William Lavinia, is a well-known face to the queer community within Toronto. We took some photos and talked about what it’s like growing up and living life as a queer person through a round of 20 Questions.
Please introduce yourself…
I’m Will I use William Lavinia for my public persona. I don’t have any official job titles, really, because I’m a millennial who’s working four jobs and none of them are connected. I mostly spend my time in the Toronto west end drag scene. I have a few words on my profile, they seem to sum up what I do nicely, gender illusionist and digital exhibitionist. I’m not quite sure what I want to do with those titles, but those are the mediums I like to work within. My gender is very illusitory, I’m a trans man, but a very femme trans man and a very queer trans man, who enjoys very feminine drag. The digital exhibitionist part is my relationship with the sex communities of Toronto and kink and open sexuality and the destruction of modesty culture because I’m really over people not liking naked human bodies. I have the privilege of being naked in mine a lot and it not having a negative effect on my life and if it helps other people do the same, then great and also, I like it because I’m vain and I like all of it on a sexual level, I’m sure.
Q: What is a political action you want more people to be involved with?
A: People need to be more inclusive with their queerness and feminism, being more intersectional. Because a lot of the spaces we run in can be pretty white washed and just not welcoming to a lot of folks of colour. I’d love it if more folks would do more than ‘grandio statements’ and in their more day to day lives, I don’t know, start a party or who you choose to invite into your space as performers and just have it be more intersectional. If it starts from there and there is communities helping to plan these parties, it’ll be more likely to have folks of those communities actually attend. I just wish there was a more active application of political ideas in our art spaces, on a practical basis because I think that’s just a good starting point.
Q: What is something that always makes you smile?
A: I mean, while we are on the topic, something that makes me smile is when in a queer performance space where people are showing their art who aren’t performance personalities, who aren’t extroverts, who aren’t charismatic people necessarily off stage and they are on stage and they made these incredible, incredible pieces of art that they have worked so hard on and the whole audience is just so here for it and it’s just such a safe space to be whoever you are and I’m lucky enough to find myself in that vibe pretty often on a monthly basis and you know it always just makes me dad smile.
Q: What is something you dislike, but wish you enjoyed?
A: Sweets. They seem great; I’ve slowly lost my tolerance for them. But people just seem really happy every time they eat cake and I have it and I feel sad, and a little sick. I just wish I could have a whole desert and not feel like trash.
Q: Who have been your guides along the way?
A: It’s interesting because, there were guides that I had when I saw myself as a woman and was thinking “what kind of woman do I want to be?” because I did always want to have a feminine aspect to my personality. There were, like many queer boys and men, there were woman that I looked up to. I got comparisons to Marilyn Monroe as a teenager, I did very much want to be an actor or someone in the starlight and so there were a lot of aesthetic goals of looking old Hollywood. The charisma, the professionalism of that era, these creative personas were always eloquent woman and educated, seemingly and I always found their stories beautiful. But then, there were men that I aspired to, but for the most part I didn’t really look up to anybody. I didn’t have too many guides. I never felt like anyone was like me. I think as I’ve gotten older there have been a few more, I found a lot of strength in our cultures traditional idols of femme masculine sexiness, which is like a David Bowie and Prince and even sort of that 1980s glam rock star, these men that are very masculine and sexual but wear a lot of makeup and theatre to their look. Freddy Mercury would definitely be up there. I mean if I had a hero, he would definitely be in that category.
Q: Who/What are you inspired by? Why?
A: Nowadays I’m inspired by a lot of the philosophies I’d like to see in the world. I’m inspired by people who follow radical kindness, doctrines that are just like we’re here to help people and it’s okay to be who you are and sometimes people are not okay but that is okay. So let’s all talk about our feelings and treat each other like family and not deny that we are all scared little kids who just want to go home and have a snack. I’m very here for that, that inspires me and that informs how I move through the world. Which is why I really relate to dad headspaces and dad rules and I guess little kid rules. The freedom to be playful in our lives, that inspires me. Drag artists inspire me, performance artists inspire me, people who find art wherever they are and they make it and are unapologetic about it. Uniquely voiced art is so impressive to me.
