Zander Hodgson Wants To Know Where He Stands

Jumping the pond and eager to get in front of the camera, Zander Hodgson, 26, is navigating LA while doing anything he can to earn the coveted status of being “up and coming.” Obviously, American audiences will probably never get on board with strictly British fare like, Coronation Street, but no living person anywhere on the planet can deny his sun-kissed coif, naturally pouty lips, and his ability to Instagram himself shirtless (frequently, and sometimes with less on).

We took a deep dive with him on his new life, dating stories, and how Americans just aren’t like the people he grew up with.

Grindr: So what kind of things would we recognize you from?

Zander: You wouldn’t recognize me from anything out here yet. I’ve done some TV shows in England.

What were they called?

Coronation Street – which is like this famous show in England. My mom was crazy proud because I grew up watching it with her. She was calling all of her friends when I was in it. And then Hollyoaks is one I did mainly for teens, and there’s Shameless.

What was your favorite role out of the three?

Probably Coronation Street, because it was something that my family could relate to and it was something that, all around, everyone was proud of. Everyone knew that was more of a big deal.

Good for you! Which role do you think you relate to the most? Or not relate at all, and it was totally crazy?

Also probably Coronation Street because [my character] was a bartender in the show, and I was bartending at the time of the shoot.

Were you similar to that character?

Yeah, I guess so.

What are you working on for the future? Do you have anything coming out?

I’m working with acting classes, deciding which kind of a track I want to go on. I just signed with a new manager, and he’s helping a lot with that. I’m excited about what’s to come.

Do you like modeling?

Yeah, I do. I like it more when you get to act a bit. Or they want you to show your personality more on the camera, or they have a story that you can imagine and create something with.

Have you had to do any crazy shoots?

I had one shoot where they were firing paint at me. It was powder paint and they had some sort of contraption – almost like a slingshot. That was fun and very wild. I wasn’t living in London at the time, so I had to travel back on the train and people were looking at me like, “What is going on?”

Did you have an awkward first kiss?

Yeah, my first kiss was at the town park in the small countryside town that I’m from. She probably doesn’t even know that she was my first kiss. But I remember the whole time I was thinking, “Oh my god, is this too much tongue?” But then afterward she told me I was a really good kisser. I acted cool about it, but secretly I was like, “So I’m a good kisser now? That’s good!”

Do you have any embarrassing date stories?

One time, a girl turned up really drunk. She tried to act like she wasn’t, but even the waitress noticed. My date drank the paper wrapper off the top of her straw. It was really awkward.

So what’s something that England does better than the US?

I like that the British people that I know are a lot more straightforward. Here, everyone is friendly, which is great, but it’s not always what’s really going on. I miss knowing where I stand with people sometimes.

What would be your ideal date if you didn’t know the person at all?

I went to Disneyland yesterday. That would be kinda fun. Or you know what would be really fun? A water park. I love water parks! And then you’re not so embarrassed about seeing each other like, half-naked already. It would be fun if it was a nice, sunny day and you were doing things that were a bit scary together. It just sort of breaks the ice.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

I hate when people say that they’re going to do something but don’t follow through with it. I like to be dependable, and I hate flakiness, you know?

What is something that you like in a partner or a friendship even?

I like people that are up for adventure. People that don’t focus on the negative too much, that you can grow with, and are interested in finding new things to do, not just sticking to the same old regimen

Body Image Issues: When Screaming, “I’m Beautiful” In A Speedo Isn’t Enough

I’m waiting to meet a queer man who has zero body image issues. A guy who 100% loves his body from head to toe, and embraces all his physical flaws and limitations. He’s completely fine with the fact that he will never have a six pack, an ass that rivals Kim Kardashian’s, a jawline like Liam Hemsworth, or cheekbones like Benedict Cumberbatch.

I’m waiting to speak to a gay man who read a piece online about learning to love his body, and then suddenly, he did. He wore a Speedo to the beach, embraced his love handles, and as if by magic, realized his flaws don’t make him less attractive, they make him… him. Leaving him no choice but to embrace them!

Now I’m all for the body positivity movement, but I don’t think vague, feel-good axioms are enough to help queer men struggling with body image issues. Screaming, “I’m beautiful and worthy of love” from the highest rooftop isn’t going to change diddly-squat.

