Purple Magazine
— The Brain Issue #33

best of the season S/S 2020

best of the season
s/s 20 

interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
photography by MICHAEL BAILEY-GATES
with BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ
style by SHEILA SINGLE 

 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Bobbi, is acting something you’ve always wanted to do?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Well, it wasn’t really my plan. Since I was a little kid, I always thought, “Oh, I want to be an artist, because if you’re an artist, you can do what- ever you want.” Of all the “adult” things to have to do at some point, being an artist seemed the most free.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s not even a choice.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — [Laughs] Yeah, exactly. I had different ideas about it then than I do now, obviously. But I was also always very interested in film. I really liked watching films, and I used to go to Cinema Nolita — the last video-rental place downtown. That’s how I met the Safdie brothers…

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you were renting DVDs?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah, I was always interested in cinema from other parts of the world. I appreciated film, but I never imagined that I’d act when I was younger.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you take acting classes?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — After working on my first film, Olivier Assayas’s Après Mai [Something in the Air, 2012] — they were looking for non-actors — he recommended me to some people in LA, and they became my managers. They said: “He’s never recommended anyone before, so we take it very seriously. If you want, we’ll send you on auditions.” And it went from there.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And what about this new film, Adam [Rhys Ernst, 2019]?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Oh, yeah. Adam was the first film where I was credited as “Bobbi.” Although in the film I have long hair, and I’m playing a female role.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What kind of character?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I play a lesbian. The director — Rhys Ernst — is a friend of mine. I was really excited to work on that film. I wasn’t completely publicly out in my identity at the time when we were filming it. I was in an in-between place, and having more conversations about my gender and name stuff privately, with only a few people who are close to me. Rhys didn’t know that at the time when we were filming, but I was really grateful to be working with him in that time.

OLIVIER ZAHM — He didn’t know?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah. But I was really excited to work on it, and with so many other people of different trans experiences. I felt really seen as not being a cis person [laughs] by a lot of the other people who I was working with — even though I wasn’t necessarily explicitly saying, “Oh, I’m this, I’m that.” My partner at the time was also trans — now a good friend of mine — and I was already very immersed in my community, so…

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, it was very organic?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah. And then, after that film, I took a break from acting.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Why?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Growing up in New York, I was dropped into a certain social interconnectivity that led to all these amazing opportunities. But suddenly I had a kind of visibility. I’d started acting, and I just needed to step back so that I could think about my life in a bigger picture. And without feeling pressure — “Oh, my job” or something. “Acting people think I’m this kind of girl, and will I be able to keep getting work if I come out as trans?” I just didn’t want to have to worry about any of that. So, I thought, I’m just going to pause.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was it in the middle of your transition?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Well, it’s not really like: point A, point B. It’s continual. If I were a binary trans person — if I were just going to identify as a trans man it might be different… But because I feel nonbinary, neither one or the other — a little bit of both — it’s kind of amorphic, and the arrival point is a little blurry. [Laughs] I have questions I don’t have answers for.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a permanent transition — or a permanent evolution, maybe?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah, I feel it’s that way. And when the film was premiering at Sundance, I thought, “Okay, this is a good opportunity to formally come out.” To share my name on Instagram, and go and meet the press in this very formal way that you do at a film festival. Also, the filmmaker’s trans; many people who worked on the film are trans. So, I knew I was going to be in good company, and it’d be effortless for them to be supporting me. So, I felt good about that, and that was my test to see how it felt. And then afterward, my agents were like, “So, you wanna audition again?” And I was surprised how much work there is — there’re so many interesting nonbinary roles, trans roles, queer roles…

