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House°Bones FWSS°21: All The Birds That Couldn’t Fly

EDITORIAL

House°Bones FWSS°21 :

All The Birds That Couldn’t Fly

“I am not worried about how to walk on this Earth anymore, I now think about how to fly and swim with infinite breath.”

sidewalkkilla

“As Black people we’ve always been taught

that we have to work

five times as hard as the next person,”


says Bones Jones, dancer turned designer, event organizer, and founder of the lifestyle brand House°BONES (HoB). Today is supposed to be his day to unwind following the previous night’s grueling yet successful fashion presentation for his one-shot FWSS°21 (Fall Winter Spring Summer) collection. He is in his Harlem apartment, smoking a spliff by the window of a second small bedroom that he has converted into a studio space. This is where he designed and executed 45 pieces for his latest collection “5 Star Nightlife.” There is a time limit on our conversation though, because he has to speed off to a photoshoot in Jersey, where he is booked to style someone’s hair. Oh yes, he is a hair stylist as well.

“I can’t pay my rent, but creatively, I feel on top of the world right now,”

he says, staring out towards the uninspiring grey panorama just beyond the window sill. In the time when the New York Fashion Week is cancelled until further notice and designers are shitting themselves about the uncertain future of their fashion houses, Bones pulled off a 40-minute fashion presentation in the form of an immersive dance theater within a matter of one week. The presentation involved 17 performers of different races, shapes and sizes.  

“When I hear that saying about us [Black people] having to work fivefold it blows my mind, because to me our natural state is what’s already sought after so hard. I feel like we just have a way of being that is so universally admired that a lot of  other countries, other races and cultures try to emulate it– like braids or locks, big butts or full lips, and all these things are natural physical states of Black people.”

The spliff is still going and Bones adds to his previous statement,

“What I mean is, our actual state of existing is enough, but we’ve been taught that it’s not, that you have to do a bunch of extra shit. And so we get out there and we start thinking that we’re not enough and start doing all these things that other people do, when in reality you are already exactly where you need to be. And that goes for everybody, but specifically Black people have been taught not to believe that in this country.”

Bones’ life mission of challenging the routine is directly channeled through his brand HoB. HoB’s mission is to change the paradigm of luxury and social norms, and everything that Bones does in his everyday life rings true to that mission, whether he is consciously aware of it or not. It’s no secret that fashion is one of the biggest contributors to environmental destruction. Not only is the fashion industry responsible for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, it is also the second largest user of the planet’s water supply. 85% of all clothing produced ends up in a landfill, while washing the $5 polyester shirt that you got at H&M, contributes to the microplastic pollution of our oceans. Questionable labour ethics of the fast fashion industry is an entire conversation of its own. Even though the truly green future of all fashion is considerable ways away, people’s awareness is growing and the niche for ethical and sustainable clothing is slowly but surely expanding (HERE are some sustainable clothing labels worth checking out.)

While Zara, which operates under Inditex, the world’s largest apparel manufacturer, juggles around 20 collections per year, Bones believes that one collection a year is more than enough. Minimalism and versatility are the keys to his fashion code,

“This is the shit you can wear all year around, you can layer it, wear it this way or that, you can do whatever you want. I don’t like when things are ‘supposed’ to be only one way, it just doesn’t make sense.”

He tries to use the entirety of the fabric, even the selvage (the “self-finished” edge of a roll of fabric which keeps it from unraveling and fraying) as the garment’s trimming. This is a big no-no in the fashion industry and this part of the fabric usually gets trashed.

“Unfinished ends are unique to my brand, everything doesn’t have to have a perfect finish.”

The spliff is finally done and Bones is riding the high of last night’s success,

“I feel like even the brands with money couldn’t do what we did yesterday. McQueen was the last person who did something like this. When I am able to physically touch the money that McQueen was touching and be able to rent the venues and get the proper fabrics and not three dollar, five dollar fabrics, you best fucking believe that I’m going to be working in my natural state, but it’s not going to be five times harder.”

Five dollar fabrics, selvage, frayed ends or not, you can’t take away Bones’ self-taught technical ability to construct complex garments like a denim corset-cum-leotard that fit one of the model’s body like a glove, bulge and all.

“I don’t see anyone else doing what I am doing,”

Bones continues,

“Nowadays I am not afraid to say that – before I would be afraid to assert myself, again because we’ve been conditioned that way and not just Black people but people in general, whoever is not in the top one percent. We have been taught not to assert ourselves and where you stand and who you are, it’s always ‘dumb yourself down’ for the higher person in the room. No, fuck you. What makes you higher than me? No one is brave enough to host a fashion show during a pandemic, even in a safe way. If we can go to restaurants and football games, yeah, I am going to do this.”

The “5 Star Dining” showcase was broken up into performance vignettes that had their own narrative. A few models who represented restaurant guests would walk into the “restaurant” which was represented by an awkward wooden table propped up in the middle of the performance space, and then a scene would unravel, whether through a choreographed group routine, a solo dance or a theatrical interaction. Phenomenally, every moving piece was set in its place within one three-hour day of rehearsal. 

Bones makes it explicit that he didn’t choreograph the whole show by himself, but rather gave the talent through lines and possible intention, which they were free to interpret in their own way to create scenarios. There were people who helped with styling and hair, but the models were responsible for their own makeup. It was important for Bones to let the cast build their own narrative. It’s less about the control and more about collaboration. As with the audience, the goal was to give them something to think about.

Two “guests” enter the “restaurant,” their HoB attire is over-the-top lavish– tulle and pearls with a splash of boujee above-it-all attitude,

“That was hinting at this higher society that gets to operate during this time, because if you have money your life is normal. If you got money, you can do what the fuck you want to do, like the fucking Governor or mayor or whoever [Texas senator Ted Cruz]. The bitch ran to the heat while the people are freezing and that’s exactly what the fuck I’m talking about.”

When the above mentioned boujee “guests” settle at the table, one of the models pulls down their mask and smokes a joint lit up by their partner. Then something unspeakable happens… They share the j. *Insert Karen screaming.* The sharing of the joint represents hypocrisy in our society, aka the mask police who would turn around and then do something as unspeakable as sharing a smoke with their friends.

During another vignette, a stunning amazon of a drag queen and her cis-male presenting companion visit the “restaurant”. They sit on opposite sides of the clunky table and then an argument erupts. The cis-man-dude kicks his “chair” (an apple box) and exits the restaurant in fury.

“In this particular scene Viper and Sy were hinting at the trans women as sex workers and their relationships with men in public. This is what’s happening right now, people are going out to dinners, men are finding out that the girls are trans and then things transpire. The men might like it, but when the girls show up and do something different in public, the men might flip the script.”

Throughout the show the models show off the garments’ versatility by constantly changing the way they wear the pieces or exchanging them with each other– one “guest” comes in with a big denim jacket and puts it on another model as an oversized skirt. Bones says that his collection represents one full day in New York,

“Let’s say you are hanging out with your friends during the day and then you want to go to dinner and go out, but you don’t want to go back to the apartment to change your clothes. This collection is very much ‘throw something on and you already have what you need for any occasion.’ The clothes were meant to be able to transition from day to night to dinner to the club to the library if you will. You don’t have to choose, you can have this and that.”

Bones adds,

“What has always interested me is who you are when you are alone and what you might be hiding. How do you feel right now?”

One of the models walks into the room and starts fixing the table. He advances towards a mirror, looks himself over for a moment and makes his way back to the table. Then overhead lights flicker, representing lightning, and then bathe the room in blue. The model turns his back towards the audience, and takes off his jacket. The next thing to come down are the pants, revealing a thong-vest-leotard, ass cheeks fully exposed. He does this a few times, then puts the entire outfit back on and exits the stage.

“I told Stanley, you come into this room and maybe you are a perfectionist so you start fixing the table. When you see the lightning, maybe settle in at home because you’re like, okay, I’m not going anywhere with this really crazy weather outside. So then you start looking at yourself in the mirror and you’re like ‘I like this person but I don’t like who I am at the same time.’ So then he turns around and takes his pants off a little bit, revealing that he has a thong-leotard-vest on.  He’s just showing a little crack. So he’s thinking, ‘It’s okay, this feels good, but I want to show my whole ass’ and pulls his pants down all the way to the floor. Then he pulls it all back up, like ‘I have this character that I have to be in real life. I gotta fucking perform every fucking day.’ When we leave our privacy, we have to perform and put on this character who everybody fucking wants us to be, you know, like these are the conversations we have with ourselves. So that’s how we built the show.”

He goes on confidently,

”I say this without any cockiness, but at the same time with all the cockiness, people know where this brand is about to fucking go and it’s like, do you want to be a part of greatness? Because a part of me being great is a part of me feeling that my community is great as well.”

