This blew my mind and my heart wide open. It moved me to tears, smiles, sacred flirting, dirty dancing, lascivious epiphanies. It was the best time I ever had at a cemetery. Wait, what?!
In January, the IVAM Museum organized Transmaricabibollo: a guided LGBTQ tour of the municipal cemetery in Valencia in support of its exhibition Essays on Seediness celebrating the life/works of the Andalusian artist Miguel Benlloch. I signed up as part of my ongoing #TimbulWalksValencia pilgrimage through all the streets of this thunderously wondrous city. I’d love to tell y’all about 1) the tour, 2) the exhibition, 3) and a very special moment from that afternoon on my Patreon. Ready, steady, off to the cemetery, we go-go-go!
It was a bright crisp day, the kind Joaquin Sorolla painted into art history. Valencia’s famous son is an eternal resident here. Waiting by the gate, I notice a sign common for public buildings in Spain. “This space is free from homophobia.” At last, one would hope! I crack myself up. Then I realize how many LGBTQ people do not – in fact – rest in peace. Their identities and stories continue to be denied even in death. Many do not live to experience a dignified death in old age. I blink at the sun. The sun stares back.
Our motley crew is led by Piro Subrat, an activist historian and author of Invertidos y Romepatrias: Marxism, Anarchism, and Sexual & Gender Disobedience in the Spanish State. Piro guides us through a dozen tombs introducing each person and their (queer) impact on the history of the city, country, world. Folks lay fresh flowers. We pay our respect to Mujeres Libres, women of the 1930’s feminist movement, to someone who pioneered drag cabaret in Valencia, someone who lobbied for federal recognition of the Valencian language, someone who championed independent antifascist media. Some names and details escape my limited Spanish. Still, I am overwhelmed by the narrative of it all. I learn about Margarida Borràs who was publicly executed in Valencia for “being a man living as a woman” in 1460. Yep, that would be in the fifteenth f*cking century. The world keeps trying to bury its rainbow(s). Yet they shine on: miracles of nature or natural miracles. Queerness thrives at the intersection of extreme individualism and intense community. The unique made universal. I try to image a tour like this in my hometown in Russia. In a dozen cities I’ve lived in so far. Anywhere at all. Why is this not part of every school curriculum?! Of course, we’ve been here, been queer, yet I cannot get used to this. The damn sun makes my eyes water.
The exhibition is contained to a small room once again exhibiting the historical challenge of documenting and preserving queer culture. How much of it has remained private, clandestine, secret, forbidden, hidden, (un)intentionally destroyed. Perhaps, Benlloch’s most famous work is the performance Fifty One Genders. It is algorithm-labeled 18+. You must sign into YouTube. Same for Afuera del Sexo. All of Benlloch Archive. Part of queer heartbreak is having your entire life labeled “adult content” while not being taken seriously ever at all. To learn more about the artist, you can get an illustrated free book in English and/or watch this subtitled IVAM video.
A series of Benlloch’s antiwar prints resonated with today’s headlines like whoa…
Later I discover his 1992 poem translated into English. Granada. I fall in love with it:
Perfection moves away from the beloved city;
to feel its heart is more like a dream,
a vague idea that vanishes amidst the impotence
entailed by the search for perfection.
Inhabited by history, paradise flees
from reality through time,
the builder of space.
We are dwellers of a city born from another culture,
banished by force of submission and suffering.
And yet, its memory persists in the city,
in the sublime constructions made by
those who crossed the Strait.
Granada is a vacant Arab heart
which we have never loved enough,
because the new order born after the expulsion
considered it a stranger, an enemy.
Those who made the city don’t live in it.
We’re not their heirs. Only builders of oblivion.
… It speaks to all of the many of me. A pilgrim in the lands I did not build. As an heir to queerness, I am grateful to Miguel Benlloch, the IVAM curatorial team, and Piro Subrat for rescuing an enormous part of Valencian heritage from my ignorance. I will keep living/doing my best to honor it.
On Patreon, I share a stunning moment from the cemetery tour that took my breath away. Spoiler alert: there was singing and dancing and ¡Yyyyyy!
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