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Why "I Want a Dyke for President" Is More Relevant Than Ever

This week Zoe Leonard's frustrated, passionate essay lives on as a Mykki Blanco video and a monumental sculpture.
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"I want a president," artist Zoe Leonard's stark protest of overly-sanitized American politicians, is as relevant today as it was when she wrote it in 1992. After the titular first line, the poetic essay reads, "I want a person with AIDS for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia." A photographer who dropped out of high school at 16 years of age to take pictures of 1970s New York City, Leonard uses the rest of the letter to hammer home qualities she sees in her peers, but never the political elite.


Today, New York City's High Line announces that a larger-than-life version of Leonard's orginal typewritten letter will be wheatpasted along the abandoned railroad tracks-turned-public park. Earlier this week on Dazed, directed by Adinah Dancyger, multi-gendered rapper and performance artist Mykki Blanco revealed a riveting reading of the text. Recited in Blanco's signature cadence, lines like, "I want a president with no air-conditioning, a president who has stood in line at the clinic, at the DMV, at the welfare office, and has been unemployed and laid off and sexually harassed and gaybashed and deported," take on the significance of the issues young people deal with today.

It's not hard to see why, two decades later, Leonard's words still move artists and arts organizations. With a billionaire businessman turned politician upsetting the Republican party and a Clinton swatting a populist progressive candidate's underdog attempts, 2016 feels a lot like 1992. The names are different—switch out Donald Trump for Ross Perot, Bernie Sanders for poet Eileen Myles, and Hillary for Bill—but perhaps why that's why Leonard's wholehearted cry for a government that reflects its people still inspires so many.

Originally written for a queer magazine that folded before it could be published, "I want a president" circulated by hand, becoming iconic to those who, like Leonard, wanted someone "who isn’t the lesser of two evils." 24 years later, Leonard is still waiting.


Read the full text of "I want a president" in the High Line rendering below.

[Click to enlarge] Zoe Leonard, I want a president, 1992/2016 (rendering). A High Line Commission, on view October 11 – November 17, 2016. Commissioned and produced by Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Courtesy of the artist and Friends of the High Line.

See more of Zoe Leonard's work here, follow Mykki Blanco here, and check out more from the High Line here.


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