Sparkle the Flame

 
 

With Pride month coming up soon, I decided it was about time for a rainbow-themed photography project, to celebrate and honor the beautiful queer community. The result is Sparkle the Flame, a series of 8 portraits and a collage, celebrating queerness and, more specifically, the historical role that glitter has played in queer emancipation and expression.

Queerness & Glitter

Historically speaking, there are a lot of ties to be found between queerness to glitter. As this article highlights, glitter hasn’t only been abundant in the long legacy of queer nightlife and performance art, as a signifier of queer identity and symbol of defiance, but has also been used more deliberately in activism in many ways. For example, in what is called the “Glitter + Ash movement”, American churches show support and solidarity for queer religious individuals by mixing Ash Wednesday ashes with purple glitter. Another example the article above mentions is “glitter bombing”; the practice of showering homophobic politicians with glitter as a symbol of protest.

Aside from explicit uses like this, there is also a lot of symbolism that one can derive from glitter that fits well with concepts of queerness: Glitter stereotypically “get’s everywhere” and is “impossible to rub off”, much like being queer, and with its bright colors an light-catching features, it’s almost celebratory in nature. It’s a lush symbol of celebration, visibility, and empowerment. Together with the diversity represented by the rainbow-colored flag, it is the perfect manifestation of Pride.

 
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Exploring Queerness

Despite all this symbolism and history, there is a certain paradoxical element when trying to define any one symbol or thing as representative of the queer community, when the concept of queerness itself can be seen as defiant of societal norms and the labels that come with. Concepts like gender identity, sexual orientation and queerness have different meanings to different people. There is no consensus among the queer community, either, as will also become clear in the Q&A’s below. Rather than a series with a straight-forward message, this project is thus an exploration of sorts; one I invite you to join. I would love to hear your thoughts on the concepts of queerness (and its relations to glitter) - either in the comments under this post, or on Instagram.

 
PINK: SEX - Martin

PINK: SEX - Martin

 

What is your relationship with the concept of gender, and how do you identify?

I just don’t bloody know, but for the purpose of this question I’ve settled on ‘provisionally male.’ I think I struggle with the word ‘male’ because it somehow seems to undermine or even nullify the struggles I’ve had with my gender since a very young age… as if it was all ‘much ado about nothing because it turns out I was male all along.’ I have always felt closer to women, and I vividly remember feeling like a girl in a body’s body at a very young age. Whilst some traditionally masculine traits that compose my gender identity have consistently felt right to me, I certainly also appropriate many that are foreign to me for the power that comes with them, especially in times when I am feeling fragile. So, do I settle on the term ‘male’ because I am scared to confront the possibility of another reality, a reality that would deprive me of certain male privileges?

Does this mean you subsequently consider yourself “queer”, and if so, what does that mean for you?

Up until two years ago I would not have identified as queer, but now it’s an integral part of my life that gives me a huge amount of joy and energy. Whilst there are plenty of problems with the queer community, and it is not always the utopia it is made out to be, it’s the place where I feel valued, and I don’t need to explain myself.

 

What’s your take on labels?

They are necessary to an extent. Even within the queer community we do not really shed labels, we simply reinvent and reshuffle them. We’re simply looking at a community that, for the longest time, was erased from society’s cultural imagination, and subsequently had to fight for its existence, but this existence is self-categorized just as any subculture – we seek to belong.

 

How do you see the connection between glitter and expressing queer identity?

I think glitter is symbolic of queer rejection of containment and concealment; it is strikingly visible, and it gets everywhere. No matter how hard you scrub, you’ll never get rid of it. The same counts for us.

 

Did you have any special connection to the color & theme you portrayed in this photo?

I was ardent on choosing pink for two reasons.

Firstly, the color is a reference to queer culture’s celebration of sex. I see this celebration, among other things, as a means to disavow gayhood’s (by default) extremely negative relationship with sex. I still struggle with deeply-rooted connotations of guilt and impurity with sex, which have impeded my ability to experience it positively in the past. By representing pink, and by posing in sexually evocative ways for pictures which will be publicly disseminated, I hope I will make those around me, and myself, more comfortable with the perception of me as a sexual being.

In addition, I purposefully posed in more effeminate ways to emulate the way I feel and move during sex. One question that is troubling me at the moment is whether I adopt this sexual persona because it has been imposed on me by gay sex-culture and pornography, specifically the trope of the ‘twink’ (which I used to/still do – according to interpretation – resemble), or whether it is an expression of my gender identity that I do not allow to permeate my non-sexual presentation. As mentioned previously, I have rarely experienced sex positively, and I do not know whether this is because of my internalized rejection of my effeminate side that I give a platform to during sex, or because I am once again adopting a gender identity for somebody else, that is foreign to me.

