To Be Young, Gifted, Black and Queer

The queer struggle is real, and growing up black and queer presents its own unique set of challenges.

During a recent shoot with photographer Peter Fingleton, models Kobe Darko, Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah, George Adje, and “X” took some time between serving looks to discuss intersectional identity and how they navigate the complexities of race, family, and sexuality.

Kobe Darko

“Even today, I still remember early childhood memories that helped me understand and accept my sexuality. I really can’t pinpoint, I feel like I’ve always known. I’ve always been gay. “

“I’ve never been religious; I grew up with parents who raised me with the morals that religion aims to teach such as kindness, love, and acceptance. But religion was the last thing on my mind. However, I am Ghanaian, and our culture is very heteronormative. Our culture is also very family-oriented and goes way beyond the nuclear family, so you end up growing up and not only having to answer to your parents but also to other family members and even sometimes friends of family.“

“If the color of someone’s skin is your most important preference and you choose to share that publicly then honey, that’s racist.”

Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah

“The moment I realized I was gay happened in Primary School. Someone called me gay as an insult and I responded with “So what?” I was totally fine with it, but others weren’t and that was when the discomfort and shame with my sexuality started.”

“Living under my parents’ roof, I was constantly hiding. I’d get home from school and be incredibly quiet, helpful, and obedient. I stayed in my room most of the time. I was playing the role of the “ideal son” so I could just skate by unnoticed. It wasn’t until I was no longer living at home that I started to realize I wasn’t anyone or anything I’d known so far in my life.”

“I went through a lot of ups and downs, trying out new ways of dressing, trying out new friendship groups, and reinventing myself over and over again. I realize I did this because I was still trying to fit in a box – the stylish black guy, the cool and macho black guy, the femme, flamboyant and fun black guy. None worked because there is a lot more to me (and any person for that matter) than a stereotype. I am now very comfortable with my sexuality because I don’t feel I need to conform to any one image.”

Josh Rivers

Otamere Guobadia

George Adje

“I’m usually more easily and more viscerally attracted to men than women, but I seem to develop emotional connections with women more easily than I do with men. Perhaps that’s because I’m generally more nervous around hot guys than I am around hot girls.“

“My dad is Nigerian and was vocally homophobic as I grew up. I knew he was in the wrong, and my mother and I (obviously, my mother knew about me before I did) would argue with him about it. I have never seen eye-to-eye with my dad about much. I would like to think that his influence didn’t have much of an effect on my own delayed coming-of-age in the same way that his influence didn’t have much of a conscious effect on the rest of the things I am interested in— but I can’t be sure of the unconscious influence his culture had on me.”

“I’m always hesitant to call what I experience “racism.” It’s often that, over the course of a sexual encounter, someone will reveal that it is a novelty for them to sleep with a non-white guy. And it’s baffling to me that they think their comments along the lines of, ‘I’ve never slept with a black guy before’ are welcome—or even that they think such a thing is worth noting.”

“X”

“Looking back, I always knew [I was gay], but there was a block, nurture was blocking nature.”

“‘No blacks or Asians’ on gay profiles. I don’t buy that ‘it’s a preference’ nonsense. We all have a preference. If you are not interested, simply don’t respond, but to put that energy out there that a race is not desirable is caustic.”

“That idea of being into black guys is a major turn off for me. I understand you might find a race hot, but it’s not hot to be someone’s fetish.”

Meshach Henry

Luis Skitini

Prolific: Shequida Hall

Shequida Hall (AKA Gary Hall) is a classically trained opera singer, songwriter, and playwright who migrated from Jamaica to New York and eventually trained at Juilliard. But then drag happened. Now she’s combining her spellbinding voice with sickening lewks to take drag performance to a classy new level. We chatted with her about her love of opera, her unexpected career transformation, and why she should be able to sing in any damn role she wants.

Grindr: What memories do you have of Jamaica?

Shequida: I was very young. A 12-year-old in Jamaica back then is not quite the 12-year-old you find nowadays – especially in New York. I have some great memories. Jamaica is a beautiful place. Ultimately, we left because the relationship between my mom and my dad was terrible. Luckily for my mom, she decided to leave and take us with her.

What was it like coming to Manhattan?

