PREMIERE: CJ Harper & Lucien Frank Collaborate on Four AM – Destination

Crybaby is premiering the collaboration of CJ Harper and Lucien Frank. The music (by Harper) and visuals (by Frank) come together beautifully in this special and thoughtful video.

Lucien Frank – 18, Santa Monica

“I spent the summer of 2016 writing and shooting a short film. The film never seemed finished, it always seemed to be missing something. It clicked this year when CJ played me a song he’d been working on and the themes in the music fit perfectly with my narrative. It was surreal and rewarding to see the footage find a home. The result of our collaboration and connection is “Destination.””

CJ Harper (Four AM) – 22, Los Angeles

“I have been lucky enough to watch Lucien grow into a serious visual artist. Helping to bring his cinematic ideas to life through music and conversation has been supernatural. I can’t wait for you to see it.”

Destination is available for stream & download on Spotify, Apple Music, etc.

The upcoming Four AM album titled “Last Night” is out August 9th.

PREMIERE: “Bodiez” by Sara King

Written by Dallas based singer Sara King in December, “Bodiez” is as aesthetically enticing as it is musically. King stays true to form in a custom neon green ruffle dress designed by Ramisha Sattar; sensual, sultry and trendy.

King performed the demo version of her latest single when she opened for Banes World in California and Her’s in Texas. The music video was directed, edited and shot King herself.

King said that “Bodiez” was written about “the fear of certain boundaries within a friendship that may potentially ruin it.” She said that she wanted to create something relatable for “people who maybe have feelings towards someone they have in their life, labeled as a ‘friend.”

“I feel like we all have a friend that we wouldn’t mind getting closer to,” King said. “But is it worth potentially ruining something that’s great? That’s what “Bodiez is about.”

You can read Story Editor Zoe Allen’s August interview with Sara King here.

I’m Ready to Talk Whenever You Are

Illustration by Li Ya Wen
Story by Zoe Allen

We met and fell in love far away from technology.

It was a summer romance, born and nurtured in the heat of July in Texas, at a sleepaway camp so Texan that its lack of air conditioning is only compensated for by its larger than life personality. The camp operates on a strict no technology policy, providing a three-week haven for those who crave face to face interaction, life lessons and the lakeside.

I have called this camp home for years; it has seen me through my bangs, Invisalign, and countless other maladies and faux pas. I have always adored my cabinmates, the women who have transformed into my life-long friends, but I had one dream throughout my adolescent years at camp: I wanted a boy to ask me to the Wednesday night dance.

And he did, when I was sixteen; on a sailboat, he asked if he could flirt with me. I responded “yes” as we derigged the boat and walked to the music room, telling him about my writing as we laid on the wooden floor. He talked about the stars, how our existence related to an enigmatical celestial design. He spoke of concepts that previously would not have interested me, but the words were coming from his lips–the language of physics was suddenly all that I wanted to hear.

A day later, I sat there on the same floor for what felt like hours before he finally asked if he could kiss me.

“I thought you would never ask.”

If there was a competition for the most ideal place to fall in love, summer camps would take the top spot; we grew enamored with each other without the façade of social media and sans social pressure. I wore no makeup the first time we kissed, and did not for the rest of our time together—my physical flaws were transparent as he fell in love with me.

But summer camp is not forever–throughout our three weeks, campers and counselors constantly reminded each other that “the days were long and the weeks were short.” Time seemed to torture us then, taunting us with its brevity. (In the months to follow, I would quickly learn that time moves faster in the presence of someone you love.)

The world outside of camp, outside of us, loomed omnipresent. We deliberated about what to tell our friends and family back in the real world, what label we were now forced to define our “us” with. Was a week and a half to be the lifespan of our relationship? Or would we sustain what we knew to be true, even if it was unspoken–that we were in love?

Our zealous decision to try long-distance was our first “I love you.” We faked apprehension about entering this kind of relationship, but we knew that in reality, neither of us was ready to give up what we had. So, clutching our phones for the first time as boyfriend and girlfriend, we went our separate ways, together; he and his family had just settled in Austin, I went back to my lifelong home of Dallas.

We FaceTimed that night for five hours, attempting to find ourselves in the newly-acquired space between us. It felt so foreign–the screens, the air conditioning, the lack of each other. We reconciled our physical distance with our words, our voices carried by sound waves through phone screens. We spent lengths of time disconnecting and reconnecting our respective WiFis, hoping that our faces would appear as more than pixelated images, partially convinced that we would open our eyes and be pressed against one another. Those pixelated images became the norm; our screens have sponsored our relationship for almost three years now.

I often joke with him that we are a living, breathing advertisement for FaceTime. Our nightly conversations have morphed into rituals, becoming one of the only constants in my life. I’ll take off my makeup, climb into pajamas, brush my teeth, and shoot him a text: “I’m ready to talk whenever you are.”

I’ve found comfort in the familiar buzzing ringtone of his calls, home in our tradition of lightly pressing our lips to the camera before hanging up. We attempt to normalize our relationship through our video chats, searching for what other couples have in person across hundreds of miles. In many ways, we find it.

I call him on the subway, when I’m walking to the library, when I’m putting on a facemask. I try to call at the times that if we lived in the same location, we would be together. In that ideal, fictional world, we would take the subway together, remind each other not to procrastinate (but procrastinate by being with each other) and tease each other about how we looked in our “mud from the Dead Sea” facemasks.

We FaceTime at night out of convenience; we wind down together, preparing to embark on the search for sleep. However, a part of me believes that it’s beyond the simplicity of ease–we FaceTime nightly because if we weren’t separated by distance, our nights would be spent in the same bed.

We might have found love far away from technology, but technology is the way we sustain it.

There hasn’t been a day since we started dating that we haven’t texted (except when we’re physically together). I am regularly frustrated by the fact that my boyfriend lives in my phone, and I just as regularly have to remind myself to be thankful that he does. It is both a blessing and a curse; my “screen time” statistics are appalling, but it’s only because I’m in love.

Without his perpetual residency inside of my phone–all five feet 11 inches of him crammed within a five-inch screen–our communication, our love, would not be as feasible. Technology provides those of us who are in long-distance relationships with some of the same fulfillment as those who live in the same place as their partner. Similar to the locational differences between those who are in long-distance relationships and those who are not, the discrepancies of the gratification lie in the capacities of our physicality.

In relationships that are defined by separation, the gratification comes from texts, calls, and notifications. These little indulgences do not compare to a physical togetherness (face time, not FaceTime), but they are enough to sustain. They are enough to remind me daily why it is worth loving someone who is physically so distant because emotionally, he is so immediate.

Via phone, he is immediate enough for me to love, and to never lose sight of the fact that I love him. Our nights spent on FaceTime are our version of climbing into bed with each other. He’s underneath the sheets, reading Foundation by Isaac Asimov. I tug on the other end of the comforter, setting down my reading glasses and my book, before curling up next to him. “So, how was your day baby?”

He’ll respond with a few anecdotes and I’ll follow suit, catching up on what we missed since the last time we spoke. When I’m down, I’m less responsive, limiting my replies to a few words. He is rarely distressed in the ways that I know that I can sometimes be, but maybe I only think that because I’m in love with him. He says he’ll never let me fall asleep when I’m upset. So far, he hasn’t.

His digital presence soothes me in a manner that others did not, even when I could reach out and touch them; his slightly distorted voice and granular facial structure have the ability to appease my worst of uncertainties. Over FaceTime, we have found the ability to be there, but not there.

When the space between us dissolves, we live in a world free of texts, apps, and video chats. We revert back to our 100-degree summer romance, our falling in love three summers ago; we exist only for each other. FaceTime becomes but a faraway accessory, texting only reserved for letting my mom know that I arrived at his house.

I convince myself in those days leading up to seeing him that our 48 hours together will be infinite. We spend weeks waiting for singular days that are more fleeting than most; our time together ceaselessly proves that time moves faster in the presence of whom you love. I feel betrayed when our time together comes to an end, even though I should be used to it after three years. I doubt that I will ever become accustomed to leaving him.

Time seems to be our perpetual enemy; I spend days anticipating our time together, and they abandon me without failure. Time is the saboteur of long-distance romance.

I feel deceived by the first text I send in the wake of our long weekends, by the first FaceTime the night after I’m gone, frustrated by the truth that technology is our constant, not our time together. Even if I’m aware that I’ll be with him again in less than a month, the weight of leaving is crushing. It’s in those days that FaceTime and iMessage are not enough.

The reality is they are never enough, because as much as technology endeavors, my boyfriend inside of a screen will never compare to my boyfriend in my arms, phones on the bed side table, because being together is more than enough. It is everything.

The Met Gala: notes on the red carpet

Photos courtesy of Vogue with graphics by Alycia Dalfonsi
Story by Zoe Allen

Lady Gaga embraced her eclectic, yet stunning past in not just one, but three outfits on the red carpet. Serena Williams wore neon yellow Off-White x Nike sneakers that perfectly complimented her floral Versace gown of the same color. Billy Porter’s gold-embellished, royal entrance was more like an ascension from heaven, or Ancient Egypt–wings included. Jeremy Scott and Moschino dressed singer Katy Perry as a real-life chandelier. Harry Styles went sheer in a pussy-bow blouse (picture lace accents, impeccable nail polish, a singular pearl earring and clunky rings all by Gucci) and it was absolutely elegant.

It’s almost redundant to state the event that these fashion feats headlined; there’s really only one it could be: the Met Gala.

One of Co-chair Lady Gaga’s four Met Gala red carpet outfits.

This year’s theme, “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” was co-chaired by Gaga, Williams Alessandro Michele and Styles, along with “Vogue” Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour (who was outfitted in head to toe Chanel).

Just what exactly is “camp?” Andrew Bolton, current Head Curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, said in a 2018 interview with “Vogue” that he thinks “one of the defining elements of camp are the lists that people keep providing…the endless list is, finally, the definite mark of camp.” So really, “camp” is what you make of it.

The event saw A-list celebrities from every field flaunt their originality and style knowledge. Some were nuanced and simple. Others were daring and bold. Floral dresses seemed to be a favorite for not only Williams, but the entire Leibovitz clan minus Annie herself, who chose to don a simple two-piece suit (Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking).

The annual Gala, which serves as a fundraiser for the Met, is my career goal. I have yet to place my finger on a specific dream job, but one of my biggest aspirations is to somehow make it to the Met Gala. Whether that be as an Anna Wintour-approved invitee (unlikely) or as a reporter (more likely) is yet to be seen.

Co-chair Harry Styles’ Gucci ensemble.

It’s fashion’s–and, in many ways, pop culture’s–most important night. As I mentioned before, the guest list is exclusively curated by the “Vogue” EIC herself and regardless of invitation, tickets are $15,000 (it’s a fundraiser, after all). By the transitive property, it’s not only fashion and pop culture’s most important night, it’s their most exclusive night.