 
RED: LIFE - An

RED: LIFE - An

 

How do you identify, and does this mean you consider yourself queer?

Currently, I identify as bisexual and transmasculine. I also definitely identify as queer. For me, queer means non-conforming with the normative identities constructed in our society. It means being yourself and having pride in that. I like using the word ‘queer’ more than any label of the LGBT+ acronym because it doesn’t necessitate putting a label on yourself. Having been an outcast most of my life, I have found a home among the queer community. Of course there is still a lot of discrimination and so forth within the community, but in my experience most people are far more open-minded and compassionate to each other in queer spaces than anywhere else.

 

What are your thoughts about (your) labels?

To be honest, I am getting more and more tired about having to explain them, people continuously asking questions about my orientation and/or gender expression. In my understanding, such labels are constructed in order to make sense out of the wide range of different expressions of humanness; and can be definitely helpful for some. But I see my identities as fluid and constantly moving- as well as far more abstract and unique than any label could represent.

 

How would you describe your relationship with glitter?

I definitely like to dress up from time to time, despite identifying as masculine. Most of the time I like to wear simple jeans and a shirt but when I dress up, I like to go all out – and glitter definitely comes into that sometimes! I think it’s important to note however, that you can express your gender identity however you feel like, and wearing certain signifiers of a feminine or masculine gender does not necessarily mean you identify as that certain gender.

 

Do you have any special connection to the color of the flag you portrayed?

I was photographed with red glitter, a color symbolizing life. I picked this color because of my history with mental health issues and suicide attempts. For a really long time, I have been struggling immensely with myself and my identity, because I did not fit in with normative standards set up my society; because I was different. However, slowly, I’m seeing more and more how being normal is boring, so fuck that. I like who I am, and the people who cannot see me as me are just not worth it.

 

What is Pride to you?

Pride for me is not only accepting who you are, but also celebrating it. In my experience, the more I see my own beauty, the more beautiful life itself gets. Pride is seeing the beauty in all the diverse and unique expressions of human kind; look around you, it is pretty awesome right?! I celebrate it every day, by looking around me and seeing beauty in every person I cross, including the one in the mirror.

 
ORANGE: HEALING - Isabeau

ORANGE: HEALING - Isabeau

 

What are your thoughts on (your) gender, sexual orientation, queerness, and labels?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve realized that a lot of gender and sexual orientation talk and defining doesn’t fit me anymore. I believe a large part of gendered thinking is purely a social construct and I don’t want to encourage that. I used to call myself a cis woman and bisexual, but both those things changed over time. I am a human, I like people. I would now just call myself queer in every way. To me, “queer” means refusing to use hetero-normative labels to define myself, my love, my sex life or anything else related to these subjects. Sometimes it even encompasses anti-capitalist and anti-possessive non-monogamous thinking and living.

Although I thus seem quite strict about not using labels, I do from time to time. When I was younger, the bi label really helped me not freaking out about my sexuality. It taught me that if there was a word for what I felt, it must be okay. It’s complicated. I see rejecting labels as some sort of journey in my life and hope someday we won’t need labels anymore.

 

When do you wear glitter, and is there an element of queer expression in it for you?

I only wear glitter when I go to festivals. I love putting it on my face - it feels festive to me.

Glitter became, at some point, part of Pride, just like the rainbow did. When I wear glitter in hetero-normative spaces, such as a rock festival, I don’t feel it conveys queerness to other people, but perhaps this would be different for people who are perceived as male.

 

How do you feel about the pride flag(s)?

Seeing rainbows in any open or closed space makes me feel welcome and warm. The original meaning of the flag doesn’t string a chord with me, though.

 

What is Pride to you?

Pride to me is an everyday occurrence. I’m proud of my sexuality, in whatever shape it comes to me. The most important part of celebrating pride to me is being with my loved ones and acknowledging that we love each other for who we are and want to be.

 
YELLOW: SUN - Sandra

YELLOW: SUN - Sandra

 

How do you identify in terms of gender and sexual orientation?

I would say that I am Gender Queer with more masc-presenting tendencies. As for sexual orientation I would also say I identify as Queer, and have romantic preferences for androgynous, gender neutral or femme presenting people. “Queer” to me thus means my identity and sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual and exists outside the influences of gender.

 

What are your thoughts on (your) labels? Do they help or hurt?

I like my labels - they help me find my crowd of like-minded people and help people understand me. Unfortunately, not everyone always understands all the labels, but I think it always makes for great conversation when meeting new people. Therefore, so far labels have been quite helpful.

 

What is your relationship with glitter, and does it relate to expressing queer identity for you?

I love glitter for celebratory occasions. I don’t use it on a day to day basis but enjoy using it during parties. As for a relation to queerness - I mean I think a lot of queer people enjoy glitter because it’s fun, and makes everything that extra bit fabulous (which I mean duh, all queer people are).

