Steven Reigns’ ‘Gay Rub’ Gives Life to Long Gone People and Places

Steven Reigns (Photo by Jenny Walters)
Steven Reigns (Photo by Jenny Walters)

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hose who know him won’t be surprised to learn that now that Steven Reigns, an accomplished poet, artist and counselor to those with HIV, has wrapped up S(t)even Years, his “endurance-performance” project, he is in the midst of another creative enterprise.

This one is “The Gay Rub,” an exhibit at the One Archives Gallery and Museum of rubbings from GLBTQ historical markers, signs, tombstones, cenotaphs, plaques and monuments from around the world.

“Rub,” as Reigns notes on a website devoted to the project, “as a verb can mean to upset someone (Rub someone the wrong way.) It can also mean truth (That’s the rub) or social friction (He got a lot of rub for that.) It’s also slang for sexual activity. Most importantly, it is an abbreviation for the word rubbing. All meanings apply in this situation. GLBT people have caused social friction and others find our lifestyle upsetting. The Gay Rub collection will be an assembling of our gay truth and the rubbings that come from it.”

Reigns, who lives in West Hollywood, began collecting the rubbings several years ago and so far has aggregated more than 100 rubbings. He is soliciting more (information about submissions can be found online.) Among them are memorials to Natalie Clifford Barney, the lesbian writer who lived as an expatriate in Paris; Liberace, the famed pianist who lived in an era where he couldn’t acknowledge his obvious gayness and died in 1987 of an AIDS-related illness; Paul Monette, the novelist, poet and essayist who died in 1995 of AIDS, and Sylvester (born Sylvester James Jr.), the gay African-American falsetto singer known as the “Queen of Disco” who in 1988 also died of AIDS.

Steven Reigns does a rub. (Photo by Tony Coelho)
Steven Reigns does a rub. (Photo by Tony Coelho)

“The Gay Rub” exhibit follows Reigns’ “S(t)even Years,” a seven-year endurance-performance begun on Jan. 1, 2007. During it, Reigns, guided by mentor Linda Montano and the seven energy centers of the body, incorporated the Chakra’s focus and color in his writing practice,
during meditation, in creating an annual chapbook of his writings, in leading an annual free writing workshop, by wearing one colored item of clothing each day to represent the year’s chakra and by altering his living space for each of the seven years of the performance.

Reigns perhaps is best known for his poetry. His most recent work is “Inheritance,” in essence a novel / memoir as poetry that explores the impact of family on a gay man’s life.

In addition to his writing and performance, Reigns has organized and taught the first-ever autobiography poetry workshop for GLBT seniors and edited an anthology of their writings, “My Life is Poetry.” He has taught writing workshop around the country to GLBT youth and people living with HIV and completed work for a Masters in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University.

“The Gay Rub” exhibit opens Saturday with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. at the One Archives Gallery and Museum, 626 N. Robertson Blvd. south of Santa Monica. The exhibit runs through Feb. 23. One Archives is open Thursday from 4 to  8 p.m. and Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.  The entrance is on El Tovar Place.

A selection of “The Gay Rub” images is on the following pages:

PAGE 1 Artist Andy Warhol’s tombstone.

PAGE 2 Pianist Liberace’s memorial.

PAGE 3 “Queen of Disco” Sylvester James’s tombstone.

PAGE 4 Expatriate poet and novelist Natalie Clifford Barney’s tombstone.

PAGE 5 A plaque commemorating San Francisco’s Black Cat Cafe.

PAGE 6 A plaque commemorating Jose Sarria, the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States.

PAGE 7 A plaque commemorating the house in New Orleans that writer Tennessee Williams owned until his death in 1983.

PAGE 8 The tombstone of Daniel R. Yoder, buried next to his friend, author Randy Shilts.