I Am American

What does the American Dream look like for the LGBTQ Community?

Miss Demeanor. Photo by Mara Rago.

Queer people of Pittsburgh are taking back the American dream. While participating in a photoshoot reimagining Americana, people in the LGBTQIA+ community shared their interpretations of the concept of Americana and the American Dream.

Themes of acceptance, inclusivity, and happiness ring throughout their answers.

“[Americana] is sort of aestheticizing the ideal America,” drag king Land Shark says. “I think it’s also very rooted in the 50’s, so it’s sometimes a little outdated, but also representative of the American Dream that we also have, whether we want to have it or not.”

His American Dream for himself is “only having to work a set amount of hours and being able to pay your bills and raise a family if you want,” as well as being able to make a comfortable living.

To Arla, Americana has a specific aesthetic — “denim, Western, motorcycle jackets, baseball.”

Arla’s interpretation of the American Dream is to get out of debt and live a long, happy life.

“My grandma lived to be 95,” Arla says. “I know a lot of people don’t want to live that long, but I do.”

Additionally, the American Dream to Arla consists of not being in another form of slavery or being married, and to just be happy.

“Whether that means we’re not in Pittsburgh, or we’re traveling the world and performing and living out my dreams,” Arla says. “Just my own form of happiness.”

Michael Tikili shares that the American Dream is about anything being possible.

“As a child of immigrants, to me, Americana sort of signifies endless possibilities,” Tikili says. “When people talk about the American Dream, that looks different for everyone.”

Continuing, Tikili says, “I think the American Dream for yourself is knowing who you are and embracing that to the fullest extent. Once you’re living your truth and pursuing what makes you happy in life, to me, that is the American Dream — the pursuit of happiness.”

“My Americana is nostalgia for a patchwork of longed-for experiences that didn’t happen: a Christmas Eve where my family sang carols around the piano, picnics, parades and fireworks,” shares Trae McCarthy. “ It was a world I was told to expect but didn’t exist for me—or maybe for anyone.”

McCarthy’s American Dream is “one where promises are kept and values are practiced with integrity and respect for Earth and all those on it.”

Moira Flowers has a special point of view as both an immigrant and a queer person on what the concept of Americana is.

“Americana means having the opportunity to pursue whatever dream you want,” Moira says. “As an immigrant, I came here to this country doing the same thing, and I’m doing that every day. And also, rock and roll.”

Moira shares that a need for space is what brought her to the United States.

“And America was that space for me, and I’m pursuing that dream every day.”

Drag king Max Starvania’s view of Americana features aesthetics: rolling American hillscapes, apple pie, American flags, the works.

“I no longer think that the American Dream is pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” Max says. “I don’t think that ever really was the American Dream. It was an idyllic concept that was fed to us as Americans for a long time.”

For himself, the American Dream is about acceptance.

“[It’s about] allowing people to live pretty much however they want without a lot of the restrictions that are being imposed upon us these current times,” he says.

Mitch Pleaze, Pittsburgh-based drag king, shares similar thoughts on the idea.

“To me, Americana means essentially that anyone can do whatever the fuck they want and be whoever the fuck they want to be, and love who they want to love — whatever religion, cultural background, whatever,” he shares.

Local Bear Corey Dunbar wants to see people focus more on being a community together, rather than staying apart.

“Americana means to me coming together as a whole nation and essentially being proud to live where you live,” he says. “We live in the great country of America, and we should be proud and support everyone in it.”

Dunbar’s American Dream is “being able to accept everyone for who they really are.”

Michael Jones shares this idea of community and acceptance, saying, “It’s about building community and making sure everyone gets the same acceptance, especially as a trans person.”

Local pup Kit Zelph shares that the theme of Americana is complex and contains lots of historical context.

“There’s a new emerging context of the world now and our position and our responsibility to other people,” Kit says.

For himself, the American Dream is focusing on helping the communities they care about.

Sarah Hansen shares that their view of Americana focuses on the cultural work of people here.

“Also, the queer community has a long and glorious history of playing and making fun with concepts that our society has made rigid but that actually are fluid; this tribute to queer Americana fits right in that tradition,” they say.

Sarah’s partner, Sean Hansen, says that to them, Americana takes many forms. His version of the American Dream coincides with others — a want for freedom to be who they want to be.

“My ‘American dream’ is for everyone to have the resources and tools available to live a life of choice with freedom from oppression and without infringing on the freedom of fellow Americans,” Sean says.