Darkmatter’s ctrl/alt/gender and The Future of Fashion Accessibility

By Kenneth Miller

During this past February’s New York Fashion Week, Alok Vaid-Menon wrote on Facebook that this time of year is one of the rare moments they feel comfortable exploring their gender performance publicly. As one half of the trans South Asian performance art collective Darkmatter, Vaid-Menon’s fashion choices alert passersby that their existence is deviant — a person with masculine features oftentimes spotted in vibrant, magnificently cut gowns highlighted with larger-than-life lip colors and jewelry. Walking amongst others in the streets of Manhattan during Fashion Week, surrounded by individuals who aim for looks that guarantee the attention and applause of others, is an organic happenstance in Vaid-Menon’s everyday life — and not always a positive one, they say.

Gender theorist Judith Butler has been a pioneer on the dissection of the “state violence” enacted on individuals who indulge in their gender performativity through fashion. When a gender nonconforming person is on the street or in a bus, the act of performing one’s gender becomes dangerous; people of the state who prize gendered expectations may take action against those who challenge the binaries with their subjectively rebellious fashion choices.

As Butler-obsessed folks and victims of this subjected violence on the regular, both of Darkmatter’s Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian took to creating a digital zine that sheds light on troubles a non-binary person is dealt when expressing their authentic presentation unapologetically.

The zine, entitled ctrl/alt/gender (and in collaboration with The Ace Hotel of NYC), is a boundless exploration into the radical possibilities of fashion. The zine’s wittily-framed name pokes fun at the intrinsic binary aligned with computer interfaces, staunchly suggesting a need for society to delete its exhaustingly bland gender binary.

“Commercial looks remain binary and when they dream beyond (like Zara’s latest line), they’re kind of just drab and uninspired,” Vaid-Menon tells Hooligan. “[It’s] as if moving beyond gender is a form of mourning and not celebration.”

Inside the zine, images of the pair are found with overlays of texts that correlate to sentiments, both personal and political, that attest to their fight against the naysayers of gender-blurring fashion.

“Historically, fashion has been a site of state control,” Vaid-Menon articulates for Hooligan. “In New York City, it used to be illegal to cross dress — the police would literally come up and arrest you. That’s not an accident. It’s part of a bigger strategy of the state determining and enforcing what a good citizen (read: white, masculine, able-bodied, cisgender) looks like, and literally enforcing it.”

Aligning one’s gender identity and gender assigned at birth when assembling an outfit is a default expectation; it falls under the philosophical notion that all bodies must remain legible to society. During Fashion Week, nonetheless, it seems these guidelines are no longer applicable and are encouraged to be stretched. After all, the gender binary is so #TBT.

Whether you’re inspecting Ralph Lauren’s Summer 2016 collection, or those in attendance to runway-specific events, you’re observing an amassing of people who are recognizing the playfulness that comes with fashion and gender. Here, individuals assigned male at birth are free to wear garbs that exude “feminine” notions, and people assigned female at birth are able to perform more “masculinely” to reflect their desired appearances more readily.

Still, the idea of commodified androgynous clothing doesn’t sit well with Darkmatter. According to ctrl/alt/gender’s mission statement, society should be working to expand its definition of androgynous looks past masculine cuts, grayscale colors, and lackadaisical accessories. Specifically when looking to the future of fashion, we should be eyeing beyond gender binarism, which will ultimately create better aesthetics for everyone.

“It seems that androgynous fashion is in on the runway precisely because we still have this reductive idea that ‘gender nonconforming’ is something spectacular, something that must be staged,” Vaid-Menon informs us. “We can’t imagine ordinary gender nonconformity because it’s always about the realm of the visible and the excessive.”

Usually in fashion, we are taught to place “femininity” and “masculinity” at polar opposites. In an ideal setting, individuals would be able to sport an array of bizarre, peculiar, childlike, alien possibilities of transgressive fashion free of fear. Designers like Reno Tsosie and Calli Roche, who have both worked with Darkmatter previously on perfecting their striking wardrobes, design with a conscious effort to produce items free of gender.

