Moving Image 2-14-2024

Funeral Pyre: Transition Through Love and Respect

Two years of personal transformation documented through film: on the process of locating one's inner light

Person staring at camera in sports bra with arm curled up
1Atlas O Phoenix, Ordinary, 2023.

“In order to rise from its own ashes, a phoenix must first burn.”

Octavia E. Butler

Exploring Connection, Personal Transformation, and Authenticity Through the Artistic Lens

I am Atlas O Phoenix, an award-winning artist and auteur. It has been two years since my last essays for Mn Artists in November 2021. During this time, I have faced significant challenges as an individual, friend, and artist. In solitude over the past year, I have had the opportunity to reflect on my life and my art, realizing that they are connected and inspire one another.

Currently, I am working on my life’s work, a project called Beautiful Boi. This visual personal essay captures my journey of body transformation starting at 50 and my mental health over nearly 40 years. However, while creating this film, I have encountered many interesting experiences and moments that have also been captured. This essay focuses on one particular aspect: connection.

Since March 2021, I have recorded over 20 hours of footage and 10 hours of audio for Beautiful Boi. Initially, my goal was to undergo personal transformation as I identified as transgender and nonbinary. The process of significant change brought about loss, grief, and necessary solitude, opening up new avenues of creativity and relief.

When I started documenting my life for Beautiful Boi in March 2021, I knew that any aspect of my life over the next few years would be fair game. I was prepared to reveal and endure, understanding that these experiences would be transformed into polished gemstones showcasing my most valuable quality: persistence. Burning and persevering brings a sense of purity when fully consumed by the fire of transformation. Surrendering leads to a closer connection with divinity, where even tears become sweet, derived from the fruits of efforts made towards self-empowerment, self- improvement, and healthy relationships.

Person in hat looking forward with trees and sky in background
Atlas O Phoenix, Ordinary, 2023.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Mahatma Gandhi

In April 2020, just ten days after surviving my ninth suicide attempt, after a heart-wrenching breakup of a dear friendship, I dedicated two and a half years to specialized therapies such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Adaptive Internal Relational (AIR) Network Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. My goal was to heal myself and manage my mental health conditions, which are currently in remission, and I am in the process of discontinuing medications. These conditions included bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizoaffective disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression, and chronic anxiety.

During this time, I also discovered that I have ADHD and autism, which provided a sense of relief and allowed me to embark on a journey of self-compassion. I have navigated these challenges from the ages of 13 to 49, and I am now 53 years old.

As a result, I now have the mental and emotional space to contemplate the meaning of my life thus far. My desire is to create a legacy that demonstrates the value of my existence. I am not interested in being understood, but rather in being felt. This work has been emotionally and artistically challenging.

Throughout these three years, I have experienced over 100 separations from friends and colleagues. Recovering addicts and alcoholics can relate to the impact on one’s social circle when undergoing the lengthy path to recovery. As one progresses in recovery, they become aware of what is not working in their life, whether it be relationships, jobs, or locations. Clearing the slate becomes a painful and heartbreaking process. A song once said, “Breaking up is hard to do,” and in November 2022, I realized that some people I knew at that time would not continue on this journey of building a legacy with me. It was the loneliest period of my life. In response, I created playlists on Spotify, delved deeper into my connections with my ancestors, and challenged myself to allow abundance into my life through a 30-day challenge. This became my refuge.

Black and white negative of person's face
Atlas O Phoenix, Ordinary, 2023.

Over the past two years, I have applied for fellowships and grants for Beautiful Boi. Some have been awarded to me, while others I continue to pursue. Each application has provided me with a clearer understanding of the path my work needs to take.

This year, I received the biggest grant of my career so far: the Jerome Foundation’s Film, Video, and Digital Production Grant for Beautiful Boi. Thanks to this grant, I was able to escape a hostile and violent housing environment and move to a duplex with a quiet, private studio where I can focus on creating my work. Over the years, I have acquired studio equipment and have filmed extensively.

