This year's LGBTQIA Pride Month will be marred forever by tragedy: Only a year after we won marriage equality, precious queer lives were taken from us at the hands of someone who would rather see us dead than kissing in public. But that's why we have pride year after year; it's why we march and scream and rally and celebrate. It's why we keep speaking out about homophobia, transphobia, and racism; it's why we insist on holding hands and loving each other openly.
This Pride month, we're celebrating the outspoken individuals who have used their large platforms to call attention to the wants, needs, concerns, and demands of the LGBTQIA community. To be outspoken is to be fearless in what you say and, in turn, what you do. It's a trait many of us have, but due to nerves or environment situations, seldom employ. When we do, however, the possibility to help bring about positive change is high. The following 14 members of the community have taken their platform and used it for good. They embody what it means to be outspoken, and through their actions, comes hope. Happy Pride, all. Together, we stand taller and prouder.
Laura Jane GraceLaura Jane Grace is the founder, lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Against Me!. After coming out as a trans woman in 2012, she's become a champion of the trans movement.
What does the word “outspoken” mean to you? The word “outspoken” goes hand in hand with punk rock. But for me, the people who I admire, that are my heroes that I’ve grown up listening to, reading, or watching, or whatever, or being around, have always been outspoken people who weren’t afraid to say what they were thinking or stand up to what they thought was right. That’s been something that has always been attractive and admirable to me in other people and something that I’ve always held myself to a standard of.
Is there anyone in particular who comes to mind?Yeah, I mean so many people who come to mind, whether that’s on a personal level, from my grandmother to my mother, to first musical heroes, like Madonna, to punk rock heroes, like somebody like Joe Strummer, to even political heroes. That’s just, again, always something that’s been important to me and I’ve admired these people.
What’s the connection between punk and activism? How does the spirit of punk—in terms of its relationship to authority—inform what you do as an activist?You just always question. You never take anything for what it says and make sure you understand it. You’re not being directed. You’re not being told. For me, punk rock was a stepping stone into activism, and I feel like activism and revolutionary movement, class struggles, whatever, there’s always been a soundtrack to it—there’s always music that goes along with it, and it’s an important part of it. For me, I need to know music is real in order to connect with it. I can’t listen to music within television commercials or something like that. It feels like they’re not real, it’s almost like it values it in that way. I need to know something is real.
You really embody the idea of the personal being political in terms of how visible and how open you’ve been about being a transwoman and how public your coming out was, and it’s undoubtedly given hope to trans women around the world. What has it meant to put yourself out there like that?It feels real. My band started in the Florida anarchist activist beat, and we used to throw protests and we were really part of the protest movement. Then as we got bigger, it kind of drifted further and further away from that just because we were challenged so much. When you’re touring 250 days a year, you have a hard time being part of anything, but spending time talking about things that don’t really matter, like “What is punk?” or “Is it punk rock to do this? or be on this record label? Or do something like that?” became really boring and I realized it didn’t matter after a certain point. I am a musician and part of that is that you do interviews when you put out records and oftentimes sell them. In the past, the things that I would find myself talking about weren’t real. I didn’t have any interest in them. But this is real to me and I know it’s real to other people. I know a moment like that specifically, I guess if you wanted to say within the transgender movement or whatever, I would push for visibility and I would push for acceptance and I would push for understanding and I would push for education. To be a part of that is just like you recognize you’re a part of something bigger than yourself or bigger than your band or bigger than your music. I’m just humbled to be a part of that.
What surprised you the most about coming out?The level of acceptance and support. Part of coming out was getting to a point where you don’t really have a choice. You’re just like, “Well, this is happening. Their actions can be whatever they are, like fuck it.” But to come out and see so many people within the music community, be that bands or other musicians or even the press, be so supportive and be so willing to be understanding and try to get it, like that I would have just never imagined. I’m not sure if it would have been the same like 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or whatever, but it doesn’t matter. Now it is that way, and there was that level of support, and I think that is an incredible statement on how far people have progressed.
Let’s talk about that time you burned your birth certificate on stage.Obviously, it was symbolism, going to North Carolina after HB2. We had booked the show before that came up and once HB2 came up and all of the protests around it and the boycotts started happening, I was asked by my manager if we wanted to do that too and I said, “No, we’re going there on tour still.” I might not live in the state of North Carolina, but I work there regularly, touring through there at least once or twice a year, and I pay taxes in the state. I think that for the people of North Carolina, it’s not an option for them to boycott their state, just decide you’re not going to shop anywhere and you’re not going to go to work, and I felt like I wanted to have solidarity with that. And to be defined by something like a piece of paper that was written out seconds after you were born that you had no say in, as if that is some kind of end all be all. People point to that as if it’s some kind of biblical truth handed down from God, like “Here is this birth certificate, you can never deny what this birth certificate says! You are forever tied to this birth certificate!” is just fucking bullshit! It’s just a piece of paper. I can have other pieces of paper made up, too. I don’t know. It was funny, too, because after that happened, I saw a lot of people being like, “Oh, that was a dumb move.” Like what the fuck? When was the last time you used your birth certificate for anything? And the idea that part of HB2 is you have to use the restroom that corresponds to what it says on your birth certificate, like people actually carry around their fucking birth certificate to show when they’re going to the bathroom. It’s absurd. Fuck your birth certificate.
What do you see the biggest challenge facing trans women in 2016 and what can everyone do to help?I think it’s just to further push for understanding. I feel like that right now there is visibility, there’s greater visibility, but it’s that further push for understanding. There was that moment when the Attorney General spoke in regards to HB2, and I was flying down to start the tour that would take us to North Carolina. I was in the Detroit airport and there was this huge wall-sized projection of the Attorney General speaking in the airport and I stopped and watched it along with other passengers in the airport, and it was an amazing moment because you can’t really get more mainstream than that of a visibility moment being in a major airport and seeing someone representing the Obama administration say that they recognize transgender people, and it was incredible. I started crying in the middle of the airport, then I went over to wait by my gate, and there was a bar, and I ordered a glass of wine, and I was sitting there, and I noticed the employees. They were kind of huddled down at the end of the bar, and I could hear them talking about it, and a couple of them started saying some really ignorant things. So, I went down there and I was like, “You know what, actually, I’m a transgender person, and this is wrong what you’re saying because of these reasons,” and I just started explaining things, and I went off on whatever lap I was going off on, and I stopped and the one airport employee, their only response was, “Is it true that Caitlyn Jenner is thinking about going back to being a man?”
Oh, God.And it was just like one of those forehead-slapping moments where you’re like, “Are you listening to what is getting through to you?” You have that visibility where these airport employees, who I didn’t even know if they’d ever met a transgender person before, and it was like the reality from the TV was coming to life in front of them, because of the Kardashians, because of Caitlyn Jenner, but there is yet to be that real interaction on a human level for them. There’s the visibility there, but you need the education, and it needs to be something that’s not sensationalized, and it needs to be something that is not turned into a fetish as it’s classically been. It needs to be something where there’s that human connection, and that’s when people start to get it.
Troye SivanTroye Sivan has quickly gone from YouTube superstar to worldwide pop sensation. His debut album, Blue Neighbourhood, was released last year to roaring praise—not just for its outstanding pop melodies and tracks, but for Sivan's bold depiction of his homosexuality. As an LGBTQI advocate, Sivan has helped reimagine what it means to be a gigantic music success. This fall, he will embark on the Suburbia tour, which will bring him around the world... again.
How does the spirit of music, in terms of its relationship to activism, inform your attitude toward speaking out?Music has always been sort of my language and my way of communicating with people. It’s the thing that has always been most closely tied to my heart and the things that I’m passionate about. It’s the best way to connect with me personally. If you’re going to make me laugh, or you’re going to make me throw something, the most effective way to do that is to play me music. It’s the best way for me to communicate how I feel about something, or communicate what I’m passionate about.
What does the word “outspoken” mean to you?It means not being afraid to show how you feel about something.
Who do you turn to for education and guidance? For me, it’s always been the internet. I didn’t know any gay people growing up, or LGBT people, in general, growing up. And so, I sort of like, sexually, turned to the internet. I attribute so much of my life—not career stuff or anything like that—but I attribute a lot of who I am as a person to the internet.
You really embody the idea of owning your identity, no matter what the previous industry standards may have persuaded you to do. How does the buzz that you could nab this year’s Best New Artist Grammy nom make you feel?I can’t even think about it. I don’t want to jinx it, and talk about it, even. I don’t even know what to say about it.
What part of your career are you most proud of?The thing that I’m most proud of is... I’m going to sound very self-centered and egotistical, but I don’t mean it like that. I feel like when I achieve something that I’m proud of or achieve something cool, I really do feel like it’s kind of like a win to an entire community of LGBTQ people. I kind of divorce myself from the situation and remember that this is happening to an openly gay person—a young, openly gay person. I get to do things like perform at the Billboard Awards, get on TIME magazine’s Most Influential Teen list. Anytime anything cool like that happens, I feel really proud of the fact that it’s happening to an LGBT person.
