What has lockdown meant for LGBTQ artists and writers?
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What has lockdown meant for LGBTQ artists and writers?
In an undated photo, Joe Mantello, who is doing postproduction work for the film “Boys in the Band,” shot for Netflix, in an undated photo. Eight LGBTQ artists and writers talk about the work they are doing in the pandemic and what lies ahead. Paul Marlow via The New York Times.

by Ted Loos

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- It’s a painful paradox for a group of people who have long fought for visibility: Suddenly a pandemic forces them into isolation. Each one is coping in a different way, harnessing their time while looking ahead.

We asked creative people from across the LBGTQ spectrum: What have they worked on during this time, how has their thinking been shaped by the experience — and how will they go forward as lockdowns soften? (The following conversations have been edited and condensed.)

Lauren Halsey

The artist, 33, often makes site-specific installations and has had a solo show at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. She was at home in South Central Los Angeles.

I’ve been spending the time figuring out how I can activate the community ethos outside of the physical space. One thing we’ve done is an organic produce box donation giveaway to folks in South Central and in Watts. And I’m doing that collaboratively with my studio assistants and my girlfriend. It fits the spirit of my work: soulful. It’s a labor of love.

I feel like I’ve been resetting my pace. The art world has slowed, and I hope the slowness continues. I think it’s really cool that online viewing rooms can democratize the platform for artists.

In terms of my work, I have an online show with David Kordansky Gallery featuring hand-carved engravings on gypsum. Because it’s being seen in 2D, I put a lot more effort into the depth of the markmaking. It’s helping walk me into my next project, which will be casting concrete blocks. I’m trying to use this time to experiment with surfaces and form. Keeping it funky and light.

Cyrus Dunham

A 28-year-old Los Angeles-based writer, last year he published “A Year Without a Name,” about being transgender. He also does political organizing for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.

It’s really difficult to know where in one’s body to hold the immensity of death during this time.

I’ve started working on a new book, exploring in a hyperpersonal and also archival way what it feels like to want to have a penis and not have been born with one.

I think a lot of trans people at different points in their life struggle with agoraphobia because it’s really hard to go out into the world. But for me lockdown is hard: I really am fueled by the passing interstitial encounters with strangers. I’m a really friendly person, and I’m in a particular position because I do pass as male, and it still feels really novel and fascinating to me to have people read me as a man.

I’m just trying to force myself to do small, quiet things, too. I’m really into gardening. Creating a little patch of city land for indigenous plants like elderberry is really amazing for my mental health. The resilience of these plants is really helping me think through things. I feel that my pandemic enemy is invasive bamboo.

Alison Bechdel

The cartoonist, 59, is behind “Dykes to Watch Out For” and “Fun Home,” and is co-creator of the Bechdel Test. She was at home in Vermont.

I feel very conflicted to admit this, but isolation has been really perfect for me. I feel like if this weren’t happening, I would secretly be trying to engineer it. I know that betrays my great privilege to even say that, but I just need to be drawing 14 hours a day for my new book, which is about my lifelong pursuit of physical fitness.

I feel less anxious now than I ever have. I’ve spent my entire life worried about the world going to hell, and now that it actually is, I feel sort of strangely calm. I hope that some sort of deep transformational change is afoot inside of me, as it is in all of us. On a very surface level, I would be very happy, personally, to give up air travel for the rest of my life. I feel like it’s ridiculous; we shouldn’t be doing it.

I have been doing a daily diary drawing, starting long before the pandemic, to just try and capture a moment of each day. But now that all the days really are blurring into one another, it’s a very good record to have.

Edmund White

The award-winning novelist (“A Boy’s Own Story”) spoke from his home in New York.

I’m 80 years old. I don’t get out that much anyway. I walk with a cane, so it’s not as though I would be skipping around. I did get to Stratford, Connecticut; that was my first outing in 60 days.

I read a tremendous amount. I’m the judge of a literary contest, so I had a lot to do for that. My husband and I have had friends over for a distanced dinner.

