Indya Moore: "Representation of marginalised people shouldn’t only begin and centre around the most privileged looking of us"
The actress, model and activism discusses the political upheavals of 2020 with i-D.
This story originally appeared in Up + Rising, a celebration of extraordinary Black voices, and is the first chapter of i-D's 40th anniversary issue (1980-2020).
i-D chronicled over 100 activists and artists, musicians and writers, photographers and creatives, in Atlanta, Baltimore, Minneapolis, LA, London, New York, Paris and Toronto.
Transgender women of colour have always been and still are essential leaders in LGBTQI+ activism. Yet they have rarely been centred in a movement they helped create and nurture. In fact the short hand for the LGBTQI+ cause “the gay rights movement” totally erases them.
Transgender people of colour have suffered more and have gained less from the advancements in the struggle against anti-racism. However, this time something feels different.
The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubery, the killings of two black trans women, Dominique Fells and Riah Milton and the black trans man, Tony McDade have catalysed the biggest uprising for racial justice in American history. This, coupled with the global pause of the pandemic, has created a unique platform for solidarity, for radical empathy, for people to look at politics beyond their own spheres.
Indya Moore has always and actively platformed the intersections of trans and black liberation. Speaking and showing up in 2018 for the historic signing of New York’s Transgender anti-discrimation bill; creating a Instagram catalogue of activism causes; intimate deconstructions of repressive linguistics. Indya Moore is accessible, articulate, eloquent.
A Bronx native of Puerto Rican and Dominican ancestry, at 14 Indya left a transphobic homelife and entered foster care and later joined the legendary voguing House of Xtravaganza and pursued acting, notably starring as the transgender sex worker, Angel Evangelista, in the baroque TV masterpiece Pose. Featuring the largest ever cast of trans-actors, this Golden Globe winning drama is a dazzling, nuanced exploration of the voguing scene of 1980s New York. The show is revelatory in its infusion of narratives familiar to its cast, whilst also reconnecting Indya to their own estranged family.
At home in South London I video called Indya in their New York abode. I was captivated by their sharp and profound contemplations on colourism, transphobia, climate change. Indya speaks with a poetic flair that dovetails with a relentless drive for social justice.
Our conversation reminded me of the cultural theorist bell hooks, who conceptualised language as being like desire: disruptive and refusing to be contained within boundaries. Eloquence is a fluency of expression and it is how Indya actively utilises and contours language into erasing the margins; opening up spaces for the multiplicity of experiences.
Could you define what ‘checking your goya’ is?
Checking your goya is a phrase that I came up with to talk about culturism, colourism and anti-blackness. It’s the elephant in the room of my Latinx culture. The Goya brand is a Latinx food staple, but its CEO recently endorsed our blatantly white supremist president. This endorsement reflects how whiteness is romanticised in Latinx culture as an aspiration for success, power, survival and love. There is so much tension in the Latinx population because colonialism has erased people from their indigeneity. People don’t really know where they’ve come from but they know that they want to aspire to greatness and that is what white supremacy has instilled in us. This idea that whiteness is that and that is not true. Period.
Why do you think there is not as much exposure given to trans-men as trans-women?
Femininity, for sexist reasons, is uniquely consumed in America. Anything cis-hetero men enjoy becomes a cultural commodity because that is how patriarchy operates. I want, and I need, to see more trans-men centred and represented. Cis-people’s perception of trans people coupled with the commoditisation of femininity is what I think has created this hyper-visibilse, hyper-attacked and hyper everything to do with trans-women and trans-femmes. I think there's links: the fear of peculiarity and also the hyper-fetishisation of femininity is what leaves out the magnificence and preciousness of trans-masculine and masculine trans-people.
How can sex work be destigmatised?
Human beings actively enjoy sex. It is an important part of our lives, our mental health, self-esteem and recreational life. The criminalisation of sex work doesn’t help anyone, it hurts those who rely on sex work to survive and it hurts trans-women who rely on the side walk to get across from A to B. Period. We have a sexy ass culture, we love sex and that’s ok. We can move in really beautiful ways by acknowledging that, by creating safe ways to practice and explore that, within our own autonomy and survival. So if it is consensual and people are of age, why are we creating guidelines around how people get to interact with their bodies and their money?
