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An Artist Makes Seattle Question Notions of Gay, Straight, Girl, Boy

An Artist Makes Seattle Question Notions of Gay, Straight, Girl, Boy

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Yonnas Getahun wants to expand the complicated conversation about gender, sexuality, and self-identity in with his multimedia campaign called #SelfID.

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For many LGBT people, "coming out" is an almost-daily occurrence. Many build up a tolerance to the double takes that become common when dropping a same-sex partner's gender-specific name. Discussions about "passing" are commonplace among LGBT people, with an unending debate raging on about the politics of passing, and whether we really are "just like" everyone else.

But for many self-identified straight people, coming out is a foreign experience. It's something that belongs to those "other" people -- the ones whose identity doesn't fit neatly into the societal boxes we are expected to contain ourselves in.

It's that comfortable, affirmed, and assumed state of being that Seattle media artist Yonnas Getahun looks to upset with his compelling project fittingly titled SelfID.

With support from Seattle's Northwest Polite Society, Northwest Film Forum, and Deehubs, Getahun asked 38 people the same four questions, then turned their answers into multimedia projects that aim to challenge our preconceived notions about gender, sexuality, and our own identities.

"The purpose or the unfolding of this project for me is to illustrate that oppression begins within, as does freedom," Getahun tells The Advocate, also mentioning cocreators Chuck Zimmerman and Colin Bishop. "We kept thinking about the person who would attack another for their sexuality and gender, [and its difference from] their own chosen identity, and, although obvious and basic, we aimed to tangentially address that person."

"If you are aghast by another person's sexuality or gender, then it is you who should unpack what in you is dictating how another can feel, express and be," Getahun continues. "Seeing the rise in violence in [Seattle's] historical gay neighborhood, we wanted to creatively interrupt and make people think."

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In practice, that interruption is twofold: A four-part video series explores the participants -- who identify with a variety of gender, sexual, and racial identities -- reflecting on when they came out, when they first knew their own gender identity and sexual orientation, how they announced those identities, and how they define themselves compared to others both alike and different from themselves. The final two videos in that series can be seen below, debuting exclusively on The Advocate.

The second part of the project includes wheat-pasted posters of each respondent's answers, posted on walls throughout the city, with particularly poignant responses turned into large-scale projections that appear on the side of Seattle buildings and coffee shops (pictured above).

Find the full collection of posters in the SelfID series here, only at The Advocate.

While SelfID initially focused on Seattle residents, Getahun is eager to expand the project to other cities, states, and even other countries. Interested parties can share their own SelfID on social media, using the hashtag #SelfID, and find more information about participating here.

In the exclusive videos below, participants explore how they announce their identity to the world. While the LGBT participants tell stories of coming out to family, friends, and communities, some straight participants find themselves in an unfamiliar hot seat.

"I don't think I ever had to announce I was straight," says one male participant. "Until I got older and moved to Seattle and had to tell people that I'm not gay."

"Yeah, I didn't have to announce it," agrees another straight participant, this time a woman. "That's something I find really intriguing, disturbing, unfair."

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Watch the third and fourth video in the series, which ask people to share their coming-out experiences and reflect on how they discovered themselves, below.

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Sunnivie Brydum

Sunnivie is the managing editor of The Advocate, and an award-winning journalist whose passion is covering the politics of equality and elevating the unheard stories of our community. Originally from Colorado, she and her spouse now live in Los Angeles, along with their three fur-children: dogs Luna and Cassie Doodle, and "Meow Button" Tilly.
Sunnivie is the managing editor of The Advocate, and an award-winning journalist whose passion is covering the politics of equality and elevating the unheard stories of our community. Originally from Colorado, she and her spouse now live in Los Angeles, along with their three fur-children: dogs Luna and Cassie Doodle, and "Meow Button" Tilly.