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Performers in the NQRMAL show bring queer joy to the screen

When “normal” meant harm to so many of us – when it does mean harm to so many of us – the NQRMAL show released me of a shared burden of carrying this moment alone in quarantine attempting to regulate my nervous system and process the layered uprisings, actions, and affective sentiment of life chances unevenly distributed throughout the world. I could be carried by the contributions of Black queer women – Marsha P. Johnson and Stormé DeLarverie – two figures Dienae Hunter, the show’s producer, poignantly named and honored for their revolutionary acts.

The entwinement of Black queer life, abolition, and art offers a generative and powerful space of praxis where creativity serves liberation and justice for all. As we move from Juneteenth, one celebration of “freedom,” to July 4th, another celebration of “freedom,” I’m pulled back into the words of Frederick Douglass’, The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro speech, “what, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” The NQRMAL show resists the logics of injustice and cruelty by framing the sheer existence of this platform and this show as a product of queer Black resistance, persistence, joy, and existence.

Photos courtesy of the NQRMAL show

When people aren’t wearing masks, aren’t keeping their distance, aren’t showing up for one another it’s difficult to latch onto pleasure, joy, and hope. Thank you to the show’s creators and curators for uplifting Black People’s Justice Fund - Metro Phoenix and Feed Queer Families Phoenix and these organization’s efforts to provide people pleasure, joy, and hope that this world can and will sustain them – can and will sustain all of us.

The NQRMAL show, curated by Dienae Hunter, Ty Muhammad, and Emily Winkler, exemplifies sustenance – a queer and trans of color galaxy enlivened with chameleons, frogs, the magnificent Nala Rose, dogs, swans, and the vibrant energy of queerness’ capaciousness. Queerness is the capacity and practice of many energies, many attractions, many expressions, many transgressions, many revolutions, and many solutions to all that plagues dominant society. The NQRMAL show offered the many energies and expressions of the vastness of human experience.

To the offerings of each performer, I share my thanks and my reflections on the power of your pieces: House of Paragon to honor Marcus White – I watched this and cried – again. Marcus was so beautiful and he could see a person’s soul. I can feel his pride and excitement in his legacy playing out in such a loving and artful, and engaged way.

Photo courtesy of the NQRMAL show

Sean Avery – your words engulfed me like the smoke of the pearled blunt offering an imagining of a world where the gravity of the celebration, love, fullness of humanity, and potentiality of each and every Black person, Black woman, Black femme, Black deity, Black divinity, is not blanketed with fear, flat stereotypes, appropriations, faux approximations, and the stinging egos of the remnants of people who, for centuries, could never fathom the persistence, creation, and resistance of Black people. <3 Mya Moore.

Frankie Fahrenheit – <3 what a rich and full voice – full of vibrance, of downy chords, and poise. You are in your element as you sing and you transport me there and overwhelm me with emotion in the best way possible. Your biography states you look forward to “lending your voice as a force of good and positive energy through queer art and performance”, a mission I have no doubt you are fulfilling.

Quinetta Rose – I’ve fantasized about showing up to Hanny’s in an all white matching set – a stretch mini skirt and a v neck spaghetti strap crop top. My breasts spill out from the top of my shirt as I lean over the bar top to sip my too strong of a drink. My rainbow hair, prominent tattoos, and colorful lipstick render me an outsider to the crowd – eyes are on me as I dare to take up space as a single queer femme.

Quinetta, you made me return to that fantasy, this time with your own brand of androgyny, futurism, and Spy vs. Spy. I feel inspired to film myself in Tempe and Phoenix’s pedestrian areas – to treat every place I frequent in the Valley as if it’s a backdrop for a music video that adoring fans will see. We need this queerness here taking up space, fucking with convention, and pulling you deeper down the rabbit hole. I stan.

Photo courtesy of the NQRMAL show

Sofia Fencken – I kept following your black nail polish, watching your fingers stretch, your hand move up the neck of the guitar, the reflection of string lights illuminating the picture of Frida’s face behind you. Once I let go of my expectations to hear you sing as you played the guitar I could hear the music for what it was. I watched your face stay soft and periodic glances into the camera, following your winged black eyeliner back down the lines of your face to the tendrils of your hair, the stripes of your shirt, and back down the strings of the guitar to guide me to the music again. Thank you for the gift of such a stunning manner of falling in love with creation.

Alexander Stryke – Your sharp cheeks, glitter topped triangles, and bracketed eyebrows mesmerized me. I wished I heard this Willow Smith song before seeing you perform it EsPeCiaLlY because Ty, one of the show’s emcees, hyped it up! I wanted to know everything there was to know about it so I could focus wholly on you. I wanted to be able to follow every gaze upward, every shift in your weight as you grounded yourself, and every bit of tension in your jaw. You gave us so much! So much to see, and feel, and experience and I’m absolutely overwhelmed at the passion exuding through my screen.

Charlie Sharp – I yearned to see soft bodies that unapologetically took up space and you gave me that. You gave the audience that. You gave us grace, fragility, strength, lust, made my desire palpable, and wrapped it up in such gorgeous and witty artistry. You gave us a modest white dress and turned it into black fringe, tummy, the splits, and wings of whips. I am so grateful to have been introduced to your work.

Photo courtesy of the NQRMAL show

Kyara Nycole – Your hands hypnotize. The curl of your fingers communicates destinies of movement and tiny traces of the lives your art touched, touches, and will touch. Your hands pull me into you and you into me; they are reaching and coaxing pleasure from my eyes, pulsing like breathing anemone. “it’s so hard being misunderstood as an artist.”

I'm Just Here To Make Things:

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My Grandmothers Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem

A world where you can do whatever the fuck you want to


Harriet Tubman’s ingenuity and dedication


Taking the makeup off

Growing and morphing


And becoming such a caricature of yourself.

Your hands hypnotize.

Photo courtesy of the NQRMAL show

Maria Idalis – My journal says, “you don’t need to hear us to listen!” with annotations of squares and traces of my wrist flicks meeting the page. I thank you for your messages around justice, grief, and systemic oppression. I thank you for the intimate gaze into a physical space you occupy – I felt welcomed into your world in song, sign, and strength. I thank you for the opportunity to follow your face, read your lips, watch you spin in your wheeled computer chair, and learn how your bodymind works. I thank you for your art and activism.

Together, these performers were incredibly vulnerable, caring, cheeky, and talented. I learned so much about so many other people I had never seen before and I’m grateful to have had that experience. I hope that everyone who reads this seeks out each and every one of you and thanks you for existing and for bringing the world more queer joy, something this show has made feel a little more normal in my life.

Photo courtesy of the NQRMAL show

Lizbett loves to learn, to connect with others through art, and to hold space for those who ask. Through hope, passion, and justice, Lizbett is committed to building and sustaining lives, livelihoods, and lifeworlds, and to do so creatively. She has a Ph.D. in Gender Studies and is a theatre maker whose work takes up state and intimate violence, women of color feminisms, and socially engaged art practices. Catch her before she heads off to her next gig as the 2020-2022 Robert A. Oden Jr. Postdoctoral Fellow for Innovation in the Humanities in the Department of Theater and Dance at Carleton College.

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