Q: How would describe the difference between sex and gender?
A: I think a lot of people are too simplistic about it, like sex is your biological definition and gender is what you feel inside. Which is true in a way, but the news flash of the century is that sex doesn’t actually exist. Those are very arbitrary, binary definitions and it’s way more complicated than that and every human being has a different combination of chromosomes and parts to them. So why do we have sex? Why do we need it? It is technically a medical definition. It used to relate to a type of genital, what genitals you have is what is means in our current society. When we are assigned a vagina genital or a penis genital, that’s what sex is. But it doesn’t exist and it shouldn’t. Gender and gender expression, is how you relate with the world in your energies. How do you like to be around people? Are you a masculine person? Are you a feminine person? I like to move away from words like man and woman, but whatever makes people feel comfortable. I think gender is just whatever you want it to be to you. It’s as personal as how you feel about your work or how you feel about your sex life. It’s yours. It doesn’t have to be the same word for everything. It should just be something that is respected in our language and culture. Until we get to know someone’s gender or their feeling, we should live in a more gender-neutral world, because our penis and vaginas assignments shouldn’t factor into the colours we like and who we like. I want to go back to when being a masc looked like no one and being a femme looked like no one, just people’s internal energy.
Q: What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
A: This is turning into a pop quiz! What is the most ridiculous fact I know..? Do I know any interesting facts? I honestly can’t think of anything off the top of my head. I think I have to skip this one, ‘cause you can’t call a friend.
Q: When do you feel pressured by current social norms?
A: I try not to feel pressured by them, I really try not to. I am also privileged enough to still be able to make a living and have a partner and be happy while shirking societal norms, so I don’t have to live up to many. It is most difficult to live outside societal norms, while I’m still working within environments that involve hetero patriarchal society, like when I’m working a job that isn’t full of queers. It’s just people that will never relate to my life, they’ll never get to where I am, probably. I literally am living in the future and their living in the past. We exist together, but think of humans completely different. I’m usually charismatic enough though that I can drop something in and people will just be oh, I accept it because I’m Canadian and don’t want to argue with you.
Q: What is something you want people to be more aware of?
A: Themselves. I want people to be more aware of themselves, like I wish people self journeyed a little bit more. I wish some people looked at themselves a little bit harder, I wish everyone had the emotional support to be able to look at themselves a little bit harder. Self awareness is a very valuable skill that I have, it’s something that has given me the most, the fact that I’m doing okay is because I’m a rather self aware person and just being aware of the people around you. I have benefit to be able have been socialized as a woman, so I’m a very aware of the people around me. I’m very fluent in emotional labor and these sorts of things. I would urge everyone to try to not always be mad at people, because we’re all going to die. I wish people were more aware that the world was ending and literally nothing matters anymore. Every generation thinks the world is ending, but it’s not going great. So whatever you hate someone for…what if you didn’t? Yes, it’s easier for me, I’ve done lots of self expression, I know who I am. I’m not mad at those people because I know who I am. I wish people knew the benefits of taking psychedelics, it helped me out a lot!
Q: When did the journey of finding your queer self begin?
A: There have been a lot of layers to my queer self, I’ve had about four or five coming-outs. I was always a kid who felt different, I didn’t know why but I didn’t have the easy marker of liking the same assigned gender as myself, so I didn’t like girls, which would have been one of the easier identifiers that I was different. But I was really into boys, Disney princesses, musicals and dressing up so they were like “Ah! I human girl” and I just guessed that lined up because gendering me or sexualizing me and when that stated to happen I was like…oh. At fist I was into it, when I was going through puberty I would think bras were pretty and I would want to wear them, and I still do feel that way about them, but there was always something off. I didn’t know what but I knew. I didn’t start liking women until high school and I was like “Ah! I’m a bisexual, yes this makes sense” and then when I went to University I started exploring that more predominantly, my interest in women and that gave me a tunnel into butch identity and drag kinging and I was like “Ah! I could be a woman who enjoys wearing men’s clothes and presenting more masculine”. Then I realized, I was a gender queer and I lived under that umbrella for a really long time but as someone who was a femme, I was looked at more as a gay woman who identified with masculine terms and something still felt off. I finally looked at male femininity more and started to see more drag and drag queens and be around that gender identity and realized I only like being a woman when I’m preforming as a woman and then not at all. One day I was like, “Would I really be mad if I didn’t have breasts…I really don’t think so”. So eventually I was like “Ah! Yes, I am a trans man”. I’m a very flamboyant queer man and femme, but it is still fluid. About a year and a half ago I began medically transitioning, so that was the last queer voilà.
