Each individual featured on the #IAm cover, aimed to challenge perceptions of themselves and highlight something that makes them unique. Farai Engelbrecht, Rhain Jenkins, Zoya Pon and Ian Muller were each given the creative freedom to conceptualize and express their topic. This was to make space for genuine expression, and in turn created an authentic outcome that is both honest, vulnerable and impactful. The cover images were shot by Frantz Birkholtz with clothing by local designers: OH OK, Artclub and Friends and Koeksuster Intimates.
RHAIN JENKINS (@rhainty)
I think it’s interesting to have had Dylan as Jesus.
Because he’s a brown person so it ties into the whole Jesus being brown thing. But also having very non-virginal people playing the roles- because me and Dylan are both thoty. [laughs]. It’s like a dichotomy, whenever you take a marginalized body and put them in a sanctified role there is a statement being made there.
I was going for a religious iconography theme.
I’ve always appreciated catholic symbolism – they really got it right with all the gold, the halos. The aesthetic value is fantastic.
There’s a patron saint in Mexico.
Her name is La Santa Muerte, she’s like a death saint. She’s a patron of the outcasts- especially sex workers and transgender women. I like elements like that, where even when you’re like confined by this very severe set of rules you can still find flexibility.
I wanted to touch on the divine theme.
I think we’re all divine really. I believe that there is a divine aspect to life and that we all have that within us and it’s worth celebrating.
When [a queer person] says ‘I’m a virgin’ you’re like ‘WHAT?’
I remember on season 8 of Rupaul’s drag race, Kimchi – one of the drag queens – was a virgin and she spoke about it on the show and everyone was like wtf because it’s just not something that gets addressed in our community; that you sort of just have to have sex to be queer. It leads to a lot of unhealthy behaviour in the community.
We present this image that you have to be hyper-sexualized in the LGBT community.
It needs to come with a warning about predatory behaviour and consent. Consent is sexy.
There’s nothing wrong with having sex…
But when people feel obligated to have sex that is definitely not a good thing because it leads to abuse. That’s why we have this culture especially where young gays in their teens are heavily preyed on by older gays. While there can be a healthy relationship- I’m not refuting that- there are gonna be people taking advantage and that is what happens.
There’s a lack of services within the community for the community.
Especially regarding transgenderism. I’m specifically studying psychology because as far as I know there aren’t any transgender health professionals in Cape Town. There’s a lot of gate-keeping that happens. In the minds of cisgender doctors and psychologists your end goal has to be binary gender.
‘There needs to be maneuverability -when doctors prescribe medicine to trans people there is no flexibility’
Some of the hormones being recommended to transgender women stop the penis from working – because having a penis causes a lot of trans women gender dysphoria. But that’s obviously not always the case for non-binary people. There are binary trans women who don’t want vaginas and are happy with their penises, not only non binary trans people. So there needs to be maneuverability around that, in that when doctors are prescribing medicine to trans people there is no flexibility.
The reality is that many trans people self-medicate.
They buy pills online and they inject themselves because doctors will refuse to prescribe for them, or because they won’t give them the dosages they want or need. It can lead to severe health issues. There is a huge lack of health support for trans people.
You need to be comfortable with being yourself.
I think it’s so trite but its something I’ve realized with trans people: its not universal. Stop trying to perform for cisgender people because regardless of your performance they’re not going to accept you. That sounds very cynical and ugly but that’s something I realized.
I used to try very hard to pass.
And then I was like you know what, I don’t actually care anymore. I’m gonna wear what I want to wear, I’m gonna do what I want to do and I’m going to live a happier life because of it.
It’s about putting stock into your perception of your own gender-
Instead of trying to seek validation from society at large. That comes easier to some than others, some people don’t have to do much to pass, but to people who cant- that’s where the self needs to come in and viewing the self as the divine, as the beautiful, as everything you want to be.
I know I’m gorgeous.
I think I’m gorgeous, I love how I dress, I love who I am, I love what I do – that is what is important. For trans people it’s nearly impossible because you constantly have society telling you something different about you, you’re going to internalize that. You need to stop listening to what they think, you need to find a really good support system – it really helps.
In my view all gender is performative.
Drag is a performance. So is gender itself. All gender is performative. Cisgender men and women perform gender the exact same way trans people do, it’s just not questioned.
‘I think everyone has their part to play in getting more representation’
Even just the perceptions of gender we buy into. It’s all a performance because there’s nothing natural about women doing x and men doing x, we’ve just been conditioned to see it a different way. “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag”.
Living as a queer person is a political statement just in itself.
I think it’s so important to always have more people being represented- the reality is that every fucking face on a magazine, on a website, on a TV show, is critical. [I did this because] I think everyone has their part to play in getting more representation. There’s a one-note representation in the media of trans people, and its normally binary trans women (Caitlin Jenner, Laverne Cox). Even though there’s incredible importance in that, it needs to be more than that, it can’t just be that.
As told to Zoya Pon by Rhain Jenkins.
Images: Frantz Birkholtz