The Russian Queer Zine Connecting The Country’s LGBTQ Community

The biggest misconception about queer culture in Russia is that it doesnt exist,said Sasha Kazantseva, who recently co-founded O-Zine with fellow activist Dima Kozachenko. Together theyre determined to prove that the countrys infamous gay propaganda law cant stamp out queer culture. Their zine spotlights the stories of queer youth, documents thriving nightlife scenes, and celebrates artists whose work might otherwise slip under the radar.

Speaking openly about queerness is still risky, but neither Dima nor Sasha seems afraid. Both are activists in their own right: Dima describes himself as a media activistand writes frequently about queerness and fashion for Afisha Daily, whereas Sasha is a writer, lecturer, and creator of Washed Hands, a sex education blog for queer women distributed on encrypted messaging platform Telegram.

Unfortunately, we didnt have this kind of information,she told INTO of her work. Russian-speaking queer women were getting their knowledge either from articles for cis-heterosexual people or from conversation with one another. Even doctors are surprised when I tell them that two people with vulvas need protection.

Life may be tough for Russias queer community, but O-Zine is a celebration of resilience and creativity. To find out more about its mission, we reached out to the co-founders to talk nightlife, censorship and the pressure to automatically become queer activists.

What sparked the creation of O-Zine?

Dima Kozachenko: I just wanted to create an LGBTQ publication that would unite activists, artists and anyone passionate about queer culture. I didnt have a clear intention, I just wanted to do something that felt right.

Sasha Kazantseva: In Russia, little is said about LGBTQ people—its all about human rights and hate crimes, which are of course important. But I also believe we should have an opportunity to read something positive, to get useful information and to feel less lonely. I dreamed of creating a magazine that didnt deny difficulty, but that also showed theres more to life here than hardship.

Can you tell us about some of the recent features and some that you hope to write in the future?

SK: I want to tell the experiences of different queer people, their projects and their inspirations, but I also want to write about LGBTQ-friendly artists and spaces. In Saint Petersburg, theres an amazing project called Human Library which creates an extremely supportive space, and in Moscow, there are great parties for queer women by LVBZR.

DK: Next year I want to focus on queer people all over Russia. The situation is relatively calm in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but in other Russian cities gay clubs are ravaged and people get beaten regularly. Even people with brightly-colored hair get mistreated, so we wanted voices outside the capitals to be heard, too.

How would you describe queer nightlife in these big cities?

SK: In Moscow and Saint Petersburg its easier to get lost in the crowd and feel free, but we cant kiss in the streets or hold hands because we might be insulted or assaulted. There are LGBTQ spaces, but some dont announce it because theyre scared of losing clients or facing legal problems. But some do—some even post rainbow flags on social media. We cant be really open, but there are places in big cities for queer people to feel like they belong.

DK: Berlin-inspired parties are gradually appearing in Moscow. The main night is probably Popoff Kitchen—the music is techno and the guests wear sportswear. They had a 15-hour for their one-year anniversary; Herrensauna and Gosha Rubchinskiy played. Theres also Cherti Party, created by journalist Miloslav Chemodonav. They play Russian hits and international hitslots of Zemfira, t.A.T.u., and Madonna.

Is it true that lots of queer people are using encrypted channels like Telegram to share media, and if so what do you think the benefits are?

SK: My blog, Washed Hands, is on Telegram, and its currently the largest LGBTQ channel in Russia. A year ago when I started it, there were more blogs, so we contacted and supported each other. Dozens more have appeared since; it looks like they all find it convenient. The advantage is that we can stay anonymous and be very open, because there are no comments allowed. On other social networks, you get loads of homophobic comments if you post on a queer subject, so Telegram really is safer.

As queer people, do you feel like you automatically have to become activists?

SK: If were talking about queer people generally then of course, but its different for everyone. Some fight for their rights, but others might just prefer a peaceful life; they might not have the energy to be activists. Still, I believe that being openly LGBTQ in Russiaviewing yourself in that way, self-identifying as that, reading about itis already an act of resistance.

DK: I would call myself a media activist. I might never join a public rally, but I can try to change things online. I think that also makes a significant impact.

We all hear frequently about the gay propaganda law. Do you think its here to stay?

SK: On the one hand, we can see from opinion polls that homophobic attitudes are on the rise. But more and more young people believe LGBTQ discrimination shouldnt be tolerated, so its a paradox: its getting worse and its getting better. Its hard to predict the future. Some analysts say well mimic China by becoming a very closed country; therell be more repression, and the government might introduce exit permits. I want to hope for the best, so right now I prefer to believe this absurd law will disappear sooner or later and that we will head for civilization.

Finally, what do you hope readers will gain from O-Zine?

DK: I want to make our readers more open. I want them to be brave enough to come out, to talk about their sexuality more openly. Life for queer people in Russia is definitely challenging, but this horrible time can be positive; it can drive us to create new, inspiring things.

Images via O-Zine

Queer Photographer Justin J. Wee Documents His Chosen Family’s Friendsgiving

We hear the phrase “chosen family” thrown out a lot in the queer community. For photographer Justin J. Wee, it took him a while to find his people after relocating to New York from Sydney, Australia. But once he did, he wanted to show just how much he loved and appreciated those who might not be blood relatives, but are family just the same.

This November, he hosted a Friendsgiving celebration with his chosen fam, where he cooked a cozy, soul-warming meal – and then took beautiful shots that illustrate just how much he loves everyone who was invited to have a seat at the table.

INTO: What does “chosen family” mean to you?

Justin J. Wee: Chosen family is the well I’ve journeyed to day after day in search of sustenance, strength, and support. It’s the family that has always folded understanding into their love of me, never once saying that they’d love me, but would not seek to understand me. Chosen family is the reason that 17 year old me chose to stay.

