Tyler Oakley Headlines W Hotels’ ‘Queer Me Out’ Series in Montreal
The “Queer Me Out” speaker series celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the LGBTQ community, bringing together leaders of the queer community from the intersecting worlds of fashion, music, design, nightlife, philanthropy, media and politics. This was the series’ final installment.
In addition to the speaker series, each event showcased a photo exhibition commissioned by W from acclaimed photographer, Danielle Levitt, who is noted for her focus on American youth culture. The shoot took place in New York City and highlights eight LGBTQ individuals reflecting non-normativity within the queer community. Talent involved in the photo exhibit includes transgender model Avie Acosta, Trans Model Agency founder Peche Di, and performer and artist Stephen Galloway.
This time as the W Montréal there was a discussion titled ‘Transcending Style’ moderated by activist and social media star Tyler Oakley. Joined by panelists the discussion focused on gender identity politics within the fashion industry and a conversation about the intersection of queer identities and fashion and expression and how the panelist utilize it to make a difference, especially in the queer communities.
The panelist consisted of Becca McCharen-Tran a lesbian identified cis woman who is the founder of an “architectural” body wear line called Chromat. Chromat is a swim and athletic designed for “strong, powerful women,” and began in 2010 drawing from McCharen-Tran’s background in architecture and was nominated for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2015 and 2017.
Miguel Enamorado is the Fashion Director of Interview magazine, a pop culture and fashion magazine in New York started by Andy Warhol in 1969. Enamorado who identifies as a gay, Latino cis male with Honduran heritage, has been responsible for helping shape and create the voice of the magazine’s fashion content as well as styling features and cover such as the August Kendrick Lamar issue.
Rad Hourani, designer, photographer, and artist is a Middle Eastern Cis male fashion frontier’s man in advocating and creating non-conformity unisex clothing, most noted as the first designer to present a Unisex Haute Couture Collection in 2013. Hourani’s multimedia art has been presented in many galleries internationally and noted as “a celebration of neutrality as defining human trait” and “sees modernity as an odyssey free of limit, gender, age, religion, boundaries, and conditioning.”
And finally, Avie Acosta who is a gender non-conforming writer, DJ and model who is signed to one of the world’s leading modeling agencies Wilhelmina, and has walked for luxury brands like Marc Jacobs and Philipp Plein during Fashion Week. She has also graced the pages of magazines like Vogue and V, and has lectured at NYU on her experiences.
Two days prior to Queer Me Out: Montréal, I was asked by Contrast’s Editor-in-Chief, Michael D. Monroe, to cover this event. Not knowing much on what this series entailed, I started to do some quick research through Google and discovered that it is a series featuring LGBTQ persons from a vast array of industries. I started looking up prior speakers such as Cakes Da Killa, Peche and Yuki James. So, I did what I knew best: stalked their social media accounts, listening to their songs and interviews, liking their images, reading their bios on Wikipedia- some solid research! What I did know about the even that it was going to be moderated by Tyler Oakley, so I started watching his videos while I packed the night before, just to make sure if the opportunity arose I’d have a brilliant and engaging questions.
I’ve stayed at the W Fort Lauderdale and The W Montréal was just as beautiful- imagine sheik, luxury, sass and sophistication, oh yeah and leather rats… I’ll allow you to look those up on your own time.
The event was held in Être Avec Toi (Ê.A.T), which is a revolutionary new dining concept that also stands as an exciting art gallery, which features murals, paintings and installations, by a variety of artists, many from Montréal’s cultural scene.
Before I go further, perhaps I should tell you a tad bit about myself. I am a New Yorker to the core, studied at FIT and Hunter College in media and advertising, spent fifteen years in the prestige beauty and fashion industry developing luxury fine fragrances with European Perfumers to going frantic back stage during NYC Fashion Week. One day, life happened and slammed the brakes on that path and from then my life took a total different course. While recuperating from shoulder surgery I started to volunteer at NYC’s oldest public hospital, Bellevue, and fell in love with the social service field. I furthered my education, achieved licensing in Mental Health services and worked with the most marginalized demographics. It was working as a substance abuse counselor at an opiate addiction clinic where I met a young gay male who would have a major impact on my life. He was from a small town in Florida and had an extremely difficult life filled of sexual assault, dysfunctional family neglect, heavy substance abuse and survival sex.