Does that add more pressure when you think of it in terms of winning for the LGBTQ community?I think the best way to deal with that is understanding that I actually don’t represent all LGBTQ people. There’s no way that I could ever speak, and I would never want to speak, for all LGBTQ people. I can only speak for myself and my story, and what I stand for and am passionate about, and hope that it sort of reflects the views of others and helps some others along the way. But I would be very, very scared to apply it to anyone else except myself. Because of the context, my voice just happens to be an LGBTQ one.
As the Orlando massacre taught us, there is no safe space. Rather, safe spaces are the ones between humans. With that in mind, how do you work to create a safe environment at your tour stops? With your audience, with yourself and the audience?I’m working really, really tirelessly to make sure that my shows are a really, really safe space. Safe as in physically safe, no danger, but also safe to the point where I just want people to be able to wear whatever they want and say whatever they want and be whoever they want to be, and come as they are. I’m not going to judge them or anything like that. I’m really, really proud of the vibe at my shows. I think that it feels really special—even for me, when I’m there, looking at the audience, it’s literally the most incredible group of people who are brave enough and daring enough to be really, really authentic, genuine individuals. It’s super, super inspiring. We’re working with the Ally Coalition on my next tour to come up with some cool ways to help the local LGBT communities in the cities where we are playing.
Why is femininity important to your identity?I think femininity is very important to my identity. I think it was something I was raised to be scared of—not by my parents or anything—but by society and where I grew up. It’s something that is a journey for me, like literally, every single day, to take steps toward embracing my femininity. I’ve come to really, really love that about myself. Often, femininity has been seen as weaker, or, you know, you want to be a “real man.” Everyone values the hyper-masculine. The more I’ve grown up and the more I’ve realized that all of that is bullshit and have embraced my femininity and realized how incredible it is, how femininity can mean strength, and it can mean power, and it can mean intelligence, and it can mean empathy, and it can mean being stylish. It can mean all of these amazing, amazing things. I think realizing that, and realizing how badass it is and realizing that it’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of, has really made my life a lot more fun to live.
What is one way to be a strong LGBTQI ally?I think that an ally is not just someone in the community who is okay with LGBTQ people, is not homophobic, but someone who actively takes steps to try and help LGBTQ people. An ally is someone who can give blood and went and did after the Orlando shooting when a lot of gay and bi men couldn’t. That’s a real LGBT ally. You come in and use your privilege to help.
Janet Mock Janet Mock is a multihyphenate that balances her many titles with aplomb. As one of the leading transgender activists today, Mock has, quite literally, helped redefine realness. Her book, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, is a New York Times best-seller. Mock started the #GirlsLikeUs movement to help create a healthy, informative dialogue about what it means to be a trans woman today. She is currently working on a new memoir.
How does the spirit of social media, in terms of its relationship to coming out, being out, and visibility, inform your attitude toward speaking out?There really wouldn’t be any other platform for me to voice my particular intersections of experiences and identities if it wasn’t for the connectivity of the internet. It enables me to broadcast my life, experiences and writing unfiltered through my blog. It enables me to connect and build community in ways that are vast and influential. It has also allowed me to keep myself accountable about other intersections outside my own. The more I think about it, there are so many other movements that have benefitted because of the connectivity of organizing videos. The internet witnessed the Arab Spring, undocumented folk, disabled folk, and, of course, Black Lives Matter. For me, having grown up on the internet and being a digital native, I feel like there’s no other way I would have been able to connect and say the things I want to say about my particular experience if it wasn’t for this platform. It also allows me to be part of a conversation, so it’s also about the word of God. [Laughs] I say something, and someone else will say something back—whether that’s a troll you must ignore and block, or building greater community with other folk who my experiences resonate with.
What does the word “outspoken” mean to you?I’ve found that the storytelling process is so much about, first of all, telling ourselves the truth about how we know our experiences to be and who we know ourselves to be. The next layer of that is the sharing process. When I hear “outspoken” and think about the process of sharing our truth beyond ourselves, beyond the safety of our own community, it’s being unapologetic about the space you take up in the world. By being outspoken, you are then telling people, “I am here. This is my truth and this is the space that I take up in the world.”
Who have you turned to for education and guidance; do you have a mentor?I think it would be the feminist writers who raised me through their own books. I would say someone like Audre Lorde, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, and Barbara Smith. Two out of the four of those are queer women of color, their experiences resonate with my own. In terms of mentors, I think more of models of possibility that I look to. Their writing careers are definitely those [models]. Oprah Winfrey, who interviewed me last year, was an amazing force—before I even met and made a connection with her, her presence in media was one that I wanted to model my own career in writing and television work after.
As far as activism goes, what has been your proudest moment?My most proud moment would have been the release of my book Redefining Realness in 2014. On a personal level, it was my life story. I never had someone who shared experiences like mine out in the world, and I was able to create—I believe—a mirror that girls and specifically trans girls of color now have access to and say, “There’s a story like mine. There’s someone else who’s been through this experience.” That book helped challenge me in a lot of conversations around trans-ness, and I’m really proud of the conversations that it has opened up around trans-ness. Now, it’s being taught in schools, colleges, and high schools. In a span of two years, it’s helped break through the mainstream conversation around trans-ness and womanhood, and what makes us humans beyond the binary.
In 2014, TIME said we were at a trans tipping point. Does that term still ring true, or are we on the brink of a new tipping point?I think it was always problematic, the framing of that as if there’s some kind of newness around trans-ness. Trans people have been around for as long as this movement has been around, when we talk about the LGBT movement. I got the overall sense of what they were saying: it’s a tipping point, something big is happening here. What it was largely talking about is greater visibility, greater cultural consciousness around trans-ness. What I would have loved to see is that—just because we see trans people doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve ignited real cultural change around how trans people are affected, isolated, and pushed out of many spaces, from bathrooms to health care and schools. It’s access that they need on a daily basis. To me, the “tipping point” was a great cover story and it forced everyone to face the fact that trans people are here and that we’re organized. But I think that we’ve always been here, and that would be my only critique—we’ve always been here, it’s not like we “trend.”
In light of the Orlando shootings, my social feeds have been flooded with support from all identities. Many of my cis heterosexual friends have expressed that they don’t know how to be an ally in a situation like this. In your opinion, how does one be a strong and helpful LGBTQI ally?The number one thing, especially coming out of the massacre in Orlando, is that we have to realize that just because we’re part of this acronym, we’re not a monolith. There are so many various experiences, and we exist in multiplicities. That night in that particular club, it was Latino night, it was a night where largely Puerto Rican and Hispanic people were congregating. If you look at the coverage of all of the people who were targeted and who died, you have to realize it’s a particular vulnerability to be someone that is not only an LGBTQI person but on top of that has multiplicities of race, of class. I think in being an ally you have to see LGBT people not just as our sexual orientations and/or gender identities, but as people that come with a multiplicity of experiences. You realize then that there’s probably an experience or intersection that resonates with your own fight or the struggle you prioritize. In that way, it’s easier to not “other” us as something that’s outside of self, but as partners in this greater initiative toward liberation for all people. So that we can all express ourselves as we see fit so that we can love the people that we want to love—so that we can live without the fear of policing, violence, misogyny, borders, and documents. If we can deeply integrate our experiences beyond just those letters, it definitely helps wholly to get the allies to see how we’re more ingrained in the greater fight for liberation for all of us.
What, in terms of progress for trans visibility in the future, are you most excited about? I’m excited to see the culture change that’s happening really ignite policy, and also day-to-day change. To see trans people be explicitly protected by our laws and our policies, to ensure that trans people are centered, and to ensure that trans people have access to the resources all of us need to live thriving lives beyond survival. Part of that happens with the culture change piece. I am very excited by the fact that there is greater visibility of trans people in entertainment and storytelling, but it’s most exciting when I see certain people’s work coming from the source. I want to see trans show writers. I don’t want to just see trans talent for hire. I want to see editors of magazines who are trans, bringing their particular experience to a mainstream magazine. I want to see all of that so we’re not so much for hire but are stakeholders in the ways our stories are told, how we’re seen, and how culture is shaped.
Evan Rachel WoodEvan Rachel Wood holds many titles: Bona fide movie star, musician, singer, mother, activist, Beatles lover, writer, and NYLON contributing editor. She's a mom to an active two-year-old boy, is one-half of the electro-pop duo Rebel and a Basketcase, and is set to star in Westworld, the most anticipated new HBO series of 2016.
