Take the Last Bite is a direct counter to the Midwest Nice mentality— highlighting advocacy & activism by queer/trans communities in the Midwest region. Each episode unearths the often disregarded and unacknowledged contributions of queer & trans folks to social change through interviews, casual conversations and reflections on Midwest queer time, space, and place.
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Host: R.B. Brooks, they/them, director of programs for the Midwest Institute for Sexuality & Gender Diversity
Cover Art: Adrienne McCormick
Hey hi hello y’all, this is R.B., the manager of Midwest mischief, welcoming you to another episode of Take the Last Bite, a show where we take Midwest Nice surfing on the beaches of Santa Cruz, California and let a 5-year-old outlaw otter flip it into the ocean.
On today’s episode, I chat with a West Coast content creator who had the incredible task of illustrating a Google Doodle commemorating the life and work of Native American and lesbian photographer, writer, and poet– Barbara May Cameron.
Barbara is a powerhouse among queer icons, though that may not be apparent given the lacking regard for her work in mainstream media and discussions of queer history. She was born in Fort Yakes, North Dakota and raised by her grandparents on the Standing Rock Reservation. Her writing and activism work is deeply connected to her experiences witnessing racialized violence growing up and coming into understandings of her indigeneity and queerness throughout the 1960s and 70s.
In her contribution to This Bridge Called My Back: Writings from Radical Women of Color, Barbara writes in an essay titled “Gee, You Don’t Seem Like an Indian from the Reservation” she writes: “because of experiencing racial violence, I sometimes panic when I’m the only non-white in a room full of whites, even if they are my closest friends. The seemingly copacetic gay world of San Francisco becomes a mere dream after the panic leaves.”
She goes on to talk about her differing experiences of assimilation and alienation in majority white spaces, although she doesn’t really like the words because “I generally mistrust words that are used to define Native Americans and Brown People. I don’t like being put under a magnifying glass and having cute liberal terms describe who I am.” She shares a dream she had where a horse represents the white world she navigates and the eagle represents the Indian world. And from this dream she realized she knew as much about the white world as she needed, that she wasn’t interested in assimilation, that she’s “not interested in pursuing a society with arrogance rising, moon in oppression, and sun in destruction.”
At the time of writing this essay in 1981, Barbara was in her mid-20s, already living in San Francisco where her knowledge of coexisting with white folks had greatly expanded and her understanding of the racism inherent in white gay communities deepened. Based on this realization, her work in advocating for LGBTQ+ Natives also expanded as she settled into and got connected to other Indigenous folks in the Bay area, ultimately leading to her co-founding Gay American Indians (GAI) in 1975 with fellow activist Randy Burns. Over the few decades she lived in California, Barbara got deeply involved in progressive political causes, HIV/AIDS activism, solidarity efforts among various racialized groups, and writing about her community-based experiences.
In the epilogue of “Gee, You Don’t Seem Like an Indian from the Reservation” Barbara reminisces on visiting her home in South Dakota. “It was my first time in eight years,” she says. “I kept putting off my visit because I could not tolerate the white people there and the ruralness and poverty of the reservation. And because in the eight years since I left home, I came out as lesbian. My visit home was overwhelming. Floods and floods of locked memories broke. I rediscovered myself there in the hills, on the prairies, in the sky, on the road, in the quiet nights, among the stars, listening to the distant yelps of coyotes, walking on Lakota earth, seeing Bear Butte, looking at my grandparents’ cragged faces, standing under wakinyan (wake-in-yawn) (thunder), smelling the Paha Sapa (Black Hills), and being with my precious circle of relatives.
My sense of time changed, my manner of speaking changed, and a certain freedom with myself returned.
I was sad to leave but recognized that a significant part of myself has never left and never will. And that part is what gives me strength– the strength of my people’s enduring history and continuing belief in the sovereignty of our lives.”
Barbara May Camerson passed away in 2002 at the age of 47 and is survived by her long-term partner Linda and son Rhys. The Google Doodle commemorating her life’s work was published on May 22, 2023 on what would have been her 69th birthday.
Today’s guest, queer Mexican and Chitimachan artist Sienna Gonzales – also known as Somewhere in June across social media– is the artist behind this Google Doodle design. We chat about the stepping stones into her artistic and queer identities, the bumpy road to a BFA from UCLA, and the rewarding, enlightening process of illustrating a virtual homage to Barbara May Cameron.
Flip to a clean sketchpad page and pull out your number two pencil for this episode of Take the Last Bite
[INTRO MUSIC PLAYING]
Why can't we be in space with hundreds of other queer and trans folks and having these necessary conversations?
When it comes to dynamics around privilege and oppression, and around identity. Well intentioned isn’t actually good enough.
How far is too far to drive for a drag show? I don’t know, we’re in Duluth right now, I would straight up go to Nebraska, probably,
If you are not vibing, or something’s not right, or also like there’s an irreparable rupture, you have absolutely every right to walk away.
Definitely going to talk about Midwest Nice and if that's as real as it wants to think it is.
Midwest nice is white aggression. That's what it is.
All right, friend, I'm super excited for this conversation. Really glad we were able to carve some time, really happy to meet you through this and talk about some of the cool stuff you do in a particular project that we'll get into shortly. But can we start off just telling a bit about who you are, what you're up to? And if you could include any like connections or like perspectives. You have on the Midwest, UM even. If you don't have a. Relationship to the Midwest, which we'll get in.
