We had the fortunate opportunity to visit with Video Machete in their ultra-slick headquarters in the middle of the Midwest’s largest city, Chicago. Video Machete is a fantastic organization that gives queer youth the chance to create their own media by learning how to film and edit short video movies. Check it out at www.videomachete.com.
There are so many important issues concerning young gay women, yet there’s such a glaring lack of media outlets and representation. Young gay women need their own media! We need magazines, TV shows, thousands more movies sorta like But I’m A Cheerleader but way better, and it won’t happen if we sit around and wait for it. We have to get out there and start something for ourselves. If you’ve got the drive, the determination, and the connections – and in the gay world connections are easy to make – go for it. Create a new media outlet for young gay/bi/trans girls. Start an email list. Do something! Get the word out. Get in touch with YGA and we’ll help you out as best we can.
Here’s some of our chat with Video Machete, a group that had an idea and took it under their own power to make it happen, with fabulous results. Hope you enjoy:
(We walk upstairs off the busy noisy street into an awesome loft apartment with chairs set around in a circle. We were a bit late after getting caught in traffic outside Chicago…)
TAMMY / STACY / ETC: Hey! You made it! Welcome!
YGA: Thanks! Hi! It’s so nice to be here…sorry we’re late.
TAMMY: No problem. Hey, we really like your project, guys. It’s so great to hear all the different stories of queer youth across America.
STACY: It really is. I always especially like the stories of supportive parents.
TAMMY: Yes, me too. I always think the PFLAG contingent in any parade gets the most applause. And tears, too.
AYANNA: That’s my goal; I’d just like to have one of my parents go to PFLAG. My grandma’s coming around a bit. She helps me with girls on occasion and I’m like “whoa!” I’m hoping that one day my mom comes around. I was jokin with one of my friends on the phone saying my mom’s gonna come to the meeting and support her lesbian daughter, just to mess with her cuz I knew she was listening in on the line. She was like “I don’t think so!”, so obviously she was listening.
YGA: Are y’all from Chicago?
KEITY: Mostly. I’ve lived here for a long time. I’m originally from suburban Illinois.
YGA: What brought you here?
KEITY: My parents got divorced, and to make a long story short my mom’s brother lived in Chicago and we came and slept on his floor for a while, then it went on from there.
MARGARET: I’ve lived in Chicago all my life.
YGA: What’s it like growing up in the biggest city in the Midwest?
MARGARET: Nothin’ spectacular or anything. I feel ordinary. Some people feel really special where they come from. I feel kinda closed in cuz I’ve only been one place my whole life.
TAMMY: Do you think you’ll stay in Chicago?
MARGARET: No, I wanna leave. I’ll go to college here. But my ultimate goal is to travel all around the world.
AYANNA: I’m from here. Born and raised.
ERIC: Me too.
AYANNA: I went to stay in a house in California once and I was afraid to go in the garden cuz there were snakes.
ERIC: That’s my problem. We go down to Mississippi for the summer and down South there are tons of frogs and snakes. I totally hate snakes.
AYANNA: I’m a city girl. I couldn’t move down South.
YGA: You think you’ll stay in Chicago then?
AYANNA: No. Maybe for a few years. But there’s a lot I haven’t seen. I think I’ll probably go to NY or Philly. I dunno. Wherever I’m supposed to be I’ll be.
ERIC: I hate Chicago.
AYANNA: It’s so segregated.
ERIC: It really is. From what I see it’s like “this is the Mexican neighborhood, this is the gay neighborhood.”
KEITY: I remember taking the train in high school. The only clear distinction about which trains go north or which trains go south are the colors of the people on the trains. I remember thinking “that’s fucked up.”
YGA: How does that segregation play a role in your lives?
ERIC: For me, I really hate it. I live in SouthSide, which is a really really bad area for a homosexual to grow up. I live in constant terror. I wake up and wonder what’s going to happen to me today, who’s gonna hate me. People are just so narrow-minded, it’s like “why do you do this?” I don’t understand how someone can just hate you for being yourself.
AYANNA: You don’t see us goin’ around like “you damn heteros!” I live in the same place Eric does. In terms of how it plays a part in your life, I would say there are certain places where you’re able to be affectionate and places where you’re not.
ERIC: And that really takes a toll on you. It’s not like you make a choice to be gay; it’s just what you feel.
AYANNA: Yea, like, “hey! What should I do today? How bout be gay!”
TAMMY: Then even the one part of the city that’s supposed to be the gay neighborhood isn’t diverse at all, which is dangerous for many other ways.
KEITY: There are no women at all in Boystown.
YGA: So tell us about Queer MAGIK.
AYANNA: It stands for Media Activists for Girls in the Know. We basically do media activism.
YGA: What does that mean?
AYANNA: We make videos. Right now we’re also doing writing workshops. We’re going to get four to six pages in the Windy City Times.
YGA: What will you have on those pages?
AYANNA: Different things. Some people can have poetry, some short stories, and interviews. Whatever you can think of. I’m down for whatever.
ERIC: She writes really good poetry, though. Really good.
STACY: One of her poems is in a video we made over the summer.
TAMMY: She’s a good editor too.
AYANNA: I dunno. It was my first time. But it was fun. It was challenging.
YGA: How can people find out more about Video Machete?
STACY: We have a webpage. www.videomachete.com. We’re hoping to give Queer MAGIK an advice page, like Dear Ayanna. I know I’d go to Ayanna for advice.
YGA: What about the lesbian community in Chicago. What’s it like?
TAMMY: Everyone knows who everyone dates.