Finish reading the spread here on PG 58.

The Art Of Mastering Gayness

By Kenneth Miller

Courtesy of Erin Southwick

Courtesy of Erin Southwick

You pass a boy in the ninth grade who smells like band practice and pickles, and realize you like men. Stare off as he packs his locker with heavy cardboard-covered biology textbooks, exposing his veiny spectacular bicep, and think, “Whoa! This is amazing.”

Attend 4th period scripture class and grasp that this interest must be kept a secret. You’re still curious though. That doesn’t stop. Google images of naked celebrities and declare Brad Pitt your first love. Look up what an uncut dick is and question where your foreskin went. Masturbate an extraordinary amount and write haikus about your orgasms. Soon, you will be miserable and exhausted. Just wait.

Go to the graveyard with your best friend and come out of the closet. Watch as gusts of air twist the fraying trees’ branches and retract your queer thinking. Instead, hold her as she comes out and cry uncontrollably while keeping your twisted secret. Feel liberated and grab a Bacon, Egg and Cheese and two Grape Cherry Fusion Four Lokos from the bodega. Recognize you are normal and loved.

Get pushed against a decaying train station’s wall by a man with screwball eyes and slim lips. Have your first kiss with a stranger who plays the piano and smokes dope. This is what you wanted. Follow him to Burger King and let him buy you a small fry. On your way back, stop at your elementary school’s playground. Give him head and swallow his lumpy cold load. Taste the fries stuck in the crevices of your teeth as you tell your mom you had an uneventful day.

Move away for college, but not too far from the city. Meet other types of gay men and try not to stereotype any of them too pointedly. When they’re not looking, sneak onto Grindr and see which ones are looking for a hookup. Discover the bears who are really into leather, the Britney Spears gays who have Instagram accounts dedicated to the Vegas queen, the punk queer boys sported with septum rings, the Equinox-loving juiceheads obsessed with douching, and the daddies wanting to exclusively indulge twink boys with money and domination. Taste the rainbow and celebrate a community you can finally call home. This is where it all happens.

Courtesy of Kenneth Miller

Courtesy of Kenneth Miller

Still, you have an identity crisis and slowly detach yourself from the one community you feel most comfortable in. Dye your hair bizarre colors and see someone new in the mirror every day—someone worth fucking. Ink your skin with images that make people think you’re a different kind of gay. Paint your nails to show people you have an edge and can take abuse. Come to terms with the fact that you will never feel welcomed in your own psyche, and move forward thinking about those wondrous Hans Christian Anderson tales your mom used to read aloud where the boy was happy and could have it all.

Replace your sadness with men. Become an expert at performing discreet blowjobs in public places. Eventually encounter a true man who believes in God and appreciates the wonders of art on your way to work. Fall in love and bring him home for the holidays. Defend him as your dad questions the legitimacy of a theatre degree, and wipe away his tears with your childhood blanket. Capture his eyes looking into yours and note that the worlds you live in coincide with one another.

Get stared down as you hold his hand in Union Square by the protesting religious right. Head to the dog park as he fights back against the woman with the zany voice and childless stroller. Go to Whole Foods and feed each other bits of strawberry cheesecake with oozing fudge drizzle. Feel domesticated and safe.

Look through his cellphone and catch the sight of dick pics that aren’t yours. Say nothing. Continue to let him cheat on you, and justify his actions when loved ones question. Ignore the betrayal because it’s easier than facing the world lost, alone and sad.

Figure out who you are. Place your life in context with your peers—the queer AF folk and the hetero ones. Separate what defines you sexually and personally. Realize some factors are interchangeable and that’s okay. Think of ways to define yourself outside of your sexuality and come back dry.

Wonder why you were made this way and awe at the existence of humanity. Contemplate the possibility of true alikeness between individuals, and retreat to feelings of childhood innocence. Think about it again and again.