Yeah, definitely. Well, I'll start with the first part, which is like who I am. As an artist, so. I like to describe myself as an illustrator with a fine art background. I received my formal education from UCLA, so you know, I feel like I'm pretty well versed in Sculpture, classic painting, all of the traditional mediums. However, my love for storytelling and narrative drawing has won out over like abstract paintings and such. So I yeah, I like to think of myself, who's very like story oriented, very focused. When specifically sharing my own experiences, but also creating a space where other folks can feel represented as specifically other queer people of color, I will probably get into UCLA later. But I did just to keep it brief for now, like I did find higher education. Would be very alienating and I find it really important to keep my art accessible. Well, not only in the way that I share it, which is online, but the subject matters. The way that I portray things like I I don't necessarily stray from like heavy subject matters, but I want people to be able to engage with things the way they might like and illustrated book. So yeah, I would say that I'm. I'm really focused on representation as an artist. I'm really focused on parsing through my own like internal spaces through my art. And social media has become a really important tool for me, sharing my work and connecting to folks. And that kind of leads into the answer to your question about the Midwest. Yes, I am born and raised in California, so I don't have personal roots in the Midwest, but a lot of my followers are from the Midwest and specifically. My audience is majority queer folks, so oftentimes I'll get comments and messages from people telling me how, like rejuvenating and refreshing it is to see this work. Especially in spaces where that might not be as common as it is here in California.
Love that, love that and we'll get into why someone who doesn't have a deep an immediate connection with the Midwest is chatting on this space today. But I I like that you kind of have this like audience and this like general awareness you were saying. Your analytics give you. Give you some updates that like Midwest, is pretty thrush in your follower pool? Let is there. Is there a moment you think either coming into your own queerness or just like in general, like younger you, that there's kind of this aha moment of, like, realizing you were well equipped to be the storyteller and like a particular medium you maybe gravitated towards to kind of start? This journey that you're now very deeply involved in.
Yeah, that's so funny. I would actually say that my, well, my introduction to queerness I feel came later in life just because of, you know, circumstances like living under my parents roof. I didn't have as much freedom to express myself, but in terms of figuring out how much I wanted to be a storyteller. It it started with like fan fiction and fan art, and that was like my little online queer space that I had as a high schooler even before I. It's out and I just remember the feeling of, you know, loving this piece of media, but then going online and seeing this community of writers and artists who are making free content, labors of love and just generously sharing it with each other. And it was so exciting. And I wanted to. Pitch in. I wanted to be part of that. It felt like it felt like an exchange. And so that feeling started with fan art, fan fiction. And then as I developed my own artistic voice, I realized that there were people out there who felt that excited about my own original work. And it kind of put me in conversation with people created a connection that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.
I I would say that like I didn't, I have not and did not get super like immersed in like fanfic. Fan art per say, but I do appreciate a good, especially circa today. Like I love a good stranger. Things like canned shipping like everybody's clear. Quite frankly, like. That's real. That's my there. That's a podcast in the. Future, definitely talking. About stranger things as a Midwest coming out story. That's on the that's on the. Wish list. Did you have? A particular like, uh, like show or like characters that. You were really you. Were really into.
Yeah, making art around.
Yeah, it's like so it's a little like funny thinking about it now because I'm so big on, like, representation, but like Sherlock, BBC Sherlock, that was like my whole life. These like 2 middle-aged white men. I just remember my mom would watch me like we watch these episodes every single week and she'd be like, what do you see here? Feel like mom? Like, it's real. Like, I need to stack. And so like it was almost, it was super interesting because I feel like. Specifically, being involved in fandoms that were like MLM, like men loving men. It was like a way for me to engage with queerness without having to think about the fact that I was lesbian and it, like, gave me a way to. Be part of. Those spaces and not have to think about my own feelings towards like women and just. Completely shift the focus elsewhere. And I've heard this experience from a lot of other friends of mine who came out as lesbians later in life, that it was almost like looking at the thing to head on to, like, engage with lesbian media.
And so yeah, it was just, it was a creative outlet. It was a way to express myself. And it was, it was like a safe space.
Love that. I love that we have. A workshop at our conference that's in November, we've just. Finished our review. Process and there's. One that like. Isn't explicitly about fan art, I don't think but it. Connects it in a way where it's focusing on like smart and talking about like these kind of it's they're going to bring in these artifacts essentially of, I think, comic books is their primary medium focus in this session but kind of connecting to how what I would say is like the early. Maybe precursor to what has now become our understandings of fan art and fan fact, and. So pretty excited about that. Session to be part of it so.
That sounds awesome, yeah.
I I I yes, like all these. Actually, the conversations around how we inherently. In some ways, because of the lack of representation, we just we hightail it and turn it into something else and say, well, if it's ours. Now, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Love that you said that. UCLA was a place and as someone who has who has a background in higher education, my day job, my Masters degree right, that that is not a surprise. Me and also right as a homeo from the Midwest. Born and raised. We you know something that may or may not be Privy. You may not may not be Privy to as a Californian, but there's this huge pressure to like, move to the coasts, whether it's like the northeast right or whether it's California. And sometimes DC, right? Just kind of this presumption that leaving the Midwest, which has a lot of. Things projected onto it, especially in like high political times, right? That there's this pressure. For folks to either move to giant cities within our region or to leave it entirely. And so when I think about, you know, this glorification of places outside the region, especially working with young folks. Like I. Do you know it's always really? It's bittersweet, but it's helpful to know that like there's just as much complexity and frustration and battles going on in some of these glorified places that are generally ahead of the game in many places but still encounter a lot of the same issues. So I'm really curious, like if you want to dig a little deeper into. Kind of the alienation experience of UCLA. At all as an artist, as a queer person, as queer personal color. Any and all of those pieces because it's unfortunately. Not surprising to. Me but might be interesting for folks who are like, oh, California is where it's at. It's like yes and.