It was after he took his life during NYC Gay Pride 2014 that I felt that I at that time was not doing enough to impact the LGBTQ youth community, my very own community! After his suicide I was left to think about what type of services and messages were lacking in the LGBTQ youth social services industry. With those deficiencies in mind, I created my own, “Out My Closet” (www.outmycloset.org), one that culminates my experiences in fashion, beauty, media and social services and services displaced and under-resourced LGBTQ youth in NYC and South Florida. With this being said, it was these things which lead E.I.C of Contrast to cover “Queer Me Out,” he knew that I would jump on the opportunity on LGBTQ advocacy!
As your eye and ears on coverage of Queer Me Out, I am going to extract what I feel are the gems of each presenters POV and the ideas which resonated within me.
Miguel Enamorado (Fashion Director of Interview Magazine), spoke on being a child of immigrants from Honduras, a gay Latino male working in the fashion industry. “As an immigrant and son of an immigrant who moved to New York, gay man who works in fashion, it is important much more than ever to be heard and to speak.” I internalized his statement and found it to be very relatable, being a person of color and seldom to never seeing representatives of your race on high-fashion beauty is disheartening and it does chip away at one’s self of worth and esteem. These statements reminded me much of the magazine ads that lightened skin tones and changed eye colors, wore blonde wings to Europeanized models to sell products. Miguel’s weight in representation in the panel stood on his ethnicity, not so much of his sexual orientation, as gay men in fashion are idealized as the principle leaders of this industry.
Becca McCharen-Tran (Athletic Wear Designer) landed some very strong stances. Tyler Oakley posed a question on “how is fashion political and important to you?” McCharen-Tran responded that she “attended UVA (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), where the White Supremacist riots were and that this uprising was not a new thing, these people were there ten years ago. I am constantly thinking how I can use my privilege as a white woman in fashion to uplift or give a platform to people who are facing discrimination on any accounts.” I admire McCharen-Tran a lot as she addressed issues on sizism and also the “male gaze” (the way in which the visual arts and literature depict the world and women from a masculine and heterosexual point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure.) Her MO for company is you are a “#CHROMATBABE- WALK FAST, POWERFUL, STRONG-WOMEN ARE TAKING OVER THE WORLD.” Becca embraces diversity in the shapes, sizes and color of the women she uses in her company’s advertising and is very vocal on how race and power imbalances are embedded into the fabric of the fashion industry. As I listened to Becca I was totally drawn into her “WOKENESS”, and I just listened as she shared her insight. Her advocacy is really not just for social media show but you can check out her Instagram (@beccamccharentran) and you will see that she’s very consistent with her beliefs. And also about the lesbian side of things- she’s happily married to Christine, a 1/3 of “DISCOWOMAN” a New York-based platform, collective, and booking agency—that showcases and represents talent in electronic music.
AVIE ACOSTA (Model, Writer and DJ)… well, “Who isn’t she?” has been a tag line used by Acosta for quite some time and it truly resonates. New to NYC and growing in her craft (s), Acosta identifies as gender non-conforming: she began a male to female transition, taking daily estrogen hormones, before deciding to go on hiatus and enjoy the current space she’s occupying. We are pretty use to male/female binaries but how comfortable are we with being perfectly fine in the middle. Before I encountered Avie I figured she would be the representation of the T in the LGBTQ panel. Then I realized by reading some background information that NOPE, that is not it… but I am going to address another “T” and it is a negative T which is the word TREND. When we place trends on people’s lives for marketability purposes it dehumanizes them and more so objectifies them, it makes them disposable, as to say that once their popularity diminishes they are obsolete. But, people’s identities are very sacred and type casting them to fill a quota is repulsive (ie. The black model, the Asian model, the Trans model). I remember the show STRUT, a reality series that follows the professional lives of a group of transgender models and currently I wondered about their success, where are they now? I am not seeing trans faces in main stream media campaigns and this is so much bigger than Caitlyn.