You will stop one day and begin embracing your identity. Trust me.




“That’s Not My Reality:” Millennial Narratives In Literature

By Kenneth Miller

Courtesy of  Huffington Post

Courtesy of Huffington Post

Humorist and writer Ryan O’Connell got his big break while lying naked in bed with only his laptop sported on his chest. He didn’t have to leave the comforting confines of his meticulously-packed studio apartment because the Internet was his employer, and was all he really needed. 

As a self-described “professional feeler of emotions,” O’Connell is one member of a slewing list of Internet writers who gets paid to detail the evermore silly traumas plaguing the worlds of Millennials everywhere. Producing articles that cite the horrors that followed after his first anonymous hookup via a popular gay dating app, as well as the bizarre experiences he has shared with his Uber driver at 2 a.m., these stories appear to be mediocre clickbait garbage that any journalism 101 professor would shame their students over immediately. But there’s something a whole lot more significant than meets the Baby Boomer eye with these personal narratives. Something a lot bigger.

Internet writers who contribute immensely personal stories to online publications like Thought Catalog, Broadly, and Medium have been quoted calling their work “contributions to the Millennial narrative.” These stories, once collected and viewed by millions of online vagabonds, begin to go viral and—well, just about create stifling loads of pandemonium in households across the globe, with “Mommy, don’t look!” chronicles spanning from one’s first blowjob to accounts on one’s first time snorting cocaine in the bathroom of a sleazy Brooklyn bar. 

These individual narratives by countless Generation Y folks hadn’t poked at enough conservative elders until their stories began getting optioned by publishing houses and, consequentially, gained a sense of legitimacy within the industry. 

Critics from The LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, and many self-established WordPress blogs have taken to judging these now published essay collections through highbrow companies like Penguin Group and Random House, questioning whether or not they serve any real purpose for the larger scheme of society and even deserve a spot on the bookshelves of retailers like Barnes & Noble. 

For Ryan O’Connell, his life got all the more interesting once he signed off on a book deal with Simon & Schuster, and released his first collection of personal essays entitled I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves in the summer of 2015. Inside, longtime fans of O’Connell discovered that, in addition to his struggle with his body image in relation to society’s gay male archetype, their favorite funny man is living with cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder affecting one’s movement, muscle tone, and posture.

The collection of 16 long-form essays are sprinkled among tongue-in-cheek paragraphs, photos from O’Connell’s youth, and listicles with click-or-die headlines that detail all things youngsters can expect as they emerge out of their mother’s coddling arms and into the “real world.” It includes stories covering his abysmal life as an intern for publications like Interview Magazine, and spirals into accounts of his substance addiction that contradicted the somewhat picturesque life he seemed to be living as a 20-something-year-old in the Big Apple.   

Anna Warner (a literary critic on Tumblr) said she initially enjoyed O’Connell’s approach to Millennial issues, but eventually found his work to be too general and uninteresting. She said, “then it took a turn [for the worst] and I just found him irritating and making grossly inaccurate generalizations about entire generations and types of people.”

A large issue many readers take with these narratives is the idea that the writer’s individual experiences account for all those in the same scenario, sometimes finding the stories to be the farthest thing from relatable. This especially comes to a head when the work's intention is to appeal to a particular group and educate those who fall outside of it. This is not nearly as big of a quandary as critics cite it to be, for these texts are wholly subjective and speak to an individual truth that, if anything, is worth the binding of its pages and placement on a bookshelf. 

Earlier in 2015, author and amateur “Melrose Place historian” Una LaMarche released her fourth book, Unabrow, a memoir detailing her life as a Millennial late bloomer and adolescent with visibly dark facial hair. The young mom, who has been published on the New York Times, The New York Observer, and The Huffington Post, included her own doodles and cartoon etchings in her latest book’s pages, as she demonstrated for readers how she strives to be body positive while the Western world’s beauty standards deem her unattractive and even repulsive. 