And that's a really. Yeah, that's a really great point. I'm glad you brought that up because I do think that California has a reputation of just being, like completely safe for. Clear people of color, people of color in general. And I I think it just looks different here, I think like the types of violence and macro microaggressions that happen, they just there's like a thin like veneer of, like, I know it's not correct for me to say this. So I'll insinuate it. And I feel like that was a lot of my experience. In art school. For one, I was in a program that was majority whip. And I had gone to a high school with a similar demographic, but I think just being in higher education, the pressure of UCLA, the speed just kind of being thrown into a school where I had no experience being on my own. I was in a new city because. I grew up in the Bay Area. It was very alienating just in itself, but I felt throughout my time there that my professors just weren't good mediators in these like conversations. And like people would make art that was appropriative of other cultures, that was inappropriate and not their story to tell. And I just feel like my professors did not have the training or the tools to handle that, to call people in to educate and so. I when I was there, every single piece of art that I made was about racism. It was about calling out the things that I was seeing because I felt like no one else was doing anything about. And and you know, I had an instance which actually this is one of the first videos I made on TikTok that, like went viral. It was me sharing the story of making this giant drawing that was a compilation of sketches specifically about my experience as a woman of color. It was like scraps of writing. It was doodles. During class, all to make this big collage about my experience. And I remember after class I was confronted by one of my white peers, who was also much older than me, and she was furious. She was upset that it felt like white people had been excluded from the project. She felt like I was making a pointed statement, she. Went on a rant about, you know, not like she didn't choose to be white and people of color so angry at like, it was terrible. It was about an hour of her just ranting. And it I remember just like as we were in this, like heated conversation, my professor, my white peers, just kind of trickling in, sitting down, listening, but not engaging, not standing up for me at all. And it was the worst. the IT ended in the worst way possible. Because by the end of the conversation, she kind of realized what she was saying and said she felt bad and wanted a hug. And I gave her a hug. It was horrible.
Oh my God.
And it was. Yeah, like that moment.
Did she cry?
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it was just so bizarre. It was so bizarre. And I just feel like that moment just kind of sums up the. The experience that I had there where I was constantly. Educating others at my own expense, making work that was draining me, literally pouring my like blood into these projects that weren't giving me anything back. And then the other layer to it is that I'm an illustrator and this was a fine art program and I was constantly told that. My work wasn't deep enough. It wasn't abstract enough. It was too specific to identity based and. In the fine. Art world that is kind of like a bad word, like making identity art. Is seen as lesser kind of cheap and surface level and frankly I think it's because it's more accessible to people. I think a lot of in the fine art world, there's this idea that art should be removed from politics, that it should. It's above it essentially. And that's just not possible. For someone whose politics affects their day-to-day like I am politicized, whether I want to be or not. And to be around peers and professors who were constantly telling me to scrub my work clean of that and make something universal, it felt like I was as a person being erased. And so it was very, very difficult four years.
That's so frustrating. And then two. I mean, would you say or do you feel like your experience was kind of Co opted because you were that in a place where you were reacting to your environment versus being able to show up kind of on a similar playing field as your peers, especially your wife, SIS at peers probably to extract as much from your education that you paid for? As everyone else.
Right. I definitely don't feel like I got my money's worth because it was like survival mode, like, constantly.
And I I also just remember, like, even in high school, when I got into UCLA, a lot of classmates straight up told me you only got in because you're Native American and you're lucky. Which is insane because I'm not even, like, legally registered with my tribe like. Like there's paperwork involved, there's all kinds of things and a lot of people also don't understand that being indigenous doesn't.
It's not a, it's not a Disney fast pass like you.
You you literally, it's a narrow group who even benefits from those things. And so yeah, like it was, it was constantly like that at UCLA.
There's a book I'm reminded of. I had to look it up to get the full title. It's called the anti racist writing workshop. How to decolonize the creative classroom by Felicia Rose Chavez? I don't know if you're familiar. With that one, it came out. Within the past handful of years, and it's from the perspective it's talks about. A variety of things, but one of the things that came to mind is thinking about these spaces on college campuses, where there's peer review involved. So in this case, it's creative writing classroom, and I resonated very, very significantly with this book. And in general, a lot of what you're saying about kind of your. Art class spaces. Because I studied creative writing in undergrad. Also and so I. You know, was not at a level of conscious awareness of all of the dynamics at play when I was in undergrad, but hence or being much more engaged in social justice work, the type of organizing and event planning I'm involved in now, you know, can look back on that and say like, oh, this is, I didn't have words for this, right. Like ultimately, there was things at play in these spaces that were inequitable. And the book itself talks a lot about how, you know, connecting with the students very early on in a process where there's going to be peer-to-peer review to try to deconstruct a lot of the power dynamics in this space is vital because then you run into otherwise you run into some of the scenarios that you've already displayed. Very clearly that are not unfortunately unique or specific to UCLA. It's pretty chronic across. Institutions of higher education, where there's certain narratives and certain stories that are prioritized that are held in higher regard as others right, it really makes for a deflating and frustrating experience. I remember writing a piece. For one of my fiction classes where there was a level of like covert queerness taking place in the story that served the story, and my sister white man instructor like in commenting. And it was like, shouldn't we be at a place where queerness doesn't have to be like a surprise or like a secret? I was like a. No, we're not B. Not in the case. Of these characters I was like I. Would like just. Can you read the story for what it is? You know, just like to your point of like, once you put certain identities into play, it politicizes the piece and then it becomes. Versus that white people especially like just they can't connect to it. Therefore it's not a valid or. Good piece of work, quote UN quote on the good piece. So like heard is the moral of that story.