How does the art you make—acting, music, writing—inform your attitude toward speaking out?I’ve always tried to choose roles or pick films that I could relate to in some way. Things that moved me or made me feel less alone. I figured if they moved me in such a way, then other people might feel the same. I think the biggest form of activism that some artists possess is the ability to make people feel seen and felt by allowing yourself to be vulnerable and honest. Gives people hope. Sometimes that’s all you need. I channel a lot of my experiences, good and bad, into music or film. You have ultimate freedom when you make art. There aren’t any rules. It’s just about expression. However that manifests.
This series is called Outspoken—what does that word mean to you and how does it apply to your life?When your audience grows there comes a point when you are given a voice and are faced with the choice to speak up. When I see an injustice or believe in a cause deeply or have experienced first hand the negative effects something like homophobia can have on a person or society, I make a decision to use my voice, or art, or my Twitter for crying out loud, and reach out to people. To me, activism is bringing the truth to people who don’t know it and/or can’t accept it, letting others know they aren’t alone, and rallying allies. Artists can do that through a song, a film, a joke, however. Sometimes it’s much more effective than barking at people to change. If we could see ourselves in our enemies, I think we could find more common ground. I choose to speak out about things I can really weigh in on because I have experienced them. I feel I can do the most good that way. It bothers me when a man tells me there isn’t sexism in the workplace or homophobia isn’t that bad anymore. It’s like, how do you really know if you haven’t lived it?
What surprised you the most about coming out?That it’s a process. Some people might think, you come out, and it’s done, fixed. But I realized coming out was just the beginning of a long process. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride. It took me time to adjust, and it took the people around me a while to fully understand or at least have a better understanding. You also have to come out multiple times. Just like occasionally having to break up with people multiple times before they get it.
As far as your activism goes, what has been your proudest moment so far?When I was 14 I was on a show called Once and Again and one episode featured me and Mischa Barton playing high school friends who had fallen in love. They wrote in a very innocent scene where through their tears they admit to having these feelings for each other and kiss for the first time. At the time, it was the youngest same-sex kiss ever to air on television and it was banned from being shown in one state, West Virginia. The show seemed to mirror my life and helped me through feelings I was having, but it was also the first time I did something I could tell was really important. If a whole state can’t bear to watch two young girls fall in love and kiss tenderly, then something is broken. So many same-sex couples came up to me on the street after that, some crying themselves, and all they said was, “Thank you.” They felt seen and heard and like they mattered. That’s when I realized, it wasn’t just about me. My voice, my honest voice, saying the hard truths and asking tough questions, that’s not just my voice. It becomes the voice of everyone who feels like they don’t have one. I am merely a representation of one large voice.
What do you foresee being the biggest challenge facing queer women in 2016, and what can everyone do to help?I think the biggest challenge facing women, in general, is equality and objectification. Visibility is key, and trying to break free of molds that are imposed upon you at birth! Free yourself by being yourself and reach out to other people. There is strength in numbers. Now is not the time to stay silent. It’s time for a revolution, and I believe it’s coming.
Geena RoceroGeena Rocero is a transgender activist, model, and founder of the awareness campaign Gender Proud, which is aimed at amplifying transgender narratives and helping individuals self-actualize.
What does "outspoken" mean to you?Being outspoken, for me, is the realization that I have the power to defy expectations. As a trans woman of color and an immigrant from the Philippines, my lived experiences allowed me to step into my light and share that with the world.
You came out, rather iconically, in a viral TED talk. What powered that decision?I've made the decision to come out because I've had enough of my internalized shame and fear. Coming out in the most public way was a way for me take ownership of my narrative, personhood, and self-love.
What surprised you the most about coming out?What surprised me the most is that fear paralyzed me for the longest time. The moment I acknowledged that, I began the process of healing.
You've made history in some of the campaigns you've been featured in. How does that description of "First trans woman to..." feel?My deep reflection about the campaigns and work that I've done is that this was all possible because other people made it possible for me. My very existence is connected to the long tradition of queer people who worked so hard for me to have a voice. My courage is the result of people from my history, which allows others to carry the courage and pride forward.
Does it ever feel frustrating that progress and visibility haven't happened sooner?It is frustrating that life expectancy of trans women of color is 35 years old. It is frustrating that people, government bodies, and global initiatives don't realize the urgency to uplift the lives of my trans family. Trans people should be at the table from its inception when it comes to policies that involve economic empowerment, health initiatives, ending AIDS, gender equality, women empowerment, business and innovation, media relations, spiritual health, stopping endemic violence against LGBTQ people, and much more. We are here, we deserve the space.
How does your love of fashion intersect with your activism?Fashion and art are my way to communicate to the world who I am and what I dream about. When I'm in a magazine, commercial, or billboard, I want a young trans or queer-identified person somewhere in the world to know that they too can pursue their dream and that their journey is validated just like everybody else's.
What has been your proudest moment so far?There's so many, like spending time and learning from trans youth. When we produced the Beautiful As I Want To Be series with LOGO TV, producing the Willing and Able series about trans employment in NYC with Fusion Media. Meeting and getting to know my trans sister Disney Aguila—she is the president of TransDeaf Philippines, she's a rock star! And also, I must say, meeting President Barack Obama, sharing a joke with him. I made him laugh, and I got the picture to prove it.
What do you foresee being the biggest challenge facing the trans community in 2016, and what can everyone do to help?Some of the biggest challenges are the constant invalidation of our lives, our identities, and our human rights. Whether it’s the North Carolina HB2, conversion therapy, religious persecution, or racist and transphobic politicians, those systemic oppressions are a hindrance to our everyday lives.
Everyone should learn that the discrimination, racism, sexism, transphobia, classism, ableism, and violence against trans people are rooted in the colonization of the gender binary. People should have an enlightened knowledge of our collective history. Colonization and religion introduced rigid and oppressive understandings of gender. Because of those systems and institutions, we are suffering and dying.
Give us our most deserved space, opportunities, and resources so we can thrive.
Rae TuteraRae Tutera is an LGBTQ, clothier at Bindle & Keep, and one of the owners of Willoughby General, a general store in Brooklyn, New York. Rae is also a subject in the documentary Suited, which they hope reminds folks it's everyone's birthright to be themselves and to be loved unconditionally. Suited, produced by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, premiered June 20 on HBO.
Let’s talk about the connection between your career and activism. How does fashion, and visibility within the fashion industry, inform your work?As I started to become self-possessed as a transmasculine person, I felt the absence of folks like myself—along with a diverse range of bodies and identities—in the retail and fashion landscapes. When I say absence, I mean it felt like designers didn't have us in mind while making garments and there didn't seem to be anyone working in storefronts who could really welcome us and provide us service.
I couldn't find an off-the-rack suit that fit me, so I had one made, which was a culturally and financially alienating experience but one which illuminated my relationship with my body and how I present myself every day.
Ultimately, I realized I wanted to queer the fitting process to make it as accessible and positive as possible—and I wanted folks to know someone's designing with them in mind, and someone who can connect with and understand them is working for them.
Beyond the relationships and sense of community I have with my clients, I try to spread the message that it's everyone's birthright to be themselves. We all have the right to have our bodies and our identities affirmed, honored, and respected, and that's something our clothes can do for us; it's also something we can do for ourselves and each other.
What surprised you the most about coming out?I don't have a coming out story per se in terms of my sexuality, but I do have multiple coming out stories about my gender. What's been surprising to me is how often I have to come out to people about being non-binary and trans, and this includes folks who have talked about these identities in my presence as if they were abstract or foreign, at which point I have to come out.
In what ways do you embody the idea of the personal being political, and what has that been like for you?I came of age while going to anti-war rallies and the dyke march every year, and I went to a social justice-oriented college. All that said, my own personal life has radically and deeply politicized me—like having to pay out of pocket for top surgery, living through homophobic and transphobic street harassment, and not knowing where it might be comfortable or safe for me to use the restroom. Our personal experiences teach us about our own humanity and the limits others try to place on it, and that's the foundation for action and solidarity.
As far as your activism goes, what has been your proudest moment so far?The fashion industry is a reflection of our culture, which often fetishes, forgets, or marginalizes queer and trans bodies and identities. I hope that my work as an LGBTQ clothier and the attention it's receiving makes both the industry and our culture realize we can and must do better than that. I've been touring with Suited at various film festivals to do Q&As. Public speaking, especially on something so personal and at such an urgent moment in our culture, is terrifying for me, but it's less terrifying than not using every opportunity I get to remind an audience to love themselves and each other. I'm proud of that.
What do you foresee being the biggest challenge facing queer and trans people in 2016, and what can everyone do to help?Halfway into 2016, the biggest challenge our community faces is people of color and feminine identities bearing the brunt of the backlash against queer and trans rights.
