Why Are Queer People Creative?

Why Are Queer People Creative?

I am creative. I consider myself a creative person. My husband, Cameron, is a painter and photographer. We both are drawn to the arts, like to be in creative environments and surround ourselves with people who think about the world differently.

I’m not going to write this as a scientist. I’m not a scientist. I am going to write this as a human who has spent a lot of time thinking about this and reading what I found or stumbled upon. Perhaps you will agree with me.

LGBTQ (Queer) people have dominated creative professions for a long time. From Sappho to Bessie Smith to Michelangelo to Gertrude Stein to Margaret Cho to Pedro Almodovar to Ang Lee (a random sampling), queer people have revolutionized their medium and reached world fame. In fashion, especially, designers like Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Gianni Versace… The list is never-ending.

 Gianni Versace Credit:  Andrew Stawicki / Contributor     Toronto Star     Getty Images

Gianni Versace Credit: Andrew Stawicki / Contributor Toronto Star Getty Images

Why have so many queer people created art that has made a mark on society?

It’s a problematic question.

The question “why are queer people so creative?” is problematic.

1. It’s not entirely true:
- a lot of queer people wouldn’t consider themselves creative
- a lot of creative people are not queer. 

2. Queer people may be creative due to circumstances: 
- The creative community tends to be more open and accepting, thus attracting queer people. 
- So, it may not that queer people are more creative, it’s that society pushes them into the creative community.

But there does seem to be a true connection between queer people and creativity.

What makes creativity?

Creativity comes from viewing the world with a different perspective. In Psychology Today, Dr. Nigel Barber says that creativity comes from an “oblique perspective”. People outside of society’s dominant groups tend to have a different perspective because, since they don’t create the way the world works or follow its societal norms, they are able to criticize society and view it in a from an outsider’s or objective perspective different way. And some of the best art comes from a twist of social norms or what’s already been done, whether that be music or painting or poetry or comedy or fashion.

Many artists say that creativity is born out of struggle. Musicians speak of heartbreak as their muse; for example, Adele. Many painters have channeled depression; for example, Salvador Dali. Therefore, creativity is not be just ta factor of being queer, but a factor of struggling. Creativity is a way of getting through struggle. The connection of struggle and creativity, of course, is not unique to the queer community. But queer people do have a unique sort of struggle.

 Adele, queen of heartbreak Credit: Alasdair McLellan

Adele, queen of heartbreak Credit: Alasdair McLellan

Coping and creativity

In the book The Velvet Rage, author Dr. Alan Downs describes how gay men cope with discrimination and rejection. I love the book and recommend it.

As one user on Quora summarizes, “the author suggested that the creativity of so many queer men had to do with their desperate search for coping strategies. Being gay, openly or even closeted, carries tremendous stigma. Being able to cultivate skills that attracted positive attention, particularly but not only as they related to self-representation and communication, was a good way to overcome this stigma.”

Still, I think it’s more than just coping. For many queer people, creativity isn’t so much a way of coping as a way of refusing to fit in.

Being queer: the creation of ourselves

All of this leads to what I think does make queer people so creative: the creation of ourselves. Our identity itself is creative. This is my perspective, and I am curious to see if people agree.

At some point, queer people come to terms with being different, whether their identity be gender fluid or transgender or lesbian female or gay male or bisexual. They realize that they aren’t like most people and perhaps they aren’t who they thought they were up to that point.

For many queer people, this process also involves coming out. And the coming out process, regardless of how it is received, is a declaration of “this is who I am.” That declaration requires that someone is changing from being one thing to being another.

This process of self-discovery that every queer identified person goes through (young or old) makes queer people more creative. It’s the process of creating the new “you”.

There are no rules about how to be queer. Yes, there are stereotypes and norms. But one of the beauties of being queer is that we defiantly express our identity however we feel is natural. We can be more masculine or more feminine. We can dress a certain way. That’s why you see so many queer people (youth especially) experimenting with fashion. Lesbian women with cute hats and bowties. Gay men with tight pants or dresses or makeup. It’s a visible way to explore who we are and who we can be. Some of this is just expressing how we feel deep down, but the process of exploring what we are deep down is a creative process in itself.

 Allison on DapperQ Credit: Allison Graham

Allison on DapperQ Credit: Allison Graham

Privilege

This experimentation may be affected by privilege, and you could say the more privilege you have, the more ability you have to be who you want to be. But I also see that some of the most talented and interesting creative people are those who are not the most privileged. And with limited resources and facing great odds, they bravely defy social norms and push boundaries.

Compare this to the white, heterosexual, able-bodied, affluent male experience. As a generalization, he does not have to question his place in the world or decide who he is. Society tells him who he is, what he should enjoy, how he should act, etc. Of course there are many ways to be a straight male, but many of those ways of being fall into acceptable buckets. And you could  argue that if a privileged male decides not to fall into a socially acceptable bucket, he is being queer and creating himself in the same way described above – and he may be criticized for being nonconforming. Essentially, the more privileged someone is, the less likely they are to face the project of creating themselves. Please note: these are complete generalizations, and specific life experiences could change this – from traveling the world to an unfortunate life event to being exposed to art and music.

Creating myself

I go back to my own experience growing up and the queer process of creating myself. Perhaps it was even more extreme since I grew up outside of some parts of society, having limited electricity and no cable television. I really struggled with where I fit in and what felt natural. The process of creating myself has been a long one, and I’m sure it’s lifelong. But it has been a type of creative process.

As queer people, once we have created ourselves, the world feels like a creative place. We know how we can alter it. We see where things are open to interpretation. We explore how we can make something more beautiful or more comfortable. Our minds aren’t limited by what already exists.

That’s why queer people are so creative.

 Photo: Jessica Czarnecki

Photo: Jessica Czarnecki