Right. And and I think yeah, like what you said about like, since that white folks not being able to connect, I think the fact that there are so many like queer and trans people of color who are able to connect to white, straight men on television and like project their feelings onto that and understand and empathy. Guys like you don't need to share identities with characters to understand their motivations, their back stories, and I the feedback that you received where your professor was almost like this is unnecessary. Why does it have to be here? That's exactly what I mean when I say identity work like it's looked at.
As kind of a like almost tacky thing to state something. It's it's very disheartening as a creative who can't shed those identities to be. More convenient, yeah.
So you either. Get pigeonholed by embracing, wanting to tell the stories that aren't being told and written off as tacky or you. Pull to erase that, or just that. It's not necessary. You know. Why do like I believe he thought that I was riding a trope. And I'm like, no, I'm writing almost a a literal scenario that has taken place in my life that you wouldn't be aware of. You wouldn't understand. So you. Know and I. Think the thing too to like you know, name this for myself and all other white people listening. Like some ****. Isn't for us. I think that needs to be OK, but not everybody's there, unfortunately. So, you know, keep on trudging. But I, you know, since your time at UCLA, I don't know when you graduated, how long it's been since you've been able to step out. Of that space or left UCLA. Do you feel like? Let me reframe that. How do you? Feel like you've. Kind of shape shifted or kind of? The air felt a little freer since you have. Yeah, the shoulders dropped when I said that. Yes, like how. Has the vibe changed for you? You know what has been your life? You know your life force of your art, like since stepping out of UCLA, how does that look like?
I so I actually finished my senior year during the beginning of COVID. So yeah, so I I went home for four days supposedly and then that became four months and then school ended.
So that was in a way it it gave me so much clarity on the work I wanted to make. Because for the first time in years, I didn't have to. Go to crit. Every day I didn't have to sit there and get, like, torn apart by my peers. I was on zoom but I was able to kind of tune out all the noise and just make the work that I wanted. To and in that like three to four months that I was home. I made like 30 new drawings. Like back-to-back to. But like an entirely new body of work. I that's when my platform on TikTok started taking off because I was documenting the process of making. At work, and I just felt clear headed, like I didn't. I I don't like to make work that depicts violence towards people of color or constantly talks about that. I you know, there are definitely times where it's important, but I think for me it doesn't like fill. Like cup to do that, it ends up being like triggering and draining. Especially when I feel like I'm creating work for an audience outside of my community, and I think that was the biggest shift after UCLA. I have just been making work for the people in my community, the people who find value in the work that I make and that has let me embrace illustration, embrace identity. Least work really. Turn my like gaze inward and like make work about how I feel, because during school I mean I don't know how I felt. I was floating through classes. And I just remember the end of my first quarter there, I had a whole issue with my professor because she said that my work is too illustrative, too decorative, too simplistic. You need to abstract it, so I did that and I got great feedback and crit. I took all of my paintings that I spent months on. Dropped them in a dumpster and walked back to my dorm and I don't regret it because that wasn't my work and I feel like after college I am making work that is mine.
Like I feel confident about that.
I thought that I was should have like lit a match just for like dramatic extra dramatic effect but. Like that could have had some different consequences.
It sounds like your tic TOC community has become a pretty like that. You've brought up a couple of times, so I'm curious, you know, has did that serve in any way, kind of like a a different type of crypto space almost where, like you were getting the type of affirmation that you were? Aren't receiving in a in a generative way through your classes or through being at campus making the work you want to do. Like, how is that kind of fed into feeling? Any sense of affirmation or like that? You're headed in. A more true to Sienna direction with your art, has that served that type of purpose or kind of how has that fed? To you know, post, UCLA will say.
Yeah. I think interestingly enough, I feel like the big thing that I've gained from TikTok is just connecting to other queer people. Because the work that I make nowadays does explore that more because I don't feel like I have to. Like I said, make work educating white audiences about me as a person of color that now feels like something that I don't need to. I don't need to explicitly go into if I don't want to. And now I have a lot of room to talk about my experience with queerness, my experience with trauma, with with joy, and what I've gotten from TikTok is just an audience of people who. Right. And I did an interview with a different indigenous magazine a couple weeks ago and they asked me, like, what, like basically, why do I make art? And the answer that I gave is, you know it's it's almost like, you know, you're just shouting these feelings and to avoid. And instead of it just like kind of echoing you get a reply of like me too like I. At that, and it's really like it blows my mind every time that anyone says something really positive about my work or says, you know, thank you for drawing that I didn't know how to explain it, but that's what it is. And you know, just having that community of people who really do just love my work, who don't know me as a person in real life. But know me as like an artist and a creator. It's a really good feeling and it's definitely helped me take more pride in what I'm doing and take myself more seriously.
I love that and. Wish that that was your experience in college because it should have been. And unfortunately, as we just discussed like that's not that's not how it's formatted. That's not how it's set. It's set up, which you know, TikTok spaces and social media spaces tend to be these playgrounds where I think folks sidestep out of these more like mainstream or like institutionalized places where, you know, it's not about the enjoyment. Or the joy of creating or exploring. Right, it's about. Quote checking a box, getting a grade, getting the feedback, feeling like you're somehow entitled to a certain level of feedback when you don't have the range to be. Giving the type of feedback. I felt that in some of my classes too, I was like I I there's this little mantra, I forget where I picked it up somewhere on social media because I'm way too on the Internet. That's like, don't accept critique from folks you would not accept advice. And so I was like, ohh, OK, there's a lot of you.
