This was the first time my body was searched for weapons at a museum entrance, so I could empathize with the confused 14-year-old in our group.
“My son lives in the suburbs, sir,” my cousin said, explaining why the teenager flinched backward when the doorman tried to pat him down. “He’s never been frisked before.”
One of my sisters was in town over the weekend and I reluctantly agreed to play tourist in my own neighborhood by accompanying the family to the Trap Music Museum. Almost every day I ride my bicycle past the museum and escape room in northwest Atlanta, and I usually snicker at the dozens, often hundreds, of people lined up to get a peek into hood life.
I had low expectations for what seemed like a marketing hustle, but figured it was worth the $10 entry fee to be photographed in a scene that I witnessed countless times in my childhood: a table littered with weed, ashtrays, 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor and a brick of cocaine. My cousin may be raising her children outside city limits, but we grew up together in the same Chicago neighborhood and so she knew how to get the most authentic picture of her pretending to cook crack.
The Trap Music Museum was the giant, immersive photo booth its social media suggests, but it was also a remarkable cultural representation and a poignant, credible house of art. Its paintings, mixed-media pieces and the fidelity to detail in its themed rooms offer due homage to the lived experience of local artists who have shaped the “ATL” brand more than the Olympics or Peachtree Street.
Such a faithful depiction of a familiar-yet-foreign reality can be seen as glorifying crime or self-destructive patterns, but signs throughout the museum remind visitors the installations seek to inform and celebrate what can grow and thrive from the most systemically tainted soil. Several pieces examine prison-as-a-rite-of-passage for the musicians and their less-prominent peers, and how “trapping” can be the sole lifeline out of economically hopeless upbringings and destinies.
As I walked through a room whose walls were constructed of kilos of blow, I wondered what guests would encounter at the gay equivalent of a trap house museum. The artistic treatment of seedier corners of our culture would include bookstores, trail bushes, and bathhouses; along with circuit parties, sugar daddies, stunt queens and enough recreational drugs to open a pharmacological theme park.
Many LGBTQ folks would be mortified if these expressions of gay life were curated, feeling a minority’s impulse to air only the finest elements of its culture as a strategy for securing mainstream acceptance. Respectable queers have wrung their hands over the shoplifting scenes in “Pose” and deflected attention from Harvey Milk’s sluttiness, and could not imagine audiences contemplating the spirit of charity that inhabits a glory hole.
As similar as daily LGBTQ life may be to what heterosexuals experience, there are aspects of our history and development that will forever keep many of us from identifying as or being considered normal.
Those unique influences have sometimes led to downward spirals and even death, but they’ve more often helped people find joy and a clearer, tested understanding of themselves in a society that first marginalizes, then shames them for being different. But I feel no embarrassment admitting that most of the frisking at a gay trap museum would occur after patrons have entered the building.