How Queer Heavy Metal Magick Saved Me

My alchemy practice promotes self-care as an act of personal and political resistance.

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Jun 27 2018, 4:04pm

Until the age of 28, I kept the best parts of myself hidden. I grew up in a time that had no language for queerness or gender gradience. I wasn’t safe in my family home because my Pentecostal Christian mother upheld Evangelical rhetoric and didn’t support my identity. I wasn’t safe in heterosexual relationships, and I didn't feel supported or accepted in communities of queer women. I do not let my genitals define me. Our culture has labels for everything, and I exist somewhere between the masculine and the feminine.

In the summer of 2011, I found power in magick and started Firme Arte, an online spiritual bodega and Instagram community. Magick is a way to shift your reality by tapping into the powerful wisdom and ancestral connections that live within you. It’s the ability to channel your inner power into physical manifestations, by using ancestral tools to make your desires come to fruition. I was still very closeted and thought it would be a good idea to create a life as an openly queer human. Firme Arte evolved into the safe space that I’d always been looking for.

There is no real life equivalent to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry so many of the rituals and traditions that I value have been passed down by local healers, and I dedicate a lot of my time to learning new forms of self care through reading and from the internet. I wanted to represent strong, empowered witchy humans dedicated to the pursuit of truth, self-care, growth, and divine connection to the universe. Firme Arte celebrates queer indigenous alchemy by hand making an array of creative products that mesh together a love of magick and culture, like ritual oils, herbal teas, candles for good intentions, and soap bars for self-celebration. Each product is made for positive spiritual energy.

I use my platform as a way to educate babes on truth and de-stigmatize the concepts of the occult. I use the word "babe" as a gender neutral term. We all deserve to be loved and exist in a place that allows personal expression. When one person heals, the collective heals. Firme Arte is a combination of Native American spirituality, earth magick mixed with Mexican folk magick, and brujeria (witchcraft) blended with the concept of using self-care as an act of political and personal resistance.

The spaces and tone that I have created for my community is one that I wished I could have experienced while growing up. The trans community deserves platforms and a voice—not just in the tired-ass dialogue of constantly having to defend our existence, but in mysticism and healing. Marginalized groups deserve safety, love, sex, money, property, capital, and the right to exist in a space that allows radical self-expression and protection from ignorance, bigotry, and fascism.

From my Hopi ancestors, I was blessed to learn about the indigenous concept of Two Spiritedness. I discovered a home in this new realization that I could live freely between two gender titles that never felt right. I learned about the beauty of Two Spirited ancestors and that we were considered the gifted ones, being able to inhabit both sides of the masculine and feminine. In Native American tribes, they were often the dream walkers and sight seers and were regarded with great honor and respect. Within my rituals, I honor the spirits of the four directions which are the ancestral energies used and called upon most by both sides of my indigenous lineage. I also incorporate the wisdom of herbalism within those cultural identities and often call upon those ancient spirits. Yet most of the rituals that I perform, I created for my own path.

My indigenous ancestors were taken away from their parents as children and placed in “Indian Schools” in Arizona and New Mexico around the late 1800s. So many of our family records were destroyed, and so much of our ancestral Hopi lineage was washed out of us. These traumas were ancestrally inherited into us. As a sensitive, a person who is in tune to the energies around them, I feel the residual pain from those deep-rooted traumas that exist in the body and spirit.

We, as the new generation of sensitivities, have a duty to work on healing these inherited parts of ourselves to not spread them further. I watched my beautiful, dark skinned mother get completely sucked into Christianity. She forced her holy agenda on her family. I found myself asking: “Why did God not love me if I was gay?” “Why are we giving all of our money to the church when we don’t have food to eat?” So I left home and floated to and from friends' houses, looking for a safe place to call home, a place where I would be accepted for who I was.

Throughout all of the physical instability of my teenage years, I found a safe mental space in the late 80s and early 90s alternative music scene that came out of the Pacific Northwest. That shit is holy to me. Bands like Tool, Deftones, Radiohead, and Kittie helped me stay grounded in times of emotional, physical, and sexual chaos. Those bands helped me express the anger that filled me up inside.

I saw Kittie live at Ozzfest 2000 in Sacramento, and it was such pivotal moment for me in my breakthrough with anxiety and battles with religious guilt. I was 13 and had won tickets from the alternative music station. Lots of firsts happened at that show: I bought my first pot pipe and I saw Black Sabbath and Marilyn Manson for the first time. But nothing was as epic as the full Kittie set. It was 100 degrees outside, the pit was a sand storm of dust and mud, and I weighed just 98 pounds and was getting my ass handed to me as I pushed my way through the sea of cis dudes.

An altar at Gonzalez's house that incorporates all of her affinities.

With every head bang and thrash I felt as if I was outside of my own body. I knew my body was being bruised up as I forced my way to the front, but in that moment I didn’t feel any of it. I stayed up there for the entire show and watched each babe in such awe as they continued to pummel the stage with their melodic and energetic heaviness. It was a true religious experience. I had never seen anything more dominant and graceful than those four teenage goddesses. To this day, I often use Kittie's music when preforming rituals that require the energies of release, protection, and nostalgia. Seeing Kittie on stage that day showed me that there were ways to channel that energy that are both chaotic and creative.

I grew up in a familia that had heavy ties to the Royal Chicano Air Force, an artist collective created in Sacramento in 1969. Three of my family members are a part of the original group of artists and activists: My uncle Louie is a master silk screener and poet, my father Hector was the group’s personal photographer, and my uncle Fred was a master printer. The collective has been featured in the Smithsonian Museum for their contributions to the Chicano/a/x art scene. The RCAF was a blend of activism and art. They worked with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union to spread awareness about the horrific conditions field workers had to endure. They often led boycotts and their silkscreened political posters became the imagery behind those causes.

Standing up for truth and for the people has been a family value passed down to me. When I was 17, I had the honor of becoming a member and was allowed to showcase my photography work alongside some of the badass artists I grew up with, like Jose Montoya, Esteban Villa, and Armando Cid. Creating Firme Arte has been a personalized way for me to integrate the art and activism while still making a peaceful profit.

Historical portraits taken by Natalie's father of Cesar Chaves and Robert Kennedy.

I watched all of these powerfully influential artists exist in a time that made it impossible for them to become fully successful just off of their art. I saw the depression that it caused and the poverty they all had to endure just to hold on to their passions. I see the gift of privilege I have been blessed with, to live in a time that prides itself on its quick access to information and community. The Internet changed the game for artists and activists. I decided I would use these platforms to create a space where I can continue the radical work of the artist community who played a part in raising me. I will also use it to create new safe spaces for the queer and trans communities that weren’t previously represented.

With Firme Arte products and online community, I want to be that cool older sibling that is supportive, offers you your first joint, and knows all the cool new music and witchcraft. I want to make people feel the love that I feel for them. This world is so overwhelming to the sensitive babe and is a place that has deep rooted social, religious, and economic structures that tell us we aren’t shit all day. The collective human experience is soaked in bullshit narratives created so we never truly tap into our own powers. I watched my parents get their souls sucked from these kinds of narratives. I want people to fall in love with themselves and know that they have the power to shift their reality if they want to through working with crystals, plant spirits, and the elements. These are the old ways we have to get back to.

Follow Firme Arte on Instagram.

Follow photographer Jessica Ingram on Instagram.

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.