I Don’t Do Boxes

The whole thing happened almost by accident. I saw an open Facebook event my friend was going to that caught my eye: I Don’t Do Boxes. When I clicked that little “going” button on the event page, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Cover illustration by Red Behnke

Last year I had the great pleasure of acting as contributing editor for the seminal publication produced through QueerLab called I Don’t Do Boxes as part of the Co-Lab initiative of Elsewhere Art Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. That’s what is on my resumé at least, but what does it all mean? Once a week I met with a group of inspiring youth for sessions that included everything from craft projects, interviews, and production meetings. When Green Street United Methodist Church took a stand for marriage equality, they were kind enough to do an interview with I Don’t Do Boxes.

For me, it was a definite learning environment where I saw an independent publication come together from start to finish; creatively and technically. But by far more valuable to me personally were the important conversations held at each meeting where serious questions about social spaces, labels folks cling to or vehemently reject, and boxes which don’t ultimately hold all of us.

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So why I Don’t Do Boxes over other LGBT publications? Because I developed into the person I am today organically without the help of Gay Clubs, Pride events, or any other staples mass media would have you believe about being queer and when I see those spaces that are supposed to be for people like me, they do not reflect who I am. Because the “gay” box  is almost as uncomfortable as the “straight” box. Because for once, I found a space that felt gender identity actually shared the floor with sexual orientation instead of being an extra (oft forgotten) letter T in the LGBT acronym. And because I’m not the only one, there are plenty of us who fall in-between, outside, or move through these boxes who are tired of trying to squeeze themselves into boxes.

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So ultimately this is a publication for youth of queer stories from the south. And in a (perhaps paradoxical) attempt to define this rejection of labels, the term queer is used. But not in the derogatory way that most might assume. Instead, the definition of queer is defined rather liberally.

As the letter to the reader in the first page defines, “being queer means composing our own lives in language, in images, in sounds. It means thinking critically and being open to experiences outside the norm, a radical way of being that is shared with small pockets of people. Queerness is an interface for ongoing curiosity, a way of living artfully with what you’ve got. It means asking new kinds of questions, and you don’t need a big city, a rainbow flag, or currency to do that.”

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The first piece of media I curated was a digital mixtape playlist of music produced by queer musicians in the South and around the country. Sadly, due to the print nature of the publication, the playlist lives exclusively on the I Don’t Do Boxes website (click the pink cassette tape to be redirected and listen).

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When I joined the project, I wasn’t sure how I could contribute—I had so much to say. After years of being judged by others I finally had space to say something back to the world. But after I thought long enough about it and dug past my initial emotional reaction, I realized that I felt like the way I could have the most positive impact was sharing my experiences with kids who may be actively going through things I went through myself just a few years ago.

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The first piece I did was called Ask Eli where I received questions from the group and picked one to cover in the publication. Body issues are not exclusive to the queer or trans* community so I chose that topic and did my best to share some of the things I have learned over the years.

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The second piece I worked on was a collaboration with Red Behnke to offer further help with body image, specifically for individuals who bind their chest. This is not a subject your ought to read about in Cosmo but it’s a reality for a great number of folks. However, since it is a subject with almost no exposure, there are even fewer resources about doing it safely and providing resources for companies that sell chest binders, including some of our favorite brands.

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The publication holds so much more than covered here including photoshoots, tons of art, comics, essays, fiction, music reviews, and resources for creating safe spaces in schools and contacts for organizations for equality groups locally and nationally. All in all, a very exciting and education. Many thanks to Elsewhere for being an amazing space to act as a backdrop for this project.

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What’s next? Issue two is revving up for publication in Spring, 2014. Whether young, old, queer in the conventional sense or just radical enough to be accepting of others, check out one of the following websites to learn more about the project, read about the stories shared thus far, and find out how to get involved or contribute in the future.

I Don’t Do Boxes Website | QueerLab@Elsewhere

Also, WUNC’s The State of Things interviewed Chris Kennedy and Red Behnke who do a far superior job at explaining this publication than I’ve done here so check it out (@19:27)!

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