Touching upon how technology had shaped her interpersonal relationships as she developed in a lonesome town, to how she continues to deal with being classified as either a martyr or a MILF as a parent, Lamarch represents a voice that many apprehensive 90s kids wish they had the courage to widely utilize. Many long form essays are interposed between chapters that are essential lifeline instructional lists like Chapter 11, “Free to Be Poo and Pee: A Guide to Public Restroom Usage for Classy Ladies.” 

Meredith Maran, literary critic for The Chicago Tribune, felt uneasy after reading LaMarche’s latest release, seemingly unaware as to what to make of the essay collection. Although admitting to having laughed many times during the read, Maran finds little worth in the actual plot. “Truth be told," she wrote, "LaMarche is as unreliable a narrator as they come, and her book is unlikely to change your life.”

There’s skepticism because LaMarche’s story isn’t all true…well, only teeny details aren’t. She, like many originating online writers (LaMarche’s claim to fame is a viral tweet that Lena Dunham “liked”) spurs from the overly exaggerated tales of one’s life that she admits in the memoir’s prologue, “Una…this is wrong;” pointedly noting that some of her memories (like all of ours) are partially fabricated by our mind’s catering to our personal liking of a particular situation’s outcome. Her source: she took a science class in college once.

Nonetheless, LaMarche’s storytelling capabilities trump whatever critics may hold against the misfortunate tales of Millennials coping with life in the modern age. This is her truth and no one else’s. 

Additionally, critics seem to be lukewarm to stories that derive from Millennial socialization, like Charlie McDowell’s 2013 release Dear Girls Above Me. McDowell, whose fame originated from his Twitter account that shares the same name as his book, gives readers a step-by-step outline as to what made his tweets so priceless, with the two typical valley girls that lived in the apartment above him as his main material.

Overhearing the two women’s considerably ignorant approach to topics including politics, pop culture, and everyday life, McDowell captured in 140-characters or less what he earwigged, eventually scoring a book deal with Random House to publish the whole story with a fairly larger word count.

With over 200 pages to fill, McDowell took on how running the “Dear Girls Above Me” Twitter account affected his love, social, and work life, in addition to some added details on the budding relationship he consequentially started to create with the girls upstairs.

“Does that make for a compelling book?” literary critic Cecilee Linke asks in a review for SFF Audio. “I’m not entirely sure.”

Linke furthers her argument, finding Millennial social media updating to be synonymous with boredom and of minimal public interest. There’s no real intrigue behind what this guy happens to hear going on above him and how that affected the scheme of his life, she insinuates. And is she right? Yeah, probably. 

But literature is meant to establish a sense of unity within society and strike a shared experience of sorts among a people. It’s hard to combat the logic behind what fuses a community of Millennials and the traumas they are encountering since it’s a generation focalized around technology.

Millennials are constantly seen trying to spit out their stories to platforms willing to hand them a piece of that revelrous pie that would ultimately document their unique story, whether that be in a tweet, essay, or book. This mindset is parallel with the idea that every voice should be heard, which is wise in concept but impossible in practice. Society can attempt to observe the difficulties unique to the individual. But nonetheless, the dialogues must be relative to all in order to be a considerable success.

Generation Y is the first collection of people able to take charge of their image and warp it into whichever way they may desire or find applicable in a particular situation. They are able to make someone believe their life is a certain way, and if the outsider (or reader) takes the bait, then it becomes truth—which, in essence, is great literature.