Yeah, I've heard this one.
I'm not gonna. I'm not. Gonna take too too much. You know, I'm happy to change a word. Or two but. Yes, there's a reason my characters are covertly queer. OK, things. So let's let's go ahead and dig into this big this, this big cool project. You got to do. I'm really curious and I like to know how things work because I've never known or like connected with anyone who's ever done one of these. But you had the pleasure and opportunity. To do a Google Doodle. So can we? How does one even get? Asked, or invited to do a Google. Doodle how did how? Which you get invited to do this.
So it's funny because when I was in high school, I did like the Google Doodle competitions like and didn't get chosen. But like that was like me trying it. That was the only way that I thought this kind of worked. But the art director actually just emailed me one day. She yeah, she emailed me. And she, I assume, had seen my work from social media and felt like I would be a good fit. She also made it clear that they wanted to work with an indigenous artist on this piece, which I think was really import. And and yeah, my correspondence was basically with the art director. And it was like, round after round of revisions. I would say there's probably 8 or 9 different versions of the doodle that I like fully sketched out and then sent over before we landed on the final one.
OK. I I value that process, that's something that my team and I've seen a lot of like more laboratory conscious space is being very mindful of is like how much labor you're asking an artist to do before a selection process. So like you know, that sounds like a lot of work obviously of doing multiple revisions, but ultimately not like you having to sketch a. Proposals and then still potentially not just selected right versus saying we see your portfolio, we see your work, we see that you would be deeply connected to this project.
That's important to us. We're going to invite you. To kind of dream and scheme. Together early on in the process, not show us what you're thinking and then we'll select out of, yeah. Love that. Love that. For you. So your Google doodle? Was depicting Barbara Mccammon for what would have been her. 69th birthday. OK. And I just, I don't know that I pay attention to Google Doodles every day, right? Like I'm not. I'm not just. It felt very serendipitous. An important though I happen to pull up the Google page and saw that big pride flag like Dead Center of this piece, we'll definitely have in the show notes links to the piece. If folks missed it. But it was very promising and I was like, I feel like I should know who this is and as. I like re googled. Through Google this this you know this. Activist, writer, photographer, ****** Wright I was. Like, oh, for sure, I've. Heard of Baldwin? My Cameron, but didn't know a. Lot about her. And so this felt like a really prime opportunity. To like revisit. It and realize, oh, this person was born in at Standing Rock in North Dakota. What is currently North Dakota and just making all these connections as my brain likes to do. And I was like, this is actually so, so cool. And you got selected, you got asked and invited with a very intentional lens of bringing in an indigenous. Artists who work on this piece of about depicting the story of. An indigenous activist who's done some really rad work, her history is really significant and we can talk about that, of course, but she's. Not the only. Person in this image and so I'm curious if we could talk about like who else if there's folks by name like who? What's all going on in? This let's let's talk it through.
Yeah. So we we went back and forth for a while, me, the art director of the team and Barbara Mccammon's wife was also contributing feedback, which was amazing. So we kind of landed on an homage to the two communities that she was really serving and really involved in. And this kind of dual identity that a lot of queer. Your POC folks have where you have like for her like San Francisco, which is where she did a lot of her activism, and then her indigenous community. And so the folks depicted are not any particular people like no one by. Name, but we just kind of wanted to use smaller scale. Folks to represent the different communities that she served and something that was really important to me that I notice is lacking in a lot of art. I feel like something as small as like skin tone. Like I feel like some people tend to think that when you're drawing a group of people of color, it's just brown, darker brown, lighter brown, without without understanding like undertone and like features like ethnic features and different like details like that that really matter. And so especially when I was drawing the indigenous side, like the folks on that side of the drawing. I was really thinking about yeah like undertone and like nose shape and hair and included someone who is older as well as like a couple and it was also important to me that like the two women on the indigenous side were a couple that they were embracing like that. You know, that felt really important because I. You don't really see that kind of representation often of. Indigenous like queer women, and then for the San Francisco side, I went through a ton of photos from the time period in the 70s, like the outfits and the clothing. And so the people drawn are kind of loosely based off of images of, like protests and parades from that time period.
I love that. OK. So they're kind of like. It's kind of like Rose and Jack from the Titanic. They weren't necessarily like definitive like. Right. Like nonfiction people, but they represent who would have been kind of key characters in Barbara's life based on her different geographical location, makes total sense. It sounds I'm anticipating that the art director. And the folks on. The Google side of things kind of came with some information kind of ready to divulge or kind. Of talk through. What types of like research or homework or additional kind of sleuthing did you do to kind of think through the imagery or kind? Of the story. You wanted to share through this final version of the Google Doodle or all 8 versions really. Like, what was the yeah. Research process or kind of collecting process before approaching the piece.
So to start, they didn't have they kind of let me do my own research first.
So I just read like different articles about Barbara. I read about just like the timeline of her life, the things she accomplished, and they also, as we kind of went through the process, gave additional information as needed. I think the most difficult part while doing research is the fact that with the Google Doodles there's certain images and specific places you can't depict because it's intellectual property like it's not like the actual symbol from her like tribes flag couldn't be depicted so.
Working around that any like specific like patterning or bead work from specific tribes also couldn't be. Specific locations couldn't, so it became this like puzzle of like how do I indicate that this is San Francisco and Standing Rock without it being based off a photo without it using any landmarks like the Bay Bridge not allowed and so it provided some very interesting.
