Before the New Year I met up with Brendon Mayanja, a Zimbabwean student currently living in Florida for his studies. We spoke about his style inspirations, issues within the LGBT+ community and other experiences.
What are your style inspirations?
When I first got into fashion, I found that the people I was looking up to were very mainstream. Rihanna, Frank Ocean, Chris Brown; those were some of the people I started off with. As I grew older, I would describe my sense of style as alternative. I try my best not to wear what everybody else is wearing, but not in the sense of ‘I’m trying to be different’, but I want my individuality and characteristics to shine through my clothing.
As time went on, I started looking up to FKA Twigs. FKA Twigs is a BIG style inspiration for me because you think to yourself, ‘What is she going to do next?’
Did you know that over in the UK, not many people know who she is or pay attention to her?
Which is CRAZY because she is a British artist. One of the things I like about FKA Twigs is that you also think to yourself, ‘What is fashion? How far can you push it? What can I do with it?’
Does the internet inspire you in any way?
We have social media now – Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr are my 3 most visited platforms. I try my best to stick with Pinterest and Tumblr, ‘cos Instagram can be a bit commercial, a bit repetitive, but with Tumblr and Pinterest… YO! If I were to show you my Pinterest page, you’d think ‘WHAT! Laughs. The 90s style is such a huge inspiration to me. I’m all about high-waisted jeans with a shiny belt buckle, great patterns in pants (trousers), big shoes, beads, big hair. As opposed to what I see around me, I like colours like so oranges and yellows. I feel like colours really bring out your personality. I don’t really want to say that I have solid style inspiration, but I like to just pick and see what I like, because at the same time, I’m not trying to recreate someone else, and that’s what I sometimes see with other people. But I like to take inspiration and mould it into Brendon.
I hate to be too “boy-ish” and I hate to be too “girly” – I always live for an in-between for ambiguity. It’s so beautiful. I like to have people question ‘Is that a boy or a girl?’ Just not having strict guidelines, because me as a person, I hate routine. Routine gives me anxiety and it just gets to my head. I have to switch it up.
So do you think you’re making a statement with how you dress?
Oh definitely. That statement solely is androgyny. As soon as I found the word androgyny, I got into it – that was my ‘coming out.’ I was always in the grey area growing up, but there was never anything I could identify with that grey area. I used to think ‘what does this grey area mean?’ But then I found androgyny, which is literally ‘the grey area’; possessing both male and female characteristics, whether it be style or facial structure. Androgyny is a statement because – what is gender? What is gender conformity? To be able to go out every single day and bend the rules, that is a statement in itself. Being yourself, whether heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, living your life is a statement, but what statement are you trying to make? The statement that most people make is conformity. You don’t want to stick out too much, you just want to blend in with the crowd, which is fine. But with myself, I’m trying to be the best version of me as possible, and for me, that means sticking out! If I don’t stick out then I feel like I didn’t do myself justice. My personality and confidence is very striking, so if that doesn’t translate into my own style then I’m not living my authentic self.
I would recommend everyone to live this androgynous lifestyle. Why is it such a taboo for a guy to wear girls’ jeans? What are girls’ jeans? I wear ‘girls’ jeans because they fit better. I wear them for comfort, not because they’re ‘girls’ jeans.’ I feel like girls have way more variety than boys. The girls’ section make up three-quarters of the store! Realistically, how do you expect me to shop in a quarter of the store, and be okay with a tiny section? It’s not realistic, so I’m going to branch out. With female style, especially designers, they play a lot more with colour. Like I said earlier I enjoy colours.
You touched a lot on androgyny earlier. Do you think there are pros and cons on representation in the community at this present moment?
Sighs Okay, I’ll start with cons. What I’m seeing right now, in terms of being gay, is that we are seen as an accessory to some heterosexual women. I’ll speak from my own experience – when a girl sees me, they’ll find out I’m gay and react like ‘OMG. We should go shopping! I’ve been dying for a gay best friend. You can watch me when I change, you can do my hair.’ and I’m like ‘Yo. I don’t really want to be your friend though.’ Laughs
But do you know what I mean? There’s this thing with heterosexual females, that they assume us gay guys are looking, searching, waiting for straight girls to take us under their wing. People are only glorifying the fun parts of gayness. That’s what we’re seeing, but nobody’s talking about the negatives of the coming out phase. Some people become homeless, families are torn apart, friendships end, but nobody’s talking about that. People are even getting killed or put in prison. Gay is ‘in fashion’ right now.
Stereotypes are another thing. Not every gay person is fashionable, creative, femme or super masc. There’s such a wide spectrum of gayness, and I feel like with media today, are only highlighting 20%. So yes, there’s representation but only for the 20% of the people.