We’re simply too embedded in the gay beauty culture. A culture that idolizes a certain bodily aesthetic: white, masculine, muscles, and so on. It teaches us that our value as a person (or at least a lot of it) is derived from how we look. This means we aren’t deserving of love or a healthy relationship if we don’t present a certain way. Or conversely, some of us think we are worthy of love, but will never find it, since we’re competing against men who look like Greek gods.

And while that may sound ridiculous, it does seem like a number of gay men actually have obtained the perfect body. I was in Provincetown last summer at a pool party on the 4th of July, and I was in pretty decent shape. But honestly, I was one of the handful of men there who didn’t have a six pack. I was in shock.

I was also recently visiting my family in LA. All it took was going out to one gay club in West Hollywood to make me feel terrible about my body. Even in Boston, where I live now, I go out and see, in abundance, men who look like Adonis.

So these men really do exist, and it seems like they’re all over the damn place. What’s more, they’re getting a lot more attention and love prospects than the rest of us (or so it seems).

This is why someone preaching, “You need to learn to love your body,” isn’t going to transform that person into someone who actually does.

That’s not to say we should give up and become a slave to the gym, beauty products, and our physical insecurities. I simply think it means we need to change how we approach our relationship with our body.

Here’s what I’ve done regarding my body image issues.

I’ve embraced that I have them, and no longer feel an ounce of remorse. I’ve realized that I’m not one of those queer men who’s going to learn to love his body fully. There will be days, lots of them, where I pinch my body fat and find myself gross. There will be days I get anxious because I can’t make it to the gym, and will immediately spiral into a negative feedback loop of, “I’m going to lose muscle, get fat, and nobody will love me.” There will be days where I stand in front of the mirror and point out every single thing I hate about my body.

And that’s okay.

Ironically, in embracing my insecurities, I’ve at least been able to get over the judgment and resentment I harbor towards myself for acting “shallowly” or obsessing over something minuscule. I no longer think something is wrong with me for not being able to embrace my body. I’ve simply acknowledged that I drank a little too much of the gay Kool-Aid. Because of this, I’m never going to have the healthiest relationship with my body.

Is this ideal? Absolutely not. But is it okay? Yes, it is. And at this point in my life, I can’t hope for a complete transformation in how I view my body, but I will gleefully take this form of harm reduction. Any bit helps.

With that said, I’m off. I need to make a protein shake and head to the gym.

Taiwan Comes Closer To Acceptance

As a 36-year-old gay man, I’ve witnessed great changes in Taiwanese society’s attitudes towards LGBTQ people. I realized I liked boys around age eleven, but back then homosexuality was still a taboo topic, and I didn’t dare tell anyone. I was quite popular in school, but I often felt that my classmates didn’t know the real me. I was very lonely and even considered myself a freak.

Only in 2000, when I started participating in a gay student club at my university and met other people like me, was I truly able to accept the fact that I was gay and start the process of coming out. At the time, the LGBTQ movement in Taiwan was thriving, and I had the opportunity to take gender-related courses in college, volunteer for LGBTQ organizations, and take part in LGBTQ events like pride parades.

But, while my gay life became richer and more colorful, life at home was still a completely different world. I tried to come out to my mother, but she believed that I’d read too much and asked me not to think about such things. For a long time after that, we didn’t mention the subject again. I felt like I was living a double life, active in the outside world but unable to say anything once I was home.

In 2002, I started to volunteer for the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association (台灣同志諮詢熱線協會) and became a full-time staff member in 2011. Since then, my personal mission has been to contribute to the LGBTQ community and make Taiwanese society a friendlier place, so younger generations won’t experience the same difficulties that I did.

In 2004, we passed the Gender Equity Education Act (性別平等教育法), allowing us to enter school campuses and share with younger students our life stories and the concepts of gender diversity. We are also engaged in social education across the country. With these efforts and thanks to the many LGBTQ-friendly teachers in schools, Taiwanese society has indeed become more welcoming to us, especially among younger generations, which I am very proud to have been a part of.

I am also responsible for HIV/AIDS education and advocacy. I’m working on issues of HIV stigma, which are often even more severe than the stigma attached to homosexuality.

These days, marriage equality has taken center stage in the country. In 2016, because President Tsai Ing-Wen (蔡英文) stated during her campaign that she supports marriage equality, and due to the suicide of a prominent gay professor in the country, marriage equality became an issue that everyone in the country was paying attention to. Legislators from different parties proposed three amendments to Civil Code. My organization, along with other groups, formed a coalition to work with friendly legislators. The marriage equality bill passed its first hurdle, a review in committee, on December 26, 2016, and it is currently waiting for a second reading. In the meantime, the Supreme Court is expected to deliver a ruling regarding whether the current Civil Code is unconstitutional.