Rad Hourani- (Unisex Designer) I’m not quite sure where in the LGBTQ spectrum Hourani lies or if he even lies in it, but as much as making progressive changes is a LGBTQ battle, it equally needs the support of allies and innovators. Hourani is renowned for his unisex designs and largely monochromatic palate (www.radhourani.com). I had to tie the loose ends together on Hourani’s participation in the panel. I researched his designs and they are very straight and clean lines, colors are gender neutral (black, white, greys, blues) if you were wondering. I was curious to see how certain gendered articles of clothing would be translated into his collection, such as a skirt, so check out his website and see for yourself. This area of the panel had me think about terms such as “man bun” and “boyfriend jeans”, and actually further back to my College days of discussing sexuality in marketing, specifically men/women fashion roles. Oh wait it didn’t end there in text books but also was exemplified when my company was developing signature fragrance for big cosmetic brands- yup, you guessed it there are “masculine and feminine olfactory notes.” WOW- yes, we are very conditioned from day one on male/female roles and all that these embody. I’ve concluded that when neutrality is created in fashion it can allow the essence and beauty of whomever embodies it to shine.
Well then, why would a global hotel chain care to create a series such as “Queer Me Out”? Is it the $380 million dollars in commerce power that the LGBTQ community has? Is it because cocktails and socialization is something we can’t get enough of? But, the stance taken by W is that they have been “OUT AND PROUD of the support in the LGBTQ community since the brand first started about 20 years ago (1998), which is supporting the larger Marriott International #LoveTravels campaign.”
Personally, for me this was a nice experience and I am grateful for the corporate segment of the W’s sponsorship to cover the event via Contrast. For LGBTQ people the value of the W is not events as “Queer Me Out,” rather what is more profound and directly has an impact is that of how the employees of the chain treats every single LGBTQ identified guest. There is a popular saying that I’ve seen on social media which states, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” BTW, that’s Maya Angelou’s quote.
So, with that in mind I’ll raise two instances of how I was treated at the W. The first was the smaller of the two but yet still impactful. As I’ve mentioned before in regards to my non-profit organization, Out My Closet, it’s approaching the fourth year anniversary and any social service organization that isn’t greatly funded relies on lots of late nights to keeping the ship afloat. I currently have a 9 to 5 day job in social services and the night prior to my trip, I had to manage the media for a suicide campaign we were launching, and if you know about producing and editing media, it is extensive amount of hours! Long story short, I had a very limited time to pack and organize for the trip, so I managed to throw all my toiletries in an overnight tote bag. When I arrived at the hotel, I had a short amount of time to get ready so I did what I knew best, dump out my bag of beautification essentials on the counter and head to the event. That night after the event I knocked out immediately and caught up on much needed sleep. The next day I woke up rather late and having a few hours to explore Montréal, I left the hotel to do touristy stuff and upon coming back to the hotel all my toiletries was neatly arranged on the counter. WOW! I travel often, every month to be exact and never had I experience this quality of service, and I’m not talking about the Sage and Lemon Bliss products, I’m talking about my own stuff!
The second incident was this, on the day of “Queer Me Out,” I arrived half an hour early to get some candid photos. I was welcomed by a friendly cocktail waiter who asked about my role at the event. I introduced myself and informed him about the magazine. As I mentioned after the event I knocked out and awoke at 11 am the next day-very well rested. I headed down to the lobby of the W and saw that the room which the event had taken placed and transformed into a really amazing restaurant/gallery, Être Avec Toi (Ê.A.T). I chose to eat there and was welcomed by a familiar face, the friendly cocktail waiter who now was my server for lunch.
He remembered me from the night before and we engaged in casual conversation. That waiter, whose name is Mark and I engaged in great conversation. I returned the following day for breakfast and was greeted by Mark again. He recalled from the day before that I MUST HAVE COFFEE FIRST, and without asking for it, brought it to me. Mark was kind and engaging, I learned about Montréal’s underground streets, learned about his interest and goals and I shared with him the work I do with homeless LGBTQ kids. We spoke on something very deep regarding to business and what he mentioned was “integrity” and how this was a principle of his which he would translate into his own business goals.
As a therapist, I teach and promote the building of rapport and realize its importance in establishing and securing the therapeutic relationship with patients; this is termed as best clinical practices. Mark was vested in our conversation, his remembering my name and my likes are all very important things to me, because I may have different labels such as gay, immigrant, artist, consumer and advocate but, beyond all those things, there is one thing that holds true and fore most to myself, that is I am a human being.