Gogo Graham FW17 Lookbook
featuring an interview with Cecilia Gentili
Model Cecilia Gentili
Photography Serena Jara
Hair Sonny Molina
Clothes and Styling Gogo Graham
Intro by Devan Diaz
Four women sat atop a Brooklyn roof in February; a designer, a photographer, a writer, and a model. Arriving from Texas, Gogo came to the city to be the dressmaker for a population of invisible women. Serena, from Minnesota , was there to capture the day with the sort of tenderness that the job required. I was there to extract the truth, as all writers hope to do. This pursuit caused me to leave Nashville behind six years ago. On this unusually warm day, we all assembled ourselves around the model. Even the sun positioned itself in observance of her, creating the light needed for the shoot. We orbited around Cecilia Gentili, the reason for our gathering. To call her a model would be to simplify her role. With the austerity of a Grand Dame, Cecilia is the matriarch for many transgender girls that come to New York seeking asylum. Gogo, Serena and I were just a few of those girls.
Gogo’s inspiration for the collection was born out of respect. When thumbing through the collection, she turned to me and said “She’s mommy. She deserves it.”
What took place was an intergenerational conversation that has no precedent. Our collective history is largely un-documented, but not for long. While the three of us were coming into the world, Cecilia was creating the path. When we embarked on womanhood, women like Cecilia offered a hand. This collection was a love letter to the past with an eye to the future.
An interview with Cecelia Gentile
Gogo: You know that like… you are the reason why me and so many other people are here
Cecelia: Thats very nice, thats a beautiful thing to say and I’m flattered, you’re gonna make me cry but I won’t… but you know, its not because of me its because of you… you had the audacity to be yourself and do what you want, I was just there, and I was able to help you in the process.
And that deserves credit, don’t get me wrong, I take my credit, I want my credit right, but its like… you get the real credit, you with your courage and your strong will to do what you needed to do to be happy. so, i was there, so i was able to help you, and thats a beautiful thing. Not just for you, its a beautiful thing for me you know, its a beautiful thing for me.
And… realistically… it was also my job, I got paid for it! How cool is that? How cool is that, to get a job being able to help somebody do whatever the fuck they want with their lives, with their bodies, its amazing.
G: You definitely facillitated that, in the most real, concrete way… I dont know if you remember when I first called…
G:I remember I called you, I was like… this is “deadname,” I want to know about the trans health program…
C: Let me tell you some secrets… English is my second language, so I have a real hard time understanding people sometimes, I have to make an effort to understand… So when you talk in such a quiet, intimate way… I’m like what the fuck did she say..
G: You were like yeah, just come to the orientation!
C: Just come to the orientation, maybe I can read your lips, girl lol
G: Lmao maybe there was a reason I was so quiet then though…
C: I hope I’m not offending you with this but, I just heard like… this really sad child.
G: Oh my god, yeah.
C: This really sad child, you know… and being able to help somebody…I don’t know if you did get out of that sadness, I hope you did, and it shows like you did… you’re like a new person, you’re bubbly… and happy overall, I see you happy. With some shit that may go down in your life just like anyone else, but its not that feeling of sadness.
And when I met you, not just you of course, with many people it happens, but with you specifically I can say… I saw a lot of myself, I was a young girl, in the big city, going to school and wanting to transition… No I wasn’t! There was no doctor, there was no Cecilia, there was nothing. So being able to assist you in your process is so rewarding, because then you do see that some things are changing, and it’s amazing… I can say that I love all the people I was able to help, in this transition process.
G: That’s a lot of people.
C: Yea, when I left it was like 600 people. 600 people… And I guess for some reasons you make special connections with some of them, and you were one of them. Actually, your group of friends are all in that group, you know like Serena… Now, we’re doing pictures, and I’m wearing your clothes, and Serena is taking the pictures.
And its like… we became family, and I know you do have a wonderful family, at least I know you have a wonderful mom, I don’t know the rest of your family… I don’t have any family here–I just have a partner–so you became my family… and I hope somehow, I became your family too…
G: You did!
C: And that’s what this process is about, because… if we’re not family to each other, what are we?
G: Chosen family…
C: Yea. Its so nice being a mother when your children are already grown, I don’t have to worry about you… I don’t have to worry about like, the milk being too hot, I don’t have to worry about your first time… its done and dealt with! But you know, it’s so good to have this experience.
G: I think, all of us, my friends who you just talked about, we all feel this way.
C: It’s just so wonderful, I lived so isolated for so many years, sometimes my partner will be like, ‘oh golly, you have so many friends!’… And I’m like, they’re not enough, I have to make up for all those years I lived isolated, and didn’t communicate with anybody.
