Text & Photography: Lanre Adetola
As we arrived at our post-photoshoot detour, Rasta House, Alexender(Lex)'s eyes (as well as mine) lit up at the site of a menu that contained oxtail, plantain, and cocoa bread plus more. It's Lex's third year Carnegie Mellon University, and his first year as a model for Spirit Fashion Show, but he says hasn't had a taste of Oxtail in over half a year. The neighborhood was changing; we surely noticed the renovated homes, "for sale" signs on homes and ill-fittingly polished restaurants, but there was at least authenticity in the rice and peas, authenticity in the sounds of congos played overhead.
So Lex, tell us a little about yourself.
Lex: I am an Ashanti Ghanaian, but I grew up in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana. I also consider myself from the Bronx, NY for I’ve spent a large sum of my life (all my life in the states really) living there. I’m 20 and some change years of age and I’m chronically busy.
Ha. The chronically busy part sounds likely of a Carnegie Mellon student. You seem to have had the pleasure of living both an African and sort of African diasporic experience. Whats that been like?
Lex: It's been quite a trip. Frankly it delayed my culture shock by 6 years. It's almost as though I was sheltered even though I emigrated to a new continent. Especially during the early years I was still pretty close to extended family. I even had the privilege of going to middle school and high school with relatives. At the same time, I had my own set of friends. All of differing really rich minority backgrounds. My middle school was in Morris Heights, predominantly Dominican and Black (Afro American, Jamaican, and west African). I then attended a high school in Harlem with a student body of the same demographic of students with African immigrants, 1st gen Africans, and Afro Americans being the majority. We had many social, especially moral differences. But I noticed we were more alike than different. To sum it up, it's been a new world encounter with much of the same people. I greatly appreciate the perspective it's given me.
That's quite the combination of environments. I want to get into the ideas of masculinity that we see touched on in the shoot. How has masculinity changed in its definition in all these different spaces? Or...has it?
Lex: For quite some time it wasn't really on the radar. We were just boys. Yeah there were always instances of comments such as "boys don't do so and so" but there were always rules to all other aspects of our upbringing so it was a very transparent concept at least pertaining to my personal experiences until a couple of years ago. I think it's partly because i was passive to the cases where masculinity would be addressed. I witnessed the more feminine boys scrutinized for expressing themselves throughout grade school, but it was normally attitudes projected by adults initially. Some boys in our class were teased from time to time though. I noticed a correlation between how feminine they were and how frequent it'd happen but it was kinda harmless. We all got along. the same goes for high school. I do recall times where feminine boys would have to fight to be respected but to be honest that's what a lot of boys generally had to do it's to prove our masculinity at least the perceived notion of it...just standing up for oneself and not being docile but the last part of that sentence is influenced by my current understanding of what masculinity is relative to humanity.
"Colors are visual and cognitive magic. Each hue, shade, tone, etc has it's own effects on us."
Thats really interesting, the adult part. I always say masculinity and the like is taught, not something we're born with quite. Its crazy how we fight in all these different ways. Color seems to play a role in your fight. Can you talk a little more about that?
Lex: Yeah that kinda happened on its own. To be honest the internet was the catalyst. I used tumblr a lot in high school when I wasn't being a fully functional member of different realms of society. I was introduced to a lot of visuals. drawings, photos, music videos, and just a wide palette of human expression ranging from people I knew at school to high fashion editorials and ethnographic images of my own culture. Once I was of age to make my own money, I began to choose clothes I wanted. I never really attached gender roles to colors. It never felt proper. For I had seen mens clothing and women's clothing in all colors. In Ghana, we cut the same fabric to make clothes for both genders, so color choices made no sense to be restricted in my book. Around 19 I realized the rules were changing around me. I kept hearing more and more about how certain clothes or color choices in the backgrounds and works I made looked gay. Well actually, my mom thought it made me look gay and asked if i was now ...(she thinks its a choice people make). Nonetheless it was oddly irrelevant because I'm not. But as I talked more with specific close friends and relatives it became apparent that the colors were simply feminine to them. Which was small minded in my opinion because its a color. Colors are visual and cognitive magic. Each hue, shade, tone, etc has it's own effects on us. Some would say we perceive them differently as well. So for my choice to keep with me the gifts of the earth that brighten my morale and energy level, to be an emblem of human discomfort, I was annoyed.
"I'm secure, therefore no man whether homophobic or simply arrogant ever wishes to harm me. It's all in who you are."
But now you're here in college shining bright as can be ha. Has CMU been safer for you in that way?
Lex: Haha I guess in a way. But I think the safety is all in introspection. My convictions are valid. I actually dress the same as I do here as I would at home. Aside from having colored hair. What my mum feared the most was me being a subject of violence because of my self expression. But that rolls back to masculinity. I'm secure, therefore no man whether homophobic or simply arrogant ever wishes to harm me. It's all in who you are. Cmu comes with a more open minded population. That's innovative in itself. So in its structure I'd say it's safe because you're more appreciated or others "fuck with your vision", but the internet has always been a safezone.