Beside being

As the world continues to push against gender constructs, the conversation around how people are identifying themselves is constantly evolving. Each week, MILK.XYZ will feature a guest editor writing about their specific relationship with gender and, often, where it intersects with fashion. This week, we feature Brazilian artist, filmmaker, and photographer Asafe Ghalib

Growing up, I had to silence my feelings for wanting to be loved and accepted by others, it became such a  struggle to maintain a version of myself that did not fit. Lacking self-expression I didn’t know what life was meant to mean for me.

Growing up in Brazil is fairly conservative, but my home life was even more so. The youngest son of three boys, in a strict religious family.  My father is a pastor and gospel singer, his life was the church and he was ruled by its religious views and values. Our home was full of it’s rules too. I was just a kid trying to understand myself, explore my own body, I didn’t consider myself as a male or a female, it didn’t seem relevant to me as a child. I was just being me.

I would never recognize it was me they were talking about, when somebody would say, “You are a boy behave as one.” I think they knew who i was, but rather than try to help me become who i am, they preferred to suppress me, as a way to deal with their fears of hostility and discrimination from our community.

Having undefined gender expression leaves so much more space for expressing my way of being, so I could never see myself in the perceived stereotype of either a masculine of feminine body image. I would express myself in private, pretending I had long hair by putting my T-shirt around my head. I used to put on high heels and lipstick locked up inside my mum’s room. In this environment I was a very sensitive kid and I used to cry easily. Trying to express myself, while living in fear of the constant repression and violence from my father.

I was forced to go to their church, never given the choice. I went through really hard moments of religious repression, being told how to be by my family. I was shown domestic violence. Religion was often the area of life that I found most difficult to reconcile with my identity. The way I walked, the way I talked, the way I moved with my hands. Everything seemed to be a target for those who were scared of seeing difference in others.

The things we take for granted about the world, the things that homonormativity navigates with ease, are things that I had to think about every second of the day. Gender has developed to be defined by biological, developmental, and cultural factors, which expect me to represent the difference between masculine and feminine. This is where I am expected to take my references to be who I am. I had to expend all my creative time and energy in covering up whatever it was that made me feel different.

At the beginning of my sexual exploration as a teenager, I started to have a fear of wanting something different. I couldn’t see any reference of something different that I could feel at ease with, male or female, a role model. I was thinking, “It feels that what I feel is wrong, they can’t or won’t accept me, maybe I should die.”

When my wishes started to materialize I wanted to express myself authentically. But I couldn’t talk and share with anybody. It was a forbidden topic in many places such as my house, church, school or swimming classes. I wasn’t comfortable with myself, and not talking about it with anyone was something that started to suffocate me. I remember my father and my brothers making fun of me.  My father said that being gay was a problem, an illness, something that I should live with and not come out. In one of our fights he told me that he’d prefer to see me dead than gay. I couldn’t handle that by myself any longer.

I started to have feelings for other people at the same time as my friends. But they were free to explore, take their girlfriend to their homes, share stories, flirt. I could not. I had to silence my feelings for wanting to be loved by others, it became such a  struggle to maintain a version of myself that did not fit. I didn’t know what life was meant to mean for me.

But now I know that I am my own creation, not tied to a specific segment or definition of gender.

There is a lot to process growing up in a society seemingly constructed by straight structure and pre-conceptions. But there are lesbian, gay, bi, trans people in every community, from every ethnic background and in every religion in Brazil and around the world.

There is a long established history of abuse and violence against the LGBTQ community in Brasil, we have lost a lot of people that refuse to comply with homonormative norms and values. I know my pain, and I bear my scars, but I’m here to resist and fight societies engrained history and attitudes, to resist an existence that almost feels sacred to some people.

The power I have in my mind was always here, but silenced. But now I have my voice to speak to the ones as privileged as me, and to give opportunity and hope for the ones ahead to come, for future generations to live and express themselves authentically and freely.

Children are created unique, free and self-expressed. We all have a responsibility to create an environment for our young people to carry on growing where they can be themselves, and not fear people who are different to them. Rather than fostering fear and confrontation, parents can show leadership by demonstrating that it’s ok to be yourself, we’re all unique and entitled to love who we want, the way we want.

I’ll never stop being me.

Images courtesy of Asafe Ghalib

Stay tuned to Milk for more Gender Diaries and see our previous installments here.  


GENDER DIARIES: TOM CHETWODE-BARTON

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s the world continues to push against gender constructs, the conversation around how people are identifying themselves is constantly evolving. Each week, MILK.XYZ will feature a guest editor writing about their specific relationship with gender and, often, where it intersects with fashion. This week, we feature queer, non-binary filmmaker and stand up comedian, Tom Chetwode-Barton.

It’s taken such a long time for me to find a place in which I feel safe expressing the duality that I feel on the inside.