Anyone who knows Bones wouldn’t be surprised that most of his collection was executed in an oceanic palette. But what was surprising to learn is that the reasons behind his connection to the blue hues were as deep as the ocean floor itself,

“I see life as water. You have to surrender to the water, and I feel like it’s exactly where I’ve been because I’ve had to learn how to swim underwater. I wasn’t living in my truth. If you want to navigate this life, you need to learn to not only swim, but also soar above the water. There is a human form on land, there is a human form in water [mermaids] and there’s a human form in air, the Angels. Blue shades are present in the sky as well. Before all this social media craze, let’s say you are in your thirties and you have been making things happen, then Instagram came along and some 16 year old fucks your shit up because they’re doing some dance and it just completely washed away everything you were fighting for, so you now about to learn how to fly. This whole time you’ve just been walking on land and then the wave came and washed you out and if you don’t learn how to swim you’re gonna drown. And that’s the problems with humans– we try to fucking learn how to operate on some shit that we already do. We already walk this Earth. I am not worried about how to walk on this Earth anymore, I now think about how to fly and swim with infinite breath.”

House°BONES would like to thank his team that assisted with this project:

PAs Maurice Ivy, Fletcher Christian

Creative Development Kris Seto, Tislarm Bouie

Lighting Alyssa Dunst

Special Thanks To Dana Wiener and Ayce Graham

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Alexey Kim

Founder

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#FreeBritney Bitch!

EDITORIAL | THE MIXER

#FreeBritney Bitch!

It was awful what we did to her.

sidewalkkilla

An MTV news segment from 1999 encapsulates that time for me. It was a report from a shoot of MTV’s TRL “1999 Class Photo”. John Norris introduces the segment and passes off hosting duties to Brian McFayden, a newer VJ who looks like the 6th member of NSYNC as he sits with the boyband at the table. They are all ogling Jennifer Lopez, who is seated behind them and clearly aware. Fred Durst is floating around, as is Tyrese. But the segment changes tone when McFayden gets a few seconds with Britney Spears before the shoot starts, as if to say, “OK, here she is.” She tells him she expects craziness from David LaChappelle, the photographer. When the segment transitions to the photo shoot, it does so with a close up of Britney walking, looking at the camera and beaming as the iconic 3-note opening of …Baby One More Time plays. She then takes her rightful seat in the front of the class of 1999.

I was a TRL kid. I didn’t watch any of the teen soap operas or the adult cartoons marketed at kids that were the height of pop culture at the time. Pokémon passed me by. I was all MTV. My obsession was borne out of a seismic shift in music culture and marketing; the messy, “dangerous” MTV of the 80’s and 90’s was making way for something glossier and with more dance moves just as I was hitting puberty. Teen pop replaced alt-rock as the dominant money maker, and MTV evolved to meet the moment, focusing on a younger, brighter aesthetic throughout. The VJs no longer looked like music journalists, but pop stars. Unplugged was replaced with Making the Video.

This new crew of teenage stars was sold to us through their relatability. MTV made sure we not only idolized them, but also got to know them; these were our classmates. A whole new set of documentary-style shows debuted that allowed fans to feel closer to our idols. With each promotional cycle, we didn’t just get a new song and visual, we watched them Making the Video. We weren’t meant to interpret their updated image, we heard the “truth” from them in the supposedly candid and raw Diary series (“You think you know…but you have no idea”). The teen pop marketing tropes of sharing favorite colors, embarrassing stories, and backstage jokes was as old as the genre, but MTV expanded it into primetime programming.

Britney Spears was the most popular girl in the MTV class of 1999. She was as good for them as they were for her, as shown through the multitude of Britney-specific programming they would air when she had a new album to promote. She didn’t just get the standard Diary and Making the Video episodes, she got full days of programming where they would all air in a marathon, culminating in live events where she’d perform and give an interview. There was even a First Listen special for her Oops…I Did It Again album where she sat in a room filled with fans to listen to 30-second clips of each song on the album and tell us stories about how the album was “edgier” and “more personal.”

While watching the New York Times’ Framing Britney Spears (available to stream on Hulu), it was jarring to view this era of her career documented from a distance, without the personal connection fostered by MTV, and with an updated cultural understanding of misogyny and patriarchy. Each of the tests and expectations placed upon Britney felt normal to me, because they were all part of the narrative in her most recent Diary episode. Her breasts, her relationships, and her sexiness were all on the table and she was made to answer for them apologetically or defensively depending on the high school narrative of the moment. It’s particularly unsettling to watch the way Britney’s breakup with Justin Timberlake was framed universally in the media:

“What did she do to him?”

These things were normal to all of us in the sex-obsessed late 90’s. In the documentary, critic Wesley Morris helpfully contextualizes Britney’s rise in the time of Monica Lewinsky, another young woman who was ceremoniously torn apart by the culture. We were in a moment of 2nd wave (white) feminism controlling the conversation and an extreme panic among adults about the sexualization of “our young girls.” This was also the time of Sex and the City and The Vagina Monologues, which were met with equal adoration and ridicule, with women demanding that they be less frivolous or less self-serious. The greater culture, however, hated women as much as always. The general perception of Sex and the City was that the ladies were stupid and slutty and of The Vagina Monologues, that they were weird and unsexy. Progress was being made in women’s autonomy, especially in the way they were telling their stories, but it was met with a resounding “that’s girl stuff” mockery from the culture at large.

The respectability politics of sex in the 90’s was fraught for any woman who reached a certain level of fame because she could only get there by violating them. Young women across the entertainment spectrum were expected to strip down and pout to promote their new projects and those images were then widely disseminated so we could both shame the women and remark with awe at how they were “not little girls anymore.” It was a deeply gross rite of passage for any young performer and it spared no one, including Melissa Joan Hart and both the daughters from 7th Heaven. Even Michelle Branch had a Maxim cover. 

It should be no surprise then, that Britney Spears received the same treatment. It was normal then, which made it all the more confusing to me that adults decided to place the entire morality of a generation on Britney Spears’ shoulders when she was merely doing what was expected at that time. Her Rolling Stone photoshoot from 1999 is problematic to my 2021 eyes, but back then I remember being genuinely confused as to why this bra and hot pants was somehow different. Maybe she sold sex too well for them, or was too popular, too magnetic.

What they missed was that her fans were responding to her power, not her chest. Britney’s sexiness was athletic and suggestive, not pornographic. When she performed at award shows, she would often remix her songs to have more breaks, more industrial metallic clangs or cymbal smashes during which she would throw her hips or flip her hair, as if the sheer force of her movements was forcing the song to stutter. It’s worth noting that during most of these “controversial” performances, Britney was wearing some version of a crop top, pants, and sneakers. Even her famously scandalous school girl outfit reads more cheerleader than seductress.

It was gutting now to watch Britney from a distance and not as a peer in my MTV high school. The chorus of bad faith that followed her was cruel and targeted, and we all laughed it off, we all participated. This is exemplified in a scene in Love Actually that I came across completely by accident after viewing the documentary. Bill Nighy’s old rock star is asked who his best shag was, to which he replies:

“Britney Spears….no just kidding…..she was rubbish.”

Cue laughter. Britney was 22 then.

While the elements of her current conservatorship discussed in the documentary are illuminating and shocking, what stays in my brain is the way the media and culture treated young women at the turn of the millennium. It really can’t be examined enough. Britney was the one we chose to take down and obsess over – her generation’s Diana or Marilyn – but she was far from the only one. For more than a decade, we watched girl after girl get blonder, skinnier, and more dead behind the eyes as she ran from a mob of men chasing her with flashbulbs. And we loved it. We didn’t even think it was strange to love it. We thought they were out of touch when they complained about it. “That’s your problem?,” we all eye-rolled. We gleefully shared their mugshots and pictures taken up their dresses without their consent. And we blamed them for it. We called them “crazy” when it affected them.

A key moment not featured in the documentary also comes from the famous Diane Sawyer interview. She asks Britney if regrets any of her sexy photo shoots, to which Britney says she has no regrets. Sawyer then pulls out an 8×10 glossy image of Britney from a recent magazine and insists, “Not even this one?” Watching Britney’s face as she was forced to concede that she had gone too far filled me with a mix of rage and sadness I am only beginning to understand as I look back on that time. It makes me happy that the culture has evolved to give us Billie Eilish, a young woman who refuses to conform to the impossible, almost cartoonish beauty ideals of today, who talks about her mental health struggles, and still sweeps the Grammys.

I’m also happy that we’re reevaluating Britney. At her peak, music journalism was full of men who wanted nothing more than to make her the avatar for bad music, bad culture, sissy stuff, fake stuff, lame stuff, uncool stuff. Now, pop critics can’t escape the influence of Britney’s music and performances, which were increasingly adventurous, weird, and forward-thinking. They also can’t escape her power. Every girl in my high school was trying to serve Britney. Low rise jeans were Britney, lip gloss was Britney, those shirts that said ROCK STAR in rhinestones were Britney. She’s too much of a force to ignore or to trivialize. She was lightning in a bottle and everyone who came of age during her reign knows that no one else could do what she did with a hair flip and a purr into a headset microphone.

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Paco May

Illustrator/Writer

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Editorial Latest The Mixer

Happy (?) Valentine’s

EDITORIAL | THE MIXER

Not Your Usual Valentine

Three love stories by Matvey Cherry.