 

How do you feel about the pride flag(s) and the color you represented in your photo?

I love them because they symbolize my people. Walking through the streets, every time I see the flag it signifies I’m accepted in this area. It signifies that I can be in this space with my partner without a fear or judgment. I like the color I chose because it’s the warmth and welcoming warmth the queer community has always offered me. It’s also my favorite color. 😉

 

What is Pride to you?

Pride is the moment that we as lgbtqi+ people can celebrate our community. It’s about strength in our union and about visibility and representation – I mean it’s not like we don’t exist throughout the year but pride month is the moment we can be proud, and our family, friends and other allies can celebrate along with us. It’s when we can own our identity and all our intersections; whether its queer and black, queer and disabled, queer, black, immigrants or whatever other groups that are usually marginalized and othered. It’s a moment we can feel accomplished and good about ourselves. In mass numbers we remember our history of struggles, we remember people we’ve lost within our community and remind the world we still have a long way to go – that we exist and can’t be erased.

 
GREEN: NATURE - Hannah

GREEN: NATURE - Hannah

 

How do you identify, and how do you feel about labels in general?

Something along the lines of female-ish/ nonbinary, bi, demisexual/ gray ace, but I generally identify simply as “queer”. I find it an easy way to put everything under one umbrella term and not worry about how to exactly define my identity.

I think labels are helpful in terms of understanding yourself and having something to relate to when you first realize you're not straight and/or cis. But for me everything is more of a mix of labels and spectra, and I'm stereotypically bi (read: chronically indecisive), so I've come to not really care. Still, I tend to just tell people I'm bi because it's easy to understand. If I get into details, sometimes I end up in some sort of interrogation about how valid (my) labels are and that conversation just gets tiring (because we've all thought about this a lot and your doubts don’t really contribute anything).

 

To what extent do you feel part of the queer community, and what does it mean to you?

I feel very much a part of it, but it’s not something that I notice very much outside of queer events I attend sometimes. I guess it's because it's never played a huge part in my social circles and I’ve explored a lot of it on my own, so there's less of a “community” feeling besides at pride for example. There's also the aspect that a lot of queer culture can be quite hypersexualized, which I don't mind but it just doesn't really appeal to me. But in the end the community still means a lot to me; I'm interested in queer issues and media and I've had those cheesy moments of conversation that made me feel like I belonged.

 

What is your relationship with glitter like, and do you think wearing glitter can be a way of expressing queer identity?

I was quite the tomboy growing up so I always saw glitter as too girly and violently refused to wear it. When I got older I stopped thinking in those terms so now I really like it, but it mostly doesn't match my personal style. I especially love glitter in makeup and I like doing that for special occasions (or pride), but I'm way too lazy to wear it every day.  

For me, wearing glitter is tied to queer identity for sure, because if you go very glittery it's rebelling against mainstream culture and the need to fit in and tone yourself down for other people's comfort. That kind of free expression is very related to queer pride and doing it makes me feel more like my over-the-top self. Especially because queerness kind of has this invisible aspect to it where if I wanted to hide it, I could, and of course have done so in the past. So then going all out and not being shy in my expression appearance-wise gives me confidence and freedom to also act that way.

 

How do you feel about pride flags?

I love the pride flag and what it represents. I think the rainbow is such a great depiction of what acceptance and a diverse society should stand for. I never really paid too much attention or related strongly to the specific pride flags for certain orientations, though.

What is Pride to you, and how do you celebrate it?

I think pride is being able to be yourself no matter what that entails exactly or whether people like it or not, and that's definitely something I've been continuously working on and getting better at. I mostly celebrate pride at pride parades, other than that I'm not all that vocal about it. I don't actually like that I'm not, though, cause it definitely still comes from a place of wanting to blend in. So throwing on some glitter and forcing myself to stand out while also being part of a big party feels pretty great.

 
TURQUOISE: ART / MAGIC - Roos

TURQUOISE: ART / MAGIC - Roos

 

How do you identify?

I identify as a pansexual, cis woman. I also consider myself queer, as this to me means to be anything but the norm. I consider myself a cis woman, yes, but I’m not heterosexual, and I also like to wear men's clothes (a lot!) and wear my hair really short. This also isn’t really normative, although luckily (expressions of) androgyny are becoming more and more accepted in society.

How do you feel about (your) labels?

Well, most people don't know a lot about pansexuality, so often I just tell them I'm bi. I'm not really bothered by it, because I don't let people in my life quickly, and they probably won't see me quite a lot. I'm more like; the less they (read: random people) know about it, the better. It's just none of their business.

 

To what extent do you feel part of the queer community?

