Meet Joseph R. Varisco. Also known as JRV MAJESTY. Which is fitting, since so much of his work is dedicated to coronating queer storytelling in all its pathos, pomp, and circumstance. He’s the queer HIV+ multimedia producer and historian behind the Queer Lexicon Oral History Project. He’s the founder of JRV MAJESTY Productions, the creative director of Chicago IRL, the curator of Salonathon: LEX•I•CA, and a teaching artist with About Face Youth Theatre, among the many other crowns he wears.

And he’s also the curator-creator of QUEER, ILL, & OKAY, a performance series featuring queer artists living with chronic illness.

What magic is made when chronically ill queers tell their stories?

The magic that is radical truth. What we conjure is a reinvention of community by dispelling myths and stigmas associated with queerness and chronic illness, deconstructing historical patterns of segregation and causing barriers to vanish. We are oracles, soothsayers, spellmakers, prophets, chroniclers, and storytellers. Essentially, we are gatekeepers and guides offering passage through planets yet unseen and we invite you to follow our lead.

Why are queer-specific conversations about living with chronic illness so important?

Most of us have or will experience a relationship to chronic illness at some point in our lives. Whether that relationship is with illness in our own bodies, a family member, a lover, a colleague, or community member, the statistical reality ensures that at some point we will interact with a chronic illness. As queer people we are often living outside of normative social paradigms and confronted by questions in our lives that deeply consider how we interact with spaces and people.

Conversations about queerness and chronic illness allow us to reveal the multitude of layers and intersections of our identities. The more we are capable of recognizing layers and intersections the more competent we become in navigating with compassion and accountability. These benefits are endless. They connect us. They give us more and therefore make us more.

Got anything to say about queer community care networks and chronic illness?

As someone who lives with HIV and coming from a background of social work practices in Chicago, I have had the ability to navigate several spaces that provide care. Queer-oriented spaces such as the Howard Brown Health Center, the Night Ministry, and Broadway Youth Center have offered brilliantly considerate care. They have taken care of me and many members of my chosen family. They provide a sense of relief, investing in clients, and accurately relating information about how to reduce harm and live healthier lives.

Outside of medical care networks there are many other spaces that offer community care to the body and mind that celebrate our many layered selves. Spaces such as Chicago’s Salonathon, Chances Dances, Subject to Change, PLEASURE, Nuts & Bolts, Northern Lights, Making Out with Wes Perry & Friends, and many other regular monthly events that offer strength, visibility, celebration, and pride in ourselves and each other.

What excites you about creative collaborating, curating, and documenting in general?

Creative collaboration is the heart of my personal practice, as a curator and host of Salonthon: LEX·I·CA and my work as creative director of JRV MAJESTY Productions. I believe strongly in the utilization of collaborative practice as a mode of developing and engaging the many varied communities of Chicago. Five years ago I began exploring this work purely through documentation. Showing up at performance nights and taking out my tiny flip camera to capture an artist’s work, which at the time, and often still, was about indulging my selfish desires to connect with talented individuals who I admire. This work blossomed into a service to my community and fulfilled a need to write and speak our own histories and truths — becoming living archives to and for one another. It is ongoing work and there is always more to accomplish. Collaboration in this work reinstates the act of connecting to one another as our most authentic selves.

Check out last year’s show and support this year’s series. Proposals are still being accepted (until May 31st) for this year’s show!