It’s a cultural event. It’s broadcasted and photographed and whispered about days before and days after. I’m currently zooming in on the details of rapper 21 Savage’s gold, baroque style tuxedo jacket. Oh, and Celine Dion might be 51, but her legs looked better in her silver, fringed ensemble (complete with a feather headpiece) than mine ever will.

Gold was a favorite of the night, as it played the show stopping element in Porter’s appearance, Savage’s jacket and Awkwafina’s Altuzarra dress, as well as both the gowns of Mindy Kaling and Emily Blunt, among others. “13th” and “A Wrinkle in Time” director Ava DuVernay stunned in a green, singular rose-printed gown, while critically-acclaimed producer Ryan Murphy stepped up to the “Camp” theme in an crystal and pearl embellished rose gold suit and cape. Will men in capes be the next fashion trend?

Co-chair Serena Williams opted for a neon yellow look, featuring a Versace gown and Off-White sneakers.

Rapper French Montana embraced his Moroccan roots in a custom made thobe, which are often worn by men in the Middle East and North Africa. Frank Ocean, ever-true to his nature, opted for simplicity in a nylon Prada anorak.

“Momager” Kris Jenner drew attention from not only her frilly, boxy-shouldered coat, but from debuting a new platinum bob. Her youngest daughters, Kendall and Kylie, made sure to be seen in bright purples and oranges (not really on theme, but a statement nonetheless). Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West looked like they were dressed up for any other evening, as Kim was predictably dressed in neutrals.

Jared Leto’s date? His Gucci severed head accessory. Saoirse Ronan and Florence Welch were outfitted by the Italian fashion house as well, but chose the more traditional route of gowns instead (red sequined and powder blue embellished, respectively). Designer Tommy Hilfiger and his wife, Dee, won the award for the most patriotic attire of the evening. Recently reborn singer FKA twigs channeled her inner rainbow bird of flight.

Dear Rami Malek and Taron Egerton, please do better. You both play two of the most iconic “camp” personalities (Freddie Mercury and Sir Elton John, respectively) on the silver screen and you have done them an injustice with your lack of creativity.

Ezra Miller pulls off a “Magritte x Addams Family” look.

The “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace” antagonist Darren Criss was Styles’ partner in pussy-bowness; he walked the red carpet sporting intense eyeshadow and a patterned jacket. Country songstress Kacey Musgraves, who hinted at her attire via her Instagram stories, arrived at the Museum in a hot pink, Barbie convertible, with a Moschino Barbie ensemble and blond wig to match.

Actor Ezra Miller, infamous for his red carpet entrances and looks, embraced camp in what I can only call a “René Magritte x the Addams Family” look. The same can be said for Alexa Chung, whose stitched floral mini dress and beret combined camp, cute and classy. Ocean was not the only invitee who chose simple over statement; singer Shawn Mendes opted for a black Yves St. Laurent tuxedo, “Creed” star Michael B. Jordan wore an embellished all-black suit as well.

Janelle Monáe, ever pushing the limits of fashion, wore a hot pink, black and white dress that featured an eye over the left breast. She accessorized with four hats stacked on top of her head impeccably and a clutch that matched the eye embellishment. Rapper Cardi B, whose 2018 Met Gala look was so incredibly on theme, arrived on the red carpet in a stunning deep red gown with a train as long as the steps themselves and as thick as a duvet. Queen.

Billy Porter’s royal entrance.

As with all Met Gala’s, some who walked the red carpet did justice to the theme and some dressed as they so desired. This year’s “Camp” theme was undeniably up for interpretation and nearly every look reflected that. From Ocean’s simplistic, all black affair, to Celine Dion’s ethereal bodysuit, tastes of all kinds were reflected this evening in New York City. And what an evening it was.

Essay from a psychiatric hospital

Illustration by Maya Cardinali

As this is sensitive, personal content, the author of this essay has chosen to remain anonymous.

Trigger warning: eating disorders.

Psychiatric Hospital. When you read those words, a few things probably come to mind: possibly a creepy gated facility, zombie-like patients wandering around in hospital gowns, lobotomies, nuns and orderlies strapping patients to a bed for electroshock therapy, just to name a few. Most people think that psychiatric hospitals are things of the past, or for people who have been deemed not competent to stand trial in a murder case. In short, most of what people think of when they think of a psychiatric hospital is something out of a horror film.

The year is 2019. I am 19 years old. For the past 6 weeks I have been living a psychiatric hospital. And I can tell you, it is not the horror show you are envisioning.

When my parents sent me to this facility they did not tell me that it was a psychiatric hospital—and I didn’t even realize that it was until I had been here about a week. I had my own misconceptions about psychiatric hospitalization too and I was completely against it. I, probably similar to most people, expected to be sedated and treated against my will. I expected to be trapped in a windowless, cell-like room all day and to be met with uncaring treatment. I expected that I would be treated like a criminal.

I’m currently being treated in a specific unit of the hospital that only cares for patients with eating disorders. The staff here are warm and caring—they treat us with respect and dignity. To them, I am not just a number—I am a person. They frequently bring us their movies and arts and crafts from home to help pass downtime on the weekends. They know all about my hobbies and passions, the names of my dogs, and where my little sister is going to college. They know when I like to be woken up in the morning and how I like my smoothies made. They have talked me off many a ledge and convinced me to eat even the scariest of foods, donuts included. I talk to them about my fears and hopes and all of the plans I have for when I discharge.

We do cry a lot.  I’ve shed more tears in the past six weeks than I have in the past several years.  Before I was admitted, I hid all of my feelings; I used my eating disorder and self-harm to conceal all of the difficult things I was struggling with.  But in the hospital, all of my go-to (and extremely unhealthy) coping skills have been taken from me, so, naturally, my feelings started to pour out of me sideways. My therapist has developed a chronic tissue deficiency in her office due to the fact that I use about eight Kleenex per session (and I have two sessions a week, so yeah, I go through a lot). 

To many people’s surprise, though, we laugh a lot here. To be honest, I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time. I am often gasping for air, my face bright red because I am laughing so hard.  Being here and beginning recovery is the hardest thing I have ever done and I wouldn’t be able to survive without the laughter. The laughs heard here are of a different kind: it comes from the bellies and mouths of those who have not laughed, I mean really laughed, in quite some time.  When it echoes through the halls it reminds me that yes, there is hope. Yes, there is a light at the end of this seemingly impossible tunnel.

The unit is unusually comfortable and not entirely miserable. Our group room is lined with large chairs and ottomans and most patients are wrapped in their blankets, coloring books and journals armed at the ready. We don’t leave the fluorescent lights on 24/7. And, after a few weeks, I was able to get my drawstrings and shoe laces back—I’m even allowed to shave with a disposable razor now. The unit we live on looks more like a house than a hospital.  We have a homey lounge with couches and chairs. We have a TV whose accompanying stand is stocked with movies. The linoleum floor is covered by a carpet.  It’s a drab carpet, but still, it’s a carpet.  There’s a screened-in porch and an art room. One of the walls is decorated with encouraging quotes written by current and former patients. The bedrooms do not look like that of a typical hospital: no panic buttons or adjustable beds are found here. My roommate and I each have our own dresser and we share a desk, closet, and bathroom. This is the closest I’ve come to dorm life in a long time; college has been put on the back burner in the midst of my illness. The grounds of the campus are actually quite beautiful. The green grass is flooded with brightly colored flowers and towering trees. There’s even a koi pond that we visit often. 

That’s not to say that I don’t feel trapped here sometimes—I do. The tiresome nature that comes with living inside of a psychiatric hospital often becomes overwhelming, especially after being inside for six weeks. We have to go through five locked doors just to get to meals. At this point, my hospital bracelet might as well be fused to my skin. Hearing codes come over the loudspeaker feels normal at this point and that sickens me. Each morning I put on a hospital gown to get my weight measured and vitals taken. I am constantly told where to go and when, when to go to sleep, when to wake up, when and what to eat; I’m essentially a 19-year-old child.  I don’t want this to be my life any longer.

Next week, I will be celebrating my 20th birthday here. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sad.  As a little girl I never thought I would be bidding farewell to my teenage years inside of a psychiatric institution. I ugly-cried to my mom about it over FaceTime just a little bit ago.  Of course, I would rather be snuggled on the couch with my dogs watching reruns of “Parks and Recreation” or “The Office.”

But, I am surrounded by people who care for me unconditionally. Who love me, scars and all.  Who have seen me at my worst and help lift me up until we can celebrate my best.  Who have seen me cry over butter and a few weeks later witnessed me enjoying a scoop of ice cream. Yes, I am celebrating my birthday here, but I am giving myself the change to have so many more birthdays to come. This year, for the first time in a long time, I will celebrate my life. This year, I will commemorate all I have survived. This year, I will eat birthday cake and this year, I will struggle well, through every bite.            

A Beginner’s Guide to Constructive Anti-Fascism

Illustration by Danie Drankwalter
Story by Sebastian Porreca

I began studying the extreme right mainly because it infuriated me so much. It infuriated me that it was so out in the open and no one was really doing anything about it. Racists, sexists, homophobes, islamophobes and hate mongers publicly flaunted their ideologies and the new form of American white supremacy, the Alt-Right, was rising to prominence. This was also all happening right as I reached an age in which I could properly form and inform my own political opinions. Around the same time, I discovered “Antifa” through anarcho-punk music blogs on Tumblr. “Antifa,” short for anti-fascism, is a loose confederation of groups, individuals, and community calls to action that has made headlines recently due to their sometimes violent tactics in combating the extreme right. They have provoked the ire of conservatives and liberals alike, and are hotly politically debated.

More or less, I found solace in this movement. As such, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years reading about, researching and finding out all I can about anti-fascism, the extreme right and how they meet and interact. All of anti-fascism’s political and moral implications aside, the movement taught me that there is a solution to the growing influence of hate groups, because United States law enforcement certainly wasn’t doing anything. Anti-fascism taught me that there are people who are fighting back against this on the grassroots level, and actually making positive changes. There was something normal people could do, something I could do. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone should put on a balaclava and punch white supremacists. It took me awhile to realize, but after years of doing a lot of reading and research in my free time, that there are lots of extremely valuable ways to combat fascism and extreme right hate in our everyday lives.

First and foremost, I have learned that an invaluable step in fighting fascism is simply educating yourself. You can’t fight against what you can’t recognize. Many modern far right hate groups operate by disguising their overt racism and hate so that it is not recognizable on the surface. Many hate groups disguise themselves simply as conservative or patriotic groups in order to reach political relevance as well as recruit new members. Then, once an individual is in the group, members slowly radicalize them in a process called “redpilling.” In fact, scholar Alexander Reid Ross wrote an entire book about this process entitled Against The Fascist Creep. Simply recognizing hate groups, their symbols, their ideologies, and how they operate is a necessity in delegitimizing hate and exposing these groups true nature. Recognition also allows everyone to fight against organized hate wherever it may manifest itself, be it a public rally or propaganda such as stickers or flyers.