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because it’s a new kind of identity, so a new kind of role. Would you say that queer people have a greater predisposition to act?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I don’t think it’s a new identity really, although of course there is this shift in there being a more mainstream awareness. I don’t know. I think it’s really from person to person. There’re so many trans people who have no interest in acting at all! [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you already have a fluctuation of identities.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah, I feel as though my experience as a trans person influences how I approach acting. You know, there’re different roles I go in for where maybe it’s a female role, but maybe she has a kind of complicated gender — maybe she’s a butch lesbian in the ’40s. And the way that they’re experiencing their gender in the ’40s, through a contemporary lens, might be considered a trans experience, but because it was in the ’40s, it wouldn’t be considered that way. Or, because of history, some- one might be closeted, or whatever… There’re so many layers to how things are narrated through history. But I think that for so much of my life, I was trying very hard to play the role of a girl. In real life, I mean. So that, as a personal experience, is valuable to bring into any role that I play. Or it’s a unique angle to bring into it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you really working hard on that — being a girl?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Well, it was never neutral. I just couldn’t accept it as being simple. So, I was like, “Hm, what kind of girl can I be that’s different?” You know, I think I tried to find a way to feel like myself within the category for a long time. Obviously, I reached a point where the category didn’t feel like it could support or hold me — or my experience. And it’s not just hypothetical, or conceptual, in my mind. It’s also in my body. I’ve had experiences where I’m like, “I feel like a boy.” And it’s not always the same. I can go back and remember parts of my childhood: “Oh, in this part of my childhood, I felt like a boy. And in this part of my childhood, I felt like a girl,” you know? [Laughs] What does it even mean?

OLIVIER ZAHM — What is it like to “feel like a boy,” for you? For me, feel- ing like a girl — as a cis guy — never happens, except during sex, when suddenly the woman takes responsibility and uses me. I feel like: “Oh! She wants me just because of… what? I’m sexy?” Or whatever she imagines me to be. And she wants me. So, suddenly I feel like a girl. But apart from that, I can’t project myself into what it is to be the other gender. It’s a total mystery. Or there’s a wall. So, what’s it like to have within you the feeling, the sensation, or the idea that you also…
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Are different from what you were assigned?

OLIVIER ZAHM — Exactly. And that you’re also a guy.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah. [Sighs] I mean… It’s always different, and I think it’s culturally unique. Because what it means to be a woman or a man is something different in every culture. So, it’s both culturally constructed and it’s a personal experience — it’s both.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But generally, in most cultures, it’s drastically defined, if not very rigid.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Mm, historically, not every culture: there’re many indigenous cultures where there’s a third gender, a fourth gender, a fifth gender. So, there’ve always been trans people, but they’ve fit into society differently throughout history, and within the unique structure of their culture. Part of colonialism was also to erase this thing. It’s an extension of white supremacy in a way, erasing these nonwhite cultures that had more complicated, nuanced understandings of gender. The first peoples in the United States used the term “Two Spirit.” They have both spirits.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Two Spirit, that’s beautiful.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — In some Native American cultures, there are people who’re Two Spirit, and often people who’re Two Spirit have a very special role in the community — they’re spiritually respected, and maybe they’re a medicine person, or they look after the children. They have a special and respected role. But in colonial white culture or industrial culture, it’s different. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — I saw a documentary 15 years ago about how doctors and hospitals decide for the parents…
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Oh, you mean people who are intersex? Yeah.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, the gender and bodies of kids — of newborns!
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I know. Yeah, it’s really intense.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s crazy, isn’t it?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Many people of this experience — they don’t even know until much later, or if ever. No one tells them, “Oh, they did a surgery on you when you were a baby.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, because it has to go there or there [gestures a binary divide]. Isn’t it crazy?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I think about that a lot. I have some friends who are intersex, and we talk about this.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s really insane. Even the artistic possibility of what these in-between people can bring: their sensitivity, their way of loving. It’s shocking. And this is why I’m impressed by individuals like you who suddenly counterattack and say to the world that this isn’t acceptable — because it’s a secret, it’s invisible. It’s like killing a whole category of people.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah. In a way, the more separate people are, the easier they are to control. It’s like patriarchy couldn’t exist without the separation of men and women.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — And patriarchy is very effective as a control system [laughs], so it makes sense why these things are this way.