Creative constraints, but working with the art director who was Super Wonderful. Really like, good at, like giving me feedback and like guidance we kind of landed on. And taking elements from those locations to give the impression of where this was supposed to be. Understanding that, of course, it would be paired with an actual like timeline of what Barbara did like when you click on the doodle, it tells you where she did her work and the significance of these places. But yeah, I would say. Doing the research it was it was difficult to not depict anything specifically you.
Yeah, it reminds me of what you said earlier of like being asked to be more abstract. Of like this is. Literally having to kind of like it's so, yeah. Just kind of like. Unspecified things. That's really interesting. I wouldn't have thought that you could. Certain specific things like that so. Yeah, like just and I think all of that depicts personally, but I think that all depicts very cleanly in the piece. And then it obviously helps to have some of. The like, so supplementary information kind of written out in the Q&A with you and the memo from the wife was really I think, of particularly amazing, you know, addition I, you know wasn't like I said. I knew of right. I've really. I read her essay in. This bridge called my back and. I think that was the only. Like loose realization I had of her existence. And hadn't you know, taken my own time to do too much more research or findings about her. But seeing that there was the message from her wife was really like really a gem. What was like? Corresponding or being kind of part of this. Little work group with. Her like, like how did that add to the?
So it was her feedback was kind of all filtered through the art director, so UMI would send in the sketch and then Barbara's wife and son and the Google team would all kind of chat about it and then the art director would give me that information. But.
It was really. I was so nervous when they sent first. Her yeah. Because I wanted to make sure that it was like doing justice like Barbara's memory, capturing her likeness in a way that felt true. Through and I was so relieved when her wifes feedback was that it was perfect, like she loved the way that I had drawn Barbara and that was so special. I also she ended up giving feedback towards the end about the hat that Barbara was wearing in the doodle because there was no photos of this hat. But it was like her favorite. Dora that she. Where and so just having like a little bit of that personal information to add to the drawing made it feel feel really cool.
I love that. Yeah. I just, I think that it just feels like it's even more well-rounded to have someone who is so close and so obviously very intimate with with this person to kind of bring, bring that additional like less known. Personality. I know reading the little blip message from from the wife, wanting to promote Barbara's playful side, I think was was listed in there and that maybe wasn't as like front facing and some organizing or like activism roles. And so I thought that was. Really cute. Did you have? Prior to being reached out to for this project like a General Vanessa, Barbara May, Cameron did you also kind of learn a whole, whole lot of, you know through this project how much did you know prior and what are some cool things maybe you also learned? Through doing your research to prep for this.
So I had also read her essay in this bridge called My Back in college during one of my, UM, queer Chicano studies classes. And so I I didn't make that connection until like deep into research. So I was kind of starting this with a blank slate. But just like reading about all of the things she did. Like it made me realize that I did not like in my queer history classes, indigenous activism was not something that was talked about. I hadn't even heard of the GI or yeah GI gay American Indians. Until doing this research and just realizing like how much she was doing even back then it was.
Really empowering. And it, you know, it also made me sad that these things aren't talked about more in queer studies as a whole.
I completely agree. I didn't read this bridge called me back until. Probably in the last five years, at some point picked it up. Like really the issue was I've been trying to find a copy and because it's been in circulation so long finding like I think there was a republish that I finally like saw and. I was like, well, that's affordable like I was. Writing these like original versions. So I knew I'd been wanting to read it, so I'm kind of in the same boat and. No, it's not really thrush in like our general conversation, which isn't surprising. Even the essay, which I think I'm going to probably pull some excerpts from for the intro for this. Episode is is that she talks about kind of her. Experiences of feeling frustrated about her fear of white folks and even folks that she's well connected with her friends with her perspective being formed by, you know, growing up with her grandparents, you know, at Standing Rock and then, you know, connecting with very violent white folks and experiencing racial violence, but not necessarily having the language. Do it right away. Then discovering that she's a lesbian, so like having all of these compounding pieces and then deciding she's going to do what a lot of Midwest folks do and hightail it out of your Midwest town and go see what else is available to you out in the world. So you know I. Think I I literally read the piece actually right before we got on because I didn't think I had my coffee. Home and I was like, Oh my God, I do. I found it. Oh, I thought it was in my office. Ironically, I almost lost. My copy forever because I lent it to a student and I have learned to stop doing. That because.
Some books. Oh boy. So.
I really found it and so rereading it ahead of this and kind of thinking about what what was conveyed through some of the information connected to the Google Doodle online, you know, it just feels like her story is one that definitely needs to be more broadcasted. And I think it's unfortunate that. You know, she didn't necessarily live a long life. She died at the age of 47, and anywhere that I've read says natural causes. And I'm like, I don't know what that means, but 47 is is just really not, you know, it's it's a shorter life. And to know that there could have been more that. She could have been capable of providing us and being a part of. You know, is a bummer and is also I think. Something queer folks struggle. With a lot. Is life expectancy and life possibility, and what does that mean and how do we raise up and uplift the works of folks while they're here, you know? And here we are. A few decade almost. A little over 2 decades past, you know her passing, bringing her up again in this really significant way. Was there any significance? Or reason like that Google chose kind of right now you know May 2023 for her 69th birthday or was it just kind of in the rotation and came together in an opportune way do you?
I don't. I don't really know I.
I'm just curious, yeah.
Think I think initially this was planned for Pride Month. I think from kind of what I've gathered corresponding with the art director, because the deadline switched halfway through doing the project and it was sooner than expected.
