There are eyes that graciously perch themselves on the body of Artemis Aschinger and then never leave.
Her energy is captivating and her presence, almost overwhelming. Sashaying through Yumbo Shopping Center, her laughter can be heard over the crowd who, starry eyed, stop to let this unquestionable nightlife Queen pass.
There are some who smile at Artemis. They greet her as if they'd known her their whole lives. There's also whistles, catcalls and the odd marriage proposition. "We need more women like you!" We hear a tourist yelling in her direction.
But, in the same way one can distinguish the potent odour of sweat underneath a very expensive perfume, we notice bits of ugliness hiding amongst the many friendly faces that turn to take in the enormity of Artemis' body.
Tall, muscular and broad in the shoulders, wearing a mini skirt and a minuscule black crop top that matches her Uma Thurman wig, Artemis is a sight to behold as she takes over the dancefloor, her unbridled joy infectious. But there are some who seem to be immune to Artemis' spell and it's impossible to ignore the stench of prejudice they emanate. From gay men who walk hand in hand with their partners and look as if affronted in their inability to understand Artemis' culturist body on top of her kitten heels, to Drag Queens whose jealous eyes follow her every move.
Artemis is no fool. She feels those stares too, but when questioned about them, she laughs. "Let them look," she says, casually pointing in the Drag Queens' direction. "They may be queens alright, but I am an artist."
A little less than a year ago, Artemis switched her hometown in Austria for the sunny beaches of Gran Canaria. Although she admits she's found her own happy place in the island, where she feels she can express herself however she likes, she does not hold her tongue when asked about the existence of unfriendlier places. "Even here in Yumbo, there are clubs in which I am not welcomed," she says.
The Yumbo Shopping Center has a history of being known as a very tolerant and open minded space. Its maze-like corridors, where one finds stalls that sell from common souvenirs and trinkets to BDSM parafernalia, have always been a key spot for the gay community in Gran Canaria.
But within the walls of this empire of tolerance and nightlife fun, hides a culture of censorship and prejudice. Artemis’ icy blue eyes light up when talking about this. Her tone is defiant and proud. She knows very well there is a set of unwritten rules inside the LGBT community that she breaks every morning, when she gets out of bed and exists happily in her own body, but she doesn’t care about rules. All Artemis knows is she cannot be somebody she is not.
The ostracism Artemis and people like her are subjected to is a pattern that keeps on repeating. The existence of a hierarchy within the LGBT community, which puts the white, cis, “passing” gay man at the top of the food chain, has created an environment where the oppressed have become oppressors. It’s a fight between those who society has deemed “conventional” enough and those who still struggle to be accepted, respected, seen. Artemis, whose existence is a war cry against the heteropatriarchal conventions that have taken over the community, represents a type of freedom some hate and others crave. “People have become obsessed with labels,” she declares. "They can be useful, of course, but they divide us more than anything.”
At the very essence of Yumbo Mall, there is a capitalistic heart, willing to take advantage of Artemis’ identity, allowing the existence of spaces where she will be cheered and others where she will only find contempt. As long as her presence can be used as a tourist attraction, as entertainment, everything will be fine. But the moment she dares to cross the doorway of those clubs and bars where the cult of the cis male body is the norm, Artemis becomes the target of mockery and, sometimes, violence.
The toll Artemis has to pay in order to have a community behind her that supports and protects her involves keeping her head low and pledging allegiance to a binary system she does not relate to.
“I feel very feminine wearing men’s clothes,” she says. “It would be impossible for me to ignore my masculinity, because I would not be myself if I did that!” She adds: “Everyone here has a feminine and a masculine side.”
But the truth is, there’s still a good number of people that chooses not to acknowledge Artemis’ stunning body. As we try to keep up with her as we chase her throughout the Saturday night madness of Yumbo, we lock eyes with tourists and locals who look, more than anything, uncomfortable in the face of something they do not understand.
Strangely enough, this discomfort is nowhere to be seen amongst the roaring audience sitting before a stage where a Drag Queen has just finished her performance. It is impossible not to wonder why this sympathy does not reach Artemis. Why is it that the strange, the odd and the unusual is only acceptable as long as it exists within the limits of a stage? When asked, Artemis has an answer ready. She’s undoubtedly got the talent for it, but she will never see herself as a Drag Queen. “A Drag Queen is somebody that turns into a different person at night, when they climb on stage,” she says. “I am me all the time. Even when I go to the supermarket!”
As masculine as she is feminine, flowing through life, Artemis is a whole and complete person, who laughs in the face of a system designed to cast her off. Her own confidence in her identity, however, does not keep her from enjoying little acts of rebellion, in which she takes situations in which she knows she is the passive object to an ungenerous, active observer, and flips them over like an omelette. Examples of this, she tells us, happen often when she goes to the gym and shows off her strong body. “You can see all these macho men lifting weights and looking at me in my sports bra,” she says. “I just love their faces when they see me lifting much heavier weights than them!”
Labelling and pigeonholing oneself to the point in which one’s identity is given up at the feet of an intolerant society is a sad but well-known reality for the members of the LGBT community. How is it possible then, the existence of pariahs amongst the outcasts? It should be an endless source of shame and yet, it is a fact.
Homonormativity and the privilege that comes to those who “pass” as straight are the result of the same evil: the (cis)tem, based on the exaltation of a toxic ideal of masculinity and fueled by a capitalistic ideal that feeds on the violence it creates.
This is not a fight Artemis should be fighting on her own. She deserves to have the whole community, which she rightfully belongs to, in her corner. Until these bridges aren’t rebuilt, ignorance will win.
But, at least for tonight, we don’t let these thoughts taint our fun. We follow the sound of Artemis’ laughter inside a club, the music deafening and electrifying. We fall in love again and again with her essence, dual, eternal, whole.