What Happened When I Entered My Big Queer Body In a Mainstream Modeling Competition

Earlier this year I participated in an online modeling contest because, well, I’ve got a big queer body and I had something to prove.

What initially intrigued me was that the brand claimed to be about redefining what kinds of bodies are considered sexy and that made sense to me. I was ready to redefine something for myself. I’m constantly seeking that redefinition. It’s like how coming out isn’t a one-time thing, but a process. I felt compelled to keep revealing more of my truth in new ways. I had spent so long trying to evaluate my feelings about my body and I wanted to use this opportunity as a launching pad for the new self-assured sexy confident me.  

Right off the bat, I want to say that as far as competitions go, it wasn’t altogether terrible, though it was strange. Going into it, I knew centering my queerness could leave me at a bit of a “disadvantage,” but it felt important to me to represent myself honestly. The brand’s “Boys Will Be Boys” aesthetic didn’t necessarily scream queer, but I thought, Shit, I might as well give it a try. I’m alive, right? I’ve got a body that you can put clothes on, right?

I submitted some “boudoir” photos that my photographer friend Erin Holsonback took of me in an empty luxury apartment in Austin, Texas. When we originally set up the photo shoot, it was with the same motive in mind. I was sexy and, dammit, I was proud of my body, all of my body. I love these types of photo shoots. They function like an allergy shot for my self-esteem. I take my clothes off, I put on the show of body confidence, and through fake-it-til-you-make-it magic — taa daa! — I suddenly I feel better about my body.  

We shot the series on Halloween morning, and I was alternating between drinking coffee and prosecco as I imagine all successful people do when they roll around in bed while internally chanting “smize smize smize smize” and “you’re a giraffe, reach for the highest leaf.”

In the photos, I’m lounging around on a bed in some-guy-I-don’t-know’s apartment. I’m wearing casual grey sweat shorts and nothing else. My nails are painted, but otherwise, visually my look is somewhere near lawful neutral. I’m tattooed and chubby. I look like a lot of guys in their early 30s.

The photos are professional and I felt sexy in them. My fat was mine and I owned every inch of it. I know how thirst works, and I know that a large portion of the people who buy this brand are queer, so I choose the photos with that in mind.

I filled out the entry paperwork and decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it Queer. I wouldn’t be hiding any of myself behind a bro persona. I wouldn’t be smashing a tallboy of Lone Star while riding an ATV between a woman’s breasts. I had to be real. Y’all know I leave lipstick marks on all of my cans of Lone Star.

In the application, I talked about my motivations for participating in the contest and my body positive approach to life. I detailed my queer community work and how I wanted to help others feel excited to show off their bodies. I talked about pushing queer voices and hoping to use the platform to minimize the divide between the straight world and the LGBTQ+ communities. I made sure to mention that I’d been in films and on television, being clear that I was already a working performer. I was trying to present myself as an easy sell; I had already modeled (for friends), I had personality, I fit the brand (I thought), and I was ready to hustle.

After submitting, I stayed active by sharing the voting link on social media platforms. I had a system of hitting Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with new photos and a new part of my story each day. I knew where to go to get the most views. I knew what kinds of photos to post. I knew I could drum up likes from queer men online but instead of centering my masculinity, I tried to be what I thought was sexy. I’m wearing makeup in several of my shots. I wore women’s floral tops. I positioned myself as confident in my body. I wanted to show that after years of struggling with it, my weight was not a problem.

It was honestly fun. I got to be thirsty but with a message. And for the most part, it was received well and I got a lot of votes. Many folks messaged me with support and encouragement. I got a lot of congratulations on just being visible and unafraid (although I definitely was afraid). My mom shared it on her social media. My sister shared it with her conservative friends and family.

Something weird had happened: I was visibly queer, I was talking about activism, and people were celebrating with me.

