The first thought that crossed my mind after reading the Times headline was — “I cannot wait to see who is going to take to the streets today and celebrate!”
Politics Jerome's Way
Back in the 90’s Jerome Caja was always one of the first to dress up in drag and take to the streets of San Francisco in celebration of major LGBTQ+ victories. He would create a fabulous, scary, creature-of-the-night drag persona and proudly strut like a mangy peacock through the streets and alleyways in broad daylight. He was also a fixture at all the queer street fairs and holiday celebrations (Folsom Street Fair, Dore Alley Fair, Castro Street Fair, Gay Freedom Day / Gay Pride Parade, etc).
Daniel Nicoletta’s 1990 photo is an iconic and famous picture that captures Jerome in skag-drag on Halloween night in front of the Castro Theater. What you might not know is that Jerome handmade his spongy jewelry, Flintstone-style hair comb, and the perky, ruby-red fruity nipples that spring forth from his little girly bra.
Jim James’s 1990 photo is also another iconic image of Jerome. Here he is in San Francisco’s Civic Center dressed as Konnie Krishna with her leopard skin lingerie, rubber bald cap and plastic food jewelry accessories (glazed doughnut earring & kielbasa chain-link necklace).
Jerome was well informed when it came to politics and valued the importance of the voting process — especially with regards to California and local issues. In true Jerome fashion, he did it his own way. Jerome would get the local papers and gay rags (Sentinel, B.A.R., Bay Guardian, Chronicle, Examiner), read up on politicians, and discuss politics with his friends.
Activism Jerome's Way
Another lovely, little-known fact about Jerome is that he was an activist at heart, and he used his art as both a weapon and an educational tool. Jerome’s painting — The Happy Solders [sic], addressed 90’s politics about gays in the military and the heated controversy surrounding Senator Sam Nunn.
Nunn was a conservative Democratic politician who strongly supported the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy and actively worked to prevent gays and lesbians from serving in the military.
This painting illustrates how Jerome resisted and protested through his art. He knew he had a platform and a medium that reached people. He powerfully shared his views and insights with his community and, ultimately, the world.
If you look closely at this painting, you will see how Jerome used symbolism and satire to tell a complex political story. Humor and horror, along with clever, contradictory images are all part of Jerome’s provocative, artistic arsenal. He painted Nunn as a demonic nun with blood on one hand and a fiery crucifix in the other. To make this piece even creepier, Nunn’s flesh was painted with glow-in-the-dark nail polish. To contrast Nunn’s evil, Jerome painted an interracial gay couple tenderly holding each other arm-in-arm. The yellow smiley face wearing an army helmet and war paint is a perfect expression of Jerome’s subversive, kitschy humor.
The longer I study The Happy Solders, the more I realize Jerome was painting the future. Religious hypocrisy exposed; gays openly serving in the military; broad acceptance of interracial relationships — Jerome served up all of this with his signature black humor. It’s a political fuck you that says, “I told you so!”
Today was an extraordinary, historical decision by the Supreme Court to protect LGBTQ+ rights. I know that if Jerome were still alive today, he would have taken to the streets. We would have laughed together in celebration, and he surely would have painted about it too.
"The Happy Solders" [sic] — by Jerome Caja (nail polish on wood plaque) 10 1/2 in. x 6 1/2 in. x 1 in. circa 1985-1995
PLEASE NOTE: All images and photos in this blog post (except for Jerome Caja's painting "The Happy Solders") have been excerpted from other websites and the copyright belongs to the respective owners.