Four illustrations by Sky Vargas.

sidewalkkilla

One and Another

Love has no meaning at all, but it gives meaning to everything around. It makes the heart light and empty, like a balloon. You don’t understand what is happening to you not because you are stupid, but simply because there is nothing to understand. However, there is something vulgar in the simple explanation of what love is like. And yet all the stories are similar in one way or another. 

For example, One can not live a single minute without the Other, is sick of them, jealous, afraid of them, clings to them, does not want to let the Other go, nearly stops breathing when the lover is not near. The Other is looking for a connection, an opportunity to fly together over the horizon, to new adventures, and when it turns out that the loved One doesn’t need either a flight or an adventure, but only the simple possession of them and their body, it becomes boring and even scary for the Other to be locked in a cage of strange, incomprehensible feelings. One is anxious and wild, willing to do anything for the Other, for the sake of full presence in their life, but the Other is open-minded and ready to open to anyone. For them the most important thing is life itself in all its manifestations and the attraction of two people’s universes exists only when their life views coincide. The Other needs someone around them to understand, rather than just wanting to take them. 

Such a relationship is an eternal parting theorem, erasing everything that there once was between two lovers, like the morning waves.

Love Is…

Real love is more than a hard on, but real love is hard. So hard, challenging and ultimately very hurtful. Even unbearable if the person you love is taken from you. Love is as acute and as large-scale as death is. It is essential to appreciate it and hold on to it as long as you haven’t lost it.

My heart is a close target, with such a range that my lover can’t miss. For sure I am a desperate, hopeless romantic. I could be a good duelist as well, but oh, 21st century… There are so many people that are really incapable of feeling or experiencing real love. In the long run they may be better off, the jury is still out, but if you dump your partner because you don’t like the way he/she/they hang their just washed underwear over the shower curtain rod, chances are you will die, not necessarily alone, but having never been really into someone.

Real love always comes with a potentially very high price to pay, but, no matter what, you’re trying to keep the relationship at all costs, even if getting in touch with that person is like trying to seduce the Pope, even if you’ve been experiencing the whole push and pull dynamic for a while.In my imagination all lovers are artists who’re using the light to paint, but to create the masterpiece they should add a little of darkness too. Art is love made public.

Seventeen

The most outspoken posts in social media are love letters with unknown addresses sent to the whole world. A note sealed in a bottle, floating through the ocean looking for a new reader. Perhaps one day the addressee will see it. Perhaps never. The truth is that my addressee is of flesh and blood. We are two poisonous opposites. This is just one symptom of a coma.

The shamelessness of youth abounds with feelings so dizzying, it feels like I am seventeen again and I am on the verge (of death), when for the first time I tried something strong, that eats the soul through, one agonizing part after another. If you have never experienced loss, you’ll hardly understand. If only I saw your face again, noticed you in the distance…

I remember everything: your carefree and lazy look, fluorescent lamps, the depth of the backstage, night dances. When I managed to slip into the closing doors and we were in weightlessness for a few seconds, which seemed like hours. Helpless times, when fate is not wrapped around someone’s thighs, but the chaos of the body has their own reasons.

The cold season is about to return, but there will be no snow. Winter was akin to anesthesia for me, now it lulls others. Resisting the fever, I forgot that I need to move. Foolish longing always turns a poor me into a wooden puppet. This is what the dead ones come to at the end. I’m afraid of this darkness sleeping in me. Every day I feel its malignancy. Everyone has phrases that send us to hell, like “we are too different, goodbye.

Slowly dying is a performance. I’m horrified how it turns me on. I can say, I was born for this. Please compress my ashes into the smoky eyes palette. I want to give beauty!

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Matvey Cherry

Multidisciplinary Artist

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Sky Vargas

Designer

THE MIXER

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#UsToo: The Alexander Wang Case and Sexual Abuse of Men in the Fashion Industry

EDITORIAL | OPINION

#UsToo:

The Alexander Wang Case

& Sexual Abuse of Men in the Fashion Industry

Illustrations by Paco May

asked her female Twitter followers

to reply with #MeToo

if they had been sexually abused.


Even though civil rights activist Tarana Burke originally founded the Me Too movement on Myspace in 2006, only after the hashtag went viral in 2017 did the Me Too movement become part of today’s dominant cultural and social media conversations. Me Too has unarguably contributed to the growth of today’s cancel culture, where many public figures face the backlash of the general public based on something offensive they’ve either done or said, or based on certain allegations. Sometimes there is no legal trial, as we saw in the Harvey Weinstein case; instead, the crowd takes on the role of judge, jury, and executioner, in some cases leading to a person and/or their career being “cancelled.”

The latest big name that might be next up on the chopping block is Alexander Wang. The famous fashion designer came to prominence after winning a highly coveted Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund award in 2008; now, after nearly two successful decades in the fashion industry, he is facing sexual assault allegations. 

On December 11, male model Owen Mooney made a TikTok video replying to another user’s question, “What is your weirdest ‘seeing a celebrity in public’ experience?” He proceeded to recount a night where he was groped by a “really famous fashion designer” in an NYC club in 2017.

Without skipping a beat, another TikTok user left a comment under the video claiming it was Alexander Wang. In the next video Owen confirmed the comment, saying that he was surprised that the person got it right. Two weeks later, the story was blown up by Instagram fashion gossip accounts @diet_prada and @shitmodelmgmt. Since Mooney’s accusations, countless people have chimed into the conversation, and several more anonymous male victims are currently being represented by high-profile attorney Lisa Bloom. As Vogue reminded us,

“Wang’s alleged misconduct has been discussed previously on social media as early as 2017 and within the trans community; several of Wang’s accusers are trans.”

Even though the sexual abuse of men in the fashion industry has been around for far too long, it has never really made as big of a headline as with the Alex Wang case. As an ex-fashion model, I have never had any similar experience with Wang himself, but there are a few stories I would like to share that happened to me and a few of my male model friends. Hopefully, these stories will shed some more insight into what male models have to deal with in the predatorial world of fashion, and why they might hold on to their stories, sometimes taking them to the grave.

Story Time

It’s not typical for men to come to the forefront about sexual abuse, and there may be many reasons behind this – shame, guilt, denial, the influence of toxic masculinity, the fear of not being believed, the fear of ridicule, the danger of career annihilation by the people in power. Having worked as a model in Miami, New York City, and in Malaysia over the span of almost a decade, I’ve faced my own share of sexual abuse by the industry. I sadly always considered this to be a norm, sort of a rite that every model had to go through. I’ve heard countless similar stories from other male models: some losing big jobs because of their refusal to participate in sexual acts with the photographer or a casting agent, some having to get hard for a famous photographer’s “private” photo collection in exchange for images for their own portofolios, and so on and so on. Obviously, 100% of the time the abuse would come from those in power to “change” someone else’s destiny. More often than not, the victims crumble under pressure and are made to feel helpless, fearing that all of the hard work they’ve put into getting themselves towards their goal could be smeared in a minute by someone in power displeased with their lack of subordination. Most of the guys would never tell their agents or anyone else about this abuse for fear of being ridiculed, blacklisted, discredited, or emasculated; they would relegate it to the “not a big deal” bucket, only having to deal with the emotional (and in some cases physical) scarring for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, some of these agents, the ones who are supposed to look after you, are silent complicitors, knowingly sending you to a client’s hotel for a “casting” or brushing you off after you’ve reported an instance of sexual abuse, either for fear of severing ties with a profitable client or simply not wanting to be involved in the drama that might follow. 

When I first moved to New York, I was barely out of high school. I was 19 years old and looking forward to running away from an unbearable family situation in Miami. I had lived in the US for only three years at that point – I was fresh off the boat and scared of taking the wrong step.

I was scouted by Click Model Management on models.com and was offered a contract on the spot. This was going to be my big break – something that I could have only dreamed about. I didn’t realize that shit wasn’t going to be so easy and started navigating the tough motherfucker that is New York City all by myself. I did not end up landing any jobs with this agency for an entire year. I was advised that I should look for “something else to do with my life” by one of many indifferent agents on the men’s board. A few months later I went to an open call with Q Models, only to come out with another contract offer. I actually started getting some jobs and thought to myself,

“I CAN do it, that agent bitch was wrong!”

Of course, due to the competitive nature of the industry and male models being notoriously underpaid, I had to find another gig. I started working as a server at the well-known celebrity and fashion hub Indochine. I was told that this was the place to be discovered, and every single night I would turn out looks in hopes of being noticed by a big shot from the fashion industry. 

One night, it finally happened! One of the staff told me that there was a very important fashion stylist at one of my tables. She was sitting at a table for two with her male friend. Throughout the dinner her friend, a celebrity hairstylist, was extremely nice, and by the end of the dinner I was offered a chance to work with him. When I went to his website, I was blown away – he had worked for major campaigns and even done covers for Vogue, imagine fucking that!

The shoot was properly arranged through my agency, but there was very little detail given to me about it. When I showed up at the designated shoot location, it turned out to be a regular apartment building. I took the elevator to the second floor and found myself stepping right into a humongous open-air loft that took up the entire floor of the building. To my surprise it was his apartment and there was nobody else but him. I asked where the team was and he skirted the subject, saying something along the lines of “They will be here later.”