And so I think maybe. This was initially slated for pride and then upon realizing that her birthday was the end of May, it felt more fitting to just put it on that day. And something else about the like the process of creating it that came up a lot. So folks pointed out that the flag is anachronistic, which is true, but Google specifically wanted the Progress Pride flag, which includes the black and brown stripe and the trans flag stripes specifically because. You know her wife? The team felt like that. You know, that would best reflect where her beliefs would be at had she stayed alive and like, been aware, you know, and I think it was. It was a lot of mixed responses when the doodle came out, but. That something that a lot of folks were frustrated with is that the trans flag was included in this drawing and it was very surprise, yes. Yeah, I the day that this went live.
People are exhausting.
I was, yes. Like I was getting hundreds of like. Great comments and then horrible comments. And it was so, I mean Google turned off the comment section on their Instagram, which they haven't done for like any post recently. And it was it was strange because there was like run-of-the-mill homophobia, which I expected. But then there were queer people who were upset that I had tried to speak for Barbara by putting this flag in the image. And the frustrating thing for me is that, you know. I had collaborated with her family on this. The people who knew her best, who would know, like how she would have felt about trans issues. And so that was something that, like people, kept calling it anachronistic, which is true. But the reason that it was included is because that's the most accurate, like up-to-date version of the flag to represent the breadth of the queer community, right?
Well, I would not have. Expected as I'm sure you would not have had had not either. That's real. Oh my gosh, people. Are so exhausting. Well, I'm glad you made that choice. I feel like the I feel like that means like the the negative feedback means you made a proper choice and like that was direction that needed to. Because the sense I get from like again having read just a little bit of her work, is that like she's necessarily takes it like she. If I if I. Had to guess like she was definitely probably like a pretty, you know, like opinionated, like pretty stern and like bold person.
That's what I'm tracking just from like. The way she speaks about racialized violence, the way she speaks about queerness, the way she speaks about like white gay people being an impediment to kind of this, more intersectional, expansive, queer community. Yeah, that's so frustrating. But also not surprising because.
Yeah, I think I just didn't I because like what I was saying earlier this this community, because this was on TikTok and Instagram, the community that I've kind of like put together is mostly queer people. So I am very used to like people just connecting to the work and it's great. And then I move on. It for some reason it didn't register that this was going to be seen by everybody, because this was on.
Google so people who I typically don't, you know, pop up on. Their feed? I.
Was and it caused some like very like angry reactions and. You know, it was like, like I said, a split between really wonderful comments like people saying like, I saw this at work this morning and cried like I'm so it's was so wonderful. And my favorite comments were from teenagers who live in states where there's a lot of censorship happening, telling me that the administrators at their school were furious that they couldn't. Take down anything because it's Google.
You can't take down Google. Ohh my.
God, I love that.
Yeah, it was awesome. So it was worth it, honestly.
Ohh amazing. I would always. Thought about that, I love that. Do you feel like Google like the the folks who, like, partnered with you and, like, collaborate with you to do it? Like kind of had your back in that way too. Like were aware and like at least, I mean, they turned off the comments. So at least they were aware and kind. Of like put a stopper on. Some of the. Stream of backlash that it started, so that feels at. Least like a gesture. We're just gonna discontinue focus. Being able to dogpile. So that's at least a step.
I I feel like they maybe. Also didn't know how bad it would be.
Like fair. Yeah.
I cause I've. Yeah, I've been, I I, like looked through Google's Instagram to see previous pride drawings and nothing like this. Like there was maybe a few comments of people saying things that are homophobic, but specifically the inclusion of the trans flag like that was. Is the whole problem people had and that you know that issue hits close to home as a queer person, but also some of the trans girlfriend and just seeing the hate that she's received online? And I I just feel like with the way things are going like there's kind of a boiling point being hit. With this conversation and. People are especially angry, even at the inclusion of trans people in artwork, in public spaces, and just seeing that from other queer people. I wasn't expecting, so I imagine the people at Google probably didn't think this would be as much of an issue. But yeah, on Twitter, on Instagram, every platform they posted, this was just a mess in the comments.
So frustrating. And again like you're saying though, kind of like not super surprising like the the. We're in right now is very, you know, I'd be curious like time, place, manner. Let's say this was published in December or like an arbitrary month that wasn't gearing up around Pride Month. Right. Like would it have? Been a little less. Would it have come out a bit more unscathed with a little less dogpile? Then, when everybody was popping up there, you know, pride posts, you know, gearing up for June, I'd be very curious, right? Like if it was just. Oh my God, here's another.
Here's another flag. Yep, I'd be very curious, but Oh well, they just, you know, close Google. You can use App Jeeves instead. Leave us alone, right? I'm curious for you. Kind of. You know, you learned. Besides learning some, like, factual pieces about you. Know Barbara's work. With, you know, starting gay American Indians. And you know, stuff that she had been a part of in California when she eventually moved there, I think in her early 20s. I think if I did the math right, which is not my Forte, I'm not. A math day, but I'm pretty sure early. 20S was when. She departed. She went to New Mexico for school and then ended up in California as my understanding. Of her little geographical trajectory. What, what else did? You kind of gain or glean or any connections you've made through this process of studying her. Depicting her working with her family. Like what? What are you leaving out of this? Project or like what? What maybe has unearthed for you that is upcoming, right? Like where where you at right now after having completed this project?
I think it was really I I don't like. While I was doing the project, I was so focused on doing a good job and like going back and forth with Google. So it was, you know, my artist brain was really in gear, but after completing it, seeing the impact kind of sitting with it. I I do feel like it was really like it was really wonderful to read about someone who was able to, like, bring in both of those identities and embrace that intersection. For me, my family is should imagine, but we don't have connections to. Like the language or the culture because you know, like the the parts of my family that are Native American are also mostly French because of colonization and like the way that, yeah, so.