What is the significance of a chosen family for queer people that’s different than a biological family?

Queer people need chosen family in varying ways, so its significance to any one person reflects that for sure. On a personal level, my chosen family were the first people to help disentangle myself from a self-loathing and shame that my muscles knew very intimately. These two familial groups sat on opposing sides of the spectrum of acceptance, and in retrospect, I’m grateful for that. The rejection of me by one party, propelled me to find and nourish relationships that filled me in a way that I had missed, without a lot of the familial guilt that a lot of queer POC experience.  In many ways, coming into my queerness without the weight of familial expectation allowed me to become the person I am much faster (though it still feels like it’s taken forever).

Finding and connecting with friends that are considered family is not always easy. How were you able to find your people?

When I left high school, I had very few friendships that felt real and true, so for university, I moved to the other side of Sydney, a bus and a train ride away, to start taking roots.

Being conscious of the fact that I had a chance for a “re-do,” socially speaking, at this point of my life was a big part of the shift that started gifting me with members of my then chosen family. When you’re in an environment like high school, so many of the relationships you develop are situational, and not being able to take a break from those dynamics means that your body starts to adopt the same patterns of behavior. I had begun to react to people in ways that I knew they expected of me. It felt performative, except the performance was rooted in the satisfying of their malice, which harmed my sense of self. When I left that environment, I told myself that I’d work against the way my body and brain had been programmed, and I think that was really the moment I started being able to internalize what little of the self-worth I still had in my reserves.

Cooking was also a huge part of the journey towards chosen family. I’ve always loved to cook, and ended up living a stone’s throw away from my university campus. So when I realized that almost all of the people I had started befriending weren’t able to cook, making them breakfast before our class seemed like a natural thing to offer up. Cooking is a real labor of love. A plate of food indicates that you’ve spent time, money, and effort on someone. I always tell people that regardless of how good the food is, if someone has cooked me a meal, my gratitude for that gesture runs deep. It could be a super gourmet meal, or a plate of dinosaur nuggets. And I think most people would feel like that too.

Describe your chosen family in 5 words.

The shoulders I need most.

The holidays can be a crazy, stressful time. What does the role of a chosen family play during the holidays?

In light of how politically divided the nation is right now, I’m sure that chosen family is proving to be a sacred space for so many people. I think there’s a lot of emphasis placed on how people who live in liberal bubbles need to “do the work” and try to connect with people who believe differently to them. As important as that is, it’s also equally important that we value self-care, and that we’re real about how much work we’re capable of doing. I had a friend over Thanksgiving who kept texting our group thread because he was having a continuous fight with his family about him wearing two small hoops, connected together, in his ear. He overheard conversations his father was having with other relatives where he said, “gay people are just going to continue forcing themselves on to society until they are accepted” (in a way, true though, lol #thequeeragenda). It sounded really draining.

How does spending time with chosen ones impact your mental health and emotional well-being?

When I’m with my chosen family, I know that I’m around people I don’t have to explain myself to. There’s so much relief associated with that. I never feel like I have to make concessions, or uncomfortably compromise myself. My brain just doesn’t have to perform the same rigorous gymnastics routine that it’d be doing around blood family.

Having said that, it’s also been important for me to understand that chosen family now might not be chosen family forever. As we leave the door open to changing ourselves, the people we love do the same. So chosen family can be bittersweet too because the truth is that there is no ‘real’ sense of permanence to those friendships (though that is certainly the hope!). I’ve found that being able to reflect with pride and joy on the people who were once members of my chosen family, as opposed to sorrow and longing, is really important. Loving your chosen family also means accepting that transition is a thing, and that we are all on our own journey.

Because of that, I’m also really grateful for the small ways in which my blood family and I have experienced healing. Maybe one day I’ll have the sort of family unit that I was always so envious of.

 

See Snaps From L.A.’s Dirtiest Holiday Tradition

It’s beginning to look a lot like a Dirty Looks Christmas. 

Los Angeles’ premier queerdo film org hosted their third annual Holiday Bazaar last Friday night at East Hollywood’s indoor-outdoor gay leather bar, Faultline, and it one-upped last year’s fete at every turn. 

Tammie Brown

Inside, queer vendors filled the walls and barstools with soaps, ceramics, tees and sex toys—all the stocking stuffers you could possibly pine for. Wacky Wacko was on hand with their new Divine collaboration, along with stained glass by Harpal Sodhi, ceramics by Aimee Goguen, handmade soaps by Sven Soapright, vintage queer literature from Everlasting Family Secret, “wreoths” by Peppré Ann, and wares by Lambe Culo, which held down the political fort with FUCK ICE tees, prints, and handmade dog collars.

Lauren White, Mikki Yamashiro, and Machine

The cheeky sampling was rounded out by additional goods supplied by Machine, L.A.G. Vintage, Semiotext(e), Oak NYC, Homo AF, and the Pleasure Chest. And just in case you still didn’t find what you were looking for, a harnessed Santa Claus from theTom of Finland Foundation was on hand lending his lap to all your naughtiest wish list items.

Bradford Nordeen and Santa

Outside, the crowd lapped up an appearance by RuPaul’s Drag Race oddball Tammie Brown, who decked the halls with gonzo holiday numbers like “Coal In Your Stocking” and “Candy Cane Kisses.” Up next was iconic Chloe Sevigny impersonator Drew Droege, who read from a “ChrEEStmaSS LEEst” scrawled on the back of a SAG/AFTRA residuals check and asked dear Saint Nick for “an agitated arctic fox wearing festive nipple adornments by Carolina Herrera, the dismissal and dissolution of Lena Dunham, and a new year filled with legendary children, women in command, the president in prison, and dirty dirty looks.”