On the other hand, it’s often hard to unabashedly celebrate your body publicly. Gay men in particular often drag each other down for… fun? For power? Because of shame? It’s not cool to be excited about something like your body. You can be excited about Drag Race, you can lose your shit over brunch or drama, but when you start to tell a story about your weight issues and how you learned to love yourself, all of the sudden it’s all eye rolls. You can post thirst traps on Instagram but if it’s connected to a statement about why your fat makes you feel powerful, suddenly it’s less sexy.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous piece about my experience wearing makeup, no one has ever been as cruel to me as gay men I don’t know. I wanted to weaponize my joy. During the competition, I saw a post online that reminded me of why I needed to do this: “Can we be done with all of these chubby gays becoming motivational speakers?”  I couldn’t help but think Shit, can my ass live? Some of us are just trying to feel sexy and helpful. You are perfectly capable of not paying any attention to me.

At the end of a two week campaign, I had amassed what seemed like a large amount of votes on my profile. Some guys had more; most had far less. I knew that the brand’s staff would be choosing a top 20 and I felt confident that I had a chance. Despite the fact that I wasn’t bro-y and I wasn’t standing with a woman in a bikini in my profile picture. Despite the fact that unlike 90 percent of the guys competing I wasn’t wearing some sort of nationalist American flag propaganda gear. I went to bed on Thursday and thought Wouldn’t that be weird if I made it? I could do so much with this visibility. I knew it was unlikely but the experience had pushed me to a new echelon of excitement around what you can do with confidence and drive.

I woke up the next morning to an email saying I did not advance to the final round. I scrolled through the photos of the top 20 and it was as I thought — American flags. Hyper-masculine. Lots of guys with women in bikinis. One guy had his chest hair shaved into the shape of a bikini. Most of them weren’t larger bodied at all. Six-pack abs were everywhere. A brand that claimed to be about redefining what a model looks like chose a bunch of very fit predominantly white men to represent them.

One of the top 20 was gay, which was relieving. He certainly wasn’t “chubby,” though he had a bit of a “former marine turned gay club boy” vibe. And honestly, I was happy. I got dressed. Went to work. Received a lot of messages from folks telling me that I was “robbed,” which was kind but untrue.

My boyfriend bought me roses at work and told me I was beautiful. The folks who loved me had followed along and were sorry to see me lose, and I was shocked to see just how invested in my experience people had become. All I could think was that I had won. Not actually — no, no, I definitely lost the competition. But I had won over my insecurities. I had won against my self doubt. I had put myself out earnestly, non ironically, and fully queer. And I was better for it.

In the application for the contest, one of the questions asked us to write a short poem about why we were Model Material. When I try to imagine what the straight-American flag waving, bikini-clad-woman-holding, beer-chugging competitors wrote my mind sort of spins out. I honestly have no clue what the fuck they would have written. But this is what I wrote. A silly but honest haiku:

I love my body

It holds all of my mush in

Thanks, body, you rock

Images by Erin Holsonback 

Philadelphia Leather Pride Night Celebrates 10 Years of Philanthropy

“This is the only time you will be able to purchase sexual items, write them off on your taxes and screw Donald Trump.”

It’s Philadelphia Leather Pride Night, and auctioneer Jo Arnone is on stage at Voyeur nightclub. Her comments gave way to thunderous applause and by the end of the night, she had auctioned off over $5,500 worth of goods and services like paddles, leather and fetish memorabilia, as well as tickets to events. That made for over $100,000 raised in a decade of PLPN, benefiting organizations like Project Home, Philly AIDS Thrift, and By The Grace of George.

Created in 2009, Philadelphia Leather Pride Night is part of an almost four-decade-long history of Leather Pride Nights. That first event took place in 1983 New York City as an effort to help fundraise for the Gay Pride Day March and Rally (today’s NYC Pride). They hosted the now-signature live auction. And though New York’s version ended in 2015, the event has spread to other cities, with Philly’s iteration having won the 2012 Pantheon of Leather Event of the Year.

“I had been to the one in New York at least 10 times before starting ours,” says Cowboi Jen, who was one of the founders and, up until recently, the executive producer of PLPN. She says she took on the charity effort as a part of her title duties when she was named the first Ms. Mid Atlantic Leatherwoman.

“I was very familiar with auction-style fundraisers and wanted to bring that to my home city,” she says.

