Stories Questioning Queerness: An Interview with Harrison Apple
While working as a gallery attendant, I’ve had a lot of great conversations with patrons about Caldwell Linker’s All Through the Night photography exhibition. Many are incredibly interested in learning more about the different people and places depicted in the photos, in addition to what the images reveal about the queer communities in Pittsburgh. These insightful discussions inspired me to conduct a series of interviews with people in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas who identify as queer. Many of them are featured in Caldwell’s photos, and some will be participating in the upcoming Trans-Q Live! event at the Warhol Museum on September 7th. I hope that others will enjoy these interview excerpts that will be posted over the next few weeks, as they reveal a number of interesting viewpoints!
My first interview is with Harrison Apple, one of my classmates at Carnegie Mellon who has been conducting an impressive amount of ethnographic research on the queer public history of Pittsburgh from the 1960s-1980s. Harrison is also the assistant producer for Carnegie Mellon professor Suzie Silver’s course and project, “Trans-Q Television”. Suzie began this collaborative course to engage students with queer theory and encourage them to explore its themes through a variety of mediums such as video art, stand-up theory, music, and more. In this interview, Harrison talks with me about his historical research and involvement with Trans-Q TV.
Based on your research, what do you think makes the queer community in Pittsburgh unique, and how has it changed over the years?
Most of my knowledge comes from the history of bars in Pittsburgh from around 1960-1990. What I can say from that perspective is that the queer community was historically associated with a much stronger bar-centric culture. The bars were non-profit in a certain way, and bars could even be used as platforms to raise funds for early homophile groups. This bar-centric queer culture changed because of a number of things – mostly based on liquor code changes and drunk driving laws that went after the after-hours businesses.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about Pittsburgh queer history?
The biggest misconception about Pittsburgh queer history is that there isn’t one. It is in fact very strong, interesting, and, to a certain extent, it doesn’t have much at all to do with political action – there’s a lot of organized crime in there, too! Pittsburgh’s queer history has more to do with class and race than you would believe if you kept reading myths that start with “Stonewall” and end with “marriage.”
In addition to addressing these myths and misconceptions about queer history in Pittsburgh, what is the goal of Trans-Q TV?
The idea is to create a platform for performers, artists, scholars – anybody! We want to explore queerness and all bracketed concepts in the form of video. It’s about trying to look to the communities that are asking the questions that LGBTQ as a movement can no longer ask or are not asking – and to turn it into an enjoyable video podcast.
What is the inspiration for the name, “Trans-Q”?
[Carnegie Mellon professor] Suzie Silver, the director of Trans-Q, actually named the project. Her explanation was that she thought of it as a “cross-queer” moniker – a multiplicity of queer identity. That delves me into what is the “queer” part of Trans-Q. From my own work, queer is really more about the troubling intersections of identity that are not readily acknowledged by the rest of society, and especially not by government. I see the name “Trans-Q” as “open to all resistance.” Trans-Q is about representing resistance that isn’t about a single identity. Through our performances and video podcast, I think we regularly confront the idea of queerness as it relates to class, race, and the way that we define gender.
In one of the Trans-Q press releases, it is mentioned that Andy Warhol’s TV was one of the group’s inspirations. How would you compare Trans-Q TV to Andy Warhol’s TV?
Part of the Trans-Q video podcast is nonsensical. It’s more apparent now than ever that some people understand that their programming is heavily curated by people who are not like them. But Andy Warhol’s TV was “artist TV”. He was one of many people who began making VHS-style TV shows, so we draw from this and other sources.
What can we expect from Trans-Q TV this season?
You can expect a lot more than what you saw in episode 1! We’d like some more people to do stand-up theory. There will be more documentation of live performances. My contributions are related to the queer public history of Pittsburgh.
What will you be contributing to “Trans-Q Live!” at the Warhol Museum?
I will be contributing an oral presentation of my history research. It’s not as rigid as an academic presentation – there will be quips and jokes in there. It’s me, a PowerPoint, and maybe a costume!
To learn more about Harrison’s work as an artist and historian, please visit his website, www.harrisonapple.com.
One of the end results from Trans-Q TV’s first iteration last fall was the creation of a 23-minute TV episode, which can be viewed on the Trans-Q website, www.transq.wordpress.com. You can purchase tickets for the Trans-Q Live! event at the Warhol Museum here.