The Art of Duality
Words by Keynan Johnson • Photography by Brandon Soder • Art Direction by Darnell Thomas
Growing up, I didn’t realize the push and pull of duality was natural because it felt burdensome. Was I how boys should be? What if I genuinely didn’t want to play football? Sadly, these were questions that were already being answered for me. I remember spending nights enthralled by the magic of America’s Next Top Model (an undeniable cliché my generation of black, gay men know all too well) daydreaming of the models I would someday represent in my own agency, only to be accosted by a hostile voice saying “Why are you watching that?”. Unfortunately, when society views you as a pillar of masculinity it’s damn near impossible not to internalize that pressure.
In present day, I often dress to suit my mood. Some days I feel like Tupac (a fellow Gemini), militant and wildly outspoken - a provocateur at best, opting for dark colors and bold accessories. Other days I’m on a Frank Ocean/Dev Hynes kind of vibe, sensual and coy for the sake of self-preservation; modest silhouettes that echo Phoebe Philo’s helm at Cèline. The same concept of duality I once grappled with, I now proudly exhibit since growing closer to my authentic self.
“I want to be free” is a declaration I often make to myself and to God. It’s complete autonomy over my mind and body that I seek. It’s hard to say if this comes from wanting to break generational curses or if it’s a result of my internal struggles with self-acceptance - but at least I know I’m not alone! In our generation, more black men are standing in their truth, redefining what existing in this society looks like. Take Kehinde Wiley’s portraits in A New Republic, depicting contemporary men in “street” clothes as heroic figures painted in the styles of the Old Masters; Shayne Oliver of Hood By Air who continues to subvert the standards of black male sexuality and gender expression; and Virgil Abloh, the first African American chosen to oversee Louis Vuitton menswear. These men are unapologetically black and have chosen to remain individuals, embodying identities and intersections that most of us are not brave - or privileged - enough to carry.
From my own little corner of the fashion world I too aspire to become a reference for other black men and boys to see we’ve come farther than what we’ve been programmed to believe. We can be gentle, empathetic, feminine, soft, militant, confident, masculine, and undoubtedly worthy of love.