OLIVIER ZAHM — In France, the parents aren’t informed. They say: “Oh, there’s a little problem. We’ll fix it.” And that’s it.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — It’s crazy. It depends where you go, but sometimes it’s an option in the States. But it depends also on the condition, like what the situation is for the child. Because there’re so many different versions of the intersex condition. That’s a different experience from my own, to some extent, but it’s definitely connected.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you had this feeling that you were in between — that you could move from one to the other easily?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah. I feel like integrating the reality of my experience — being one that isn’t cis- gendered, and is trans and nonbinary — has connected me to myself in a way that I’ve never felt. I know myself better and, in a simple way, feel more on Earth. I feel more in my body.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you have to take hormones?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Well, I don’t want to talk about it in public. [Laughs] I mean, one can take hormones, but I don’t think you have to do anything medically for it to be real. So, I don’t like to talk about it publicly, like what I chose to do medically or not. And certain aspects of what I do or don’t choose to do medically are maybe made obvious. But other things… I like it being a little bit more mysterious.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Okay. But did you always feel that you had these two or more possibilities in yourself?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah, I never felt clearly defined.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And now, how would you define yourself? Is it nonbinary or trans?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I’d use both: trans, nonbinary. There’re also many other more casual terms I’d use. I’m queer. I have a queer gender, and also in my sexuality. You were talking about accessing your gender, or the queerness of your gender, through sex. It’s really interesting because our gender exists outside of sex, but also, sex can affect how we feel in our gender, so they’re separate things, but they’re also connected. It’s complicated… You know, there are trans people who’re also straight. But I’m not one of those people. [Laughs] That’s a different experience. But I think, for me, certain ways that I’ve accessed experiencing my gender have been just in my daily life. And then sometimes I might, through having queer sex, learn something new about my gender. Which is similar to your experience, where you have sex in a new way, and you’re like, “Oh, now I perceive my body in this new way.” As a trans person, I feel like I have my body that’s here in the flesh, and then I have other extensions of my body that’re invisible and felt by others. People talk about “phantom cocks” or things like this…

OLIVIER ZAHM — Oh, really?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — It’s like, I have a dick, but it’s different than yours, you know? [Laughs] It’s more metaphysical or something.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, or cerebral? And symbolic?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah, cerebral, metaphysical, symbolic — and also felt in a real way.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re also lucky, maybe, that your own story matches with social evolution on these issues.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah, I feel very grateful.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Especially in New York. Because — I realized this recently — New York is maybe the capital of this nonbinary revolution. It’s not in Paris, in my experience, not really — or very little. Maybe in LA?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah, I know a lot of queer and trans people who have community in LA. And I’m connected to that community in different ways. There’s a lot of facilitation of that community in New York. You know, it’s like the nightlife, and there are just so many people here who’re thriving. And doing activist organizing work around it. The scene in New York is very strong. And I think it is everywhere else in the world; it’s just more hidden away in different places. Maybe for survival reasons, in some places, people have to be more secretive or hide. It’s really complicated, depending on where you are in the world, and in America too, what neighbourhood you’re in, there is a real issue of safety. But the Internet is really connecting people. Someone might be 12 years old and living in a small town, and they don’t know of any trans people in their personal life. But they can go online, find other people, and realize: “Oh, that feels like how I feel. Maybe I’m this, and maybe I can’t live in this town, or maybe I’m going to have to change this town by staying.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — But this is why they all end up in New York. [Laughs] So, after all these acting experiences, and also being part of the New York scene since you were a kid, do you think that your generation is finally speaking up? It’s your time. Do you feel that?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I guess it’s still hard for me to know exactly, from being inside of it, what it looks like on the outside. So, it’s hard for me to have a meta-analysis of my generation and what exactly our legacy will be. Or what the aesthetic will be. But yeah, I think shit’s crazy. Trump is president or might be impeached by the time this comes out. Global warming is really intense. Police brutality’s really crazy. Racism’s really a problem. Violence against women persists. Even though we had #MeToo, we’re still living in rape culture. So, I think maybe for my generation, there’s two ways to be here now: either you can choose to be accelerationist and give up, and say: “Fuck it. We already fucked the whole planet up, so I’m gonna just do me and fuck everyone.” Or you can be like, “This is the time to take whatever you believe in really seriously, fight for it, and live your truth,” whatever that means. And hold each other accountable and, in what- ever way we can, radically shift our culture. Clearly, there’s a problem with a lot of the old perspectives if they’ve led us here.