But this journey has not been entirely smooth. Our opponents, many of whom say it is their Christian faith that drives them, have mobilized their communities and spread rumors and fear. It has also pushed them to attack other areas such as gender equity education, HIV/AIDS, and transgender rights.

To raise public awareness and support, we organized three large-scale events in one month at the end of 2016, the biggest of which attracted more than 250,000 individuals to rally and show their support for marriage equality in front of the Presidential Office Building. We can even thank Grindr for getting involved and encouraging all Taiwanese users of the app to participate. This was the largest demonstration for LGBTQ issues Taiwanese society has ever witnessed and, of course, it also attracted many of our heterosexual allies to participate.

The marriage equality movement has also empowered me personally. I finally decided to come out to my family. I shared relevant information in our family social media group and invited them to the rally at the end of last year. Although my parents didn’t join me that day, they told me to stay safe, and, to me, that reminder was worth more than anything.

The marriage equality movement has not just been about our ability to get married. It has also been the greatest moment of social education about LGBTQ-related issues in our history, as well as an important step for the democratization of Taiwan. I truly hope that the marriage equality bill will come to pass this year. Either way, my colleagues, volunteers, and I will continue to fight for LGBTQ human rights.

Sean Sih-Cheng Du (杜思誠) is Director of Policy Advocacy at Taiwan Tonzhi Hotline Association (台灣同志諮詢熱線協會). He leads the organization’s HIV/AIDS education and international collaboration programs, as well as serving as a member of the marriage equality advocacy team.

LIPSYNC1000: Not Your Mom’s Drag

We definitely have our own style of drag here in London. In East London, and especially at The Glory, there’s a raw, rough and ready, visceral style. RuPaul’s Drag Race has, of course, been influential here in London, if only for the amount of young queens wanting to participate. I see the imported style very much in the makeup choices now, which are often highly contoured and professionally applied. If only I put that much effort into my makeup, but contouring and I don’t get along. I am always super impressed with the Drag Race-esque looks, but on stage, I want to see what lies beneath the mask. What is the raw talent? Much of American drag is all about being sassy or “fierce.” For me that is just one flavor, I want to see the depth of character, skill in connecting with the audience, theatrical craft, and above all, joy in the performance and transcendence. Not much to ask of our competitors, huh? Oh, and they need to look amazing, too!

LIPSYNC1000 definitely delivers all of this and more. The Glory’s annual drag (queen) lip-sync contest, now in its third year, is truly remarkable. The eight heats took place weekly in The Glory itself, with anything from seven to 14 contestants, three judges, and a capacity crowd straining to see what each of the acts brought to the stage. We had about 80 contestants throughout, and I whittled it down to 25 for the final. I had planned to put one or two through each week, but the passion, standard, and sheer guts of the competitors led me to put through two, three or even four.

So, since performers have so much to offer, why a lip-sync contest? Well, it’s part of our queer heritage. It’s at the heart of drag. While people lip-sync to both women and men and even their own voices, it’s this taking on of another character, this channeling of somebody else which when done well, is truly transformative. Queens have lip-synced to their female heroes throughout our queer history, taking on and celebrating their connection with their femininity. It’s practically impossible to give a real illusion of being a woman with a bass voice. Take away the voice and the audience’s critical attention to singing or acting ability, and the performer has free range to explore the female illusion through costume, movement, gesture, dance and narrative. It frees up the performer and makes it open to everybody. Everyone can lip-sync, everyone can move onstage, everyone can give it a go, and everyone has a song they know inside out. This makes it accessible as an art form, not less of one. A great starting point that, when executed well, offers great possibility for the artist.

The finale of LIPSYNC1000 was full of true London style. One that saw politics brought to the stage with a critique of Trump from English queen Bimini Bob Boulash, and USA import, Bougie Bourgeoisie, who presented a triple costume extravaganza. Barbs put a spell on us with a very British buffoon like X-rated Monty Python-esque routine, complete with visible ball-sack. James Morgan gave us an LGBTQ dragon, incorporating his own word on queer politics and Shay Shay floored us all with a perfectly executed multimedia interpretation of Bjork. But it was who Sue Gives A Fuck presented a flawless theatrical interpretation of Boudicca, and was unanimously voted the winner by our judges. Ultimately, the LIPSYNC1000 finale was a winning night for everyone who was there, our queer community, and for the future of drag, which proved itself to be enduringly entertaining, challenging, provocative, and revelatory.