Drew Droege

Closing out the performances was LA-based trans punk outfit Trap Girl, whose lead singer Drew Arriola-Sands wields serious star power that’s equal parts Ronnie Spector, Jayne County, and Tally Brown. A DJ set by Neon Music followed, putting the icing on a seriously lurid Christmas season.

Neon Music

The event capped off a wild year for Dirty Looks, which pulled off a 24-hour porn theatre, a 31-day city-spanning arts festival, retrospectives for artists Chris E. Vargas, Zackary Drucker, and The Cockettes, and a 16mm screening of New York telenovela Latin Boys Go To Hell, starring photographer Mike Ruiz.

Reve Douglas, Ron Athey, and Karen Lofgren

The collective is hitting the road this winter for an epic university tour in celebration of its eighth anniversary and the launch of founder Bradford Nordeen’s forthcoming podcast Memorabilia, so it looks like Christmas will keep on giving well into 2019!

Navi
Slava Mogutin and Hedi El Kholti
Drew Arriola Sands / Trap Girl
PJ Raval and Jonesy
Rudy Bleu and Eli Shaffer
Pony Lee Musgrave and Elliot Musgrave

Three Queer Women of Color On Coming Up and Letting Go

If being gay were easy, everyone would do it.

But it’s not. It comes with a long list of caveats, including how much pride you’re allowed to feel. We have to fashion ourselves in ways we don’t really want to sometimes in order to feel safe. We have to simplify the breadth of our existence in order to feel understood. And even when we do, we’re still sexualized and demonized. So there’s a point at which we stop bending over backward out of fear of causing discomfort with something as harmless as our humanity.

This is what our come up looks like.

Ali

I used to be super cautious around straight people, especially straight men, because they’d hypersexualize anything I’d say or do. But now I’m honestly like “Fuck it!” and ditch whoever makes me feel weird.

Any time I’m around older straight people or any STEM event filled with stiff white dudes it feels like a space I’m not really welcomed in. 

Keeping up small talk so people don’t ask intrusive questions or dressing like a normy is my version of trying to be less visible. It’s so performative and slimy, but made me feel safe because I could slip through the cracks.

As I’ve gotten older, I love the realization that I’m in control of whatever I say, do, or spend my energy on. Nothing is worth my time if I’m uncomfortable or stifled. Not caring is hella beautiful.

Salina

There is no experience quite like asserting your queerness. I walk around in my skin and I am seen as brown. I am seen as a woman. From my hair to my feet I am seen and perceived as a million things, and rarely is queer one of them. Despite this, or possibly because of this, it has become the most valued part of my identity.

I feel stuck between constantly wanting to protect this part of my identity because it is precious and not for anyone else. Yet at the same time, I have this urge to scream it from a mountain. To step up to every little heteronormative thing that exists and resist it with force, with power. It wasn’t until the rapid change in our social and political climate that this pull has been heavily one-sided.

I respect the fact that everyone has their very own unique coming out experience and that family acceptance is the most important part of that process. I am also fully aware and incredibly thankful to have a loving and supporting family. However, if we’re talking about muffling our queerness I think that a lot of us can relate to that experience around family. I constantly find myself censoring my language; my opinions are silenced.

When I feel the urge coming on to protect myself, to say “You have it pretty good, be grateful,” I remind myself of how precious my queerness is and why I place so much value on it. My queerness is my power. And I scream from this metaphorical mountain that things can be so much better than they are.

Alexis

My queerness is a huge part of my life and how I interact with the world. When I have I have to constantly come out, I feel unseen. It’s sort of painful that I have to come out at all or be assumed straight and often after coming out, I’m still assumed straight anyway.

Work is definitely a place where I feel like I have to muffle my queerness. It often feels dangerous and humiliating when my queerness or queerness at all is brought up. Within my own family, I am one of the only queer people I know of and I have to pick and choose what parts of myself I want to be open about and it often comes down to hiding that part of myself or being forced to be the voice for my entire community by answering invasive questions.

I feel like I hold on to labels and stereotypes that don’t fit me. In straight spaces I’m more inclined to identify with very binary terms and very basic tropes because the idea of describing myself outside of those things and being met with someone not understanding or even pushing back is so horrifying that I would rather just keep those conversations for myself and loved ones.

I am very privileged to have friends and some family that I feel safe confiding in. Being my whole self, not worrying about being too gay or not fitting the expectations put upon me. I’m privileged to live in a city with so many diverse pockets of queer people, putting on events and holding space for people like me where I can truly let go. It’s a huge weight off your shoulders to be able to shed that kind of fear for even just a moment.

The way people characterize coming out, you would think it’s a one-off experience like chicken pox. Once you live through it that first time, you’re free to be gay all over the place without ever having to explain yourself again. In reality, the first time is the hardest but not even remotely close to the only time you’ll have to contextualize your existence for people. It’ll happen when you’re at the bank and when you’re checking into a hotel and every time you enter the world without a badge that says I’m with gay. It’s a perpetual ritual that makes you almost numb to the whole thing. It also makes you hyper-aware of yourself.

The side effects of internalized homophobia manifest themselves in a million ways, one of them being respectability. Appearing as non-threatening as possible is how you survive the unfortunate reality that every space you enter won’t be queer or even queer friendly. But there’s a feeling of deep catharsis that comes with letting go of the fight to simply survive the world. It comes with letting go of all those safety locks you put on your identity. Letting go of all the other ways you could exist. Finding yourself, your most authentic self, under the rubble of this external pushback is what culminates in the queer experience of letting go. That come up? It’s glorious.

