Flipping the patriarchy and gender ‘norms’ on their backside, non-binary artist Dorian Electra is (literally) shattering the glass ceiling, and bottles, onto their head. Known for their iconic boundary-pushing tracks that make you question everything that society once programmed you to know, Dorian’s latest video “Man to Man” has minds spinning. Richly embedded with both visual and linguistic meaning, we are left to reflect on our own state of being, and wonder if we are really “man enough to soften up?”
Your latest single “Man to Man” is a critique of ‘toxic masculinity’. As a term that is frequently thrown around a lot in the media, how would you personally define it?
To me, toxic masculinity is a very narrow idea of manhood as defined by aggression, violence, status and sex. Where “strength” is valued above all and where emotions, vulnerability and other so-called “feminine” traits are viewed as weaknesses that pose a threat to one’s manhood. I believe that this unhealthy version of the “masculine ideal” often leads to both internalized and externalized misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, directed at the self and others.
In what ways do you think we as a society can work towards extinguishing toxic masculinity?
I think the best place to start is with yourself, though I’m still working on figuring that out too! I think also a lot of toxic masculinity, misogyny, transphobia and homophobia gets (sometimes even) accidentally perpetuated through
“Are you man enough to soften up? Are you tough enough to open up” – these lines in the song really challenge the preconceived gender notions that have been coded into our language. Is this a practice that you carry through in your daily life?
I definitely try to! I know I’m being cowardly when I let my ego win and if I refuse to admit I’m wrong, for example. Or if I find myself talking about someone behind their back instead of proactively addressing an issue with them face to face. Traditionally, the term “man up” means to put aside your emotions. However, in these circumstances, for me, telling myself to “man up” would mean to “open up” my emotions, be vulnerable, or “step up” and take on the task of talking to them face to face (though I still wouldn’t really use that gendered language).
The choreography in the clip has managed to merge both elements of masculinity and femininity. Can you tell us more about the artistic inspiration behind that?
Ironestone choreographed the video weaving together dance inspiration from 90s boybands, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and more. He says this: “What I love most about my community is that movement has the potential for liberation, and I see this on the dance floor and I see the transformation from human to divine. The body is a charged icon, with many meanings attached to and associated with it. I think Movement has the ability to transform our perception and associations with our bodies. By playing with themes of classical femme and butch iconography, the choreography finds a balance that dissolves the boundaries of gender altogether…a taste of what inspires the movement. Dance and be free!”
Reading the comments on Youtube under the “Man to Man” video show that you have really made a positive impact on the viewers, such as: “All your videos make me feel more alive inside my own skin as someone transmasculine,” “As a trans man I use your videos to help me with dysphoria and generally chill,” and “ You definitely continue to help me be comfortable with my gender and self.” How does it feel to have such an effect on others who may not be entirely comfortable with who they are?
It feels amazing! And it is definitely what keeps me going when I’m feeling down or feeling a lack of motivation or a need for inspiration. I also went into it at first (when putting out “Career Boy”) without even expecting that kind of response, I just knew I wanted to be me and present myself how I wanted to and put that out into the world and then now, to see the overwhelmingly positive response is just so amazing and inspiring and also personally affirming. I was also especially shocked with how many people say they are so attracted to me in the videos because in a lot of ways I still feel like the same nerdy/awkward kid I always was. haha. 🙂
I noticed on Youtube that you are very active with responding to comments, both compliments and critique. How important is it for you to stay engaged with your audience and address any potential critique?
I really enjoy reading people’s responses, seeing what parts, in particular, stood out to them and which parts they loved. Also, I really value reading people’s questions and critiques because there’s so much you can learn from that in terms of how people may be interpreting your work and what you can do (next time), or in interviews, etc. to better communicate to those folks.
I consider myself lucky because I haven’t received a lot of negative comments or outright mean comments or bullying (which I know happens to a lot of queer artists) and I expect that will come someday. But for now, I like to show people that I am actively reading and responding to comments also as a way to let them know that the comments section is a space for dialogue in which people should be held accountable for what they say, rather than commenting some hateful thing from an anonymous account and not having to further explain themselves. So I hope I can establish a culture around my dialogues and also create a welcoming space for differing opinions and questions.
Other than overthrowing the patriarchy, what’s in store for Dorian Electra next?
Working on my debut album and going on tour!
Talent: Dorian Electra @dorianelectra
Photography: Lloyd Galbraith @lloydgalbraith
Hair & Make-Up: Calvin Chan @pinkslutskill
Styling/Select garments: Alabama Blonde @alabamablonde