The Fiercest Looks in Video Game Herstory

From the scantily dressed fighters in Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter to Princess Peach, the classic princess in distress, women haven’t always been represented realistically (or appropriately) in video game history. Nevertheless, they have always showcased some of the most amusing and remarkable outfits in modern popular culture. The heroines of video games are celebrated through fanart and cosplay homages, with some of them becoming popular household names, like Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft.

With this in mind, let’s take a look back at some of the fiercest, most outrageous and iconic looks ever seen in video games herstory.

Kitana & Mileena (Mortal Kombat)

Kitana and Mileena, the masked sister assassins of the Mortal Kombat franchise, know how to command attention when they walk into a fight: they have been serving body and killer lewks since 1993, as well as some of the most gruesomely entertaining fatalities in fighting games. While Kitana prefers to hide her beauty behind a mask and razor-sharp steel fans, her evil clone Mileena is not as shy. But be very careful asking her for a kiss, as she will probably bite your lips off with no remorse.

Palutena (Kid Icarus)

In Kid Icarus, Palutena is the benevolent Goddess of Light, and her ethereal look is likely based off of the Greek deity Athena, from whom she borrows staff and shield as a staple of her classical style. Just a recommendation for mermaid-haired Palutena: Honey, be careful with all those shiny accessories and stay indoors during lightning storms! Coco Chanel’s wise advice – “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off” – has never been more appropriate.

R. Mika (Street Fighter)

The addition of professional wrestler Rainbow Mika in Street Fighter 5 stirred up quite a bit of drama, even before the game was released. Her goofy costume design has been defined misogynistic by some critics, while others found her too frustrating to play against, because of the character’s peculiar “vortex” fighting style. Love her or hate her, it is impossible to be indifferent to the bold outfit and the signature moves of R. Mika, as this blonde bombshell can easily whomp down any opponent with nothing but her butt. #SKILLZ

Widowmaker (Overwatch)

Dramatic visor move: check. Massive piece of accessory: check. A high ponytail reaching for the sky: check. Fearless sniper Widowmaker is, without a doubt, the Gia Gunn of the gaming world. Absolutely!

Bayonetta (Bayonetta)

Bayonetta is the typical video game character that makes you wanna scream “Yaaaas!” at the screen every time you see her. This sexy and confident witch has more head-turning outfits than Gaga could ever dream of, and she loves guns so much that you shouldn’t be surprised to see two smoking barrels secured to her heels. When Bayonetta is looking at you through her “naughty secretary” glasses, it’s like she is telling you: “Yes, I’m sexy as hell. So what are you gonna do about it?” But be careful with your answer, because you’ll likely have a bullet lodged in your head before you could say a word.

Juliet Starling (Lollipop Chainsaw)

Juliet, high school senior during the day, zombie hunter at night, is the spiritual daughter of Regina George and Ash from Evil Dead. This bubbly blonde loves the color pink, strawberry lollipops (“Are lollipops food?”), and her favorite hobbies are cheerleading and bisecting the undead with a bedazzled chainsaw. Forget the classic damsel in distress trope often seen in video games: Juliet is not waiting for her boyfriend to come and rescue her. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t mind wearing his decapitated talking head on her hip, so that they will never have to be apart again. Codependent much?

The Saints (Hitman: Absolution)

Nuns. With guns. And the sudden reveal of a latex fetish outfit. These ladies certainly know how to make an entrance.

Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)

Probably the most recognizable video game vixen of all time, Lara Croft will raid through any tomb in a skin-tight top, leather harness and khaki hot pants. Despite her appearance being at the center of numerous debates about the over-sexualization of female characters in gaming, Lara is hands down the most iconic adventurer of all time. Her effortless mix of casual and practical, yet sexy attire has inspired all of us, quickly becoming the ultimate last-minute Halloween outfit for legions of girls and gay guys alike.

Evie Frye (Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate)

The character design of Evie Frye in the latest installment of Assassin’s Creed is the perfect case of a well-balanced mixture of femininity and practicality, without falling into garish or absurd clichés. Her costume is feminine without having to display unnecessary flesh, while its fit and finish reek of perfection. Without a doubt, Evie represents one of the most stylish and best-dressed characters of all time, an example that will hopefully lead to a more authentic representation of women in the future of video games.

