This piece originally appeared in Side by Side Magazine.
Now entering its fourth season, QUEER, ILL, & OK is a performance series that features Queer-identified artists exploring their relationships to chronic illness. Last year’s production took place July 24 & 25, at the Storefront Theater. Leading up to the show, + talked with performer Ireashia Monèt about her many, many forms of expression, QIO curator and creator Joseph Varisco (of JRVMajesty Productions), reading Alice Walker and more!
Every community knows this but I feel like I hear it a lot in the queer community: that sentiment of ‘If we don’t tell our stories, who will?’
Yeah, it brings up that quote, I think it was Zora Neale Hurston, it’s like “If you don’t say you’re in pain, they’ll like…” I don’t know, I’m butchering the fuck out of the quote but, basically, if you don’t talk about what’s hurting you or what’s going on, they’ll say that you enjoyed your life. (Ed: ‘If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.’ )
Especially coming up in a time where we’re taking our own narratives and telling our stories because we were so afraid to before.
Is there background you want give to the piece you’re going to do at QIO?
Well, yeah, I suffer a lot from invisible ailments. And these illnesses interfere with my everyday living. Sometimes I’m in constant pain, I’m very weak. I have a lot of mental anxiety and stuff like that. This past year was a really hard year for me. My grandfather died a year or so ago, and so my family, we’re all still grieving, going through that grieving period. During this time I felt really stuck in-between a lot of things, not really knowing if my life was going anywhere. That’s when I started to develop a lot of my visual artwork and a lot of my spoken word pieces.
I think what I bring to QUEER, ILL, & OK is more visibility to black, queer women of gender variation who suffer from visible and invisible disability. And sharing how we deal with that. I’m kind of breaking down, or demolishing that “Strong, Independent Black Woman” stereotype that’s forced upon us.
What did you wanna do with journalism when you first started?
I studied magazine journalism, which is more long-form, narrative-type journalism. My focus is film, music, culture, and talking about social issues. How do musicians deal with whatever they’re absorbing in their environment, and how do they manifest that in the music they make?
I was also interested in photojournalism- I’m still interested in photojournalism! Like, all this is still continuing. I love being around people, I love hearing people’s opinions, their stories. I love capturing them for who they are, their essence. I guess I use journalism to break out of my own introverted-ness. Through that I learned that I can do that with my own story; I can express it in any way I want to.
I just asked somebody the other day if they were an artist and they told me they preferred the word “Creator.”
Because it’s like, everything, you know?
I just want to encourage other people to just be as free as they wanna be.
There’s gonna be obstacles but you can always find a way over, under, between, behind. There’s always ways for liberation and this piece that I’m going to perform is [about] how even despite all this racial tension, political uncertainty, and a lot of spiritual unrest in myself, I still found the time, the power, and the energy to really look beyond all of this and see that there’s nothing really stopping me and to try to grasp or attain any dream or vision that I see.
Have you met Joe [Varisco, curator of QUEER, ILL, & OK]?
Yeah! I met him a few days ago, we were talking about my performance. He’s very nice, he’s been very helpful and supportive through this whole process. He actually mentioned you, emanuel.
I forgot what we were talking about, but he was like “emanuel vinson.”
Aww! *Laughs* That’s cool. I love Joe, he’s so sweet and so hard-working. He’s got such a bigger picture, you know?
He’s just so about it.
He was really nice. You should apply next year!
I wanna do something that he’s doing but I’m not sure QUEER, ILL, & OK is the place for me as a performer. But as an audience member and as a community member I feel really filled by it and grateful. I mean, when I saw that you were doing it it was like Heaven, it was so awesome. *Laughs* Do you know any of the other performers that are in it this year?
I know Sky Cubacub. Do you know Sky?