Q: What are three movies you’ll always recommend to others?
A: If people haven’t seen the films of Hayao Miyazaki, what are you doing? So if you can see pretty much any of those, they are a part of the lives of so many great people I know. I haven’t seen all of them, but I do have a soft spot for Spirited Away. It was one of the first really artistic things I saw as a child. All the kids in class were like “this is weird!” and I’m over here like “this is fucking incredible! What are you talking about!?” So it yeah, it had a big affect on me. This is also an animated movie, I swear I don’t just watch animated movies, but Rango had an impact on my life, I talk about it a little bit often because I identified so much with that character. I even have a Rango tattoo. It’s just a really cool movie and it won best animation at the Oscars and flew so under the radar! And the one that just popped into my mind because I love good gay cinema, which a lot of people have never heard of weirdly is The Birdcage. It’s such a good movie! I also identify deeply with the both of the lead characters in the film. So those are the three I usually recommend when people are getting to know me.
Q: Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
A: It’s an interesting question for me because for so long I identified as an introvert, I think because I was told introverts are the people who are different and extroverts were the popular kid and I didn’t hang out with those folks. But I was never someone who had difficulty socializing with people or making friends. But what I began to realize was that I was not an introvert but I was a loner, so I need alone time. But in my alone time I like to go out by myself, but I am an extrovert. Being around people gives me energy and when I’m too introverted, staying inside all day I get depressive and sad. I was dating an introvert and I liked them but didn’t realize why I was so sad and then was like “Ah! Yes, I’m an extrovert and like doing stuff all the time!” It was pretty nice figuring that out.
Q: What does queer mean to you, personally?
A: Queer is one of the first words that I came across that doesn’t really have a definition, it’s a personal definition. It refers to an otherness, something different from the norm. Queerness to me is so self-interpretable, but if I had to say, it would be someone who does not partake in heteronormative society and comfortable with it. Yeah, it’s a deviation from the binary systems that mainstream society is built upon. It’s a different few of the world, looking at it through a queer lens if you will.
Q: As a queer person, what are your struggles and what are your successes?
A: I’ve been very lucky that I haven’t faced a lot of vitriol from outside parties for my identity. It’s because for most of my childhood I was sheltered in an outer shell that reinforced my interest for femme things, if I had been assigned male at birth and had my personality, I’m sure I would have gotten beaten up a lot. So I was lucky in that way. But there is a struggle of having grown up socialized as a woman having a certain view of men and now going into manhood, I feel very complicated about men, especially as someone who likes men. I have always had a support system though, so it’s never held me back. Successes, I mean it wasn’t until I figured out my queer identity that I started experiencing ant ‘public recognition’ for some of my art. Most of the stuff I make comes from a queer place and is within close relations with the queer community. It’s what people want to talk to me about, because I am a very queer person in body, sexuality and lifestyle. It’s honestly just super nice that I’m finding my ‘authentic self’ and people have been really into it. I also look different, which makes me more marketable haha. People can pay me to be gay, I’m super into that.
Q: What is your favourite art form? Why?