In August I have a new book coming out, “A Saint From Texas,” and right now I’m writing a new novel that I was sort of stalled on. Then my lover — who’s quarantined with his lover — gave me an assignment to read to him every two days what I had written. I’ve written 140 pages since he gave me that command.

Otherwise, you avoid. I find most writers that I talk to can’t write during this thing; they just watch MSNBC and sleep.

Salman Toor

The Manhattan-based painter, 37, was about to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art when the shutdown came.

My first reaction was, thank God. I was really relieved because I’m not a social animal, and in the course of creating this show I had to meet hundreds of people. And I was also dreading that there was going to be a group panel discussion at the museum.

The disappointment came later: I realized, “Oh, OK, so my show might never happen.” (laughs)

So I thought, I’m going to take a break and do self-care. Then, I reordered painting supplies so I could work here at home, as I couldn’t get to my studio. I am back to painting, and I’m on my third one now. I realized this is not going to be a dead end for me.

My work was already about isolation before COVID-19. I’m painting a kind of imaginary bunch of foreign-looking people of different persuasions, in slightly odd, fantastical costumes. Another of the new ones is a lonely sleeping figure, but to be honest, I wasn’t really thinking about the current isolation.

Kimberly Drew

A 29-year-old writer and activist who lives in Brooklyn, she just published “This Is What I Know About Art.”

One of my quarantine projects has been a daily art newsletter, Something I Saw. I really want to make sure that people feel connected to the arts — there’s a great need for that in a pandemic. I publish it every day with an artwork that has in some way brought joy or curiosity into my life.

Recently I was with more than 15,000 people celebrating black trans lives. We’re in this intense moment of grief; in the middle of a pandemic we have this violence, which is so familiar. I’ve had my fair share of struggles with it, but it’s been remarkable to see organizers come together. I’ve been working with a group called GLITS (Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society) on fundraising, and we’ve raised $1 million.

I really enjoy being single now. I think a lot of my professional life, in the time before, was really being with people a lot, which required a certain level of performance. And I think I really enjoy the opportunity to move at my own pace and to have my own secrets. I know that within my apartment, it’s just me and my rules.

Benjamin Freemantle

A principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, 24, he lives in the lower Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco.

Right now my routine is: I wake up and do something physical, like a ballet class or a workout Zoom class. I love my craft and I love working on it, but it feels so strange to be seeing everyone through Zoom and just working out independently.

My job was the first to go, and essentially it’s going to be the last to come back. My true calling is to be a performer, to be onstage and having a spotlight and 3,000 people fill an opera house. It’s not the same when it’s 25 Zoom people looking at me.

Every two weeks I have one depressed day where I wrestle with existential questions of “What is life?” But then usually after that day, I get reinvigorated.

I just want to perform, in whatever capacity that means, even if it’s in a random parking garage with 30 cars’ headlights pointed at me. That sounds pretty fun right now.

Joe Mantello

The Tony-winning director and actor has acted in Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” on Broadway and in the HBO movie version. Mantello, 57, spoke from Palm Springs, California.

We were nine previews into a new Broadway revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” which I was directing, when the shutdown happened. It was certainly a disappointment for everyone involved. I think the future theater landscape is now unknown territory. It’s going to be like walking on the moon.

For work, I’m doing the final postproduction process, including sound mixing, for the film “Boys in the Band,” shot for Netflix. And earlier I was doing remote press interviews for “Hollywood,” the Netflix series I was in.

It’s an astonishing time. In the course of three months, the theater lost Mart Crowley and Terrence McNally and Larry Kramer, and those are gigantic losses. They were all not only groundbreaking figures in the history of theater and gay theater, but they were friends and mentors of mine. So I’ve sort of just been sitting with that and thinking, “What kind of work do I want to make?” I just don’t know the answer.

One of the extraordinary things about “The Normal Heart” was its urgency, like a dispatch from the front. And I think there are writers out there today who will be able to do something similar. Out of trying times comes brilliant art.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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