Self-ish

If photography of the 19th century has given eternity to the image, the practice of taking a selfie has given modern day narcissists the opportunity to look eternally cool and living a life for all their peers to envy. And for a little history lesson, the word ‘narcissist’ is born from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a vain youth so into himself that he couldn’t stop staring at his own reflection in a pond.

The Narcissus of today is still undoubtedly in love with himself, but as photographer Luca Guarini describes in regards to his photo essay, “But he left the forest and became astute, deciding to flirt with his own image reflected in the eyes of his loyal voyeur to whom he always leaves the entrance.”

So keep looking and wishing you had his looks and his life. That’s exactly what he wants.

Tropicana Style: Spring Prints

It’s time to start busting out the lighter layers and ditch those winter coats. It’s never too early for tropical prints, but dark backgrounds make things a little easier on the eyes for spring time.

Image Credit

Fern leaves, palm trees, and rose prints guide us into spring in soft pink and orange tones on dark base backgrounds. Think Elvis in his sexy days with bowling shirt styling or Leo DiCaprio in Romeo and Juliet (swoon!).

Left to right: Mango, River Island, Zara

Layering is a must this season, with plain white tees brightening up dark based floral prints. If you’re feeling a little braver, throw on a vest instead. Sun’s out guns out.

Left to right: Pull Bear, Topman, Uniqlo

Casual tapered trousers have a slightly tailored feel to smarten up easy wear styles. Roll the hem for a cooler feel and tuck in the shirt.

Left to right: Reiss, COS, HM

Sneakers are still a key footwear item for the season, and the catwalk shows see tailored suits and dress pants being styled in a more casual way. Go vintage and return to these classic 90’s favorites.

Left to right: Puma, Adidas, Reebok

Do You Hit the Gym Just to Get a Man?

Spring is both the start of warmer weather and the end of my gym freedom. Nearly every machine is packed with seasonal Sams looking to gain new muscle before the summer. Now dudes are scrambling to lift as many kettlebells as they can while filling their Instagram feeds with sweaty selfies. Meanwhile, I’m stuck on the only working piece of equipment––a run-down elliptical next to a wheezing woman.

One evening, as I waited patiently for a cable machine behind two dudes in Lululemon, I heard one of them pant, “once I get a man, I’m done with this crap!” Suddenly, I was reminded of my friend from college who said those exact words. Since my friend hated the gym, he vowed never to lift another weight once he nabbed a guy. He felt that only his prime figure would land him in a relationship. Now, I’m left wondering how many guys hit the gym just to get a boyfriend.

It’s easy to feel that gay culture is body-obsessed. Our magazines, social media, and advertisements are filled with beefy chests and chiseled abs. Online, it seems like every few minutes I’m flashed a pair of man nipples. It’s no wonder a fit guy might feel more comfortable posting a pic of his torso rather than a shot of his face. Heck, I’ve even contributed to the sea of shirtless selfies. Perhaps, because of this media, the idea of having a gym-made body feels like the easiest way to grab a guy’s attention.

Once a boyfriend is obtained, does the gym matter? Your lover has likely seen you naked, and you’ve smacked each other around in bed a few times, so why grow those biceps? While many couples keep the gym in their routine, others might trade barbells for forks. I asked a few of my coupled friends, and they say that since they met, their gym consumption has gone down and their dining out has increased. Was that the goal all along?

Personally, I love everything from fine dining to In-N-Out––but I also love feeling fit. The two can go together, but it’s a lot of work. If I stopped hitting the gym, would my commitment to fitness suddenly feel like a lie? My boyfriend doesn’t mind whether I pack on the muscle or not. Yet, I am left wondering if he’d truly be okay if I stopped lifting and started lounging. He’d likely still find me attractive, but he might miss the way I used to look.

Then again, isn’t change our destiny? Relationships that last adapt to morphing bodies––thickness, wrinkles, and everything else. Our younger selves are usually fitter than our aged counterparts whether we lift weights or not. In other words, we aren’t always going to look the same. If change is the clear trend, shouldn’t we just expect it? Or are we buying into something that was never meant to last?

5 Ways to Zap Zits

Typical morning: You wake up and have the birds and squirrels help you get dressed. You start to hum a beautiful tune on your way to the mirror-mirror on the wall and then BAM! A pimple or 13. WTF? How did it get here?

