Chris Jay’s photography career began rather inauspiciously. They (Jay’s requested pronoun) started doing family portraits at JCPenney.
“I was hooked ever since,” they said.
Jay has just started a new venture, a photo project called The Queerbook in which they’ll travel the country taking photos of queer performers of all types — burlesque, drag kings and queens and more, which Jay started shooting about five years ago.
“I decided I needed to do something big to compile and give form to my work and from there, the idea to create a book developed,” the 38-year-old Columbia, Md., native says.
A previous job as a school photographer helped inform the project.
“I wanted to see if I could create a school picture day experience for queer performers,” Jay says. “Performers are so much more than some of us realize.”
The first shoot was held in Baltimore in June. Jay will go to Pittsburgh in early September, then Philadelphia, Seattle, New York and any other city whose performers want to be part of it. It got launched with a Kickstarter campaign and small donations from friends. Jay plans to shoot through 2019.
The project will also encompass podcasts, video interviews and social media to raise awareness of the importance of queer performers and their role in “the advancement of our community.” Jay’s wife Sydney will do the writing. Find out more or make a donation at thequeerbook.com or facebook.com/thequeerbook2019.
Jay also produces shows, works in graphic design, plans events, is active in LGBT advocacy and has a weekly podcast “Coffee with Chris.”
Jay identifies as gender-nonconforming and lives in Baltimore and enjoys watching TV and YouTube videos in their spare time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Since I was 18 and the hardest person to tell was my mom because I didn’t want her to be disappointed.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
I don’t have a hero. I think we are all putting in work to better our communities.
What’s Baltimore’s best nightspot, past or present?
The best place to party was the Hippo. I loved that place. So sad it isn’t around anymore.
Describe your dream wedding.
I had my dream wedding in October of last year. We had a drag and burlesque show and it was catered by Popeyes. What more could I ask for?
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
What historical outcome would you change?
The Trump election
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Weezer’s cover of “Africa” by Toto
On what do you insist?
I insist that people treat one another with respect and understanding that none of us are perfect.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“If I did a live stream telethon to raise money for The Queerbook who would come through and be on the show?”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“The Ups and Downs of a Black Queer Creative”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I believe that our thoughts are guided by things beyond our understanding. I think the universe has a plan for us as long as we follow our paths.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Make sure your platform is inclusive. I mean really inclusive. Allow people to learn and voice their thoughts and opinions as they can help guide your movement. It isn’t easy; there are a lot of intersections of our community who really feel unheard because they don’t fit in any major labels.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
Assuming that because someone is masculine, they want to date someone more femme.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“But I’m a Cheerleader”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Networking. People really think they’re more important than they are in those situations.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
My crown for Baltimore’s King of Pride 2018. It has been a life-changing year.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That I have more power than I know.
Baltimore is the realest city I have ever lived in. What you see is what you get. No bullshit.