Here I am thinking, “Oh I guess he’s going to style my hair first.” I glanced at a couch and it was strewn with female lingerie. “Is he having another shoot after this?” I naively thought to myself once again.

After my hair was done, he pointed me to the couch and told me to pick an outfit from what was on it. It was only female lingerie bottoms … I grabbed the small bunch of the choices presented to me and headed to the bathroom – where I found the lingerie was all fucking see-through. There was one regular Speedo thrown into the bunch, and that was my obvious choice – at least my dick and my hole wouldn’t be showing. I stepped outside but it was still only me and him, no photographer or a stylist like he promised. He took out a small point-and-shoot camera, slumped one of the living room floor lamps onto a wall and told me to go close to the light. After the first vignette he graciously allowed me to wear a fur coat that I also picked up from the couch, and he told me to climb on top of the living room sofa.

“Yes, good, now spread your legs a little bit more,”

he said, taking pictures from the floor while I was towering over him on the sofa.

He told me to go back into the bathroom and pick out another “outfit.” When I went back inside, there was no option for another Speedo, and so I decided that this was a wrap. I came out from the bathroom fully dressed and went towards a small office space that he was now sitting in, looking through our photos on a big monitor. What I saw on the screen shook me. Even though you couldn’t see any of my private parts, some of the angles that he took were straight-up pornographic.

“Hey, I actually have to go,”

I told him and ran out of that apartment as fast as I could. I called my agency immediately and told them what happened. They shrugged it off in an “Oh well, it’s not a big deal” manner, but I couldn’t stop shaking from the adrenaline, feeling like I had just narrowly missed an encounter with a grizzly bear’s claws.

He ended up stalking me over the next several years, incessantly messaging me on dating websites, but I was so disgusted that I would be thrown into nausea every time he tried to contact me. It was just the sleazy way he had about him. At that time it was beyond me why a man with such power and success had to resort to such methods for someone to sleep with him. I think dinner and a nice wine would have been a better bet, even though I’d still never fuck him.

In early 2016 a fellow model sent me a screenshot of an awful picture of me that one of the photographers I worked with back in the day took of me. The photographer posted this photo as a throwback image on his Twitter with one of the hashtags saying #whatwasithinking. My friend said,

“Giiiiiirrrlll, know when to say no.” 

At that time the said photographer was shooting any and every cute model boy that was coming to New York to take a shot at modeling. He’s had this book project going on, where the models were promised to be shot for free for their modeling portfolios as long as they participated in this project of his, which obviously required for you to shoot butt naked. I came over to his apartment to talk about some ideas involving our future collaboration, and we decided to just spontaneously start shooting right there and then. I went into a bathtub with white undies he provided me with, we turned on some water, it was obviously getting very sexy.

Alex Wang’s allegations include drugging his victims

During one of the looks he told me to drape myself in these beaded curtains and to take my underwear off, since “it’s going to be hard to Photoshop it out” – he wanted the full nude illusion. After the shoot was wrapped up, I came out of the bathroom where I changed into my civilian clothes, only to see my asshole fully blown up on one side of his dual desktop monitor.

“You have a very nice hole, but it would look better if you shaved it. Don’t worry, no one will see these outtakes but me.”

At the time I brushed it off as him just trying to be funny, even though the thought of this guy staring at my hairy asshole any time he pleased really bothered me. Indeed, #whatwasithinking by letting him get away with it. 

I shared this BTS story with the friend who sent me this throwback photo, to which he shared his own account with the same guy:

”He tried shooting my asshole too! I said no! My last conversation with him was him telling me how he wanted nudes of me. I was like ‘No, they serve no purpose and will do nothing for my career or image and I don’t need them floating around the internet.’ To which his queeny ass told me ‘If I’m shooting you for free, you do what I say.’”

Then my model friend shared another experience that he had with another prominent NYC photographer:

“I shot with him once and told him 100 times I wasn’t doing nudes. After arguing with him, then him threatening to stop the shoot and tell other photographers I was hard to work with, I agreed on the condition that my dick would be covered and he wouldn’t use the pictures on the internet. He says yes, begs me to show half my shaft. Now if you Google my name and go to images, one of the first images is me in the window with half my shaft out. If I could sue I would.”

After, or sometimes even before every shoot, the photographer gives you a photo release where you essentially sign away all of the rights to your photos. The exchange is that you get to use them for your portfolio or personal use.

One of the guys I used to work with at Indochine once told me what happened at the height of his modeling career back in the ‘90s. This guy used to be huge, and had worked on the most prestigious catwalks, countless campaigns, billboards on Times Square. He was told that he was on hold as an option for a huge underwear campaign and the photographer wanted to do a test shoot in his hotel room before they made a final decision on his booking. When he arrived at the big-shot photographer’s hotel room, the photographer told him to undress and put on the brand’s underwear. The photographer took out a Polaroid camera and started snapping away.

“Now get on the bed, turn around, lower your underwear, show me your butt cheeks.”

The next thing you know, the photographer is on top of him, trying to jam his dick in his ass. At that point my friend pushed him away, jumped up from the bed, and told him that even if he was gay he would rather die than fuck an ugly motherfucker like him. The next day his option was dropped and he obviously never got the job. When the Polaroids were delivered to the agency, they were completely unusable.

This next story takes the cake, given the circumstances that were occurring at that moment of my life.

A really good friend of mine set me up with an agent who specialized in signing models to overseas agencies, mostly in Asia. I had been dying to be a traveling model and couldn’t wait to try it out. There was only one agency that was interested in signing me and it was in Malaysia. Back then I looked like a girl more than ever before, or ever since. Smooth face, skin and bones, long horse mane of hair. All of the agencies passed on me precisely because of that – they wanted macho guys. Miraculously, not this particular agency. The only caveat was that I cut my hair at least shoulder length. The contract was for 3 months, so I quit my job, moved a subletter into my room, and was on my way to what I thought would be inevitable newfound stardom during/after this trip. To make this really long story shorter, one of the agents (the main one) was kind of obsessed with me. He would subtly throw sexual hints/innuendos at me here and there. At the same time, he was feared by models and a bit abrasive. One night he calls my cell and tells me to come by his apartment, which was in the same building as the model house, but on another floor. At that moment I was with a fellow model who was already aware of the agent’s previous advances towards me. I felt that I couldn’t say no to him, especially as he mentioned that he wanted to talk about my career. At the same time I was weary and thinking he might want to stick his small dick in my tight ass. So I asked my friend to follow me to our agent’s abode. When we were outside of the apartment he texted me that the door was open. When we came in, my friend and I just looked at each other – the whole place was totally dark, with the exception of a faint light coming from the agent’s bedroom. Shit was about to go down, I just knew it. 

I called out to him saying that I was with a friend. He came out. He put on a movie for us and for the entire ten minutes that he managed to stay on the couch next to us, he was tossing and turning and sighing. It was obvious that he wasn’t happy about me not coming there alone and he was handling it like a five-year-old brat.

He abruptly got up and went into his bedroom. From there he started texting me that he wanted me to come by alone (no shit) and to send my friend off. I told my friend,

“Alright, listen, if I don’t come back tonight call George W. Bush.”

I went into his room and that’s when the all-night cat-and-mouse chase began. 

Basically, I was in there for five(!) hours trying to fight for my decency. At first, he started coaxing me into sitting on his bed next to him. It took him about 30 minutes to convince me to do it. He was prying and prying, lying and conniving me into that first step so well and so expertly, that I just had to oblige. Then it got more intense. He asked me to take off my socks…

I told him my feet were cold (it’s 120 degrees in Malaysia on any given day). He said he hated people wearing socks on his bed. “Well, you asked me to sit on it, so that’s on you,” I responded. How clever he thought he was, using the dumbed-down cause-and-effect method to sexually advance on someone. During our back-and-forth battle of him trying to convince me to do something as simple as taking off my socks or sitting on his bed, he told me many stories, like how he got some straight model guy drunk and probably roofied and took advantage of him the night before the model’s wedding. He said that the guy got up in the morning and just stumbled out of his room in shock. He was laughing and was very proud of that accomplishment. Then he began to threaten my career in his agency. Saying he’s powerful enough to not arrange any jobs for me. Blah blah. It was a battle of perseverance, and I fucking persevered. No way in hell was I going to touch that dick even if it cost me my entire modeling career. I finally pried myself out from his molestation hands of steel and got the fuck out of the room. 

“No way in hell

was I going to touch that dick

even if it cost me my entire modeling career.”

“I’m gonna fry

his dick

and eat it

for breakfast”

The next morning the first thing that I did was call my agent in New York and tell him the whole story. He didn’t believe me. He was speechless, he said that he has been working with this guy for ages and nothing like that had ever happened with any of the models he sent his way. Obviously, that was because not everyone was naturally sexy and seductive like me. But all jokes aside, maybe no one had the balls to report him or even say no?

