Happy (almost) Halloween! ‘Tis the season for spooky stories — which, depending on your experience, might be a bit different. For the queer women we gathered for this campfire session, the things they summon up in their stories are particularly scary for queer women.
One story features bisexual erasure. Another sees a woman deal with a partner with particularly long nails. And one tells the tale of a lesbian couple whose greatest fear comes in the form of a man — one who thinks, despite their public displays of affection, that they’re related.
But when it comes time for the token guy of the group to tell his own scary story, the women around him find it all pretty familiar: being stalked down the street, threat of being killed, unhelpful police. The familiar experience doesn’t exactly spook them, to say the least.
“So your whole lives are like a horror movie?” he asks, dumbfounded. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
It’s been almost two years since her husband, Donald J. Trump, was elected to office, and the world has been on quite a, um, ride ever since.
Now, with the midterm election approaching and tension exploding across the country between Democrats and Republicans, we thought we should tap our special correspondent Melania Trump — impersonated by Maebe A. Girl — to attend the yearly Politicon convention to see how people are feeling about everything.
And like the last two years, this experience was also quite a ride.
Watch above to see how both Republicans and Democrats were grilled on whether they were truly doing their best to ‘Be Best,’ and learn what app Melania keeps catching her husband on.
On a cold rainy New York City night, I walked into Vanity Projects, a nail salon in Chinatown where my friend and renowned art curator Tim Goossens, invited me to view a curated series of music videos on display which patrons viewed while getting art deco designs painted onto acrylic talons. When the polish dried, we stood around, clawing plastic cups, sipping white wine while swimming in the nostalgia of a Cher video being projected on the wall.
Suddenly, the lights dimmed and the sounds streaming through surrounding speakers shifted from familiar to foreign. A sea of long, dark hair began emerging onto a carefully lit platform in the corner of the salon as a warm and tropical soundscape took over the room. A spell was cast upon us as Martine Gutierrez spun around enchanting us as each follicle of her jet black hair swung merely inches past our noses. She stared into us with a steady, somber gleam in her eyes as she slowly raised a microphone up to her lips. We were pulled even deeper into the mood as a soothing voice escaped her, a sound undulating between whisper and moan, and like a rising tide, she held us captive the rest of the night in metaphors of eager and idol love.
Discovering Martine and her majestic self-produced music was a breath of fresh air for me. I had been looking for an artist who represented what my label Park Side Records stood for, a ruthless creative who was independent in their ideas and passions, yet spoke directly to the hearts of listeners who may not realize what music beyond the mainstream could offer. I immediately felt a responsibility as well as a need to share the emotive beauty of her and her music with the world so I asked if I could re-release her debut EP, Blame The Rain. Much to my delight, she obliged, and this summer I also got to release two of her singles, “Head 2 Toe” and “Origin,”the latter of which I am featured on and whose video, directed by Martine as well, is part fantasy, part documentary as it contains footage of our first collaborative live performance art piece which took place on the streets of the Dallas Aurora Festival, also curated by Tim Goossens.
Martine is a force to be reckoned with, and getting to know her has felt similar to Alice falling deeper into Wonderland, where just when you thought you found your way out, behind the door is another endless pool of wonders.
For Martine, music is sort of a secondary effort when it comes to creative priorities. The first being her work as a photographer who focuses on conceptual self-portraiture. Here is where she really takes center stage, voicing her public opinion through the time-consuming details of her works. After her solo exhibition Indigenous Women, a self-produced 146 page glossy fashion magazine, debuted at the Ryan Lee Gallery this past September in New York City and was met with praise by the New York Times, she secured her spot as one of New York’s newest art elites while simultaneously proving she exists beyond labels and pronouns.
She’s a revolutionary artist who manages to boldly take ownership of her narrative while leaving herself open and vulnerable to prying eyes. She motions between innocence and mistress, empathy and revenge all while continuing to evolve as her own divine muse and once you dive in there’s no easy way out. So with fair warning, I dare you all to fall into Martine.
NOMI: I refer to you as a multimedia artist. How would you describe yourself in a way that encompasses all the things that you do?
MARTINE: I’m a star. [laughs]
NOMI: Yes, you are!
MARTINE: I’m a star that just discovered herself opposed to waiting for that muse moment that every good movie with a makeover scene has where you know, the man finds her in the dark nightclub and he’s like “Wow, look at this potential!” I just beat him to the punch and I said: “Let me do it myself!” [laughs]
NOMI: Genius. So you take control of your own narrative. I feel like that’s a throughline through all your work, where you’re sort of like ‘This is something usually seen through the male gaze, but I’m gonna do this in a way where you’re seeing it through my perspective.”
MARTINE: I think making things has always been a huge conduit for me to discover how I want to identify and how I want to evolve as a person. And it just so happens that everyone’s watching right now. I’ve been doing this a long time, which is the gag, I guess, because right now everyone’s saying “How are these things so glossy? How are you doing everything yourself? How are you XYZ?” And it’s just time. It’s just taken a long time.
NOMI: Yes, actually I was going to ask you this later on but I think we’re on it now. In your work, you sort of objectify yourself in a way that feels really empowering because you’re taking control of something that is usually in the male gaze and you sort of use it to mix yourself with pop culture and what people usually consider to be mainstream. Is that sort of like an act of vengeance?
MARTINE: Oh my god, love vengeance! Love vengeance! I think that’s more your narrative than mine though. [laughs]
NOMI: [laughs] I love revenge!
MARTINE: You love a revenge. You love returning like a storm.
NOMI: Do you feel like you’re not allowed in mainstream spaces for whatever reasons? And so you create them yourself and, like you said, instead of waiting for someone to discover you, do you feel like you haven’t been allowed into certain venues but you took control of it?