Isaac Flores and the Queer Muses of Barcelona

I met the Spanish photographer Isaac Flores at a cafe called La Principal, where we sat outside amidst the cars and the people and talked about his work, under the Barcelona sun. Sitting between a coca cola and a coffee, we discussed the thriving underground LGBTQ scene of Barcelona’s nightlife and Flores’s medium of choice. His work — his name — is known within the intimate group of Spanish queens and performers.

When I ask what parties in the city I should attend, he suggests Believe Club, where there is a drag show every night, but admits that most events are word of mouth. If I’m not intertwined with the community (which I’m not as a tourist in Barcelona), it can be difficult to traverse the whereabouts of the gritty underground scene. But if anyone knows, it’s him.

“Color can be a distracting thing,” Flores says of his black-and-white images. “The first thing you may see is a hat, or a lipstick color, or a dress. But in black and white, the first thing you see is the face or the eyes.” Still, he says, “I like to combine. I’m very versatile.”

The images in the dark, among the club walls, display people in contrast. The whites of their eyes and the blacks of their outfits eliminate unnecessary detail. The viewer is forced to look into the face of the model, their confident faces, their sensual poses. In his Belladonna series, figures in lingerie and strings of pearl necklaces are lumped over one another, looking directly in the camera, their identities both revealed and hidden. BDSM and body modifications are captured in these works alongside performances, freedom of sexuality, and the gritty underground of the city.

The black and white works examine the “present” state of the party, while Flores’s photographs in color are more polished, refined. They act as the “before” to the party. They are before the ripped tights, before the kissing on the dancefloor, before the sun rises the next morning.

It’s interesting to note when he chooses to decide to utilize color as opposed to black and white. Joy, and glamour are rich in Flores’s images, especially in the portrait of Gilda. The 90-year-old woman fled from a town outside of Barcelona where her brothers were trying to murder her. Gilda found safety in Barcelona. 

“I can’t portray her soul in black and white,” Flores says. “I wanted to portray her in color, because I think she was living a life in darkness.”

Flores shoots on polaroids, film, and digital, documenting the hearts beating in Barcelona. Through his lens, his models are glorified and, more importantly, archived.

He grew up a little bit outside of the center of the city of Barcelona in Hospitalet de Llobregat, where his mother is a housekeeper and his father was a handyman. He explains that while growing up, he relied on small references to outside culture — like music videos (Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” from director David LaChapelle) — that pertained to his gay sexuality and exploration with more feminine qualities. He didn’t have any references within his community. He was reserved, and never enjoyed school. In order to fit in and stay out of trouble, he reshaped his identity. Because of this, he says, “I feel like I’ve lost an important amount of time from my childhood and teenage years.”

When Flores was 18, his mother bought him his first camera. “My mother has always been supportive,” he says. “I owe her everything.”

In 2017, he bought an analog camera.

I didn’t have any artistic intention, I just wanted to shoot,” he says. At 24, he is shooting what he knows—his friends, muses, and community. He was able to create a style for himself which includes the themes of his immediate surroundings.

When Flores finished secondary school, he became more intertwined in the Barcelona gay community, going to discotheques, falling in love for the first time.

“When you break with your environment you have to start again,” he says, adding that he feels blessed to now live in Barcelona. “I can dress like a monster and no one will want to punch me in the face. They aren’t going to treat you like a freak.”

In this city, he found a space to fit in, where he could thrive as an individual and be his true self.

“When it’s a party, I go to the club. It’s normal for me,” Flores says.

He usually knows everyone at the party; he isn’t a stranger.

“When you are giving something to the community, the community normally responds,” he says. By celebrating the queer community through photography, the scene welcomes him. Everyone loves a good photo of themselves, supporting a friend practicing their skills. He’s treated well in the clubs — he’s given drinks, admired by his friends, and, in the process, has built his portfolio.

Flores explains that word-of-mouth discos are preferred to the gay nightspots, as the city is attempting to crack down on clubs and their hours of operation. The non-profit social clubs that exist in Barcelona ( “cannabis clubs”)  are being regulated by authorities as the Barcelona City Hall plans to place restrictions on clubs which includes limited hours of operation.

“There are only 10 [LGBTQ] clubs in Barcelona. But when they don’t let you grow, it’s a little difficult,” he says.  “When you start, you think you will go big. But then you see a wall.”

Flores sometimes goes into the club without his camera; without the intent to work.

“The camera is an extra,” he says, “When I was a fashion photographer, I was a fashion photographer. Now, I decide. If I want to go to a party and not take the camera, I don’t take the camera. I take the camera when I know it’s going to work. I want people to see me as a person, not as a photographer.”

As an artist, Flores’s process is always intentional. He’s always choosing to shoot, or not to shoot. To create with color, or work with black and white. While the images are chaotic, wild with sex and parties, his practice is serious and thoughtful.

Flores’s work will always be changing, growing, and celebratory. In the queer utopian community of Barcelona, the parties continue and the shots are taken. At only 24, he is finding his ground documenting his queer underground, the images detailing the blur of the night and freshness of day. He is illustrating a timeline of queer figures in Spain, his work a historical mapping of the artists, performers, dancers, and identities that make up queer and trans Spanish people in this metropolitan city.

Isaac Flores’ book, “Barcelona Se Muere,” is now available.  

Header image of The Woolman Family

All Glown Up

I blame most of my bad fashion phases on coming out, because coming out is a long process. I came out to myself in front of a mirror after watching an episode of CSI and realizing that the crush I had on the dykey investigator superseded any pretend crush I had on any of my male schoolmates. The next day, I dyed my hair jet black and got busted by my mom the moment she saw me in sunlight.

