My name is Grace and I use she/her pronouns. I identify as transgender and queer. I’ve known I was bisexual/pansexual since I was a teenager, but I didn’t know what transgender even meant until I was in my later 20s. Once I discovered what transgender meant, I knew immediately that was me. It was like I’d been born with a whole bunch of LEGO® bricks and had been trying to build them into a set, but when I figured out I was trans I finally saw the instructions and understood why I had the pieces I did and why they went together the way they did.<br>
I started building with LEGO bricks as an adult when my two daughters got interested in THE LEGO MOVIE. We all loved it. At the time I was struggling with some serious mental health issues, and building LEGO models with them was one of the few things I could do to interact with them. However, I would keep building with LEGO bricks even after they had gone to bed at night. It became a mental health coping strategy for me and a way to express myself.
Tell us about the AFOL LGBTQIA+ community. What have you gained from being part of the group?
A lot of the time, LGBTQIA+ people are made to feel that by coming out or identifying as queer they are somehow being overtly sexual or oversharing something personal. The reality is that people are just accustomed to the default programming (i.e. that everyone is straight), and LGBTQIA+ people aren’t doing anything wrong. So having safe spaces is really meaningful because you can openly be yourself without people pushing back.
As someone who is transgender, there is a lot of misunderstanding and transphobia in the media and many parts of the world. Simple existence can feel tough. I often feel scared or unsafe in various public situations. So, once again, having a safe space to just exist is nice. And it’s a great place to find friends and allies.
I build a lot of LEGO sculptures that depict my lived experiences, and many times I build LEGO art that is queer in some way. It’s nice to have an LGBTQIA+ AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) community that can be receptive to my work, but also might share that lived experience. It also gives me a place to return to for support after I display my works publicly and deal with some of the subtle or overt prejudice people have.
What role do you believe companies can play when it comes to supporting the LGBTQIA+ community?
I think companies need to go beyond just being sponsors at big Pride events and parades. It’s nice to see the support at our big marquee events, but often it’s the little things that matter more. The everyday interactions that happen between ground-level employees and queer people is what really makes or breaks feelings of safety and inclusion. I like to say that during Pride week it feels great to be queer, but there are another 51 weeks in the year. What can companies do to help out the rest of the year?
Understand that our lives might not look like the typical life you might be expecting in your business model or from your customers. When I transitioned, all my job history disappeared because none of my former employers knew me as the person I am now. If you searched my past name you got thousands of results, while my new name got a couple. That is hard to explain if a company isn’t receptive and understanding.
I also think that companies can do more to pressure government officials to support basic human rights for LGBTQIA+ people. As an individual, I only have one voice, but a business has much more power and sway. It would be nice to have companies go to bat for us, so we don’t have to fight so hard and can enjoy our LEGO sets instead.
How do you use creativity as a tool for self-expression?
I view the artist’s job as seeing and sharing what others can only glimpse. In my world that means sharing experiences, feelings, fears, passions and other ideas far too nebulous to pin down. My goal is to turn something as ethereal as a feeling into a tangible piece of art that someone can literally pick up and, moreover, understand. I want people to look at my work and feel what I felt. We all live inside our own heads. We might really deeply know maybe a dozen people throughout our whole lifetime while peripherally knowing hundreds or even thousands. I want to stop people for a moment and invite them deep inside my mind and my life. I cut through the social niceties and the walls and I give people a direct passage into one of the most intimate experiences in my life. It can be disconcerting, but it is also a powerful experience that fosters empathy and hopefully broadens the viewer’s world view.<br>
How and where are you celebrating Pride Month this year? What does Pride Month mean to you?
I have traditionally supported pride at various events around my hometown. However, due to the pandemic and our household moving, I won’t be able to celebrate Pride as I normally do. Instead, I will probably be celebrating virtually with close friends and my LEGO community. My partner has gotten involved with our local Pride group, so we will also be part of some local online events and perhaps even share some sweet treats with neighbors.
An interview with AFOL Erik
Meet AFOL Erik and learn how various AFOL communities can spark creativity