Perhaps most important, however, is the need to create an atmosphere that rejects fascism and intolerance through your everyday actions. There is a need everyday, not simply in regard to organized hate, to create an atmosphere of support, empathy and aid for every person around you, no matter their creed, religion, or background. Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of anti-fascism and its more militant forms is the overemphasis on simply meeting fascists in the street and ignoring the communities that organized hate is actually targeting. In her essay, “Towards A Transformative Anti-Fascism” Emmi Bevensee points out the poignant need for not only confronting racism and hate in the streets but also “peacebuilding” and creating a loving, supportive atmosphere for all peoples. This is as simple as normalizing notions of radical love, respect, support, solidarity, and mutual aid for all peoples, from the white rural populations hate groups recruit from to communities of marginalized minorities that they target.

On paper, this seems idealistic or like an overly simplified fix, but radical empathy and solidarity are an active process that consists of more than simply being kind. This means working with economically and socially marginalized communities and constructively participating in dialogue to formulate long lasting and positive solutions to their individual and specific problems, as well as taking action to mutually uplift every individual in that community. More importantly, this means working within your own community to uplift and provide a support network for every member. This is, of course, easier said than done, but fascism and organized hate thrives on divisions and discontent, and if each of us can express radical solidarity and empathy, perhaps we can create an atmosphere that this hate can’t take hold in. This is also an active process. Everyone can always learn from themselves and others, and I know, personally, I am constantly trying to learn from my own mistakes and experiences. But it is the fact that we make an active effort to change cultures of hate that truly matters.

Working in small ways to reject prejudice and hate has become more important than ever today. With mass shootings like those in the Christchurch Mosques, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, PA, and the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC, white supremacy and hate have become shockingly more visible. There is a pressing need to create long term solutions. While pushing white supremacists off the streets and publicly and calling out overt neo-Nazis is extremely important, it can not be truly effective if the larger social institutions that birth far right hate such as race and class inequality and the patriarchy are not properly fought and replaced with more constructive ones, than any anti-fascism will be a temporary fix. In closing, I urge everyone reading to educate yourself on the extreme right wing hate, fight against it when you see it, call out intolerance, and most importantly create an environment and space where everyone is uplifted, supported, and loved.

The list below functions as a resource bank for your own education on facism, Antifa, how to combat prejudice and more.

Birth Control Diaries No. 2

This is the second installment of Crybaby’s monthly series, the Birth Control Diaries. The series was created by Story Editor Zoe Allen and Writer Irine Le to evoke conversation about and bring awareness to the trials and tribulations of birth control.

Illustration by Sam Tuvesson

Kelsey Foley, 19, sophomore at Fashion Institute of Technology (New York, NY)
Birth control method: Drospirenone and Ethinyl Estradiol (The Pill)
Oral contraception, oftentimes known as “the pill,” is a hormonal birth control method that is taken daily. The pill comes in two forms: a combination or progestin-only pill. According to Planned Parenthood, “it is safe, affordable, and effective if you always take your pill on time. Besides preventing pregnancy, the pill has lots of other health benefits, too.” For more information on the pill, click here.

Kelsey was diagnosed with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in December 2018. PCOS affects one in ten women of childbearing age and is caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones. Kelsey uses birth control to regulate her symptoms and maintain her reproductive and overall health. A key sign of the syndrome are irregular menstrual periods, which have the potential to lead to infertility.

Tell me about your birth control journey.
When I first got my period, when I was 13, it was super irregular. I talked to my doctor and she said “that’s kind of normal sometimes,” which looking back on, I’m sort of like “that was bad advice.” So, she just put me on the pill (I don’t remember which one it was). I was on that starting at like 14 and it was fine, I mean, it regulated my period. But then I started getting really painful periods and mood swings, so she switched me to a different one and it was okay, but not better. She kept switching me to different ones and by 18 I was sort of sick of it, so I tried to go off, thinking that my periods might be better. But they weren’t. They were super painful–I couldn’t get out of bed. I got bad acne and I’ve tried everything short of Accutane. My doctor decided to test me for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It’s a hormonal imbalance that can cause cysts in your uterus. Most people don’t even know that they have it, but there’s so many other symptoms that go along with it. It’s about how and if  you get diagnosed pretty much. I found out I had it, and all you can do is really just stay healthy. Especially if you want kids eventually, because it can make it really difficult to help kids. Birth control is a really big part of [keeping myself healthy], keeping my symptoms under check and under control.

How does birth control help regulate PCOS?
When I was off the pill, I would pretty much never get my period. I would get it maybe a couple times a year and it would be super painful and unpredictable. I also would just be so hormonal around my period, and the pills helped stabilize my mood around my period. [Birth control] helps regulate my hormones. One of the things with PCOS is it can make you insulin resistant, so you have a higher risk of getting diabetes. There’s so many different symptoms that sort of build onto one another. If you’re insulin resistant, it can make your acne flare ups worse. It’s all rooted back to the hormonal imbalance. The birth control is basically keeping your hormones in check.

Did your experience with birth control prior to your diagnosis impact your view on birth control?
I’ve always been skeptical of putting hormones that are not natural into my body, so that’s kind of why I went off of it. When I was 14, I was just doing what the doctor said and then I decided to go off of it when I was 18. Now I’m just like, [birth control] helps and I can really tell it helps. You have to keep your symptoms in check if you want to stay healthy, but also for your reproductive health, because I want kids. You have to get ultrasounds regularly as well.

Do you recommend people get screened for PCOS? How common is this?
I mean, one of my best friends has it. I feel like it’s pretty common, but it’s not talked about, though. I feel like there’s this conception that if you’re irregular, it’s not normal. If you really are irregular, and you’re not sure if it’s supposed to be that way, definitely talk to your doctor.


Kelly Black, 20, sophomore at Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)
Birth control method: Mirena (Intrauterine Device
An Intrauterine Device, more commonly known as an IUD, is a small device that is inserted into your uterus. According to Planned Parenthood, “it’s long-term, reversible, and one of the most effective birth control methods out there.” For more information on IUDs, click here.

When did you start taking birth control?
I started taking birth control pills when I was 16 because I had the kind of period that makes you sick to your stomach and lasts eight days. Of course, another perk was no babies, which I wasn’t planning on for at least another 10-15 years. I got my first set of birth control pills from my primary care physician who asked me a few questions and then prescribed a pack for me to try.

What was that ‘first trial’ of birth control pills like for you?
I started taking my first pack and after a few weeks I started noticing some side effects. They were mild at first, more acne, some weight gain, and occasional headaches. About two months into this pill, I was vomiting every day from the severe nausea.

After talking to my doctor, she thought the hormones in my first pill were too high so she prescribed me a new pill brand with a lower estradiol dose. With these new pills, the symptoms lessened and I felt better overall but I then started getting my period twice a month which was exactly the opposite of what I wanted. The periods weren’t as intense or lengthy but my doctor was concerned I would become anemic. She prescribed me the same brand of pills but with a higher dose of hormones to hopefully balance out my periods without any extreme side effects. These pills didn’t give me any major hormonal imbalances but I was still getting my periods irregularly and multiple times throughout the month.

Did you look into switching your birth control method?
I started looking into other birth control options like the implant and IUD. I did research and called my gynecologist and set up an appointment where we decided the Mirena IUD was my best option. This way I didn’t have to remember to take a pill everyday at the same time, and would hopefully stop my irregular periods and bad cramps. I got the Mirena IUD inserted last November and the actual insertion wasn’t terrible because my doctor used numbing cream to lessen the pain.

What was your experience like post-insertion, in terms of physical or emotional side effects?
As soon as the insertion was over though I immediately had the worst cramps I had ever experienced even having taken 800 mg of Ibuprofen before. I was glad I had brought someone to drive me home because I felt like I wouldn’t be able to drive on my own. Once home I spent the rest of the day in bed with a heating pad and then the worst of the pain was over. I still had cramps for about two weeks after and spotting occasionally for the first couple of months.

How has your experience with your IUD been, now that you’re out of the woods in terms of the ‘trial months’ of the IUD?
[Mirena U.S. reports that women will experience more side effects within the first 3-6 months after placement]

Now, about four months later, I have almost zero spotting or cramps and only acne and some mood swings once a month. Because the Mirena IUD has localized hormones, I am not affected as heavily as I was with the pills. My gynecologist even set up a two month follow up ultrasound to make sure my IUD hadn’t shifted and was super kind and made me feel comfortable the entire time.

If you have a story about birth control that you would like to be shared, feel free to email

Lost In Translation: How Coming Out As Non-Binary Changed Everything In My Relationship

Illustration by Sam Tuvesson
Story by Griffin Wynne

I started dating my high school boyfriend after we planned a music festival in our town together. It was an outdoor show called “Ham Jam” and I designed a flyer reminiscent of the Woodstock logo, with a little white pig where the dove should have been. My original drawing still hangs in my childhood bedroom and I look at it when I go to visit my parents; trying to reclaim it as a symbol of my love of music and involvement with harm reduction DIY spaces, rather than the years I spent following boys with guitars around and strategically working backstage at events to put myself in close proximity to “cool people” (a.k.a men with one earring who love the Melvins and talked over me).

Our first kiss tasted like Svedka and grape soda. He made me a necklace from his guitar pics for my birthday that I wore every day. I grew incredibly close to his family. Over time, our young love became a space of safety and support that seemed impenetrable. I never realized how special that was until college, when I heard horror stories of body negative high school boyfriends who made the women in my dorm question their pubic hair, or their cellulite, or who felt like all men thought reciprocating oral sex was gross. I guess that I always interpreted his support as a constant in my life. That he would always be open minded, feminist, and comforting in his actions. That his love for me meant more than bodies or our sex.

We went to colleges on opposite coasts and with time differences and life changes it was natural that we drifted apart. The geographic distance made room for emotional separation, and that made coming out to him even harder. Fully articulating that I was non-binary didn’t happen in day or a moment. Even now, years later, it still feels like a fluid and continuous process that’s always growing and meaning something different. Sometimes not having a gender feels like being completely untethered from everything–the ultimate freedom. And some days being non-binary feels like endlessly swimming in the ocean between islands and never touching land. I’ve learned how to float over the years, but in the beginning it just felt like I was drowning.