MARTINE: I used to think that I didn’t have access to those platforms until I guess I started modeling and I got to have my runway moment, I got to have you know, work with some like high-end fashion people and I guess that’s what I thought I wanted. I thought I wanted to work with the best of the best because that would make me feel better about myself. Or that would somehow validate me and it just made me feel so much more other. It made me feel, you know, objectified because of my identity, if that makes sense. For minorities who sit at the often isolating crux of intersectionality, how do we ensure that our voices are not jeopardized by “opportunity.” And how can we work against the very power structures that propagate beauty and normalcy to the masses, and I think in the pursuit of personal gain, we look at collaborations as positive opportunities, but for those of us who are minorities, we’re almost always objectified, tokenized, or used to diversify or assume allyship, and that’s how I was in the campaign, right? I was the check off the box — “Oh we have a Latin girl, oh we have a trans girl.” The brand is like “Look at how open, look at how progressive we are?” But never posts my name or practice as an artist.
NOMI: It’s like they’re operating under a cloak of allyship. They’re like “OK, we’ve done this thing in the past where we objectify people so we’re going to diversify so we feel like we’re on the up and up, but we’re doing the same thing but through this idea of working as an ally, working with our community.” You’re like this is being done by men and the male gaze—
MARTINE: Absolutely, because the male gaze is at the center of everything. It’s also the heteronormative gaze, sexual — what would you call it? — narratives within advertising. The girl is always sexualized within the narrative, but she’s not sexualized for girls to look at her. She’s sexualized for a dude to look at her, or for a dude to fetishize lesbianism. Does that make sense?
NOMI: I also sometimes feel like even queer people and even women — sometimes we’re approached by women or the queer community and it’s safer to be a part of these things, but they’re also operating in a way that they’re trying to use the male gaze as well.
MARTINE: Mhm. It’s hard because using it is also a tool to dismantle it because how else are you going to get to that audience if you don’t get their attention?
NOMI: I wanted to know — the video for “Origin,” which deals with gaze in a very different way from different perspectives. I feel like it touches on voyeurism and self-obsession when it comes to the video. So that being said, do you prefer being a voyeur or a subject?
MARTINE: I love being a voyeur. I love being a voyeur. I love watching. [laughs]
NOMI: [laughs] You’re a spy.
MARTINE: I’m a spy! I think that’s why I like — I like changing my identity or changing my appearance because it means I get to have a certain amount of anonymity so I get to watch. I get to watch without being watched, which is so funny—
NOMI: Within that, you also like watching yourself.
MARTINE: I do. I mean, I love a mirror, as you well know.
NOMI: I mean, yes. There was a mirror literallyon the bed—
MARTINE: There was a double-sided mirror that had to be on the bed. Even the gaze into our phones — a selfie is a mirror, in a way.
NOMI: A selfie is a mirror. And I feel like the mirror in the middle kind of insinuates us also seeing ourselves within each other. Do you sort of feel like you’re drawn to people in ways where you see yourself in them?
MARTINE: Yeah, I think that was a huge part of—I mean, there’s the physicality of it, right, we both have dark hair, we both have brown eyes, caramel skin, long legs, plump lips. But then there’s the other side where because of our backgrounds, whether that means we’re Latina or being exoticized for being, you know, mysteriously looking women, we have similar experiences, and so I think I’ve always — I guess I’m hoped to learn something about myself, like in someone else. I don’t know if that’s unhealthy or not.
NOMI: Right. It’s a little bit — I guess it’s different when you try to validate yourself instead of learning. There’s a difference. In the video, there’s a few dimensions where there’s us watching ourselves. It kind of turns into this whole cyber world. It kind of insinuates a little bit of sex in a way, or lust. Do you enjoy cybersex?
MARTINE: Oh, it’ sex talk? We’re having a sex talk?
NOMI: [laughs] How did that turn to — I feel like it started with a performance, and then you added, and it kind of turned voyeuristic into a very lustful place. So I feel like it turned very cyber-sexy.
MARTINE: Yeah, it’s very cyber-sexy. It’s nod to the platforms in which we meet people now. Whether it’s Tinder or What’s App or Grindr or, like, OKCupid or, I don’t know. What’s that elitist artsy one I wanna be on?
MARTINE: Someone invite me. Invite me on, because I’m curious!
NOMI: No, it’s bottles and models — you’re gonna hate it!
MARTINE: I still need to see. But I think because the performance started as this public exhibitionism of our own bodies and our own sensuality, right? Because yes we took footage and yes I edited it down to moments that I liked the most, but people that were there weren’t extras — they were strangers; they were voyeurs! They were people who chose to stay and watch, chose to take pictures, chose to touch us, which was totally inappropriate and remember we had to leave and get ushered away. They got security. I think the second part of it was, you were also streaming onto Periscope.
NOMI: Periscope, yeah.
MARTINE: And that was the part I wanted to incorporate at the end, like this other side of the audience that doesn’t have to visit in real life and get to have, I don’t know, experience in seedy privacy.
NOMI: Yeah, and I think it was interesting to show footage of people watching, logging in and watching something that becomes lusted for online, because that’s usually very private. And to actually see that perspective added this level of loneliness. I feel like we use the internet, not only to connect with people, but in reality, you’re alone and you’re just so isolated and not even connecting whatsoever.
MARTINE: Right, if anything, it’s a large opportunity to invent what it is that you’re interacting with. Whether you’re IMing with someone, sending pictures or Skyping, like, you can put more on that person or on that experience than is actually happening because you’re not actually there. Through our phones, it was a total fantasy, and yet, in the real space, people were drunk and talking — the bed was stopping and going because our weight wasn’t evenly distributed. [laughs]
NOMI: Oh my god, it was scandalous.
MARTINE: It was crazy.
NOMI: That moment on the bed you mention how someone tried to touch us and it got a little dangerous and I remember someone in the crowd was going around and telling other people that we were trans — they were also trans and they wanted the audience to somehow know that they were watching trans people because they themselves were actually living a stealth life and they wanted to sort of gauge people’s reactions to trans people for their own weird benefit. I don’t know. It was a strange thing that added a sense of danger that we were not aware was going to happen. It was just strange because the whole performance had nothing to do with gender or transformation. It was just like, for me, it was about we took voyeurism and self-obsession —
MARTINE: It was a social commentary as opposed to a commentary about our bodies as individuals, you know what I mean? And unfortunately once people know, they want it to be a thing, right? Because it makes them uncomfortable. So that’s what they focus on.
