I’ve known Michelle for many years now. She’s been a central part of the local art community for all of that time, and a dedicated student of painting as well. Beyond this, Michelle is someone who always has a kind word, and her encouraging, affirming presence is something everyone in our town knows about.
She also used to be my friend Mike, who I drew for this series here. Obviously, I will not try to tell Michelle’s story. It’s not mine to communicate. But I did think it would be appropriate to place a new portrait here in the Becoming the Student group.
Since I’m an educator, I’m sure you can imagine that I come into contact with many LGTBQ+ folx. Particularly in the last decade I’ve worked with trans people in a few different contexts, but most often in the graduate program where I teach. Just like anyone else who is human, the trans people I’ve known have exhibited a wide range of personality and affect.
Everyone comes with their own traumas and triumphs, their own unique inflection on life. And the fact is that simply being human is hard. People have to come to an understanding of themselves for themselves, and my primary obligation to those around me is to be kind. While that strategy hasn’t always worked, I think it’s an important guideline. And it’s framed the way I teach and the way I interact with people. It’s not up to me to define anyone else; it’s up to me to be kind and helpful.
(That’s central to how I see education. My teaching philosophy includes the concepts of “facilitation, encouragement, and tact.” It’s important for my interactions with people – especially students – to function as opportunities to support and enliven them. I want to aid their ability to understand themselves and help them develop strategies for building creative points of contact. Art – or really any form of communication – is worthless if it doesn’t offer access points for others.)
So, I offer up this new portrait of Michelle in celebration of her humanity and her winsome, joyful presence in our community. I did interview her for this entry in the Becoming the Student series, but I have decided to let that conversation stay just between the two of us. There are as many ways of being human as there are humans experiencing being.
…all is transformed, all is sacred,
every room is the center of the world,
it’s still the first night, and the first day,
the world is born when two people kiss,
a drop of light from transparent juices,
the room cracks half-open like a fruit
or explodes in silence like a star,
and the laws chewed away by the rats,
the iron bars of the banks and jails,
the paper bars, the barbed wire,
the rubber stamps, the pricks and goads,
the droning one-note sermon on war (…)
the invisible walls,
the rotten masks that divide one man
from another, one man from himself,
they crumble for one enormous moment and we glimpse
the unity that we lost, the desolation
of being man, and all its glories,
sharing bread and sun and death,
the forgotten astonishment of being alive;
to love is to battle…
From SUNSTONE by Octavio Paz, 1957