Studio Simile

In Early March 2020, Asanni and I met at a co-working space I was occupying in Brooklyn before the outbreak of COVID-19. This feature was initially intended as a contribution for a newly formed publication that has since taken a brief hiatus due to the pandemic.  However, with my portion of the interview already conducted in addition to some concepts for the photoshoot I couldn't let this story runaway from me so I decided to proceed in self-publishing. 

I moved back to New York City in Summer 2018 where I would meet Asanni for the first time through our various lines of mutual friendships and spaces we often we'd often see one another. I was immediately drawn to Asanni’s philanthropic work with the launch of For the Gworls (aka "FTG") .  For the Gworls is an organization that hosts “rent parties'' for the greater good and not just for those who have just fallen short on a few rent payments. FTG modernizes the "rent party" by focusing its efforts in helping kickstart the foundation of those who have been displaced due to their gender identity by providing housing assistance.  Right now, due to government regulations and public health concerns FTG is optimizing its current model in response to the times by continuing to raise money through electronic donations that prioritize Black trans folks. They've expanded their mission work to include paying for travel assistance to medical facilities and small co-pays. 

The initial idea I had for this feature placed Asanni at the center of a conversation around “Capitalism for Good” (what an oxymoron, right?) – so I reframed it to be “Sustainable Capitalism" (still didn't love this one either)  

But in my own words, "sustainable capitalism" is quite plainly the function one can evoke by utilizing their own cash on-hand in efforts to fuel a greater idea or individual for a common good. Yes, this is crowdfunding but I think it looks different when the capital is social influence before monetary.

Asanni’s capital is held within the LGBTQ space. When you pair this with their ability to identify a problem and fix a problem you now how collective power to change. The folks on Wall Street don’t think that way, nowadays its about using data to gamify consumers in the market into spending money on products that are overvalued and that’s the capitalism no one likes. 

Asanni’s work embodies more than just a conversation around money and besides capitalism just isn’t a sexy word and I wanted to make something beautiful with their depiction. Long-time cynics of capitalism have argued of its need to be reformed or completely dismantled.  The COVID-19 outbreak has forcibly removed the veil on some of our nation's core economic issues. I initially wanted to frame Asanni as this “Wall Street-esque" like character that was flowing in money earned by philanthropic efforts and not by shady backdoor deals. It was important for me as a creative to highlight Asanni's use of influence and community to propel the dreams of someone else’s wildest imagination. 

That’s when I ditched the idea, I threw out the counterfeit money props and headed for the space station. I saw Asanni’s, For the Gworls concept go far beyond the tradition of how capitalism only rewards those who “work hard” their work stretches its hands directly into the community it wishes to serve. 

We are now entering the galactic with Asanni Aramon….

Lyrics originally performed by Robyn 'Rihanna' Fenty, Roc Nation, 2016 

Music inspires most of what comes to me creatively no matter the task. I’m a sucker for a beautiful ballad or crazy wordplay as one song line delivered perfectly can often inspire a plethora of visual concepts for me. This time it's “Consideration” by Rihanna. 

As I ditched the “sustainable capitalism” concept, this song lyric allowed me to see something far beyond my own orbit. 

While we weren't able to acquire the pale white horse for Asanni this certainly didn't stop them from handing out their own highs to less fortunate. White horses are traditionally viewed as symbolic in mythology, representing heroism, divine prophecy and good fortune.  My adaptation of this imagery lends to a more modern take as I view Asanni’s heroism through a lens that reaches into the galaxies. 

I was luckily enough to attend one of the monthly rent parties hosted by FTG prior to COVID-19 and I was welcomed to a room full of energy, opulent color 

schemes and beaming beautiful faces in celebration of their own existence and freedom — all while raising money for those in need.  I couldn’t help but to notice the love radiating from partygoers as many gazed in awe at Asanni's presence as they would waltz from one end of the party floor to the other handing out everything from hugs to Vodka & soda. I left the party wanting to understand more about the person behind these grand evenings to mornings. I wanted to know what drove him from Atlanta, Ga. to Brooklyn, NY to do what I consider the work of a fairy godmother?