Find your local ACLU chapter, look up LAMBDA Legal and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project to fight criminalization and legislated discrimination. If you want to get involved in ending LGBTQ youth homelessness, join the 40 to None Network that True Colors Foundation has. If you haven't heard of the film Southwest of Salem, please visit here to help exonerate four wrongfully convicted and incarcerated Latina lesbians.
Tegan QuinTegan Quin makes up one-half of the music juggernaut that is Tegan and Sara. For nearly two decades, Tegan and Sara have been raising awareness for the LGBTQI community through their music and by simply living honestly. Their most recent album, Love You To Death, was released June 3.
How does the spirit of music, in terms of its relationship to activism, inform your attitude toward speaking out?I can remember early on in our career talking a lot about paying equality between men and women, and women in the industry, and sexism and homophobia, and people being like, "Oh my God, just shut up and sing!" It just irks me, it annoys me. We grew up in a household with a mom who was a single parent for a very long time and went back to school when we were young and was a feminist and worked for the county sexual center, and we had grown up learning to speak our minds. I mean, intelligently, and on things that we were educated on, but we learned to speak our minds. So I think right at the beginning of our career, we saw it as an opportunity to speak our minds. I was like, “Oh, we’re talking to the press and the media, and they’re asking how my experience in the industry is. Of course, I’m going to speak to my experiences as a woman and as a queer person in the industry.” It was inevitable. We were just raised that way, so we just got into it. I don’t know that I knew another way to go about it. But certainly, in the 2004 to 2005 time period, when we started to see radio play, and get more exposure and become a bigger band, we saw an opportunity to use the stage and use our audience to make change. It was then we started to pick a smaller charity organization that we felt was in the kind of boundaries of what we thought was appropriate to talk to our audience about, and that we think that they would be interested in fundraising for, and we would start running fundraisers and we would match the amount that was raised at the end of every tour, and I just realized how good it felt. It felt good to alert people to things that matter. It felt good to raise money for these organizations, but it also just felt good to sort of infuse some purpose into this thing we were so passionate about. Which would have been enough, to just be passionate about music, but we were aching for more.
What does “outspoken” mean to you?It’s interesting because I feel like sometimes when I hear the word “outspoken,” there’s almost like a tinge of negativity to it. Like you’re speaking out of turn, or you’re speaking when you shouldn’t be. I think that, for me, when I think of “outspoken,” it just means, I would imagine, someone who always speaks their mind, who always takes their opportunity to talk about something that matters that people might not know about or something that’s happened in the news. So I get really excited when I hear about “an outspoken artist blah blah blah.” I’m always like, “What are they speaking out about? Let’s check it out!” [Laughs]
How would you say your sister has helped shape your personal identity?When Sara moved out to Montreal, it was, I think, 2002 or 2003. Right away she got involved with a lot of amazing feminist political characters. I would go out there, and we’d go to these talks, and we’d all have crazy haircuts, and everyone was riding their bikes, and we were going to all of these amazing things, and Sara was reading all of this incredible stuff, and just really educating me. And again, we’d grown up in a political household, but you know, when you’re in your early 20s, you become this complete narcissist, and you’re just thinking about yourself and your relationships. [Laughs] Sara helped ground our band and keep us focused on things that we could help and things that we could change in the world. She got really involved with a political organization that was helping raise money for political prisoners, and that was, like, the furthest thing from what I was engaging with. It was really amazing. I think she, just as a person, has been so well-read and so educated and so invested in what’s happening in the world. She helped make our band a much more interesting, important project because she cared.
What surprised you the most about coming out?At 35, I think the thing that struck me the most about coming out was how not big of a deal it was. Sara did come out first, so I think she took the major blowback that happened from our family. It was short-lived. Our family was really supportive almost right away, but you know, there was the initial like, “What the fuck is happening?” [Laughs] I kind of just watched from the sidelines, which caused tension between me and Sara for many years, because I think she thought I had it much easier because I came out after her. But yeah, I think the most shocking thing was, especially considering we came out in 1998, we came from a more conservative city, although we had alternative friends and alternative family, I think we had it really easy, compared to... I’ve heard so many stories now, just of thousands and thousands of awful coming out stories, and ours was nothing like that.
As far as your career goes, what would you say is your proudest moment?That’s so hard! [Laughs] We played the Oscars. Who would have thought that would happen? I think that was a big one—certainly for our family and friends back home. I mean, that was just such a huge thing. I think everyone’s been very proud of us throughout our career, but I think getting the Oscars stage, that’s a pretty big accomplishment. When we think eight records, I mean, that’s a hard thing to do this day and age. And I think a lot of bands throw in the towel or just dissolve and move onto other things, and the fact that we’re still doing it and still fighting, eight records in, I’d say that’s one of the things I’m most proud of.
In light of everything that happened in Orlando at Pulse nightclub, how has nightlife played a role in your life?We’ve been reading all these heartbreaking but beautiful pieces about how big LGBT clubs were for so many young people coming out, and it’s interesting because Sara and I, we graduated high school and almost immediately signed a record deal and went out on tour. And so, a lot of that sort of four or five years when you first graduate and you go to college, and you experiment and you go to clubs, we missed all of that. We didn’t even really drink until we were in our mid-’20s because we were just touring so much, and we were underage, nobody would give us alcohol backstage. [Laughs] It was interesting reading the pieces. It was extraordinarily moving to me because it was like, there’s this whole part of our culture that we actually missed out on because we were on tour. I was talking about that at dinner a couple nights ago, and someone pointed out that we provided that for a lot of people. Especially early on in our career, it was a lot of queer people that were supporting us. And they were like, "But you were the nightlife, you were the club, you were the gay band that was coming to town." And I was like, “Oh, okay, so I did have that experience.” Obviously, a huge part of what our band does is encourage other people from every type of background and every type of sexual and gender identity to come and be a part of the community, open and loving. And we’re so proud of the audience that we have and how diverse it is and how open and welcoming. Community is the biggest part of what’s kept Tegan and Sara alive through 17 years of making music. There were lots of times when we didn’t have any interest in media, journalism, or radio, and it was the fans and the community around us that kept our band thriving. Queer nightlife is so important, and having a space where you can go and be around people like you is integral to the health and welfare of our community. And when it’s shattered, like it was this month, it’s a tremendous loss and a tremendous hit for our community. I think it’s important to note that in the last two years we’ve had shootings at elementary schools, at army bases, at Planned Parenthood, at universities, at private homes, and now at a gay club. There’s not one that’s more awful than the other. They’re all awful.
Do you feel that celebrities have a responsibility to come out?It’s something that’s been debated for so many years now. I think that responsibility, that’s tough. I don’t think that anyone has a responsibility to reveal anything about themselves personally. But I think that there’s power in being a celebrity, and I think being a good role model or coming out or attaching yourself to projects, movements, organizations, or charities that are making a change, I think that’s important. I think we do have a responsibility to be upstanding citizens. I think that’s part of the deal when you’re a public figure, no matter how big or small. I know lots of closeted people, and it’s hard, you know, especially with people who work in industries that are incredibly male and heterosexual. It’s tough. And I think, especially for actors, it’s tough because people have trouble suspending what they know. It’s hard. I don’t think you do have a responsibility to come out, but you do have a responsibility as a public figure to do good, and there’s so much good that can come from showing and revealing to millions of people that someone that we’ve all come to love and know and think of as an incredible person is gay. I think it would definitely balance the scales a bit. We’re all at this point on our own path, you know. You have to do what feels right, I suppose.
Does being visible count as activism, or do you have to do more than just exist?For Sara and I, we’ve always said that it’s a huge, massive part of our activism. We’ll take a tour opening for huge bands, like The Kills or The Black Keys, and audiences that aren’t necessarily as alternative as ours. And we do feel that despite being on pop radio, this is helping bring our message to the mainstream. We felt a bigger responsibility. We have felt like we do need to do more. But I think visibility is a big thing. It’s a big step for a lot of people. We definitely have wanted to do more than that.
The charity work that you guys do, that’s a whole other extension. It’s fantastic.It’s the balance, right? I always joke, I remember my parents went—well my mom and my stepdad—one of their first dates in the ‘80s was flying to Vancouver and seeing U2 play. This was, like, the late '80s, and it was very political. I remember my parents being like, "Well the show was really good, but all he did was preach to the audience and yell at them." I feel like yeah, I don’t want to come to a show and alienate people who came to see music. We’re not doing a talking tour. But I do feel there’s a balance, and you need to make sure that people know what we care about. But you always keep your eye on the prize, and the prize is putting on an amazing concert for people, and giving them the music. And every second that I’m like “Blah, blah, blah,” is another song that’s being cut off the setlist.
Sara Quin Sara Quin makes up the other half of Tegan and Sara. Her advocacy extends beyond music and into helping charities. Tegan and Sara's eighth studio album, Love You To Death, was released June 3.
