Don't Be Yourself

I first wrote this piece after a personal experience at an interstate music festival late last year, where I was cornered by a drunk festival-goer and harrassed. Out of all the amazing strangers I met that day, he was the one who stuck in my memory. He kept on insisting I must be gay from the way I was dressed in a rainbow jumpsuit and hat. He then persisted that he set me up with his heterosexual friend nearby. I moved away quickly and never saw them again.

I performed this piece as a slam poem at my home crowd, Ruckus Brisbane, last year on a couple of separate occasions and loved the friendly, supportive reception each time. I wrote and performed it as a direct statement against the men in our culture who mask themselves as progressive and liberal-minded but are so close-minded and regressive in any given situation. You can’t really be yourself around these people because they’re not sure who or what they are themselves. They’ll try to mislabel you until their dying breath.

I hope every person who has ever verbally or physically harassed me or anyone based on how they dress somehow stumbles upon this artwork online. I hope they see it and learn from it.

By Sean West

When Fear Is a Blessing and a Curse

I expend an abnormal amount of energy dodging reminders that I am a living, breathing being who houses a vascular system. If I’m curled up in bed at night and accidentally press my hand on my carotid pulse, I have to sit up to prevent myself from gagging. What began as an annoyance has turned exasperating, and I’ve only recently been able to pinpoint how I came to be so affected by such a natural part of myself.

When I was younger, I would hop off the school bus and join my mom on the couch to watch General Hospital. The soap opera is by no means gory or explicit, but any scenes involving surgery or blood or veins would send her into a tailspin. She would lower the volume, grimace for a few moments, and say she “couldn’t make a fist”—a phrase she coined as a child when her best friend would target her with cringe-inducing antics that rendered her muscles weak. I laughed at her then, but I began to adopt a similar reaction to identical triggers as I grew older. Looking back, I have no doubt that my queasy nature was initially born out of mimicry. I idolized my mom, like many elementary school-aged children do, and was hyper-aware of any avenues I could take to be more similar to her.

Since then, my fear of the human body has settled in and made a comfortable home for itself—transforming from something artificial into something very real. I wrestle with a lot of resentment and anger associated with my intense fear, the most salient being the fights it causes with my younger sister.

She’s incredibly smart and knows exactly how to manipulate my weaknesses to get what she wants. Over the summer, we have occasional screaming matches that arise over who gets to fill out the People Magazine puzzle. It’s one of the only crosswords we’re able to complete without looking up any answers, so there’s often a battle over who deserves the ego boost.  

If I stand my ground and the conflict escalates, she capitalizes on my fear of getting a paper cut—a nightmare that would require facing my own blood. She jumps up and comes running toward me with the magazine in front of her, swinging it back and forth like a sword. I usually hide behind the kitchen table or jump over the nearest piece of furniture, yelling at her to stop. 

While I know this scene seems childish, it’s really a testimony to how exhausting it is to have a paralyzing fear treated flippantly by people you desperately want to feel safe around.  After our arguments, I always find myself left with a host of uncomfortable questions relating to the grasp that fear has on my life. How can something as simple as the prospect of a paper cut almost send me over the edge?  Am I able to overcome anything that makes me mildly afraid or uncomfortable?

Despite the frustration of having to manage family arguments and ruminate over the difficult questions that arise from it, I’ve also wielded my phobia to corral affection and attention in recent years, which is something I’m not particularly proud of. This shines through in larger social situations, especially when my friends and I get together for dinner. Some evenings, I lean back and pay close attention to the way they interact with each other. Most of them are comfortable with touch, and are always engaged in passionate, unfiltered conversation. While I admire my friends for this, it’s been difficult for me to develop that kind of comfort with physical contact and unfiltered speech. I sometimes feel like I’m on an island that’s a few miles away from the people I love, because there’s simply a gap between their social inclinations and mine.  

Since I feel a need to rectify this disparity, I occasionally employ bizarre tactics to gather confirmation that my friends do, in fact, like me. And sometimes, that involves wielding the severity of my fear when it’s appropriate. If someone at the table brings up a horror movie or an injury they’ve once suffered, I tend to interject and make a miniature spectacle out of it. I’ll tell them to stop, tense up, and catch myself furrowing my eyebrows slightly more than normal for dramatic effect. Although my phobia is, of course, real, I often take it a step further because it entertains my friends and draws in a few moments of concern that I don’t know how to ask for or summon otherwise.

