Jasper Behrends is a trans teenager who lives in northern Virginia and just graduated from high school in June.
As part of his art course, he had to devise a specific subject for his work, as well as a theme. His official concentration statement was: ‘How the people in my life relate to their gender and sexuality, especially in regards to body dysphoria.’
But then his art teacher thought it might be a little ‘inappropriate’ and what happened next is amazing. A viral tweet captured the internet’s attention and the rest is history.
Gay Star News asked Jasper to give us a rundown of how exactly it all played out.
How long have you been doing art?
I’ve been doing art for as long as I have been able to hold a crayon.
Ever since I was a kid, art has always been an outlet I use to express myself. It helped me through my parent’s divorce, it helped me through my depression and anxiety, and it’s now helping me through my transition and self exploration.
Your school’s administration told you to stop doing art that plays with gender and sexuality because it’s ‘inappropriate’ – how did this conversation go?
For those who don’t know, the AP Studio Art course is separated into two different segments: the Breadth section and Concentration section.
In the Breadth section, the student must show their range as an artist and mastery of space, shape, form, color, pattern, etc. In the Concentration section, the student gets to pick a specific subject and do an in depth study on it.
Each section contains 12 pieces and a complete portfolio is 24 pieces.
My official concentration statement was ‘How the people in my life relate to their gender and sexuality, especially in regards to body dysphoria.’
After starting my concentration, the school vice principal came to me after my art teacher informed the administration about my ‘potentially sensitive’ concentration subject. He said that although he had ‘no problem’ with the LGBTI theme, there is a ‘time and a place’ for ‘these things’ and that it did not belong in public schools.
He constantly reaffirmed to me that he ‘fully supported’ the LGBTI community, but made it blatantly clear that I could not bring it into the school.
I asked what specifically about it was ‘inappropriate’ because, at this point, I had only made one piece (Disconnection, which can be found on my website).
He told me that it was the nude breasts.
I told him that that was ridiculous because I had drawn tons of boobs in my breadth section and no one had even raised a finger. I also cited portfolios of students in the past who did things with nudity that weren’t forced to change their subject.
He claimed that the reason I couldn’t do my subject was because it ‘didn’t follow the school dress code’ and ‘just like how I can’t let a student walk in shirtless, I can’t let you do this stuff.’
Although I didn’t agree that art and school dress codes should be policed on the same level, I understood that this was obviously a risque topic.
I tried to compromise.
I asked: ‘Okay, so I can’t draw breasts. Can I draw shirtless guys though?’
Again citing the dress code, he said no.
The vice principal said that if I could tone it down, if I could make it more metaphorical, if I could make it so that the subject of transgender themes were ‘inferred’ and not so blatant, that I could continue.
‘But if I do that,’ I retaliated, ‘the entire theme of body dysphoria would be lost. This might make you feel uncomfortable, but it’s the everyday life of a transgender person. The point of this study is to show the raw, intense feelings of dysphoria.’
Why didn’t you stop and why do you think it was important to continue your art project on gender and sexuality?
After being shot down, I told my art teacher that I would rather just not turn anything in than switch my concentration or ‘make it less intense’ to suit those who might not be accustomed to being exposed to queer art.
My teacher, knowing that I was serious, told me that I should at least TRY to dull it down.
After a lot of arguing, I just decided to ignore everyone and keep doing it.
I just kept making art and didn’t listen to the administration.
I wasn’t able to put my work in any of the school art shows, I wasn’t able to even show my parents, but I was proud of what I was doing.
When you submitted the artwork, you got selected for the state’s Studio Art Exhibit! Can you outline what it’s all about?
Last year, I believe 34 students were chosen to be shown in the exhibit. To be chosen is a great honor considering there are thousands of AP Studio Art students — I asked my teacher how many, she said that there are roughly 15,000 students.
I got a five and that is a perfect score. The AP Art course is scored on the same scale as all other AP tests. For each portfolio, three different officials score each section on a one-five scale and then the scores are averaged together.
This is from the College Board website:
‘This exhibit showcases outstanding artwork created by students who submitted portfolios for the AP Studio Art Exam. Each work exemplifies the extremely high level of rigor, commitment, and accomplishment that AP Studio Art students can achieve. AP Studio Art students work with diverse ideas, materials, and processes to create art.’
What are you planning in the future?
Having graduated high school and Monroe Technology Center — a STEM school where I studied filmmaking — I start college at Virginia Commonwealth University next month where I plan to double major in English and cinema production.
I plan on taking the artistic skills that I have and apply them to my film career.
Will you continue making ‘inappropriate’ art?
I will definitely keep creating queer art. It’s literally the only type of art I truly enjoy doing.
Art is just materialized passion, and my passions stand with the queer community.