We have the honor and pleasure of partnering with Rainbow Labs this pride month, giving a percentage of the proceeds from our gender-affirming active collection to the important work they do.
Rainbow Labs is a non-profit organization that emboldens queer and gender non-conforming youth to discover, curate, and experiment with the elements of a fulfilled life through community building and the lived experiences of mentors. Read on for interviews we completed with Dani and Diego, who were both members of the Rainbow Labs Youth Council this past year.
Our Conversation With Diego
My name is Diego Gonzalez, and I am a high school student who proudly identifies as queer. I grew up in a small unincorporated area of LA called Lennox. Coming from a place like Lennox, I have truly understood and valued the concept and realization of community. Ever since I accepted myself as Queer, I knew I wanted to make a positive impact on my community, and it took me a while to catch onto the idea of searching for more people like myself and a community that understands what it's like to be different--understands what it's like to be queer, or anything other than heterosexual. Sooner or later, I found an opportunity at Rainbow Labs that allowed me to meet people like myself, talk to people like myself, and openly express myself without having to worry if I'll be ostracized or far worse. From that point on, I have been passionate about putting myself into LGBTQ+ efforts. I was beyond inspired and motivated to not only be my authentic self publicly but to also promote my pure authentic self, modeling courage and strength for all--no matter what one identifies as, accepting and valuing all souls in our society. On top of that, I have been overjoyed to lead fantastic queer youth at Rainbow Labs. With my leadership in my school's revived GSA “Stonewall Alliance," I am emboldened to expand the importance of this community's value and significance.
For so long I feared the erasure of my Mexican heritage. For so long I was under the impression that being Mexican wasn't something to be proud of. I have started identifying as Chicano to embody the pride that I have to be Mexican American. To further honor and spread Mexican culture I dance a traditional dance called ballet Folklorico. One of my favorite outfits I have worn is this beautiful traditional Mexican dress from Jalisco. The times I have worn it deeply symbolize resistance, joy, and my identity. The arts have always called my attention: I danced hip hop in elementary school, joined the rock band club in middle school, succeeded in my visual arts class during my freshman year of high school, and now I have started dancing ballet Folklorico. Before the first practice of ballet Folklorico, I walked into my Spanish teacher's classroom (she's one of the Folklorico instructors) and I asked her with confidence and a little hint of fear: “Ms, may I dance with a dress?” She immediately and enthusiastically said, “Yes, of course!” Every practice and every performance from that point on I have danced with a skirt. My mom eventually saw this and wasn't too happy. Her disapproval made me confused with many emotions because part of me was sad that I didn't have her support. Every time I was practicing in the backyard I made sure my hands were behind my back and not miming what it would be like if I had a skirt on. She would look at me through the window with the thought that I had stopped dancing with a skirt; that I had also accepted her word “Solo las Mujeres pueden bailar en faldas.” My confidence to be who I truly wanted to be was damaged. On the other hand, part of me was also understanding. Her culture and how she grew up was strict on gender roles and what a man should wear and what a woman should wear. Eventually, I came to the decision that I would continue dancing with a skirt because it made me happy and such a decision made me realize that even in the hardest times you just have to keep on dancing. I love to express myself more with a skirt rather than having my hands behind my back while dancing (which is usually what the guys do in Folklorico). I believe that by also dancing with a skirt I break that threshold that deems certain pieces of clothing to a gender. I do this not only for myself but for others that strongly believe that clothing has no gender—wear whatever the heck you want! Blending my queer identity and my Chicano identity through ballet Folklorico has been tough, but it has also become a source of great pleasure and a means to express who I truly am.
Companies should be more inclusive to those who don’t identify as solely male or female. There is a whole world out there of people who find comfort and discomfort in clothing. Clothing is a powerful tool for expression and when people aren't able to express themselves in the clothes they want, it really does suck.
Ever since reading James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” I have admired every word of James Baldwin. His unique style of writing and storytelling is more than just beautiful; it's an experience that you unexpectedly step into a realm of empathy and you find deeper meaning in his text. A great queer author and an even better human being.