First off, you are not @drpimplepopper, DO NOT POP IT. Do not touch it. Popping a zit can push the bacteria further into the skin or cause an infection. If the blemish gets infected it could cause scarring, and that problem lasts a lot longer than if you just left the zit alone. Here are some at-home and over-the-beauty-counter solutions to help aid you in a speedy pimple recovery.

Over-the-Counter

Paula’s Choice Resist BHA 9

Tatiana isn’t the only queen who believes in “choices,” I don’t know who Paula is, but she’s got them too. The main ingredient in this wonder potion is BHA (Beta-Hydroxy Acid), and that is another term for salicylic acid. The controlled and sustained salicylic acid in Resist BHA 9 helps to unclog the pores while the plant extracts help to soothe. You can use this on a single blemish, or over larger areas to help clean out and maintain problem areas.

Malin and Goetz Acne Treating Nighttime

The pimple-fighting ingredients in this magical concoction combine salicylic acid with 10% active sulfur to help dry out the imperfection. The organic camphor will aid in healing while the zinc will help prevent scarring. Do not shake, just dip a cotton swab straight down, pull out (that’s what he said), apply, and leave on overnight.

Home Remedies

More of a Frankie, less of a Grace, inspired spot mask.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Here is yet another amazing use for apple cider vinegar. Make a solution that is ¼ apple cider vinegar and ¾ water. Soak a cotton ball in the mixture and then dab it on the spot, let it dry, and then rinse. Apple cider vinegar has antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties making it a perfect pimple fighting machine.

Mariah’s two favorite things, other than butterflies and champagne, inspired spot mask.

Aspirin and Honey

Take one plain white crushed aspirin and mix it with a pencil eraser sized amount of honey! The aspirin is anti-inflammatory, and it also contains the number one acne fighting ingredient, salicylic acid. The honey’s antiseptic and antibacterial properties help to heal, so the combination of both is an amazing DIY mask that won’t break the bank. Advice: Do not do this if you are allergic to aspirin.

Butch Queen, first pimple at the ball inspired spot mask.

Tea Tree Oil and Aloe Vera

Take one teaspoon of aloe vera gel and three drops of tea tree oil, and mix well. Apply with a cotton swab. The potent antifungal and antibacterial properties of tea tree oil help to kill the blemish bacteria.

The Unbreakable Perfume Genius

Had he written his new album, No Shape, after the election of Donald Trump, Mike Hadreas – also known as American singer Perfume Genius – admits that he’d have made an entirely different record. “I’m still glad that this is the one that’s coming out now,” he says, “and I still feel that a lot of the songs are useful. But I would have been more overtly political and less personally political, maybe.”

Of course, the personal has always been where Perfume Genius’ music originates from. Hadreas’ first two albums, 2010’s Learning, and 2012’s Put Your Back N 2 It, were both somber and intimate meditations on addiction, self-doubt and destruction, loneliness, and living with a sense of inherent darkness. For him, writing music was a way of processing his much-discussed past of substance abuse and depression, and through his poetic honesty, he developed a dedicated audience that relished the mirror image of themselves being presented.

It was 2014’s confrontational, Too Bright, that saw the singer take a giant leap forward sonically and emotionally; he was telling the same stories but with more of a snarl. Songs like “Queen,” “Fool,” and “Grid” were a stark comparison to the musical fragility he’d previously exhibited and were an overt attempt to make people feel uncomfortable.

Things recently, however, have changed. “It’s weird singing “Queen” live,” Hadreas admits, “because that song is not directed at all the people that would be at the show. The last [album] was a lot of me singing at people.” Instead, “this one is more music for me and for the people listening.” The writing of “No Shape,” he says, was more immediate, the themes focused on the present, rather than revisiting the past to pick apart history to process it. “It was more me trying to write about how I felt right then,” he suggests.

Speaking to Hadreas over the phone is an interesting experience. He peppers his sentences with extended pauses, mulling over what to say next, and it leaves you wondering whether he’s extremely nervous or whether he’s just carefully considered. It’s something that’s also mirrored in his music. Album opener “Other Side” presents both sides – it’s glittering and phantasmagorical production offers up strong musical tenacity and assaults the senses, while Hadreas’ trembling vocals shift around the magic. Likewise, lead single “Slip Away” holds much of the resilience of previous album Too Bright, but without the accusatory finger pointing. “My life has become, I guess, a lot gentler,” Hadreas says of the change. “There’s way more room for me to be kinder to myself and to be not so scattered.”