How does the spirit of music, in terms of its relationship to visibility, inform your attitude toward speaking out?I think, for us, there was a sort of transition from talking about what we cared about and our politics and our identity earlier in our career and actually turning that into action. When we were younger, we had grown up with really political parents, and it was really natural for us to be very transparent about our identity, which then sort of naturally transferred into us making reflections or talking about the things we were experiencing. At some point it was like, maybe we can do more than just talk about it. We can start advocating for groups of people and organizations that we think could benefit from our support and our visibility. That’s sort of us growing to a larger, more integrated politic. In the early days, social media was very different, so, for us, it was more about fundraising at shows and allowing certain organizations to table at our shows. We often did fundraisers. Each tour we would pick organizations to raise money for or donate proceeds from the shows to. One thing that’s lovely about social media is that we’re able to do what we were doing, at shows and in the lobbies of shows and theaters every day, on our social media and through our mailing list. Personally, in our lives as individuals and as a band, we’re able to donate funds and do fundraising and charity work, and I never even think about it as being an option. It just seems to be part of the service of being a public figure at this point. When I was younger, I would have thought it was a choice, but at this point, I don’t really even understand people who don’t want to support. I don’t care if it’s supporting dolphins or supporting the LGBT community or the Black Lives Matter movement. Pick something and do something. It just seems like a balancing of the scales when we do what we do in the music industry.
At what point did you make that switch from saying this is a choice to being, almost like, this is integral to what we do?I think that, for me, there were a couple of different things that happened in my early '20s that made me want to be a little more out about our politics. One was very personal: I was going through a relationship with a woman who was from the United States, and she had been up in Canada going to school and wanted to stay in Canada. She and I were applying for permanent residency as common law partners. This was on the heels of [Canada’s] same-sex movement for marriage and adoption rights and all that stuff. It had been passed through our government by our then-prime minister without any kind of votes or any of the sort of laboring that has happened in the United States. It was just sort of like one day, enough was enough; this is what we’re doing, we’re protecting people and if you don’t like it, get over it. I remember being really struck by how inclusive all of the subsequent documents for our immigration process were. I remember really thinking, “Oh my God. Imagine what this process would have been like five years ago.” That really struck me. Even though I hadn’t necessarily been interested in the movement for marriage—it’s not something that I had ever valued as something for myself—I realized that there was probably a lot we could do across the border. So we started getting really involved in the same-sex marriage campaign, and that led into Prop 8, and then President Obama was being elected for the first time. Those are the two or three years that I remember thinking, “Okay, this is no longer just something we’re going to do in our own private lives or at shows. We’re going to start really getting involved and roll up the shirts leeves. Let’s do this.” We can actually have an impact, and we can be a part of really working for and letting our voice come to these causes. It sort of felt like, at some point, it just became all integrated. There wasn’t really an “Oh, sometimes we’re political and sometimes we’re not” decision. It’s just like, we’re a band, and we’re political.
What does the word “outspoken” mean to you?Tegan and I talk a lot about making sure that our message is clear to ourselves before we spread the message. I think there are a lot of impulses, sometimes emotional responses, which I don’t think are bad, but I think that one thing we really pride ourselves on is being outspoken, and that we can stand behind the messages that we put out—whether it’s a tweet or it’s a formal essay or it’s working with a certain group of people or advocating for a group of people. Our big thing is educating ourselves about the things that we are talking about and advocating for, and making sure that we understand who and what we’re doing. Who we’re doing it for, and what we’re doing for it. Sometimes being outspoken gives people this license to say anything they want, and I really think that we have to be really careful, because I do think that, as public figures, our words do carry a lot of weight. I like to be really confident and sure that what I’m talking about is the right thing to talk about, and it’s going to have the best impact.
What surprised you the most about coming out?I came out when I was a teenager, so my story really doesn’t necessarily parallel with our band. I had a fairly normal coming out. I was 18-years-old. I had a girlfriend. I told my family. We had our ups and downs, but it was in 1998. It’s been a long time, and I’ve definitely seen things dramatically change in the world and the things that I imagined for my life have really changed. The queer community has become more integrated with the rest of the world, and there were certain things that I never would have even considered, like same-sex marriage and certain rights for gay people, and the visibility and positivity for queer people. I don’t think I imagined that when I was a teenager. I really saw my future as being something sort of unknown, and that definitely made coming out really complicated for my family and friends, because I think people ultimately just worry about your safety, and are you going to be happy, and are you going to have access to the same things that you would if you were straight. I’m grateful that those things have changed and improved.
How has your sister helped shape your identity?I mean, Tegan and I don’t have other siblings. We are deeply connected, we like all the same stuff. Growing up, we participated in the same social circle and same social activities. So we’ve always really influenced each other. We’ve been in the same world, but sometimes interested in different things, or influenced by different people. At 35, we still influence each other all the time. I mean, a lot of the music that I listen to isn’t necessarily what Tegan would gravitate towards, but whether she likes it or not, certain things might make our way into our band—whether it’s how I dress, or instrumentation that I’m interested in, or people I want to tour with, or whatever. Because we’re still so intrinsically linked and involved in each other’s day-to-day life, both personally and professionally, I think that we’re still probably adapting and influencing each other in a way that most siblings in their adulthood don’t.
What would you say is your proudest moment in your career so far?I know this sounds a bit blah, but now I think because the record came out like, last week, I just feel really humbled by the fact that we are still doing this, and that it feels like we’re doing it in a way where the trajectory is still going up. I don’t feel like we’ve plateaued or we’ve had a diminished interest in our project. We’ve taken care to build and grow the band slowly over time, and I don’t know if that’s as common as it used to be. I think a lot of people shoot to the top and then have a hard time sustaining. We’ve always tried to maintain a pace that we can sustain and that we can build an audience and do really interesting things to keep people in the public and in the music industry interested. I’m just starting to be very proud of the whole thing: our 17 years of being professional in this music industry. I think that’s something that I’m starting to see as a whole thing, and it makes me really proud.
Does being visible count as activism, or do you have to do more than just be visible?I hesitate to set guidelines for other people. I can say that for myself, for me, sometimes people don’t know I’m gay or I don’t look gay. It’s been really important to make myself a visible member of the queer community, and I do that by talking about it and advocating for the community. Because we being queer and having experienced being there and being a woman and having these sort of moments of homophobia and misogyny in the industry and in the world, it’s made me very political when it comes to other people who may be experiencing discrimination or who are experiencing high rates of violence or whatever it is. For me, it’s very important to be both visible and to do something. Action is very important. But I also think, you can’t underestimate how important it is just to have someone say, “I’m gay,” or be like, “I’m a gay person, but I don’t really want to talk about it, I don’t really want to make it a part of what I do.” Even though sometimes I wish people were more active, I think by just acknowledging your otherness, your queerness, that still has a tremendous impact on the world at large.
How has exploring your creativity helped create who you are today?I feel really lucky about the fact that from the time I was a kid, both myself and Tegan were really allowed to do what we wanted. Like, we wanted to cut our hair really short, and we wanted to shop in the boy’s clothing section, and we wanted to take karate, and we wanted to play guitar even though we were taking piano lessons. Our parents always supported us, and I think that it seemed like the norm to me. When I look back on it now, the freedom and support to express myself, both in terms of my gender expression and then my sexuality and my interest in music and politics, the constant support from my family and friends allowed me to lead, I think, a really happy and integrated life. And being able to be creative with the way I look, and the way I talk and the way I express my feelings and emotions through music. That makes me a very happy, comfortable person. I think about some of my friends and the people I’ve met over the years who, unfortunately, weren’t allowed that same freedom of expression. It’s been so challenging for them. It sounds so stupid, but even the other day I was looking through these pictures of myself as a little kid, and I mean, we looked like little boys for the first 12 years of our lives. What if I had been a boy and I had wanted to look like a girl? Would I have been allowed to wear dresses and grow my hair out? I think without really knowing it, my family allowed Tegan and I to just be exactly who we wanted to be. And that has informed how I live my life as an adult.
Brendan JordanThanks to a viral mini-diva video, Brendan Jordan went from a casual teenager to one of the internet's most popular young activists. Jordan has, since then, used his YouTube presence to promote equality and celebrate individuality. Last year, Jordan was among Miley Cyrus' Happy Hippie Instapride campaign.
How does the spirit of social media, in terms of its relationship to coming out and visibility, inform your attitude toward speaking out?I think social media alone opens an entire new world of things where you can learn about so many topics you’ve never heard about. It’s also a great platform to get the word out there. Especially now with social media and the YouTube world, everyone is given a voice and a platform where you can truly speak and talk to an audience who is so supportive. That’s the true spirit of social media: to have a platform to speak and share your truth, and to connect with an audience that believes the same thing.
