Chapter 8

The Carlos Origins

I was preparing for Chicago, and I was not doing very well and needed to get out of St. Louis after all that evil. So, I researched the Grease project, and I began having flashbacks of life when I first picked the camera and remembered how different my life was back then. But then, I was not living my truth and struggling with my sexuality. I had been bullied my whole life, living in fear, and felt everyone always had something to say.

It was always in my face, and because the world was the way it was, everything seemed so complicated. I also struggled with my gender all my life because there were times when I felt a little more feminine than masculine. However, while working on the Stonewall Project, I finally understood everything about my gender identity and sexuality. I remembered when my brother was bullying me so severely that I invented an alter ego and coped with my other side. His name was Carlos Ferguson.

Carlos eventually took on his own role during the Private Dancer years and The Maximum Exposure Fashion Series. I spent years working behind the camera and away from my family, so the subjects I highlight in my shows are things that interest me. While working in the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ Community, people were nasty to me, but I always gave away my time and services. I think I made a total of $500 working in St. Louis, and those were private shoots.

I fell in love with someone romantically at the beginning of 2012. After years of being hated and condemned, I finally found love. We were together for two and a half years, and it was very rocky. I ended the relationship in 2014, but I loved him very much, and I wanted the entire world to know what it feels like to be gay and be loved for being who you are.

I photographed my first Pride Fest in St. Louis in 2014, and after Pridefest, I became a human rights activist and campaigned all over the country for the next three years.

Untitled photo

Six weeks after Pride Fest happened, Mike Brown was killed, the Ferguson Riots broke out, and House of Chuck Magazine was on location. This series of events changed St. Louis and the world forever. At that moment, we had lost our humanity because nobody deserves to die. Many movements rose in response to Human Rights and Police brutality and are still a highlighted issue today. In June of 2015, while House of Chuck Magazine was campaigning for equal rights, President Obama overturned the ban on same-sex marriage.

This was an interesting time to be on the road during this time because the world was changing before my very eyes, and I had a camera in my hand. I remain a human rights activist to his day and am very outspoken about social justice. The toxic energy of working in the St. Louis community was taking its toll, and it caused me to become depressed because we had been waiting our whole lives to live life in the open, and people didn’t know how to enjoy it. Generations after me never have to experience what I went through growing up.

In 2016, I received the worst review I was ever given: "I supposed he is blessed with a lack of imagination. After all, he is just a person sitting there pressing a button". That was a turning point for me because I spent my whole life wanting to be an artist, and all my talent is being muted by my camera and room full of negative energy and loud noises. So, when I created the Fashion series, I finally sat down and told my story because I spent so much time all over the country photographing events but hiding behind the camera.

I came across a character in the Grease project that reminded me of myself, and I even cast a redhead to play her. I wore a football jersey in my kindergarten school picture, and she wore a cheerleader's outfit. That is how accurate The Maximum Exposure Fashion Series is to my life. I was so inspired by this project that I went and did one of my favorite things, which is to explore vintage shops because the movie took place in the 1950s. You never know what you will find at a vintage shop, and I believe in recycling and reusing fabric.

Untitled photo

While we were on the road traveling up to Chicago, my health began to decline fast. I needed to pull over and let someone else drive. So when we finally got up to Chicago, my friend asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. I felt like my time was coming to an end, and I told her, “Please don’t let me die in a hospital.” So she took me back to our AirBNB and laid me on the bed; then, I was gone within 15 minutes.

I saw and felt my soul leave my body. I was floating around in the universe. It was like swimming in the ocean of stars; I love to swim and feel like I am in heaven. I continued to swim around in the ocean, and when I looked down, I saw myself standing on the porch in my childhood home, looking up at the stars. I will never forget that moment. After that, I never felt like I was ever alone in the universe again.

Untitled photo

I remember my dad being fascinated by my curiosity as a kid and told me to come inside, where he asked me to watch a movie with him. It was the movie, Alien. Before the movie started, they showed a behind-the-scenes look at how the famous chest popping scene was shot. That moment changed my life forever and how I looked at movies. That year, my dad bought my first microscope for Christmas, and I have been interested in science ever since.

I saw my entire life flash by while, and I saw several life events. One of them was when I was seven years old when my mother, working as a cleaning lady in a library, told me to sit down and read a book. My curious, rebellious self never listened, and I went over and started playing around the computers in the library. Before I knew it, I hacked their computer and their servers. This was back in the 90s, so these were some of the earliest developments of personal computers.

The IT Director hunted down my mom and thought she did the hacking, and she was a terrorist, but she told him she had never touched a computer a day in her life. Finally, she told him that it was me, and he pulled me into his office, and I hacked into his computer. After that, I recognized my skills and worked in the Information Technology industry for over twenty-five years. I watched technology evolve into what it is today.

Another moment was about my grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. I saw her and understood how my mother grew up in an environment dealing with trauma and how they dealt with trauma by adding humor. My grandmother always says, “ A good laugh would cure anything.”

My grandmother fled from Austria in 1942, and her mother sacrificed herself to save her and her father. They both fled with only the clothes on their back, changed their names, and moved to the United States. They settled in Jackson, Missouri. Their cousins later joined them, and they grew up very poor until she met my grandfather in her twenties in Cape Girardeau. My grandfather was a mechanic who worked for the railroad. He was a Koren war veteran, and my mom brags about how he lied about his age and joined the army because he was ready to be a man.

They were married, moved to Orchid Farms, and had five children. My mom was the oldest, and I was her youngest child. My grandmother stayed home and raised the kids, and my grandfather worked a full-time job and ran his own car repair business out of his garage. Later, business would take off, and he built two more garages to keep up with demand. Finally, my grandmother got tired of being a housewife and decided to get her GED to become a nurse; she was a nurse until she died at age 79.

When she passed away in October of 2016, she left me all the family archives because she knew I was a photographer and worked in technology, and I could forever preserve them for the family. I learned about her being in the Holocaust in the family archives; she never told anyone. I even found out her real name, which was Jean. My grandfather was of a different faith, and she agreed when she married him to change her faith and leave who she originally was behind.

My grandmother spent her entire life hiding and pretending to be someone else. It must have been difficult keeping all of that trauma built up inside of her. My grandmother turned into a generational trauma with her kids and grandchildren, not dealing with her trauma. She is my hero in the family because she was the underdog of my grandparents, and she rose above all of it and achieved all her dreams. That is when I learned I could get through anything, and I needed to go back to my body and fight.

I was still in bed when my friend checked on me later that evening, and she said I was smiling in my sleep. I woke up and felt like I was a new person the next day like nothing had happened. I wrote the script's final touches, sent it to the House of Chuck Magazine team, and got ready for the event. Everything around me seemed new. That day's positive energy was exactly what I needed after everything that happened.

The Grease project was probably one of my most creative pieces, and that came as a shock to me because I didn’t think I was going to like it in the beginning. But, I learned that the only way to beat this cancer was for me to look inside my soul and fight from within. So, we went home the next day, and the following week I went in for surgery and began more aggressive treatments.