First of all, I had never been on a plane in my entire life. Then, I got off the plane and my mom was standing there and I was like, “How is my mum on the plane” and my sister was like, “You dummy we got off the plane an hour ago.” I didn’t know because in Jamaica you had to actually go down onto the runway and here in New York there’s a jetway and everything, so it was quite a learning curve. The one thing I learned very quickly was racism. There’s no racism in Jamaica because we’re all black.

When you say you learned about racism, what do you mean?

I just realized moving here that people treat you differently because of the color of your skin, not because of what you do or who you are. I think the first time I realized that was when I was getting on a bus and the bus driver yelled at me for not paying my fare when it was some other guy who didn’t pay his fare, and that guy was white and I was black. My mom tried to explain it to me, but I was so naive that I didn’t understand. I would see black women pushing strollers of white babies, and I thought, “Oh my god, black women in New York are so generous they adopt white babies” and then my sister was like, “No silly, they’re the nannies.” It was stuff like that that I had to learn very quickly.

Did that influence or inspire you to pursue drag?

The struggles of being not accepted or racism and prejudice in this country did not have an effect on me doing drag. In fact, I never wanted to be a drag queen. I never really was a feminine guy. When I first moved here, I used to have long straightened hair and people always thought I was a girl – I remember going to Macy’s once, and the counter girl was like, “Would you like something for your little girl?” and I screamed, “I am not a girl! I am not a girl!!” So I never wanted to do drag, it was so out of my realm. I thought I was going to be an opera singer and it was going to be great. And then I went out once and somebody put some crap on my face and put a hat on my head. They said it was a costume party – you had to be in costume or else you wouldn’t get into the club. I was 19 and thought, “ok, whatever.” At the time, my mind was so laser focused on the classical world that I had never been to a club before, I had never had a drink before, I didn’t know what nightlife was. Then I went to this club in a crazy get up, and I was the first one picked out of the entire group of us to go in and then someone offered me a job that night. They said “you look great, do you want to work here?” and I said, “Do you want to pay me for this? Okay.” And that’s how Shequida began.

Did Shequida stop you from pursuing a career in opera?

Shequida and opera were, for me, two separate things. Shequida, in the beginning, was a side job, a weekend job, a way to make money. I didn’t really think anything about it. I wasn’t that invested in it. I went to work on the weekends, did my drag, then went to school during the week and studied opera, so they were completely separate entities.

Can you tell us about the beginnings of your opera career?

I started falling in love with opera when I was 14 years old. I was always singing; I was always an actor/ singer – I did a lot of commercials in Jamaica. When I moved here, I went to a performing arts school for a couple of months before going to LaGuardia High School of the Arts to study singing. Then, in my sophomore year, they took my entire class to the New York City Opera to see “Mephistopheles.” If anyone wants to get into opera, just show them that. It is just brilliant; I was hooked after then. So I told my teacher that I wanted to study opera and, sure enough, she said, “You can never go to another gospel chorus.” There were so many restrictions and I thought, “Gosh this is a lot,” but I loved the music and drama so much. There’s so much force behind it, so much energy and power, so I started studying opera and then I was one of three students ever, at that time, to graduate LaGuardia and go to Juilliard.

And since then…?

Then I studied for three and a half years at Juilliard, and just got more and more disillusioned. Once again that whole racism thing crept in, and while I love opera – and I realize this sounds terrible – but I don’t really see race. I don’t realize I’m the only black person in a room until somebody points it out. My teacher was a super famous opera singer at the time, Simon Estes, and he started grooming me. I said I wanted to sing certain things and he would be like, “oh no… you’re black.” There was always this racist fight where I was told, “You’re only going to be signing Negro spirituals for the rest of your life.” I was like, “Negro spirituals?? I don’t even know what a Negro spiritual is.” It’s just a cultural thing. I guess if you grew up African American then yes…but I grew up Jamaican and became American so it wasn’t what I wanted to do, and I got more and more disillusioned. So I left, and I didn’t know what I was going to do and drag just sort of became more and more and more.

Has the classical world informed or influenced your drag?

Totally. When people say, “You’re so well spoken,” or “You sound so British sometimes.” I say, “No, that’s 100% opera training.”

What did it mean to you to return to the opera 20 years later after you had had difficulties there when you were younger?