NOMI: Right. So do you find that you’re constantly pushed to present your art from an angle so that it makes a statement about gender or transition and that whole world even though the focus of the work at hand has nothing to do with that?
MARTINE: Press pushes it to be the topic. I get to write the statement at this point because I’m not dead yet. [laughs] Like I’m still writing, like “This is what the work’s about.”
NOMI: So it’s not reinterpreted.
MARTINE: Right. Once I’m not around, who knows what they’re gonna say. But I already have this feeling my work is going to represent something that I didn’t intend for it because it already happens when I’m alive through press. She’s already a token.
NOMI: Yeah. Crazy. So music for you—was music something you fell into an extension of your art, or how did music come into play? Was it just a whole separate world for you or did it also come to pass as you were creating your photography and producing art?
MARTINE: It became like a skill I had to develop because I was making a lot of video and it was before the videos were kind of like taking on a music video structure or length. Some of them were really long, and it can be taxing to watch silent. It’s elevating to have sound or some kind of score.
MARTINE: It brings everything to life. I was in a band in art school with two cuties and it kind of like fizzled out, which also gave me more time to take control — because I was just the vocalist. I wasn’t producing, I wasn’t coming up with really the melodies or the beats, and I realized “Oh, there’s so much to choose from. Why use those?” Why were we using those references when I like these sounds so much more?
NOMI: Again, you were taking control of your narrative.
MARTINE: Right, right. And then, yeah, I guess —
NOMI: What state of mind were you in when you were writing “Origin.”
MARTINE: Um, I was in the state of mind of Nomi Ruiz because we had, like, just met through Tim. Because he brought you to my show in China Town, and you were gagged and you were like “I’m gonna say hi to her.” You tell your side! I feel like Tim just told me “Nomi Ruiz is coming to your show.” And I was like “Cool, who’s that?”
NOMI: You were like “Who’s this bitch? Why do I care?”
MARTINE: “Why are you so gagged by her? I thought I was your star!” I’m like “She’s coming for me!” [laughs] No, I didn’t think that. I thought, “Cool, I’m gonna meet a celebutante.” But also I was so nervous and anxious about the performance that honestly it didn’t really stay in my mind long. And after the show, the space was so small, that it was packed and I remember having to weave through people to even shake your hand and be like “Hello, nice to meet you!”
NOMI: I was just about to leave and I was like “I have to meet this girl.” Like it was the first time — because I can be nervous and anxious and something just drew me to you. I was like “I have to know this person. We have to be in each other’s lives.” Tim introduced us and I was like “Hi, I’m a nerd, let’s know each other!”
MARTINE: And I was like “OK, great!” And later, Tim was like “That was Nomi.” And I was like “Oh, cool, oh I like her!”
NOMI: That’s what I love about watching the “Origin” video because I feel like it takes me back to that whole process — we got to know each other on such a deep level. It kind of forced us to spend more time together and really got to know what was behind your ideas and know you as an artist and as a friend. It brings me back to that time.
MARTINE: I remember once Tim told us that there was this performance and that he wanted us to perform together — it was posed as a question really. And we were like “Obviously, that would be amazing — what are we performing? We don’t have a song together.” And so it was obvious that I had to write one! So I remember going — remember, was it Williamsburg? I don’t remember where it was. We got, like, tea.
NOMI: We met in Williamsburg.
MARTINE: We sat at this cafe and I had like that little notepad and I was just writing down words. Writing down words like “Cats. Milk. Collars. Purring.” It made absolutely no sense and you were probably like “This girl is crazy.” But I remember being just so inspired by you and your energy and your confidence and your sexuality. You ooze sexuality and I felt like — I have to do a song that will do her justice. I can’t have her sing some sad love song like I’m always singing. It has to be something sexy!
NOMI: I think you really blended the two, which is something I love and I also express in my music. There’s this sexy confidence and there’s this underlying sort of somber pessimistic idea of what love is.
MARTINE: Right, and it’s always just out of reach — at least for me. It’s always just around the river bend. [laughs]
NOMI: Right so, do you believe in love?
MARTINE: Um. [laughs] Dot dot dot. I want to believe in love. I believe in a deep, deep love, but I don’t think I’ve experienced it.
NOMI: So what is your perception of what love is?
MARTINE: I don’t know. I don’t know! Because in some ways I’ve never really seen a successful relationship, whether it was in my family or —
NOMI: So you think love is a successful relationship?
MARTINE: I think love is having passion for finding someone that is passionate about what you’re doing, who you are, and your passion for them circles this swirling magnificent energy of like acceptance and intimacy and laughter and, I don’t know — it’s funny because, in some ways, I’ve had that with really close friends, that openness and safety and intimacy, it’s just not sexual. And then I have the other side, which is like sooo sexual. It’s like just sex — it’s just about the physicality of the other person.
NOMI: Why can’t you have it all in one?
MARTINE: Tea. It’s like, where’s that guy with the duality of both? I don’t know. And I don’t know if it’s like an age thing and the age that I’m at, the people around me are just immature, or, I don’t know.
NOMI: I also feel like we’re pressured to have that in one person, and that’s not so realistic. For me, I’m in a phase where I’m starting to question why can’t I have love for my friends and sex from a lover and have all these different desires within me fulfilled and be OK with the fact that it comes from different places. Like why can’t that be a version of love?
MARTINE: It can. I guess that’s what life is — inventing the narrative that works for you. Like there is no normal, that’s the bottom line. There’s average. There’s the majority, and you can choose to be a lemming or you can make your own life.
I guess that’s what life is—inventing the narrative that works for you. Like there is no normal, that’s the bottom line. There’s average. There’s the majority, and you can choose to be a lemming or you can make your own life.
NOMI: How much of your songwriting is based on real-life experiences?
MARTINE: It’s hard because I honestly don’t know if I actually live in reality most of the time.
NOMI: That’s why I love you.