I changed my name, cut my hair short and began to dress differently. All of these were little steps that got me closer to feeling more comfortable in my body. Through my first semester of college I tried on a variety of names and words for what I was feeling, what I “identified” as. I grew tired of defending myself, tired of describing everything. Tired of feeling like I didn’t fit in anywhere or that my existence was taxing to anyone I encountered, especially my boyfriend. I told him in different ways. Through texts and calls and blurry video chats on lagging WiFi I tried to explain what I was feeling and what I was doing. I came out to him over time, counting the days until the holidays where I could see him in person. Thinking he was with me, supportive, loving.

The breakup started small. He started commenting on my haircuts and tattoos. He would dismiss the things I was interested in. He met each accomplishment I shared with stories of women at his college that drank beer from hand-carved growlers or played bass in funk bands — implying not only that there some sort of competition for his attention, his approval, between me and these women I didn’t know, but that there was a competition that I was losing.

It’s clear now that he wasn’t comfortable with me growing and evolving without him. He wasn’t comfortable needing to learn or evolve the words he used for me or the way he made love to me. I had made our relationship so easy for him: making his flyers, wearing his picks, loving his band, meeting his family. My queerness was one of many facets of my being that I was carving without him. Without his approval or attention. It wasn’t for him or about him.

Winter break was when it all crashed down. We celebrated Christmas and solstice together, exchanged gifts and spent time with family. And the one night while watching a Grateful Dead documentary we got in a fight about pronouns and queerness. He called me a poser. A fake. Noted that I had come out only for attention, for clout. He said I was pretentious, judgmental, pseudo-intellectual. Truthfully, our relationship ended there that night, but it didn’t really hit until the next week, where after getting a cavity filled, I went to his parents house thinking we’d had sex in the afternoon before his parents got home from work and he told me I wasn’t “attractive” anymore.

It was all of my worst insecurities and body fears coming to life, from someone who I thought I could trust and love more than anyone. I ran out of his house without shoes on and cried in a snow bank until my best friend’s mom picked me up in her minivan. The pain of rejection of letting someone into my life and having them hurt me so badly — it felt inescapable and boundless. Coming out had made me “less attractive” and that seemed like a betrayal I would never get over.

Coming out when you’re in a relationship is akin to going on a romantic road trip you spent forever planning with your partner, and getting three states from home before you realize that you and your partner had two different itineraries the whole time. It doesn’t necessarily end dismally, but it certainly causes some sort of fork in the road, where you realize you want different things, or you both need to adjust where you’re coming from, or that there’s no way you’re going to make it work. There’s no one route, or singular way to do it. And the truth is, there’s no one way to ensure that someone who loves you will be able to understand what you need and give the support and validation you deserve.

Looking back now, outside of my gender or my sexuality it’s clear my high school boyfriend never could have handled me being my own person. I designed the flyer for that show, I didn’t take center stage. I came to the ukulele club to watch him, I never learned the instrument on my own. My queerness made me more vibrant, more exciting, more individual. It was mine. And it had no service to him.

To him, this newfound political engagement was annoying, taxing. It was limiting what he was allowed to do or say and drawing healthy boundaries around the way I demanded to be treated that I never established as a 16 year old drinking cheap vodka from a plastic water bottle and hoping to be noticed by a boy in a band. If it wasn’t the queerness, my intersectional feminism would have ended it. My intelligence. My bullshit-meter. My lack of wide eye admiration I’d give him when he played me the corny and grammatically incorrect songs he wrote for me. Coming out wasn’t comfortable for him, it wasn’t easy, and it didn’t benefit him at all. And though it hurt to let him go, the way I life my life isn’t about being comfortable or beneficial for anyone but myself. 

The many facets of Jordan Peele’s “Us”: a review

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Story by Sebastian Porreca

I have always been a huge fan of horror movies. From “Hellraiser,” to “Eraserhead,” to “Hereditary,” the genre of horror has intrigued me with its unsettling yet strikingly unique plots and the ways in which it balances the art of film with the brute force of fear and violence. I remember the first horror film I watched: it was “The Uninvited” at a sleepover with a friend. I remember the joy of finally being able to watch the kind of movies whose lure and strangely intriguing DVD covers had long pulled me in. I have loved horror films ever since, so of course I took up the opportunity to go with a few friends to see the new Jordan Peele film “Us”.

I had no real expectations going into the movie. A couple of my friends discussed some reviews, but I was really going in blind. I hadn’t even seen Peele’s first film “Get Out”. While I went into “Us” with an open mind, I was ultimately left shocked at how clever and well made the film was.

Loosely, the story follows a family as they attempt to survive against the disturbed, uncanny, and scissor wielding clones of themselves. As creepy as this sounds, the film was not as outwardly “scary” as it is hyped up to be. It’s not so much focused on gore and jump scares, and instead is a more psychological and conceptual horror. Therefore, it’s probably not what you should watch if you are looking for an adrenaline-fueled scream inducer. However, that is not at all a bad thing, as the film is extremely creepy and well done nonetheless.

The most impressive about Peele’s film was just how clever and original everything was, and my brief summary certainly cannot do this justice. While there are still some great new minds in contemporary horror, it seems like a lot of the big horror blockbusters are simply remakes or sequels/prequels. And there’s not really a problem with that, but it makes the fact that Jordan Peele can create a plot that is entirely unique and menacingly creative all the more impressive.

It’s also impressive because the film didn’t always take itself so seriously. Peele’s history in comedy shines through, and there are many points of much needed comedic relief in the film. This not only breaks up the tension, but also allows the film to be more fluid across strict classification. This is mainly shown in the film’s main comedic relief, husband and father Gabe Wilson, played by Winston Duke, but also by the choice to have “Tim and Eric Awesome Show” writer and actor Tim Heidecker play a secondary role. And if you’ve never seen “Tim and Eric,” it’s about the biggest television shitpost since “The Eric Andre Show.”

“Us” captures all the art of filmmaking, which is something many blockbuster horror movies sometimes forget to include. The lighting across the film is superb, ranging from dimly lit and eerie subterranean corridors, to brighly illuminated beaches with high contrasting shadows. The acting is also simply phenomenal. Each main character also plays their own evil doppelganger, and watching each performer play completely different roles literally side by side truly displays their acting talent. This is especially true of the film’s female lead, Lupita Nyong’o. Nyong’o is impressive enough with her role as a strong mother and wife leading her family to survival and discovering truth about her own life, but her ability to play the extremely chilling role of her evil clone. According to an interview with Variety, she took her vocal inspirations from a vocal disorder called “spasmodic dysphonia,” which is caused by vocal spasms related to deep trauma. Throughout the film, her two roles truly seem as though they are two different people, and Nyong’o seamlessly creates a complex dynamic of blending the two seperate characters, forming them into one tangle of madness. This feeds perfectly into the deeper themes of the film such as the everyday, normal society that we live and experience blend with and be reflected by the uncanny madness and deprivation.

This brings me into the thematic and social implications of the film. Since “Get Out,” a film that is as much of a comment on American race relations as it is a horror movie, Jordan Peele has become known for his ability to seamlessly blend social commentary and the good ol entertainment of horror. “Us” is much less of a direct social commentary, but its plot and dynamics purposefully leave it open for a lot of different interpretations and readings. There are also many points and plot details that are left purposefully vague so as to create a sense of mystery, as well as to foster discussion between viewers.

Even while the plot is not distinctly political, the very nature of the film makes a powerful political statement in the world of horror films. Individuals of color are often vastly underrepresented in the horror genre, and when they are, it is often tinged with racism. The “Blaxploitation” horror films such as “Blackenstein,” carry implications of direct racism and spread inflammatory stereotypes of individuals of color, therefore undermining the humanity of the performers of color involved. While these films are a vestige of the past, tropes such as the commonly criticized practice of having black performers always die first in horror movies still continue to undermine the position of black performers in horror. Peele flips that on its head. As an African American director, Peele casts performers of color and has them play strong protagonist roles. This is certainly just one dimension of “Us,” and it doesn’t make or break the film viewing-wise, but I nonetheless think it is an interesting and positive contextual message the film conveys to viewers. It’s simply the icing on the cake to an overall amazing film.
Overall, “Us” was a masterfully done piece of horror. In an age flooded with a lot of very single tone and sterile horror films, “Us” provided something new, well done, and most importantly, deeply thought provoking.

We’re all just trying to eat: An interview with Nyallah on her debut EP and collaboration

Story and Photos by Remi Riordan

I met Nyallah for the first time in December 2018 at a smoothie shop at the University of Southern California, where she is currently enrolled. We met to do the photoshoot that accompanies this article, and while we were there we chatted about her then unreleased debut EP and just hung out. It wasn’t until early January when we FaceTimed and I formally interviewed her for this article. By then, I’d listened to her EP, “Reflections.”

After listening, I could tell how personal the album was. The lyrics, the production; it was a labor of love and after our conversation, this was confirmed. Spending over a year on the project, Nyallah perfected each song, collaborated with friends, and created something incredibly special.

Last Friday, Nyallah held the “Reflections” release party in Navel LA’s Downtown LA space. It was an intimate gathering of friends and family; a perfect night topped off with her performance of the entire EP. The audience stood close, hanging onto every word, listening deeply, and basking in Nyallah’s energy. When we spoke at the smoothie shop and over FaceTime, she told me she was a performer; but witnessing her—so honest and in her element—only confirmed how beautiful it truly was to see her live.

What inspired this EP?

Okay. So I started working on this EP January 2017. I wrote the outro actually first, it was just like a stream of consciousness type of thing. I remember waking up New Year’s Day and was in this low place but I wasn’t depressed—just in this middle place [when] that song came to me. But “Reflections” all came together more so halfway through 2017 going into 2018, so the second half of 2017 and the first half of 2018 was when I was really writing it. It was during a time where I had just gotten out of a relationship that was really toxic and really incensed and I was having an identity crisis. Who the fuck am I? What’s real and what isn’t? What projections from other people have I taken and internalized as my own? [Finding out] what is actually me and learning how to discern the difference between the two. So part of that process was writing the music and just really coming back into myself. I do a lot of journaling, so a lot of these songs came from different journal entries and spoken word things that I would just kind of come up with. I started just writing more so for myself. “Reflections” is an audio representation of the growth and experiences that I’ve experienced in the last year or two that have really influenced the person that I am today. I’ve stated my peace and this is just a timestamp of where [I’m] at right now with [my] wellbeing, this is where [I’m] at.In terms of [my] identity with relationships and intimacy. And it’s just how I’m feeling about my blackness, spirituality, healing, growth, all of that. Enjoy this part of me, now to the next.

“Reflections” EP Cover

I was curious about the ordering of it because when I was listening to the outro specifically, it felt like a really interesting way to end it because, I don’t know, there’s something about it that feels like it’s a beginning of something and then you put it at the end. So what was your idea when you were ordering the songs?

