Queer experiences make our community more successful in creative fields. Find out why and how you can unlock your queer creative power.
Members of the LGBTQ community have long been leading voices in creative fields, from artistic geniuses like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo to modern day icons like Elton John or Ellen DeGeneres. The prevalence of queer people in the arts has led many to wonder whether queer people might be biologically hardwired to think more creatively, and several studies have attempted to prove (or disprove) just that.
Let’s explore what’s behind the queer community’s seemingly disproportionate success when it comes to creative pursuits, and how we can continue to nurture and celebrate our creative spirits.
Are Gay People Truly More Creative? What the Research Says
While research into the correlation between creativity and queerness is by no means extensive, the majority of the research actually disproves the hypothesis that LGBTQ people are somehow genetically predisposed to higher levels of creativity. A 2013 study in the International Journal of Psychological Studies titled, “Is There a Gay Advantage in Creativity?” aimed to disentangle the association between creativity and sexual orientation. In the researcher’s survey of 38 homosexual men and 34 straight men, they found that the gay men were no more or less creative than their straight counterparts.
What’s Our Secret for Developing Our Queer Creative Power?
So if it’s not genetic, what’s behind our indisputable overrepresentation in creative fields like film, TV, music, and visual arts? In an effort to explain it, experts look instead to the social and cultural experiences of being a sexual minority as a driver for creativity. In an interview with Outfront Magazine, Pieter Tolsma, a program coordinator of Denver PIQUE, a sexual health and social support program for gay/bi men, said, “LGBT folk (and all minorities) experience the world differently and the art we create to voice ourselves speaks that difference. Society may not have the words necessary to speak our experience at times so we find other ways like art and perhaps this familiarity with the different avenues of expression sets us apart.”
Similarly, psychologist Laura Brown described the process of lesbian and gay identity development as “something we had to invent for ourselves… [by] actively deconstructing and recreating our visions of human behavior.” Without established narratives against which to chart their experiences, members of the LGBTQ community have long had to write their own stories, build relationships in new ways, and fearlessly establish identities considered outside the norm.
It’s not easy. For many, the queer experience — growing up in a world that can be discriminatory and un-accepting — can be extremely isolating and emotionally exhausting. From stereotyping and microaggressions to harassment and the denial of basic human rights, we’ve been forced to find outlets — often creative — through which to process and manage our experiences, frequently for the sake of our own and other LGBTQ people’s mental and emotional health.
Work Harder, Go Farther
That’s not to say queer people can just cash in on negative experiences. We also work really, really hard. Starting in childhood, most of us discover that the world isn’t always kind and supportive of our identities, and that we have to fight to carve a place for ourselves in the world. Many LGBTQ young people — especially those in isolated, ideologically conservative environments — might push themselves to excel in school so that they’ll have a better chance of getting out and making it somewhere else.While the increased availability of LGBT friendly therapy can help people come to terms and fight against the stigmas impressed on them in their youth, these unique experiences and the feelings which accompany them can offer an additional push toward creative expression. The determination and resilience that we as LGBTQ people cultivate in our youth is something that stays with us forever, and is something that ultimately pushes us to pursue our dreams.
Tricks of the Trade
Getting your creative juices flowing and tapping into your unique queer creative power can often be harder than it looks, but there are ways to jumpstart the creative process. For example, set aside time everyday to devote to your craft. Whether it’s painting, writing, singing, or playing an instrument, committing a specific time of day for creative pursuits will mentally prepare yourself for the task at hand. You may even want to try free writing, spur-of-the-moment painting, or improvisational music — what better way to capture your mood and emotions than by unfiltered creation? If you find it hard to take this time for yourself, explore that resistance. Maybe it’s not the right craft for you, or maybe taking that creative time and space doesn’t feel productive enough, which is definitely a thought to challenge. Making this creative space a priority often conflicts with the values we were raised with, so becoming aware of the narratives we’re subscribing to around words like productivity can be a great exercise.
If you’re a singer-songwriter or a budding poet, consider carrying a notepad (or, duh, your phone) to write down inspiration that comes to you during the day — or anything particularly memorable you hear on the street. You never know what might jumpstart your imagination down the line.
Your creative juices are not always going to be flowing, so accept the blocks that happen from time to time and devote your energy elsewhere instead of beating yourself up. When possible, explore the blocks and question what might be holding you back from expressing freely, but never rule out that you might just be tired or not feeling it at that moment. Setting time aside to explore both your creative expression and your creative blocks can help you better yourself by working through emotional struggles holding you back in your daily life.
Share with others. Growing up closeted can make vulnerability very difficult, particularly around something as precious as our artistic creations. We can have irrational fears of rejection and humiliation that hold us back from sharing our work and getting feedback. Sharing your artwork is a wonderful exercise in vulnerability that can not only improve your craft but increase overall wellbeing and lead to more fulfilling relationships. If you are feeling particularly drawn to an artform but struggling to create new work, consider joining a class or participating in art and music therapy, which may be more beneficial to you than traditional therapy methods.
Finally, even as we seek outlets through which to express our individuality — whether in an explicitly artistic field or just as creative individuals — we must continue to use our collective creative power to raise awareness, promote inclusivity, end discrimination, and continue to make art in whatever form we choose.