MARTINE: Oh, and I love you! Because you’re so willing to — to take the glamour of — I don’t know, invention. You’re fully on board, always! I can’t even explain it. When we’re together, whenever we hang out, it always becomes a cruise collection editorial video in like the strangest way where everything is paid for, everything is easy, everything is chic, there’s drugs everywhere! We materialize fantasy.
NOMI: [laughs] I’m like whatever you want, whatever you desire, I’ll make it happen.
MARTINE: There’s boys everywhere. It’s just like beach and ocean and skin and late nights, late mornings. I don’t know! It’s just so luxurious, and it’s not real, which is why when you ask about making songs about reality, but I don’t know if that’s actually reality — or just a dream.
NOMI: Yeah, totally. When you say in “Origin,” “Forget about my origin,” what are you saying?
MARTINE: I’m saying forget about — as trans girls to cis straight boys who often play this game of flirtatious tug-of-war, don’t get hung up on where the journey began. The beginning was then.
NOMI: Like this is who I am now.
MARTINE: Yeah. Like, take me now for what I am right now. And I think it could also speak to not putting pressure on this ideal of what an ideal gender or body is. There is no right way to be a woman or man, it’s all gray.
NOMI: You also say what’s your flavor, what’s your type.
MARTINE: Isn’t that obvious?
NOMI: Yeah, but what’s your flavor, what’s your type?
MARTINE:Ohhh! Mmmm. Well, last night I had a good flavor. [laughs] And a good type. He was Serbian. He was a martial arts teacher in Queens, athletic build, scruffy with a buzzed head, gorgeous skin. There’s a celebrity he looks like, I just can’t put my finger on it. So handsome, smelled a little — had a little B.O. because he was coming from practice so still in his sweats and a T-shirt — and you know, the sweats that kind of cling the right way. His cute little sneakers. He was checking me out, the L was down, so a bunch of people around us —and I noticed him, and then I don’t know what it was. I was feeling my oats and I went over and started talking to him and he had this thick accent and I was like “Where you from?” I’m like “America. Obviously, you’re from somewhere else.” So hot, kind of shy but wouldn’t admit it. When we were on the train, for no reason at all, he had to hold the rod across the ceiling with both hands so his arms were above his head and he kept swaying back and forth in and out of my space. Because of course once the train came, we stood next to each other and it was so awkward because everyone on the train could tell we had just met and we’re flirting.
NOMI: I love that, when there’s an audience.
MARTINE: There was a real audience and there were like other guys that were interested in me just because of the proxy of this other dude. It really felt like I was hitting on him until halfway when I convinced him to get off at my spot and we went to a park — because we were gonna go dancing. He was like “I love the disco”— I was like “I love to disco.” He was like “Let’s find one.” I was like “It’s a Wednesday night.”
NOMI: I love it — a New York moment!
NOMI: I wanted to talk about the concept of chosen family. I feel like there’s this concept that exists in queer culture, gang culture, biker culture, etc. Do you feel you belong to a chosen family that you’ve sort of curated?
MARTINE: Absolutely, but I think I have several families. It’s not like Pose. [laughs]
MARTINE: I’m just letting everyone know the trans narrative is not just like Pose. [laughs]
NOMI: Right, exactly.
MARTINE:I don’t represent a house, I have several groups of friends that are all family in different ways. Some people I turn to to laugh, and there’s certain communities that I know will always lift me up, you know, and release my self-doubt. Everybody has a different experience and hopefully loves themselves enough to be able to share it with others. In a city like New York you gotta build a community for yourself where you feel supported to thrive and survive.
NOMI: Yeah. Totally. I wanted to talk about your solo show where you displayed a 146-page “fashion” magazine called Indigenous Woman. In the letter from the editor, which is also written by you, you posed an interesting question that I wanted to ask back to you. You said, “As artists, how do we tell our own stories?” So how do we tell our own stories?
MARTINE: We have to make our own gags. It’s the same thing I was saying at the beginning. We have to be our own distributors, our own photographers, our own CEOs, you know? Make a magazine. Make your own magazine, gurl!
NOMI: Make a magazine, girl! [laughs] Oh my god, looking at that magazine stresses me out because I was thinking I know you did everything — produced the whole thing entirely on your own. What kind of work went into bringing Indigenous Woman to life?
MARTINE:What kind of work? That’s a crazy question. Every possible kind of work you can imagine. I had to learn InDesign, I had to download fonts, things that had never felt important to be before. I was looking at so many other publications to see what I was drawn to in terms of how they layout text, how you break up a page. It was crazy — I made so much work for myself because I wasn’t just contributing the images, I was creating an umbrella of a brand for other brands to then contribute to. I wanted to project different mental head spaces. I wanted you to feel like legitimate fashion photographers and top models and top stylists and trendy writers all came together for this one issue.
NOMI:I think work like this is so important, to talk about all the things that go into it because for so long as women and marginalized people we’re constantly —there’s this illusion that we have to wait to be discovered, or we have to wait to sort of prove that there’s sitting at the table we want to be a part of. I think we need to push each other and encourage each other to dismantle that narrative and take ownership of our own work and not wait around for someone to give us permission to exist as an artist. Just make your own shit.
MARTINE: Completely and I just saw A Star is Born.
NOMI: Me too, I saw it yesterday.
MARTINE: Oh my God, what’d you think?
NOMI: Is it a good movie? I enjoyed it. I feel like I was judging it because I saw the version with Barbara Streisand.
MARTINE: Oh, I haven’t seen that version — is it better?
NOMI: I mean, yes, it’s gorgeous. It’s flawless.
MARTINE: Maybe I’ll watch that.
NOMI: The pop moment kind of threw me off when she went full electro-pop. Because I thought it was going to stay in this rock singer-songwriter world.
MARTINE: Interesting. I thought it worked because it felt like Gaga’s memoir. And I cried. I thought it was so good.
NOMI: Yeah, I cried!
