Meet Jasper Finn Behrends, an 18-year-old transgender male who just graduated high school in northern Virginia. But that’s not his whole story.
Behrends is an artist; one with a message beyond the brush strokes and shading that touched not only his Twitter followers, teacher and friends, but the daunted and often cold-blooded College Board.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
Behrends has been creating works of art to demonstrate his struggles for as long as he can remember: “It helped me through my parent’s divorce, it helped me through my depression and anxiety and it’s now helping me through my transition and self-exploration.”
With influences from LGBTQ+ artists, especially Keith Haring, Behrends has been able to fully express his feelings towards his transition within his AP studio art class over the last year. His official concentration statement was, "How the people in my life relate to their gender and sexuality, especially in regards to body dysphoria.” While creating his portfolio, the school vice principal approached Behrends’ about his “potentially sensitive” concentration subject.
“He said that although he had ‘no problem’ with the LGBTQ+ theme, there is a ‘time and a place’ for ‘these things’ and that it did not belong in public schools,” Behrends explained. “He constantly reaffirmed to me that he 'fully supported' the LGBTQ+ community, but made it blatantly clear that I could not bring it into the school.”
At this point, Behrends had only created this piece, entitled "Disconnection."
“He told me that it was [inappropriate because of] the nude breasts. I told him that that was ridiculous because I had drawn tons of boobs in my breadth section and no one had even raised a finger," Behrends said. "I also cited portfolios of students in the past who did things with nudity that weren’t forced to change their subject. He claimed that the reason I couldn’t do my subject was it ‘didn’t follow the dress code’ and ‘just like how I can’t let a student walk in shirtless, I can’t let you do this stuff.’”
Now that could have easily been the end of this story. Behrends could have changed his concentration to something that “followed the dress code” or, to be more frank, did not make the administration uncomfortable. Thankfully, that's not what happened.
After getting nowhere with his vice principal, Behrends confronted his art teacher: “I told my art teacher that I would rather just not turn anything in than switch my concentration to suit those who might not be accustomed to being exposed to queer art. My teacher, knowing that I was serious, told me that I should at least TRY to dull it down. After a lot of arguing, I just decided to ignore everyone and keep doing it.”
Behrends went on to send his original concentration portfolio to the College Board for the AP studio art assessment, and in the process was unable to show any of his work at school art shows or even to his parents.
In July, Behrends, among with millions of other students across the country, logged on to the College Board website, anxiously awaiting his scores. “I was really unsure of my portfolio when I was done with it, I was expecting a 3, maybe a 4,” illustrated Behrends. Unlike some of us, Behrends didn’t meet disappointment, or even a 4. Instead, he found this:
Ah, yes, the coveted 5. The only thing that a high school student wants more than sleep. And more so, Behrends was selected for the 2017-18 studio art exhibit, proving that this WAS the time and place for "these things."
Behrends tweeted out these screenshots, along with his artwork, stating, “My school's administration told me to stop doing my concentration on gender and sexuality bc it was 'inappropriate.' But I didn’t. And now ...”
The tweet has received over 13,000 retweets and over 45,000 favorites. "When I posted the tweet I thought it would get less than 100 favorites and a couple of 'congrats!' from friends, but I'm glad people find what I did inspiring! I couldn't ask for more," Behrends explained.
Behrends has always considered art to be an important part of his life, and now he has the receipts to prove that he is doing something right. Behrends plans to attend Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall with a double major in English and cinema production. Check out his website for more of his own poignant and uncensored artwork.
Three cheers for Jasper Finn Behrends, who is definitely on Fresh U's list of influential LGBTQ+ artists ... and pretty awesome human beings.
Lead Image Credit: Jasper Behrends