In the early days of my coming out process, I found myself searching for other queer women to look up to as a way of understanding myself — I still do, actually, and probably always will. One of the reasons I believe that we as a community need visibly out folks, why it is important to come out when you can, is because our queer life stories can be so different than the narratives our heterosexist culture would like us all to assume and it is lonely without having stories that reflect our truths.
For me, especially as a young woman in high school, I had questions, so many questions: aside from the somewhat standard “Oh shit, how do I fuck women?”, “how do I get a girlfriend” and “how do I come out to people” types of questions that most queer folks find themselves asking, there were a slew of questions that felt particular to bisexual-identified folks: how do I handle biphobic shit from my family, like the times people tell me that i’m just going through a phase, or the times people tell me that I’m only bisexual for attention, or the times people petition me for threesomes as soon as I come out to them? How do I handle biphobic shit from within the queer community, like the times people tell me that I’m not queer if I’m dating a man, or when people blame bisexuals for the AIDs crisis, or when people tell me I’m only bisexual for attention or the times people tell me I’m just going through a phase and that I’ll be a lesbian in a year? How do I challenge people who tell me that I’m not actually bisexual when I’m dating a male-bodied person?
I came out to myself before the internet — or at least, before there were answers to everything on the internet via resources like Wikipedia, Scarleteen and Autostraddle. So I looked in library books to find my kin, and, to a lesser extent, pop culture, and found Frida Kahlo, a woman who is impossible not to look up to.
Once I got past the excited novelty of finding another queer woman — and an extraordinarily talented and accomplished one at that — I started to admire different aspects of Frida Kahlo, most notably her her courage. Holy fuck, her courage to simply keep going, to keep painting and creating. In her early twenties, Kahlo was in a brutal bus accident when left her with a broken spinal column, a punctured uterus, a broken collar bone, a broken pelvis, broken ribs, at least eleven fractures in her legs and countless broken bones in her crushed foot; she spent three months recovering in a full body cast and remained in pain throughout the rest of her life, undergoing at least thirty five surgeries, several miscarriages as a result of her punctured uterus, and eventually an amputated leg due to gangrene. Kahlo started painting during her recovery from her accident, and she is quoted as saying “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”
Anything I write about this comes off as hyperbolic; I can’t imagine surviving the physical trauma she went through and continued to created from. As someone who is not unfamiliar with chronic pain — though nothing on the scale of what Frida’s must have been — I still find it staggering that she was able to keep painting, not because of an “oh, poor weak lady artist” bullshit, but because being able to put aside physical pain — or, in Kahlo’s case, what surely was physical agony — is extraordinarily difficult. And yet she did, and painted and created and participated with passion in the world around her.
And then of course there is her art. I can’t wait to someday see her work in person. It defied genre — still defies genre, really — and in the grand tradition of female artists, is only now beginning to be appreciated for its artistic genius on a wider scale. If you are not familiar with her artwork I encourage you to search for images of it online, or visit a local library or bookstore for a book with images of her art.
And there is her courage to be herself, to never give up on being herself. Her sexuality is just one aspect of this — though I have yet to see an in-depth academic discussion of the context of Frida’s sexuality, it cannot have been particularly easy being a woman – a married woman – with female lovers in the 1920’s, ’30’s and ’40’s. There is her apparent rejection of beauty norms and fashions of the time as well. I especially love her unibrow; I love that she painted herself a unibrow in most if not all of her self-portraits; I love that in all of the photos I’ve ever seen of her, her eyebrows are utterly unremarkable, which seems to me like she liked her unibrow. I love her inclusion of her facial hair in her portraits when it would have been easier, maybe even safer, for her to leave it out.
After Julie Taymor‘s Frida came out in 2002, Frida-mania reached new heights and her life and her work became much more well-known (in the USA, at least), so I don’t think it is necessary to share a biography of Frida here when you can find infinitely more complete biographies elsewhere.
So: Frida Kahlo, July 7th, 1910 to July 13, 1954, a courageous artist.
And here is a free embroidery pattern for you, the hypothetical internet, to use in a non-commercial fashion.
To get to the pattern, click on the image below to get to the image on Tumblr; once you’re viewing the image on Tumblr, click it again to enlarge and get to the biggest resolution file of the Frida Kahlo free embroidery pattern (or any of the others in this series). Hopefully I’ll have figured out a better way to deliver the free patterns, ideally as .PDF files; please be patient with me! Also: any suggestions for free delivery options of the download would be awesome.