For example, society only talk about trans girls, but trans boys are overlooked. We’re always talking about ‘boy-to-girl’ but not enough ‘girl-to-boy’, there’s a huge lack of representation on that.
We’re not seeing intersex, asexual, or pansexual. We’re only seeing gay and lesbian. In order to claim LBGT+ representation, everyone within the LGBT+ acronym needs to be represented. Right now it’s just gay representation. In gayness, we’re getting the femmes, and the butch lesbians, so in terms of representation, there’s not enough. We need more, we need to cover everyone and not just a specific region for aesthetic purposes. I just want everybody within that demographic to feel like they’re being represented. There are extremely feminine and androgynous lesbians, there’s so much. I’m not saying what we have is bad, but let’s branch out a little bit.
In terms of pros, a lot of ‘gaybies’ (younger generation of LGBT+) and the adolescence have a lot more people to look up to, in caparison to our generation. Who was openly gay on TV? I think that Orange is the New Black was a giant step forward. There was a lot of representation in that show, so a lot of people had something to look to.
A big gay icon for me is RuPaul. He came up when being gay wasn’t ‘a thing’, and now he has his own platform. However, I feel like a lot of gay people now get given a platform and drop everyone else and conform into that stereotype that the media shows. They’re just that gay friend that hangs around with straight people. They can sometimes lose touch with themselves, instead of being famous and bringing up more people in the LGBT+ community, and allowing them to have a platform like RUPaul did. The fact that we have someone successful like RuPaul is amazing.
The positive things we’re seeing doesn’t mean that everything is fine though. For example, In Russia, or somewhere else in Europe, there’s concentration camps for gay people. Nobody’s talking about that at all, why aren’t talking about it? I guess it’s an overlooked issue because it’s ‘too political’ and taints the image of ‘gayness’. To everyone, gayness is ‘rainbows’, ‘sunshine’, ‘glitter’ and ‘drag queens.’ There’s still a lot of places in the world that needs attention and support, but people only look to the First World, America especially as they own the media. It is so much easier to survive being gay in America, but what percentage of the world are American compared to everyone else? You can easily get killed in Uganda for being gay. The gays in America rarely address those issues. Yes, a gay person always struggles, but a gay person in America compared to a gay person anywhere else, you can’t even put the struggles in the same bracket. If I ever become famous, I would make sure that I raise awareness on the LGBT+ community in African and Asian countries, as being gay, bi or Trans is a death wish. It seems like the LGBT organisations in America are only catering to those within America. Again, I think that’s fine, but every other organisation are able to help other countries outside the States, but LGBT organisations aren’t. They can, but they just won’t. The gay scene over here in the UK seems so prominent and could help others too.
Gay people can be so concerned with their own situation sometimes and fight so hard for their own existence. They think ‘okay let me come up first, then worry about everyone else’, but what happens is that once they get there, they’re so self-absorbed, so they completely forget about everyone else. You could be famous with hundreds of thousands of followers, but what are you doing with that platform? Some LGBT people only seem to be catering to the heterosexual audience. Some of the makeup gurus on YouTube, who are gay, are so popular but what are they doing for the cause? Do you ever mention LGBT often or do you only mention it in an acceptance speech? A lot of the famous gay folk aren’t doing anything, in my opinion.
We need to help each other more. As a minority, what are we doing to help each other? Once we come up together as a unit and start supporting gay businesses and platforms, we’ll be better off. We wouldn’t need approval from heterosexuals. Honestly, there are enough homosexual people on this planet to have our own little community and thrive off each other.
What would you say to someone struggling with their identity?
The number one thing that I would have wanted to hear when I was growing up, is take your time. There’s no ‘time stamp’ on self-acceptance. People tend to rush it, or see someone their age on social media living their best life and think ‘Oh, my life would be better like that’. You need to analyse your own situation and even surroundings. For example, if you live in Congo, you can’t compare yourself to someone from LA – the cultures are completely different. So take your time, be self-aware, and don’t be easily influenced. You can lose yourself completely if you try to copy someone else, which is what I did for the longest. It can take years to discover or accept self, which is okay. It’s okay to be 30 and finally come out as gay. There’s ‘coming out’ and there’s living your best life. You don’t have to come out of the closet’ to live your best life, as long as you know you’re not sacrificing your own morals. There are no guidelines to be gay. Just be yourself. You know yourself better than anybody else, so if you’re acting in a way that makes yourself feel uncomfortable, then don’t act that way. Try not to copy what you see on TV or social media. Some of the behaviours on there can be so problematic. Be patient – patience is key my little gaybies.
Peep Brendon on Instagram @brendonmayanja
Photos by Karis Beaumont