Within art lies expression; within expression lies the truth. The truth about us, our society, and the world in which we live. June 2015 was a significant month for many around the world. Feelings of love, joy, and pride lit up the streets as the journey that began with a shunned third gender turned into a celebration of LGBTQ marriage equality. Now, we live in an era where there is so much more then having to identify oneself as either male or female, and yet, there are so many who still seem intolerant towards accepting a social construct that isn’t black and white.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the standard classification of mental disorders used by professionals all over the world. Homosexuality remained a mental illness in the DSM until 1973, which meant that if one’s sexual orientation transgressed from the norm, they were seen as mentally ill. Similarly, individuals battling with their gender identity yearned for the removal of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) from the DSM for years. The replacement of GID with Gender Dysphoria in the DSM-V was meant to help remove the stigma that transgender individuals faced with label ‘disorder’, but unfortunately, this wasn’t successful.
Art breaks the boundaries of norms created by society. It pushes us to see a world beyond the superficial masking of definitions and labels created by narrow minds. Over the years, the objective for creating art has shifted from aesthetical pleasure to political statements, as artists have realized the true power of controversy. Daniel Arzola is one such artist who has used art as a platform for tackling LGBTQ prejudice. His campaign posters titled “I’m Not a Joke” aim to spread awareness of the community in light of recent violent acts against them.
The hate crimes faced by LGBTQ individuals include physical and psychological pain. Once meaning carefree or joyous, the term ‘gay’ has evolved to represent one’s sexual orientation in the most derogatory way possible. Children in schools use it to describe a crappy situation without realizing that there are others out there who define themselves with this term. We are so caught up with viewing the world through our restricted lenses that we categorize any feeling or behavior as abnormal, if it differs from our subjective view of what is normal. Being a homosexual, transgender, or queer is not a joke. It’s not a lifestyle that one chooses to lead; it is just the way one is born.
In an interview, Arzola stated that he started the “I’m Not a Joke” campaign because an eighteen-year-old boy from Maracay was attacked at his school. Students thought he was homosexual so they doused him with gasoline and burnt him alive. The 2013 National School Climate Survey reported that fifty-five percent of LGBT students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and thirty-eight percent feel unsafe because of their gender expression. These numbers suggest that we have an important issue at hand, so why is it that we are still ignorant towards such hate crimes? Since the government is not spending its resources towards addressing such controversies, it leaves the act of addressing to those that have an influence over the public.
Arzola’s campaign posters have become viral on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. While the rise in technology has increased the risk of cyber bullying, it has also provided artists and activists with a huge platform to have an open discussion about controversial topics that many people try to avoid. This is the beauty of contemporary art, its ability to take real issues and to throw it at the public. The beauty is no longer at the surface, but in what lies beneath the message; a message that Arzola boldly expresses through every poster.
My sexuality is not a trend; your ignorance seems to be. I’m Not a Joke.
Nobody has the right to hurt you for being different. I’m Not a Joke.
What you call normality is actually repetition. I’m Not a Joke.
We aren’t your fantasy; we’re our reality. I’m Not a Joke.
I’m able to love in all forms. I’m Not a Joke.
I leave you with these phrases created by Arzola and hope that his message is loud and clear. It is now our responsibility to help promote a discrimination free environment, and art is one route to spread such awareness.