One of the best parts of being a queer person in the Bay Area is that, unlike other cities, our Pride festivities last not for a day, not for a weekend, but for the entire month of June. Getting a head start on June even is the National Queer Arts Festival, which kicks off May 30 with its month-long, multidisciplinary glitterbomb and involves visual art, film, literary events, theater, spoken word, performance art, dance, marches, panels, and workshops in venues all over the city.
Now in its 17th year, the NQAF is organized by the Queer Cultural Center, and has featured more than 800 events and over 1,000 queer artists, including Bill T. Jones, Alice Walker, Robert Rauschenberg, Meredith Monk, Adrienne Rich, Marga Gomez, Justin Chin, Thom Gunn, Cherrie Moraga, and Dorothy Allison. At a time when S.F. is rapidly losing its arts scene (Intersection for the Arts recently laid off all of its senior staff, including Rebeka Rodriguez, founder of Bring Your Own Queer), and because Pride events are becoming more corporate and bland, the National Queer Arts Festival is especially relevant because it showcases works created on tiny budgets that are often political and subversive.
This year's theme is "Body Politic/s" and here are some of the events we're most excited about.
Queer Past Becomes Present at the GLBT History Museum -- Free-$5 (free first Wednesday of the month)
Technically open slightly before Pride month, this is the first new exhibition in the GLBT History Museum's Main Gallery since the museum opened in 2011. It has been remodeled and recently started showing Queer Past Becomes Present on May 15. Highlights include the history of queer youth activism, which traces the activism of LGBTQ people under 25 from the '70s to the present, and an exhibit dear to this column's heart, Gayborhoods: Lost Queer Landscapes, which looks at the clubs, restaurants, and 'hoods of three queer communities of yore in S.F. that are no longer -- North Beach, the Tenderloin, and the Valencia Street corridor.
Homo File at CounterPULSE-- $25-$35
Back from its sold-out run in 2012, Homo File runs May 30-June 15 and chronicles the real, pre-Stonewall life of Sam Steward, who you may remember from his homoerotic fiction, being the official tattoo artist for the Hell's Angels, or from his mentorship to Ed Hardy (love it or hate it as you will). Steward was also involved in Alfred Kinsey's BDSM research, and was pals with famous literary lezzies Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Homo File involves puppetry, visual art, video, and live music, as well as, of course, theater.
Second Helpings at SOMArts -- Free
Part of four (four!) queer arts exhibits opening on June 7 at SOMArts, Second Helpings features 21 artists, most from the Bay Area, holding a visual art exhibit and "fatinee" that confronts body stigmatization, body politics, shame, empowerment, and desire. Expect theatricality, humor, a five-piece band named after pastries, drag queens, videography, and more. The performance aspect of the show at 6:30 p.m. is sold out, but the exhibit from 2-5 p.m. is not, and those seeking performance tickets might be able to snag unclaimed ones on a first-come, first-served basis.
Other queer exhibits opening that day include Body, body bodies, The Most Sincere Gesture, and Feral: A Solo Exhibition by Kiernan Dunn.
Cuéntamelo! at Galeria de la Raza -- Sliding scale, $5-$20
This collection of oral histories and illustrations, also the topic of an SF Weekly cover story last year, provides a map of Latin queerness from LGBT Spanish-speaking immigrants on June 19. The readings/performances provide keen insights and fascinating tales from those who have been previously silenced, either by language barriers, ravagings by the AIDS epidemic, or simply the passage of time. Cuéntamelo! involves stories of underground Havana in the '60s; coming out trans in Catholic Puerto Rico, fierce female impersonators, and a portrait of queer San Francisco during the '80s.
Passage & Place, June 1, which explores the prison industrial complex.
Still Here, June 11,12, which features new and returning artists raised in S.F. during the '80s and '90s. As Fallon Young, co-curator of Second Helpings put it, "Take THAT cultural erasure!
Now is the time to come out (pun intended) and support the arts. Unless you want them to all move to Oakland. Community arts spaces and community-produced events need your eyes and your butts in seats if you want them to keep happening. There are, of course, many, many more shows and performances to experience as we wend our way through Pride month. Check out the full schedule and support your local artists and queerdos.
Follow @annapulley on Twitter. She'll tweet you right.