When I returned, I did that special guest spot at the New York City Opera. I was frightened – because this is the New York City Opera, this is the big leagues. This is not a nightclub, this is not a bar where people don’t really know. These are trained professionals. These are people who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to see opera. So to go back there, it was completely nerve-wracking, but it was also a full circle. I remember seeing some of the ushers I knew. I would go up to them and say, “Hi do you remember me?” and they would be like… yeah, Gary, the annoying little 17-year-old boy.” Because I was always running around the opera house singing and just being young – for them, they were in their forties or fifties that was their career, and I was just like, “Oh my god, let’s be amazing – we’re young!” So going back and performing was amazing. I got the full treatment and I thought, “Now I see how people can turn into divas when you’re treated like this.” It was great.

What do you envision for the future of opera and drag?

For the future of opera, I hope it embraces the alternative and evolves as the world is evolving. We see that you can have a black person lay a Mozart role, you can have thin, fit people that are opera singers. They don’t all have to be 700 pounds. You can have countertenors – you can have contralto – you have all these different types of voices. My voice teacher was this amazing, very strict, tiny woman, super famous in the music world. I remember her saying something to me which blew my mind. She said opera is totally fake. Signing is not a natural human state. When you hear an opera singer putting down a pop singer or the other way around, or you hear different kinds of voices putting each other down, I always go back to the same thing that she put in my mind. Singing is not a natural state; it’s literally taking something that’s unnatural and creating a sound. We speak in a four or five note range, but Mariah Carey would sing in a five-octave range and that’s not natural. So I could listen to someone like Janis Joplin or a pop singer and say that she’s just screaming, but she’s making a sound which is affecting people. Opera singers make a sound which affects people – heavy metal and rock singers make a sound which affects people. They’re all completely different. When you have a drag queen or a man that sings a five-octave range it shouldn’t be weird. It’s a sound that is literally affecting you. That is art.

Who is Shequida?

Shequida is glamorous. Shequida is sexy, Shequida is funny, Shequida is a little kooky, Shequida is always striving to be better, always striving – Shequida does not live in the past. The one thing that people know about me is that I don’t rest on my laurels. Every show, the one joke I always make is, “I went to Juilliard, I can do that.” I don’t rest on my laurels; I don’t rest on things that I’ve done in the past. I look forward to tomorrow. I always say to young drag queens, “Enjoy what you did today, be proud of it, but take a picture and learn from it and say, ‘How can I make this better the next time?”

Slumbr Camp Welcomed Everyone To The Gay Outdoors

From a shipwreck tattoo booth, an Andrew Christian swimsuit customization workshop designed by artist Raul de Nieves, or just drinking White Girl Rosè with co-founder and Internet celebrity The Fat Jewish, prideful partygoers found themselves entertained at every corner at Slumbr Camp.

After hours on the pool deck, people were invited to take a break and lounge around the island as the iconic Pavillion was turned into a Summer Camp formal.

That night, guests were surprised by an appearance by Drag Race runner-up Peppermint, who also served a live performance of her original music. And between her sets, there was a special performance by GRAMMY®- winner Macy Gray.

As the party went deep into the night under a field of balloons and disco lights, the legendary DJ Honey Dijon kept the energy high after arriving from a performance in Paris just the night before.

Those who decided to be overnight campers were treated to a recovery brunch poolside the next morning. Items like fresh mints and croissants that help all of us recover from any damage done by drinking too many Absolut and sodas were provided to help bring the weekend to a delicious close.

As people boarded a ferry and then a chartered bus to take them into the city to keep Pride going, many scored gift bags from brands like ASOS and Dollar Shave Club (who ensured that a clean razor was available to freshen up).

While this year’s now infamous annual Pride party was different compared to last year’s at the Standard Hotel, one thing stayed the same: Everyone had an unforgettable time.

Shea Couleé Is Cocky

If you tuned in to the drama-drenched RPDR Season 9 reunion special last week, you got a taste of the cocksureness that is Top 4 Shea Couleé. But gleefully stirring the pot and getting under Selena Valentina’s flawless skin during the kiki was just Shea getting started. Yesterday she took the taunt all the way with the exclusive premiere of her new track “Cocky” via the Grindr app, and today you can clock it on INTO.