The auction is a centerpiece of the event (100 percent of the auction’s proceeds go to charity, with Voyeur donating the venue free of charge). In its first year, all of the proceeds from PLPN went to the Leather Archives & Museum, but over time, that list of beneficiaries has shifted and grown. One of this weekend’s is Project Home, which will use the donated funds for The Gloria Casarez Residence, an in-development four-story, 30-bedroom building of affordable LGBTQ-friendly housing for homeless or at-risk youth ages 18 -23.

This year’s PLPN auction was accompanied by a cigar social, live performances, and an intimate conversation with community legend Mistress Mir. Having been in the leather and kink community for over 40 years, and frequently referred to as the “first lady of dominance,” the Philly-born dom reflected on everything from how she got her start in the community, to how she’s kept involved for so long without burning out.

“One of my strongest moments in my leather life was holding that banner and looking back and seeing three blocks of leather,” Mistress Mir says. She’s referring to when she posed as banner carrier during the March on Washington as part of the leather contingent. “Just blocks of leather; black leather.”

She went on to discuss the differences with her generation and the younger population of leatherfolk. (Though she came up under Old Guard masters, she would likely be categorized as New Guard.)

“I have a problem with the fact that they do not want to wait,” she said, referring to how some of the younger generations can become part of the community quickly, utilizing the internet to leapfrog steps and training in lieu of learning directly from a master or a club, as has been traditionally done. “They don’t want to learn or observe what they have to know. They don’t want to source where things came from or why it’s done, they just want to do it.”

Mir had been an early supporter of PLPN. She attended the first-ever event, and Cowboi Jen says her participation in this year’s was a must.

Mir’s conversation was followed by the auction of over 50 lots, the most of expensive of which went for $250. It was just before the intermission at around 9pm that the night broke through the $100,000 mark. Shortly thereafter, Amber Hikes, the executive director of Office of LGBT Affairs in Philadelphia, read an official proclamation from the Mayor’s office. The proclamation recognized this year’s event and the community it was created for and Hikes, who had previously been known for making headlines regarding her effort to add the brown and black stripes to the Pride Flag. She said that this would become her legacy as it was the “first time the city had used the words kink, BDSM and fetish in an official proclamation.”

Having now stepped down from her role as executive producer, Jen says she will continue to work in the community. She’s also heavily involved in the gay rodeo circuit (she’s the current Ms. Keystone State Gay Rodeo), and hopes to devote more time to that organization. In addition, she will also work more closely with Project Home.

“We are going to be working on a couple of initiatives,” she says. She also teased that “Philadelphia is going to be the first to do something very new in the country,” but declined to divulge details.

PLPN will return in 2019, again at Voyeur Nightclub, with two new executive producers at the helm of their second decade of philanthropy.

Photos by Corey Brent

Backstage at NYFW: Barragán SS19 Terracotta

Queer Mexican designer Victor Barragán (now based in New York) presented his eponymous brand’s SS19 collection at NYFW last week.

The Barragán SS19 Terracotta show featured models covered in clay, nail sculptures by Juan Alvear, and crafted clay earrings by Contorno Estudio. See backstage photos below by Elvin Tavarez.

Photos by Elvin Tavarez

Gillian Anderson’s New Fashion Line is For Power Bitches Only

Fuck Big Dick Energy — we need the brawny, powerful confidence of Gillian Anderson Energy.

Queer women have known about GAE for decades, but now, Scully herself is sharing a sliver of this inherent power with the fashion industry. Just like in Mean Girls when Cady breaks the crown into pieces to share with her classmates, Gillian Anderson is finally giving the public a chance to wear their GAE on their sleeves, with her new fashion line for Winser London.

#GAWinserLondon, unofficially known as The Power Bitch Collection, features a series of half-masc, half-femme looks to unleash your inner GAE. Here’s every piece from the fashion line.

The Dapper Death Eater Trench-Cloak

In this look, Anderson is giving us Lucius Malfoy glow-up vibes. This sleek navy trench coat can easily double as a cloak. Whether you’re the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor giving Slytherin kids special treatment, or serving dapper Diagon Alley-loiterer lewks, this multi-purpose coat is perfect for smoking cigarettes in a British accent or apparating into Hogsmeade to steal Every Flavour Beans from some dipshit Hufflepuff. This form-fitting outerwear is for Death Eaters only; no Aurors need apply.

