PRINT January/February 2021

Openings: Nash Glynn

Nash Glynn, Self Portrait with One Foot Forward and One Hand Reaching Out, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 48 × 36".

NASH GLYNN IS NUDE. Her body is pink and toned, perched in contrapposto at the edge of a classic American landscape. She’s a colossus. There’s green at her feet—definitely grass, some pines maybe, a smear of amber near the horizon. The landscape submits to the Yves Klein blue of a sky she’s turning toward, collapsing longitude and altitude in the lean of her hip. Clouds bloom around and above her; they’re mauve, like the ones at sunset over a beach town. Except there’s no sun in the sky, no source of pink to crush purple in a white cloud. In the absence of sun, there is Nash Glynn, her body turning away. But her head is turned toward me. She looks down at me. She extends her hand. Or maybe she’s pointing. Just visible on the horizon is a rainbow.

“Is that a rainbow?” I ask, wrenching myself away from the four-foot-tall canvas. I’m standing in the artist’s home studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Glynn looks like me—pale, brunette, angular—and she sounds like me too (our voices hover between a fey tenor and a husky alto). We’re both Jewish and trans, and I’m a little terrified of her, as I am of all other trans women I don’t know personally. Trans strangers begin with a silent bond, forged in the anguish of gender dysphoria. Greeting her sibling with a closed smile, the transsexual wonders how the other lived through it. She wonders how they both did.

Nash Glynn, In the Studio, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 30 × 20".

“That’s a rainbow,” Glynn tells me. “It’s present, but distant.” I peer at the rainbow, which I might have missed if my eyes hadn’t been trained to find it. Rainbow are the boxes of #Pride junk I get sent in the mail every June by fast-fashion brands gunning for free promotion. Rainbow are the flags hung high on the Fire Island promenade from which I sailed just hours before meeting Glynn. It was she who picked me and our friend Johnny up from Nassau Station, where we had arrived on the LIRR from Sayville.

“Touché,” I say. “A gay pride flag subsumed by a trans pride flag.”

We share a silence, then Glynn makes a funny sound and shakes her head. “Pink, white, and blue,” I sing, waving my finger, first at her and then at her painting. “I see you!”

Nash Glynn, Study of a Cis White Man (John), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 24 × 24".

The trans pride flag, designed by activist Monica Helms in 1999, means, but has not aged, well. Two blue stripes—for boys—sandwich a pink pair—for girls—which enfold a single white stripe for everyone and everything else. A gender binary quite literally centers whiteness in the trans flag, which is to say that the trans pride flag sells. Last year, 2020, was the first in which my #Pride haul pivoted, in large part, from rainbows to pinks-whites-and-blues. Vague gestures of trans pride, I discovered, rankle me more deeply than those of gay pride. The former persist in their sale of themselves—to me, apparently—as personal, but what could be less personal than male and female, neither or both?

Glynn rejects trans and cis narratives at once—“speaking for herself”—throwing her body like a wrench into the machine of gender politics.

I peer at Glynn’s white clouds and blue sky and at the artist’s pink and perfect body. She has tricked me into awe at the beauty of something I resent: not her body but my own, maybe—and certainly the triad of colors the gay establishment has agreed upon to clock it. Gray bubbles from a recent text exchange burst behind my eyes; my best friend, Devan, admonishes me for “speaking” as “often” as I do about “hating” my transness: “I don’t know what to do with a friend making a case to me about not accepting something about themselves that cannot be changed.”

I smile at Nash. “I see you,” I purr. Nash smiles back, and I think she knows what I see.

Nash Glynn, Automata, 2019, photomontage, 30 × 24".

In Torrey Peters’s just-published novel Detransition, Baby (2021), she sketches a trans horizon of scarcity: “no jobs, no lovers, no babies, and while a trans woman might have been a muse, no one wanted art in which she spoke for herself. And so, trans women defaulted into a kind of No Futurism.” Glynn titled her 2019 solo debut at Participant Inc. “The Future Is Fiction”: an assembly of photomontage, video performance, sketches, and the realist acrylic paintings that have become her focus. The show’s title plays on “The Future Is Female,” a liberal-feminist refrain of the Trump era popularized on slogan tees remade by Rachel Berks from the originals, which were created in the early 1970s for Labyris Books. Glynn flouts Peters by declaring a “Future” (Glynn’s own future?) into existence; she does the same to the old-new tee, striking biological sex from the record and replacing it with an infinite capacity for narrative. Glynn, in other words, rejects trans and cis narratives at once—“speaking for herself”—throwing her body like a wrench into the machine of gender politics. In Automata, 2019, a black-and-white photomontage from the Participant show, Glynn stands before a mirror, slicing the picture plane. Her torso hovers above her legs, connected by a cyborg’s springs and tubes. “What else,” I chirp, scanning Glynn’s studio. She leads me to a canvas downturned in a dusty corner. “You’ll like this one, I think,” she says, revealing another self-portrait. Glynn is pink and perfect as ever in this one, but there are no whites or blues to envelop her—no landscape green to stand on. She floats in a sinister red expanse: blood, for sure, maybe arterial or, worse, menstrual. Glynn shares the canvas with another figure: a robot straight out of The Jetsons, its head like an emoji. The robot is fucking her from behind. Glynn looks at the viewer—me, again!—with a mischievous glint in her eye. She welcomes my gaze.

“Totally my shit!”

The painting is flamboyantly upsetting: both futuristic and No-Futuristic in a way that feels like home to me. Glynn’s been “trying to get rid” of it, she says: “It’s old. I’ve moved on.” She shakes her head, smiling, as she turns the painting to the wall.

Nash Glynn, Self Portrait with Robot, 2018, acrylic and fake blood on canvas, 24 × 36".

MY GASP CUTS the room into silence. I was watching the new Lady Gaga video with some friends when an NPR push notification tickled my ass and lit up my phone screen: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died at the age of eighty-seven. I identify the gasp as dramatic and foolish even as it leaves my lungs. (This, of all things, from the girl who has come to tease her friends by calling them liberals.) The president will fill her seat with a conservative judge, opening the door to a series of hypotheticals that take the air out of, then into, my lungs. My friends and I murmur among ourselves, a physical exercise in not saying something like “We’re fucked,” because those are not the kinds of things we say. I excuse myself and say my goodbyes, flying down the stairs into the first cold night of fall. I beeline south, where Glynn is celebrating ahead of her opening at OCDChinatown.

I arrive at the gallery, a cubby on the second floor of an indoor mall with overhead lighting. The mall is empty save for Nash and her well-wishers: beautiful queers sitting on the stairs passing around a bottle of wine. Some I know, most I don’t. I smile wanly, and Nash hugs me tight (she and I have been texting daily, hanging out weekly). She leads me to the gallery, inhabited by that first painting she’d shown me just weeks before. The invitation to the opening announced its title: Self Portrait with One Foot Forward and One Hand Reaching Out. The show is one painting, and only one person is allowed in the gallery at a time.

Nash Glynn, Bust, 2020, graphite on paper, 10 × 14".

I look at my phone, then at Nash. She nods in recognition. “I’ll leave you to it,” she says.

I enter the gallery, greeted by an image I hadn’t gone a day without thinking about since I first saw it: Nash Glynn is nude. Her body is pink and toned, perched in contrapposto at the edge of a classic American landscape. Just visible on the horizon is a rainbow. Her head is turned toward me, and she looks down at me. She extends her hand—no, her hand reaches out. Her left hand reaches out to me. My right hand lurches toward the canvas as I begin to cry.

Hari Nef is an actress and writer in New York.