ads, 3,000,000 radio commercials and more than 200,000 television commercials are dumped into North America’s collective unconscious’ and each of these messages agrees or conflicts with our ever-evolving and growing sense of normalcy. It is through the advertising and purchasing of branded products that many of us develop our sexual identities. For example, queer children are raised in a culture that constantly reminds them that heterosexuality is normal (buy roses for your wife on Valentine’s Day!) and may transform their innate sexual feelings into slapstick, or worse.
We can all generate a list of cultural messages quite easily. Without reading too much into it, make a list of every single binary you can. Do not edit, just write. Some examples to get you started are black and white, girl and boy, gay and straight. After you have written all you can, try to identify in each binary which label or idea is more powerful, attractive, good, or positive.
Feminist, queer and trans activists around the globe are fighting to break up these binaries in order to free sexuality and sex from its cultural chains. We are all designers in this sense, and we all have the power to resist. We free sexuality by embracing ambiguity; we are girl and boy, we are gay and straight, we are all of these things and none of these things. We exist, to love, fuck, grow and live to tell about it.
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