My later teen years were spent on cultivating a “straight” look that relied heavily on dark eyeliner and studded accessories and making out with pretty boys with lip rings. But, the moment I came out to most of the people in my life, I cut the sleeves off most of my T-shirts and had a matching backward snapback for every one of them.

Even though I’ve nearly successfully deleted the snapback phase from all social media, that summer spent in badly torn graphic tees (most of which my mom threw out due to explicit content) was the first time I ever felt any sort of confidence in my appearance.

I got some friends together to talk about their own arduous fashion transformations and photographed them in all their glown up glory.

ANDREA

How old were you when you came out?

I was 18 when I came out to my friends and my sister, and 19 when I was outed to my parents.

What was your style before coming out?

I used to be very feminine, I wore a full face of makeup every day.

Describe your style transformation after coming out?

I started cutting my hair shorter, stopped wearing any makeup and progressively started getting rid of all my skirts and dresses. I also stopped wearing heels, got the dykiest boots I could find and started a vest collection inspired by Shane’s leather vest look in the L Word pilot.

Did your level of confidence shift after coming out?

My ego grew once I came out for sure. I realized how bad all the makeup stuff was for my self-esteem and once I let it I started to feel more authentic and it didn’t feel like I was constantly hiding anymore.

How would you describe your style today?

I think my style is soft butch with unnecessary ’90s nostalgia.

NAVI

How old were you when you came out?

Sixteen.

Describe your style before coming out?

Hodgepodge of sad basics.

After you came out, did your style change? Describe that evolution. Did you go through phases?

I went through more phases before coming out while trying to figure out exactly who I am, but I regret never fully committing to most of them. I definitely went through a full-fledged Avril Lavigne-inspired emo phase though. Coming out solidified a major part of my identity for me and that surer footing has led to better style. We started at booger though, so is that really saying much?

How did coming out and the subsequent style changes affect your confidence?

Coming out for me was a vital step towards living authentically and being happy. Since coming out as queer I’ve also come out as a fire sign. Fire signs are pretty confident.

Describe your style now in a sentence or less.

Someone once described my style as survivalist anime character, and that’s true most days, but today I’m giving you 100% pure leather.

KALEA

How old were you when you came out?

I think I came out around 15 or 16. I spent my 11th and 12th-grade years of high school out, and openly identifying as a lesbian at school. But I wasn’t out with my family until I was 18 years old.

What was your closeted style like?

In high school I shopped mainly at Zumiez for skate looks, Hot Topic for pop culture and rock/ emo look associated accessories and Forever 21 for preppy looks. I loved and still love to dabble to spectrum.

What did your style transformation look like after you came out?

The biggest change I experienced in my style was shopping in the men’s section after coming out. Before I dressed pretty tomboyish, but I was confined to purchasing from the girls/women’s section previously. And as a kid, I grew up in a household that shopped for clothing only twice a year; going back to school and Christmas.

Did you go through any phases?

When I began to work for myself I started to spend a bit more per item than my parents would have. I had a major hypebeast phase that progressed from diamond supply to and an entirely separate Instagram for buying collecting and selling Supreme and other Fairfax staple names.  

How did coming out and the subsequent style changes affect your confidence?

I think there was so much allowance in my childhood to be sporty and tomboyish, everyone in my family thought I’d be a basketball player. But they definitely tried to find the balance of that allowance for being a tomboy but denounce queerness as it manifested. I guess they failed.

How would you describe your current style?

When I was younger I didn’t want to appear like most queer women I saw in my immediate surroundings, I felt like they were behind on fashion. Dressing in what would’ve been considered fly for 2005, but it’s 2010. My current style is just trendy, I feel my best queer in a new look. What I feel is a current trend I’m really exploring is utility and industrial wear Mets sporty. It flows with the type of hands-on work I do and feels like expressions of the soft masc I seek to project.

 

NANCE

How old were you when you came out?

It was a slow process starting at 18 when I came out to my stepbrother, continuing until I was around 22 when I finally had enough self-confidence to out myself in everyday conversation.

Describe your style before coming out?

Clearly, I was someone who was just trying to not stand out and just go unnoticed in terms of style. I just wanted to be left alone in my sad brooding closet that was full of jeans, tees and un-noteworthy pieces.

After you came out did your style change? Describe that evolution? Did you go through phases?

My style definitely changed after I came out and it began to go through a period of growth mimicking the personal growth I was going through. It is clear that as I became more comfortable with myself, my own skin and my identity that those things were expressed through my clothing choices. I started to branch out from what I thought was the expected standard of utilitarian clothing and was less scared to take chances and draw attention to myself. I began to strive to look the way I wanted as I was striving to live the way I wanted rather than using style as just another attempt to hide who I really was from the world.

Describe your style now in a sentence or less.

If my father’s closet circa 1984 watched too many reruns of Buffy and got dumped by Faith.

 

ALBERTO

How old were you when you came out?

I came out to my BFF in high school at 16, but was still closeted. Then, I moved to SF for college but was still closeted back home. I came out to my brother at 19. When I was 20, I wrote a song for my parents and cried painfully throughout the entire thing.

How would you describe your style before coming out?

I looked like a baby lesbian. On my more masc days, I’d wear a beanie or snapback with neutral colors. Always some sort of skinny jeans (spoiler: they got tighter). Chucks, occasional boots, they looked like Timberland boots’ cousin.

How would you describe your style now?

Lesbian gender neutral chic. Each day is different though. Some days I’ll be more chill, others I’ll have A LQQK. I have piercings now, want a full sleeve, looking for my perfect hoop earrings, and have a lot of black. The common denominator though regardless of the day I’m having, is gender neutral for sure. Too femme/masc makes me feel uncomfortable.