OLIVIER ZAHM — [Laughs] Totally!
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah. Even kids younger than me… I forget if I told you, when I took a break from acting, I started being a substitute teacher — I still teach, when I’m not working on different projects.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you teach?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I teach an art class some- times. And I work with kin- dergarten kids, so you just do everything — math games, reading games. I really enjoy it. I find it really interesting and illuminat- ing. I learn so much from teaching. Especially with younger kids, who don’t have the same filters as grown-ups do. But I look at a lot of the kids that I work with… The climate march that happened earlier this fall — it was so big. And I was so moved by the power of kids — people even younger than me. This week- end, my 12-year-old sister was with me, and we have 13 years difference between us. We’re almost in the same generation, but a little bit of distance. And she seems even more advanced. So, I might be breaking the mold in some way, versus the status quo, but I’m just like: “These younger kids! They really know.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — But would you agree that you matured very quickly?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I think so. Growing up in New York and having younger parents and a lot of freedom, I was out in the world — going to parties and openings, and meeting people— I was really motivated. And I was really fucking full of myself. [Laughs] My parents would bring me to the par- ties that they went to when I was little. I always considered myself a peer with adults. I have friends who were raised differently, and when we were teenagers, they’d always be afraid of grown-ups. I’d hang out with the older brother, with the mom in the kitchen. I was always interested in adults, and so I tried to grow up really fast. But now I’m like a baby again. [Laughs] I’m going backward now.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And your sister is maturing even faster?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah. She just moved upstate a year ago. So, she’s having a different childhood from mine. But she was visiting friends in the city this weekend. And she still has some New York City experience, mixing in. She’s like: “Okay, I have the Internet. I can learn everything I want to know.” Like, “I can learn all the secrets of the grown-ups — it’s all on my phone.” But she’s not just mature — she’s wise because she also is interested in preserving her childhood. She doesn’t want to know everything, but intuitively, she understands it. And I think that’s really smart, and she also knows queerness. She’s always understood it. Since she was little, she was like, “Yeah, I like boys, I like girls, who cares?” Even my brother — I have a brother who’s 13 — one time I had to explain to him that a friend of mine was nonbinary, because we were going to all hang out and it was the first time he would use singular they/them pronouns for someone, and he said this super-nerdy thing that I thought was really interesting: “It’s like gender is the software, and your body is the hardware.” And I was like: “Wow! That’s a really good way to put it.” [Laughs] It’s really interesting. And you can change your hardware if you need to. But this younger generation is even more integrated and intuitive. They just understand it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because they’re born with the technology. They grow up with iPhones and computers…
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Have you ever heard of this thing called “morphic resonance”?

OLIVIER ZAHM — No.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Morphic resonance is a theory this scientist in England [Rupert Sheldrake] discovered. So, the first example of how it was discovered was: a long time ago, when the milk in London was put on your doorstep, it had a paper on the top. And one day, a starling came, and it figured out how to peck into the top, cut through the paper with its beak, and drink the milk. The next day, all the birds knew how to do it. If you think about it, the bird couldn’t tell every other bird — somehow, they had connected consciousness. So, morphic resonance is this idea that because there’s some way in which people’s consciousness is connected, if one person discovers one thing, then everyone else has access to discovering it. It’s a conceptual theory, but…

OLIVIER ZAHM — But it could apply to this transgender revolution in New York. Because once you break the rules, once you’re able to find a way to drink the…
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — The milk, drink the milk. [Laughs] Then everybody gets a sip!

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, yes. Then everybody understands, immediately.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah. I like to think about that theory a lot with the progression of culture, where it’s like, “How can every- body already know?” It’s almost like it’s in the air or something. It’s really interesting. Or even, for me, I talk about my gender very openly with my students, and they’re all very chill about it. No one’s really so impressed by it. [Laughs] And kids come up to me and tell me, “I kind of feel that way, too.” And it’s not a big deal for them. And I think a lot of people who’re transphobic are afraid that it’s contagious or something. But, in a way, I think it makes sense.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But in your case, it’s a change because you were known as such a beautiful young girl with beautiful red hair.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — And then, you know, boom! In what, in the course of a year or two? You’re still beautiful — maybe more than ever — to me.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — [Laughs] Thank you.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And you were in magazines and were already a celebrity…
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah, people liked how I looked. People were invested. I mean, I haven’t booked as many big-money modeling jobs, [laughs] but it’s fine. It’s a big change.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But do you understand that it can surprise people?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah. People are like: “What? But I thought you were this way.” Everybody has an idea about someone. But what you really know about a person is always so little, compared with the whole person — and their feelings, life, and experience. Even the people you’re closest to — you don’t know every- thing about them. People project a lot. And I’m sure many people were invested in one idea of me, at one time. So many people have an aversion to change. It’s a problem of the human species. Change is inevitable. It’s like our last conversation, when you were like, “Well, can you go back?” I was like, “Well, can you go back?”