The VAM-produced clip takes visual cues from the black and white realness of Beyonce’s “Sorry” and the cubic minimalism of Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” but Shea makes the swaggering affair all her own with the charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and totalitarian confidence that only a Drag Race darling can deliver.

Throw in some duck walking, a pair of zebra knee-highs, and cameos by Lila Star and The Vixen, and you best believe Shea will be getting her 10s. After all, she’s Shea Couleé—and she didn’t come to play.

Mr. Gay Syria Pageant Makes Asylum Its Ultimate Grand Supreme

When two gay Syrian refugees, Hussein and Mahmoud, fled to Turkey in hopes of escaping war and homophobia, they were surprised to find once crossing the border that some things weren’t so different.

While their new country allowed them to live a life free of the violence associated with the war that continues to wage on in their native country, it didn’t, however, allow them to live their lives openly as gay men. So they decided to throw a Mr. Gay Syria pageant that is the focal point of a new, highly anticipated documentary bringing a spotlight to their struggle and now a campaign is launching to make sure their stories are heard.

“We Are Mr. Gay Syria,” created by We Are One + Together, is a new global campaign to urge the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and U.S Citizenship & Immigration Services to take swift action and accelerate granting asylum to men competing in this pageant.

The new campaign comes with a new film by director Zaher Saleh that he hopes will show other LGBTQ Muslims around the world that not only should they come out but there’s a community waiting for them that will embrace them.

INTO spoke with the people behind the film, premiering exclusively here, about the new campaign they hope will help bring the freedom that these men have always dreamed of and are still fighting for every day.

INTO: What was the inspiration behind doing this film? It’s such a complicated and loaded topic, and I am assuming not easy to make. What was the motivation to take on such a task?

Derek Anderson, founder We Are One + Together: We Are One + Together invited director Zaher Saleh to make a film that portrayed the challenges that many LGBTQ Muslims are facing. We Are One + Together believes that everyone is valuable and worthy and deserves to be honored and included. It was important to us that as we celebrate Pride Month to also celebrate Muslims that are part of our LGBTQ community.

The release of the film also coincides with We Are One + Together’s “We Are Mr. Gay Syria” campaign to gain asylum for five gay Syrian refugees whose lives are in danger because of their sexuality. In addition, We Are One + Together has committed to creating the We Are One Together Baytee Muslim, Arab, and Middle Eastern LGBTQ Center.

INTO: What is the importance of the beauty pageant in completing this film?

Anderson: There is no beauty pageant in [our] film. We Are One + Together has created a digital beauty pageant, “We Are Mr. Gay Syria,” to gain awareness through social media and to drive signatures on the petition for asylum for the Syrian refugees who were Mr. Gay Syria contestants whose lives are now in danger because of their sexuality.

INTO: What was the inspiration behind doing this film? It’s such a complicated and loaded topic, and I am assuming not easy to make. What was the motivation to take on such a task?

Zaher Saleh, Director: In Islam, to be gay is a sin. And in Middle Eastern culture in general, it is not acceptable to be gay, lesbian, bi, or trans. In fact, it’s only okay to be heterosexual. Of course, the truth is there are many queer Muslims and Middle Eastern people. I wanted to make this film to show that we exist. We always have. But it’s now time for us to come out of the shadows.

I felt like it was important for someone who is Middle Eastern, and who was raised Muslim, to make this statement publicly. I want LGBTQ Muslim kids to know that they are okay. That they are not alone. The more young gay LGBTQ Muslims see themselves reflected in the media, the more they know they are not alone and the easier it will be for them to accept themselves. I want everyone to be free to be who they really are. In fact, to celebrate it!

INTO: The current trailers and other videos you have released do not show many people’s faces. Does the film also help mask identities of certain subjects? And if so, why is that so important for a film like this?

Saleh: The main characters faces will be clearly seen in the film. The secondary characters are shown in a more abstract way because they represent an abstract representation of Khalid’s past experiences.

INTO: What other hurdles were faced while creating this film?

Saleh: The biggest hurdles in making the film were mostly internal. As much as I am committed to telling this story, it brought up fears for me. The biggest being concern was over what my family will think.

INTO: What do you hope will come from the release of the film?

Saleh: I hope that the film in some small way helps LGBTQ Muslims to be okay to come out, to be okay with who they really are.

Sign the Change.org petition here and learn how you can help with their cause.