STACY: We’re a big small town.
KEITY: The biggest small town ever. You know how they say there’s six degrees of separation? For the lesbian community in Chicago I’d say it’s ONE, tops.
TAMMY: At one point I was in a circle of girls who had all dated each other. The five of us in the circle figured it out one day.
KEITY: Everyone has a scandalous story. I think we should start a lesbian exchange program, where you import a group of lesbians from another city and export out another group. You could rotate, on a global level.
YGA: Every time, half has to move.
KEITY: Exactly. It just keeps rotating!
ERIC: You have this all planned out, don’t you.
KEITY: I think it’s a great idea. A wonderful way to see the world.
MARGARET: But what if someone falls in love with someone from the group who has to leave?
KEITY: That’s fine. They’ll break up. Fall in love, then go to Costa Rica, another year go to Maine. It needs to happen, man, I’m telling you the supply is stale!
MARGARET: I don’t think it would work. I think people do fall in love and stay with each other for a long, long time. Maybe if you had a 15-20 year rotation.
STACY: There’s something interesting I’ve noticed a lot. Whenever a long-time lesbian couple breaks up, something happens to everybody else. Everyone seems to suddenly get really depressed about it, like it happened to them.
DAVINA: Especially if they’re older. We don’t have a lot of examples of these kinds of couples in the media.
STACY: So when there is a couple that’s been together, buying a house, together for a long time, talking about having kids… when they break up people really feel it. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that others break up too.
DAVINA: Relationships are hard things to negotiate. It’s tough for us when we’re working. Like if someone joins the committee and we’re all “OOOO” over that person, we have to be really clear how to negotiate our personal lives with the work we want to do. It’s been interesting to see how it’s played out. Breakups are a part of human nature. Everybody’s not meant to be together permanently. It’s good to have a healthy attitude about non-permanence.
YGA: Ayanna and Margaret, what are some of your thoughts on relationships? Where’d you two meet?
AYANNA: At school. We go to an all-girls Catholic school.
MARGARET: She used to bother me about my socks every day.
AYANNA: About relationships, I think that it works differently for everybody. Some people can be in relationships if they’re meant to be together for a long time. Some people can be in love with each other but can’t be together. It’s a touchy subject.
MARGARET: Especially now that culture is different than it used to be. Before, staying together was more common because people were forced to be together and stay together. There was a societal view to stay together. Now that we don’t have that as much, it’s really unrealistic to think you’re going to be with somebody for the rest of your life.
DAVINA: Do you think that’s because queerness has more visibility? Before, there was so little likelihood of even finding someone else you felt like you needed to stay together as soon as you found someone.
STACY: I also think societal pressures make it hard for couples to stay together.
YGA: Parental support certainly has an affect. To be able to go home and have my boyfriend embraced by my mother really keeps the relationship together.
KEITY: Functionality is another part. If you can’t make a living it’s hard no matter how much you love someone. If you can’t be yourself in public places, like at your job, or walking down the street, that can really tear away at the strength of your relationships no matter how much you love the other person. I have a friend who’s a VP at a major company here in Chicago who has to wear a wig to work. She has a girlfriend she never brings in. When she comes home, she takes off her costume and goes out with her girlfriend, in a shaved head and a wife-beater. But she can’t take her girlfriend to office Christmas parties or other functions.
TAMMY: Christmas parties are the worst. I have friends who bring guys to their Christmas parties as their “boyfriends.” There are six of them, all women, and one year the same guy was their partner at all of their parties! I was amazed that people didn’t catch on it was the same guy!
KEITY: People don’t catch on. They don’t really care about the guy; they just want the illusion that there is a guy.
AYANNA: I don’t get it. Are you required to bring your boyfriend or your girlfriend to Christmas parties?
KEITY: There’s not a rule or anything, it’s just supposed to be done. If not, they’re all sorta like “where is that person?”
ERIC: There’s that suspicion.
DAVINA: I think it’s also interesting to see the internal stereotypes in the queer community that men are more likely to sleep around and women are more likely to hook up and stay together forever. I don’t think that’s the case at all.
KEITY: People still believe those stereotypes.
STACY: And what’s unfortunate is, specifically around issues of safer sex, that stereotype has made it harder for lesbians to get access to information.
KEITY: I remember I went to the doctor once when I had a nasty virus that wasn’t going away. She was like “are you sexually active?” I had been practicing safer sex, and I explained my situation to her. She was like “I don’t know though.. can you people get AIDS? I don’t think lesbians can get AIDS, but I think you can get syphilis.” I was just like “why does that make any sense to you that I’m vulnerable to one STD and not the rest?” If that’s the kind of knowledge in the medical community, how do WE get the correct information? It’s a very strange situation with lesbians and sex and protection. Often lesbians don’t want to admit they’re vulnerable.
STACY: It’s one of the biggest issues.
YGA: What are some other issues affecting women?
MARGARET: Yes, especially with bisexuality. Everybody’s instantly afraid that if a person is bi they’ll be with a guy and cheat with a girl because they’re so tempted to be with both. That’s so stupid.
KEITY: One woman I dated had been with a bunch of boyfriends but had never been with a woman in a relationship situation. It was a total shock to her when we were dating. “Oh my god,” she would say, “I never thought about what it would be like.” She’d never expected the cat calls from the dirty old men in windows as we’d walk down the street. She never realized how vulnerable you feel constantly. She suddenly understood how much easier it really was to be with a man, and it made her feel strong. For a while she was like “I’m a lesbian now, I want to fight the good fight!”