Anyone who knows me would likely say I use my vulnerabilities to construct a sweet and tender identity cushion. And although this seems eyebrow-raising, I believe it’s fundamentally human to look for ways to benefit from the things that give you trouble—especially the ones that will always stick with you. I don’t necessarily believe my tendency to use fear as a social crutch is a healthy one, but being aware that it’s something I draw on has been a crucial step in reshaping more constructive, meaningful, and authentic ways to connect with the people I care about.

While I can’t say that I’ve stopped taking the easy road altogether, I can tell I’m making progress.  Now, when I’m feeling anxious, uncomfortable, or out of control in social situations, I rein in the negative feelings, take a deep breath, and leap into the pool of conversation. And the best surprise?  It turns out there’s enough room in the deep end for everyone, neuroses and all.

By Avery Matteo
Photo by v2osk from Unsplash


I think sometimes it’s hard to really articulate a statement on collaborative work. The team we formed and the talent we worked with all came together with a sense of excitement for working with each other. And that’s what I love about working in photography. I love what happens when a group of people kind of jam on what one another is doing. This project was like writing a song in a lot of ways. Everybody had their own voice, and when put together, we all found ways to use our voices to support each other. 

The ropes kind of translate that connection. I like how they cut through the frame and connect the girls to the set, visually. 

The canvas set has long been a standard in imaging. It’s the go-to surface for painters, and painted backdrops remind me of classic photographs. Maybe more than that, they remind me of the still-life sets you see in classic paintings. I think there’s a connection
 there with our aesthetic process. The texture of the woven fabric grounds the set more than paper does. The imperfections flow beautifully as the light moves across. It’s a wonderful material to work with.

The way the clothes flow is harmonious with the set, but the textures have a clear contrast. There’s a bit of a story with that too, how these beautiful pieces, when you break them down, are fabric themselves. 

Murphy and Brookelin are both models I’ve been working with for years. They aren’t “kid models” anymore, but they aren’t women yet either. I think it’s great to see them grow like that. They can connect the set and the wardrobe and the hair and makeup and the light, and connect it all to the viewer through the camera.

Photos by Nicholas Steever
 Styling by Jill Rothstein
Hair and Makeup by Clelia Berbonzoli
Modeled by Murphy and Brookelin


The word “whimsical” might be one of those specific but overused terms used to describe photo series. But there are some occasions—rare occasions—when this word is still precise enough to be used.

This is a series of whimsical, blurred, and surreal portraits of chosen subjects taken over three years in Melbourne, Singapore, and Jakarta. Never showing the subjects’ faces entirely, these photographs are not the average traditional portraits; rather, they’re evocations of our journeys, mindsets, interests, and experiments. 

Erasing the obvious, revealing through concealing, delineating through obscuring, faces are blurred. The resulting visions are innately intimate, and yet at the same time they sing the song of loneliness, emptiness, confusion, and longing.

These hazy, dreamy images represent a digital image that hasn’t fully loaded yet. The subjects featured have profoundly different backgrounds: Asmara Abigail is a movie actress, Iris Ferwerda is a teacher, and Hayati Azis is a fashion model.

Looking at the works takes a bit of getting used to, especially in this day of high definition and hyperrealism. We explore the boundaries of memory through the distorted and ephemeral quality of this series. Although you can find hints at forms and colors in this series, not all the information is given, therefore allowing the viewer an avenue to picture their own subjects, stories, and meanings. 

It might be abstract, hard to grasp, one of the hardest human links to put down in words, but this work conveys the connection of two souls who grew up together, hand in hand—camera in hand.

Photos by Sally Ann & Emily May
Taken between 2014-2017

What to Wear for Halloween: Comic Edition

The Alien

If you wanna go for something that's literally out of this world, what’s better than being a cool alien from Area 51? It's time to show the world what you've got!

The Vicious Duo

Going with your bestfriend or as a couple? Get inspired by an iconic duo. Featured: Sid and Nancy.

The Iconic

Dress up as something people can hear when they see you! (Kylie Jenner's “Rise and Shine” surely does it.) Get inspired by the iconic collection of 2019 memes.

The Trio

Going out with friends? Dress up as your fave food or drink! Looking like a literal snack is surely the way to go. After all, what you eat is what you are...or become.
Featured: a burrito, boba, and rainbow cake. 

By Julia Tabor

Black Rodeos Aren’t Anything New—Now They're Becoming Mainstream.