In February of this year, I organized a wellness event called Trans-LATE! for the transgender, intersex, nonbinary, and agender community. The event featured a two-hour cabaret performance followed by a dance party. Transcendence Cabaret performed, and two talented new drag artists joined the lineup. The event was sold out and held at Bryant-Lake Bowl.

Filming myself has been both easy and challenging. There were times when I simply wanted to live my life without the pressure of capturing every moment, and other times when I wished I had recorded certain experiences. When I couldn’t access my cameras, I would record audio to preserve those moments. I have successfully captured most of the pivotal moments over the past two and a half years, from receiving grant news to tearful confessions about missing Beautiful Boi intensely. The footage reflects the intense emotions I have experienced, whether sad or triumphant. I have also recorded therapy sessions with my therapist of 13 years, finding therapeutic value in revisiting and processing my thoughts through these recordings.

Movie poster with many prize icons and image of person facing back with arms up
Atlas O Phoenix, Ordinary, 2023.

In the meantime, I have challenged myself artistically by creating past and present films. In June 2023, I held a retrospective of my work spanning 23 years, which was well received by audiences. Minnesota Public Radio interviewed me before the screening, resulting in a beautiful article and radio show. It was affirming to receive positive feedback, and the article generated buzz, leading to a larger audience for the retrospective. Interestingly, two audience members have become friends, and one is now my new landlord.

During a trip to France I was awarded the Prix Coup de Coeur for my film, Ordinary, in Marseille. For a little over a week, I stayed in a unique area of Paris, near Montmartre. This allowed me to experience the city without the overwhelming crowds of tourists. I explored Montmartre, known for its artistic history, visited iconic landmarks, and immersed myself in the neighborhood’s rich past. During this trip, I felt a deep resonance with the energy of the place, especially in the artist-filled Place de Tertre. It was a transformative experience that I am still processing through the footage for Beautiful Boi.

Throughout this year, I have learned the art of receiving love from the beautiful people in my life. While I have always been proficient in giving love, learning to receive it has been a different challenge.

I have also come to terms with not neatly fitting into established communities. The abundance of labels and descriptions often creates a sense of separation rather than genuine connections. Many individuals feel that they are not “trans” enough, “gay” enough, “Black” enough, or “Christian” enough to be accepted in certain communities. This desperation stems from incomplete connections that were on the verge of forming. I have realized that it is essential to disregard the opinions and judgments of others and instead focus on my heart and my art.

While I appreciate the existence of communities and leaders, there have been instances where some have caused significant emotional harm. I have learned not to take it personally and understand that each person’s journey is unique. I have found my community among loving and kind friends from diverse backgrounds all over the world.

This realization has allowed me to align with my core values and prioritize a person’s energy and spirit. I recognize that these qualities can evolve over time. Flexibility and discernment are crucial, and respect combined with love becomes purposeful.

With this understanding, I feel a sense of growth and the expansion of my heart’s power.

I refer to this feeling as Spirit-Sexuality, Spirit-Sexual, or the 💜 symbol.

Fridge with photos and magnetic letters spelling "bigotry"
Atlas O Phoenix, Ordinary, 2023.

Spirit-Sexuality EXPLAINED

“Come on baby, light my fire, try to set the night on fire / The time to hesitate is through, no time to wallow in the mire / Try now, we can only lose / And our love become a funeral pyre”

The Doors

Spirit-Sexuality involves falling in love with one’s spirit, embracing the inner light within. It transcends gender expression and sexuality, as these two things are deeply personal, private, and intimate. Spirit-Sexuality fosters unconditional love, compassion, empathy, and acceptance for oneself and others. It is rooted in respect and integrity, holding us accountable for our actions.

Spirit-Sexuality is an anti-identity that acknowledges and respects the uniqueness of significant relationships in our lives.

