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Tony Top

Q: Introduce yourself: Your name, preferred pronouns, how you identify in the LGBTQ+ community. Feel free to include or exclude whatever information you would like.


T: My name is Tony, I use she/her pronouns and I feel like I am still discovering my identity. I tend to call myself bisexual and by this I mean that I am attracted to both my own gender and other genders. All my life I have called myself a girl or a woman and have been called a girl or a woman by others. For the first time, I am questioning the ways that I conform to a cisgender binary identity. I think my gender identity has legs, I think it evolves, I think it reacts and I think it moves through different spaces differently.

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Q: Talk about your fashion. Does it relate to a certain way you identify? Has it changed over the course of your life?

T: Fashion stresses me the fuck out. I try to present myself in a truthful manner, because that is what feels best to me but it is exceedingly challenging for me to discover my own truth. Shedding light on that truth in public spaces is an entirely different beast and I suppose thats what fashion is to me. I love ‘masculine’ clothes but I am afraid to be ‘too butch’ and I love ‘feminine’ clothes but I am afraid of the ways they contain me. I long to be proudly and unapologetically androgynous, unapologetically butch and unapologetically femme on different days/with different attitudes/in different weather. Tbh I have been carrying all my clothes around since I was fourteen years old. That’s crazy. There’s a lot I need/am trying to let go of. The only piece of clothing I am sure of right now is a chain I bought recently. It is the same weight, length and pattern as my late Italian grandfather’s. The only difference is that mine is silver (not gold) and carries no cross. It reminds me of my first (and one of my only) examples of non-toxic masculinity and it inspires me to reserve my strength and be steadfast in my own version of spiritual faith. I like it when people dress like they don’t give a fuck. I’m trying to do more of that.

Q: Can you talk about changing your name? What was it that made you want to change it? How did you come up with it? How have others taken to calling you by your new name?

T: I used to go by Emily and now I go by Tony. My parents named me Emily because they liked the sound and because the meaning of it is: industrious. I like that but I also want to recognize that my own values have shifted. I no longer want my worth to be contingent on my productivity and I also find the name Emily to be hyperfemme and at odds with who I am. As of late, I have felt a tug in my gut when people call me by my birth name as if they are summoning the person I used to be (or expected myself to be) not the person I currently am. The name Tony reminds me of New Jersey and tomatoes and the italian side of my family cracking open crab legs with old-bay tinged fingers. It feels sturdy and easy and just ‘masculine’ enough. Sometimes people ask me if I “spell it with an i” and although they mean well, I know they are trying to puzzle out why a person they perceive as undoubtedly female has adopted a name traditionally given to males. They want to know if I intend to ‘feminize’ it. People have also asked me questions along the lines of, for example, “what’s the deal with your two names?” I am Tony. I use Emily and I ask that people use Emily in front of my mother out of respect for the life she gave me but I am Tony.  

Q: You love to experiment with makeup and have become quite good at developing new looks, does it relate to the way you identify or your queerness in any way? What is the inspiration behind it?

T: Ugh thank you! I love makeup. I love and respect drag. I love and respect people of all genders who have elevated the art of makeup application (to something outside of forced/suffocating beauty conventions) and I love and respect those people, often women who do still feel like they need to wear makeup to be accepted in our society. My relationship with makeup has been fraught with pain. I’ve finally found a way of applying makeup that truly brings me pleasure and joy. I look at these awe-inspiring photos you took of me and I’m stunned by your artistry but I also see my perceived insecurities reflected back at me. And then I can look past that and look at the wild face I made and those are my pink-sky lids and that’s my bright blue alien kiss and I am suddenly proud of who I am. Perhaps I am not meant to be the woman I was expected to be but I can be a graceful and strange interplanetary creature instead. I can build a new self, that expresses a different (but just as authentic) form of my truth.

Q: Have your parents/guardians expressed any opinions about your identity? Are they aware of it?

T: I haven’t shared my identity with them because I don’t want questions, especially when I don’t yet have answers. I have a feeling they would keep loving me and that is a privilege, at the same time I think they are often inclined to love me as the person they want me to be. To be honest, I think my mom knows I am queer because of some things she has discovered on the internet but I’m not sure if we’ll ever talk about it. Right now, that’s okay with me. I love my mom as she is I hope she loves me as I am too. I’m not ready and that’s alright.

Q: Can you talk a little about being a Queer artist? How has your identity impacted the way you make art and/or the subject matter that your pieces engage in?

T: In all honesty I haven’t made that much art informed by my queerness. I have often felt that I am not ‘queer enough’ to engage with queer-art-universe. Sometimes I feel as though I will be called out for being ‘wrong’ about an aspect of queerness represented in my work. I’m not sure where this comes from. I think I am fearful and feel separate from the queer community or misplaced because I have slept with far more cis-men than any other gender, simply because for a long time I denied my queerness and still wanted to be touched. On another hand, most of the art I have witnessed/absorbed/experienced from queer artists has been made by cisgender gay men and I was usually only able to relate to fleeting moments of their lived experiences and testimonies. That doesn’t make their work unimportant, of course, it’s just more abundant. I was raised as a girl, I felt like a girl, I thought I was a straight girl, I worked hard to perform as one for many years and for the most part that meant being obedient; to my parents, my lovers, my learned impression of ‘femininity’ or any unidentified cis-man closest in proximity to me.  In glimpses and gasps I am quietly incorporating my queerness into my writing (my screenplays/ my journals/ my poetry). It is cathartic, it is nervous, it feels like an exhale.

Q: Do you have a role model?  

T: My big brother works in a battery factory during the week and labors over a car that he loves on the weekend. He doesn’t understand social media, he does not lust for wealth. He is kind and soft spoken and I admire his commitment to the self and his enduring growth despite that which has hindered him. My mother listens to audiobooks, she studies everything she encounters openly and vigorously. She is always learning and evolving. Today she is the best version of herself, tomorrow she will be a better version. I admire her sensitivity and her humility. My friends challenge the world they live in. They resist oppressive systems and build for themselves joyous, beautiful lives. They are each a force of nature in their own way, powerful, beautiful, ever-changing. I am stunned, daily, by their brilliant minds and the questions they ask the world/ the questions they ask themselves. I am blessed beyond belief to be surrounded by these people so dedicated to being kind and endlessly grateful that they love me back too. I love that they stay soft even as the world fights to drain them of their tenderness.

Q: If you could impart advice, tips, or guides to a younger version of yourself, what would they be? Is there anything you would like to say to your future self?

T: Continue to work, continue to push yourself, continue to challenge what you have learned, grow and be kinder and more considerate than you were yesterday but believe that you are enough and always will be.

Can't thank you enough, Tony!

It was such a pleasure getting to photograph you and getting to know you better! Much love! <3! 

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