G: I feel the opposite. I mean, we obviously didn’t have the same experiences and stuff, but I’m so cautious meeting people. I feel like there are alot of good people I haven’t met yet, but I’m so worried I’m going to find myself with bad people… It’s paranoia, I probably shouldn’t have even said that, but its the truth…
C: We have that, being trans, living everyday… comes with this anxiety. Is this person I’m going to walk across on the sidewalk going to be indifferent– which is awesome, if you’re indifferent to me, I’m happy— or are they gonna be a fucking psycho, or are they gonna be somebody who will let me know that they know I’m trans and they’re ‘ok with it’, which is kind of fucked up.
I think that’s part of trans people, especially trans women, that we have all this anxiety of how people are going to perceive us, and it makes sense that you are closed to finding that out, because if you don’t make an effort to find out, that’s better…
G: And even people who you know, or feel like you know, sometimes they suprise you… even today, I walked into this market, and this guys who’s always super extra friendly.. always commenting on whatever… in an extra way, and then one day he’s having a bad day and he decides to be like ‘Hey whats up man’. And its like, oh, now.. today I’m ‘man’…
C: Or if you didn’t pay him no mind, its just so usual, guys coming to you trying to pick you up, trying to be funny… and when you’re like ‘no, thanks’, they’re ‘oh you fucking man’… and I’m like– wait, let’s back up 2 minutes–
G: If you’re looking for a man lol…
C: Yea, whats up with that? But you know, it makes sense why so many of us are so resistant to establishing that kind of engagement with people.
I am kind of over everything, I’m 45, I’m like fuck everything, I don’t care, but for so many years its like, its better if I dont communicate with anyone, its easier, but then I was super isolated for so many years…
But then I changed and I allowed myself to kind of like open up to different people. Not everybody was great, I had bad experiences but during that process I got a lot of good people in my life, and that was pretty awesome.
G: Well, Serena shot this thing, and another thing I wanted to ask you about was the work you’re doing with Serena, and also your own work.
C: Well.. I have this super boring job– it’s not boring, it’s nice, and I’m really happy with the work I do, but for many people, looking from the outside, it’s like sitting in all office all day… But I really enjoy the work that I do, and not just that but having this title… like she’s the director of policy at this major organisation– deputy director of policy at GMAC.. who would have thought that this trans woman without a Masters would have such a powerful position in such a widely known organisation. So I enjoy that that is me!
I also do a lot of storytelling events where I just tell the story of my life. I have a lot of sad and horrible stories but I choose to tell people stories that are funny or fun, nice and easy to hear. I don’t think I’m ready to tell my painful stories yet, and someday maybe I will, but for now I just choose to focus on the fun part of being trans, and finding this way of liberation… So I do that, and I enjoy it a lot, and it makes me happy.
So with Serena, for her thesis at school, she’s been working with my stories, and doing photographic work around my stories, and we were able to do a couple of shoots that were really successful, the material she comes up with is so freaking amazing.
G: Both of you are!
C: I was working with her in this project, doing pictures for her, wearing your clothes… This opportunity came about and I was super happy to do it. Mind you.. I’m fucking 45 years old, I don’t know if I want to spend Saturday afternoon on a roof, with the wind and the cold on freaking high heels. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, I’d do it all and much more…
G: It was weird… the whole setting was just like perfect, don’t you think, for the middle of winter..
C: Yeah, it was the middle of winter, we had this really warm day-
G: The sun was out…
C: And I got there and Sonny did my hair so beautifully, and my makeup was so nice, we started doing the pictures and all the clothes just fit me so perfectly, the sun was nice and everything went so perfect… and I felt so comfortable, so comfortable.
G: Even in those fucking uncomfortable ass boots.
C: No, the boots were great, the only thing I didn’t enjoy was the sandals, the red sandals, I just need to feel my foot supported, I hate those. That’s the life of a model, you have to wear all this shit they want you to wear!
But as I said before… I’m 45, I weigh a couple of pounds more than I would like to weigh, my body doesn’t look like it did when I was in my 20s, it doesn’t look that much like how I want it to look like… but I came to love it as it is. I put it down to age in part, but I don’t think its just aging, I know some people get to… I think it was a process of empowering myself and being empowered by my community to accept my body as it is.
So although I may not look the way I want to look, or aspire to look… Modelling clothes for a photoshoot is like, hey my body is beautiful and I can do this. For so many years I felt so uncomfortable with my body, that at this age being able to be ok with it and happy with it as it is, is so empowering and so beautiful… and having somebody make clothes that look great over this body is so gratifying and so important for me.
G: I mean– you looked so fucking incredible that day, you look so incredible as you sit before me now… it shows in the photos I think.
C: The photos are fucking amazing, I can’t wait to see them out.
G: You look so powerful, I mean you are– you’re a very powerful woman.
C: Thank you, thank you, I like to think that I am, I could be humble and I wish I could say, ‘oh nooo’, but no, I am fucking powerful, and I like to come across as being powerful. It has nothing to do with being trans– no, it has to do with being trans, it has to do with being a woman, it has to do with being a person of colour, it has to do with being a Latina with a fucking accent– I have to come across as being powerful, otherwise people walk all over you.