Hurts So Good

Over seven years, British band Hurts have been on one heck of a musical journey. Their debut album, 2010’s Happiness, was filled with effusive and double-edged pop songs that journeyed into the gray areas of life.

With their second album, Exile, things took a darker turn; the music represented the exhaustion, exhilaration, and self-doubt that comes from achieving success. Moving out of the darkness, however, the band returned in 2015 with Surrender, which showcased a dancier side of the pair’s synth-laden sound. Still though, darkness permeated under the surface of the songs; with every moment of sunshine, there was still a faint hint of cloud.

It’s not a surprise, then, that with their latest single, “Beautiful Ones,” the band seems to have found neutral ground. More akin to their earlier stuff, there’s euphoria to the new track that bridges together all their past material. Instead, the darkness is found in the visuals. The video is an optical assault that tackles identity, masculinity, femininity, and the human condition. It’s uplifting but real and disturbing.

Grindr caught up with Theo Hutchcraft, the band’s lead singer, to chat about the track and to discuss the powerful video.

Grindr: Hi Theo! I want to talk about “Beautiful Ones.” It feels like the song is probably the most pop that you’ve ever sounded.

Theo: I guess it’s a big, bold pop song. It’s kind of a distilled version of what we love to do anyway, and we felt, when we were writing it, that it had an emotion that we hadn’t really captured before. It’s just joy and passion; it’s something that felt really exciting to do.

You’ve just announced an album, but the track feels quite stand alone.

The music has come together quite quickly. We’ve not been away for that long. We started working in the studio, and stuff just started to happen really quickly. We got lots of really good stuff, so that’s why we felt like we’d just put this song out and keep going.

In terms of what the rest of the record is like, is this a good indication?

It’s always pop music, you know, but it feels like we’ve tried to transcend all three of the previous albums. We’ve taken something from each one, and that’s what’s quite nice at this stage. We’ve tried so many different things before, but this feels like it touches upon the good moments from the last three.

Your music feels like it explores the gray areas of life, why is that?

It’s at the heart of who we are. We always feel like we’re learning. Every time we write music, we feel like we’re getting better at it. We started from this point of going with our instincts, but as we’ve gone on, and we’ve learned how to express ourselves better, it feels like the music gets better. It’s nice that it’s coming across.

We need to talk about the video. But firstly, I want to talk about nightclubs. They’re somewhat of a recurring theme in your music videos — in the “Lights” video you’re in a club and in “Beautiful Ones,” too. It feels like we’re in a crisis at the moment where nightclubs are closing.

It’s a disaster.

I wanted to get your thoughts on what it is about “the clubs” that inspires you and is so important for you?

For me, there’s a great romance to them. It’s hard to work out whether it’s nostalgia or if it’s something else, but I feel like, when I was growing up, nightclubs were such a mystical thing. There’s a real magic to a nightclub where it feels like everything is possible. You see a great side of humanity in clubs, which you get at festivals, too. It makes you wonder sometimes why people don’t act like they do at clubs when they’re on the tube. It’s probably because they’re not drunk or high, but there’s an essence in clubs, there’s a sense of community. They bring people together. They make for great videos. But they’re used in two different ways in both those videos. In “Lights,” they’re used to show how anything can happen in a nightclub; it’s that weird adventure that you go on when it’s about to close. I used it in a very romantic way. Then in “Beautiful Ones” it was meant to show that sense of love and community that people find. Yeah, the outside world can be very different, but in those spaces, it’s a utopia. For some people in certain situations, the club is the only place that they can go and be themselves, and it’s a magical space for that.

Is that partly why you felt that telling the story of the video was so important now?

I just felt that the song lead it, really. We’re often outsiders. A lot of the friends I have are on the fringes of society, and a lot of fans we meet feel like they’re outsiders, or they identify with that. But a lot of people don’t quite have the confidence to show that side of themselves, and that needs to be encouraged because that’s what makes people brilliant. There’s such an intensity to the song that we needed to show how important that personal liberty is. The most important thing for everyone to remember is that, for some people, it’s not that easy. For some people, just to be themselves like everybody else can be hard. Some people leave the house and they’re frightened; they feel like they can’t live their lives. It’s important to emphasize how important of a thing it is, that freedom to be yourself.

