Published in MILK.XYZ

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 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 thing 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 humour 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.

Written by: Tom Chetwode-Barton

Curation and Photography: Asafe Ghalib @asafeghalib

asafe ghalib