The intersection that people like you and me have, being trans woman of color– I always like to say non-black trans woman of colour– you have it very hard from many sides, being trans woman, being a woman, being a person of colour. For me, it’s important to come across as powerful, and I do make an effort, even when I don’t feel powerful, I do make an effort to come across as powerful. Again, I’m going to put it down to age, I’m fucking 45 and you’re not gonna walk over me, no– not this time, I let this happen for so many years, that today nobody is gonna walk over me. Or if you are, it’s because I want you to walk over me, sometimes I like that kind of shit lol
G: lol yeah
C: But you know, it is important to be in a place where I can control the way people perceive me. Things like gender are a lot about perception, being able to manipulate the way people perceive me has been fundamental to the way I am. Which is like– I’m whoever, it’s not like I’m anywhere, I am in a space where I am comfortable and happy but…
When we talk about success and talent, I feel… I don’t want my story to put any kind of pressure on, you know, the new generations, the girls are like 17, 18, I don’t want anybody to have any pressure to be successful in any concept that is not your concept of success. You can not let me or anybody else make the determination of what success should be for you. And you know, we talk about success like– Oh, Gogo is a successful designer, Cecelia is a successful trans woman of colour– What the fuck is success. That’s not success, that’s my idea of success. Maybe being a designer is her idea of success, it doesn’t mean everybody has to be successful… Maybe being successful for you is doing your nails, painting them green–
G: Getting out bed–
C: Yeah. We have to be very careful when we talk about trans people, specifically trans women, when we talk about success. Let’s not define success for others. Let people define success for themselves. I feel like… I’m always overdoing so much because for so many years I let this idea of success that wasn’t mine become mine. Nowadays I have to stop everything and say, hey, am I doing this because I want to or am I doing this because I want people to see me as this successful person.
So, I wanted to say that because we keep talking about success and talent, and you know, those are very individual concepts that we should not translate to others. You know? Ideas of success and talent are very different for everybody. I come across this concept of “every trans woman can get to be successful” like yeah, they can be successful as what they think success is. Not as anybody’s idea of what success is. Did I repeat this so much?
G: No, I think I kind of, for me, I feel like if some little baby trans person sees some stupid shit that I’m doing and then they think, wow i’m not gonna kill myself today! Then that’s totally enough for me, that is success. And like you said I think it’s important for us to recognize that success means something different for everybody.
C: Yeah there’s enough pressure that we have to be careful not to put more pressure with this idea that we have to be successful. This pressure to look a certain way, to act a certain way, to do these hormone treatments, you know… I’m old school, it was very square, the idea of being a trans woman, you do this this and this, you’re gonna be this kind of woman and you’re gonna look this kind of way and it took me so many years to be like… hmmm maybe this is not what I wanted to be, maybe I didn’t want to look like Sofia Vergara, I mean she’s beautiful. Maybe because I’m Latina, everybody thinks I should be this kind of woman… which usually is Sofia Vergara in everybody’s minds, and I think she’s beautiful, but I dont have to be like her or look like her.
When I’m like, ‘I want to change my tits’, people are like ‘oh you’re going bigger?’ And I’m like, no I want to go smaller, I don’t want tits actually… and people are like why?! I just dont! All the big tits, big ass, long hair with highlights is not what I wanted to be totally, it’s mostly what everybody around me thought I should be. You know if you have big tits and a big ass we like you better, we’re gonna accept you because you conform to this… And I did that for so long… that I’m at a point where I can allow myself to let go of all that. Does that make sense?
G: Yeah I sometimes think about that too, where I’m just like… do I even need to be on hormones? Do I need to grow my hair? And you know it’s difficult as trans women when you walk into a place and you know in your mind, oh, if I’m not wearing high heels, a pencil skirt and lipstick, people are going to misgender me. If I am, then they’ll always expect you to look like that, and if you don’t, then they’re like, ‘oh, are you going back’?
C: Yeah… there’s no way to win. But again when you get to my age, I don’t know why I keep putting it on age. I think when you get to my age you may be able to get to a point where you’re like fuck that, fuck everything. Whatever. But I dont think I would be here if it wasnt for you guys, and this is the part where I thank you all helping me seeing you girls.. These fucking girls they just don’t give a fuck about anything. You know me, not shaving my armpits…
G: (lol) This actually freaks me out, but as a political statement, I have to have it.
C: How many girls are like, I dont care! And seeing all these young trans girls that have been able to live their femininity in a way that they want to and not in a way that was imposed has been fundamental in me being able to be like, i’m gonna shave my head and whatever. And letting go of that stereotype and this gaze… That’s so important to me. And your clothes say a lot about that. I felt super feminine when I was wearing them without feeling the stereotype of femininity that was imposed on me and that’s so cool. Maybe it’s just because I love you. (lol)
G: I’m glad you felt that way.