The beauty of Tootsie

Tonight was a very special night for me. I went to the launch of the Kennedy Award, an exhibition of paintings, finalists in a competition with the theme of beauty. The idea was to take the theme beyond the superficial.

It was special night for me, because I was in the exhibition, the subject of a painting over a meter tall painted by the wonderful Marieka Hambledon. Being painted by her was a wonderful experience. I would have loved for us to win. But we didn’t and both of us were overjoyed. We were overjoyed because the painting that won is incredible. It was called ‘Tootsie, just an Old Drag Queen’.

Today was also wear it purple day, an annual awareness day for LGBTQI people. In Australia, young LGBTQI people are five times more likely to attempt suicide and twice as likely to engage I self-harm compared to the general population.

Tootsie, the subject of the winning painting, was 20 years old when he was imprisoned just for being gay. When the judges announced the award, they said you could almost smell the subject. It’s true. Though Tootsie is smoking one cigarette, the artist tells us he was in fact a chain smoker and the haze almost sits in the room with him, with his lipstick smeared coffee cup.

But why we were so happy this painting won over ours is because there is an incredible beauty in Tootsie and his story, so vivid on the canvas, eyeshadow still on his frail skin. There is beauty in this tale that is so different than those on magazine covers or billboards. That beauty is well worth the prestigious Kennedy Award of $25,000. And may that beauty be a lesson to us all.