One little detail I didn’t mention above is that I recorded the whole molestation session on my Razr Motorola. Yes, I’m gonna fry this dick and eat it for breakfast! Oh, wait. I’m in fucking Malaysia, by myself, I’m totally dependent on that guy for jobs, money, my whole entire well-being, in a foreign country. I quit my job and I’m on the fucking contract, I have nothing to come back to in New York after only 2 weeks of being gone. After I told my NY agent that I could prove the harassment with the recording on my phone, he believed me and said he would take care of it. So then, I had two ways of dealing with it: either going back to New York with nothing, no job, no money, no apartment, and most importantly, no fame. Or I could stick it out and stay until the end of my contract on the promise the Malaysian perv provided to my agent that nothing of that sort would happen with me again. I ended up choosing the latter and staying until the end of my contract, with no further sexual advances from the bastard.

Sadly, most guys that I’ve spoken to about their assaults never reported them because of the pure shock and then a burning desire to just bury the traumatic memory and quickly move on. A few of them shared that it was too embarrassing for them to talk about it in the open. At some point, I myself felt that it was all my own fault for allowing some of the abuses to happen to me. Let’s not even start exploring the legal drama that you can be dragged into by someone who might have many more connections and liquid assets than you to defend themselves in court – this in itself plays a part in not coming forward after you are sexually attacked.

One of the first people I met when I first moved to New York is currently a successful jewelry designer, but back in the day he was trying out the modeling gig just like me. He said that the reason he quit modeling was because of a celebrity photographer that made him whip out his dick and get hard for the camera,

“At first he told me to touch myself, because he wanted the image to be strong. I started touching myself and then I thought, ‘This is a bit much,’ but when you were in his studio there were so many top models naked on the walls, it felt like it was normal. It was after I left the studio, I thought to myself, ‘What just happened?’ and I started crying. I couldn’t tell anyone as I was embarrassed, I still feel embarrassed to this day.”

The End of Wang (?)

On January 5, 2021, Alex Wang issued a statement via his personal Instagram account:

“Firstly, I’d like to take the opportunity to connect directly with the people who have helped me grow this brand into what it is today and address the recent false, fabricated, and mostly anonymous accusations against me. While I have always been active in my social life, frequently attending various industry gatherings, parties, and concerts where drugs and alcohol were present—contrary to what has been said, I have never taken advantage of others in a sexual manner or forced anything on anyone without consent. I also have never abused my status or fame for my own benefit. These baseless allegations were started on social media by sites which repeatedly disregarded the value and importance of evidence or fact-checking. It’s my priority to prove these accusations are untrue and are fueled by solely opportunistic motives. It is important for people to speak up and be heard, but there is a need to ensure accusations are credible, so that we don’t harm these important causes. Our team is doing everything in its power to investigate these claims and we promise to remain honest and transparent throughout that process. We are fortunate to have received an overwhelming amount of support over the last few days and are thankful to our staff, clients, and industry peers for standing by our side at this time.”

Alexander Wang statement

Owen Mooney statement

It seems that the camp has split in two: the civilians who are speaking out for Wang’s victims, and the people from Wang’s camp who view those who came out as opportunistic liars. It seems that most of Wang’s fashion and Hollywood acquaintances are holding their tongue on the matter altogether. The only high-profile person who has spoken in support of Owen Mooney’s #UsToo post so far is fashion model Karen Elson via her IG Stories. Otherwise, the lack of general support from other famous people, including Hollywood supporters of the #MeToo movement, resulted in Owen Mooney issuing a statement of his own:

“The silence of the fashion industry and Hollywood in general is quite deafening. In an era of #MeToo and the solidarity victims received from Hollywood, where is the same support for the victims of Wang? This is why so many accusations of his get brushed under the rug, along with other accusations of prominent figures in fashion for that matter. His celebrity acquaintances are still following him, changing captions of pictures with him, deleting comments. Anything but condemning his actions. This is staying complicit. What he’s done to some people is evil and he needs to be held accountable. Almost a week later, still more victims are coming forward with stories. How many more people have to come forward before people in fashion and Hollywood condemn him. I can’t help but question if this has something to do with this being about men, queer and trans people? Does the ideology that we are not victims of sexual assault exist? What would the response be if a world renowned fashion designer was drugging and sexually assaulting cis women? Well we’ve seen it happen, with #MeToo. How about #UsToo? Because there is no shame in coming forward and pointing to your assaulter. We need to be taken more seriously, this happens to us too and the response should be equal.”  

Can you really take the word of Wang’s camp or friendly business associations vouching for his innocence? Probably not; the industry will try to protect those within its ranks for as long as it can, until there is enough danger to be considered guilty by association. Once things start looking towards a messy trial, the deafening silence of Alex’s supporters might change. At the end of the day, everyone only looks out after their own skin, especially in any sort of business context. Models who have had a chance to work with Alex might not have experienced unwanted sexual advances in the professional setting, but it doesn’t mean that this did not happen in other situations. At the end of the day, there needs to be certain checks and balances in place – models have been fending for themselves this whole time in the cruel world of fashion with no one to back them up. The agents don’t care about you, even though they promise your gullible parents that you will be in good hands once they let you leave your tiny town; the only thing they are after is someone who brings in the checks. A third-party system-level overhaul, like a model’s union, is long overdue, and it might be the only solution to the persistent problem of abuses in the fashion industry. 

#UsToo

Regarding the Alex Wang case, it begs the question: As a society, do we keep believing those in power and possibly letting them get away with more than they should, and not believing those who speak out and shun them because we think there might be opportunistic reasons behind their claims; or do we keep taking on an angry-mob mentality and keep perpetuating the vicious cancel culture through a heartless social media machine that swallows the souls of not only the ones under scrutiny, but also the ones who drive that machine? Because right now it seems that these are the only two available options.

In any case, this is truly a sad moment for everyone involved. We all could do a little better as a society, and the cancel culture needs to stop. It’s toxic, and the private-vigilante whiff that it carries just doesn’t work. Cancelling a person or bullying them into self-harm will never be a solution. Comments on Alex’s IG page like “YOU DISGUST ME! GO TO PRISON AND ROT THERE” are not constructive or helpful. Humans’ natural reaction is to make quick assumptions without possessing all of the information, and destroying or rejecting something that makes them feel uneasy or that they don’t understand. It’s easy to annihilate, but it’s not easy to make the conscious decision to approach something broken with kindness.

I’ve forgiven everyone who’s violated me sexually in the past, even the vilest predators like this bitch from Malaysia – even though they’ve never asked for forgiveness. With so many years gone by, now I look at these situations from another perspective: What made these people approach their subjects of interest in such a predatory way? Is it their upbringing, the pressure of society, insecurities, a fetish? There could be many causes, but one running theme seems to be apparent:

“I don’t deserve to be loved for who I am.”

Some sexual predators might really regret such behavior afterwards, some may be so overcome by their ego and power to the point of not recognizing their sexual misconduct, and then again, some may only ask for forgiveness because they got caught. Will there ever be a moment when a harasser who is found guilty and punished can be offered another chance, or are they to be completely disposed of and “cancelled” without any possibility of redemption? Personally, I didn’t think I’d do myself any favors if I clung to a painful past, logging the mental burden of sexual abuses everywhere I go. I will never forget the many other instances of sexual abuse I’ve had to go through, but I must forgive – I believe that this is the only way to move forward and start healing yourself and the world around you. 

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Alexey Kim

Founder

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Paco May

Illustrator/Writer

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EDITORIALS

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Categories
Editorial Latest

2020 Roundup

sidewalkkilla

2020 ROUNDUP

We decided to divide the 2020 Roundup into categories. Needless to say, the new decade started off as a level-five hurricane. The focus of our conversations over the past year has been unavoidably influenced by the coronavirus, the Black Lives and Black Trans Lives Matter movements, and how we, as a human race, deal with this new world without losing our inspiration. This year’s Roundup is split into five categories, each highlighting three stories that we thought to be the most representative of 2020:

ART, BLM, COVID-19, CONVERSATIONS, and PRIDE.

If you enjoy our work and would like us to go on well into the future, please consider DONATING. Any amount would be greatly appreciated and will ensure that we do our best in continuing to tell creative stories and cover important events. Sidewalkkilla was founded by representatives of two immigrant minorities and is fully self-funded. We are an independent platform that aims to be open to creative collaborations with people from the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies. We created this platform out of love for our community, and we are hoping to keep holding important conversations through our unique lens.

articles arranged by oldest date

ART

Oftentimes, we produce the most creative and daring things when we are backed into a corner, depressed, or broken down. In fact, most of the ideas for Sidewalkkilla came to us when we were down on our luck, and we would get stoned out of our minds and spitball crazy ideas into the air: What if…? The stories we decided to highlight were all spawned in the midst of the pandemic, and the artists behind them took on an ambitious idea and just ran with it. 

Photographer and visual artist Michael Sullivan moves back to his hometown and photographs a collection of stunning masks that he creates; Brooklyn-based drag artist Untitled Queen “celebrates” July 4 in an unusual way; Michael Cruz, Zac Thompson and Aaron Hawkins  launch a gallery space out of a Brooklyn home.