It’s 7 PM and pouring in thick sheets, but through the thick aroma of the damp air, I can still smell the horses—they’re wild, like the earth. The glow from Georgia’s horse park arena is warm, an orange, pulsing heartbeat glimmering through the grey. As I get closer, my camera strapped to my side, my pulse thunders in my ears. I’ve never done this before.

That is, I’ve never photographed a rodeo, let alone one for black cowboys and horsewomen.

The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, a competition for black riders that’s transformed into a 35-year-running annual tradition, opens the doors to many riders that often aren’t given the chance otherwise. 

Talking to the competitors, it becomes clear that rodeoing and horse riding are traditions passed through generations; meaning, no, Lil Nas X didn’t start a trend, and also, no, black horse riders aren’t “stealing” anything—from anyone. 

It’s a close-knit community, but widespread; there are more black horsemen than you think, and they’ve been there from the start. If anything, the rise of black cowboys in black pop culture and hip-hop is simply reclaiming an often overlooked aspect of our community. 

The equestrian world has a lot of barriers to entry revolving around class and race. And when you think of equestrian culture, the impression of it is largely white, and largely upper middle class. 

But that image does a disservice to the diverse black and brown people who have always existed there. The South is scattered with black horse clubs, and Metro Atlanta boasts a slew of urban riders, as well as a Black Rodeo Association. 

It was a privilege to capture snapshots of their lives, and document moments within a community of truly talented, welcoming individuals. And I look forward to helping them say their piece.

By Erin Davis

We Want Candy

One of us is pretending to chat up the hot checkout chick tonight, pointing at the rows of cigarettes behind her while two of us linger in the candy aisle. She seems uninterested but distracted by the chatter. Her focus flicks between the cigarette shelves and us.
We peer up at all the bright pinks, greens, reds, blues, and yellows lined up in their plastic containers. Killer Pythons, Pink Clouds, Peppermint Leaves, and Red Frogs, all ripe for the picking. Flipping open the sticky lids, we take our chance while the checkout babe is bent over.
We shovel fistfuls of sweets into our pockets. Our mate keeps lookout at the counter, peering down at her tight skirt. Talking keeps her occupied, crouched and looking for a cigarette brand that does not exist. When she gives up on looking and turns around, we are already out the door. We sprint as fast as we can around the block to our usual hangout.
We pick pieces of candy from our pockets, out of breath but chewing them anyway. The three of us jump the waist-high fence and start wandering down the hill to our school oval. It is well after dark and our parents do not know where we are. They never do. We have come here to smoke, eat our guts full, and feel dangerous.
In the distance, we can see something sitting on the tattered cricket pitch.
It looks almost like a girl.
We edge closer to her and see she is not moving, still as the gum trees looming in the distance. A dead branch sometimes falls to the grass. Nothing else.
We sit down in a loose circle around her. She does not turn to us but stares forward, unblinking. She does not breathe like us. Her skin is not tan and her hair is not blonde, not like the checkout chick. Her lips are a rich red and closed tight. She does not breathe a word.
We have never seen a girl pinker or fluffier. She smells like school fêtes and circus carnivals. We forget our pockets are fat with candy. Someone pulls out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, flicks the flint, and lights up. Her skin glows pastel as we pass the cig around.
One of us holds it out to her, gesturing for her to take a drag. She does not turn her head or look at the cigarette. Her eyes move slightly over each of us. They are a deep peppermint green. They seem to look not at us, but through us.
Her hand glides up and takes the lit cigarette. She pulls it toward her mouth but does not inhale. The heat sizzles and melts her lips, shriveling her face into itself. We can see she is not made of flesh and blood. She smells and looks just like cotton candy.
Her hand falls to her lap. We take the cig back. She does not know how to smoke. We do not think she knows anything. She looks pretty and smells delicious.
One of us reaches out to touch her. Then another. Then all three of us. She clings to our hands like spider webs. We rub her between our fingertips.
We lean in closer. One of us drops the cigarette. The tiny embers croak and die in the dewy grass. Someone pulls her hand close and holds it to their lips. They bite down and a piece of her comes away in their mouth. She tastes so sweet.
We pull at another part of her, bigger this time. Chewing the fluffy candy, the skin gently fizzles, and disappears on our tongues. This is way better than anything you can nick from a convenience store. We barely even have to swallow.
She does not seem to be in any pain. Her green eyes look into us without fear or anger. She only stares and does not say a thing as we peel more pieces from her. Slide them over our tongues, pick them apart in our hands.
Then someone reaches for her eyes. We pluck one softly from her face, split it in three, and share it around our group. It is sour like a green apple rotting in the Brisbane sun. We do not like it. Spit it out in the dirt.
She looks at us through her one good eye. There is not much left of her now. We keep scooping away, wrapping our whole hands in pink clouds. Sucking her off the backs of our hands, licking the sweet syrup from between our hairs.
We feel her stuck to our faces, rub her from around our mouths. The last few parts are the sweetest. We crave more of the fluffy cotton candy.
But the only piece left now is that second green eye, bitter and sour by comparison. None of us are game enough to try it again after the first. We hesitate to even pick it up.

