By Dylan M. Austin
Being a gay, 26-year-old, politically-engaged photographer in one of the most progressive cities in America is something I take for granted. I had my eyes set on moving to Seattle when I knew I had outgrown the Midwest and was ready for somewhere to truly find myself. Yeah, I said it.
Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in America. The first major American city to have a female mayor. Seattle City Light, our electric utility, has zero carbon footprint. Seattle was home to the first profitable World’s Fair, which is also the reason we have the Space Needle.
It’s the birthplace of grunge music and home to famous drag queens. The creative background to authors like Sherman Alexie and Dan Savage. Macklemore popped tags here and still does. We play alongside Amazon, Microsoft, Costco, Nordstrom and Starbucks. (And then bitch about all of them while we place an order for same-day Prime shipping on the way to picking up our mobile-ordered iced coffee.)
We have the highest per-capita library card-holders in the country and the oldest (and still running) gay newspaper. One of the first states to legalize same-sex marriage and recreational marijuana, Washington is also home to some of the most progressive minimum wage and labor laws in the country.
And I’m right here in the middle of it.
Since moving to Seattle, I’ve walked our streets amid pussyhats and protest signage. I cried surrounded by peers (read: queers) after the Pulse Nightclub shooting. And, I write this after participating in March For Our Lives, after speaking with Chosen’s Editor-in-Chief. Our brief conversation put another spin on all the existential thoughts already going on in my head after the march, and what I took from it on a personal level. I marched and photographed and contemplated all day to arrive at a new understanding of the space I’m in today, literally and symbolically.
I published my blog post with thoughts on the day and a spread of images — signage as simple as “fuck guns” and clever as “Mandatory background checks to purchase a Republican!” It was the first time, really, that I crossed my photography with an event like this and I’m short on words to describe the feeling.
I’ve photographed fundraisers. Seattle and Las Vegas Pride events. I’ve photographed amazing LGBTQ individuals or interviewed them on my podcast, Up Contrast. Like many others, I post impassioned, angry, fired-up rants about whatever bullshit Trump is trying to pull on transgender individuals’ rights to serve in the military, or the hell-bent conservative strong-arm on women’s bodies.
One day I saw tons of “pro-life” comments around the time of the Women’s March and had enough. I posted, “Every time someone wants to get derogatory or inflammatory today about women’s issues, I’m donating to Planned Parenthood.” I did. I would consider myself relatively “active” in my beliefs, but in a narrow perspective of my daily life on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
The problem with Seattle is the bubble. While we are fighting about how to provide safe-injection sites or what specific way is best to tackle homelessness, there are many other areas of our country that haven’t even thought twice about those issues. After I smoke some weed, go to a drag show, and find a vegan burger, I’ve experienced liberal city life in ways others may never. It is so easy to forget that we live in this space, occupied by mostly like-minded individuals and surrounded by progressive ideology.
In the 2016 primary season, Washington state caucuses pulled in a staggering 73% of support for a “socialist, progressive, ultra-liberal, probably not really a Democrat unless it’s convenient to say so” Bernie Sanders, and overwhelmingly voted in Hilary Clinton that November. (For transparency, I am both of those things — not afraid to poke fun at the not-Democrat-but-kinda Sanders and I voted Clinton, obviously).
Those of us voting on where to spend billions on transit in Seattle or whining about micro apartments and ESA letters forget that we are miles ahead of where many of us came from. Seriously, I swear half the people I meet are from the Midwest. Chicago ‘burbs, represent!
I share all of this to say that I gained some new perspective participating in the March For Our Lives. I am avidly pro-gun control and didn’t necessarily have any opinion changes or ideological shifts on that particular matter, but it did put things in perspective.
I retweet, copy and paste, and smash the Angry reaction on Facebook, and I vote locally and nationally. Today was different. Today inspired me all over again that my generation (millennials, blech) and younger are set out to flip the world on its head. The actions of these high-schoolers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School started crashing waves. One speaker at the march reminded us that many of them can vote in 2018 primaries, even more will be able to vote the following year, and all of our current high-schoolers will be of voting age in 2020. We’re heading for some real progress, and the future looks a bit brighter today, from where I see it.
Aside from my age-group, I am privileged as fuck to live in a city like this. Who I am is an intersection of so many things that individually carry a lot of grief outside this Emerald City bubble. I’m a freelancing photographer sometimes writer. I’m a gay man open to discuss his depression and the sativa-Bupropion-caffeine remedy I have or my dog who is, in fact, an ESA. I’m sex-positive, monogamish, and a sexually adventurous exhibitionist. The past few years I have been devoutly vegan (haha, you know because I told you, etc, etc), and I’m pretty far left when it comes to just about every issue.
Some of my photo subjects are drag queens playing with gender, trans men with fresh top-surgery scars and nullos, and guys in pup play masks or leather harnesses or both. I write about nudity in media and otherwise have a lot of opinions. That’s me.
So, what’s the point? Well, really it’s up to you to figure that out. Somewhere along your personal journey you probably are able to relate to at least some aspect of what I am writing. Maybe you use they/them pronouns and know the entire hanky code. Or you’re a vegetarian sex worker. And if you’re like me, you’re fortunate enough to live somewhere that, for the most part, enables it. And so the steps you take are as follows:
Get involved. Vote. Read. Speak. And take some opportunities to reflect outside our bubble.
Dylan is a Seattle-based portrait photographer passionate about social justice, the male form, and finding the right time each day to switch from iced coffee to whiskey. He's on Instagram @dylanmaustin.”