Yeah, so it’s funny because for the longest time I wanted the outro to be an intro or something else, but when we were really working on it and putting together all of the drums and the vocals and everything, we were just like, “this just feels like a climax type of song, like okay, this is the end of an end, [but also] a beginning of something else.” And so it’s funny that you say that because usually people don’t say that. It’s really nice to hear that somebody else heard it in that way of “this is kind of a beginning.”

“Black Fantasy Dream” is the one that I wrote in April of last year. So that’s the newest one, but I feel like with the order of it—at first I am all about stories and like cycles and cohesiveness. At first I actually wanted the project to be a little shorter because I didn’t know if the story made sense because at first the story was “okay, here’s all this, like fuck shit, I’ve experienced—let’s talk about it.” But then [I changed the story to be] “here’s all this fuck shit that happened, but I’m also getting through it and I don’t want it to just be focused on the negative.” So the order of the project is really just taking you through how my mind was processing and how things are working, but kind of reverse.

In the intro specifically, as well as a couple other songs, you use natural sounds and tones. Is that to put yourself into the place of a story or is there another reason for it?

With this project, me and my producer Alec, we talked about the idea of having a live album because I’m really into live music, I watch a lot of live performances. I post a lot of [my live performances], because I just really love how vulnerable and honest and raw live performances. So with this project I told Alec, I want this to be alive project and I want to have real people on these instruments, but I also, you know, I’m a hip hop head so I respect that. And I love electronic music. So I wanted to find a balance within that. So the way that we found that balance was literally combining those sounds in those styles, on all of the songs, there are every sense, almost every drum part except for one song is a person.

Every guitar, every bass is a person. I made that intentional too because I’m all about community and I’m all about collaboration and I really wanted to create a space. I want to just create a project that was reflective of me, which is [about] collaboration, the live and the electronic [with that] hip hop influence. It was very intentional.

Kind of going off what you were saying about live music, do you think [the EP] is meant to be seen live or do you think like someone just listening to it in their cars is adequate? What’s your ideal way for people to consider?

It’s funny because Alec and I were talking about this. We were talking about what it would be like to have a live performance of this. And I was like okay, so we have everything that we hear because there’s horns. Like there’s so many different things and the conclusion that I came to was that whatever, whatever, like medium that it is and that moment I feel like it’s going to work with this project. I’m very into like a pop music. I’m very focused on [how] the base needs to hit. When we were producing the project I was really intentional on when people are hearing this sonically and listening to it in their cars or on their phone, wherever. I wanted them to feel exactly what I’m hearing in my head.

I feel like in the live setting it’s the same type of thing. I guess honestly I feel like the intention within the live performance and within like the audio or whatever, it’s the same type of thing. I don’t think I have a specific medium that I want people to listen to, like listen to it for mainly on. Because the live experience has got to be completely different from what the recording is going to be like, even though I’ve seen everything essentially like the same type of way like that you’ll hear and you’ll feel things a lot differently.

I’m a performer and I love like communicating with people as I’m performing and I love using performance as a means to just like build relations and whatnot. So I’m always a little biased in that sense. And I’ll be like, “oh, well I like obviously the performance experience, but I think it really depends on the person.” And I think it really depends on the mood and depends on what you need in that moment.

Why do you think it’s important to work with other creatives when making your work?

There’s so much power that comes from bringing other people up with you and in a genuine way. And it was so simple. I want to normalize that a lot more in 2019 and beyond, support your fucking friends, work with your fucking friends, build shit from the ground up because at the end of the day, your community is what you’ve got.

You’re going to expand out to other communities, but your core community is what you have. And it makes me so happy seeing my loved ones flexing, my friends succeed and seeing them do well. So why wouldn’t I want them to be involved in my process so that we can all be successful together. Alec and I have talked about this a lot when we were writing. We kept saying like, “I want my acknowledgements lists to be extensive for every project that I do because I want to be able to be like, ‘yes, this is how many people assist.’” Like we’re all just trying to eat.

Follow Nyallah on Instagram and listen to “Reflections” here

An interview with Unbound Babes CEO Polly Rodriguez

Story by Remi Riordan

Illustration by Danie Drankwalter

Unbound Babes is a company dedicated to helping people, many times young women and GNC people, explore their sex lives and bodies. Over the summer, I spoke to Polly Rodriguez, the co-founder and CEO of the company, about her favorite product, accurate sex education and what’s next for Unbound [spoiler, they’ve already moved into their new office]!

What inspired you to start Unbound Babes and how did you get into the sex tech field?

I mean I definitely didn’t come out of school and jump right into it. I had a cancer diagnosis when I was 21-years-old that included radiation treatment. [It] sent me into menopause at 21, but none of my doctors told me that; they just said I would never have children. So it was realizing kind of how female sexuality is really underserved and how we’re often viewed through the lens of motherhood and maternity [that led to the creation of Unbound]. And then on the other end of the spectrum–hypersexuality. I had my first experience shopping in the [sex] category at a shop that was on the side of the highway. It was just one of those seedy experiences that stuck with me, because when you go through menopause you basically need lube for the rest of your life.  To me it was kind of strange that we had Bob Dole endorsing Viagra and men’s sexual needs, yet women felt really overlooked both in the shopping experience and the quality of the product. So I went on to work for Senator McCaskill in Washington, D.C., then for a strategy consulting firm on Wall Street and then joined a dating startup. After that I started working on Unbound, but I had to save up some money before starting a business as well. So a little bit of the backstory.

What sorts of challenges have you faced and was funding difficult because it was a sex toy company with a woman C.E.O?

Two percent of venture funding went to women in 2016, which gives you a little bit of a sense of how ridiculously hard it is for women to start their own businesses and get funding. I think when you couple that with the categories that we were in, I had trouble even getting meetings with venture capitalists. Despite that fact that we had a company that was cash flow positive–doing really well, growing like crazy–the stigma associated with it made it [hard]. And then on the other side of the table you have basically a group of guys who are kind of like, “this doesn’t relate to me at all.” Like, “I don’t identify with what you’re doing,” and, and only nine percent of venture capital partners are, in fact, women. Then it’s also the fact that like there aren’t that many female venture capitalist partners who’re the ones ultimately are making the decision–because the way venture funding works is somebody in the room has to basically stand up to all the other partners and say, ‘I really want to do this deal, I think it’s a good idea, let’s do it.’ And given our category, it’s really hard to get someone to stand up and do that, because people are really scared of what others will think. It’s tough, but I do think it’s getting better. I’m seeing more and more women get funding, seeing more funds started by women. It’s slowly, but surely, changing.

When you applied for the MTA advertisements in New York City, did you expect them to be rejected and have there been any updates with that?

I did not expect them to be rejected because Thinx went through something really similar and we had kind of gone above and beyond to make sure that there wasn’t any product photography. There was no nudity, there was nothing sexually explicit. It was just artistic, like commissioned art, and so when we got rejected at the same time that all of these generic Viagra company had gotten approved, it was really heartbreaking because it’s just such a blatant form of sexism where they came back and were like, well that’s a health issue and [what Unbound does] is not.  It brought me back from going through cancer and dealing with the same thing where it was like, “this isn’t like your need for touch with arousal and sexual drive is not a health issue.” But for men, it’s very much considered one. So we’ve gone back and forth with them. The hypocrisy is just insane. So we said, that we will resubmit, but we’re not giving our money until you actually institute the appeal process, because they didn’t approve it until we got an entire grassroots campaign on board. The New York Times wrote about it. It wasn’t until the Times asked them to comment that they were like, “okay, we’ll work with you on this,” and it shouldn’t take that.

So Unbound babes has an online magazine/blog. Do you plan on expanding it or keeping it online? Are there any format changes in the future?

We definitely want to expand it; we’re actually getting ready to move to a new office. In our new office we’re going to have a dedicated content room with a studio so that we can do more content focused on how to use these products and baseline educational stuff. In the next year, our plan is to triple the amount of content we’re creating; specifically, we want to do more video content.

When you were a teenager, did you receive sex ed and was it sex positive at all?

I did receive sex ed. I went to public school in St. Louis, and it was definitely very focused on “don’t have sex, don’t get an STD”–it was a lot of scare tactics. [They told us statistics like] “one in 10 women get pregnant the first time they have sex”, which I don’t think is an accurate statistic. Well, only 13 percent of states in the United States require sex ed to be medically accurate. So I mean it wasn’t the worst–I feel like I’ve definitely heard worse. But they didn’t say anything about pleasure. I think for women it’s very much about defense: defend yourself, don’t get pregnant, don’t get an STD, and it’s just tough. It’s tough.

I’m from New Jersey and also 19. My sex education was surprisingly progressive for what most girls and people in general experience in the US and I’m really thankful for that. But a lot of what Unbound Babes does seems to be sex education. Do you think that self-exploration, sex toys and sex ed should go hand-in-hand? And do you think they always do?

I don’t think they always do. Women, non-binary and femme identifying individuals aren’t given as many options in terms of how to tell the narrative of their sexual experience. I don’t think there’s one right way and I think if Unbound has taught me anything, it’s that our range in preferences with regard to sexuality are so wide and vast, that to try to tell young people that just one thing is the thing that will work for everyone is a lie. 70 percent [of femmes] need clitorial simulation in order to orgasm and we just don’t teach people that. We don’t teach young women, femme and non-binary people that with regular penetrative sex, 40 percent of women have chronic difficulty achieving orgasm. And I think a lot of women put that upon themselves where they’re like, “I just don’t enjoy sex enough”. It’s not about telling everyone you need to use all these products. It’s about trying to demystify the notion that sex is just a penetrative act between a man and a woman and defined through when a man has an erection and then when a man orgasms because that’s such a closed minded view. And I think if women were given the opportunity to own some products that allowed them to orgasm on their own it would be a good thing because then they can define what they like for themselves before ever even engaging in sexual activity with someone else. They can say, “oh I do like this, I don’t like that,” which everyone should be able to say without guilt or shame when you’re enjoying sex with someone else.

Why do you think it’s important for young women to masturbate?

I think that so much of our culture and stigmas that come with masturbation stem from adults being uncomfortable with their own bodies. There’s just such a puritanical view that it’s this evil, bad thing. How does something that doesn’t harm anyone else and brings you happiness and joy and allows you to understand your body better, [how is that] the evil bad thing? I think it’s a matter of parents needing to get comfortable with the fact that their kids are growing up and becoming adults, and wouldn’t you rather them feel informed about their bodies as opposed to guilty and ashamed of their bodies. What I always say is that sex certainly makes all of us a little uncomfortable and requires us to be vulnerable. And that’s not a bad thing. It may make you feel uncomfortable, but when I first told my parents that this was a company that I want to start, they wouldn’t talk to me about it. They were so scared that my reputation would get destroyed, that I would never be able to get a job in sales. And I was like, “I don’t understand why you guys are so scared of a woman starting a company that focuses on sex. I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have sex–none of us would be here if someone didn’t have sex. How is this universal truth threatening people?” I do think [that masturbation] is important and I think it requires parents being willing to be vulnerable in front of their kids.