QIO photos by Kiam Marcelo Junio
Sky has a company called Rebirth Garments. She does a lot of clothing for trans-bodied folks, disabled, and plus-sized people. She also has really cool jewelry that she makes with chainmail and she has this really cool headpiece that she wears that looks kind of like armor. She’s just a really genuine, open, beautiful person.
I’m actually modeling for her in a show and it’s gonna be really nice. She’s the only person that I know but I look forward to meeting the other artists and understanding their vision as well.
What else are you working on besides QUEER, ILL, & OK?
Oh, man, that’s a big question.
*Laughs* Maybe a couple things?
Something that I’m really passionate about right now: I’m doing Script Analysis for Amir George’s upcoming film Decadent Asylum. It’s still in production. It’s like an afro-surrealist film, basing the imagery from different types of symbolism and stuff like that. It’s very abstract in a way, but it’s really cool to be on a film set and be a part of it.
I’m doing a short film that I’m writing a script for about black motherhood and breaking down expectations of mothers. Looking at my own personal relationship with my mother and developing, even through this film, how we perceive motherhood, and how limiting that idea of “What is a Good Mother?” vs “What is a Bad Mother?” [can be]. That kind of thing.
And I’m also looking at grad schools, so I have a lot of things. I’m just all over the place. But it’s gonna be a cool few months in Chicago. I’m still tryna get out and start performing again. Performing more with spoken word and stuff like that.
I’m tryna get in touch with Young Chicago Authors, just going in and performing there. It’s so close, it’s like “How can I not?” In the meantime I’m just, like, going to art shows, hanging out with people. Living. *Laughs*
I love that you just said so many things. It’s hard to get good at something!
I love failing. I mean, I hate it but it pushes me you know? Like ‘Damn, I really…I really fucked up, huh?’ So I try it again, and I try to get it right and, yeah, I get discouraged but my own self-doubt and my own barriers, I wanna get beyond those. That’s why I’m so focused on this performance. I’m afraid as fuck. I’m not gonna let fear get the best of me, you know? And I wanna give the audience my best.
I’m really grateful that I have the time to meditate on this performance. Last year I was running around doing all this other shit and I didn’t really have time for myself, but now [that] I’m done with college I can really calm down and think about this and really meditate on it.
Cool. I’ma ask a couple more quick things. What are you reading, what are you listening to, and if you’re watching anything…?
I’m reading Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. It’s a series of essays she’s written since the 60s, through the 80s and 90s. And it talks about her as a black writer, her days in the segregated South when she was in an interracial relationship. She talks about womanism, what it means to be a womanist, how she would describe a womanist. And also a lot about other writers, like Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin. Jean Toomer. All these names that I never really heard about but her essays really brought them to me in a very critical way and at a critical point in my life as a black woman. As someone who’s absorbing all this, like, energy around me, noticing all of the racial… just all the fucked up shit in the world. It’s been kind of a solace to read her words.
I’m listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar, a lot of Toots & the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Nneka. And Nina Simone. *Laughs* So there’s where I’m at. *Laughs*
And I’m watching re-runs of The Boondocks and this Netflix series Sense8. Which is about this group of people who share this common thread between them. They were all born on the same day and they can look into each other’s lives and help out. I guess it’s about empathy, in a way. Like, imagine a world where we could all just feel each other’s pain and we could all live in other people’s shoes, like, how would we react, how would we be? How different would the world be? So I really like that series a lot.
I’ve seen previews for that, that’s cool. And finally, is there anything else that you wish more people knew, either about you or anything?
Um. I guess people already know this, but I just wanna say on the record: I’m a super introverted person but… I’m like an introvert/extrovert type thing. So I think people don’t really know how to approach me but if you’re just like “Yo, we should chill!” I’d be really receptive to it and I think that’s something I’ve been trying to come to terms with in myself.
It’s kind of an awkward situation. But other than that, nah.
Soon, you’ll be able to purchase tickets to this year’s QUEER, ILL & OK, or make a tax-deductible donation to the production. Follow QIO on Facebook and stay tuned!