What does the word “outspoken” mean to you?I actually looked the word up yesterday, and it gave me a definition I related to. I can describe myself as being outspoken, someone who goes not against the norm, but someone who definitely says, “If this isn’t right, I’m going to speak upon this,” and say what I believe in. It’s important to be outspoken. I was very happy when I looked it up yesterday. I was like, “Oh my god. How come I’ve never really used this word before?” It’s something I like to describe myself as. In regards to applying to my life, it perfectly describes my attitude toward the world and toward today. If there’s something that needs to be changed or isn’t right, speaking upon something and making that change is important. I’m going to sound so nerdy, but I love that word.
Were you always so outspoken? How did you learn to be outspoken?I wasn’t a very shy kid, but I guess I wasn’t as outgoing as I am today. I’ve always been a loud little kid. There are influences that definitely made me become outspoken today. It’s mostly because of my family background and who I choose to look up to.
What surprised you the most about coming out?Coming out wasn’t a weird experience, but I don’t know why it took me so long. I’m really blessed to have an amazing, supportive family. I already have other members in my family that identify as part of the LGBT community, so I knew they would be 100 percent supportive. What surprised me the most was how much support I got from other people outside of the community. I didn’t expect so many people to be supportive; there were definitely people who weren’t, but I quickly forgot about them. Probably the most surprising of all was how supportive my friends were and still are, and how close I got to them. Our friendship went from a “down there” level to “up there” right when I came out. It was amazing.
Who have you turned to for education and guidance? Do you have a mentor?I’ve said this many times before, and it’s always going to be my answer to questions like this: it’s got to be my grandmother. She’s alive and well today, 87 years old. She only speaks Spanish, because she’s from Peru. I’m lucky to have an amazing, huge family here in Las Vegas. She is one of my biggest role models. She taught me how to be ladylike. She knows how to really talk and she tells me so many stories from her past, living back then and how it was. She’s my biggest fashion inspiration and taught me how to be poised—everything.
What does it mean to put yourself out there, and how does it feel?I don’t see myself on a pedestal or platform. I just see myself as a normal teenager saying what I believe in—it feels great. Sometimes I remember to be grateful and ground myself, because, in other parts of this world, people can’t speak out and truly say what they believe in. I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. I literally live every single day speaking, believing, and sharing in my truth, putting myself out there. I can’t imagine not being able to do that. Of course, it’s overwhelming sometimes, because you put yourself out there, and there’s a different kind of response from different people. I have to remind myself what I believe in and just cherish those things.
As far as your activism goes, what has been your proudest moment so far?It would have to be at the Human Rights Campaign Time to Thrive conference in Dallas. I gave a speech and my family was there. It was one of my proudest moments because I really felt like myself. Speaking in front of a large audience is something I’ve never done before—that was my first time. It was something new, and I stood back proud of myself because speaking is kind of scary—especially something that’s personal to you. It’s something you don’t do on an everyday basis, but I was so happy with the turnout, and my parents and family were, too.
What do you foresee being the biggest challenge facing the gender-fluid community in 2016, and what can everyone do to help?The restroom situation and gender-neutral bathrooms are definitely something that needs to be done. It’s already being done in places around the country, and I think it’s an amazing step leading us to a bright future. A lot of people outside of the community don’t know the correct terminology. I think that’s one of the reasons why people don’t accept others; they’re afraid of what they don’t know. Possibly the biggest issue is educating people, who don’t know, to be aware of the situation and how we can support other people. Going back to the restrooms, there are people saying, “Oh my gosh, we don’t want these people in the bathroom with kids.” Actually, the trans community as a whole has been using whatever bathroom they feel like until recently. Now everyone’s finding it out, and people are calling trans people pedophiles. It’s so awful. That’s not even the case. It’s really pedophiles themselves that shouldn’t be using the restrooms—no matter what or who they identify as. But people need to be aware. That’s definitely something that should be taken care of. I’m not blaming anyone for being at fault; people just don’t know. If people did know, they would be more accepting and know how to treat one another.
Big FreediaNew Orleans native Big Freedia is a pioneer in the city's bounce music scene. She's a published author and host of Fuse's reality show Queen of Bounce.
How does the spirit of music, in terms of its relationship to the larger world, inform your attitude toward speaking out?A lot of people live for music and can relate to music to help with an everyday situation or can help calm a situation in their everyday life. People use music to add values for many different reasons, and everyone has their own reasons. But we’re connecting with music, it brings all of us together and puts all of us on the same page.
What does the word “outspoken” mean to you?Being yourself and not afraid to speak about anything, or to anyone, about any situation. Being a voice that’s loud and proud.
What surprised you the most about coming out?I was accepted by my family.
How would you define a diva?No fear, hard worker, humble, outspoken, loud, always glammed out. Just very much a hard worker, though.
Why is femininity important to your personal identity?Just because I identify as gay myself, and I’m always so girly when it comes to my glam, my hair, my nails, and my face.
Is visibility enough to be an activist, or do you have to do more than just be visible?You have to do more than just be visible. You have to be into it, you have to be visible, social, you have to be, above all, an activist. You definitely have to speak on a lot of issues and be in tune to the world. There’s a lot of work you have to put into it.
As far as your career goes so far, what has been your proudest moment?Continuing to be myself and to continue to grow to be on the level that I’m supposed to be at. I have the platform of my reality show to help me in so many wonderful ways.
Signe Pierce Signe Pierce is a multidimensional artist who focuses on cyberfeminism, identity in the social media age, and how being yourself is the best kind of rebellion.
How does the spirit of social media and art, in terms of its relationship to activism, inform your attitude toward speaking out?For me, personally, it's my goal and role as an artist to get people thinking about perspectives and ideas that they had maybe never considered before. I think it's important to mix in doses of activism and political advocacy into my postings when I'm using the internet. It doesn't have to be every single day—sometimes you just want to post a selfie or a dumb meme. But I do think that artists and anyone with a following, or anyone at all, should be willing to lend their voices towards things that aren't self-reflexive from time to time because there's so much that we need to be talking about.
How has social media influenced your art?Social media has largely influenced my art in the way that it has made it accessible to millions of people. Ten years ago, the art world was so different, and it was much harder to get your work out there. Artists had to go to major cities in order to have their work shown, and the work was inaccessible to the average person. Now we can make art in our studios or bedrooms, upload it to Tumblr, and have it cross 50,000 people's screens in an hour. Our photos, videos, tweets, snaps are tiny little TV shows, and we are the characters, as well as the viewers. Andy Warhol would be so jazzed if he could see this stuff.
What does “outspoken” mean to you?I've always had trouble with the term "coming out of the closet," because I've always found it offensive that I was "in a closet" to begin with. How dare we metaphorically quarantine anyone who doesn't fit into heteronormative sexual identities, that we never signed up for in the first place, into a "closet.” How dare we put pressure on people to feel as though they need to justify their personal preferences by "coming out.”
It is no one's business who anyone else wants to love, and I hope that the term "coming out" becomes antiquated as we delve deeper into the right for sexual liberty and equality. Why are children taught that we are all going to grow up to marry someone of the opposite sex? Schools, politicians, and the society at large continue to perpetuate heteronormative lifestyles and need to be continually called out for their erasure of the massive population that identifies as LGBTQIA. Your gendered constructs are broken, so let's work together to fix them.
What surprised you the most about coming out?I personally have had a privileged ride in exploring my queer identity, because I am a cisgendered white woman, and to the unassuming eye, I "pass" as straight. It can honestly be difficult for me to attract "non-straights" because I don't incorporate many queer signifiers into my physical identity or the way that I dress. I enjoy the subversive act of my presentation being normative on the streets, radical in the sheets, and basically everywhere else besides my physical form.
When I started being open about my queerness, it was after I graduated college and it was always said in a bit of a whisper. Even though I was living in NYC, one of the queer capitals of the world, it still felt like something I shouldn't be too loud about—"What if my boss found out? Will it hurt me professionally?" We're taught that it's taboo to be attracted to anyone who isn't the opposite sex, and the pressure of conforming to gender norms is such an integral component of the patriarchal capitalistic structure. Once I started being honest with all people in my life that I'm queer, it became less of a big deal for me and more of a "deal with it" for anyone else.
Your work really forces the viewer to confront gender and sexuality, especially female sexuality. What does it mean for you and your ideas out there like that? How does it feel?It feels fucking tight is the first thought that comes to mind. I relish in the ability to use my body and my sexuality as an artistic device. There are sometimes where I'm like, "Whoa, Sig, is this too much?" But then I remind myself of all the stupid teen sex comedies I grew up watching where men just go off for hours talking about their dicks and making misogynistic jokes, and I'm like, "Mmm yeah... I think they can handle me faking an orgasm while I'm choking on this iPhone charger."