MARTINE:Very “Do’en it for the fame, fame.” I thought it was so good. But at first, I had trouble getting into Gaga’s character, because I was just like “That’s Gaga — no you are not working for a catering business.” And then I don’t know, I guess her chemistry with what’s his face, I was like “Oh, hot. I believe it now” I see sparks of something. But I guess I brought it up because it’s the same narrative. It’s the same narrative! Like she is stuck until he pulls her out of the mud.
NOMI: Right, it’s like someone has to give her the opportunity, which does exist, but I feel like she should be empowered to take it.
MARTINE: Like cute as a representation of reality, but why not give us something that’s aspirational?
NOMI: Yeah, totally!
MARTINE: I guess in some ways they are like “It is aspirational! She wants to be a star! And she becomes one!” But no, let’s look at the way in which it happens.
NOMI: Right. She’s discovered. It’s that same narrative. Redoing it, brainwashing us again in a way.
MARTINE: What’s the actor’s name?
NOMI: Bradley Cooper.
MARTINE:Oh my god, imagine A Star is Born comes out and the twist is Bradley Cooper plays Gaga’s role and Gaga plays Bradley’s. Gaga is already the famous rock drunk who comes into this drag bar and here’s this straight guy performing “La Vie En Rose” and she’s like “Gag, like, this guy has balls to be performing at a drag club, I’m in love.” And then she’s like “Come to my concert,” and he’s like “No, I have to take care of my mom.” It’d be major! MAJOR.
NOMI: It would be major, oh my god.
MARTINE: And then she props him up to become this star and then she kills herself. It would be such a gag!
NOMI: It would be a gag. I would watch that movie over and over again.
MARTINE: That’s the movie we should make now. Hollywood, write this down. This one’s free.
NOMI: In Indigenous Woman, you make a few statements about white privilege. Like in the CovertGirl ad and the whitewash soap ad. As a biracial person whose father is Guatemalan and whose mother is white, do you feel you experience both ends of a spectrum privilege?
MARTINE: I have passing privilege, but I don’t know about both ends. I guess — if anything my family can feel polarizing because I’m such a mut lingering in between.
NOMI: For me, I often think about on the spectrum of people of color, we are viewed as more privileged because of the color of our skin, because we are sometimes viewed as racially ambiguous. For me, I think it’s harder to acknowledge that privilege in a wider scheme of when I talk about people of color in general and I think in order to dismantle classicism and racism I need to acknowledge that I’m operating from that perspective in certain situations, like “OK, this is not cool, I need to check others and check myself some of the time.” Do you know what I’m saying?
MARTINE: Totally. I believe we all negotiate who we are by trying on labels, and sometimes that means you fumble, you know?
NOMI: Yeah. Well, that’s what I loved about Indigenous Woman, because I felt like you were sort of using privilege as a way to make statements about being marginalized at the same time as you have this gorgeous ad and you make this whole statement of white privilege. It was being sort of used an image that could have been “Look at this gorgeous girl. Of course she’s a supermodel, I wish I could be one,” and at the same time, you’re doing this thing you don’t even realize at first — and then it’s like boom, it sits with you because your mind is right away like — just thinking about this beautiful person you created there.
MARTINE: And then you’re like, wait, is she a white girl? Is she a — ?
NOMI: Then it moves to you and you’re saying “Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s white privilege.” It really stayed with me and it really opened my eyes to that conversation. I thought it was well done.
MARTINE: Thanks, Mama!
NOMI: I love you. That’s all the questions I have.
Filmmakers and co-directors Angela Jude and Lo Calsada’s House of Mamis docu-series premieres on INTO today, with our first episode of seven taking you inside the lives of the family members in a Mexico City-based voguing house. Calsada describes the Mamis as “a group of queer folks, bois, femmes, chicxs, womxn and everything in between.”
“I lived in Mexico City for a month shooting everything that inspired me, immersing myself in the queer scene there,” Jude said of discovering the House of Mamis. “While filming a small documentary about a trans woman opera singer with Lo, we ate lunch one evening and she spoke about houses in Mexico City.”
“What drew me to the Mamis is their way of sustaining each other, loving each other and working together, whether it be voicing transphobia in a queer space or taking the midnight train. It is done together,” Calsada says. “House is Mamis is a family that happens to vogue.”
The debut episode invites you home to meet the Mamis, who introduce themselves and explain how they came to be part of this colorful chosen family.
Check back for new episodes every Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. PST.
A coming out story can save a life. Jordan Reeves knows because a coming out story saved his.
Growing up in Alabama, Reeves didn’t know any other LGBTQ people. He felt trapped and alone in Hueytown, a conservative suburb on the outskirts of Birmingham whose major attraction is a outdoor water park. He didn’t admit to himself that he was gay until he was 18. It was another five years before he decided to share that information with anyone else.
Before coming out, Reeves lived a double life. He considered becoming a missionary, but knew deep down he was just playing the role of a good Christian — the person he thought everyone wanted him to be.
But that’s when he heard Cliff Simon, his professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, discuss his experiences coming out during the post-Stonewall era of the 1970s. In a later retelling of the story, Simon remembered his mother asking him as a child, “Why can’t you be normal like all the other boys?”
“I sort of wanted to know that, too: Why couldn’t I?” he recalled.
But after spending years dating women and unsuccessfully trying to “change” through therapy, Simon came out to his mother in his early 20s. He said he was ready to “finally feel some sense of being OK.”
“I’ve learned so much about life and about myself, and it all started when I came out — and not just because of the gay stuff,” Simon explained. “It was a waterfall of everything, of me starting to see that life could be what I wanted it to be. … Normal is different for all people.”
By providing a model of how to begin his own journey, Reeves claimed Simon’s story showed him for the first time that he could be authentically himself.
“I really did not think that I was going to make it,” he said in a half hour phone conversation. “Coming out is the first step in sort of publicly announcing who you are, and for me, it literally meant life.”
Simon’s story is just one of about 250 stories featured on VideoOut, a digital platform Reeves founded two years ago. Since 2016, he has traveled the United States collecting diverse stories of LGBTQ people reflecting on their own experiences of coming out, whether it was about their sexual orientation, gender identity, or even their HIV status.