I spent my whole life desperately clinging to an idea that I had to be something so specific and unattainable—both in looks and the way I present myself—that I was completely blind to the notion that I could be more than one things at once. Several things, in fact, all happening and being and experiencing simultaneously.

My name’s Tom Chetwode-Barton and I’m a queer, non binary filmmaker, stand up comedian and tree surgeon. 

I write to try to compartmentalize the dysphoric cacophony that floods through my body 24 hours a day. I initially started doing comedy as a means of ‘therapy’ to find a way to healthily speak about my obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and ADHD, but more recently I’ve realized how much of a reductive approach this is to the work. through a lot of hard work on myself I’ve rewritten all of my sets to use my queerness and my mental illness as a catalyst and a sociological backdrop to humor rather than constantly making myself the butt of the joke by opening and reopening deep wounds. Hannah Gadsby’s ’Nanette’ taught me that as queer people we focus on our pain as a means of making others laugh but in doing so we never learn to grow and adapt past the damage that has been done to us. 

I grew up in rural north wales and I spent the majority of my teenage years being other-ed, assaulted and abused by a host of students, strangers and adults in varying levels until I was finally able to leave. As a result, so much of my life is fear. I carry fear around with me like an Eastpak filled with medicine balls. 

This photo series is my way of expressing my softness, my roundness, my plump, fluffiness simultaneously with sex, directness, confidence and strength. To me the imagery represents that a dichotomy doesn’t have to mean conflict or a double negative—it means a hybrid. I consider myself a hybrid. 

I also write weird dumb shit poems and I wrote a weird dumb shit poem to try and put that feeling into more personal words: 

It took twelve

Generations of

Sediment to

Form enough of 

A pearl inside

For me to realize

that the scans on

The backs of

My calves

We’re hiding a

Militia of tar

Covered cormorants,

Desperate for

The sun.

Images courtesy of Asafe Ghalib

Queerlombola

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Despite being from Rio I’d never been to the favelas until I met Wesley and his friends, to talk about their movement, Queerlombola. My name is Asafe, and I’m a filmmaker and photographer born in Rio De Janeiro. Brazil is a country enjoyed for its beauty and diversity But growing up I was surrounded by people who were suffocating under the burden of a normal life and I knew I’d rather be wrong than safe.

The forbidden body

"For many years love of the same sex was considered a mental illness, these desires and the wishes of this admission became part of a confusing construction in society. These subjects are enacting a transgression against established norms of the time. With this, men stopped wearing the flamboyant outfits of 17th and 18th centuries which included shimmering skills, ribbons, ruffles and bows and significant difference between genders was drawn. 

 

Where men could not touch and not have it, possibilities didn’t exist. But in their dreams it was real, all the fragility, all the vulnerability of it, they could ever imagine, now touches the  present"

The Alpha Femme

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London based Gender fluid face and talent Sam Cullis aka “The Alpha Femme” fronts a self-titled story shot and written by Asafe Ghalib

Read more below and Read more Queer focused stories Here. 

Who is top and bottom in your relationship?” this was the opening question asked by a model once when he met me and my boyfriend. I struggled to understand why this was relevant to him, and how this might influence his perception of us. I’ve heard this question many times, and now I answer to deconstruct how people perceive my sexuality based on my appearance or style.

The presentation of our body and style influence how we are perceived, and how we move within our sexuality. But this is only because we have invented labels to apply to what we see and what has been taught to us. We shot Alpha Femme to unpack perceptions of what it means to be Alpha or Feminine. We explore whether labels short-circuit what is possible; the potential of someone is starved by our preconceived notions.

I talked to Sam about this during our shoot “Something that is assumed of me is that I must be a bottom due to how feminine I am, and how I must be fragile or vulnerable in other situations. This is something that really grinds my gears. The fact that femininity is seen as something that is to be fucked. Something that is submissive, something weaker than this stereotypical alpha”

Part of challenging traditional gender definitions is to question pre-conceptions associated with someone’s appearance or assumptions about their sexual desires or preferences. The gay scene seems to reinforce labels and perceptions

“People are looking to stereotype ‘tribes’ in the gay world such as gay fat, gay skinny, twink… The dominance of male alpha tops reinforces a binary concept that femme boys are bottoms. It’s even integrated into porn, the submissive one is always the twink/otter or just the smaller guy in general”

This homo-normative narrative shapes how people perceive others; you might see someone who looks “nice”, but then think he looks too girly and your perception is altered. This separates you from others and closes down opportunities to discover someone or something new.

When people are open about appearance and more flexible to discover what lies beneath, people are able to express themselves freely, and not live in fear of judgment. They even discover something new about themselves or their sexuality, that they didn’t even know existed.

As Sam says “This is something I’m trying to change. The perceptions of visuals signifying your sexual preference, position, agenda….. because you’ll know if I wanna fuck you. And it’s high time we start to see some guys looking like me topping in porn! “