One of my close friends and I were talking–actually about Unbound–because I was telling her about how we were doing this and she, she legitimately was like, “wait, girls can masturbate, that can work? But how does that work? Don’t you need a guy?” And I said, “fuck, no you don’t.” I never realized that; some people just aren’t educated on the fact that you don’t need someone to do it for you and it’s good to do it yourself.

I think [masturbation] is now even more important because sex ed in the United States has gotten so bad. Pornography has taken over, and I’m very much pro-porn if it’s ethical, but the average age of someone first exposed to pornography in this country is eight years old. So we’re not talking to young people about what sex can and should look like in terms of consent, in terms of pleasure. They’re just going to learn it from porn. I think we have to ask ourselves, is that really what we want? Is that the narrative and the visual of what sex should look like, that you want your kids to watch and learn from?

I know so many boys whose sex education is solely from porn and it’s really sad–also a little scary. You said that you are moving into a new office, but what else is next for Unbound Babes?

The goals of the company have always been to take this entire product category mainstream so that people wouldn’t feel like they had only shop for these products at night in incognito mode. We’ll release 12 products in the next six to eight months, which we’re really excited about. I think it’s going to push the mission of accessibility, both in design and in price point. So right now [ what’s next for Unbound Babes] is about creating design forward products that are super affordable?

I love the jewelry that are also toys. How did you guys come up with that idea? I think it’s really fun.

We got a lot of customers that would [ask for ideas inspired by] “50 Shades of Gray” (after the book sold 128 million copies). The book was overwhelmingly successful, and as result of that there were a lot of people who historically were maybe too intimidated by BDSM and kinks who wanted to explore it, but still felt like it was a little too intense. We really wanted to make products that felt like they [could] really wear their values on their sleeves and their sexuality could become more of a fluid component in their lives. We really wanted to make fashion that would transition seamlessly from day to night because nobody lugs around a whole massive thing of lubricant or a really clunky pair of handcuffs. It was just about applying the best design practices to a category that historically has not had thoughtful designers in it.

What’s your favorite product that you guys make?

“Squish” hands down. I love it. The harder you squeeze it, the harder it vibrates. I like that it has a deep rumbly motor and I just think the design is really thoughtful too.

Art and its worth: an interview with Zariya Allen

Story by Conor Hudnut

Photo by Autry Hayden Wilson

Zariya Allen walks with a careful tread. The 20 year old actress and artist grew up in Los Angeles, and has been carefully observing just how many pitfalls can be taken on the road to the type of success she hopes for: one which doesn’t sacrifice her artistic integrity.

Success, particularly for teenagers, and especially in the age of social media, can be incredibly temporary and insincere. Our generation is more fame-crazed than ever, and as Allen notes in our conversation, this desire often tends to outweigh interest in creating honest and interesting art. It’s easy to get lost in the muck of show biz if you’re not careful.

And so, Allen keeps her nose to the ground and follows one guiding principle: to create art she finds worthwhile.

Your work takes on many different forms–you act, write, create music, and perform your poetry in spoken word. What interests you in having so many creative outlets?

It’s about finding the best way to convey the feeling. Acting, writing—music or poetry—they’re all connected, for me. The more I learn and know, the more honest and specific my work can become. It’s really important to me, being able to create things that I feel reflect where I am, as opposed to just making something that’s palatable.

Do you feel pressure to commit to any particular art form, or do you think that in our current digital age, where sharing your work regardless of scale can be done at the push of a button, there is no longer the same urgency to commit to any one medium?

Nowadays, anybody can put reverb vocals over some random DJ’s track, and they’re calling themselves a musician. Even if they don’t play a single instrument or know anything about music production – same thing goes for acting, or photography. Artistry (or the state of being an artist) has become really trendy for people with no true desire to create something significant or push the medium in new directions- a lot of people just want fame- more so than in the past, with the influence of social media or social hierarchy. If anything, when everybody’s an artist, it makes you pay more attention to who’s actually making good art. I think that definitely lessens the pressure to commit to one thing. I just want to be the best I can be.

Who are some of the artists and writers you admire most?

I really love Alice Walker, Essex Hemphill, Mitski, and Jeff Buckley, to name a few.

Do you think combining art and politics does more harm or good in today’s culture?

Personally, I feel like any current artist that sets out with the intention of making something “political” generally can’t be coming from a purely authentic place. Especially in today’s culture- “Social Justice” has become a capitalist trend. Combining art and “politics” today is often just a thinly veiled attempt at profiting off the trauma of historically marginalized people. Of course, there are exceptions because it’s such a nuanced subject. But major production companies and individual artists alike have undoubtedly discovered the economic benefit of targeting black, brown and LGBT audiences—it’s not a reflection of some new found altruism. People are still being killed.

What are some contemporary political works of art that you found to be honest and worthwhile?

It’s the stories that are radical in their honesty and individuality that cause the most conversations. In recent years, that’s films like Pariah, Roma, Moonlight, Mysterious Skin. For books, How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti is one of my current favorites. Works that offer commentary and a new perspective as opposed to simply regurgitating the same stories of minority life and our suffering.

How has growing up in Los Angeles, and attending LACHSA, impacted your perception of the entertainment industry?

Being from here, you see how easy it is to get caught up. There’s just less fantasy tied up in it for me. Not like I love it any less. I just got a lot of reality checks, early. Fame is so fleeting. I just want to make things I’m proud of.

You also spent time living in San Franciscodid moving away from Los Angeles feel artistically refreshing or restricting?

Both. LA is such a bubble and I really wanted to get away from that for a while. My grandfather lived in San Francisco for 40 years and my dad is from Oakland, so I love the Bay, the community there and the creativity. But I was constantly going back and forth, trying to make it to auditions and gigs in LA. I became very familiar with the Megabus. Moving away made me appreciate home a lot more. But SF will always be special for me. I use to spend hours in Golden Gate Park, just writing. There’s a peace I feel there that’s hard to find any place else.

What can we expect from you in the near future?

New music in February… and more poetry.

Photos by Autry Hayden Wilson

Carnaval no Inferno

My name is Eduardo Barrosa. I am a queer Latino/sudaca.

‘Carnaval no Inferno’ (Carnival in Hell, in English) is a street-carnival-party that my friends and I arrange here in Fortaleza, a city in Northeastern Brazil. The name comes from the oppressive advance of the religious and orthodox conservative community in Brazil that insists on calling us “demons” and attacks us every single day. It is created by and for Queer people—it’s made for us to feel great and celebrate nuestros cuerpos in the middle of the streets.

I think Carnaval no Inferno screams “resistance” for many reasons. The party is completely independent—we do it ourselves, by crowdfunding, and without the support of City Hall or any other institution. In every single edition of Carnaval no Inferno, it feels like we’re (re)creating a brand new world where we can finally be free from oppression and experiment ourselves aesthetically the way we want.

So through Carnaval no Inferno, we’re reclaiming all the terms and words that are used against us to empower us. It is like—Yes! We are witches, brujas, demons, queers, dykes, jotas, and this city is ours, too! So it is definitely a form of protest!

All the photos were taken by me with a 120mm camera.


Online edition of the Resist/Revolt Issue, buy the print issue here

Right where they belong: An interview with Rachelle Vinberg of “Skate Kitchen”

Story by Remi Riordan

photo by Sophia Wilson

For a girl who can’t balance on a skateboard, I have an embarrassingly large knowledge of skate culture. Well—maybe I’m not super knowledgable, but as I just said, as someone who has never skateboarded and can’t even stand up on one, it’s embarrassing.

The only part of my love for skate culture that I’m not even a little embarrassed about is my love of skater girls. Everything about them is amazing. And in a skate crew, they are even cooler—at least in my eyes.

I first found The Skate Kitchen on Instagram; a diverse group of young women documenting their tricks and lives for a huge audience. While their audience is diverse, their ability to inspire other girls is incredible. In a community where many signed skaters are men, it is always exciting to see women and queer people who have an audience. As always, representation is incredibly important. And these girls understand that—supporting and promoting other women skaters both on and offline. With events like “Get on Board! Girls Skate Clinic” to posting videos of other women skaters, they are changing the skate world—making it more inclusive and fun for everyone.

The Skate Kitchen is not only a collective Instagram and friend group, it’s also a film—“Skate Kitchen.” Directed by Crystal Moselle, the film follows the girls of The Skate Kitchen—Rachelle Vinberg, Nina Moran, Jules and Brenn Lorenzo, Ardelia Lovelace, Ajani Russell, and Kabrina Adams—and Jaden Smith.

I was really excited to speak with Rachelle Vinberg: member of the crew, lead of the film, and signed Volcom skater. Back in April, I got to speak with her about the film, her career, and what it’s like being a skater girl.

left to right Nina Moran, Rachelle Vinberg, Ardelia Lovelace, Ajani Russell, Brenn Lorenzo, Jules Lorenzo

When did you start skating and what drew you to the sport?

I was twelve years old when I started and, honestly, I got into it because I saw my cousin skating. I was visiting him and his family at the time and I just had nothing to do while I was there. I just tried it, so I guess what drew me to skating was just doing it.

How did The Skate Kitchen form? 

I’m originally from Long Island and so I met one of the girls, Nina, and she lives in Brooklyn. I would just come out and visit her and skate with her. Then she introduced me to the other girls.  And Nina and I actually ran into Crystal, the director of the movie “Skate Kitchen” and the short film we were in. When she ran into us, she asked us about more girls and that’s when Nina got us all together.

Skating is seen as a very male-dominated sport.  And recently I was talking to my friend who said she always hears that, but doesn’t really know what that means.  What does “male-dominated” look like in the skating world?

Well, I would say, if you go into a skate park, you’re gonna see guys. You might not see any girls. If you just went up to people on the street and asked them to draw a skateboarder, they’d probably draw a guy. It’s that kind of stuff. When you hear “skateboarding,” think about it—you associate it as being something guys do. If you look around at skateparks, you’re gonna see boys. Even yesterday, some guy came up to me and said, “I’ve never seen a girl skate before.”  Things like that. So yeah, it’s super male-dominated. It’s not necessarily a bad thing—I don’t think it’s something men should be ridiculed for. In general, people think skateboarding’s just a guy thing. That’s why we’re trying to change it. We are trying to make it something we can all do.

Since skateboarding is so male-dominated, have you experienced sexism or misogyny in the sport?