“We were the warriors,” said Sean McKenna, a long-term HIV survivor and advocate who lives in New York City, in a VideoOut interview. “We were on the front lines of medication.”
When he was first diagnosed, McKenna recalled that medical professionals weren’t allowed to disclose that information over the phone. If the results came back negative, that was OK to share, but everyone else had to come into the office. It was intended to prevent newly diagnosed individuals from taking their own lives.
The day his doctor told him they would need to meet in person to discuss his diagnosis, McKenna was at work. He described that phone call as a “whirl of emotions.”
“You hang up the phone and you have to wait a week to talk to the doctor,” he said.
“I turned to my coworker and I said, ‘I think I just tested positive for AIDS,'” McKenna continued. “And she started to cry. So the first thing I did when I tested positive was console one of my best friends who I worked with.”
All McKenna remembers from that day is the “black and white subway tile” from the work bathroom, where he went to cry as he processed the news.
He spent a few weeks washing down his grief before turning a corner.
“I just partied it up,” McKenna recalled. “I drank, I went to happy hours, and I thought, ‘What the heck—what do I have to lose at this point? But after about two weeks, I thought, ‘No, I could actually be helping people.’ So I went back to support groups and that sort of thing and became a little bit of an activist.”
McKenna was among the first HIV survivors to take experimental drugs intended to halt the virus’ spread. The side effects of early medications were harsh, including headaches, diarrhea, kidney problems, and soft bones.
These experiences illustrated to McKenna the power of support among long-term survivors of HIV. Years later, he lobbied the New York-based Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GHMC) to resurrect its defunct Buddy Program, which pairs up dedicated volunteers with survivors in order to address the isolation and loneliness that people living with the virus may feel.
Many stories featured by VideoOut follow a similar pattern to McKenna’s: of LGBTQ people coming into their own after announcing themselves to the world.
“It’s really important to not just come out to the people around you, but to come out to yourself,” said Dana Kaye, who appears in a video with her mother, Susan Litoff. “You want to be true to who you are and your authentic self. It’s no fun living a lie and living in the closet.”
Litoff, a psychotherapist, said she came out later in life than her daughter did.
“I shared with a lot of my good friends and it felt really comfortable,” said Litoff, who was 41 when she came out. “I felt really comfortable about what was happening with me. It was more a sharing than a difficult process.”
When Litoff told her mother she was in love with another woman, her mother cautioned against telling her father, claiming he wouldn’t understand. She didn’t listen. When she did finally tell him, he clutched his chest in mock offense: “What’s the problem? I understand loving women!”
“That was the end of that story,” Litoff concluded.
These anecdotes — which range in tone from jubilant to mournful — have taken on added weight since Reeves first began collecting them. Shortly after the project commenced, Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency and immediately began rolling back equality. Subsequently, 2017 was the deadliest year on record for LGBTQ Americans.
Reeves described the people he’s spoken with over the past two years as “nervous.” They’re scared “about what’s going to happen to them, their families, and the people that they love the most,” he claimed.
But a perhaps unintended side effect of the Trump presidency it has also instilled in LGBTQ people the importance of visibility.
“People are exceptionally proud of who they are in an unprecedented way — in a way that I don’t know has ever existed before,” Reeves claimed. “What I’ve seen in our community is that in the face of this administration and not knowing whether or not you’ll be able to get married next year, people are stepping up to the plate. They’re saying, ‘I am proud of who I am and I’m not apologizing.’”
His goal is to collect 1,000 more stories of people living their truths, whether they’re submitted online or in person. VideoOut frequently organizes what they call “Story Collection Day” in cities like New York, Chicago, or Birmingham. At these public events, people with a story to tell can sign up for a 30-minute slot on camera.
After winning a $50,000 grant from Marriott’s #LoveTravels Beyond Barriers Social Innovation Investment, Reeves hopes to use the funding to hold a Story Collection Day every month of next year.
To better reach out to local communities, VideoOut plans to partner with advocacy organizations in each location.
VideoOut is also in the process of building a new platform where people can record their stories themselves. The website will give users the option to edit their videos, tag them for searchability, and then submit them with one click of a button. By lowering the barrier to entry, it allows a much wider pool of voices to be reflected in the series.
“One thing that we say is one story is important, several stories are powerful, but all of our stories together are an unstoppable collective that demands equality,” Reeves said.
These stories can “change minds, break barriers, and eradicate hatred,” he added.
While VideoOut hopes their platform has the ability to reach individuals who may not know someone who is LGBTQ, these transformations often begin in our own communities.
Although Reeves’ parents have long struggled with his sexuality, VideoOut helped start important conversations in his own family. Reeves’ father called him after he started the project and said, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that if anybody tries to take your rights away, I’ll be the first person to stand up for you.”
At one of VideoOut’s public events, an elderly gentleman approached Reeves and said it inspired him to finally come out of the closet.
Reeves said moments like these are why VideoOut exists.
“I just feel like these stories have the ability to embolden people, to encourage people, to inspire people,” he said. “Even people that think that it’s too late.”
“So no matter where you are in your journey, no matter how old you are or young you are, no matter what position you have, where you work, if you work, it doesn’t matter,” Reeves continued. “Your story deserves to be heard.”
This year for Coming Out Day, the INTO staff is coming clean about some things related to our identities. It’s not always easy to let people know something so personal about you, especially things that can be potentially stigmatizing.
Thank you for being with us at this difficult time, and sharing in our relief.
A few months ago, our crew of self-identified older lesbians watched Hayley Kiyoko music videos for the first time. They were instant fans, astonished by the out pop star’s ability to fully inhabit herself and her sexuality, and we knew we had to bring Hayley in to meet them.
Hayley was game. Not only was she a fan of the OWLs, but she was dying to meet them, too. The surprise was epic, and the conversation full of tears, joy, and intergenerational connection.
“Bring it to the runway,” RuPaul charges her girls in her song “Category Is…” But to be frank, the runway hasn’t mattered much recently.