It does not discriminate based on age, color, creed, religion, language, or economics. Instead, it offers an adaptable and formless approach to connecting with our own universe and seeking compatible universes to form symbiotic relationships.

Spirit-Sexuality is not associated with any specific label or additional identity. It champions liberation, sovereignty, autonomy, agency, and heightened awareness of our connections. It embraces the notion that some relationships are unsustainable, while others have been connected across lifetimes. In this lifetime, we are merely picking up where we left off.

A rectangle with purple and magenta horizontal strips with two conjoined hearts in the middle. The hearts are black with gold, metallic trim. Inside the heart are 10 gold, graduated, metallic hearts, the eleventh star is magenta and purple
Atlas O Phoenix, Spirit-Sexual Flag, 2023.

The Symbol and Flag

The symbol is a purple heart = 💜

The choice of colors and shapes for the flag symbolizes the infinite and varied nature of unconditional love. It represents the act of opening our hearts and falling in love with the universe within others. The two closest stars signify individuals with a deep, interdependent trust, while the surrounding stars symbolize the support received from those who nurture with unconditional love, respect, and compassion. The eleventh star, purple and magenta, represents the divine intelligence guiding these connections.

Purple, signifying the phoenix, represents the rejuvenation and strength that comes after the trials and tribulations of relationships. Magenta represents forgiveness and kindness, essential qualities in fostering connections.

The gold outline around the hearts symbolize an infinite prosperous life built on mutual service, lasting lifetimes.

In Conclusion

Spirit-Sexuality is grounded in trust, honesty, following our hearts, being true to ourselves, and creating safe spaces within our relationships built on respect and love. It is not a label or identity, but rather a feeling that resonates within us. If this feeling speaks to you, it is enough. You deserve love and connection regardless of the direction you take. Spirit-Sexuality is about us, but it is not solely about us.

When it comes to Beautiful Boi, my dear friend, I frequently check in with myself to determine if I still miss them, if I should move on, or if they will ever return. All of these questions have arisen from previous friends. At times, it seems as though others are being helpful, but it is actually gaslighting. Now, I contemplate if I truly miss those past friendships. Regrettably, the answer is no. I refuse to accept anything less than 100% of who I am just because others cannot see or understand me.

I have moved on from numerous previous relationships. However, the relationship I had with Beautiful Boi continues to provide value. I have learned more about myself and them through the valuable lessons I have acquired. Furthermore, this connection has been the source of my most profound artistic expression in the past 5.5 years since we first met. Connections do not simply fade away, nor are they rooted in pessimism. It is easy for someone who does not know how to cultivate happiness to become cynical. However, I have always been a relatively content individual throughout my life. Currently, I find myself in the happiest state I have ever experienced. Happiness is not a destination, but rather a continuous practice. Similarly, connections are not destinations, but ongoing practices. I sincerely hope that Beautiful Boi is doing well. I miss them and am thankful for the opportunity to have met them.

Overall, these past two years have been a time of self-discovery, artistic growth, and a deeper understanding of my impact on the world through my work. Most importantly, I have learned more about how I show up for myself and how I love and receive love. All of these experiences and more have been captured and documented for Beautiful Boi.

Sometimes, art and self-care involve creating a playlist. Here is a Spotify playlist to delve into. I hope you enjoy this playlist.

💜 Psychedelics for Spirit-Sexuals💜

Take care, be well, and please stay safe.

Atlas O Phoenix

For more information, please visit, or @beautiful_boi_atlas_phoenix and @trans_late_MPLS on Instagram.

Atlas O Phoenix

Atlas O Phoenix, who uses they/them pronouns, is a dynamic and multifaceted individual working as a director, writer, producer, and editor. Their films, be it in narrative or documentary form, immerse themselves in the intricate aspects of the human experience, exploring the depths of both darkness and illumination. At present, Atlas is in the process of producing a new feature-length experimental documentary film and a spin-off web series, titled Beautiful Boi. These projects chronicle their …   read more