I feel as much part of the queer community as the “hetero community”, because at school, work, or with friends and family, it doesn't really matter who or what you are, as long as you’re yourself and kind and honest. I don't really feel like I'm a part of a “community” at all, in that sense. Except fir at national celebrations, like the Gay Pride. I think I'm very lucky to live in such an open and accepting environment.

What’s your relationship with glitter, and is there a connection to queer expression in your eyes?

I love to put glitter on my face as makeup whenever I feel happy or need a lil' boost to get happy. It makes me feel like a fairy or some magical creature, and a lot of people respond very positive to it. Especially at parties!

I think everyone loves glitter, whether you're masculine of feminine or whatever, but in society it's “actually" meant for girls only. Fuck that. You can be a unicorn if you want to. So yes, there is a connection; wearing glitter if you're not obviously a girl, or in everyday life, can be perceived odd by the masses, similarly to queerness itself.

 
INDIGO: SERENITY - AJ

INDIGO: SERENITY - AJ

 

How do you identify?

I’m a gay, cis-gendered male.

Does this mean you also identify as “queer”?

Yes! To me, queerness is the identification of everything else that’s not ‘straight’ and binary. Queerness offers the flexibility of a wide range of different gender labels (and with that, performativity) as well as sexual orientations.

 

How do you feel about (your) labels?

I’ve never had issues with my labels, they make me feel like I have a place and structure in society. They help me orientate and express my ‘otherness’.

 

To what extent do you feel part of the queer community?

I feel a part of the queer community in the kind of friends that I make and the circle that supports me. There’s a lot of segregation and discrimination within the queer community though, and a lot of things I don’t like about it. But, the same can be said about your family – regardless how you feel, you’re still in it.

 

What is your relationship with glitter?

I’ve never really worn a lot of glitter, at all actually. I think there’s internalized homophobia (or at the very least discomfort) in myself to be able to ‘go the extra mile’, but as I grow older I get more comfortable with experimentation (with make-up, clothes, etc). And I do think glitter is pretty and it makes everyone happy.

Is there then an element of queer identity expression in wearing glitter for you?

For sure! The first thing that I think of when going out ‘gay’ is probably where I’m gonna be all glittered up.

 

How do you feel about the color you represented in your photo?

I used to hate blue because it’s the color of ‘the boy’, just as pink is the color of ‘the girl’. So growing up, I never wanted to wear blue because I knew I was different from ‘the average Joe’. But now, I’ve grown to love blue, because it’s the color of many beautiful things: the different shades of the sea, the mountains where I was born, the beautiful sky, and my birthstone sapphire.

 

What is Pride to you?

Pride to me is the show of expression, of not falling into patterns and structures violently imposed upon us. Pride to me is the naughty rebellion against the pervasive norm.

 
PURPLE: SPIRIT - Mau

PURPLE: SPIRIT - Mau

 

How do you identify in terms of gender and sexual orientation?

I'm honestly not quite sure about this, but actually find that really comforting. I come across as masculine bodied & femme presenting and quite like how those two concepts not only can coexist, but strengthen each other!

 

Do you then also consider yourself queer? If so, what does that mean to you?

Certainly! Queer to me means something beautiful that is not reducible to something graspable, and therefore has a raw energy of potential rather than some static label. Queerness allows me to evolve more freely as a person, unrestrained by what is expected from complying with traditional sexual and gender politics.

 

What are your thoughts on the queer community?

I identify very much with the queer community. I consider us to be the most beautiful creatures in the world. Though there are still many issues within the queer community (such as femme-phobia, body-shaming and racism) I don’t consider the people who think as such belong in our community. Queerness is not only being what you want to be, but also allowing for other people to be different.

 

What is your relationship with glitter?

When people ask me what my favorite color is I reply with “glitter”. It makes everything queer and I fucking love it.

 

So for you there’s definitely a connection between glitter and queer identity expression, then?

Absolutely! It enhances any surface it is put on, it literally makes you a more three-dimensional person, and I will take any excuse (not that I even need one at all) to throw some on my eyelids, nails or - in the case of this project - entire face.

 

How do you feel about pride flags?

Pride flags make me happy. Perhaps in some way the same as a national flag can make patriots feel at home, I similarly feel safe and protected when I see a pride flag. It’s a sense of belonging. I think the different colors combined represent balance, something I am very much working towards.



What is Pride to you?

I start celebrating pride the second I get out of bed, and carry this on throughout the rest of the day. I find it very important to raise awareness. This sometimes is very difficult, because loving yourself 100% means having to confront people quite a lot in order for you not to feel unwelcome in the world, but it’s worth it.

 
 
 

A big thank you to all the participants for having the patience to let me douse them in glitter, and for answering these questions! This project was an absolute blast to create. Also a loving shout-out to my one and only, #Boettheboyfriend, for lighting the hell out of these portraits!

 

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