Yeah, definitely. I feel like I’ve experienced “non-intentional” sexism. What I mean by that is, I’ll be walking down the street (I actually have this on video) I was walking down the street and this guy stopped me and was like, “Do a trick.” And I’m like, “No, I don’t feel like doing a trick right now.” He says, “It’s probably because you can’t do a trick. You look like a poser.” If you think about it, if I were a boy, he probably wouldn’t have stopped me on the street and asked me to do a trick. Why do you need proof that I can skate? I didn’t do the trick, but if I were a guy, he wouldn’t have stopped me. Things like that. Things you have to think about. It’s not like he said, “Oh you’re a girl and you suck.” But it’s the underlying meaning as to why he stopped me. And that still bothers me so much.

Did those experiences ever make you consider quitting?

No, I never really considered quitting. You know what it is? When I was younger I used to play tackle football. I was the only girl and it kind of felt similar to that. So, I mean, I feel like when I was little I had my group of friends who were boys that accepted me. I don’t really care now, but when I was younger and going into skateparks, I was a little bit self conscious. I think it’s important to just not care and not try to prove yourself to people. If that guy on the street asked me to do a trick, I’m not going prove myself to him because he doesn’t think I can do it. I don’t think that’s the right way to think about things. I think it’s important to just skate because you want to—not because you want to prove it to anyone else. But it can be intimidating—yeah.

Do you think it’s important for girls to have their own space in the skating world?

Yeah, I think it is. Well what do you mean by “own space”?

Well, my next question goes into this a little more, but the members of The Skate Kitchen are all girl skaters.

It’s not all girl skaters.

Oh! It’s not?

That’s one thing I think is really important.  I guess the main five or six of us are all girls, but we skate with boys.  We like to emphasize that we’re not just girls.  We skate together with boys and girls.  I think it’s important to have spaces—we’ll have all-girl sessions because it can be intimidating to go into parks with boys.  Personally, I like to skate with boys and girls.  But I know Nina likes to have safe spaces for girls.  And I like that, too.  But I like combining it and having everyone together.  That’s just me though, that’s not all of Skate Kitchen.

Since the skating scene is so male-dominated, there are now a lot of skate collectives.  There is the LGBTQIA+ collective Unity Skate and the Latinx women collective Brujas.  Do you see The Skate Kitchen as another collective for underrepresented skaters or do you see yourself as a friend group?

I think both. It’s important to have the authenticity of us being friends to make it work. We’re just trying to be ourselves as friends. And being ourselves as girls in this community within itself is trying to promote something positive. So it’s doing two things at once. I think it’s important to have authenticity as friends. We’re not trying to be fake or anything. I think it’s important to have a real sense of comfort between each other. And that’ll show on social media. You know what I mean? People will see the realness and be like, “Oh, that’s how it’s supposed to be.” That’s one thing we really want to make sure of—that we’re authentic and real. So it doesn’t come off as fake. If we’re real, then other kids can have their friends and have groups like that and do the same thing.

Where did the name ‘The Skate Kitchen’ come from?

Actually before I started hanging out with Nina, the name came about when I was trying to think if I were to own a skate shop what would I name it? And I was with my friends that were boys and we were coming up with names. I was thinking about when I would watch skate videos of girls, comments would always say, “She should be in the kitchen,” “that’s a weird looking kitchen”—things like that. You know that term, that girls get all the time?

Yeah, of course.

So I decided if I had a skate shop, I would name it ‘The Skate Kitchen.’ But then, fast forward a couple years later when I met all the girls, we wanted to make an Instagram account. That name kind of came back and I said, “Why don’t we just make it the Skate Kitchen?” Because we’re girls and we’re not supposed to be. That’s how the name came about.  But as far as the group, it came about when we met the director Crystal. She got us all connected.

So the name is actually why I thought it was all-girls.  How did you decide to include boys in the group as well?

Because we don’t actually skate together as all girls. We skate with boys as well. We’re the face of it I guess. My friend, one of the boys we skate with, has the Skate Kitchen [logo] tattooed on his chest. It would be so unfair to say we’re only girls when that’s so not true. I skate mostly with boys. You know what I mean? It’s like, I’m friends with the girls and we skate together, but it’s almost as if The Skate Kitchen is not just about skating either. It’s about friendship.

Have you seen skate culture change since you started?  I feel as if it’s become way more mainstream and a lot of skate brands have gone mainstream recently.  Have you seen that happen?

Yeah, I’ve definitely seen it. I see a lot more girl skaters now. I see a lot more fashion within it.  But also, when I lived in Long Island, and I only skated alone, I only skateboarded through YouTube videos. Now that Instagram came about, and I’ve moved here, I skate with a bunch of people. So I can’t really tell—I think it’s just new for me, personally. It definitely is shifting with the girls—for a fact. I can’t remember hearing about or seeing girls on social media. I think it’s becoming more feminine which is a good thing—also, more creative.

Are there other girl skaters you look up to?

So many.  There’s Laci Baker, Alexis Sablone, a lot of Instagram skaters like my friend Jenn Soto—she’s really good.  There are so many that are really good.

And how do you think skate culture, or just skating in general, has influenced your life?

So much. Everybody that I consider my really good friend and family, I’ve met through skating.  Literally everyone. So it’s weird to think about if I had never skated and who I would be. I was recently hurt and I couldn’t skate and I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was really weird.

When you met Crystal, had you heard of her movie “The Wolfpack”?

No, I didn’t. She came up to us and when she introduced herself, she said she did this documentary called “The Wolfpack”. That night I looked it up and was like “Oh, she’s—this is a thing.” (Laughs)

Yeah, it’s a great movie.

Yeah, she’s actually a director. I saw part of it when I was home and that’s how I knew she did that. But before I didn’t really know her or anything.

So you watched her documentary—did that influence your decision on making the movie at all?

It’s funny, I don’t know. I saw it and then we hung out with her and we would just hangout for weeks. So I didn’t really know what she wanted to do. I had no idea. Originally, she wanted to do a little documentary on me and Nina, but she ended up just doing the Miu Miu short film.  After that, I would say we just became really close—all of us became super close. Then we made the movie. So it’s almost as if the movie felt normal. I knew “The Wolfpack” wouldn’t be like “Skate Kitchen” because it’s so different. I guess I just didn’t know what to expect. We all didn’t really know.

“The Wolfpack” is a documentary, but “Skate Kitchen” is scripted. Were you a part of the decision to make it a scripted film? Is it important to make the distinction?

I don’t really know the answer. I guess Crystal would know the answer to that more. But I don’t think it could be a documentary. Because I think the story she’s trying to tell—which is a story of a girl getting introduced to another group of girls from the city and being completely taken into that lifestyle—you would have to show that in a scripted story. You know she spent so much time hanging out with us. As we were hanging out, we were growing, and she wanted to capture how she first saw us.

Your character is also supposed to be from Long Island—is the character actually based on your life? How did she decide you were the lead?

Well all of our characters are kind of based on us in a way. I guess she wanted me to be the lead because when I first met her I was from Long Island and I had just met this group of girls.  They were showing me around and there was a lot of newness and I didn’t understand a lot of things. Everything was new to me, I think maybe that’s what she liked about it. I’m not really sure why, but I think that’s why. Oh well, it’s also because a lot of girls—as far as the intimidation thing—a lot of girls could relate to it. And the character is me, but it’s not completely me. I think a lot of the character is a representation of girls who are scared to skate and stuff like that—not necessarily skate. But scared to meet new people and go into a skate park. That kind of thing.

Did you have prior experience with acting?

The first thing I ever did was the short film. And I did something after that before the movie.  But that was really it.

Do you want to pursue acting further since shooting the movie?

I think I do, but I’m still not 100 percent sure. I don’t know what I want to do. I definitely want to do something with film because I just feel like it looks fun. I don’t know about acting. I want to do it, but we’ll just see I guess.

How was your experience with Crystal?

Oh—so much fun. It felt like summer camp. It was definitely hard sometimes because there was a lot skating and physical labor. Skating all the time and skating when you don’t want to skate. Skating’s something for fun, something you do when you want to do it. But then when someone’s telling you, “no do it now” and “you have to be really good now.” Oh my god, I don’t want to throw myself down a handrail right now (Laughs). But that was the hardest part.  It was so much fun.

It’s funny that you described it as a summer camp because for our last print issue, I interviewed Sophia Lillis from the movie “IT”,  and she also described filming as a summer camp! I think that’s so sweet.

Oh really! That’s what it feels like. It really feels like that.

What’s next for The Skate Kitchen?

What’s next? Well, I think the movie’s gonna come out and we wanna start going around and touring, setting up different skate events—and just have fun. We definitely want to go around.  

Crystal told me yesterday to post and ask, “Where we should go? What city we should go to?”  Like 800 people commented all of their cities. So I’m gonna tell her she has to read through those. So we’re gonna go around and try to do some more things. Just have fun I guess. 

Photos by Sophia Wilson

Styling by Jared Martell

Online edition of the Resist/Revolt Issue, buy the print issue here

Revisiting “Paris is Burning”

Story by Zoe Yu Gilligan

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Film Forum in New York City and Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles have been screening Jennie Livingston’s “Paris is Burning”, a 1990 landmark documentary about the city’s “Golden Age” of ball culture in its last years. It won the 1991 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and was selected in 2016 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. It is thought of to this day as one of the most important works exploring race, gender, sexuality, and class in America. 

Livingston’s intimate portrait of Harlem ball culture—the product of gay, transgender, poor, and mostly Black and Latinx folks—shines a light on what is one of this country’s most influential subcultures. At these gatherings coined as balls, participants “walk” (compete) for trophies, prizes and distinction within the community, ultimately being whatever they wish to be for the night. They walk, dance and/or vogue in drag categories aimed at emulating different genders and social classes. They are judged on appearance, attitude, dance skills, and “realness”. By performing conventional gender roles of excess and wealth through their drag, participants simultaneously question these roles.

Ball culture also extends beyond balls, as many people belong to different factions known as “houses”, which imitate a family structure by having “mothers” or “fathers” who are the leaders of their respective houses. They recruit people to their houses to walk in balls, but these houses also serve as chosen families for many gay, transgender and gender non-conforming folks of color. Houses that win heaps of trophies are considered legendary and people who win them are also granted an irrevocable legendary status.  

Some of the most famous houses were featured in Livingston’s documentary, such as the House of Ninja (founded by Willi Ninja), the House of Xtravaganza (founded by Hector and Angie Xtravaganza), the House of LaBeija (founded by Crystal LaBeija), and the House of Dupree (founded by Paris Dupree). House members typically adopt house names as their own last names. 

It was a 1980s New York summer when Livingston was in Washington Square Park and met two young men who were voguing. She attended her first ball that summer at the Gay Community Center on 13th Street where she saw Venus Xtravaganza, one of the film’s subjects, for the first time. After that ball, she began to spend time with Willi Ninja, another of the film’s subjects, to learn more about ball culture and vogueing, as well as beginning to audio interview other ball participants: Venus Xtravganza, Octavia St. Laurent, Pepper Labeija, and Dorian Corey to name a few. 