It must have been quite an intense and hard experience shooting it.

It was equal measures very fun and a great experience, but there were definitely moments of it that were very difficult. Not only for me to do, but for the crew watching and all that. We obviously shot the video forwards, so I spent half the time in the club having a great time all in the outfit. Then, as the night wore on, you felt the journey happen. It was emotional. But it’s a difficult balance to find, you know, because the most important thing was that I wanted it to be respectful, and that was the work. It was tough, but I’m happy that it seems to have touched people more than I thought it would.

A lot of acts might shy away from putting themselves in the position that you did for the video. Why was it important for you to portray that character?

It’s for those reasons, really. Provided I was able to pull it off and do it, which was a big task in itself, I felt that it was more powerful and important to come from us. It would distance it too much to get an actor in; it kind of feels like it’d be an easy way out.

But you hadn’t done drag before, right?

No.

What was that like?

It was fascinating for me. My friend who’s a stylist and has done a lot of our videos, Alex Noble, was instrumental in it. He’s made drag outfits before; he has friends who do drag. But it was really fun. I wanted it to be real, you know. It had to be something that a drag queen could see and go, “Fuck, he looks amazing.” The process was fun, though; it was two or three hours in makeup, and when the outfit and wig go on it’s very interesting to look in the mirror and see someone that doesn’t look like yourself. It was a new person. It also compounded my love and respect for drag performers. I’ve always found drag so powerful and rebellious and strong. There’s something about drag queens that is really special. Just to confront people’s prejudices in such an intense way is exhilarating. When I was 6 feet 7 inches tall walking around in those heels, I realized how much courage it takes to do it. But the whole process was very enlightening. Drag is like performance art. It’s a lot of things at once — drag queens do their own makeup, which is like art, often make their own clothes, and they become somebody else. It’s fascinating and I love it.

Did you practice in the shoes?

I had to practice walking around the house, making my dinner in them and stuff. They were intense. I had to sprint in them as well, which was a task. My female friends said that there was no way that I was going to be able to sprint in them. But I had to walk around my house in those big white stiletto boots for a week before. It was very fun.

So, if you go out on tour, I assume that you won’t be wearing a red PVC lace up and heels?

[Laughs] No, I wouldn’t be able to navigate the stage in the heels. And I don’t think doing it in flats would do it justice.

Beautiful Ones” is available now. Hurts releases their fourth album, Desire, on September 29.

The Pride Ride served NYC at the DC Equality March

In the wee morning hours of Sunday, June 11th, hordes of happy, brightly-dressed New Yorkers gathered at the LGBT Center in Manhattan to get loud. Nope, this wasn’t for an after hours party. It was the beginnings of the Pride Ride, Grindr’s bus service to the National Equality March in DC. The partnership between Grindr and organizers Adam Eli Werner and Andy Simmonds (AKA Hey Rooney) gave a lift to hundreds itching to take part in a historic day in the midst of a immensely tense political climate that’s not favoring the LGBTQ community.

But whatever tensions may have been simmering up to the march weren’t evident on the blazing hot day, as hundreds of thousands amplified positive vibes (and plenty of rainbows) in and around the National Mall. Hilarious signs and empowering chants were also on the menu, as well as plenty of impassioned speakers including the Director of Grindr For Equality, Jack Harrison-Quintana.

So they got a ride to the March and that was that, right? Please. The party continued on the journey back as the Pride Riders – including influencers, queer activists, club kids, and more – cranked up the music and turned the aisle into a runway. Because celebrating equality takes werk, henny.

Check out the highlights from this epic day:

Pride Ride Video

Style Activist Anita Dolce Vita Is Queering Fashion’s Gender Divide

Although queer aesthetics are undoubtedly on the rise in the fashion industry, there are still surprisingly few publications dedicating in-depth coverage to queer bloggers and creatives. Anita Dolce Vita has the remedy to this underexposure: dapperQ. Since becoming the site’s owner, Vita has invested countless hours into crafting a platform for alternate masculinities – the initial idea was to fill a gap in the market by offering extensive style coverage (think Vogue or GQ) aimed squarely at a queer audience.