 

The Bitchy Fictional Magazine Editor Wool Coat

While this piece is aesthetically similar to the Dapper Death Eater Trench-Cloak, it differs in its intention. Still for evils only, but the muggle kind. This English tailored wool coat is designed for wealthy city-slickers who can easily afford to have a personal driver, but masochistically choose to trudge through mucky subway water and hail a yellow taxi, still smitten with the bitter romance of New York City after decades as one of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women. The multi-pocketed piece is for any range of fictional magazine editors, from the devilish Miranda Priestlys to the maternal Jacqueline Carlyles. But it’s not for the faint of heart—the wintry outerwear separates the Lucy Wymans from the Jenna Rinks. It’s a take-no-prisoners, no-introductions-needed coat for legends bordering on cunts.

 

The “Step On Me, Mom” Blazer

This elegant but rugged Step On Me, Mom Blazer says, “The Fall Deserved Six More Seasons.” Trimmed with royal blue pockets, the English tailored jacket is for bisexual detectives obsessively tailing a serial killer while still finding time to seduce Archie Panjabi by an elevator, ’90s FBI agents juggling a career of chasing aliens while tolerating inferior male coworkers, and mighty MI6 directors who make Kate McKinnon weak at the knees.

OK, this blazer is only for Gillian Anderson—but if you buy it and post a picture of yourself on social media, it comes with 10 Instagram comments saying “Step on me, mom,” or your money back guaranteed.

 

The Boyfriend Jumper

Finally, a piece of “boyfriend” clothing that queer women can relate to. This midnight jumper isn’t called the Boyfriend Jumper because it looks like something a man would wear — it’s called the Boyfriend Jumper because Gillian Anderson ate your boyfriend. The black trim on the shoulder is steam pressed with the ashes of the guy you dated before Gillian Anderson stole you. Also available in sunny yellow, to remind you that the sun literally shines out of Gillian’s asshole.

 

The White Silk Blouse with a Mysterious Drop of Blood On It

This handsome pearly button-up comes with a tiny vial of blood to stain it with. The every-occasion blouse can be worn while undercover as a caterer on a heist mission; by double agents in the CIA; or while sporting Ray-Bans and sketchily watching a burial service from 50 yards away, so as not to be seen. The breathable material is form-fitting but roomy, perfect in case a fight breaks out in an alleyway, and it’s one weaponless woman against twelve armed men, wielding only the raw power of her fists and divine femininity.

The collared blouse is equipped for date nights at galas and museums; it’ll have haughty partygoers asking, “What exactly is it that you do for a living?” as you mysteriously return from the bathroom panting, your once-coiffed hair swept wistfully over your brow, as you lick your thumb and wipe away the single drop of blood on your cuffs.

 

The “Why The Fuck Do You Think You Have Permission to Look at My Neck?” Turtleneck

The Adidas-inspired striped sweater comes in chocolate brown and white, or midnight with pink, and can be rolled over your neck and lips so as to say, “This is my neck, bitch. You should be so lucky to glimpse my sweet-smelling, moisturized and expensive glands. Look the fuck away.”

Gillian Anderson for Winser London will be available this September.

Find Us Front Row At The Queerest Show At New York Fashion Week

Every year, New York Fashion Week boasts the best in style, both on the runways and in the front row. And while big names like Marc Jacobs and Jeremy Scott are fairly consistent in queering NYFW, their high-priced haute couture isn’t as accessible or unisex enough for most LGBTQs looking to fuck with fashion’s long-held ideals about the gender binary and what’s appropriate for whom and what kind of bodies to wear.