Born and raised in Atlanta, GA – Asanni reflects on what was considered to be a “very difficult” time growing up in the American South.  From own experience in growing up southern in North Carolina, I know that young black men are often groomed to be a certain way and that certain way often conflicts with personal identity and your ability to be yourself, which makes true self-discovery feel almost impossible for some black men.


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“I feel like many families in the South, even if they're not explicitly super religious, that are still in the fact super religious because it's in the f***ing Bible belt. And so it's not like I even went to church very often, my mother and my father definitely didn’t read the f***ing  Bible. But there were just kind of certain protocols that you just didn't transgress.” 

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Identity 

Through my own conversations with other black men we all can recount  experiences in our childhood where we are presented ideas of masculinity that have been trickled down from generations of patriarchy.  I am certainly at fault for viewing masculinity through a very similar lens that I too had to unlearn through my own self-discovery and life navigation. 

“...My granddad would be the one that would be trying to correct me. "Oh, why are you sitting like that? Why are you talking like that? Why are you using your hands to talk?" Stuff like that. "Men don't fold their arms when they speak." F**k that. So it would normally be the men. Recently, it's been more than the women in my family, but yeah it was always different people in my life trying to like correct me in different ways about how, and really mainly about how I presented and just because people link gender queerness just to sexual identity queerness. 

Experience 

Asanni is not a stranger to conversations surrounding identity. A graduate of Princeton's public policy program and minors in Gender Sexuality & African American studies Asanni is well-versed in his understanding as it comes from both an informed space of both personal experience and formal studies.

It's the most conservative Ivy League...so pre coming out, it was terrible because three weeks into the school, because not that I knew nothing about white supremacy, but I was grossly uneducated about white supremacy and the way it worked. And three weeks into the school year, I really had no choice but to confront the way I was complicit of white supremacy, the way that people around me that were my friends were complicit in it. And just having to reconcile with the wild shit that white people would say about black people. And I was still dealing with my own gender identity, my own sexuality. Right? But then that summer leading into sophomore year is when Michael Brown was killed ….so that kind of politicized me to the point where I was like, okay, I will argue back and forth with people on campus about the shit they would say about black people. At that point, it was like, I'm no longer like, I have to stand up and do something about this. 

Standing Firm

I’ve always believed that one could ever assume the amount of awareness of another person has at any given time. While information is free, we can never assume someone knows what we know.  We live in an “always-on” environment where there is always a constant exchange of ideas and trends. However there is a noticeable knowledge gap in how society engages with transpersons. I wanted to speak with Asanni to not only tell their story but to pull the curtain back on a conversation that many of us have often avoided likely due to our ignorance of gender and sexuality. 


I don't identify as a cisgender man. I just identify as a gender queer person, a gender nonconforming person. I don't fit easily into any body area. And I don't aspire to be. I don't want to aspire to be a woman. I don't aspire to be a man. I don’t aspire to be assigned, And that's just is what it is. So in that way, I guess people would classify that as a transition. I just looked up and I was like, this is no longer serving me. I don't feel comfortable in these clothes.

Final Word

The power to walk away from things that are no longer serving us requires a level of confidence most people only dream of harboring for themselves. Asanni has levitated out of the traditional orbit where things look, act, and behave a certain way not by nature but norms passed down through patriarchy lineages. By utilizing their intellect, influence and charn this has aided their ability to reach other people just like Asanni who wish to leave the orbit and in to the galactic where one is free to exist beyond any idea one has created for them.

Click Here to See Full Resolution Gallery

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Credits

CREATIVE DIRECTION

Rashaad Denzel, Photo & Copywriting 

WARDROBE

Kate Walz, Querencia Studio & The Canvas by Q

ART DIRECTION

Ryan Staley, Prop Styling

GROOMING

Kamate, Make-Up 

More on For the Gworls

A collective bringing back "rent parties" for black transpersons. Click here to learn more and donate. 

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