In addition to content, which ranges from editorials to op-eds, dapperQ also hosts a series of events designed to help LGBTQ youth use style as a tool for self-discovery. Better still, the platform is truly diverse; a rare online home for the trans, queer, non-binary, and female masculinities so often excluded from mainstream discussions of queerness. In honor of Pride month, we decided to reach out to Dolce Vita and discuss the transformative power of clothing, Project Runway, and why Pride needs, now more than ever, to go back to its radical roots.

Grindr: Can you tell us a little about dapperQ as a platform?

Anita: When it launched in 2009, dapperQ was originally a personal blog chronicling the individual style of its owner. However, upon visiting the site, I noticed that it had so much more potential than to become just another Tumblr with selfies and viral images – although those blogs are empowering too. When I was first pitching new ideas to dapperQ, there was a serious lack of fashion and lifestyle magazines that reflected and reaffirmed the identities of our specific readership while also offering the kind of comprehensive style coverage you would find on GQ or Vogue.

Soon after the site’s initial launch, I took over as the new owner and restructured the platform. I brought on a team of queer writers, photographers, videographers, designers, and stylists to start producing wide-ranging content and events like Seven Days of Dapper, our annual New York Fashion Week show at the Brooklyn Museum, and the first two consecutive SXSW queer style panels.

Are there any stories of feedback on the site that stand out specifically?

Yes, and it’s this feedback that keeps me driven to work a full-time day job and continue to run dapperQ in my free time. The most recent and impactful e-mail we received was from the mother of an androgynous high-school junior in Texas named Ragan Kelly. We kept in touch with Ragan and her mom, and we later published a feature on her after a Texas couple (Michelle Daly and Kelly West) gave her a confidence-boosting makeover that helped Ragan express her identity in a way that made her feel more comfortable. It was so incredible to work with members of the community from across the country to empower our youth!

Why do you think mainstream media is taking so long to broaden its scope beyond the usual thin, white, cisgender gay men?

I think for the same reasons that mainstream media doesn’t showcase PoC (people of color), people of size, non-binary individuals: transphobia, racism, sexism, and fatphobia. Mainstream media is all about advertising, and advertising is rooted in selling images appealing to the white, cis male gaze. Advertising to the LGBTQ market has followed this formula, and therefore the image usually reflected in ad campaigns is that of the white, professional, trend-setting, affluent gay male. The rest of the rainbow is rendered invisible. The LGBTQ community is not immune to absorbing what advertisers, casting directors, and designers define as desirable: this topic is explored in the documentary No Fats, No Femmes.

Do you think things are beginning to change – if not in a mainstream context, are you at least starting to see more diverse platforms emerge?

Absolutely, things are changing! We discussed how social media has been instrumental in creating this change in a recent panel; to the dismay of glossies like Vogue, traditional mainstream media platforms are now struggling to capture audiences. Advertisers did not anticipate how the advent of newer technologies would change the landscape of marketing, or that social media would be so impactful in redefining how brands reach consumers. It has provided a platform for people to reject conventional, often exclusionary definitions of mainstream beauty and fashion. Instead, it allows influencers to become creative directors of their own personal style, to develop communities with common values, and to amass large followings that have become extremely attractive to corporate brands. Some of my personal favorite game-changing influencers are Danielle Cooper and Sara Geffrard.

What does Pride month mean to you personally? Do you see it as a celebration, a protest, a show of solidarity?

It is all three: a celebration, a protest, and a show of solidarity. The meaning of Pride has evolved for me since coming out as a 20-year-old in Albuquerque, experiencing my first Pride in New York at 23 and then later becoming a style activist in my 30s and 40s. I moved to New York in 1999 and experiencing Pride in a city so huge with so many parties, bars, glitter, people like me…all of that in one place…Pride was a PARTY! I was like a kid in a candy store. But, as I learned more about its history and became more and more connected to LGBTQ activist communities, I came to see Pride as an act of defiance with the potential to incorporate its more radical roots. I think that’s important now more than ever.

Is there anything you haven’t yet achieved with dapperQ that you hope to in the future?

Well, I would love to take dapperQ international – we receive feedback from across the globe asking us to expand. I’d also love to be a judge on Project Runway, you know, to shake things up. Just putting that out there!

