By Jamie MacPherson
CW: sexual abuse
“When you speak shame, it can no longer exist. The more you open up, the better you’re able to feel about yourself.” KJ Forman, a feminist Ottawa artist who works under the name Lucky Little Queer, shares these words with me during our conversation about art, community, and identity. This is their story.
Wearing a loose fitting blazer and handwritten “they” necklace, KJ tells me about working tirelessly since 2015 to aid in the construction of a common space where marginalized people can come together and share similar experiences and feel safe.
KJ is incredibly open and transparent, but this wasn’t always so. Luckily for Ottawa, KJ came out of hiding.
KJ has been creating art since the age of three. Media and subject matter changed regularly, however a love and need for art remained like the sun in the sky — a way to warm the days. At mealtime, outside, on rainy days, art went wherever KJ did. And when the childhood sexual abuse started, art was the first thing KJ went to. This outlet saved their life, ensuring they made it through the day. The abuse, their queerness, mental illness, not fitting in, led to putting on a mask.
Parts of KJ’s past are dark, such as their struggle with the abuse and their sexuality and gender identity. However, loving parents and great privilege were also present, spots of bright colour. Flowers one could put in a vase.
In 2016, KJ stumbled upon the art of several people, and these discoveries would leave a permanent positive mark. Frizz Kid, Elisha Lim and Vivek Shraya, among others, changed KJ. Seeing their work made them realize others felt the things they had been feeling. Another important discovery was artist and university professor cara tierney.
“I had never really seen other artists be so authentic and open about their gender identity in the way that they did, and to see it in such a positive and celebratory light made me feel like I could be that way, too,” KJ said of tierney’s work.
To be sure, tierney’s exhibition at Carleton University moved KJ upwards.
KJ soon shared their art with the public. This was both liberating and terrifying. Their design, Be a Slut; Do Whatever You Want was posted on Facebook. KJ was afraid no one would like or appreciate it, but the piece was well received and quickly sold.
Lucky Little Queer
KJ created an Instagram account to connect with Ottawa. The first of many orders came in. It was around this time KJ made their first public appearance tabling at The Feminist Fair in 2017, and Lucky Little Queer was born. The name proudly displays their identity and recognizes that they have been exceptionally lucky in life.
“I think often when we hear LGBTQ stories in media we only hear about struggle and pain,” said KJ. “While I’ve survived a lot of pain and abuse, I’m also extraordinarily privileged and lead a wonderful life. When I was younger I wish I had seen more happy and healthy queer folks and sexual abuse survivors, and I hope I can be that for someone else.”
KJ shares that luck by facilitating self-care art workshops. And finally, the name Lucky Little Queer is a symbol of community involvement through shared experiences and an aim to make art more accessible. This is KJ’s way to use their Bachelor of Social Work degree.
Last summer, KJ quit their job to pursue art full-time. With no guarantee of steady income and lots of unknowns, it was a frightening move. But it also meant following their dreams. The move was met with many positive messages from friends and strangers, and these notes of reassurance gave KJ strength.
Art is many things for KJ. The main one is medicinal. KJ’s art often includes positive affirmations, such as “I Am Powerful And In Control,” “I Will Learn And Grow” or “You Deserve Good Things.” They hope these brief messages will lead to real positive change.
KJ says that they hope to be able to share their healing practices with others by creating these pieces.
“I actually came up with most of the mantras in my affirmation series while in therapy. I’m so lucky to be able to see a therapist to help me work through my trauma, so my drawings are a way for me to remind myself of what I’ve learned there while also hopefully making these lessons more accessible to others,” KJ said.
Accompanying each supportive statement are various flowers, each with its own symbolic message. The inspiration behind the floral additions came from KJ’s grandfather, a florist, and from KJ’s mother, who has a passion for gardening. Pairing the flowers and short meditations brought comfort and KJ wants others to experience this pleasure.
The selection of colours has meaning too. Bright colours symbolize hope; dark ones, trauma. As a whole, KJ’s art represents the beauty and ugliness that comes with being a survivor. KJ’s philosophy for everyday life builds resilience in them and in the feminist and LGBTQ+ communities.
Through KJ’s art, countless people come together and share. They hear and see that no one is perfect, and that that’s okay.
“If I could share anything with anyone, it would probably be the same thing I tell myself: try not to be so hard on yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s enough,” they said.
Through community involvement, KJ is able to encourage and motivate others to show them that they all have the ability to overcome external forces pushing them down. They all can create. Getting others to open up and feel good about who they are are KJ’s main goals.
Today KJ is looking back at their anger and pain, but also ahead. That forward gaze sees more hand-painted, one-of-a-kind records that KJ paints flowers or other designs on. It sees an all-ages colouring book of positive affirmations being made later this year. It sees a special collaboration with Low Poly Crafts that will soon be made public. And it sees more episodes of KJ’s new interactive Instagram Sunday afternoon show called Queeries & Art where Ottawa can watch KJ create their art. There will always be darkness, but KJ will always transform it into something lighter.
When KJ and I end our talk, it’s pitch black outside. We part ways and I notice something as I make my way home: KJ has left a positive mark on me. Like an extra layer. Through their art and community engagement, KJ’s leaving their mark on the 613. Little flowers in the city. And we’re all very lucky for this.
Lucky Little Queer / KJ Forman is a non-binary freelance artist based in Ottawa, Canada. They create visual art speaking to their LGBTQ experience that has a feminist and sex-positive focus. Lucky Little Queer’s goal is to create affirmative pieces that can be used as a tool to connect and bond marginalized people together in a way that celebrates our shared experiences and identities. Check out their Instagram and website.