- Revolting Self-Care:Mark Aguhar's Virtual Separatism
These are the axes:
Bodies are inherently valid
It is complicated
Respect, negotiate—Mark Aguhar
I still remember how I felt after reading Mark Aguhar's axes for the first time. Recognition and validation gave way to inspiration and aspiration—it was literally easier to draw breath. Here were nine principles about which a better world might turn: axes. Or else, here were nine rhetorical weapons, tools with which to chop, hack, or cut through the arborescent: axes. Here were words to live by, sacred script and profane scripture, gifted by a queer and trans-feminine Filipino American who relished her fatness and her fire. Whenever I have shown Aguhar's axes to friends and strangers, I have noticed a similar shift in them: a release into a queer of color communitas too infrequently felt. The axes teach us many things, among them, this: Mark Aguhar had a way of making the world feel survivable for those who were never meant to survive.1 [End Page 181]
She was an artist perhaps most famous for work she posted to the online microblogging platform Tumblr under the handle "calloutqueen."2 There she housed her axes and many other expressions of alterity between 2010 and 2012. The site was as fragmented and fluctuating as the artist herself, and any account of it can only proceed in kind. Initially titled notheretomakefriends, Aguhar's blog was populated early on with the minor musings of minoritarian life and visual renderings of her gay male objects of desire, a preoccupation that would endure for the callout queen in varied forms. Over time, critical theory and personal drama disillusioned Aguhar, and she, in a self-consciously and self-critically politicized move, renamed her blog Blogging for Brown Gurls. Under this heading, the aesthetics of her ordinary existence and the existence of her extraordinary aesthetic projects emerged online as so many dismissals of whiteness, masculinity, thinness, and all things hegemonic while affirming brownness, femininity, and fatness for herself and others. Given her artist statement's description of her work as "a continuous exploration of queer expression and what it means to have grown up gay on the internet," it comes as little surprise that her highly sexual watercolor and textile-patterned pieces, her rope sculptures, and her text-based works such as her famous "Litanies to My Heavenly Brown Body" and, of course, "The Axes" still circulate widely in queer and trans corners of both the art world and the internet, easing the breathing of many like her who might slowly be suffocated otherwise.3
In this essay, I seek to understand what it was about Aguhar that made her (indeed, to this day, makes her) such a source of minoritarian sustenance. Minoritarian is a term I draw from the work of José Esteban Muñoz, whose thinking will serve as a touchstone throughout this writing. In Disidentifications—"one of the earliest texts to popularize the use of 'minoritarian' for contemporary readers in queer theory, performance studies, and critical race theory," according to Joshua Chambers-Letson4—Muñoz writes, "Although I use terms such as 'minoritarian subjects' or the less jargony 'people of color/queers of color' to describe the different cultural workers who appear in these pages, I do want to state that all of these formations of identity are 'identities-in-difference.'"5 I characterize Aguhar primarily as a minoritarian subject throughout this writing—as opposed to, say, a Filipino American or trans subject specifically—to account at once for all the identities-in-difference that she claimed and all the similarly identified communities that claimed her: Filipino American and trans, but also queer, fat, and femme—the list could go on. And while this characterization threatens to run roughshod over the various specificities of Aguhar's alterity, I aim to avoid this trap by foregrounding those specificities and the intellectual traditions associated with them when doing so can clarify [End Page 182] some aspect of this essay's thesis: namely, that Aguhar's social...