As far as your art and activism go, what has been your proudest moment so far? Is there anything you would have changed?American Reflexxx, a short film I made with Alli Coates, has been my proudest piece thus far. The performance video ended up resonating with hundreds of thousands of people around the world and sparked conversations about misogyny, transphobia and the way that we objectify and treat other people. It means so much to me to have confirmation that yes, art can really make a difference. It can work to open new opinions and expose truths. I wouldn't change a thing.
What do you foresee being the biggest challenge facing the world, socially-speaking, for the rest of 2016? What is one thing we can all do to help to overcome it?I think that one of the biggest things is finding a way for us to turn activism into activation. One of the failures of the Occupy Wall Street movement—which also had a lot of successes—can be linked to the fact that there wasn't a set objective or plan. Rather, it was more a way of raising awareness, which it did a tremendous job of. Raising awareness via marches and protests and long-winded Facebook rants is absolutely necessary, but what we really, desperately need right now, is real action that works to instill change.
The internet brings us together in times of tragedy. Everyone is banding together right now to discuss the horrific occurrence that happened in Orlando, and what needs to happen to prevent mass shootings and to obliterate hate crimes and intolerance. Last week, we were up in arms about the Stanford Rape Victim. The week before, we were mourning the injustices happening at U.S. voting polls and the fact that Bernie's votes were being disregarded. I feel as though we need to work together to formulate an agenda that works toward actual change so that our anger and passion for these issues don't float away into the cloud as a new inevitable tragedy comes along. We need to keep fighting for action and change, and we need to band together with a plan to make real change actually happen.
Perfume GeniusMike Hadreas—better known as Perfume Genius—has been making achingly honest music for nearly a decade. His frank candor and shameless display of his homosexuality are both provocative and challenging. Through his music, we begin to question the politics of popular music and its reflection on the audience. Like he sings in "Queen": "No family is safe when I sashay."
How does the spirit of music inform your attitude toward speaking out?When I was young, what I looked to was music—more than anything, really. I was the only out gay person in my high school and knew I was gay much longer before I was out. Music was a way for me to feel less alone in that. That led to me being able to come out fairly early—I think when I was 15. I was listening to music like Liz Phair and Sleater-Kinney. I went to a Sleater-Kinney show when I was 13, and I knew they were singing—two women, you know, it was a known thing. It wasn’t just that they happened to be lesbians, they were making music for women. That specificity was really important to me. It’s important for me to be that way in my own music. It was important for me to use male pronouns and be clear with who and what I was singing about.
I love seeing more gay male artists using male pronouns to talk about their love songs.It’s a risky thing to do. I’m not as hypercritical as some people [are] about it, but I really think it’s easy to trip yourself up talking about it. When I heard Rufus Wainwright when I was 15, even his singing voice is very gay. [Laughs] To hear someone singing in a gay voice like mine—higher, wispier—was very powerful to me. I needed that hyperspecific thing to feel less lonely. When I started making music, I thought about what I could’ve used more of when I was young. That’s part of the reason why I do the things I do.
What surprised you the most about coming out?I think I was most surprised that everyone knew. It’s so ridiculous looking back. I wasn’t hiding it very well at all. What surprised me most was my brother; I told him and it didn’t change the rest of the day. I just told my brother, “Did you know that I’m gay?” and he was like “No, I didn’t.” That was it. The easiest and least complicated was with my brother.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?I’ve always been fairly self-absorbed and not very helpful in my daily life. I was always in my own head, thinking too much, not being very productive. In making music, I get a lot of letters from people and end up having very meaningful conversations. I feel like I’ve helped soothe some of the things that kept me the way that I was. The reason why I am so self-conscious and afraid, a lot of the things I’ve been trying to avoid are what has made me successful in a weird way. A lot of the things I was ashamed and embarrassed by growing up have brought me closer to people through my music. I get letters from people that appreciate that. I feel hopeful, and it’s the only time I’ve really ever felt that way.
What does the word “outspoken” mean to you?It’s very easy not to speak up. Even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s like a discomfort that you know. The vulnerability of speaking out is very scary, but it’s very important. It doesn’t always have to be loud. People can do it, however, they can do it and however you can manage. It doesn’t have to be loud or screaming, but I do enjoy a scream.
In light of everything that’s happened in Orlando, I’m curious to know how clubs and nightlife have influenced your identity.I’ve been sober for seven years. I’ve known a lot of other sober people that are still able to go out and have fun, but somehow I’m not able to do that. Going out feels like something I used to do, but I very much miss that feeling. I’ve even moved away from the city; I moved to another city, but it’s much smaller and it’s not as visible—the gay community. I remember moving to the city for the first time and going to gay clubs, and it’s kind of heartbreaking to talk about right now, but I’m going to talk about it anyways. I started thinking and freaking out about how I carried myself, how I seemed, how my voice sounded when I was maybe eight. The only time I ever forgot about that, for however small the amount of time, was when I was surrounded by other people like me. There have been times in clubs and going out where I’ve felt completely safe, even for just a second—being as close to exactly who I am as possible. It’s a very powerful thing. So much of being gay when you’re young is feeling completely on the outside, and that’s not a good a way to feel on the inside. For the first time, you feel like a part of something.
Why is femininity important to your identity, and why is it important to talk about?Most of the things I was tortured about, made fun of, and taught to be ashamed of my whole life were what people considered my feminine qualities. That’s pretty much it. Homophobia and gay rights are so wrapped up in feminism; it’s the same thing to me in a lot of ways. As I’ve gotten older, if I was going to name my power or strength, I would name it as feminine.
What do you foresee being the biggest challenge facing queer individuals, in music specifically?It’s the same thing that’s been going on for a long time. As outspoken and as proud as I am, I still think about it, and it’s a source of shame for me. I understand if I were less gay, I could be more successful. I might begin writing or thinking in that way—how can I help it? I want to pay my rent. I want to be in a hotel that has nice sheets. That sounds fun to me. I start writing and thinking practically. How can I make something reach the most people? Eventually, I end up writing for who will need it the most. Stop writing for everyone, and just write for what’s important to me. It’s very sad to me that the more specific I am, the easier it is for people to pass it off. The gayer my album cover is, the easier it is for people to avoid it or not give it the same amount of clout they would give someone else. As if listening to a gay artist means something about them and listening to a straight artist doesn’t. Like if a straight man is listening to a gay musician, it means something about him as a person. Straight people are able to play into gender and be way gayer than many, but since they’re not gay, it’s safe. Somehow it’s different.
Gabby RiveraGabby Rivera is a writer, youth mentor, and editor of QTPOC content for Autostraddle.com. She's the author of Juliet Takes A Breath, a critically acclaimed YA novel about a queer Latina coming-of-age.
What is the connection between your writing and activism? How does politics inform your fiction writing and vice versa?Real talk, the first draft of Juliet Takes a Breath was devoid of politics. It was a party story that happened to have a queer brown round babe at the center, But, that whole first draft was hella indicative of where I was in my personal evolution. I was writing for Autostraddle regularly and just learning what it meant to be a queer brown person, and what it meant to have cis privilege. Thank the universe for queer folks, of color and white, who had the time and space and the love to help me learn and challenge me to be better. But I also realized that not everyone has access to the vocabulary and theories that bring us to those places where can critique institutional racism, transphobia, white feminism, the carceral state, and all that shit. So through writing and telling stories, I had the opportunity to really focus on how to open up those pathways and engage in those conversations at a 101 level.
At one point, when I reviewed my first draft, I was like, "Damn who the hell is Juliet? What is she about? What does she know? What does she need to know?" I realized that I could add complexity to her by cracking myself open and sharing my evolution and bleeding it into her story. This lesbian Latina from the Bronx, thick as hell and brown as the earth, needed to be the one to ask questions about racism, white feminism, patriotism, and all that shit because she’s the future. She’s the one we never hear from, and she deserves this glorious moment in the sun. And so, for me, if my politics aren’t in my work, then neither is my voice, and none of it is worth shit.
What surprised you the most about coming out?Deep down I was convinced that when I came out, I would lose my momma’s love. Once, when I was 15, we were watching Oprah and Cher and Chaz Bono on [TV], but like this was when Chaz still identified as Chastity and was coming out as a lesbian. And my mom was like, “If you ever come out to me as a lesbian, I won’t be having that in my house.” And so I was shaken to death coming out. Like I had a friend, who worked in the financial aid department of my college, ready to help me fill out grants and financial aid forms if my folks cut me off after coming out. I had friends at the ready with lodging, food, and even a getaway car should my folks end their relationship with me. I just didn’t know what to expect.