That’s why dapperQ, the leading queer fashion website dedicated to “ungendering fashion,” launched their own show which, this year, opens New York Fashion Week at the Brooklyn Museum on Thursday, September 6. INTO is sponsoring the fifth-annual show, Dress Code, which will feature more than 65 LGBTQ models, including Black trans femme model and writer Jari Jones; non-binary writer and producer Jacob Tobia; and androgynous trans activist, writer, and model Devin-Norelle, wearing looks from 10 different queer and trans designers, including A/C Space, Audio Helkuik, Jag & Co., Kris Harring, Nicole Wilson, SALT, Stuzo, The Phluid Project, THÚY Custom Clothier, and TomboyX in collaboration with Squirrel Vs Coyote

“We are extremely honored to work with Brooklyn Museum for the fifth consecutive year to create a platform that celebrates queer bodies and queer style,” dapperQ owner Anita Dolce Vita says. “LGBTQ and POC communities have a rich legacy of being creative visionaries in beauty and fashion, but our ideas are often co-opted without any credit or visibility.  Dress Code is for us and by us, bringing our talents, bodies, innovations, and voices to the forefront under one roof in Brooklyn Museum’s 10,000 square foot, artfully designed Beaux Arts Court.”

This year’s host will be dancer, choreographer, and My House star Alex Mugler. He’ll be joined by special guests from the show Pose. Dress Code, like other dapperQ fashion shows of the past, will also have cocktails, pop-up shops featuring wares and wearables from the designers, and access to select Brooklyn Museum exhibits. It all kicks off at 6pm on Thursday, September 6. Tickets are available now.

Images by Eric Jukelevics, Renae Wootson, and Molly Adams

Meet The Lebanese Veterinary Student Who Teaches Voguing In Beirut

Hoedy Saad is a 23-year-old veterinary student in Beirut and he’s been teaching voguing classes for the past four years. In a CNN profile, he talked about watching the documentary Paris is Burning, which explored the 1980s New York ball scene — and first popularized voguing.

“Voguing is not just a dance form — it’s self-expression,” Saad said to CNN. “You tell your story when you vogue and you let everything out.”

Beirut held its first Pride event in 2017 — an event that was met with backlash this year. More recently, top Lebanese courts have ruled that homosexual sex is legal under the country’s criminal code because it falls under the category of consenting sexual act. As compared to the rest of the Middle East, that puts Lebanon on the more queer-friendly side.

“I’m not sure of any voguing scenes elsewhere in the Middle East — and that’s because, in other Middle Eastern countries, people are more discreet about such issues,” Saad said. According to Saad, voguing has been met with generally positive feedback because Beirut has many LGBTQ-friendly places.

Saad talked about being queer in Lebanon and his experience with discrimination in Beirut with Gay Times.

“Personally, I’ve never had any problem being who I am walking down the streets of Beirut. I vogue and perform everywhere and people seem to like it. I believe it all depends on how you approach people and how you present yourself and your art to the world. Lebanon is considered a very accepting country compared to other Middle Eastern countries, but it’s still not that open,” Saad explained.  “You’ll get weird looks from people or some verbal harassment, but rarely any physical attacks which I believe is everywhere – even in the most accepting countries. So it’s important to find a way to make people accept you and understand you, and I think we’re getting there!”

Hoedy Saad’s work is growing more globally recognized as well. On Instagram specifically Saad has a picture with Drag Race winner Sasha Velour and is followed by Pearl and Aja. He was also profiled in a documentary short about voguing in Beirut by Helene Dancer, which you can watch below:

Lena Waithe Cut Her Hair — ‘I Felt Like I Was Holding Onto a Piece of Femininity’

Lena Waithe, the prolific Emmy-winning writer who is now balancing multiple projects, set the internet ablaze again when she unveiled a new buzzed haircut and fade.

Waithe spoke to Variety on the red carpet for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual grants banquet.

The decision was long-simmering, Waithe said.

“I’ve gotten gayer, guys,” Waithe joked. “I felt like I was holding onto a piece of femininity that would make the world feel comfortable with who I am,” Waithe said. “I think I thought for a long time, ‘Oh, if I cut my hair, I’ll be a stud, I’ll be — in the gay world, there’s a lot of categories — I’ll be a stud or I’ll be a butch,’ and I’ve always thought, ‘Well, no, I’m not that, I’m still soft,’ and I said, ‘Oh, I gotta put that down ’cause that’s something that’s outside of me.’”

She said the haircut made her feel “so free and so happy and so joyful. “

She added, “I really stepped into myself.”

“If people call me a butch or say ‘she’s stud’ or call me sir out in the world — so what? So be it. I’m here with a suit on, not a stitch of makeup, and a haircut — I feel like, ‘Why can’t I exist in the world in that way?’” she said.