I Can't Stop Thinking About My Parents Dying

By Kenneth Miller

    My mother and I have this verbal contract of sorts that insists if she were to ever fall into a coma, I will visit her vegetating body every couple of days. Sweet and the least a son could do, right? No. You’re wrong.    My visits won’t be to update my mother on the latest celebrity trash news (although I’m sure she would love to hear the hottest traumas plaguing the Real Housewives of Atlanta) or to mangle out the unyielding cramps twisted into her spine; no, I have been tasked to work on perhaps the most important and necessary job on the body pre-hospice. I must pluck the unwanted hairs surfacing from her chin and mustache.    Although we have been made aware since swearing over this coveted promise that there are in-fact nurses who get paid to maintain the beauty maintenance of perpetually sleeping individuals, my mother still insists I tackle the job.    “I don’t want to be trapped inside my body only to awake 5 years later to a Pitbull goatee!” she has spit at me, reluctantly glaring over the subtitles to her nightly Telenovela, finding comfort in the lusty accounts between Pablo and Marissa. “Would you?”     Unwilling to divulge my secret admiration for the Latin hip hop artist’s flakey facial hair, I sighed, whimpering out—“Okay.” If that is what she wants, that is what she shall get.    The conversation usually echoes onward to her ugly death at the tender age of 88 (cause: probably something relative to her supposed irritable bowel syndrome.) My mother’s final wish: cremate my corpse and host the ashes in a heart shaped pendent that’ll hang over your chest—always and forever. She’d say, “The leftovers? Throw them off the Staten Island Ferry as it ports from Manhattan. Leave me with a pretty view, please.”     Lately, I can’t stop thinking about my parents dying. It’s not as if one of them has recently been diagnosed with a life altering illness or I happened to be spurred into a depressive state thinking of Amy Winehouse’s death again; rather, I’m coming to terms with the fact that—fuck, I’m a twenty-something-year-old and am far from invincible. It’s like, I can’t even climb a flight of stairs without gasping for air and a Venti Caramel Frappuccino, how am I supposed to physically and emotionally survive another ten years?      Okay I should probably schedule a meeting with my therapist ASAP.     Maybe I’m a little fickle-minded; these thoughts are constantly influx, interrupting my daily procedures, leaving me aggressively aloof and unaware of my surroundings at points. Anxieties consume my body just thinking of my mother reclined in a casket, dolled up in a pant suite with a carnation pinned to her blouse, chin hairs still visible. She’d look peaceful, but still—well, dead and cold.     Didn’t she get the memo: Hello? I am  still  here and  still  need your help! You can’t just die on me. Yours truly, the middle child.       I was 9-years-old when I attended my first funeral. I hadn’t known the person and was getting paid a whole $5 for my services as an observant altar boy. As the procession ushered through the church, six men balanced the lifeless person in the air by the sole support of their shoulders and I audibly wept as I swayed the incense before the placed coffin. I promised it had been the strong scent and smoke that pushed the tears over their measly docks when comforted by the priest. He hadn’t believed me and essentially fired my sensitive, sappy self on the spot.       See, I have a penchant for the morbid. I readily enjoy reading Sylvia Plath and watching videos of rescue dogs reemerging into mainstream society. The mortality of my existence has long been something I’ve dealt with in teensy-weensy increments; breathe in heavily and let go slowly. It has worked, up until now.       I can’t adjust to the idea of my parents dying mainly because that means I’ll face a similar fate. As I grew up, I began to identify my parents as fallible, misfit creatures. When you realize your father isn’t some Godsend who twirls the world with the power of his hands, but is actually a lunchroom loner who wears ill-fitting pants and farts uncontrollably loud while your mother (who appears to be a wholesome person) actually endures monstrous mental health woes and nihilistic tendencies, your adolescent visions of humanity morph, forcibly making you question WTF is actual life.     It’s not as if you’re unable to succumb to this reality without their bereavement; it’s just difficult to address these infantile thoughts that dare you to become half of the person your parent was, even if they might’ve failed within their own mindset. You still want to be them. It becomes a sick mantra heavily thumbed down on the replay button. All you can do is stop, breathe and live in the moment until they  actually  do die.     

 

My mother and I have this verbal contract of sorts that insists if she were to ever fall into a coma, I will visit her vegetating body every couple of days. Sweet and the least a son could do, right? No. You’re wrong.