OLIVIER ZAHM — [Laughs]
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — You know? [Laughs] No one can go back, whether they like it or not. You never get a choice like that.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But Bobbi, since I met you, I have always thought you were not only the new creative generation in New York, but also an artist. People are interested in interacting and working with you. It’s because of this… You’re maybe the subject of your own art — exploring who you are, as an artist.
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I can’t help but bring all of myself wherever I go, maybe. And I believe in working on myself as a person, and trying to be my most authentic, generous self is important to me. And that comes with me everywhere I go. And into every interaction. And treating every person equally like a person. It’s a more interesting way to be on this planet. To be as open as you can.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Generally, artists project themselves in their own work — on the canvas, in a sculpture, in a story. Is that the case with you?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I guess. I have aesthetic interests. There’re things that I’m drawn to. I don’t think anything’s neutral. So, I’m always embedding symbols into ways that I express myself. It’s like I’m obsessed with this color, so I’ll wear it on this day. My interests are reflected in my person. And I don’t have some secret agenda — it’s all out there. I guess I’m really interested in vulnerability. I don’t think everyone in my generation is. A lot of people are anti-vulnerability. And it makes my life hard sometimes — to choose to be as vulnerable as I can. And it doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I don’t put myself in a dangerous situation on purpose just because it’s interesting. I have boundaries. But being vulnerable, to me, is similar to being open. If I’m always closed, how will I learn anything? I open myself up to learn the most in every new situation because you never know who your next teacher will be. Maybe the person on the train who seems out of their mind has something to teach you. And making the most of every single moment… It’s like: you’re here, it’s the end of the world, you might as well really be here, and be looking around you, and listening, and aware, as much as you can be.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But how do you feel? Do you feel good, personally?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I just feel like now, versus before… I’m able to experience my life in a fuller way. Like, sometimes I was a bit more dissociated from my life and watching from the outside. And now, I just feel more inside of my own life. And part of it also is that I started meditating, and that helps a lot. And it has helped me think about my gender more, because I can have more time inside myself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you do it? With an app or by yourself? With a group?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I sit with my partner in the mornings, and sometimes I’ll sit with other people or friends who also meditate. But always with my partner — we meditate one hour in the morning and then one hour at night.

OLIVIER ZAHM — No way! Two hours a day?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah, a year and a half ago, I started with 15 minutes in the morning every day by myself because I’d done a retreat where you learn the specific style of meditation that I do, which is Vipassana meditation, a king of body-sensation scanning. And then I also do Anapana, which is breathwork. And also Metta meditation, where you send positivity out into the world. It’s more imaginary. But yeah, I’d done this 10-day silent retreat, where you meditate every day. Very serious.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Where?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I went to a center in Massachusetts, but they have them all over the world. And it’s totally free. It’s all volunteer-run. I’ve also gone back — I thought it’d be nice to volunteer. And I liked it, actually, volunteering there and working in the kitchen. [Laughs] And meditating.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But do you have sex and love affairs in this kind of situation, or not?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — You’re not supposed to. That’s breaking the rules. It’s almost like a monastery. But I did have a crazy experience. It’s really interesting when you meditate — just, who knows what’s going to happen? And it’s really psychedelic sometimes. I’ve orgasmed just from meditating. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — No way!
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah. And I was like, “Oh no, am I breaking the rules?”

OLIVIER ZAHM — You could really feel it?
BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Yeah, like full.

END

 

Juan Alvear, manicurist — Shingo Shibata at THE WALL GROUP, hair — Kanako Takase at STREETERS using ADDICTION BEAUTY, make-up ­— Reto Sterchi, photographer’s assistant — Laëtitia Gimenez and Hannah Kuessner, stylist’s assistants — Gerard Santos at WALTER SCHUPFER, set designer — MINI TITLE, production

[Table of contents]

The Brain Issue #33

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