Waithe became the first black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing when she won for writing the “Thanksgiving” episode of Master of None in 2017. Since then, she’s launched a series of her own projects and has even more in the works. Amazon recently announced it picked up two seasons of a horror anthology series, Them, from Waithe.

Fans Think Post Malone Needs to Get ‘Queer Eyed’

By now, I think it’s been made pretty clear that Post Malone is for straight people. He is an artist who was birthed by the heterosexual agenda, the chilling result of years of normalizing Bud Light, Kid Rock, and G-Eazy culture. He looks like a person who would ask every person he meets, “Have you seen Anchorman?” Therefore, Post Malone is straight people’s cross to bear. But it looks like his dirtbag persona is even too much for his own fans–who keep offering him up for a Queer Eye makeover because he’s “ugly” and “smells bad.”

Eventually, word got back to the show’s stars, who were confused by the sudden surge of requests for the rapper to be on Queer Eye. Last week, the Netflix show’s culture expert Karamo Brown tweeted, “Lol why does everyone want Post Malone to be on the show. Did he request it?” The 23-year old R&B star responded, “No, they just think I’m ugly and smell lol,” adding, “Love the show tho guys, keep crushing it.”

Jonathan Van Ness joined in on the fun, writing a characteristically positive tweet. “Also living for @KaramoBrown response on @PostMalone , he cute he handsome & didn’t ask for a makeover which is . I love his wavy hair and face tats he’s unique & I’m here for it #queereye

But now, what started out as a joke might become a much-needed reality. Soon after the Twitter exchange, TMZ reported that a Post Malone episode might be in the works. Post told TMZ he “loves” the makeover series, and sources say he’s already in talks with Netflix to make it happen. And he already has ideas for a new look. He’d like to transform from a garbage-sucking, pungent, post-teenage dirtbag to “a nice, ’60s, Austin Powers gentleman.”

Earlier this month, Queer Eye was renewed for a third season, which will take place in Kansas City. The new season will feature 8 new episodes to air on Netflix in 2019. The hit show is currently nominated for four Emmys.

Tokenizing Activism: QUEER, ILL + OKAY Talks to Kia LaBeija + Taina Larot

Everything from big-box corporations to independent artists are spending more time, energy and resources crafting stories that expand beyond the Beckery that we’ve been served on a platter for far too long. Recent examples of powerful intersectional cultural expression can be found in FX’s newest breakout series, Pose, starring the most openly trans-identified cast in television history, and Roy Kinsey’s breakout album, Blackie: A Story by Roy Kinsey, which explores racism, violence, the Great Migration, addiction, mental illness and sexuality through rap. 

Photo: Ireashia Monét

But as mainstream media shifts its gaze away from the cis-heteronormative landscape to provide space for intersectional narratives to blossom, what is the cost for those yearning to share their stories without the risk of being tokenized? How does an artist, community organizer or creative laborer leverage their experience without losing the keys to their identity? Who is the gatekeeper of authenticity in an age of commercial activism?

These are all questions I had the privilege of unpacking with Kia LaBeija and her partner, Taina Larot on the heels of a new, untitled performance piece. The duo debuted the movement-based performance at the 22nd Annual Dyke March Chicago during Pride in collaboration with the kickoff of QUEER, ILL + OKAY, an international public arts initiative examining the contemporary experiences of underrepresented communities living with HIV/AIDS. Continue reading to learn how both LaBeija, a multidisciplinary artist, and Larot, a visual and movement artist investigate how to navigate exposure in the age of commercial activism without compromising their work’s authenticity and integrity.

Illustration by Sierra Dufault for QUEER, ILL + OKAY

KIA LABEIJA, multidisciplinary artist

There is a strong presence of your personal identity in your body of work and practice: How do you decide what parts of your life and experience are for public consumption and which parts are not?

K: I really bare my soul in my art. I express my truth based on where I am currently in my life. Many of the topics I focus on are things I am working through or experiencing in real time. I choose to share pieces of me in my work that need a witness or that need to exist in the world to create a level of visibility. But there are many things that I choose not to share because I give so much of myself. It’s all about what you need and how comfortable you are with letting go. Once you put something out into the world it will live there forever.