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BLM

On May 26, three days after George Floyd’s death by a cop’s knee, violent protests erupted in Minneapolis. In turn, on May 29, nonviolent protests in NYC organized at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn turned violent. Following the violence as well as looting that ensued on May 31, Gov. Andrew Cuomo placed NYC under curfew from June 1 to June 7. While Black Lives Matter protests sparked up all over the US, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, on June 1, a mob brutally attacked Iyanna Dior, a Black trans woman from George Floyd’s hometown, at a gas station. The incident raised concern about the inclusion of Black trans women into the conversation. On June 14, around 15,000 people dressed in all white showed up at the Brooklyn Museum to walk for Black trans lives. 

Take a look at our exclusive photos from the first few days of the protests in NYC (violence warning); revisit the Brooklyn Liberation Action inspired by the 1917 Silent Protest Parade organized by the NAACP; protest in the form of joy with three Black-led organizations that brought jubilee to Harlem during Juneteenth. 

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COVID-19

While a pre-COVID-19 report, the 2019 Global Health Security Index, ranked the US #1 in Global Pandemic Preparedness, the Trump administration’s dismantling of the team in charge of pandemic responses in early 2018, and downplaying the coronavirus threat from the very beginning, didn’t do us any favors. On March 22, Governor Andrew Cuomo  mandated a stay-at home order for New York State. As COVID-19 began to spread in the US, New York City quickly became the global epicenter of the pandemic. After experiencing a record-breaking deadly spike in April, New York, through social distancing mandates, aggressive testing, and clear messaging from leadership, was able to change the trajectory of the pandemic and drastically reduce the number of infections and deaths. New York City and the state as a whole were able to reopen in phases, and on July 20 the city went into the fourth stage of reopening, which allowed for schools to reopen, resumption of low-risk outdoor activities and entertainment at 33% capacity, and media production was able to resume. Almost 20 million COVID cases later, and well over 320K deaths nationally, NYC is nearing another possible shutdown. But life goes on — leave it up to the artistic community to make the best out of a shitty situation and stay creative. 

Live streaming becomes the preferred means of communication and performing; Jesse Alvior, a long-time resident of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, sees and documents changes first-hand; drag queens create their own socially distanced QuarantQueen Ball, instead of the cancelled Met Gala. 

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CONVERSATIONS

When we say that we want to create conversations with the LGBTQIA+ community, we mean it. The three stories below are deeply contemplative, moving and inspiring.

Dévo Monique has had enough of being the token Black drag queen; photographer Adam Ross collaborates with Black Trans people Alex and Jael to show the beauty of trans women blossoming into themselves; Martyr was raped when they were 17 and uses their trauma to heal through art.

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PRIDE

There was no official NYC Pride this year due to coronavirus regulations, so instead Pride month was transformed into a month of protests for Black and Black Trans lives. While the rest of the world was reeling from the devastating losses incurred by the coronavirus pandemic, a land straight out of a fairy tale managed to continue on as usual, unaffected by the pandemic or racial division. 

Bushwig collective celebrates Pride by riding bikes in solidarity with the BLM movement; the annual New York City Pride Parade turned into the Queer Liberation March; Taipei hosts the biggest in-person 2020 Pride, pink-washing and all.

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Alexey Kim

Founder

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Felix Santos

Co-Founder

Categories
Activisim Events Latest

First Days of NYC BLM Protests Recap

ACTIVISM

First Days of BLM Protests in New York City

sidewalkkilla

On May 26, three days after George Floyd’s death by a cop’s knee, violent protests erupted in Minneapolis. In turn, on May 29, nonviolent protests in NYC organized at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn turned violent. Following the violence as well as looting that ensued on May 31, Gov. Andrew Cuomo placed NYC under curfew from June 1 to June 7.

Take a look at our exclusive photos from the first few days of the protests in NYC (violence warning.)

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Alexey Kim

Founder

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Editorial Latest Videos

Drag King God Complex Succumbs to Bliss

EDITORIAL | VIDEO

Drag King God Complex

Succumbs to Bliss

Watch Aeon Andreas, the artist behind God Complex succumb to the Bliss of their art via the exclusive video premiere below.

sidewalkkilla

“I Try to Resist

But Succumb

to The Bliss of Your Kiss.’

-Depeche Mode


God Complex is a drag king alter ego of gender insurrectionist and multi-hyphenate creator Aeon Andreas. The Brooklyn-based 28 year old performer describes their character as a hedonist and a proud sicko. Usually adorned with horns, severed doll parts, a pentagram or an upside down cross somewhere on his body, God Complex is more reminiscent of a demonic creature rather than anything godly. The character of God Complex was born almost three years ago. Since then, he has garnered quite a buzz with his chilling performances and blood-curdling looks. In 2019, he was named as Drag King of the Year by Brooklyn Nightlife Awards, but the success and the reverence of the nightlife community didn’t stop him from almost abandoning drag all together.

The very first time God Complex performed was at one of Switch n’ Play’s shows in Brooklyn. Switch n’ Play is a Brooklyn drag collective established in 2006, which received the title of “Best Burlesque Show” at the same Brooklyn Nightlife Awards as when God Complex was named Drag King of The Year.

“After this first performance I was like OK, this is my life,”

says Aeon. Aeon has been performing their entire life. Before the pandemic they performed full time as God Complex, while simultaneously working as a resident performer at Brooklyn’s creative venue House of Yes and as a composition and movement teacher at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“The feeling of performing drag is very different. I don’t often feel stage fright when I’m performing dance or theater, but in drag I really do. It’s sort of positive, in a way— it’s an electric feeling. For me, doing drag is like being a rock star.” 

Aeon says that they were lucky enough for their dance and theater life to take them all over the world, but it wasn’t really on their own terms.

“I’ve gotten to travel all over the world with the company I dance for, or with a show I’m working on. Never specifically for just me. Now, as God Complex, I’ve gotten lucky enough to get flown out to perform. On my own. That’s a new experience for me.”

Right before New York City became subject to the stay-at-home orders back in March, the character of God Complex was on the way to a chopping block.

“I got a job with some friends of mine launching a new cruise ship. I was dancing in this very queer show and that got shot down because of COVID. While I was onboard I realized just how burnt out I was from doing drag constantly. I had this moment where I questioned if I wanted to keep being God Complex at all. As I got back into the city and started doing little gigs here and there I realized that it wasn’t the drag itself that was hurting me—it was the lack of recovery time. There’s such a short turn around when you work almost every night— there’s very little time to grow.”

Subsequently, God Complex was put on the backburner, while it seems that everyone else from nightlife has found a way to perform online.

“I had previously broadcasted that I didn’t want to do digital drag. I just didn’t know how to do it well, I was already feeling weird about drag. I was planning on taking a break until I figured out my next step.” 

But then Aeon’s dear friend had a fundraiser for his top surgery.

“I love this person, and I wanted to be a part of that,”

they say,

“I was watching some live Depeche Mode performances and I watched the live in Berlin version of this song— ‘Should Be Higher’ and it was so spectacular. Dave Gahan is just vomiting out the words and everyone in the audience is just eating it up. It’s so beautiful— it’s a very giving performance, and I got a little obsessed with this version of the song. There is this lyric in this song, ‘I try to resist but succumb to the bliss of your kiss.’

It’s a powerful, painful idea that bliss and love are things that we resist.”

“This kind of image of a very flat red rectangle came to me, with almost Jesus-like or anti-Jesus- like body. That’s where my concept for this video began.”

The 7-minute video is called Bliss and it’s quite apparent that it signifies the rebirth of both God Complex and Aeon as a drag artist. They say,

“I have spent most of my artistic life failing. Trying and failing, but I’m at a point now where I can see more clearly what it is I want.”

Watch God Complex succumb to the Bliss via the exclusive video premiere below.

Conception, direction, performance, design, and editing by God Complex.

Co-Direction and DP Sharkey Weinberg

Co-Shot / 2nd Camera Daniel Aros

Set + Prop Assistance + hands Juno Stardust, Frankie Placidi, Emily Malave

Thanks to Amy Pollock and Kaz Phillips.

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Alexey Kim

Founder

VIDEOS

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Editorial Latest Nightlife

Bar d’O: 27 Years of Cocaine, Cock Sucking, and Love

EDITORIAL

Bar d’O:

27 Years of Cocaine, Cock Sucking, and Love

Bar d’O closed its doors in 2001, but the legacy still lives on.

sidewalkkilla

Every once in a while

there comes a moment in life

that changes the course of history,


and 27 years ago that pivotal moment happened in downtown Manhattan’s queer night scene, when Bar d’O opened its doors. Not only has Bar d’O served as a stepping stone for many of its now-legendary performers’ careers, but it served as a shining example of how something made purely out of love can become much bigger than yourself.

A Bit of History

Once upon a time, in 1992, to be precise, Jean-Marc Houmard took over Indochine restaurant with two partners. It wasn’t long before he was approached with another business proposition by one of Indochine’s managers.

“He had a space in the West Village on Bedford and Downing that was available for rent and he wanted to do just a bar,”

Jean-Marc reflects on that time.