Did your confidence levels change after coming out?

Confidence…wow. Holy shit. LOL. What a difference. I still have my inevitable insecurities, but now I don’t feel lame. I can look at pictures and be happy with my aesthetic. It’ll always be growing and evolving as I do. No more cringing.

 

MARTY

How old were you when you came out?

I came out multiple times, but the first two times I came out to my mom and brother I was 18 and 21.

What was your style like before coming out?

My style was awkward for sure; I was trying to look cool and bought things based on that, and brand names, and was also slowly moving away from buying things that I thought made me look more feminine. I remember basically nothing fit right.

How did it evolve?

After I came out and moved from LA, I basically started trying to look more butch, which I don’t even think that came to fruition cuz I had a friend tell me she thought I should just dress how I like and not how I think I should. I have definitely had phases, but I think they’ve all been fairly subtle since I’m always doing the t-shirt and jeans thing.

How did coming out affect your confidence?

As soon as I realized what my style was, I felt so much better about myself and was able to play with my look in ways that came from me and not external influences. That has continued to be a source of confidence for me.

Describe your style now.

My style now, I guess, is a fag who used to play punk.

The Bedroom Series: Eli

I’ve always loved the idea of creating space — whether via collaborative projects you can hold in your hands, or through written words in story form, or by carving out a digital alley then bombarding the internet with photos of people who are doing rad things. For INTO‘s Bedroom Series, I’ll focus on one trans guy per post who will invite me into the most private of created spaces: the bedroom. 

We’ll lay around, stare at the ceiling and I’ll ask questions and maybe they’ll even answer. Either way, I’ll get some photos out of it, and you’ll get to meet someone new. 

I first met Eli at a screening of the series I Love Dick. Since then, we’ve crossed paths at work events and hangouts. My favorite thing about Eli is he calls me Muffin, which in turn makes me want to call people Muffin. I checked out his bedroom in Historic Filipinotown. Things got deep.

The human: Eli

The bedroom: Historic Filipinotown, Los Angeles

The current Job: Whole Foods cashier

The passion project: My life? Just kidding, but actually my never-ending collection of trash stories, and also my life.

Your bedroom gets so much light! How early are you forced to wake up? I used to live on a ranch out in West Texas, and when you’re in the middle of nowhere everything is to the extreme. When there’s no moon at night it’s pitch black, when the skies are clear you can see so many stars. And at any given time you see ground-to-ground sky views, which means when the sun comes up it feels like it comes up everywhereAnyway, all this is to say as a teenager I got into the habit of waking with the sun, and now that I’m in L.A. with a much smaller view of the sky it’s nice that the sun comes in bright and early, and I still get up with it! So I don’t know, what time is sunrise? I wake up around 6:30 or 7:00. 

How long have you lived here? I’m lucky enough to have lived here for two years so far! 

Describe your personal bedroom decor in 3 words. Soft but loud. 

Does your bedroom have a secret? It ain’t as sweet and innocent as it looks! 

Favorite aspect of this bedroom? I guess my favorite aspect would be the light wood floors! Very grateful that the floor is not like, linoleum or carpet. Light wood floors, perfect for sitting on or sleeping on, or kneeling on, wink wink

Least favorite aspect? My room only has one window! The other two rooms in the house have two windows. 

Dig deep into your bedroom’s personality. Does it have a favorite bookMy bedroom’s favorite book would have to be Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves. It’s a YA novel about a teenager, Hanna — she has lots of hallucinations and is an “outcast.” High femme with lots of frilly violet dresses, she runs away to search for her mother in a town in Texas and turns out the town is, well, not normal.  I guess I think of my bedroom that way? Cute like Hanna, appears normal like the town, but altogether some weird shit is happening in there! 

Wait, what kind of weird shit happens in your room? The weird shit going on in my room feels a lot like Bleeding Violet because since the main character had been going through such weird hallucinations it’s not always clear to the readers what’s real and what’s not. Now a lot of, um, intense consensual things happen in my room! That’s definitely real. But one time I may have accidentally invited a sex demon into my room?! Or something else! This was a long time ago but it also took a few months to really clean out whatever weird vibes were going on. Oops! 

You’re laughing a lot in these photos. What’s so funny? All the smiles come from two things: One, I very much think of myself as an observer. I love to watch people! And two, because of how absolutely uncomfortable I was in my body before coming out as trans. I never really looked at myself. This is something I still haven’t quite learned how to do. If I catch my reflection or hear my voice on something I am always like, “Wait, is that me?”

What are you proud to have accomplished in your room? The simple act of putting up a real bookshelf in my room. Previously I had books in boxes and just in piles around the place! 

What makes your bedroom feel like home? The amount of light makes my bedroom feel like home and things that my emotional soulmates have given me. Horseshoes from Texas, painted flowers, artwork from friends, little lights that project stars onto the ceiling, my round gold tray that lets me eat snacks and drink things on my bed without fear of any of it spilling over. The eight pillows on my bed! The entire box of glitter on my shelf feels like home. Being able to have things freely out — like I have two floggers hanging on the back of my door, instead of having everything hidden away. Really, I could go on and on! 

Follow Eli on Instagram: @eleileen.

Portraits of Prominent Bisexuals Made Visible in Bisexual Lighting

Despite making up the largest portion of the LGBTQ community, bisexual people still face innumerable misconceptions about who they are — both from within the community and outside of it. The stereotypes and myths that continue to be perpetuated about them cast them in, well, a bad (and flat-out false) light.
 
