This past summer, David Antonio Cruz and Jason Elizondo came together in a virtual public discussion, Mother: A Conversation on the Relationship Between Queer Child & Mother to discuss their experiences in times when their queerness has strained yet deepened their bonds with their mothers. That conversation is available to watch on Vimeo.1 They expanded their dialogue here.
David Antonio Cruz: You're not wearing any makeup today, I just noticed.
Jason Elizondo: [Laughs] I'm not; I just have a Lady Gaga crop top and like, sweatpants on right now.
Cruz: What color?
Elizondo: The sweatpants? Pink, of course!
Cruz: ’Cause I'm like, they better! [laughs]
I loved watching you come into the cathedral (to pose for a photo shoot for David's upcoming series about chosen family) all done up and I was just like … I was never that person. I love the passion and obsession for being alive—for living. I'm just happy that you're in this world.
Elizondo: I just have to thank you so much. I think it's so interesting that you mention this because this conversation is about our intergenerational experiences. Given how I dress and express myself, do you think that you could have even worn what I wore in the cathedral when you were my age?
Cruz: Passing was always a thing, at least back then … we all wanted to pass, whatever that was, even in the community. I had this idea of what I wanted or needed to look or be like because then, I thought I would be loved.
Elizondo: It is also about survival!
Cruz: It was always about survival. At a very early age, you are taught to be ashamed of being effeminate. It's one of the things that still haunts me—what is that thing?
Elizondo: It’s so hard and I battle this everyday as somebody who is non-binary, trans feminine, and identifying with the term fem. I understand how easy these things can fall apart when you start to unpack what it even means to be fem or masc and what these words are. As much as I love that my generation is really challenging what is male, what is female, what is fem, what is masc … it's never simple. It's complicated and complex and a little bit messy. It's like, yes, I understand that calling myself fem because I wear pink, I like makeup, and I wear my hair long can be harmful. That the same things that make me feel so empowered and less dysphoric can also be limiting to somebody who is fem and finds those signifiers limiting. I think ultimately it can be both. And for me, that's kind of how I've always lived my life by accepting that these things can contradict themselves and they can get really messy, but like, it doesn't really mean that one way is better than the other just because they contradict. I think that's the best part of getting out of the binary.
Cruz: You've been alive as long as I've been out (24 years). The world has changed a lot.
Elizondo: And even though they’re different generations, we both had absolutely no mentors or other queer people in our lives, and we had no help—it was just clumsy. All of the questioning and shame that comes with it creates a lot of fear and the only way to conquer it is to survive. And part of that survival strategy was self-indulgence. Of course, I'm going to spend a copious amount of time really indulging in questioning … is this wrong? Is this shameful?
Cruz: Especially as a queer person of color, I still enter a room and I look for me. I’ve been out for so long and everywhere I go, it's like, who’s the gay one in the room? Where are the queer people in the room? How are you doing? [Laughs] Because I want to know who's in the struggle with us.
Elizondo: That's why with your work, what makes it feel so genuine and what makes it feel so important and beautiful for me is that it's about us and our community. It’s so unapologetically queer. It's so unapologetically Black, it's so unapologetically brown. It's so unapologetic in those ways because it's coming from this genuine place. And that's what I always hope for in my work too, that it's coming from that same place.
Cruz: It's what I call the celebration of life, of being. Living in the moment and full of life. I treasure that. I had a choice to live my authentic self or for someone else a long time ago. I needed to live truthfully—so I chose me.