WE’RE NOT HERE FOR YOU
In Conversation With Landyn Pan
by Noah Jung
As an artist, Pan has been recognized by various organizations (such as Trans 100, an annual list that honors the most innovative trans activists in the United States) for his extremely reflective photography and involvement with social justice. I luckily had the opportunity to ask him some questions regarding androgynous fashion, the Asian-American trans movement, and his rejection of cis white subjugation. Like his work, Landyn Pan is daring, bright, and unapologetic.
Who is photography, and what are they to you? A business partner or a friend to rant to? The muse that sits on the top of your piano? Abstract or literal answers welcomed.
I think I know what true love is, because I know photography. I feel like photography is very essential to me, a part of my heart; part of my soul - a way to express my feelings or the actions that I might not have the words for. For me, photography is a way to connect to new people or with other photographers, or with other trans people.
It’s not that your lens necessarily focuses on the human body as a subject / if anything, it’s more of a device to carry your politics out to your consumers. Do you find yourself being fixated on any part of the human body whenever you take pictures? To what extent does that specific part fascinate you?
I don’t focus on any particular part of the body. Rather, I think about the language in the relationship between two or three people’s bodies. The earlier audiences for my works were mostly local people who were likely going to recognize the faces of my models, and the recognizability would’ve been distracting from the message I was trying to convey. Now that I have a more general audience online, I have a lot more freedom with expressing faces. It’s more about identity now rather than society, a lot more personal and human. I have actual people with identifiable faces that I actually want to be recognized.
Now it’s about having my Asian trans faces in there, making sure that people with our identities are seen. This recognition is really valuable.
And as a trans person, I’m really curious about bodies. I just find the human body to be really beautiful, and that’s how my fascination with bodies also began.
The work that most notably struck out to me was your collection that had you and your models mix-matching traditional Chinese clothing with contemporary Western outfits. And not only were those OOTDs killer, your caption below was incredible: “We’re not here to be your math tutors, or your tech support, or your exotic fantasy. Our men aren’t your weird comic relief, our teenage girls aren’t your masturbation tools, and our women aren’t your soldiers’ property. We’re not here for you.” Tell us anything about these photographs.
I am really into playing with fashion and androgyny. As a trans man, after going through hormones and surgery, society sees you as fixed. Society tells you “hey, it's time for you to conform.” Naturally, I'm like no. I'm going to put up a fight.
The idea behind these photographs was impromptu. I was borrowing some clothes from a female friend when I saw a traditional Chinese shirt. So I brought up the idea to Tessa [my friend who was also in the shoot with me] what if I were to mix Western and Eastern clothes, in addition to masculine and feminine styles. We put together the outfits on the spots at the shooting location. While shooting, I had a lot of thoughts and emotions running through my mind, and it was really powerful to see us in those clothes. This empowerment was what inspired the caption in my post.
We know that fashion is a huge statement, and we're familiar with clothes as a statement about sexuality. But we don't see it used as a statement about growing up in multicultural environments. We don't see it used to narrate stories of trying to survive in two cultures at once. That's why it was so cool to me.
To what timbre were these emotions felt? Did you also feel a sense of loss in regards to this sort of diaspora? Or was it overwhelmingly an empowering experience?
Initially, I did feel loss. I thought about how Western clothes have influenced a lot of East Asian culture, like suits and ties, a traditionally Western ensemble. To wear a mixture of these cultures felt very authentic. I had never expressed myself in that way before. I've only thought of fashion in the context of gender and sexuality. Using it in this new way to express multiculturalism was probably what brought out these powerful feelings.
Speaking of fashion, there was a great picture you did with “FABRIC HAS NO GENDER” written on a blackboard. What are some general thoughts you have on androgynous fashion, and the implications it has on the gay community? Especially for the gay POC community. Do you like where it’s headed?
Well, I love androgyny. I'm always striving to become more androgynous. It's how I purposely reclaim my identity as the other. However, I'm also aware of the issues surrounding the presentation of androgyny. Even in that photo – I absolutely love the idea behind it. I love Moon [the model]. But I had an issue with that picture being my most popular work, and I know that it can only be so popular because they’re white. Androgyny often presents whiteness as the default, sometimes even as the prerequisite. Masculinity is also seen as the norm in being genderless, such as when women wear suits and ties, it's immediately seen as androgynous. When men wear drag, it's seen as parodic or overly exaggerated. We have to question why femininity is othered while masculinity is seen as the default and as neutral. When clothing brands market themselves as gender neutral, they always adopt traits from masculinity. They're basically men's clothes that are tailored to fit women, and that's not very revolutionary.
I don't know where androgynous fashion is headed. It's just sad that AMAB (assigned male at birth) queer people aren't allowed to explore gender and androgyny in terms of femininity.
I hear that you’re doing a project about transmasculinity, and what it means to the POC community. How do you associate the mainstream perspective of transmasculinity with the effeminacy that the white supremacy forces onto Asian people?