What once felt like the thunderdome of drag has become something of an inoffensive showcase on RuPaul’s Drag Race. As challenge performance has grown more important, the value of the runway in judging seems to have gone down. A look-challenged queen can get a lot further in the competition, while a strong runway competitor who struggles in performance challenges is likely to go out early.
In the latest episode of The Kiki, hosts Kevin O’Keeffe and Mathew Rodriguez go deep on why the Drag Race runway has fluctuated in significance over the show’s decade on the air. Plus, they list their five personal favorite runway looks each, featuring Sharon Needles, Violet Chachki, Asia O’Hara, Valentina, and more.
You’ve probably seen the kind of video that INTO’s new video, “Trans Men Talk About Their First Binder,” parodies. There’s sad music and trans people are asked to talk about their bodies for a cisgender audience.
That’s not this video.
This video features trans men talking about their binders, while allowing them to laugh about the situation. I sat down with INTO’s Head of Video, Rocco Kayiatos, and the site’s talent manager, Alex Schmider, to talk about what it meant to create content by trans men and for trans men and how this is an intervention into a media landscape that treats trans bodies as tragic.
We’ve been talking about wanting to make this video for a while. Do you remember what the genesis of the idea was?
Rocco Kayiatos (RK): Yeah, well, I think after seeing another replica of the video that is so commonplace at this point, of transmasculine people talking about their relationship to their chest binders, I just felt like, “At what point do we get to move beyond talking about the physical experience of being trapped in a body as a trans person?”
Right, and I remember we spoke about moving beyond the physical but also moving beyond media about trans people that is sullen and morose.
RK: Yeah, trans people have whole lives and they have senses of humor. And a lot of trans people are really funny and I think that that’s not showcased frequently because media is being made by an outside lens to depict the experience of what it must feel like to be trans instead of what it actually feels like to be trans, which is — just like everyone else, we have a multifaceted life, multifaceted identities and we’re not sitting around musing on the physicality of how tragic it is. I think, in 2018, we can finally move beyond the narrative of the tragic transgender person and the experience of being “trapped” in a body.
Alex Schmider (AS): The reason why we’re able to do that is because the people producing this video are trans themselves. And so we’re in on the joke that everyone who is creating content that isn’t trans is doing it from an outside perspective. Whereas we know the community, we’ve had this experience. If we’re given the opportunity and the space to actually talk about these issues, there is going to be humor because a lot of our experience, we’ve had to make it funny to survive.
RK: Right, and just like there’s no shortage of trans people who will lend their voice to a video talking about their chest binder, I think that we’re now at the point historically and in terms of media representation that wehn trans people are being put in the space to create media about their own lives, the last thing they’re going to do is create something for the outside lens. LIke especially creating digital content, it gives us the freedom to not have to preface. People can join in the conversation exactly where it’s at.
Working for an outlet like INTO, which is queer media made for and by us, we don’t have to talk about what the joke is. We don’t have to explain the joke that we’re making for trans men or transmasculine people. We’re already in on the joke because we’ve already seen this content of like watching this tragic narrative of how oppressive it is to have to wrap you torse up like a mummy everyday to just be able to go out into the world.
Well, there’s something to be said about how a lot of great comedy is turning your trauma into something, like Richard Pryor joking about his own traumas or Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. So I think then, for you, you don’t have to translate your trauma for other people to understand. It’s an intra-community kind of humor.
RK: Yeah, the whole video is an inside joke.
At the end, you do have a disclaimer saying that it’s a joke but it’s also not a funny issue, so how do you respond to people who might say, “I don’t think that this is something to joke about.”
RK: Yeah, I think that the joke is not about the experience of wearing a binder or of being uncomfortable in your body. The joke is about the outside gaze on trans people being so hyper focused on the physical experience. So the joke is not at our expense; it’s for us to be able to laugh at the constant curiosity and portrayal of our bodies being these tragic and uncomfortable or unreasonable things we have to wrap and hide and disguise or however the outside lens would turn that. So the joke is for us.
I also think that you can find things humorous or not humorous at different points in your life. Because i’m not trans, I can’t relate to this but I can say perhaps for some gay men when they’re younger, they’re not ready to joke about coming out, but there’s a point where you can joke about being in the closet or some trauma that happened to you. But maybe someone who objects to it may not be ready to joke about that.
AS: But the availability of something like this or the access to content like this is pretty much nonexistent. Up until this point we weren’t able to talk about this experience from an inside perspective and comment on the stereotypes of trans people being only about their bodies. Now, when that trans person is ready, there will be something out there for them, because now it’s here.
RK: And sometimes I feel like you need to open a vent for people because it’s like a pressure cooker for trans bodies, lives, rights, etc. When the bathroom bills were a hot topic a couple of years ago, I got to work on creating a video for a different outlet about what trans people actually do in the bathroom and it’s this spoof on a true crime kind of narrated … it’s an investigation into what trans people do in the bathroom and it turns out we’re doing the same thing that everyone is doing. They’re taking a piss, they’re washing their hands, they’re checking to make sure they don’t have boogers hanging out of their nose, they’re brushing their teeth like regular bathroom things. But that’s the gag, right?
And it might not be funny to someone who has experienced violence or trauma in a bathroom, but it was a vent and a moment of reprieve from having the focus be on the danger or the discomfort of being trans it was just for the community to be able to laugh. It was so great to have this moment to laugh about how crazy it is that the outside gaze is so constantly fixated on how dangerous we are and how disturbing our bodies are. So this ideally is another kind of extension of that where it just allows people to hit pause on the trauma and tragedy assigned to our bodies and get to see the humor in the obsession of overdramatizing and obsessing over how sad it is for trans people.
AS: And how rare do we get to relieve that tension. How often do we get to relieve that constant tension?
RK: In media, very rarely.
It’s like that saying, that comedy is tragedy plus time.
RK: Who said that? I love that.
I don’t know, it’s just a saying. Specifically, this is also a video about transmasculine people. I think this video is also an intervention into a landscape of trans-focused media made by non-trans people that is focused only on transfeminine people. What is it like as the producers to be able to assemble a cast of trans men to be in a video together?