Queerdos

For anyone hopping off the bus at Port Authority, from let’s say a town like Binghamton, NY, logging onto Grindr in New York City is nothing like the grid you encounter at home. The nearest torso isn’t 32 miles away, and those little squares are filled with twinks in thigh-highs, drag queens looking for trade, and rubber pups. “Queerdos” aren’t hiding behind masks of masc-ness. They aren’t trying to outdo one another in some competition to say they’re men in their “About Me” section. NYC based photographer Eli Schmidt perused the queer of the city to find a side of Grindr that isn’t Chelsea or Hell’s Kitchen.

For these queers, in their homes and browsing their own grids mindlessly for hours, they are the ones in power. They choose who to please or be pleased by. You can’t find them in every little square, but when you do, it’s as if you’re an unsuspecting fly who’s landed on Venus. You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into, but you’ll certainly never forget “Fag is Power, Fag is Beautiful, Fag is Danger.” No matter the mantra, that queer behind the screen is watching and you’ve already been swallowed whole.

10 International Films to Queer Up Your Queue

Internationally, the conversation in gay cinema is a more nuanced one than here in the States. There is often a layer of dissonance to the stories, and the formats can lean towards a more intellectual, theoretical approach. Case in point: the ten international gay films below. Feel free to drop them into your date convo and impress that certain someone.

Theorem (1968) – Piero Pasolini

Theorem is Piero Pasolini’s classic film starring a smoldering Terence Stamp. Stamp basically screws an entire household of bourgeois Italians, sending family power dynamics into a tailspin. It’s one of the greatest films ever made about the disarming of patriarchal norms. Also, did I mention how sexy Stamp is in it?

2. Edward II (1991) – Derek Jarman

Derek Jarman’s Edward II is the ultimate English queer postmodern agitprop film. Jarman invented a queer and explicitly combative type of cinema that stands apart from the work of his contemporaries. He took his country’s history and reimagined it with a queer narrative, which stood in stark contrast to the homophobia of the time.

3. Cage Aux Folles (1978) – Édouard Molinaro

It’s important to note that this 1978 film starring Ugo Tognazzi and Michel Serrault was one of the first films to showcase a gay family. It was based on Jean Poiret’s 1973 play of the same name, which roasted the traditional French notion of the family. The film was way ahead of its time and way better than the 1996 American remake, The Birdcage, which wasn’t even all that bad.

4. Stranger By The Lake (2013) – Alain Guiraudie

When I first saw Stranger By The Lake, I was so weirded out by its haunting narrative. The film is an ode to the gay man’s death wish, and how we as humans play with fire. It’s fascinating and hypnotizing.

5. Satyricon (1969) – Federico Fellini

Fellini creates worlds within worlds. This 1969 orgy of ideas and images is an episodic exploration of Petronius’s Satyricon. The film delves deep into the subconscious and latent desires within all men. It’s a fascinating portrayal of human sexuality.

6. Time To Leave (2005) – Francois Ozon

Francois Ozone is a masterful filmmaker who can move through various genres with ease. He’s best known for his gay satire Sitcom, but Time to Leave is decidedly not funny. It’s about a devastatingly handsome gay man diagnosed with terminal cancer and what he does with his last days. It’s one of my favorite films.

7. Wild Reeds (1994) – André Téchiné

I’m dating myself here, but I rented Wild Reeds at the local Blockbuster. I used to ravage the international section because usually it had the most sex in it! My parents thought it was good I was broadening my horizons, little did they know…I was just in love with the French boys. This film is a beautiful retelling of a first love and the pain that can cause. Plus, the object of the boy’s affection is a bisexual hottie.

8. Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) – Toshio Matsumoto

Japanese cinema never ceases to amaze. Even in the sixties, it was far ahead of its American counterpart. Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses is an imaginative version of the Oedipus myth told through the lens of gay Japan. It’s an amazing look into the levels of sexuality in Japanese society.

9. Querelle (1982) – Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s take on Jean Genet’s acclaimed queer novel, Querelle, is imperfect, but it’s like a walking/talking Tom of Finland daydream. The film moves through its latent sexuality with unadulterated bravado. Some people hate this film, but I rather love it.

10. Three Dancing Slaves (2004) – Gaël Morel

Back to the hot French guy thing. This touching tale tells the story of three French/Algerian brothers and how they move through their lives and sexuality. It is a fascinating examination of French male identity. Also, the entire cast is straight out of a Bel Ami video.