New York City photographer Iannis Delatolas told The Village Voice’s Michael Musto the story behind the above self-portrait. It’s both infuriating and empowering. For centuries gay people have channelled their desolation into art. When you’re ostracized from society, you don’t have any choice but to find creative ways of existing and expressing yourself. Here’s a contemporary example:
"On the night of Friday the 17th of February, I went to Mission Dolores, a gay friendly bar in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn. The bar has a courtyard. I often go there with my dog Tulip because they allow dogs in the courtyard.
I got in line to order a beer, and a white man in his mid twenties cut in front of me as I was about to order.
I told him to wait his turn and he mouthed off some ‘fuck you, you fucking queer’. I had some loud words with him, and he took his beer and left. I was shaken, I go there all the time, I never thought this would happen there.
So I take my beer and go out in the courtyard. I sit in a corner table reflecting on what just happened. I am petting my dog and have a cigarette. I see the same guy across the courtyard, and he is in a table with 6 or 8 other people, men and women mixed crowd.
He is looking at my direction and telling something to his friend pointing at me. I finish the beer and I head for the exit. I stop. ‘Why should I be the one to leave?’ I think. This is my hangout.
I go to their table with my dog (a very friendly boxer). I start telling the guy how fucked up this is, and how I go there all the time. At this point the security guy comes to back me up. He saw the original confrontation. The fratboy says he is going to bash my head in. The security guy tells him to shut up and that maybe they should leave the bar.
While I am having it out with the frat boy, a friend of his from that table, someone I had not even looked at or spoken to, jumps on me from my left and punches my head. I fall to the ground covering my head, while holding the leash. This happened very fast.
He was not in my field of vision. He was able to get in 5 to 10 punches on my head before the bouncer got him off of me. I get up in a daze. I ask for a witness as I am dialing 911. The courtyard is packed with about 30 mostly white hipsters. No one comes forward.
The attackers and their girlfriends flee the bar before the cops get there. The bouncer, a black man in his twenties, is my only witness. The security cameras, a total of 4, are not recording any of this. The police came, took a report. There is nothing that can be done since no one knows who they are.
I had the idea of making this self-portrait the next day. I woke up feeling dreadful. The image of people in the courtyard avoiding my eyes as I am asking for a witness haunts me still. In New York City!?
It has taken many weeks to start to feel normal. I have been going through PTSD. Telling people has been the hardest. The effect it had on my boyfriend and my mostly straight friends is almost as severe as what I went through. I consider myself lucky. This happened indoors. The bouncer saved my head. If this had happened outside, a lot worse could have happened to me.
When I first came to New York in 1991 I went to Act Up and Queer Nation demonstrations. The Act Up shirt is part of my legacy. Making this image has helped me take back my dignity, it was my way of fighting back.