What Do Queer People Do When They're Not Having Sex? A New Exhibit Reveals the Answer

Getty Images

The LGBT rights movement wasn't always consumed by marriage. Leading up to and directly after the Stonewall uprising of 1969, the fight for what was then known as gay liberation was focused loudly and proudly on sexual freedom. 

But even during that era, there was something daring, even radical, about seeing openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people in everyday domestic life. At the time of the Stonewall rebellion, homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder, and that wouldn't change until the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the list of diagnosable disorders in 1973. Seeing them doing everyday tasks like reading in a sunlit room or cooking dinner reinforced the idea they were not strangers to keep your distance from, but people — family members, parents, neighbors — you already knew. These portrayals also fly in the face of anti-LGBT activists who have an absurd obsession with gay sex

An exhibit called "On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life," on display until Oct. 25 at New York City's Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay Art, drives this point home, while showing how far the LGBTQ population has come. As the exhibit's description says, "The thrust of queer politics has shifted from asserting our right to be different and erotic toward demanding the right to do what everyone else does." 

The exhibit offers a chance to see and scrutinize the work of artists who've done just this long before it was politically palatable. The question driving the exhibit is a simple, tongue and cheek rejoinder: "What do LGBT people do when they're not having sex?" 

Here are the answers:

They perform.

Four cross dressers in 1955.Source: Harris/Leslie Lohman
Four cross dressers in 1955.  Harris/Leslie Lohman
Source: Jeanne Mammen/Leslie Lohman
Source: Jeanne Mammen/Leslie Lohman
Source: Paul Cadmus, Fantasia Dr. 1946/Leslie Lohman
Source: Paul Cadmus, Fantasia Dr. 1946/Leslie Lohman

They hang out with friends.

Source: Leonard Paoletti/Leslie Lohman
Source: Leonard Paoletti/Leslie Lohman
Source: Leslie Lohman/G. B. Jones
Source: Leslie Lohman/G. B. Jones

They read.

Source: Robert Giard/Leslie Lohman
Source: Robert Giard/Leslie Lohman
Source: Tereska Torres/Leslie Lohman
Source: Tereska Torres/Leslie Lohman

They get sick.

Source: Douglas Blanchard/Leslie Lohman
Source: Douglas Blanchard/Leslie Lohman

They fix things.

Source: JEB (Joan E. Biren)/Leslie Lohman
Source: JEB (Joan E. Biren)/Leslie Lohman
Source: Angela Jimenez/Leslie Lohman
Source: Angela Jimenez/Leslie Lohman

They raise families.

Source: Sage Sohier/Leslie Lohman
Source: Sage Sohier/Leslie Lohman

The aim is clear: to show being queer was a radical act, and in some ways, still is. "Living queer lives has long been an active battle front in America's ongoing culture wars," curator James L. Saslow wrote in a press release. "Now, the queer fight has shifted from our battle to be different toward the right to be "normal" and unremarkable." Saslow's call, through these artists, is to show that there is still much to fight for.