My visits won’t be to update my mother on the latest celebrity trash news (although I’m sure she would love to hear the hottest traumas plaguing the Real Housewives of Atlanta) or to mangle out the unyielding cramps twisted into her spine; no, I have been tasked to work on perhaps the most important and necessary job on the body pre-hospice. I must pluck the unwanted hairs surfacing from her chin and mustache.

Although we have been made aware since swearing over this coveted promise that there are in-fact nurses who get paid to maintain the beauty maintenance of perpetually sleeping individuals, my mother still insists I tackle the job.

“I don’t want to be trapped inside my body only to awake 5 years later to a Pitbull goatee!” she has spit at me, reluctantly glaring over the subtitles to her nightly Telenovela, finding comfort in the lusty accounts between Pablo and Marissa. “Would you?”

Unwilling to divulge my secret admiration for the Latin hip hop artist’s flakey facial hair, I sighed, whimpering out—“Okay.” If that is what she wants, that is what she shall get.

The conversation usually echoes onward to her ugly death at the tender age of 88 (cause: probably something relative to her supposed irritable bowel syndrome.) My mother’s final wish: cremate my corpse and host the ashes in a heart shaped pendent that’ll hang over your chest—always and forever. She’d say, “The leftovers? Throw them off the Staten Island Ferry as it ports from Manhattan. Leave me with a pretty view, please.”

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about my parents dying. It’s not as if one of them has recently been diagnosed with a life altering illness or I happened to be spurred into a depressive state thinking of Amy Winehouse’s death again; rather, I’m coming to terms with the fact that—fuck, I’m a twenty-something-year-old and am far from invincible. It’s like, I can’t even climb a flight of stairs without gasping for air and a Venti Caramel Frappuccino, how am I supposed to physically and emotionally survive another ten years?  

Okay I should probably schedule a meeting with my therapist ASAP.

Maybe I’m a little fickle-minded; these thoughts are constantly influx, interrupting my daily procedures, leaving me aggressively aloof and unaware of my surroundings at points. Anxieties consume my body just thinking of my mother reclined in a casket, dolled up in a pant suite with a carnation pinned to her blouse, chin hairs still visible. She’d look peaceful, but still—well, dead and cold.

Didn’t she get the memo: Hello? I am still here and still need your help! You can’t just die on me. Yours truly, the middle child. 

I was 9-years-old when I attended my first funeral. I hadn’t known the person and was getting paid a whole $5 for my services as an observant altar boy. As the procession ushered through the church, six men balanced the lifeless person in the air by the sole support of their shoulders and I audibly wept as I swayed the incense before the placed coffin. I promised it had been the strong scent and smoke that pushed the tears over their measly docks when comforted by the priest. He hadn’t believed me and essentially fired my sensitive, sappy self on the spot.

 See, I have a penchant for the morbid. I readily enjoy reading Sylvia Plath and watching videos of rescue dogs reemerging into mainstream society. The mortality of my existence has long been something I’ve dealt with in teensy-weensy increments; breathe in heavily and let go slowly. It has worked, up until now.

 I can’t adjust to the idea of my parents dying mainly because that means I’ll face a similar fate. As I grew up, I began to identify my parents as fallible, misfit creatures. When you realize your father isn’t some Godsend who twirls the world with the power of his hands, but is actually a lunchroom loner who wears ill-fitting pants and farts uncontrollably loud while your mother (who appears to be a wholesome person) actually endures monstrous mental health woes and nihilistic tendencies, your adolescent visions of humanity morph, forcibly making you question WTF is actual life.

It’s not as if you’re unable to succumb to this reality without their bereavement; it’s just difficult to address these infantile thoughts that dare you to become half of the person your parent was, even if they might’ve failed within their own mindset. You still want to be them. It becomes a sick mantra heavily thumbed down on the replay button. All you can do is stop, breathe and live in the moment until they actually do die.