Ulelli: Your name is Clinton?
Ulelli: Clinton Duncan. Alright, I just want to find out from you, how you feel comfortable dressing like this, you will term it as “gender blend”, expressing your gender differently to assigned at birth, people will say you wearing skirt. How does it feel for your when you do that, when you walk out, if you go out dressed like that, what’s the reception?
Clinton: The reception, like at first is like, people will point and stare.
Ulelli: People will stare.
Clinton: Is still happens now but not as much as before and I think that happens with more access to the internet, like social media and that kind of stuff like even some of the celebrities, the males, who will turn heterosexual celebrities would kind of do slight gender blender stuff now so you kind of get away with it a little bit more than like 2 years ago or 3 years ago but for me I’ve always done it knowing that I would get a lot of sometimes-negative remarks. It doesn’t bother me that much.
Ulelli: Why did you start doing it?
Clinton: Well, in terms of my gender expression, I don’t see myself as the most masculine person, yet still I don’t identify as drag so it was always a struggle for me, I need to find that meeting ground, that place where I can still like accept, appreciate my masculinity but still express “my femininity”, and it started after I started doing theater, when I started doing theater, I’m like getting into costume and getting into character and that kind of thing. It translated into my everyday life because you know when I’m on the stage, when I put on the clothes, I mean I become a character on the stage for that 2 hours or 1 hour, you really don’t think about society or these issues so that became a way for to me to have an alter ego who doesn’t have to deal with stereotype and doesn’t have to deal with discrimination and that kind of thing so even if people stare at me in that moment when I choose to wear something that is gender fluid, is always from a place of, is not necessarily Clinton, the timid one or that kind of thing, is someone that like attention, someone that wouldn’t be bothered or wouldn’t be affected by any negative. For me, when I walk down the street now, any attention is good attention but then another day, when I’m not feeling that mood, if I walk down the street dressed in men’s clothes and someone says something it will affect me.
Ulelli: It will affect you? They say something negative or just…?
Clinton: Yeah, alright, like if I’m wearing a kilt or I’m wearing like a jeans or something like that and a female comes out and say something kind of odd and someone laughs, it doesn’t bother me.
Clinton: That doesn’t bother me but if I’m in a regular men’s jeans, T-shirt, and sneakers and someone says something - after dressing in something that seems normal - that will bother me, that still bothers me.
Ulelli: Bother you how?
Clinton: Like, in terms of self-acceptance or that kind of stuff, it’s more evident like, it begins, it’s more evident in me like when I travel, when I start to travel, because when I go to the States or you go to Europe and you really don’t have any limitations in terms of the way that you choose to express yourself, you don’t get pointed at or stare so then I realize that this is the kind of expression I will get if in my society.
Ulelli: Society here in Guyana?
Clinton: Yes. Society here is very conservative, it is very, very conservative, over the years it’s been more tolerance but even though they might not pelt bottles or they might not shout things across the street but you could feel the sense of disapproval and that’s the like a place I need to get over in terms of normal everyday Clinton Duncan going out but as I said whenever I get dress in a drags way or a fluid way, for me it’s like normal.
Ulelli: It’s normal for you, it feels more normal?
Ulelli: To dress this way than what society terms as normal?
Clinton: Exactly, because I did Art for CSEC and I did that for CAPE and I’ve always been artistic, even in terms of my gender expression, is been a form of art for me; there is always that rebellious factor to it for me and something eye-catching, something that has to be remembered instead of just T-shirt and jeans. So that’s another thing but I don’t know, I’m just... I’m generally split into two personalities so, the issue now is getting to a place where... I don’t know, where I need to accept it or society need to accept it but that’s the conflict place.
Ulelli: You said earlier that you don’t see yourself as a masculine person?
Clinton: Not the most masculine person.
Ulelli: When you said that, you don’t see yourself that physically or mentally? Or when you look at yourself in the mirror, how you feel in here?
Ulelli: How you feel in your heart?
Clinton: Both, like it’s difficult to explain in a sense because like I’m a boy, like I have a penis [but] my mannerisms are feminine.
Ulelli: You think so?
Clinton: I think so.
Ulelli: Yeah, ok.
Clinton: I think so, whenever I speak to people in the community or when I model, majority of the time, it bothered me for a while instead of people saying, “Oh my gosh, you very handsome,” they say, “You very pretty,” and that bothered me for years especially when I was younger. And that bothered that part of me because, why are they using this instead of masculine adjectives?
Ulelli: I remember doing a photo shoot with you but I didn’t remember initially what it is until late after I started seeing you more around, now that I recognize you. With the photo shoot I did with you by Barkley at the National Park the back, I thought you were very beautiful also and you were much younger then.
Clinton: Yeah, and it was worse then.
Ulelli: Yeah, I was like who is this guy, wow, who is he, where did he come from? I was like... wow, yeah.
Ulelli: That was my reaction.
Clinton: That was definitely conflicting for me generally, you know you experience things, you good looking or you handsome and most times people’s first adjective is you very pretty or you very, very beautiful, that bothered me for a while, I mean, I’ve grown accustomed to it and I’ve accepted it, like that’s who I am or that who people literally perceive me to be and that doesn’t bother me anymore. But then, where it becomes a problem is where after accepting that and now trying to express that and now trying to bridge that with how I’m expressing myself, then the same society who describe me as pretty now doesn’t accept when you express yourself in a pretty way, if you get where I’m coming from?
Ulelli: Yeah, I understand.
Ulelli: That’s awkward. How did you deal with it, how are you able to deal with the fact people said that you’re pretty? How mentally? What did you?
Clinton: I have learnt to take it as compliment, like I’ve had to give myself positive reinforcement that I had to tell myself use it as a compliment, it’s a compliment, it’s a compliment. I actually tell myself that for years until I started believing it to be something positive, because necessarily as a guy, if someone say you acting girly, girly, is not necessarily a positive thing coming from another person but then when you accept that as who you are, it doesn’t bother you that much but as I said, what bothers me is that when I decide to act on it and people don’t accept it, that’s what is confusing.
Ulelli: That’s why you act it?
Clinton: I don’t know (chuckles). Oh, the other day, someone ask me, when I wearing this outfit before, someone ask me if I would do drag or how does [people do] drag and judging this thing. The thing is that I have done drag before but onstage in a character and I didn’t necessarily hate it or dislike it but I’m still at some place where in a way, even if I do drag I wouldn’t like stuffing breast or add hips or do feminine make-up or I wear a wig or I will just wear a skirt and top you know, there is always that rebellious side and when I was younger, my fashion idols were always people who did rebellious things, so it was always Prince, David Bowie, you know that kind of thing, Beatles... most of the artists who has jumped out at me or who has made an impact on my aesthetic has been people who has really disregarded society expectations, so I guess that also help me accepting who I am - balancing pleasing myself in pleasing society.
Ulelli: What do you want society to understand about gender expression?
Clinton: Society need to understand that there is no - how should I put this? - there are no rules, there shouldn’t be any rules, there shouldn’t be a list of things or expectations in so much words, there shouldn’t be any expectations, even as a person sometimes, my gender identity and my gender expression don’t necessarily need to reflect each other because I can be in terms of who I see myself as, I can be a masculine male but my expression, I want to wear a free top and platform shoes that doesn’t necessarily affect my masculinity or how I have sex or who I’m attracted to and that’s what society needs to understand, that what you put on your body doesn’t necessarily reflect inside so, I think that is the way to put it.
Ulelli: Yeah, true and ok.