Someone suggests we take it home. Another says we should trade it for more cigarettes at school. But instead we agree to throw it into the night, further than the line of gum trees, farther than the empty parking lot. We do not see where it lands. Probably in the nearby creek.
Who would ever want to eat that?

By Sean West
Photo by Krista Schlueter for The New Yorker

A Love Letter to Life Partners

I am in love with my best friend. You might think you’ve heard this story before, but it’s not romantic—we did try dating, but after we realized it wasn’t working, we spent years confused about what we meant to each other. We weren’t lovers, but our connection ran deeper than friendship. If there’s one person who knows me the way I long to be known, it’s her. There’s a comfort in having someone to whom you don’t need to explain yourself. That way, when the world asks questions and demands labels from you, you have someone who sees you. I don’t have to translate my rambling thoughts to her because she knows the layout of my brain. She is my friend, but she is also my life partner—a steady, reassuring presence. 

There needs to be more discussion about these undefinable relationships. When I looked to the internet for help, I couldn’t find anything about platonic partnerships; all I could find were more boxes. Same went for fluid romances. Where were the appreciation posts for ace couples, for aro partners, for the people who float in and out of love with ease? After years of searching for information on polyamory, I still know next to nothing about it. How many more people are out there desperately searching for a label that fits them? Society demands identities that can be summed up neatly in an Instagram bio; the more specific, the better, but I don’t just want a sentence below my profile picture. I don’t want people to put me or my emotions in a predefined box. I want to express the different layers of calm and love I feel when I’m with my special person. I can’t sum up a lifetime of conflict and change and understanding in a few words. Knowing glances, casual assumptions, the pressure to be in a paint-by-numbers relationship—these are all things people in non-traditional partnerships deal with on the regular. 

So much of that stigma hurts ace and aromantic people in particular. Sex and love will never be mutually exclusive. If a person is unable to feel romantic and/or sexual attraction, their relationships are constantly invalidated. “Sex is shoved down my throat when all I want is a connection,” an ace friend once explained to me. “There are all these expectations for what love should look like. I’m just not interested in that.” 

It’s limiting to confine certain kinds of affection to certain kinds of relationships. Sometimes we don’t get to decide what we feel for someone, or how that will translate into societal standards. Love in any form is not a box which can be checked off with “yes” or “no.” Every time we enter a new beginning, we’re constantly thinking of the end: ex, summer fling, sort-of-friend, faded away, no longer on speaking terms. 

My best friend and I tried a million different labels—lovers, rivals, acquaintances—and we still think “partners in crime” fits us best. Ours is the kind of love that can survive when a label no longer applies. When people are comfortable following their hearts, they worry less about what outsiders will think or how they’ll frame their special person in their mind. They let themselves breathe and take love as it comes. 

A relationship is a process, not a product or a title. Entering while already dreading the aftermath, while forcing yourself to adopt a label—it hurts more than it helps. Despite our struggles, my best friend and I have had the longest, most fulfilling relationship I’ve ever been a part of. Life partners don’t require the pressure of permanence. The only true love that exists is the kind that sustains both people involved, no matter if it lasts a few weeks or a lifetime. I’ve accepted the fluidity of my life and my feelings, and I’m so much better for it. Now that my friend and I have discarded the need for labels, we can invest in our relationship without second-guessing ourselves. It’s an equal partnership, no longer plagued by preconceived standards of what a friendship “should” look like. I feel so much more free to express my love for others without categorizing it. Whether it’s a ten-year connection or one that lasts a couple of weeks, I put myself all in. I don’t worry about what kind of name to give it, because love is a feeling that moves and bends with me. I am in love with my best friend. It’s not romantic; I no longer feel that I love her in the wrong way, or that I need to use labels to define my feelings. I’m alright with the fluidity, the uncertainty of it all—because it still comes naturally.

By MJ Brown