I began my social transition in 2012 and that is when I actually started a real relationship with fashion. Before, living as a male, I was wearing clothes just to cover and hide myself. I felt very limited in my options and just wore the best of what was available to me. Back then I hadn’t yet worked out that I was trans, but for many years I had this unexplainable envy of women’s fashion. I was so jealous of the myriad options, fresh variety, imagination and fun in women’s wear, but I had not figured myself out and had no desire to wear them, I was just fascinated.
So I was stuck and frustrated with boy clothes, and although there were more fashionable and flamboyant options available to me, I still did not wear the things that truly excited me, because I was scared. I was already targeted and picked on as a queer kid so I didn’t wear things that would bring me more negative attention. Like if I dressed too well and stylish, then that would only fuel more rumors of my sexuality and invite trouble. So I dressed neutral, bland and boring. I even went through a kind of thug lite phase in high school where I tried to butch up and masculinize my appearance, wearing things other guys wore like FUBU and Rocawear. I felt like a phony and a fake but it got me through that time and people left me alone.
Eventually I got braver and started to dress more fashionable and of course got picked on more. Then I transferred to a high school off reserve in the city of Brantford where I could spread my wings more and try different things. The more stylish I dressed the more people figured I was gay, but I cared less, it felt safer there and people pretty much left me alone.
Then I moved to Toronto in 2007, which was exciting because I felt like I could finally dress how I really wanted, but then I was suddenly on my own supporting myself and I lived in poverty throughout university, and my clothing reflected that. I got into a relationship that became abusive and I had to flee, so I left behind most of my things and it all got scattered in storage and tossed out. I lost a lot of my clothes. And then, I was homeless for three months and very poor. But gladly, after much hardship and loss, I found stable housing, my income is good and I’ve got the social and medical support to start hormones and I am back on my feet. For the first time in my life, I am able to buy myself clothes, shoes, accessories and makeup that I’ve always wanted. I feel relieved and free.
Now in 2014, the relationship I have with fashion is day by day. Instead of hiding and covering, I use fashion to express myself and I dress my emotions. I choose outfits and looks according to my moods. Some days I feel fearless, shameless and brave where my looks are sexy, wild and fun. Other days I feel modest, introverted and shy where my looks are all covering, all black and demure. I can’t say I’ve arrived at my signature style yet but I certainly have arrived in the realm of femmedom and it feels so damn good.
And I look so damn good, because I feel right, I feel like me for real, and that radiates out from my core as happiness and beauty. That shift was possible just by being able to dress differently. Fashion is powerful and influential. I’ve let my shewolf out of the closet, and I’m having so much fun. It really is more fun to be a girl.
It wasn’t until this year I started posting selfies with my cellphone. I just refused to do it for the longest time, because I did photography and I really liked the quality of regular cameras. Then I loosened up and realized cellphone selfies, or cellphies as I like to say, have a quality of their own and is its own legit art form. I mean, Kim Kardashian is releasing a whole coffee table art book of just her selfies. Weirdly, I like that. But even before selfies, I was posting self-portraits for years. I did this because I had and still have insecurities, and I experience and feel gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia related to an eating disorder. I am hesitant to use the words power and control, but taking my own photos certainly allowed those things. I felt I was in control of my own image and I had the agency and power to present myself to the world as I wished to be seen. It ended up having two effects, it made me feel better about myself and it made me a better model.
Most of my photos I take of myself with a tripod and a 10 self-timer. I have a lot of fun with it. The benefit of being your own model and your own photographer is you’re not running up anyone else’s time but your own. Also, it’s a great way to learn your body and the angles and lighting you look best in. After doing that for a long time I began to like myself a lot more and started to see myself as beautiful.
I showed myself my own beauty.
Eventually I felt comfortable to do modeling for other photographers and I just got stronger and more confident. I recommend this method to anyone. All you need is a camera with a timer, a tripod and lots of patience and time.
What I hope to do in any environment or circumstance, is to become a part of it, either by fitting in or contrasting and standing out. Either way, I want to look comfortable and like an extension of the scene. I feel most connected to nature or near places in close proximity to nature or water. I’ve done a couple of studio photoshoots but they seem so unnatural to me, for now. I did a studio shoot with a white background and I was not allowed to pose. It was only head on face shots. That was my most challenging shoot to date, because I couldn’t move!
Right now I’m on a break from formal modeling until I transition more, but when I feel ready and get back into it, I want to take on the challenge of studio shoots and get comfortable in those spaces. But lately my theme has been independent modeling and finding photographers who will push me out of my comfort zone and shooting out in nature and telling a story in those environments. Those are the places I feel most comfortable, creative and inspired. Around nature and people I trust. I guess that has a lot to do with my transition and the fact that I grew up in the country, on my rez Six Nations.
I call myself the beauty from the bush, because those are my roots. Rez Girl for life.
Homo Noeticus was a film I made in 2012 with the Queer Video Mentorship Project, which is a really wonderful partnership between Charles Street Video and the Inside Out Film Festival. I recommend people apply and tell their story, it’s a true growing experience.