Taking a pause, he continues: “I don’t know, my circumstances have gotten a lot better, but my brain still feels wired like it’s not there for that. I still feel detached from goodness for some reason, and I don’t know why. I kept up distance as a protection for a while, but I don’t think I really need to be so guarded anymore. That’s why I write songs because I feel a lot smarter and thoughtful when I try and figure it out. And there are things that, to be honest, I don’t really have figured out, and my songs are an attempt to do it.”

He admits that he finds this feeling of ennui embarrassing. “It’s a very luxurious problem to have,” he adds. “That’s why it feels weird to talk about because it feels really bratty. But I guess I have all these complexes and ways of thinking for a reason. It’s not like I just picked it. I’ve built all these defenses because they served a purpose growing up. But I feel like I just don’t need them that much anymore. Or, I just feel like it’s time to try and shake it all off.”

This dichotomy between finding happiness and living in pain seeps into Perfume Genius’ work, with tracks like “Wreath” and the Enya-esque “Just Like Love” – both jaunty with small flecks of melancholia – sitting next to likes of the depraved and frenetic “Choir.” And later, the haunting “Die 4 You,” supposedly the next single, is a beautifully disconcerting listen.

“It’s straight up just a love song, but there’s still this dread underneath that’s a little dissonant,” Hadreas says about the track. “I like that. It keeps things from being corny, or if something is just purely beautiful then it usually just goes straight into the background. Or you feel the beauty while it’s happening, and then completely forget about it, or don’t want to go back to it because there’s nothing to figure out.”

No Shape is intensely personal, but since the rise of far-right politics and infringements on LGBTQ rights, the album’s themes of domesticity, love, freedom, and resilience have taken on a new political meaning, too. “I knew everybody was fucked up. Like, I knew there was a huge part of America that was racist and homophobic – I’ve known that since I was little,” Hadreas says, letting out an inappropriate laugh. “And I’m always writing in the face of that and in protest of that. A lot of the songs are still very rebellious against that, and even against myself and whatever weird fucking shit I’ve developed and what I thought of the world growing up.”

In fact, the singer confesses, the recent election is part of what has inspired a potential relocation from Tacoma, Washington to Los Angeles. “I’m not that optimistic about what’s going on,” he says. “Even if people don’t always feel as accepting, at least the laws supposedly protect us. But it feels like that’s in danger of going, too, so it’s really just up to you and the other people that are on the other side. The way with how shitty everything is, I just need to see more of my people everywhere as a protection. I don’t know; I want my people around me.”

There’s also a worry about checking out. Hadreas says that he, “still wants to be, like, doing shit,” but admits that, as we enter into the next four years, he’s struggling to find a balance between shutting out world events and obsessing over them. “If I do pay attention I can just fucking freak out,” he says, “and I just ended up getting into such a fury. You have to find a way to feel some warmth and kindness, but not at the expense of being outraged.” One coping mechanism, he suggests, is to attempt to find humor in life’s complexities. “It’s just something that I can have more control over. Even my darkest memories, I can write a really dark song about them, but I can also laugh about them because sometimes they’re so over the top and insanely fucked up. I think it’s just a way to not take life so seriously, which I’m in danger of 24/7. It’s a way to check myself, you know?”

“There so many times where I’m, like, plagued by problems,” he adds. “I’m like, what am I going to do about those problems? And I’m obsessing over it. Then, when I really think about it, it’s like, who fucking cares? But they’re so close together; they’re so inconsequential but feel so consequential. I think that humor is a way for me to fucking knock it down.”

You hear artists talk about how writing music is like therapy, but Hadreas likens it more to an exorcism; it’s difficult and dark, but weirdly freeing. And, in spite of his insecurities, complexes, wavering stability, and less than positive outlook on the future, it does feel like No Shape is a self-assured portrait of an artist reaching a new stage in his life.

So, does Mike Hadreas – Perfume Genius – finally feel like he’s found a place for himself? “Yeah…for now,” he says, that creeping self-doubt an ever-present force. “But I sort of realized that I was capable of a lot more than I thought I was, in terms, of what I could sing about and how I could sing it.”

“But I know that next time it could completely change, too,” he adds, playfully, “and that’s one of the funnest parts of it.”