Film production took place during the rest of the decade, beginning with the Paris is Burning ball in 1986 and finally ending in 1989. The majority of the film spans between footage of balls and interviews with prominent people in the ball scene whose testimonies shed light on queer and ball culture, as well as on their own life stories. Many of them grapple with issues such as racism, poverty, HIV/AIDs, homelessness, violence, homophobia, and transphobia. The candid interviews offer insight into the strength of queer and transgender people of color (QTPOC) in 1980’s New York and how many of them were simply struggling to survive in “a rich, white world,” with their pride and humor still intact. 

Along with drag, the film also documents vogueing’s origins and how Willi Ninja is seen as its innovator. Livingston uses dancing and ball culture as lenses to analyze the living conditions of the QTPOC community—how they strive to meet the demands of the media that is prejudiced against them in the first place and how they survive these trials with wit, ingenuity and dignity. 

While favorable reviews were numerous at the time of its release, controversy surrounding the film extended beyond its content to its creator, Jennie Livingston. bell hooks notably criticized “Paris is Burning” for its colonial gaze, since Livingston is a white, middle-class, genderqueer lesbian who portrayed balls and blackness, in hooks’ opinion, as a spectacle to “pleasure” white audiences. Furthermore, hooks states that Livingston depicted womanness and femininity within ball culture as being totally personified by whiteness, that the ruling-class white woman, “adored and kept, shrouded in luxury,” is conveyed as the standard QTPOC should aspire to without any real critique of patriarchy. 

Others share the sentiment that Paris has burned altogether. Once mainstream America benefited from its cultural appropriation, copying a marginalized subculture that was copying it in the first place, the subculture itself then became of disinterest to the mainstream. For instance, its lexical influence is present everywhere in our pop culture today—“fierce,” “shady,” “work,” “yasss queen”—yet we mostly do not recognize its origins in the ball scene. Ball culture’s legacy and impact often go uncredited, and thus the community remains largely invisible. 

“People may not understand the hurt that was caused by ‘Paris is Burning’,” said Kevin Omni Burrus, an original cast member of the documentary, in an article for The Daily Dot. “Not all of us were drug addicts, thieves, or prostitutes. There were people with PhD’s and master’s degrees in the ballroom world. But [Livingston] just wanted to tell the broken part of the story. That’s what she built that film on.” 

“Paris is Burning” is not perfect. It is limited and rudimentary. But it exists, even in a society that says this community should not exist at all, let alone have any media representation. It serves as a colorful time capsule and cultural artifact–an important reminder to never cease in political shrewdness with the media we consume. This is especially the case in 2019 in which there are so many people and initiatives from the community to support and uplift, whose respective stories and efforts are already changing the perceptions left behind from Livingston’s documentary. 

Queer history is American history. American culture wouldn’t exist without QTPOC and it’s vital we honor these stories and people. As a non-white ally myself living in New York City, I urge the rest of us to be critical of rainbow capitalism and honor Pride’s true origins beyond the month of June, to recognize the insidious effects of our silence and complacency, and to continually be militant against homophobia and transphobia. Stonewall was a riot against the state. Since 1969 and then later since the time of “Paris is Burning”, violence against transgender women of color still flourishes.  

In remembrance of Venus Xtravaganza whose murder was never solved (suspected to be by a disgruntled client), Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza who was recently found dead in her Rikers cell, Jennifer Laude who was murdered by a nineteen year-old U.S. Military Officer in the Philippines, and the other countless Black, Latinx and Indigenous transgender women who have been murdered this year and every year before it, we will Say Her Name. We will say all of their names because Trans Lives Matter and Trans Black Lives Matter. 

Paris may have burned but we allies still have all the support and resources to share, so if we are not standing with the community and centering them in our solidarity work, we are actively countering everything do.    

The screenings at Film Forum and the Nuart Theatre have run from Pride Month and will conclude this Thursday July 11. “Paris is Burning” otherwise is available on Netflix U.S. for viewing.

Religion class, but make it self discovery

Illustration by Rosie Yasukochi
Story by Irine Le

There are two events that happened in April 2012 of my 7th grade year that I viscerally remember and were formative to my adolescence. The first being the album “Electra Heart” by Marina and the Diamonds and the second being my religion teacher telling me I had to have a speaking role in the annual 7th grade Seder meal play “or else.”

I never got around to figuring out what the “or else” meant; whether it was eternal damnation or just a gentle reprimand for my constant lack of participation in class, because before I knew it, I had a script in hand to learn Simon the Zealot’s lines.

My crippling shyness over playing one of Jesus’ disciples quickly faded the moment I realized my crush was cast in the play as well, and he’d be sitting next to me in our recreation of the Last Supper. Then came the kicker. The moment I realized that because he was next to me, I would have to hold his hand for the inevitable “Our Father” prayer when everyone joined hands.

Inevitably, the Seder meal play happened. No lines were forgotten at all. I joined hands with my crush to recite the “Our Father” prayer and the world didn’t end. The said crush never liked me back, but despite that, I eventually got through the whelms of 7th grade melodrama and moved on with my life.

However, I made a note shortly thereafter that, “Wow, religion class isn’t so bad” and from thereon, I approached religion class with more of an open mind. I look back on this and laugh because really? It was from this very moment that I actually began to give religion class a chance?

It wasn’t like religion class was awful before the Seder meal play. It just always felt very unfamiliar. In my 12-year-old mind, I wasn’t sure if the unfamiliarity stemmed from religion itself being unwelcoming, or because I was raised in a non-religious background, unlike pretty much all the kids in my class. I didn’t understand the difference between getting a blessing and accepting the Eucharist during mass—why did I have to cross my hands across my chest while most of my friends could accept some circular cracker looking thing?

Despite being non-religious, my parents sent to a Catholic K-8 middle school at the start of 6th grade where I was thrown into scripture classes, without knowing a single prayer on my first day. I floated through Catholic middle school having only the “Hail Mary” and “Our Father” memorized and never attended a single mass outside of the required weekly Monday ones and every major religious holiday during the school year.

My middle school sex education experience consisted of uncomfortably sitting in a classroom with pubescent boys who thought Minecraft was the apex of technology and discussing with them who my “ideal future partner” would be. The mention of the words “penis” or vagina” resulted in flittered laughter in the room, but I’m sure that’s almost obligatory in a room full of 13-year-olds. All of the TV shows or movies I had consumed that depicted Catholic school sex-ed was always somewhere along the lines of forcing chastity down your throat, “no sex before marriage,” or some other “Mean Girls”-esque “you’ll die if you have sex” trope. I turned the chastity pledge my sex-ed teacher made us sign into a paper airplane and threw it into the trash can to the tune of laughter by my friends at the time. Besides the chastity pledge, there wasn’t any other talk of virginity being some “sacred gift” or whatnot.

After middle school, I went to a Catholic high school where religion was less permeated in all aspects of school. The only time we were required to go to mass was during the major religious holidays, and we weren’t required to say a class prayer together right before lunch every day. This felt like something I could get on board with.

I don’t remember much from my religion classes during freshman year of high school beyond sitting in the back of the classroom, contributing to the conversations about the Old Testament once or twice, and curating Arctic Monkeys playlists for 8tracks and Tumblr. My friends and I quickly discovered that amidst all the differences in our class schedules (such as taking French vs. Spanish, taking honors vs. a non-honors class and different levels of math), religion class was the one class we could depend on to hopefully have together. Since freshmen and sophomores at my school all had to take the same religion classes, we all dared to hope at the start of every semester that we’d have a familiar face in class.

I momentarily thought about how similar this experience was to my middle school Seder play; both times I was hoping for religion class to bring me closer to the people that I probably wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for that very class.

The game changer for me, personally, on how I approached religion class came around my junior year of high school when the themes and emphasis for social justice was introduced into my classes and extracurriculars. There was a bit more leeway in terms of choosing what religion classes to take once I became an upperclassmen. Out of a handful of options like Ethics & Media and Atheism and Faith, I chose to take bioethics and world religions, my junior and senior years of high school, respectively.

Those two classes exposed me to a handful of experiences, people, and subjects that I wouldn’t have experienced if I hadn’t chosen to take those respective subjects.

My bioethics class introduced me to learning about the history of eugenics, Dolly the Sheep, and discussing the ethics of stem cell research and end of life care. Additionally, my bioethics teacher was a very passionate social justice advocate, specifically in immigration rights and criminal justice and would often bring discussion about these topics into our class curriculum. I learned the meaning of implicit biases, how much less women of color truly make compared to the saying “77 cents to a dollar” (which historically has actually only been true to white women), and the horrific realities of solitary confinement in the criminal justice system. Before this experience, my religion classes had been much more scripture-based and social justice that hadn’t really been covered in my classes.

My bioethics teacher called the integration of social justice within topics of religion “faith-doing justice,” which I’d later learn was a worldwide movement and tenet pretty prominent in Catholic social teaching.

Up to this point, in my almost sixteen-year-old self’s mind, social justice and religion felt like two mutually exclusive things. I had only really been familiar with feminism and gender equality and I was mostly educated about those topics through Tumblr and other Internet resources. Religion was basically what it had been my whole life: something I was only exposed to while in the confines of my 8:30 am to 3:00 pm school day. To have those two concepts intersect initially felt like my Tumblr blog had been exposed to everyone at my school.

Beyond getting my heart crushed in middle school religion class, the other thing that I still remember to this very day was in sixth grade when one of my teachers asked, “despite all religions being different in terms of text and lessons, what’s the one lesson they all have in common?”, to which a classmate had correctly answered, “to be a good person.”

Maybe instead of having social justice and religion intersect to feel like my feminist rant-filled Tumblr page had been exposed to my classmates, those two fields can intersect in a way that can help me learn and advocate about more social justice topics, both in and out of the classroom.

The service learning projects I did throughout high school ranged from working in a senior living community, a summer reading program at a local library, and working and tutoring at a local elementary school. I think for me, being able to put the community aspect of religion into action and being able to help a wide group of people felt the most impactful to me. The ability to build and foster relationships with people in the different pockets of education I volunteered within has been one of my most meaningful experiences.

Even though I’m in college now and haven’t taken a religion class in two years, my experiences with religion is one that is, for the most part, pretty positive and unique. It’s one that’s been marked with constant serendipity; in the form of having embarrassing crush stories that have happened by chance, or having met my best friend on the first day of bioethics when we decided to randomly sit next to each other. It’s also one marked with a lot of learning and acceptance. It’s also been one of the catalysts in my social justice advocating experience, which I’ll forever be grateful for.