To help combat this, INTO enlisted 13 public-facing bisexuals to bask in the glow of bisexual lighting, and to tell us what being bi+ means to them. For most, it holds an important significance that is often overshadowed by outsiders’ perceptions.
 
#BiWeek offers an important opportunity for people to openly embrace how beautiful, complex, and important their identities are and can be. 

 

Joelle Monique, Pop Culture Critic 

“We see love as an endless array of possibility. That’s a beautiful place to exist. I’m Joelle Monique. I’m bisexual and I’m proud.”

Ella Mielniczenko, Executive Producer at BuzzFeed

“My biggest struggle with being bisexual is never fully feeling enough of one thing. I’m also part Latin American and white, so growing up I’ve never known what box to put myself into. I never felt white enough to be fully white and I never felt Latin American enough to call myself Mexican American. My hair is curly but then when I called myself curly-haired people said it wasn’t curly enough. Or people in the LGBT community have said the story I want to tell doesn’t represent them and straight people have suggested I’m doing it for attention. I’ve just been through cycles of people telling me I don’t fit in their category. I’m still learning to speak up and feel comfortable that my story is different and unique to me and that’s okay.

For a long time, I didn’t publicly talk about my sexuality, in my early twenties especially. At BuzzFeed, we have very vocal and prominent LGBT+ role models. But even being in this accepting environment I felt anxious to talk about who I was dating or tell my own story because of those past experiences. I don’t like that I feel like I have to prove myself, prove my queerness, or prove my heritage to anyone. So at this point, I’m going to let my chemical straighten grow out, talk openly about my experience because that’s the only one I can speak to, and try to build a happy life for myself.”

Jordan Shaloub, Digital Producer and Fitness Influencer

“I think bi visibility is important to me because we’re still struggling to be seen as valid. We fall in this in-between place where the LGTBQ community doesn’t feel like we’re queer enough but we aren’t straight enough to fit in outside of the community. And it’s especially important because even though we are more than just our sexual/gender identities, they still are a huge part of who we are. I’m a bisexual woman in a hetero relationship but I’m still screaming my queerness from the rooftops because it’s about more than just who I’m partnered to. I came out when I was 16. I came of age surrounded by queer culture. Being bisexual informs the way I walk, talk, and present myself. It informs all of my past and future experiences. And this is still true for people who come out later! Sexuality is about more than partnerships. 

Tai Farnsworth, Writer/Teacher/Patriarchy Smasher

“Being bi is about honoring every aspect of myself. It’s about not having my partner’s gender dictate my sexuality. I’m bi regardless of if I have a boyfriend, girlfriend, theyfriend, or nofriend. My bisexuality is about love and community and happiness. It’s about letting my relationships bloom from a deep, true place. I spent a lot of my life confused about bisexuality — the whole phase thing– but when I finally let go of that fear, there’s never been such joy. These days I quite literally wear my bisexuality in the form of a bi triangle tattooed on my thumb. Bisexuality is so much of who I am. I love occupying that liminal space.”

Alex Schmider, Influencer Relations Specialist at Grindr and INTO

“I’m like a zero to one on the Kinsey scale. But if I’m really, truly acknowledging and thinking about the expanse of gender, my being attracted to someone who is genderfluid, queer, or non-binary means expanding my own sexual orientation to be inclusive of everyone who I might meet and connect with. I see being bi as being open to the possibility of loving the right person who comes into my life, no matter their gender.”

Maalik Evans, Actor/Screenwriter

“The capacity to love anybody is what I’m most proud of about being bi+. It’s a beautiful thing. Drown out the noise of what other people are saying. As long as you know who you are and what you want, just focus on that and let the other stuff fall away. After a while, I got tired of the self-hate and hiding, and finally, I got to the point of knowing it’s my life not anyone else’s and I have to live it.”

Shane Henise, Campaigns Manager at GLAAD and transgender advocate

“As a bisexual+ person, I have experienced love and attraction in many forms. Identifying as pansexual has been immensely liberating in my expression, allowing me to describe my attraction to people of all genders. It is important as a trans person to support the notion that all people, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, are beautiful and worthy of love. For me, gender and bodies are much less important when it comes to love than who a person is inside. I am attracted to people’s personalities, passions, and ways of being first. If that is honest and authentic, the rest comes along as well.”

Hazel Jade, Broadway Writer and Investor

“For me, being open about how I identified was so liberating. I remember the first time I saw a bi person living out loud and it gave me the license to be myself. For all my bi and queer-expansive youth, I’ll tell them like my queer elders told me: Take. Your. Time! Be true and authentic to who you are; you don’t have the be the epitome of social constructs of gay or straight, or even bisexual, or beauty or masculinity, or even male or female. You can be fluidly and beautifully you! Don’t try to compete; don’t make decisions without consulting your soul, and surround yourself with people who love you and want to see you be your best version of yourself.”

Nicole Kristal, founder of #StillBisexual

“My advice to people when considering whether they are a part of the bi+ community is to just listen to themselves. No one knows your identity but you because no one else is in your heart and mind. Don’t let folks project their own identities onto you or erase who you are. You are valid.”

Yessica, Digital Video Producer and Host

“I’m proud to be Bi, I only can live my truth and hope others mind their business and do the same. Happy #bivisibilityday to everyone in our lil’ queer umbrella!”

Brian Thompson, Music Industry Professional

“I feel like it’s important to recognize bi+ people during #BiWeek and in general because when I was growing up I didn’t even realize that being bi was an option. It always seemed so binary to me and your only options were gay or straight. We need people to realize that there are more than just two options and be able to find a label that makes them feel comfortable. We only got one opportunity at life and it’s way too short to be feeling uncomfortable in your skin and with your own identity. Remember that sexuality and identity is complicated and multi-layered. And remember that you’re figuring this out for you, not your friends or family.”

Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis

“I love celebrating #BiWeek! For me, finding ‘bisexual’ as a label I vibed with and then a community out of that has been one of the most rewarding things in my life. I had to get past a lot of negative myths about what being bi meant that I had internalized. I hope that some of the great stories we have now from bi+ advocates and characters will help empower and educate to ultimately create a society where bi+ people can be safer, healthier, and happier.”

Images by Alex Schmider. Header Image: Travon Free, TV writer

Front Row At Sasha Velour’s NYFW Drag Show For Opening Ceremony

All of your RuPaul’s Drag Race fav’s were present at the Opening Ceremony spring 2019 show.

The fashion show hosted by Season 9 Winner Sasha Velour during New York Fashion Week, featured a slew of Drag Race Queens including Miss Fame, Shea Couleé, Jiggly Caliente, Farrah Moan, and 40+ LGBTQ models.

The audience was also treated to a surprise performance by pop diva Christina Aguilera who seems to be popping up wherever drag queens are found lately.

Other stars in attendance were Alok Vaid-Menon, Miss Nicki Minaj, and even Whoopi Goldberg.

Photos by Elvin Tavarez

‘The Way We Live Now’ Highlights Contemporary QPOC Portraiture

While reports indicate that Tyler Mitchell, the 23-year-old creative from Atlanta, Georgia, could soon be announced as the first black photographer to shoot a cover of VogueNew Yorkers can get a taste of his work in an ongoing exhibition titled “The Way We Live Now,” currently on display in Manhattan. An open submission exhibit that received over 1,000 entrants, the Aperture-organized show features 18 photographers and artists from around the world whose work revolves around conversations happening in culture today.

“What emerged was a broad look of several things,” Antwaun Sargent, an art and cultural critic and co-curator of the exhibition told INTO. “Globalization, modernity, gender politics, race politics, immigration, nations in the midsts of rapid change. Even within that, there’s this exploration by several of the photographers around gender and sexuality and how those things intersect with race, nationality or other areas.”

Camila Falcao

Working with co-curators like Siobhan Bohnacker of The New Yorker, Brendan Embser of Aperture, and Marvin Orellana of New York magazine, the full showing is expansive. Works look at mass incarceration, the crisis of the opioid addiction, the blended cultures that immigration causes, as well as the contradictions of 21st Century life. In one series of images, David Monteleone shoots scenes along Xi Jinping’s proposed Belt and Road initiative. Another photographer depicts recently removed Confederate monuments as cenotaphs, or empty tombs. Mitchell’s photos depict youth culture, particularly young black men, capturing them with what he calls an “honest gaze.”

A few of the artists have created works around gender and sexuality. A photograph and series of videos by Shikeith Cathey explore the eroticism of the black male form while making sure to sidestep any cliches and stereotypes. A series of still lifes by Jonathan Gardenhire use a combination of texts from the likes of James Baldwin and Jane Jacobs, as well as images he’s taken himself and imagery from works like Robert Mapplethorpe’s Black Book, to visualize the cultural influences surrounding ideas about black men as well as queerness.

Images from Camila Falcao are a part of a larger project titled “Abaixa Que é Tiro,” which loosely translates to “be careful because something wonderful is about to happen” and depict Brazilian trans women in their various states of transition.

“I’ve started this series because I want to help in deconstructing patterns and prejudices against these women and help to build a more realistic perception,” Falcao said, noting that Brazil leads the world in the murder of trans women and also in the consumption of pornography that features trans women. “I also want to show the enormous diversity between them; bodies that have been transitioning for some time, bodies that are not going to change but are still bodies of women, women with penises, with or without breasts, many possible women.”

Bubblegum Club

Gowun Lee’s images, which are portraits of the backs of queer Koreans in public places, are also a statement about her community.

“For foreigners, Korea may not look like a conservative country because of the K-pop Korean drama but it really is conservative,” Lee said. “Although LGBTQ people are living in Korea as members of society as family, friends, and colleagues, many of them are hiding their gender identity because there’s no law to protect their rights. Many Koreans still express bitter hostility toward LGBTQ people, while others simply deny their existence.”

Lee’s portraits are both a representation of how Korea treats its queer population (by turning its back) and the status of queer Korean lives (faceless within the community).

But Falcao is cisgender and Lee is heterosexual in a time where marginalized communities are increasingly demanding to be the decision makers and principals behind projects that are about them.

“There’s a history in photography of a group of people who are not of a group or not of a community, going into cultural spaces and imaging people in the wrong way,” Sargent said of the historical context. “And there’s another history where communities just haven’t had the opportunity to image themselves; the history of photography is largely white men dictating what images people see of the world.”  

Jonathan Gardenhire

And so what exactly makes these images, poignant though they are, different?

“I think we are all affected by these issues, these shifts in culture, shifts in perspectives, shifts in how we identify ourselves,” Sargent said. “To that extent, because everyone is affected in some way or another, I think we are all grappling with these issues. It’s not just the people who are at the front lines of it; it’s not just black men that are affected by perceptions of their sexuality or gender. And it’s also important to acknowledge that these stereotypes were created as a part of the whole culture.”

“But I think the shift here, in this particular exhibition with some artists who are of those groups and some artists that are not, is really respect for the people in those images,” he continued. “When we talk about the way that we live now, we’re very much talking about the way that even in how we take pictures, the relationship between the artist and the subject has changed.”

The Way We Live Now is on exhibit in Manhattan through August 15 at Aperture’s gallery.

Images care of Aperture