The place was called Glowworm and it didn’t do so well (maybe because of its name?). Mr. Houmard’s partner was from Miami and a year later he decided to move back home. The pair was going to sell the lease, but then Jean-Marc decided to do the place on his own. This would be his first solo venture.

The name of the bar was promptly changed to Bar d’O, which was a subtle homage to Story of O, an erotic novel published in 1954 and written by famous French novelist Anne Desclos, who wrote it under the pseudonym ‎Pauline Réage.

“It’s kind of an S&M novel that she wrote for her lover to try to entice him to be more adventurous,”

says Houmard.

The original Fifty Shades of Grey, if you will.

“It was a bit of an S&M theme. It wasn’t an S&M bar though. It was just a slightly risqué, dark bar,”

Jean-Marc goes on.

“After a few months I went to a show downstairs at Indochine where Joey Arias was performing. I still remember it was called “Strange Fruit.” But I remember that night because it was the night that OJ Simpson was in his Bronco being chased by the cops. I remember that very well. And Madonna was in the audience that night, watching Joey. I remember that because Joey called down to her, because she was chatting with the person next to her and he said: ‘Hey you there! It’s not all about you!’ It was a vivid memory, having Madonna there and being on the night of the Bronco chase.”

“Strange Fruit” had a more than year-long run at the space right below Indochine called Astor Theater – now long gone – where Joey performed Billie Holiday songs along with a live band and two other performers, Raven O and Afrodite. Joey Arias has been a staple of New York City’s nightlife since the ‘80s, famously appearing as a backup singer to David Bowie on SNL in 1979, alongside his best friend and lover, German alternative musician Klaus Nomi.

As fate would have it, the Bronco-Madonna night also happened to be the last performance date for the show, and Jean-Marc caught Joey just in time:

“I approached him and told him I had a bar. I asked him if he wanted to do a regular thing – a once-a-week show. He loved the idea and so we started doing that and then it was so successful that we did more nights. So we started on Tuesdays and then we did Saturday and Sunday.”

“You just never knew what was going to happen. It was before the time of social media, but every Saturday there were people from all over the world. I don’t know how the word got out, but when it did, it was incredible to see so many different countries represented in one room,”

Steven Knoll, a celebrity hairstylist and long-time patron, shared during the 26th Bar d’O reunion at Indochine late last year.

According to Joey, The New York Times was the one to blame for getting the word out:

“A writer for the NY Times came in once during the beginning of our Bar d’O stint and the next thing you know, the line to get in was around the block. So to accommodate the demand we had to start doing shows three times a week.”

Joey Arias, Edward P Wagner and Flotilla Debarge waiting “backstage” by Indochine’s bathrooms

The show ended up being so successful that it went on for the next 8 years. The original trio named Three Cherrys that started it all consisted of Joey Arias, Raven O, and Edwige, who was a well-known French lesbian singer in the seedy downtown scene. There were many guest performers that joined the roster throughout the years, many crediting Bar d’O as a platform of starting in NY, among them being: Jimmy James, Lady Bunny, Jackie Beat, Candis Cayne, Flotilla Debarge, Phoebe Legere, Sherry Vine, Porsche and the late Sade Pendavis, who ended up having her own show every Sunday. Jean-Marc attributes a large chunk of success to his long-time friend and business partner Yvan Cussigh,

“Yvan took over running the show the first week he moved to New York in ‘96, when I had to go to LA to open Indochine on the West Coast; from that year until its closing Yvan was instrumental in making sure the show lived on for all those years.”

Jean-Marc reminisces,

“The one thing that distinguished Bar d’O was that there was never any lip-syncing, it was always a live cabaret. That’s how we separated ourselves from all the other drag bars. Well, it was not even a drag bar, it was really mixed actually. I think what worked really well is that there was no stage like in a typical bar with a show. They walked in the middle of the room and there was an island bar. The girls basically just climbed up and sat on top of it. It felt very improvised and I think that’s what people liked. It was not like a theater, it was a bar and all of a sudden the light came on and the queens did a few songs, messed with the crowd. It felt very spontaneous, I think that’s what people appreciated. There was no sitting, so people were all over the place. They sat all over the floor, on the bar. They sat everywhere – on top of each other – and the fact that it was a mixed crowd made it very interesting and fun and convivial. It was not a typical gay bar with the stage. You know, we’ve seen that setting many times. It was different.”

Another thing that set Bar d’O apart is that it was inclusive before inclusivity was a discussion like it is today. It was always fluid – each performer brought something different to the table. It wasn’t just drag queens that got their spotlight, there were also cis women and gender-fluid performers.

Everything was very improvised – for the first two years Jean-Marc used to climb on top of the bar and change the spotlights, just so they would shine on the performers. The green room was the old kitchen at the back of the bar. Bar d’O didn’t serve food, so that was the queens’ green room.

“It was always very colorful in that kitchen to see all those performers getting ready for the show, they are getting their makeup on, gossipy stories, having fights, having drama, you know, everything that people with a lot of personality would bring to a small room,”

says Jean-Marc.

“Every year we did a big party for each anniversary and we had a big show with 10 queens performing, we had an amazing crowd. I mean we had people like Bryan Lourd bringing his celebrities; Andre Balazs with Uma Thurman; I think there was Al Pacino with Bryan Lourd one year; Ellen Barkin. So those anniversaries were always amazing, with all these talents in that tiny room with all these fabulous people. And there was no pretense like, you know, the celebrities would sit right next to regular people and it was fine – no one paid attention. It was loose and fluid and I think that’s why people remember it as a special place.”

Joey Arias and Jean-Marc Houmard

After a successful eight years, the lease on Bar d’O skyrocketed and Jean-Marc decided to close down the bar.

“People were devastated when we closed, so we thought we had to carry on the tradition.”

That’s when Bar d’O moved to Indochine and became more of a yearly reunion, assembled towards the end of each year.

Bar d’O Today

The first time I attended Bar d’O at Indochine was 12 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. A co-worker of mine invited me to come, putting me in drag right before the show. Combine your first night out in New York City as a drag queen with Sherry Vine’s dirty remakes of popular songs and Joey’s “Love For Sale” number where he shoves a microphone into an unsuspecting attractive audience member’s pants and sings through their crotch, and you might never forget that night either.

Nowadays Bar d’O is hosted by ⅔ of the original trio, where Sherry Vine has taken over the third spot initially filled by Edwige. At last year’s Bar d’O reunion she performed a remake of Lil Nas X’s runaway hit “Old Town Road,” which broke the record for the longest-running #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but flirtatiously renamed it “Old Brown Hole.”

In Sherry’s naughty fashion, she started the performance off with a prelude of how the idea for the song came about:

“When I was in my 20s my butthole was pink, beautiful shimmering pink. Then when I got into my 30s my butthole turned taupe…,”

finishing up the story with the retelling of a night where she was taking a bath and she noticed that her butthole was now brown.

“It was an important time in New York – those performers were the best of the drag cabaret singers, and to not do it anymore, I think something would be lost. Year after year people come to enjoy the same, and it’s kind of my duty to continue the tradition,”

Jean-Marc says.

Even though not much changes from one year to the next – it’s mostly the same crowd that’s been coming to see the show since the beginning and mostly the same numbers performed year after year –  it’s the improvisation and the idea that anything can happen that keeps bringing people back and keeps the show fresh.

During the late-night sets, the queens turn up the heat; the jokes get dirtier, the songs get sexier, and you can feel the energy becoming looser by the minute. People get tipsy, they start flirting with their waiters and unbuttoning their shirts. During one of the reunions, I was working as a server when I got picked up by this hunky wrestler who doubled as an opera singer. Somehow the decisions that you make during Bar d’O nights might be the book definition of wrong, but at Bar d’O anything goes, so you go with the flow and realize that it’s OK to be bad sometimes.

SISTERS

In 2019, the 26th reunion carried on in the usual classy, unfiltered manner, but not without a few sentimental moments. Edwige passed away in 2015 and Raven paid a tribute to her with one of his performances. At the end of the night Raven, Joey, and Sherry performed their “Sisters” anthem, a song that will probably be performed for as long as Bar d’O keeps going on. Sherry and Joey shared an intimate moment after the music stopped – they held each other’s faces up close and gazed into each other’s eyes, inevitably getting emotional.

“Whenever the 3 of us, me, Joey, and Raven, are onstage together and singing ‘Sisters’ (our theme song) I am filled with joy, love, and admiration. We have been together for over 25 years so the bond is strong!,”

Sherry shares about that touching moment.

I asked Jean-Marc if he thought Bar d’O was something that could be revived as a regular thing. He responded,

“The early mid-90s still allowed for small bars like Bar d’O to exist, when the rent was still affordable and we didn’t need to make a ton of money to be able to do that. That’s what’s missing now, to be able to do things more for the love of it rather than just to make money. Right now, I think it would be difficult. When people tell me, why don’t you do it again? I don’t know that we could anymore. Because our rent would be 3-4 times more than it used to be and then it has to be bringing in money, and that was not what it was about.”

