Michael Sharkey’s Queer Kids a series documenting lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in communities throughout the United States. Sharkey’s work beautifully illustrates the humanity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth and portrays his subjects’ powerful self-awareness; at once empathetic and opulent, they are the visual counterpart to the voice these young people have struggled—and lately succeeded—to find.
Few have acknowledged the complex LGBTQ teen experience of growing up in an environment in which pejorative religious and moral judgments are present. Experiences during one’s formative years can have a lifelong impact on the adult psyche and behaviors. It is important for us to understand and document that impact, so that we can redirect the political debate today and in the future.
In his mission to document the LGBTQ teen struggle in the U.S., Mr. Sharkey has traversed the country photographing and interviewing LGBTQ youth.
The central concept of the project is that the discourse generated by the subjects themselves is a construct of their personal reality. In Sharkey’s discussions with his subjects, a microcosmic representation of the world is revealed in their description of reality, which is in some way a construction—a selection and ordering of details to communicate aspects of their view of reality. A neutral, value-free description of reality—in print, in word, in visual form does not exist. This is the starting point for Sharkey’s photography’s critical relationship to the subjects’ discourse.
Sharkey’s photography and discussions with his subjects are an aid to “deconstruct” the narrative, the audience and the production, and to give voice to a marginalized group.
Each reader of the text and viewer of the photography will draw from its range of possible meanings a particular understanding that reflects their background. Thus the “meaning” of a text is not pre-determined, but is a dynamic and changeable relationship between the reader / viewer and the text. Sharkey, therefore, provides the audience a range of possible meanings, the values and biases implicit in those meanings, and which involve conscious choices rather than the unconscious acceptance of “preferred” readings. The hope is that both the audience and his subjects are empowered, and the rate of attempts of suicide by LGBTQ youth can be reduced by his efforts, using his subjects own words.