RK: I mean, it’s a mix of things for me. Having been a person who is focused on trying to create media representations for transmasculine people and trans men, I always feel a little bit afraid of taking up that space, but I also feel like it’s really important. Being put into a position where I’m the head of the video department here, I haven’t stepped into that space of making as much tran scontent as I’d like to and w’ere slowly getting to the point of where we can make more trans-specific content and more transmasculine and trans male content. It feels powerful and exciting and also scary.
AS: As someone coming from not the creative side of representation, but the consulting and media watchdogging, it’s nice to create something for us, by us and with us. And in the same way Rocco was talking about, it’s a little scary to step into this space, but it’s also really necessary. There’s so little representation for us, so I think you know the more we can take up that space and speak up and share experiences in ways and on media outlets like INTO, the more we can connect with each other over our trauma and the humor of life and the experiences we have.
It always does kinda go back to those really deep issues, but when you’re talking about non-queer outlets that do stories about queer people that always focus on the trauma, that then sends the message to young queer and trans babies that there’s still only trauma ahead. Like, “You’re going to be in your 20s and 30s and still mourning and being sad!” and it’s like what is more important ot show young queer and trans people than laughter?
AS: Yeah, we’re fucking resilient! That’s the whole point. We can laugh and make something out of this.
RK: At something that did occupy a great amount of mental space for each one of us at one point, most likely. The biggest impetus to make this — we’ve been joking about making this video for months now, internally. What pushed me was over the weekend, a friend told me had to have surgery and after surgery, he was unravelling mentally and having this mental breakdown around the relationship to his body and surgery aftercare. He was looking everywhere for anything: an article, a YouTube video. Just desperate to find any kind of connecting point of what to do for his mental health after surgery and couldn’t find a single thing.
I’m not saying this is mental health care, but it is kind of a commentary and hopefully a stepping stone into that next phase of thinking about gender, thinking about the trans experience as less than just a physical experience. Because it hnk more often than not we tend to quote statistics or pathologize but not really think about how to take care of ourselves. And something as simple as making a joke is the first step to having a conversation about a missing piece in the trans narrative in the media landscape, which is how to take care of yourself mentally.
When I first saw the initial footage that has become Angela Jude and Lo Calsada’s House of Mamis, showing a group of queer folks voguing in the streets, I was overwhelmed.
Sure, I’d seen lots of footage of queer bodies dancing in the style that has lately become all the rage across television and media, but I’d never seen the story of the ball scene told with Latinx folks front-and-center. I’d never seen it depicted in the streets in Mexico City, a metropolis bursting with queer culture.
And I’d never seen a documentary on the ball scene look so beautiful in just a rough cut.
Since that moment, our teams here at INTO have been working alongside the two queer creators to help take the initial footage they shot during a trip to MXC and turn it into a full-length season of a show that we’ll release in October in partnership with Facebook Watch and others.
As we prepare for the launch of our first ever show, we thought it would be nice to give you some insight into what the project is — and where it’s hoping to go — from the creators themselves.
Zach Stafford: Who are the ‘House of Mamis’ and how did you meet them?
Angela Jude: I lived in Mexico City for a month shooting everything that inspired me, immersing myself in the queer scene there. While filming a small documentary about a trans woman opera singer with Lo, we ate lunch one evening and she spoke about houses in Mexico City.
After that I did some little digging on Instagram and found friends in common with a voguing family that was House of Mamis.
Lo Calsada: Who are a familia en la cuidad de Mexico. They are a group of queer folks, bois, femmes, chicxs, womxn and everything in between.
Vogue and ball culture have been having quite the year with the success of both Pose and My House. But both shows focused specifically on the epicenter of the culture, which is Harlem. What drew you to the House of Mamis in Mexico City?
AJ: There is so much glam around voguing right now. Once upon a time voguing was not cool, not profitable, the culture wasn’t just about dance and outfits, but more about community and that is what drew me to the Mamis.
In a tiny 2 bedroom, you have 10 people living, existing in that space. They cook to feed all of them and they all help each other get ready for the night and the house mother Mendoza, a brilliant dancer in the scene, created this house not of the best dancers around but of folx that really needed a family.
LC: What drew me to the Mamis is their way of sustaining each other, loving each other and working together, whether it be voicing transphobia in a queer space or taking the midnight train. It is done together.
House is Mamis is a family that happens to vogue.
What was it like shooting a documentary there with that queer community?
LC: It was such a pleasure to be welcomed into their lives, to cook together, eat and talk with one another. There are precious moments that the camera simply cannot capture.
However, they were very open and wanted to voice their opinions. So it became very natural to just listen while documenting. By the end of it, La Mendoza, the house Mother, was inviting us to non vogue events, to hang out without the camera.
What are things that viewers will be surprised by after seeing the show? What do you hope people take away from it?
AJ: I think how inclusive the House is and how the goal is not to be the strongest voguing house, but to create spaces for young LGBTQ folx to have a place to escape to.
I hope that folx watch it and grow an appreciation for the artistry and dedication of these Mamis to each other. I hope it helps queer, flamboyant, you-name-it kids to know that even if they live in traditional spaces, such as Mexico, that there are places for them to be who they truly are.
How do you see ‘House of Mamis’ adding to the conversations going on about balls and house culture right now?
LC: Oh a lot. The house brings up issues that have been brought up in Vogue culture all over the U.S. and world. I’m curious to see the reaction. Topics like transphobia, inclusivity in balls and queerness in house culture.
AJ: And I think House of Mamis will reflect the days of old, but also speak on the queerness of today’s youth. It will show the grind of keeping this scene alive and fresh despite [lack of] resources and it will disrupt the idea that it is a space for competition.
Finally, do either of you vogue?
LC: Not quite, but I have a few teachers.
AJ: Depends who you ask. I’m going to say…a little.
‘House of Mamis’ will premiere on October 16th here at INTO and across all of our channels, and will run for seven episodes. Watch out for announcements around live events with the cast, screenings and other exciting announcements.