What does community mean to you?
I think it's a group of people of any size where you have commonality. It makes me think of common-unity. Now my definition of community has expanded in principle, towards a mutually supportive foundation of people who hold one another accountable to our best selves; the best interest of mutual safety, growth and love. When marginalised community members fall off the track they should not be disposed of, or defined for the rest of their lives by the worst mistakes that they have made. I believe it is my responsibility to the relationship I have with people to lean in and work to get them on the right track.
How can more black and brown people be actively engaged in climate activism?
Well racism is that insidious that even when we imagine climate activism we don’t even see ourselves, right? Of course it might seem that white folks are at the forefront because they are the most celebrated, but black and indigenous folks have been climate activists since the beginning of time. The ways white people have benefited from colonialism, which terrorises indigenous people, exploits human bodies and land is indicative of the concentrated responsibility of reversing our climate crisis alongside Black people and people of colour.
When was the last time you experienced overwhelming joy?
I feel like there is an obstacle in front of me that I never quite pass in life and it seems to change form every time I get over it. But that shadowy, transforming obstacle, coupled with the pandemic and the uprising left me dangerously empty for a moment. I was subconsciously choosing sadness and despair more often than I thought I was. I created a home in my past and my roommates were all my unhealed traumas. I felt like I had to re-live in the times that I had barely survived in order to be in solidarity with all those people who are continuing to suffer. But I’ve realised that this couldn’t be more toxic. So I’ve started to choose joy in all the moments I felt like I wasn’t allowed too. Now I feel fuller and more open to others. My core is compassion and to be accountable to my community, but I’ve realised I can still do that and not choose to be miserable.
What is the significance of Voguing to the queer community?
Voguing is a language, a hobby, a job, a lifestyle, a culture, a sport, an art, a dance, a safe space, it is a beautiful-twirling-geometric intersection of Afro-American and Latin-American culture. Voguing is an African diaspora love letter to art, to our ancestors, to ourselves, to our queerness, to our transness and to our dreams.
Do you remember the first time you encountered Voguing?
I was around 14 and coming into my queerness and I went to this place called Bronx Community Pride Center**.** It’s also where I met my councillors, Dominique Jackson, who plays Electra on Pose and Tiq Milan, a black trans-man. I remember just hearing this loud boom of the music. I felt scared because it was so loud and I felt nervous to be around other queer people. Everyone was so powerful and there was so much energy and I was just so scared. I remember seeing them dance. I remember seeing them spinning and dipping. I remember thinking what is this?' Then I was like ah, yes!
How have you processed your success?
I’ve been really thinking about what I am willing to sacrifice for the liberation of my people, but I also feel the urge to self-sacrifice is too often the expectation put onto marginalised people. There are ways that I can shift our social and political landscape through the stories I tell on screen and off. However, I’m still thin, I’m cis-passing, I am light skinned and my hair texture is at the preference level of what a lot of people prefer to see when it comes to black hair. Representation of marginalised people shouldn’t only begin and centre around the most privileged looking of us, because then we are only re-perpetuating white supremacist values.
If you could create a storyline what would it look like?
I definitely want to use Sci-fi, it really stimulates the imagination and challenges people to think more deeply. I want to create stories that create more room for nuance because, ultimately, nothing is binary and everything is complicated.
Photography Tyler Mitchell
Fashion director Carlos Nazario
Hair Jawara at Art Partner using Oribe.
Make-up Raisa Flowers using Pat McGrath Labs.
Set Design Julia Wagner.
Nail technician Dawn Sterling.
Photography assistance Zack Forsyth, Daniel Johnson and Katie Tucket.
Styling assistance Raymond Gee, Claire Tang, Christine Nicholson and José Cordero.
Hair assistance Matt Benns and Latisha Chong.
Set design assistance Marcs Goldberg, Dylan Bailey and Hayley Stephon.
Casting director Samuel Ellis Scheinman for DMCASTING.
Casting assistance Alexandra Antonova.