SELF PORTRAIT SERIES / They
How was it for you growing up in rural Missouri?
I have a lot of complicated feelings about growing up in rural Missouri. I was born in upstate NY, and my family moved to Missouri when I was 9. The Ozarks are beautiful, and in a lot of ways I'm grateful that I grew up in a rural area. However, we lived about 15 miles outside of the town I went to school in, which still only had about 4,500 people in it, so I was pretty isolated. I read and wrote a lot and spent time outside, doing farm chores and wandering around the woods. To make a long story short, my parents are kind of nuts and we have a pretty not great relationship. We also had a lot of exotic animals, so I had a unique/weird time growing up. Being queer, POC, and not a Christian (I was raised Jewish) out there was also challenging. I’m still close to people I grew up with, though, and someone I met in 4th grade is still one of my best friends.
Tell us about your name and ethnicity.
My dad grew up in Tel Aviv, but his entire family was from Uzbekistan, which is something I didn’t learn until pretty recently. That omission of family history probably has a lot to do with my dad’s Zionism (which I do not share). My mom is Greek, German, and Scottish. As far as my name goes, I was named after my grandmother on my dad’s side, and I never found another name that I preferred, so I’ve stuck with it. I've had a few awkward moments of people saying something like, "Oh, my grandma was named Jaffa!"
When did you first set out on the gender odyssey?
I began to identify as genderqueer or whatever quite a while back—in my early 20s. I’m 36 now. Just shy of three years ago, I started taking testosterone. I still identify as genderqueer, but also as trans, and I use male or neutral (they/them) pronouns. I had top surgery about a year ago.
How did you spend your time in Brooklyn?
I worked a lot—admin jobs and doing a variety of freelance work, with a fair amount of videography and a/v stuff. I also walked dogs for a while. For fun, I biked around quite a bit, went to shows and museums, spent time at bars, took advantage of all the food options, went to queer events, and made sure I went to Jacob Riis Beach as much as I could in the summer. I mostly lived in Bushwick, or just to the Queens side, in Ridgewood.
Have you found your tribe in Minneapolis?
Yes and no. I have some really strong relationships here, but some of the people I’m closest to live elsewhere. I’ve been here about 2 years, and finding community has been a bit slow-going. I just finished up going to an intensive software engineering program, where I spent a lot of time with people I didn’t initially seem to have a lot in common with but got along amazingly well with. That was really refreshing.
Do you feel connected to a bear community?
I think my best response to that would be that bear aesthetics are really appealing to me—bears can be masculine, but with a softness, if that makes sense? The body positivity really speaks to me, as well. I’m definitely a bear admirer! I’m bearish or maybe cubish. I'm short and look younger than I am, so maybe that's up for debate.
How much of your self-portrait work is an exercise in body pride?
So much! Making art has always been really therapeutic for me, and self-portraits have helped me really live in my body, as well as track its changes. I take pictures of other people as well and enjoy helping people of different sizes, body types, and genders feel sexy/hot/etc.