To this day I’m not too sure how to describe Homo Noeticus. Every time I try it’s different but not a complete answer. I’ve been calling it an experimental fashion art film, which addresses transgender identities. It’s broken into four segments or vignettes.
The first vignette is a Goddess creation story myth, stating that life and humanity sprung from a woman, subverting the Adam and Eve parable. So the second vignette is the birth of masculinity, then that male identity merges into a third vignette of femininity and there is a female figure, then the last vignette is an androgynous female/male hybrid being, representing homo noeticus. But within those vignettes I also tell a story of my origins as a female in utero, associating myself with divinity, then a story of my assigned-male-at-birth identity, then my transition into femininity, and ultimately merging the two, holding both those identities into one being, which is my two-spirit genderqueer self. The script alludes to some experiences I had moving through those identities.
Now this is where it’s going to get really convoluted. Homo noeticus comes from The Institute of Noetic Sciences and the term was created by one of the co-founders, John White. The institute studies and explores the frontiers of human consciousness and attempts to bridge science and spirit, and supports the idea of a paradigm shift in human consciousness. Homo noeticus is a consciousness revolution, which White suggests is the creation of a new species of humankind, an upgrade of the modern human. The markers and characteristics of the homo noeticus species are enhanced DNA, superior mental and psychic capabilities such as telepathy, telekinesis and a heightened spiritual awareness, cosmic consciousness, reflections of one’s own consciousness, and moving from self-centeredness into a divine Goddess state, and so much more.
The term homo noeticus has also been used to describe star children or Indigo children and the existence of these highly developed supernatural children is being used as evidence of this phenomenon.
The more you get into it the more outrageous and science fiction-y it sounds. The Institute talks a lot about the coming of an ideal world, and some may think it’s all utopian nonsense, but I don’t care. The “real” world we live in is science fiction nonsense too, so why not dream a nice future? Homo noeticus is the next step in human evolution – there was homo habilis, homo erectus, homo neanderthalensis, homo sapiens and now, homo noeticus.
Star children or Indigo children, are real and they exist, and they partly inspired this film, and are reflected in the fourth vignette of the film. It is believed by many that these star and Indigo children, and really all humanity, is the product of alien manipulation in human genetics. I honestly believe in alien manipulation in the human genetic pool, and I believe humans are the creations of extra terrestrial beings. I know that’s really wild and probably ridiculous for a lot of people but whatever, it’s something fun to think about.
Many ancient civilizations and especially Indigenous nations have creation stories rooted in the stars, and they tell stories of beings who came here to help us and give us teachings. I am Hotinonhshon:ni and our own creation story says we are not indigenous to this earth, we were brought here by a Skywoman who “fell” from the Skyworld, or you can say she arrived here from the cosmos and “gave birth” to us humans.
So I put that in the beginning script of the film, and I wanted to merge these two ideas and look forward into the future of human evolution, with the understanding that humans are becoming more and more advanced.
What really gave me the inspiration was a book I bought many years ago called A Vision of the Aquarian Age by George Trevelyan. He had a take on homo noeticus that was unique, which talked about an emergence of a new humanity as “a human being balanced male-female, of developing consciousness.”
So I wanted to explore that more and represent this new species, and connected it to the rapid emergence and visibility of fluid and shifting sexual and gender identities in our cultures and societies today. I wanted to give a spin on gender and sexual revolution and evolution, and focus on the frontiers of transgender and genderqueer identities and bodies, and situate it in the context of alien theory and Goddess divinity.
Really, I wanted to make a film that touched on transgender, genderqueer and androgynous bodies as this magical new human species. I know that we LGBTQ2S folks are not new, we are ancient, we’ve been around as long as humans have existed, but I liked the idea that we are highly developed and we leap humanity forward. I wanted it to feel empowering, like a queer trannifesto.
But that is a lot of theory, themes and inspirations going on, so I decided to keep the visuals simple and focus on my body with an empty background. I wanted to recreate the look of behind the scenes video footage of fashion photoshoots. I wanted to give a gender performance and use my body to tell a story, to sort of have my body as a blank page for the script to be projected onto, and for people to project onto and glean meaning from a trans body of colour, which is quite queer and alien.
I identity as a human-alien hybrid. I am gender alien.
Finally, as to what the process was like to be the subject and filmmaker, there is another story-for-an-answer behind that. I never spoke of this before, but I feel comfortable now. I mentioned earlier how I left an abusive relationship. Well I was with this person for 3 and a half years when things went badly, and I was still in school. It was my last semester and it was the night before a final exam and I was studying. Problems escalated and I ended up getting assaulted by my ex, and police were involved, he was arrested, there was an investigation, I ended up in a shelter and eventually immigration was involved then the guy was deported. But that same week as midterms, I had studio space booked and I was scheduled to shoot Homo Noeticus like two or three days after the assault. Looking back I don’t know how I did it, but it took tremendous mental and emotional strength to put it out of my head. I sort of had to disassociate from that quickly because I had a job to do, but mainly because this was the first amazing thing I’ve ever done for myself. I had thoughts of dropping everything and canceling, but I told myself “no, I’m doing this for myself.” I pushed ahead in spite of all the chaos and pain, because I cared about myself enough to do it for me, and I knew it would be worth it. I made that film while in a shelter. I forget that sometimes. Then after all the shooting was done, the most intense and difficult part was editing it.
