Kamal Lado (they/he)

Artist, Shapeshifter, & Podcast Host of Exquisite Humans

Los Angeles, CA

How would you describe your identities?

I am Black, queer, and agender.

Ambiguous Beauty celebrates those who identify and express themselves through masculine and feminine energies. Please share a bit about your journey to self-discovery. Did you ever feel like you had to choose one or the other (masculine vs feminine)?

I think my journey to self-discovery, frankly, began when I did. That is to say I still think that I am evolving and this evolution will never quite reach a destination. I have early memories of playing dress up in the blouses and high heels in my mom’s closet. I remember the confidence and euphoria I felt the first time I got to don extravagant makeup for a musical. I also recall the words of “warning” from my dad, “Stop swishing your hips when you walk”. I quickly learned that I was a boy and that comes with certain shoulds and shouldn’ts. Then, in college, I found myself working at my school’s gender and LGBTQIA center. In that office, I was introduced to ideas on how we construct gender and sex, the language we use to describe it, and met people who really challenged me to be myself. From there I decided to eschew gender as a whole. I find it limiting and that there are richer, more accurate ways to describe myself. Today, realistically, I recognize my masculine presentation and cis identity and how that comes with privileges. And I see how those privileges affect my experiences and the experiences of those around me. However, queer and gender non-conforming people do not owe anyone androgyny. I am who I am because I say so. I recognize that my expression is flexible and that how I present now is different from how it was a year ago and will continue to evolve as I do.

What has been the most significant challenge you have experienced in expressing masculine and feminine traits?

For me, I felt like someone had to give me permission to be myself. And once I came to the conclusion that I was not a “man”, that I was agender, I felt so much pressure to “look nonbinary”. It was a major challenge for me and I felt a sense of imposter syndrome. As I was emancipating myself from one set of constructs I felt myself challenged by an another. It took me a while, paradoxically, to be comfortable again in my masculine presentation. I had to understand that, while outward expression is important, what is more important is who I am on the inside.

Have you ever experienced rejection or discrimination due to this expression?

Yes, of course. But I do think it’s a bit more complicated than that. While I don’t have one notable story of discrimination, the micro-aggressions I’ve received over the years do compound into something notable. At this point though, it’s hard to sort out whether it’s my race, gender, sexuality, personality, etc. In other words, is it because I’m a nigga or because I’m a faggot? The process of getting back up and dusting myself off is one I’m still working on. The lesson that I’m on right now: the more I love myself the more immune I become to the hate.

At some point in our journeys, we come to a place of self-acceptance. When did you come to understand who you are and that you were beautiful?

I alluded to it on the last question but I am still coming to that understanding. Everyone tells me I have to give myself grace. I’m in my early 20s and right now loving myself and seeing my beauty is the current challenge. The ego, tainted by the “rules” of our world likes to drag me down. But my higher self knows the truth; knows that I am worthy of love and that I am beautiful.

What is your experience in the workplace? Have your identities helped or hindered your career opportunities?

Theatre is a very gendered space. From voice parts, to how we categorize “mens” and “womens” ensembles, to the stories we tell, it’s all very binary. Candidly, I believe my work is one place where I do recede into past versions of myself. That’s theatre though. Dance, comparatively, is a space that honors my truth. Anyone can dance. Regardless of who you are or what you look like. When I’m in motion, I can find some freedom.

Has being a person of color who identifies with masculine and feminine characteristics impacted how people relate and respond to you?

100%. My experiences are mine because of the unique combination of who I am and how that combination is perceived and treated in the world.

What do you want people who don’t understand you to know?

In the wise words of Kelis, “You don't have to love me. You don't even have to like me. But you will respect me”.

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Payton Beaird (SHE/her)
Payton Beaird (SHE/her) Texas