Written By Turner Willman
Dear Mark Aguhar,
This love letter is for you – and all the trans and gender non-conforming Asian Americans, art fags, and fat brown femmes whom you have inspired.
As a multidisciplinary artist, your work explored queer expression and identity. You were a distinct presence on Tumblr – blogging under the name Call Out Queen – where your posts garnered both fans and backlash from internet trolls who failed to silence you.
Your artwork and blog were heavily inspired by your identity as a fat, Filipino, trans femme. You posted affirming self-portraits, wrote about survival and mental health, raged against white male privilege, and documented both humorous and mundane moments in your life.
At the height of your infamy, I was a young, mixed race Filipino and trans person struggling in a white, elite college environment. I was battling sexual harassment from fellow queers, racist microaggressions, and tokenism at a school where I could count the number of Filipino students on my hands. Finding you kept me mentally afloat.
It wasn’t just me. You created a queer internet oasis for thousands by sharing your personal struggles and celebrating every person living outside normative beauty standards. Your impact extended beyond your corner of the internet, and made more space in the wider world for us to love ourselves in the face of hate and erasure.
You experienced verbal harassment, social exclusion, and outright rejection in queer communities that value masculinity, whiteness, and thinness. In contrast, your fat, brown, and femme body was marked by them as ugly and undesirable. But this didn’t stop you from taking glamorous photos, declaring yourself “stunning,” and investing in feminine clothing and makeup. You knew that embracing your beauty, and ugliness, was a radical and disruptive act. Those of us following you online learned to say FUCK OFF to homonormativity.
You taught me the power of flamboyant queerness and femme expression. In a femmephobic world, you gave me room to wear nail polish and mesh crop tops. I stopped vying for the approval of white trans masc people who made me feel like I wasn’t trans enough. I loved myself more because of you.
Your ability to transform nasty incidents of racism into humorous and colorful art pieces were legendary. In #WHITEGIRLPROBLEMS (#NOTATHING), you confront the crushing reality of racism with flippancy and humor. Who could cut down their enemies with humor better than you? The structural oppression that impacts our lives as queer and trans people of color is twisted into a comedic tool to empower us.
It’s been 8 years since you committed suicide. When you died, I didn’t know how I could survive if someone as powerful as you couldn’t live.The world couldn’t handle your beauty and your ugliness. Your openness about depression and suicidal ideation helped to cut through the stigma and silence that countless Asian Americans and queer/trans people face surrounding our mental health. Witnessing your resilience gave me hope and skills to survive my own battles with depression and PTSD.
In a blog post dated November 2011, you said:
“I DON’T NEED TO BE STRONG, I NEED FOR THE WORLD TO STOP BEING SO FUCKING WEAK, THAT MY SISTERS ARE BEING SWALLOWED UP BEFORE MY EYES.”
Thank you for sharing yourself with all of us. I can’t count the ways you saved me, a trans Filipino floundering in a sea of white masculinity. I continue to honor you by loving myself and living authentically, and fighting for the lives of trans women and femmes of color.
You live on in Mariah Carey remixes, in bold lip color, in fierce pride in ourselves.
May we all get free by lifting up and celebrating sisters like you, Mark.
Turner Willman is a trans and mixed-race abolitionist organizer. As 18 Million Rising’s Social Media Organizer, they engage Asian Americans and co-conspirators online while supporting campaigns on immigrant rights, anti-gentrification, policing, and more. Turner has also organized for technology rights in communities of color, reproductive justice, and environmental justice. In their spare time, they enjoy block printing and learning about queer history.