Drop what you’re doing and gaze upon The Gay Rub, an incredible project by LA artist Steven Reigns.
For the last four years, Reigns has been gathering rubbings of LGBTQ landmarks, historical signs, tombstones, cenotaphs, plaques, and monuments from around the world. The result — so far — is a jaw-dropping collection of historical imagery, rendered in the unique tactile grain of black crayons on paper.
After an opening last weekend, the many of the rubbings are now hanging in the ONE Gallery in West Hollywood. If you’re in the neighborhood, pop by during visiting hours to study the walls. The exhibit feels a bit like the doorway warehouse in Monsters, Inc: portal after portal into another world. An interpretive guide provides context for each one, and you’ll lose track of time as you explore the lives and struggles of those who came before us.
We’ve gathered a couple of our favorites below.
Let’s start with a genius, or a con man, depending on how you feel about his art. Andy’s plaque can be found at Saint John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
One of the best things about this exhibit is that you’ll learn about vital LGBT figures of whom you’ve never heard before. Colette was a French novelist whose sexy prose scandalized Paris. After she kissed her female lover onstage at the Moulin Rouge a riot nearly broke out.
A charming use of color. This plaque’s located at 6th and Chestnut in Philly.
To some of the attendees at the opening, this was a controversial inclusion. Eleanor Roosevelt may not be a confirmed lesbian, but she certainly is a vital figure to many queers.
Another was-he-or-wasn’t-he. Rumor had it Flynn had dalliances with Tyrone Power, among others. Flynn himself once said that he wanted his gravestone to read, “if it moved, Flynn fucked it.” The inscription he wound up getting is probably more in keeping with how his loving children would want to remember him.
Local gay astronaut Ian MacKinnon communes with James Whale, director of Frankenstein.
Ivy Bottini blows our mind by posing with her plaque. She’s the only living figure with a rubbing devoted soley to her. (Although there’s another plaque that includes references to multiple living people such as Carole Migden and Tom Ammiano.) Ivy helped found the National Organization for Women, which promptly kicked her out when they discovered she’s a lesbian.
It’s impossible to imagine what gay culture and political power would be without José Sarria. He was the first openly gay candidate for office in the United States, back before Harvey Milk. He was also a ribald drag queen and founded the Imperial Court System.
This rubbing baffled us until we read in the guide that it’s from the longest continually running bathhouse, dating back to the early 1920s, on 4th Street in Los Angeles.
Look at that signature. Just look. What a phenomenon this man was. Have you ever seen his episode of The Muppet Show? Pure unbridled weird joy.
Marlene Dietrich’s plaque is located in Berlin. Seeing her name reminded us of a quote attributed (probably falsely, but let’s pretend it’s real) to Tallulah Bankhead. She was dining with Dorothy Parker when Montgomery Clift walked by, and Parker wondered aloud if he was a cocksucker. Bankhead is said to have replied, “Well, darling, I really wouldn’t know. He never sucked my cock.”
You can tell the age of a certain gay by whether the name “Sylvester” makes them think of the real Sylvester, or Sylvester Stallone. Sylvester James was, like Liberace, a force of nature. Go get lost in a YouTube hole if you’re not familiar with his body of work yet.
And finally, dear Truman. You might love him for his amazing books (In Cold Blood, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) or his unparalleled skill as raconteur. But we adore him most for inspiring the character of Ziro the Hutt.