A: Hi, It’s me I’m going to talk about drag again! Ultimately it comes down to performance art and drag is a subculture of performance art. I would say performance art because it encompasses some of the incredible the strides that women have made throughout the history of performance art. Some of the strongest feminist art come from performance art, some of the most striking performances have been done by women. So I do love drag, a lot of the older drag comes from a cis male gaze, which is awesome, it comes from a very punk rock place and I do respect punk rock and all the energy in that movement. A lot of it came from a toxic place where it was excess to the point of injury. But I find beauty in that, I know some performance artists like that, who are just psychopaths, the way they express their art is so violent and so jarring that it forces the audience to feel an emotion and there is something powerful in that. I also appreciate performance art because it can be watching someone do something difficult to themselves, it’s theater and I’m a theater kid at heart, but it’s theatre of the self, theatre of one’s owns ideas. I find it the most affecting and powerful medium.
Q: What is your most favourite pop culture moment?
A: That’s a big fucking question! Hmm..favourite? I think something I always come back to because of the way I related to it over the years as I’ve unpacked a lot of ideas about white feminism and white supremacy. It’s when Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift, saying that Beyoncé should have won. When I first experienced that pop culture moment as a young white girl in America, in a small town, I was never trashtrash, I wasn’t raised by bigoted parents, but I was like “poor Taylor! How could they do that!” and then I’ve returned to it again and again and just understanding what it was like for Beyoncé to loose that, where she should have won. What the ideals and the fetishistic nature of Taylor Swift and the American media and how much of a denial there was of the black artistry, and Kanye’s completely justifiable anger in that moment. At the same time, it was a very misogynistic thing to do, it was, it came from a very masculine place, but in defense of a woman. I don’t know it’s a very complicated pop culture moment, there is so much for me to unpack there, so much that is not much job to unpack, I’d love to read about someone else unpacking it. But yeah, Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs. Wow, that’s over a decade old.
Q: Would you consider yourself an activist?
A: In a traditional sense, I don’t think I do enough for social justice movements to call myself an activist. I live by life rules of advocacy to get through my own life, any business I start or any art I make is informed by activist ideals, much similar to the rest of my generation. I would like to, when I’m in a more settled moment of my life, to be able to do something in my community that I actively partake in that is building something. Building the community. I’m a quiet activist, I’m not necessarily a marcher, I prefer to eventually be involved in very grass roots, direct action. But right now most of us can only do so much, or we’ll drive ourselves crazy. Being an activist is a job, and people dedicate their lives to it. It’s their career. I’m not doing as much as I should, but if everyone can do something in their own communities, little by little, it could go a long way.
Q: How do you best identify yourself?
A: I use he and him as my pronouns, but identify as a queer trans masculine femme, I guess, because I relate closely to the idea of queer men, gay male culture feels very much like my culture, but not all of it hahaha. But I’m really hear for a disco and leather daddies. I do want people to know that I’m very much not a cis man, It’s a culture I have no part of. I am a queer trans man. Femme is how I was raised and how I move through the world now, it’s a way of relating to people and understanding emotions. I also idenfity of a drag queen, I’m a man in my day to day life but I very much enjoy performing in drag.
Q: How would you describe your fashion sense?
A: It’s something quite important to me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. It’s kind of in transition, like me. I have aesthetic goals of looking hot South Korean rapper. I’ve very into that fashion. I’m fashion trash. My main looks are a hungover rock star, an uncomfortably sexy kid brother and also an army dad.
Q: When did you last try something new and how did you feel about it?
A: I just recently started to get involved with the Haus of Constantine , who are a part of the Toronto ballroom scene. The scene had been completely hidden from me, but we have quite a big one! But I was luck enough to be invited by someone who is from the Haus. It’s been so incredible, there is such a relationship to chosen family that is so strong. It comes from such a queer place, I love it. They are fathers of a Haus for a reason. They are mothers of a Haus for a reason. Ballroom gives me a lot of feelings because it’s a very historical art form. People bring their whole lives to their families and the ballroom scene.
Q: Where can we find you and what you do?
A: You can find me at The Beaver almost every weekend. You can also find me on Instagram, that’s where I put the most stuff, I’m on my story constantly, so strap in! It’s @william.lavinia, from there you can find connections to my other ventures.