The media often has a tendency of putting underrepresented narratives in boxes or portraying them as monolithic characters. As a multidisciplinary artist that works in a variety of mediums, howdo you want to challenge people who don’t allow artists to grow beyond their experience?

K: Art is about processing the human experience. Everyone has a story that is unique to who they are. I find that when people hear about the intersectional components of my life there is a need to ask the same questions. It’s always about living with HIV, Voguing and Ballroom, and my involvement as a queer woman of color. Literally only that. And although these are pieces of me, they are not the full makeup of my being or the only things I have experienced in this life. If you look closer you can see those are not the only themes that exist in my work. There’s a moment when you realize that people expect certain things from you, because without knowing it you become a “brand.” The only way to step out of that is to break the mold and not be afraid to speak up and let people know “I have so much more to say.” Put it in your art, that’s part of the work.

Photo: Ireashia Monét

What advice would you give to an artist that is negotiating boundaries of commercial exposure while also advocating for the removal of tokenization in a world dominated by white media?  

K: People will constantly try to make you feel powerless or less than because you are an artist and not an institution. It’s a double edged sword when it comes to the balance between exposure and exploitation. The media is more interested in getting the story then getting the truth. Many journalists these days don’t do their homework and our personal narratives begin to sound like a game of telephone. There are many instances where the media is more interested in having the control to repackage you for their personal gain. Today brown people, queer people, body positive people, people who live with disabilities or illness are a hot commodity. Being inclusive is a major trend, but we shouldn’t have so much visibility just because there are dollar signs attached to our beings. We have always been here. As an artist you have to constantly remind yourself that the power is in the work and that there are no rules to how you choose to navigate your personal exposure. You don’t always have to say yes. It’s easier said than done, but you have to remain confident in your personal and artistic value because there is no one else that can tell your story the way that you can.

Illustration by Sierra Dufault for QUEER, ILL + OKAY

TAINA LAROT, visual and movement artist

As a visual and movement-based artist, how do you use these distinctive lenses to further develop and expand your practice in a media culture that is dominated by click-bait and higher traction?

T: I was a youth arts educator for a good eight years, so a lot of my movement and visual art was used from a teaching standpoint. I produced work with my students to broaden their creative lens. Right now I’m focusing on producing my solo work and releasing it. I don’t really give much attention to the click-bait hype. People are constantly scanning the web for a quick media fix. Visual and movement art is so easily exposed and catchy.

Photo: Ireashia Monét

You are currently off of social media: How long have you been unplugged? What made you decide to remove yourself from the platforms? Do you have any challenges promoting your work while being offline?

T: I’ve been unplugged for about three years roughly, maybe longer. It was a very personal choice, it’s my meditative process. I could easily go back to my island roots and be chilling in a hammock by the ocean with a straw hat, jíbaro style. We are constantly plugged in, inhaling an immense amount of information. Sometimes you just gotta step out of the matrix. I think, for this period in my life, I’ve been so heavily fixed on developing my creative work the thought of promotion hasn’t been a challenge, yet!

What advice would you offer to young people that are interested in pursuing a career as an artist utilizing their personal and lived experiences to amplify underrepresented narratives in mass media?

T: It’s important to express your artistry freely, but remember to hold on to your power. There is so much access today, especially as a young person to tell your story through your art. It’s a form of archiving. Use all your resources to your advantage and be selective with what platforms you share that magic with.

Watch LaBeija and Larot’s untitled performance at the 22nd Annual Dyke March Chicago here and make sure to keep up with QUEER, ILL + OKAY as they continue to expand artistic collaborations and programming around the globe.  

More about QUEER, ILL + OKAY (QIO):

QIO is a multidisciplinary arts and educational series of artistic disciplines including performance, workshops, film series, and educational panels exploring, challenging and reinventing narratives about the contemporary experience of queer individuals and their relationships to HIV/AIDS and other forms of mental and chronic illness. In collaboration with a variety of international sponsors such as AIDS Healthcare Foundation, People’s Energy, and Grindr, QIO will be providing coordinated support and resources to local arts organizations in Bujumbura, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and Toronto to present their own programs alongside QIO during International AIDS Awareness Month in December.