and then god created tommy
Tommy Genesis talks identity and sexuality in a remarkably frank and beautifully written essay and shares a brand new work, "A Free Freestyle for Anyone to Perform," exclusively for i-D.
This article originally appeared in The Sounding Off Issue, no. 350, Winter 2017.
When I was born my mom named me Genesis. My dad didn't want to because he thought I'd get made fun of, but it turns out, at times, it was the only thing that reminded me things would look up. I held onto my name like a promise from God. Whenever I felt small and inconsequential I'd remind myself "You're Genesis. You have something to accomplish in this life otherwise your luck would have run out by now"
My parents met at church. My dad saw my mom playing piano for the first time and that was it for him. My dad emigrated from India when he was young. My grandpa was a scientist and my grandma was a nurse. They were living in a rural town at the southern tip of India when they saw a newspaper ad seeking a scientist and a nurse. They moved to Canada without any promises, just the clothes on their backs. Their decision to leave their family and traditions changed the course of our lives.
When I was little I spent a lot of time in cars. We were always on the move. My dad's job always changed cities. The car became my safe place. It was my home. Sometimes we'd be in the city a few weeks; sometimes it would be days. But my mom always kept us busy by making things or playing outside, she never let us feel displaced. My mom and dad were a mixed race couple in the suburbs. Growing up I didn't understand why certain things happened. Why people treated my dad a certain way. Why people treated me a certain way. Why my older sister, with light skin and light eyes, wasn't bullied. I remember praying every night for my eyes to change color. But I also remember the first time I felt proud of who I was. It was one summer at camp; I was eight years old and none of the girls would play with me. When I asked why they wouldn't talk to me, they said it was because they weren't allowed to talk to people who looked like me. I didn't understand. So I said, "What's wrong with me?" They said, "Your skin is too dark." I felt so strange. So I called my dad. He came down to the campsite and told every girl that with all of their freckles put together they were darker than me. He told them about my heritage. About where I come from, and asked how they would feel if nobody would play with them because of how light their skin was? By the end of it they were all crying. I wish it were always that easy.
I have a lot of strange memories. I come from a world of abuse, anger, and pain. Back in India my ancestors were divided. We used to be Hindu priests, but those who converted to Christianity were exiled. It was the Apostle, Thomas, who converted most south Indians to Christianity. I'm not the typical offspring. I'm sort of what you'd call the most controversial possibility: a mixed-race bisexual rapper with a Fine Arts degree.
Music was never something I thought about and it still isn't. I started out in film, which is why to this day I still direct and edit all my own videos. I'm a very private person. Being proud and shy at the same time is the most unpleasant internal feeling. I don't like to talk about my art and I don't like to talk about myself. Interviews are hard for me, I never feel comfortable. I trust no one with the real me. I make music so I don't have to talk. I believe in phenomenology. With art, you want to make it be something not be about something. It's the same way I feel about music and interviews. If I have to sit here and explain to you why something is good, then that "something" has failed itself. If it can't operate on its own in the world without the artist, then is it art? I started rapping because I genuinely didn't think I could sing, but recently I've started singing because I genuinely don't feel like rapping.
I have a little sister who's 14. She's my favorite person in the entire world. I've never met someone as compassionate, forgiving and intelligent since my mom. In 14 years I've never seen this little person angry. Not once. She approaches every situation with a mentality beyond her age; I just had to preface that because up until this year she wasn't allowed to listen to my music. My dad is my biggest supporter, but he said 'If you want your little sister to listen to your music then make a song she can listen to.' Implying it can't be about pussy and ass. I was at my parents' home in Canada and I walked upstairs, stuffed socks under my door, asked my dad to turn down his music, set up my bedroom studio and plugged into Logic. The song I made that day is called "I'm Yours." That was the beginning of my album.
Last week in New York a girl at a bar came up to me and said she could see angels. I believe in angels. I don't always feel like I deserve the platform I've been given but with my next album, Genesis, I hope to. They asked me to talk about my sexuality, but lately sex hasn't been the drive behind my music. The older I become the more I open my heart to a different kind of energy. The world is like a 19-year-old boy who confuses wants with needs. I used to do that, but now I realize there's nothing anyone can give me that I don't already have. Without my spirit all I am is guts, bones and blood.
A Free Freestyle for Anyone to Perform by Tommy Genesis
so small and so new my spine straightens
I see the ruler it makes sense
the window is foggy the history soggy
my pain is so boring the trees are so golden
we look to the sky and it drops on our eyes –
see the fire at night the emblem it lights up the rights up
we make all our signs but have nothing to say
we make all our beds but have nowhere to lay
I am poison I manifest moments of pain
I am toxic I talk like it matters to men
I am donkey not horse I don't run the race
they will ride me but they mean won't use me to chase shot of the henny I don't eat leaves and drink water like chimpanzee
in the dark we will fight for our heart when our heart eats a heart
let me eat you not in a sexual way- let me eat you with what I need to fill this pain
big emblem across your forehead reads all thoughts are foreign
stay inside your car don't lock the doors don't chip the paint
don't drive too fast – don't invite me to places that make memories that last
look inside your tolerance can you see that it's bent – can you see that I'm twisted
my eyes and my hair you stare like stairs it's twisted in there
tongue swirls and it works I can swallow the hurt but I won't let you look at me pebbles to dirt
I am twisted I walk on my hands and my wrists I am circus, a lion I talk like a kid
but the kid sees a lion, a lion within and I will not untwist and I will not unhinge
want to open the door then just knock from within
want to open the door then just knock from within
dark waters dark part dark skin is God's art
dark heavens dark patterns the cyclical lantern
when stars die and regenerate like star-fish with their arms in the way that we see all this bodily harm
we don't eat we are girls and we like to be skinny
we like to be light so you throw us and use us and make us your wife
we like to feel hungry
we like to feel lonely
we like to be on our knees crawling for home
we want to be wanted but will not leave if you don't want us
we like to be trusted but will not go if you don't trust us
we like to be loved but will not be defeated if you just don't love us
our fetus will crust us and make us your side chick –
from now till forever the sunrise will catch us alone with the weather
cause we're pretty
with legs and the wings
we like to feel pretty
but will settle for sin
one day you'll invite me said the voice in my sky
one day you will love me said the voice in my high
my vision is changing my limits are shaking my chin is fresh shaven my mind is wet pavement
I cannot get in but I won't sit it out
so i just walk in a circle and open my mouth
the best is the issue cause once it is good all you want is the good
while the worst is the part that converts half the heart
Photography Mario Sorrenti
Fashion Director Alastair McKimm
Hair Bob Recine at The Wall Group using Rodin. Make-up Francelle at Art + Commerce. Nail technician Alicia Torello at The Wall Group using Essie. Photography assistance Javier Villegas and Kotaro Kawashima. Lighting technician Lars Beaulieu. Styling assistance Desiree Adedje, Sydney Rose Thomas and Madeleine Jones. Hair assistance Kabuto Okuzawa. Make-up assistance Ryo Yamazaki. Production Katie Fash and Steve Sutton. Casting director Samuel Scheinman at DM Fashion Studio.