Alyssa Andrews is on a mission to draw every queer person who exists on this planet. And they're doing a pretty good job, so far. In the first few months of their project #AllQueerBods, Andrews drew 100 queer people and had 300 more lined up in an email inbox. (The list has undoubtedly grown since).
But Andrews isn't going to stop anytime soon. "No queer will be turned away," they wrote in a note about submissions on their website. To be part of the project, a person just has to do two things: 1) be a queer human and 2) send a photo of themselves to Andrews at email@example.com. It might take a while for your photo to be finished (hey, they have hundreds to get through!), but eventually, you will be drawn.
Below, we've talked with Andrews about the inspiration behind the project, the power in helping queer people see themselves as they want to be seen, and why the world needs to see queer joy.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Tell me about #AllQueerBods. What was the inspiration behind the project?
"It originally started with me drawing portraits of my friends, and people really seemed to like them. So I decided to start drawing strangers more, but I wanted to have a bit of intention behind it. A lot of people in the queer community were reaching out to me and asking what they needed to do to get portraits done and it evolved from there."
That's amazing. I've seen the images and there's something really powerful to me about showing the queer community in this way. Have you gotten much feedback?
"Oh my god, it's been amazing. As soon as I opened it up and said I'll draw anyone, no questions asked and no money needed, stories started pouring in. It was really beautiful and amazing. In the beginning I was just drawing to draw. It didn't really mean a ton. And then people were sending me messages saying that they've had a really hard year, or that it's hard for them because people don't recognise them as queer and they have to come out all the time. I get a lot of requests from trans folks who feel very dysphoric in their gender and don't feel represented well in their photos. So they want drawings that they feel will represent them better or make them feel seen as they are. Occasionally, there's a story that's like, 'I've been married for 30 years and I recently realised that I identify as queer and this is what I'm going through.' There's been a whole range of stories that have poured in. It has become so intimate."
And everyone sends in their photo, right? So they're kind of sending you how they want to be seen?
"The biggest question I get is why I draw selfies instead of drawing people as I see them. I would so much rather have somebody tell me how they want to be seen. Because I want to draw you the way that you want to be seen in the world. If I'm putting you out there, if I'm elevating you, I want to be elevating the you who you think you are. Not who I think you are."
That's wonderful. People are always poo-pooing selfies, but it can be really empowering to put out the face that you want people to see.
"Yeah, it's like this moment of self-confidence. No matter how insecure we are or how many things we all have going on, we're taking a photo of ourselves and sticking it out on the internet for the whole world to see. It's letting people see a side of us that we're comfortable showing. And I think that's a really cool thing that we mock a lot, but I don't know why."
That kind of connects back to the idea of Pride for me, in that it's the queer community putting themselves out there and celebrating themselves. Do you think that kind of joy can be powerful?
"I think there's a lot of power in joy, and I mean that in a very genuine way. I don't think that joy is necessarily looking on the bright side or some kind of positive reinforcement of a bad situation. But I think that there's power in allowing yourself to be happy and fulfilled and seen in a world that's chaotic and messy and hurts sometimes. I think there's power in taking back some of that agency and living well. I'm not a person who thinks that hardships make us stronger people. Hardships are hardships and they're awful, but I do think that there's something really beautiful and strong in choosing to be happy when the world doesn't want you to be happy."
How do you hold on to your happiness, even when you are facing hardships?
"I embrace community and I look to people who I admire and respect for advice and for light when things feel dark. Despite all the challenges that we still have, which are definitely plentiful, we're living longer, we're more visible, we're more resilient. I think that we have history behind us now, known history, and that's a really powerful thing.
"Just the fact that we have this rich history and that there are children being born today who will literally never know a life without knowing queer history is really incredible. Older generations grew up and never knew anything about their history. They had to create their own history. And I think knowing that new generations won't have to do that is a really positive light in an otherwise chaotic existence."
We've talked a lot about both joy and anger. Do you think it's important for younger generations to see both emotions from the queer community?
"Definitely. We shouldn't have to censor our lives. A lot of the time, when you're marginalised in any kind of way, the biggest thing you experience is people telling you to calm down or act a certain way and talk a certain way. Even your complaints need to be in a certain manner or else they're just excessive. Everything is so controlled and so monitored. And we shouldn't ever be censored in our emotions.
"As a queer person I might feel angry about something that's happening that I know isn't right, and people should be able to hear and see my anger. They should have to face anger that's inflicted upon a community and have to feel it and see what that does to people. But, I also think that joy is a huge piece of our community that would be missing if we were just visibly angry about the issues and joyous in private. There's something about being happy on display that's really important. I can be upset about the issues and active in fighting them, and I can still laugh at a joke and feel happy as a person. If I'm letting my happiness stop me from looking at the bigger picture of what's happening to me and my community, that's when joy would be a problem.
"Otherwise, joy is such a powerful tool in advancing as a community. We need to keep each other alive, but survival can't be the end of it. It's not enough to just be breathing. So, I feel like we use our anger to help people survive, and we use our joy to help people live."