Then, outta nowhere, my beautiful, Christian, Puerto Rican momma told me that her love was something I could never lose because my existence was a gift from God and that love came from a place beyond her and within her. She loved me before I was even born. But, don’t think for a second that my mom was cool with the gay thing because she wasn’t at all. It took her mad time to get used to it, to learn with me, and to evolve politically alongside me. But her love for me was the thing that kept her going and I pulled my mom into my community. I made her meet my queer friends and my radical friends and my lovers, and she just started loving on everyone. Now her biggest concern is when I’m gonna find me a down ass, queer brown wife and hatch her some grandbabies. I guess I was just surprised that moms can evolve too and that not all hope is lost when they don’t understand everything the instant you come out. Like shit, at least, my mom deserved some space to deal, grow, and bloom.
In what ways do you embody the idea of the personal being political, and what has that been like for you?I live in a queer brown house. I am currently not dating white women. I have put my needs as a queer Latinx, as Gabby fucking Rivera, above all other things. I am doing the best that I can to live by what I believe to be true. I shut my mouth when I need to. I back the fuck up when I need to. I Google shit before I ask someone to bend in order to educate me. I ask my friends if they have space for my questions about race and feminism and misogyny. I cook my mom and dad brunch and listen to their stories about the Bronx burning and white people not doing a damn thing about it. And how the Black Panthers and Young Lords put a stop to that. I listen to queer brown femmes and LGBTQ youths of color, of all genders or no genders, and I mind my space and I fuck up and I keep trying. You know? Like what else can I do? I gotta keep living, paying my bills, listening to Lemonade, and just trying to keep on keepin’ on.
As far as your activism goes, what has been your proudest moment so far? Proud is a weird word for me sometimes. I think my strongest moment of love in activism has been my work with Autostraddle’s QTPOC Speakeasy. The Speakeasy came about via personal evolution. At one point, a few of us realized that queer/trans people of color needed our own space at A-camp. We had tried having thoughtful dialogues around race with white folks, but it ended up being bullshit with white queers taking up too much fucking space and needing their education centered around our explanations and their tears. So I and a few others—Carmen, Yvonne, Mey, Carolyn, Whitney, Aja aka Fit for a Femme—decided that we needed our own space. It was the best decision I’ve ever been a part of. We do not need white queers in our healing spaces or in our conversations about oppression. Learning that spaces for QTPOC are necessary spaces was one of the most striking moments in my life. Creating that space for other Black, Brown, Indigenous, API, Latinx, Native folks has been like church for me. It is an honor and a blessing, something I am thankful I get to do.
Seeing all the fresh baby brown queers on the mountain being in their first QTPOC-only space ever is something that gives me fuel to push forward in a world that often has no room for me. I do it for us.
What do you foresee being the biggest challenge facing queer women in 2016, and what can everyone do to help? I think some of the realest shit facing queer women is imagining that there is one version of queer womanhood. When queer white women sit in their all-queer white women spaces and try to get shit done and be “radical,” and they don’t have one fucking person of color, trans woman of color, gender queer, transgender, non-binary folks in their midst, and they try and call their shit revolutionary, that’s a fucking problem. It’s a boring-ass basic pumpkin spice latte problem. Like it’s 2016, get it together. Your squad better be intersectional as hell, and please don’t call it a squad, you know? I also think that light-skinned and white-passing queers of color need to check their anti-blackness. Shit, I need to check the anti-blackness that came through my upbringing on one side of the family even though as a Puerto Rican, we’re black too, Afro-Latinx, all that.
There is colorism that affects everything we do, and if we don’t check that shit, then we’re guilty of maintaining white supremacy. Simple as that suckers. And our intersecting identities do not safeguard us from anti-black, anti-trans, anti-queer sentiments. Check all the judgments.
People need to stop acting like they are above engaging in behavior that criminalizes and polices the actions of Black and brown masculine-presenting folks. People need to also stop acting like they don’t try and crush femininity out of people. We got issues in our communities, and we need space to reflect on them and educate each other while offering healing within our communities.
Jacob TobiaJacob Tobia is a genderqueer writer, speaker, artist, and activist whose work has been featured in MTV, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and more.
How does the word “outspoken” apply to your life?I feel like the word "outspoken" is often used to talk about people who talk just a little bit too much about something. Like, "Oh, well, he's very outspoken about it," "She's an outspoken advocate for the issue," "They're awfully outspoken!" Which is why I LOVE the word outspoken. I seek to live my life in a profoundly outspoken way, to talk so much and so often about my experience navigating the gender binary that the binary itself begins to crumble. I want everyone to think that I talk just a little bit too much and try a little bit too hard. In a world where trans and femme people are supposed to be quiet and invisible, being outspoken is a gorgeous rebellion.
What surprised you the most about your coming out experience?What surprised me most, and continues to surprise me to this day, is just how dissonant my coming out experiences have been with the coming out experiences that I see portrayed in the media, in film, and on television. According to mainstream depictions, coming out is a dramatic, cathartic process that is supposed to have years of buildup, happen once, and then be done forever. As I've come to embrace more and more facets of myself, I'm realizing that the metaphor of the closet doesn't work for me. My coming out experience has been more like an onion than anything else. I'm constantly peeling away old layers and discovering new parts of myself. I'm peeling away the ways that patriarchy and cissexism have made me think about myself, only to find that there's more work to be done. My gender will never be complete—it's always a work in progress, an evolution, and I'm learning to really cherish that.
The stories you tell online are often deeply personal, like the post you wrote after the Orlando, Florida, shooting. These snapshots of your life, paired with political context, resonate widely. How did you become comfortable sharing like that?I learned to share only out of necessity and out of a deep sense of social justice. There are so many people who are forced to be silent in our world. There is so much violence and marginalization that goes unchecked, unreported, and unseen. I feel that it is my responsibility as an activist, a writer, and a human being to work to shed light on those moments that go unnoticed. Whether it's speaking vocally about my experiences with street harassment, or working to dispel the myth that Muslim people cannot be allies of the queer community, there are moments in my life that have profound importance beyond just my own experience, that speak to deeper truths about our world. There are still times when I'm scared to open up my life, my heart, and my mind to the world, but the more I do it, the more that people in my life are able to open their hearts to me.
How does your love of fashion intersect with your identity and visibility?Fashion is such an area of conflict for me. On the one hand, proudly proclaiming my power femme/transfeminine identity to the world is vital. There are so many male-assigned people around the world who are murdered, harassed, discriminated against, and neglected because we live in a world that says femininity can't go on male-assigned bodies. So when I show my femme proudly to the world and own it, I know that I am empowering other people to reject internalized, and externalized, misogyny and love themselves in a new and powerful way.
On the other hand, fashion culture can be so acidic. It makes me dysphoric in ways I don't always know how to communicate, and I know that I'm not the only one. We are in a moment of profound trans visibility, and that is great, but I wonder if we are equipped as a trans community to deal with some of the issues that will create for our young people. Yes, now there are gorgeous trans women and men on the covers of magazines, but for every trans model who makes it big, there are thousands of young trans people who are learning that their bodies are only valuable if they are seen as beautiful through a conventional lens. I worry that we are setting up beauty norms that are as unattainable as those faced by cisgender people, that we are establishing a new kind of dysphoria in our community, but I'm not always sure how to fight that.
As far as your activism goes, what has been your proudest moment so far?Lord. That is a hard question! If I had to pick one moment, which I really hate doing, I would actually say that I am proudest of something that I did in high school. When I was in high school, being queer was much, much scarier, because I had no idea what my future would hold and I had no rubric to follow. Learning to be an activist was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, and I'm proudest of some of my earliest moments when this learning was more tender. I remember during my junior year of high school, I planned the Day of Silence at my school and as part of it, somehow got authorization from the administration to make an announcement over the intercom during homeroom. It was the year after Larry King—a gender nonconforming 7th grader in Oxnard, California—had been murdered by a classmate, and the Day of Silence that year was in Larry's honor. So I had to get on the intercom at my school and make an announcement about the fact that some queer people are murdered because we are queer. For a 16-year-old queer kid in Raleigh, North Carolina with little sense of what the future held, that was terrifying. But I did it. And it mattered. It's still one of my proudest moments to this day.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the genderqueer community this year, and what can everyone do to help?In 2016, the rights and liberties of trans people are under attack all across the country. In times of crisis, the LGBTQ movement has a bad habit of only putting forward "palatable" trans people who can "appeal to the average American." Almost always, that means putting forward the voices of gender-conforming, "passing", educated, conventionally attractive transgender people. Genderqueer and nonbinary people are often erased by the trans community itself, and I worry that, because we are on the defensive, that's at risk of getting worse. We can all do a better job to counter that by uplifting not just the voices of binary-identified transgender people, but all trans people. Learning to be a better ally to genderqueer and gender nonconforming trans folks—learning to be a proactive ally—is such a powerful tool for combating our erasure.