Our Conversation With Dani
I go by Dani Marin, pronouns (they/them/theirs.) Being 17 years young and having a yearning fire for self-love and affirming expression has brought me here today. Born and raised in Los Angeles California has allowed me to expand my horizons in ways that are limited in other parts of the world which is something I am so grateful for. Although the queer culture in my community is widely accepted, I believe there lacks a presence of representation in queer community leaders, monuments, and recreational areas. I’m very passionate about the environment- one of the ways I get to tone down at the end of the day is by hanging out in my garden and tending to my plants’ needs. I began gardening about two years ago and I now like to consider myself a cultivator of a wide variety of succulents and vegetables. Working through a transition is tuff and having something to help you wind down can be very reassuring. Plants and nature are my landing pad to fall on whenever I am feeling blue.
What is one of your favorite outfits/looks and why?
I personally feel most confident when most of my body is covered. I feel the need to say that it is completely okay to not show some skin. For me, especially, it’s affirming to be able to hide the parts of my body that make me feel uncomfortable, and for anyone out there who too feels the same way: yes it feels amazing to be able to showcase the things in our being that go against society’s norms but confidence comes with time. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I began to get comfortable with my very own mustache. After coming out as transgender I felt the need to look as feminine as possible. Every day, I would shave my mustache with fear that if anyone were to see me, my identity would get diminished. Sure, there’s some truth to that statement but as I mentioned before, confidence comes with time. I soon began to tell myself that it’s okay for someone who doesn’t identify as male to have a mustache… now look at me, rocking a mustache. When one gets to the point of their life of accepting who they are, it is then when they are able to conquer the world- and let’s be honest who doesn’t enjoy messing with people’s perceptions of what is and what isn’t supposed to be. With all that being said, my favorite outfits have to be my overalls! They make me feel so naturesque and wide-leg bottoms are in for me right now.
Why is being able to wear what you want and what feels good to you important?
Being able to wear what I want is extremely important to me because clothing is the one thing, currently, that helps me align with my true self. Everyone has their own unique gender-affirming characteristic, whether that’s managing your voice, having a certain hairstyle, or in my case clothes, these things are what can sometimes settle the way a person goes about living their lives. Removing these variables out of the picture can compare to removing the hands of a chef. We… I need clothing to help me live confidently. Because clothing can be manipulated to make your figure look its best, I am able to bring my own creativity into this art and make outfits that have my name and style stamped onto them. Not only is clothing my creative gateway but it helps me explore outside of my comfort zone as well. I personally get most of my inspiration from watching drag queens and although my outfits may not look it, I plan on exploring the world of drag with fashion sometime soon.
If you could offer advice to the fashion industry about ways to be more gender-inclusive and queer-inclusive, what would you say?
As someone who wears compression underwear (gaffs) on a daily basis, it can be very tedious and frustrating having to manipulate my body to fit into a certain garment. Most of my body dysphoria comes from seeing my body not look apar to what “women's” fashion was made for. To put it plain and simple, it would be so helpful to be able to wear garments that were made with the idea that anyone and everyone could wear them.
Who is an advocate, activist, or artist you admire and why?
As I had mentioned previously, there lacks queer visibility in my community. Not too long ago, I was asked this same question and the first thing I did was scramble onto google to search for queer historic figures. It truly sucks not knowing the history of the very people I identify with, yes one could argue that it truly does take a 5-second google search to find out about the most prominent queer moments in history but really, it shocks me to live the reality of not being taught this at school. All that aside one artist I currently admire is Utica Queen who was on season 13 of RuPaul's Drag Race. There’s something that Rupual likes to say and that's, “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, the wheel is just fine.” Utica is a perfect example of something completely obliterating the wheel and looking stunning as they do it. Utica’s fashion sense and creativity is something that I very much so aspire to have in the near future, following my own journey into the design industry.
What do you see yourself doing 10+ years from now?
10 years from now I see myself being more self-loving. I along with many other people are currently battling that voice inside us all that tells us we are not good enough. To add to that, I’m barely just dipping my toes into the “adult world.” I still have so much more to learn and again, I repeat, confidence comes with time. Apart from spiritual growth, I hope to also be some kind of designer. My creativity feels trapped inside the school I currently attend, it is only a matter of time before I find my place in this world and show the world what I am capable of.