Sherry Vine and Joey Arias share an intimate moment during “Sisters” performance

Even though these days watching performers lip sync and slaying the stage with their moves is the preferred entertainment for those who are out to see a drag show, it’s unfortunate that not a lot more people from younger LGBTQIA+ generations know about Bar d’O. The realness and the rawness of those invited to take the stage at this event are unparalleled – you laugh, you cry, you get horny, you experience a blend of emotions like on a rollercoaster (well, maybe you don’t get horny on a rollercoaster).

Raven O sums it up perfectly:

“Bar d’O was and remains the epitome of New York’s edginess, coolness, and chicness. We changed nightlife and queer culture. Music, art, fashion and filth ‘came’ together with a lot of cocaine, cock sucking, and love.”

At the end of this year Bar d’O would have celebrated its 27th reunion at Indochine, but due to COVID it’s going virtual for the first time. Sherry, Joey and Raven will host a virtual show on December 20th. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased on legendarydrag.live

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Alexey Kim

Founder

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EDITORIALS

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Latest Videos

Junior Mintt: The Only Voices You Need to be Listening to are Black Trans Voices (VIDEO)

Brooklyn Liberation March Rewind

06-14-2020

Exactly six months ago, around 15,000 people wearing all white showed up for the Brooklyn Liberation Action in support of Black Trans Lives. Brooklyn-based drag artist West Dakota drew inspiration from the 1917 Silent Protest Parade organized by the NAACP that was held in response to an attack on the black community in East St. Louis.

In the video below, drag preacher/activist Junior Mintt explains why we can’t be truly inclusive until we listen to what Black trans women have to say.

Fran Tirado, Eliel Cruz, Dix Peyton, Raquel Willis, and organizations like G.L.I.T.S., The Okra Project, For The Gworls, Black Trans Femmes in the Arts, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, and the Emergency Release Fund joined the movement.

VIDEOS

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Events Latest Pride The Mixer

Life in the Bubble: Celebrating Pride in a COVID Free Country

THE MIXER | PRIDE

Life in the Bubble:

Celebrating Pride in a

COVID Free Country

Being one of the most successful countries in curbing COVID-19, Taiwan was the only country in the world that was able to host the largest in-person Pride in 2020.

sidewalkkilla

Foreword by Sidewalkkilla founder Alexey Kim

On October 31 of this year, over 130,000 people took to the streets of Taipei to celebrate Pride, making it the world’s largest in-person Pride celebration in 2020. Taiwan has been extremely successful at curbing its COVID-19 infections and on October 30, 2020, just one day before the 18th annual Taipei Pride, the island hit a milestone of 200 days without any locally transmitted cases of the disease.  

A local photographer Kuan-Lun Chang set out to capture this year’s festivities.

“The theme for this year is ‘Beauty, My Own Way (成人之美)’, and it has a double meaning,“

he says,

“‘成’ means ‘adult.’ On the other hand, ‘成’ could be ‘成全,’ which means ‘consent’ or ‘help.’ Therefore it symbolizes helping others to accomplish their own beauty. This is very important. Everyone is different in their gestures, personalities, feelings, humility, and this is why we are similar but different. We have to find our own beauty and respect ourselves and others who might be different from us.”

In May 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Kuan-Lun shares that he saw many families taking part in this year’s parade,

“It’s a great chance to tell their children that there are many people in the world, everyone is different, but unique and beautiful in their own way. After last year’s legalization of same-sex marriage, conservative members who oppose it always say they have no idea how to teach their kids about it; the parents who took their kids to the parade provide a perfect example of how to do this.”

Take a look at Kuan-Lun’s photos from Taiwan’s 18th Annual Pride Parade below and find out what it is like to live in a coronavirus-free country from Taipei-based drag artist Taipei Popcorn.


Life in the Bubble:

Celebrating Pride

in a COVID Free Country

My name is Nick, but I also go by my drag name Taipei Popcorn. I’m originally from New Zealand but I’ve been living in Taipei, the bustling capital of Taiwan, for three years now. I live here with my New Zealand-Taiwanese husband Henry, and I teach English and do a lot of drag. It has been an absolutely surreal experience to experience living here during this time of global turmoil. Taiwan’s COVID response has without a doubt been the best in the world. Despite this exemplary response, it is still barred from participating in the WHO due to pressure from China.

Due to rigorous preemptive measures, Taiwan has experienced no lockdown, just over 600 coronavirus cases and seven deaths, and zero community spread for over 230 days. This is all the more impressive when you consider Taiwan’s population of 23 million (more than Florida) concentrated in several dense cities on an island the size of Maryland. Additionally, it is only a hundred miles from China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Over a million Taiwanese live and work there, flying back and forth from cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Owing to their complicated historic relationship, Taiwan has a deep distrust of China and their government. This meant they began doing medical checks on flights from Wuhan in late December 2019 already, and were one of the first countries to ban flights from China altogether. Mask wearing was quickly introduced, and is still compulsory in most indoor spaces. Taiwan’s digital minister Audrey Tang (who is from a hacker background and also happens to be trans) rolled out a highly efficient digital mask rationing system in a matter of days, while domestic mask production was ramped up over several weeks through government support of factories. The government also instituted a system of phone geo-tracking for incoming travellers undergoing compulsory two week hotel or home quarantine, ensuring they don’t break quarantine. This tracking automatically ends after two weeks and is subject to strict data privacy laws. 

Giant rainbow flag unfurled in front of Taipei City Hall

It is important to mention that these are not the draconian measures of an authoritarian nation. Taiwan is a multi-party democracy with a vigorous culture of protest, open internet, highly active human rights movements, healthy criticism of government, and a thriving queer scene. It is these very qualities that are the reason my husband and I chose to live here and get married here.This openness and transparency has been vital in Taiwan’s decisive and well coordinated national COVID response, and has allowed its citizens to enjoy freedoms which are presently unimaginable in other places. The same can be said of New Zealand and some Nordic states, while the opposite applies to countries under populist, anti-science leadership like the UK, the US and Brazil, which have seen confused public communication, internal political division, soaring death rates and economies in freefall. In Taiwan, restaurants, bars, schools and workplaces are operating at full capacity, people feel safe, and the economy is forecast to grow at a slower but still healthy 2.5% this year. The sense of dread and pity we get from reading the international news feels like something far removed from our daily reality.

Taipei Popcorn

It is with this backdrop that we celebrated Pride in October. It was a month of packed nightclubs, sold out circuit parties, extravagant drag shows, in person LGBT rights conferences and passionate political rallies. Taipei held its second annual Trans Rights March, which was attended by politicians and celebrities, and major companies like Tinder, Gap and Google sponsored floats in the main Pride event. The huge parade culminated in a city wide party which went on all weekend. Taipei was jammed with ubers, taxis and scooters as partygoers, drag performers, DJs and gogo boys hopped from one event to the next, temperature checkers worked overtime at nightclubs doors, outdoors stages blared music to roaring crowds, and countless Taiwanese dollars flowed. Not many people are aware that Taipei is secretly one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and the business elite and local government were surely rubbing their hands at the surge of consumer activity this injection of pink dollars provided. Taipei’s city council promoted Pride heavily, and major magazines like Vogue and Marie Claire invited queer celebrities and drag performers (including me!) to feature in special Pride month editions. 

The reason I recount the month through such a capitalist lens, is that I am increasingly aware of a growing disconnect between this COVID free haven and the rest of the world. The unprecedented and wrenching impact of mass death and economic depression that so many countries are currently experiencing have coincided with massive social movements and calls for radical change. There is a growing awareness that the system was fundamentally broken, and the huge cultural, economic and political shifts that COVID has unleashed will change the world forever. From the Black Lives Matter movement, to calls for a Universal Basic Income, taxes on the wealthy, and expansion of welfare and access to affordable healthcare, the world seems to be questioning the exploitative capitalist systems which are the root of so many of the social ills that COVID merely exacerbated. 

It is this radical political component which I feel was missing from our Pride. As they say, the first Pride was a riot. I believe it should be a fundamentally radical event which embraces protest and anticapitalist values. I am guilty of flouting these myself this year, as I was paid by a major brand to ride on their float and promote them on social media, which led me down this train of thought. Of course, we are extremely privileged and blessed to be living in our bubble of safety and prosperity. We are privileged to be able to gather with our local queer community and party while our queer family abroad remain isolated at home, afraid to go outside and not knowing where their next paycheck will come from. 

I can’t help but feel that among the circuit parties and the corporate sponsorship, safe in our island paradise, we are oblivious to the extent of the rapid changes occurring in the outside world. We will never truly understand what the rest of the world is going through, and I fear we will always lack a certain empathy for the anxieties they faced. I hope that lessons can be shared both ways as the world reopens, that the deep social shifts occurring overseas reach Taiwan’s shores. I would also like Taiwan to share its advanced medical expertise and exemplary pandemic response with the rest of the world, even if that means going outside of the WHO system.

This pandemic has resulted in unprecedented international isolation, and as we gradually begin to open up to one another again, I feel we will be surprised how much we have all diverged and changed forever. How we bridge these new differences will be crucial for our shared futures. 

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Kuan-Lun Chang

Photographer

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Nick Van Halderen

Drag Artist

THE MIXER

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