So it it made me a little sad just thinking about how she was able to hold on to those ties and bring that into her work. And sometimes like as like a person of color who creates art in a public way, I do ask myself, like, am I doing enough? Am I contributing in the ways that I want? To and. Seeing the impact that simply depicting someone like this had and seeing the impact of, you know, having a diverse range of people drawn like even the characters beside Barbara like it, it reminded me that that is important. I I don't. Need to constantly have like a whole thesis on like queer theory and like, you know the Intersect like I can just make art that's joyful and celebratory and that's important. And I think especially now that's important. So yeah, it was it was really empowering to. Read about her and think about my own background and. How I don't have to look at them as two separate halves. Of like who I am.
You, you you have like a printed version of this somewhere in your home. Like today I should.
Yeah, I think it's.
I think it's to go on a on a. Snapback I think. That would be. It's it's just. It's just, it's just, I don't know. It's just a genuinely like. I don't want to say cute and like an infantilizing way, so please don't. Hear that? But just like.
It is. It's an. It's an.
Yeah, hearing steering, wholesome peace. Right. You know, I think there's limited for a photographer. I feel like I'm curious like that. There's kind of a limited, shouldn't shouldn't take as many pictures of yourself I feel. Like there's kind of. Like limited number of photos that I see looking in different articles that folks are depicting. So like there's only a couple. You know, depictions of her via photography. And I was like then we'll just use this Google Doodle for. Everything now. Like I love that weird with the flag just to. Place more people out. I love that. So what's on that? So you know you got over this arduous, really meaningful, significant Google Doodle project. What is like next for you? Like what are you, you know, is there big exciting projects on the horizon, stuff that you're working on and new stuff that you're trying out? Like what's up with with you now?
So yeah, I feel like this was definitely just like a big confidence boost just in what I'm doing. And and it brought a lot of clarity, I feel like. I I work in a lot of different mediums. I am a makeup artist. I'm a painter. I do digital illustration photo retouching like kind of like have a lot of spinning plates. But this kind of reminded me that like at the end of the day, my absolute passion is illustrating, and I would say my. Goals going forward are to definitely publish a children's book at some point. Working with yeah, like I would love to work with or get signed to an illustration agency and specifically do like children's books because I'm I'm also an art teacher. Forgot to mention that one. And I do like private one-on-one instruction with children. And you know, that experience has shown me like, how important it is to have positive reinforcement and like validation from, like an artist when you're a young artist. And I think it would just be really cool to. Make kids content. That's really thoughtful and high quality and represents a range of folks. So I think that's that's going to be my next move.
I am obsessed. I love that not to like. Give away all your potential musings and thoughts so that no one steals it. But like, do you have, like, a sliver of thought about like a a situation or a setting or like a character you're brewing on? Or is that too far, too? Far in the weeds. For you to be on. Right now.
I think my ideal scenario would probably be working with a write. I think that would be really cool because I do really love the process of like bringing words to life like I've done. I've done a lot of editorial illustration for different magazines. I've done some stuff for books before, like went off, and I find that process to be really intuitive. So I think it would be cool to. Work with someone who's writing lines up with what I'm looking for and create illustrations for that story.
Not bad, beautiful. I just want to give room for you. To to share. Anything else? Any words of wisdom for other queer young artists? Because that sounds like a really important place for you. Any you know any additional sentiments you want to? Add about the the. Doodle or things that you've learned or connected about Barbara, Barbara, make Cameron anything you want to add. I think that that was the. List of questions I definitely had. And so it's gonna give room.
For you to share whatever you want. Yeah, I think just in general like my advice is that I think it's really important for queer people to have those, like creative out outlets that space for play imagination, because I feel like especially now like the world is really stressful and really cruel. And you know, simply going outside, you're made to feel like you shouldn't be there. And I think there's something really special and really important about having your, like own world to, like, escape to, whether that's writing or drawing or crafting or cooking. Like just some kind of creative space with no pressure where you can just exist. I think that's really important. And within that just finding other folks who. Make you feel safe enough to do that because the difference that I've observed in myself from you know, being in that really unsafe environment in higher education versus now where I am almost exclusively surrounded by other queer people. It really does make a difference and I feel more clear headed as an artist, as a person. So yeah, I would just. I would just recommend carving out that space for yourself, like as a queer person.
Not that, thank you. Well, this isn't splendid. I am really appreciative that we're able to make this time. I just have so much appreciation for you in putting out this piece. It just, again, just serendipitously landed in front of me at a good time, and I'm glad we were able to kind of capture and go a bit more in depth about the process. Yes, the research, the learning, the, the love of doing, you know, a project that kind of connects personally to you in a. Variety of ways. And I, you know, just really glad to be capturing a bit more story and uplifting Barbara Mccammon in a. Way that even for both of us. We're like we knew, but we didn't really know as much as we could. And so hopefully this is, you know, an additional step towards making sure that we're highlighting more than just the you know. Sis out. Not sis out. But the SIS white gays who tend to occupy so much of our queer history, conversations that there's other people who have not gotten the same, you know, flowers over guard and have done really significant, meaningful work that has huge implications for things that are going on right now, right. People that have been saying for decades. That things need to shift and change in our mainstream, you know, queer movement, so really glad to take this time to dig into that in ways that most of us courtesy of our. Yeah, we're not provided. So this has been so good.
Thank you so much for having me. This is great.
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