I cast myself as the subject because I had deep insecurities about my body and my appearance. I figured out by then I was trans but I was still stuck in a body I didn’t want. I knew I was attractive, but I didn’t feel it.
My goal was to make myself get comfortable with the sound of my voice and my body and my image and to just accept myself. My goal was to turn myself into art and to show myself my own beauty, and to not depend on someone else to show it to me. I wanted that validation to come from myself; I wanted to make myself feel good.
Editing was tough, it was a lot negative self talk at first, a lot of cringing and turning away from the monitors. I mean I really hated the sound of my voice and how I looked in certain angles and lighting, because I have a past with eating disorders and then now transgender body dysmorphia. But after countless hours and days listening to and looking at myself, that embarrassment and discomfort started to dissipate and melt away, more so after watching it projected on giant movie theatre screens in front of audiences. The compliments and positive feedback from others was nice, but even before that, I got the validation from myself. I wanted to make something I was proud of and I wanted to be proud of myself. And I was. I am. In the process of making that film, I actually began to like myself, then I started to think I looked and sounded cute, then I started to look and feel beautiful, then I fell in love with myself. In the most beautiful way, I love and adore myself.
All our lives we hear we have to learn to love ourselves before we can love others, but how many people actually learn to do that? A lot of people preach it but not many practice it.
I would like to demonstrate and show people how, because I learned the hard way. So here are things I did…
I began to do things I like, things that make me happy and do things for myself. Instead of doing the expected career move related to my journalism degree, I took a wild turn and became a performer and artist on welfare instead. It’s still tough but I’m doing what I love and working for myself. But making life changes for yourself or your artistic dreams can be so hard when we have our hands tied with a job or multiple jobs that are not related to our artistic or creative dreams, or when we are single mothers or when we are in relationships with people who do not support us becoming independent or who outright discourage us from following our dreams. I know it’s not easy to leave relationships or put up with family expectations but I will say this: follow your bliss, chase your desires, run towards your dreams.
You can start small. Make time for yourself, set appointments in your schedule to do things that make you happy, whether it’s dancing or cooking or whatever you love. Get in touch with your spirit and spirituality.
I find the more I tend to my spirit the less I need validation from others. Try meditating or having timeouts for just your thoughts. Make wish lists, pray, give thanks for what you have and ask the universe for what you want and need, ask higher powers for guidance, make vision boards or dream boards. Find and create self-affirming self-loving affirmations. I’ve been doing affirmations and listening to hypnosis tracks for years. Take photos of yourself! Make a film and cast yourself in the lead role and make sure you edit it!
If all of that is too much for you, you can start even smaller with your mirror.
I challenge you, every time you look in the mirror and you have a negative thought of yourself, combat that thought and meet it with a positive thought of yourself. If you say you don’t like a certain thing about your body, find three things you do like and say it.
And if you really feel brave, start to flirt with yourself in the mirror. I’m serious. I do this. It feels really silly at first and you feel like a fool, but that goes away if you stick with it. What I started to do was tell myself flirty things and compliment myself in ways that I wished I heard from other people. It felt like a lie at first but I began to believe it. That’s how hypnosis works. Then over time other people began to notice and say those things to me. Like I would tell myself “I love your curly dark hair” and “I love your beautiful brown skin” and “You have gorgeous dark eyes.” Now, since gaining some weight on hormones, I say “I love your curves!” And now I really enjoy how I jiggle. When you wake up, greet yourself in the mirror with “Good morning, beautiful” or “Hello, gorgeous.” Overtime, it absorbs and sticks and you begin to feel it. Try it for two weeks. I dare you.
We are all goddesses and creators, and we all have the capacity to remake or reinvent ourselves anew. Themes that drive my work are healing, magic, myth remaking and goddess/divinity culture, as evidenced in Homo Noeticus and other works, which are in the making. I think that we can heal our traumas and ourselves through art and storytelling. I feel that if you do not like the direction of your life story, or your origin story, then you can apply magic and imagination and weave or craft yourself a new tale, that you can rewrite the script to your life and you can change your destiny. I mean, I am shapeshifting to another body and transforming to another gender. That’s magic. And if I can do that, I’m sure you can make magical transformations in your life too.
My message as an artist is to encourage people to turn themselves into magical myth and turn their bodies into art. You are goddesses and gods; you are the co-creator of your life. Life does not have to happen to you, you can switch the script and paint yourself in a new image that fits you and makes you smile. You are magic and you have the power.
Guest Editor & Photographer: Vivek Shraya. Words: Kylie May.