#Mannylooou: An Interview with Emmanuel Lapoterie
Class Standing: Sophomore
Major: Communication, Spanish Translation
You seem to like to express yourself through art. Which mediums do you use to express yourself the most?
I love photography. It’s one of my favorite things to do; I take pictures all the time. I literally just posted a picture on Instagram. I also express myself through the clothes that I wear, the way that I dress and the way I talk to people. I feel like life is just performance art. Everything you do is a performance and everyone is always watching.
You’ve said in the past that your Instagram is like your diary. Can you explain this?
I call it my diary because I try to express and share with people everything that I feel when I’m taking these pictures. Since I’m such an emotional and open person, my Instagram is kind of like an open letter diary to whoever wants to see it - it’s therapeutic. It helps me feel better about myself and allows other people to get to know me better.
Could you explain your photo series that focused on makeup, cigarettes and pop culture?
I posted that series over the summer. It went from this little project that I was doing for myself into this bigger project that I actually wanted to share with other people. There were so many different elements within the shoot. First, I was wearing lipstick and it was smeared all over my lips representing beauty standards. It speaks on how we’re expected to look put together and use beauty products to enhance the way we look and sort of put on a show for other people. It just goes to show that sometimes the thing that’s supposed to help you look better can actually make you look worse; yet if you don’t wear makeup people might have a problem with it. Being a guy I don’t get that kind of criticism at all, but for women it's bigger issue.
The series also drew from pop culture references emulating the look of The Joker. Batman was a really big deal for me as a kid so making the series brought me back to my childhood. The biggest part of The Joker’s character was his mental illness, so I wasn’t discussing my own personal relationship with mental illness; it was simply presenting different sides of mental illness that I’ve experienced both through pop culture and the people in my own life.
The cigarettes represented addictions - addictions that each and every one of us have that may be holding us back yet are often encouraged by society because they are “aesthetic.” There are just a lot of dichotomies here, a lot of juxtapositions of things that are meant for one thing but used for another.
How do you respond to both the good and bad comments you receive about your art?
I just try my best to make people think. If someone comes at me with hate, I just ask them why. I ask them to explain their reasoning behind the hate and that’s when people really get tripped up. They’ll say, “But that’s for girls,” and I’ll say, “Why is it just for girls?” Then they don’t know what to say because they realize that functionality wise you can wear whatever you want. A lot of the time we just believe things because that’s the way they are. We don’t question it, we just accept it. So I try to get people to think for themselves. I also try to be kind in the way that I say what I say because coming off as aggressive is not going to help me at all. The only time I feel that that is necessary is if someone is being attacked. I will always stand up for someone else.
What are your views on male/female gender roles when it comes to dress and things that are deemed “feminine”?
Well, I wear makeup, I wear skirts, I do all of these things and advocate that men do the same. I’m wearing a crop top right now with some capris that I picked up at the thrift store. I think that everybody should be allowed to wear what they want and that is not indicative of who they are as a person. I was talking to one of my friends and they told me that, “No straight guy ever wears a dress.” That’s not true at all. If you look back into the history of different civilizations during different time periods, fashion just goes in an endless cycle. It changes over time and adapts. In today's society, people we look up to as role models in the fashion world such as Jaden Smith and Jared Leto are crossdressing. They’re normalizing crossdressing and I think that’s very important because everybody should be able to wear what they want and not receive any flack about it. If you try to limit people based off of what you think it means to be a man or to be a woman, you need to stop.
Throughout my entire experience, I never wore a bra or panties. Because for me personally it’s not functional. Those things aren’t made for my body. They don’t fit me and that’s okay. But a skirt wears the same on me as it does on you. It just looks a bit different because we have different body types. Why are we assigning gender to inanimate objects? That’s like saying “socks have gender,” and that makes no sense at all. They fit our feet just the same. I’m a total advocate for gender neutral clothing.
I’ve noticed in the media recently that people are going more towards gender neutral clothing. Do you think that our world in maybe 10 to 15 years will have a more androgynous style of dress?
I think it’s definitely going to start happening more but I think it’s going to take longer than 10 to 15 years because we’re stuck in this binary way of thinking. You cannot separate fashion from societal issues. Fashion revolves heavily around men and women's fashion. But there aren’t just men and women in the world. There are people who associate themselves with both or with neither and they matter too. We can’t operate our entire lives based off this binary. That’s the mindset of the majority of people in this country but it’s different in other parts of the world. For example in Samoa and India they have a third gender because they recognize that there are more than just the two that we associate ourselves with. I thank God that I’ve never had to question my gender. I’m a boy, and I know that I’m a boy because I say that I’m a boy and I feel like I’m a boy. But there are some people who look like me, like a stereotypical boy at birth but feel like a girl. They associate more with what our society deems that gender to be. I don’t know why we focus so heavily on gender in our society. It doesn’t make sense to me.
Some parents nowadays are choosing not to teach their children gender norms to avoid this mindset altogether. Do you think that our world can get confusing when we teach gender neutrality from an early age?
I don’t think there’s anything to be confused about. Clothes, kids toys and colors should have no a gender in the first place. What makes me a boy is the fact that I say that I’m a boy. If you are attracted to me, be attracted to me. Don’t be attracted to my gender. For me personally, I’m a straight, cis-gender boy, which means that I’m attracted to the opposite sex, which would be female, and I associate with the gender that I was assigned at birth. So that is not confusing for me. I can look at a person and tell who I’m attracted to not just based on the fact that they’re a boy or a girl but because I look at them and I know how I feel about them because biologically my body tells me, “This is what you want. This is what you’re attracted to.” So I feel like that goes for everyone. If everyone learns to stop defining people by their clothing and just let them be who they wanna be they can unbiasedly decide if that’s somebody that they want in their life.
What do you think it was that changed your mind about these topics?
Social media shapes a lot of who I am as a person and a lot of what I believe has been taught to me through social media. That can be scary because social media is full of other people's opinions but it also has the power to connect you to people from all over the world with different viewpoints and ideas; being a part of that community really forced me to start thinking for myself and discover what I actually believe.
What truly set me on this journey of discovery was a play I had to participate in last semester for one of my Honors classes. I played Queen Elizabeth so I had to wear this red dress and put on a full face of makeup for my costume. I forgot all of my lines but I was poppin’; I was beautiful. Before I even got on stage people were making fun of me and I laughed along because it is funny to see someone in a dress and makeup that you wouldn’t normally see that way. Then the comments became a bit rude. People would say things like, “Ew Manny, what’s wrong with you?” to which I would respond, “It’s for class…and even if it wasn’t, why are you clowning me so hard right now? I don’t even look bad, I actually look really great right now.”
I realized that they were just hating on me because it was unusual; it made them uncomfortable to see something like that. Then I wanted to understand what about it made them so uncomfortable; that’s when I really started exploring and pushing the topic. I started painting my nails, wearing lipstick more often, putting on a full face of makeup before I went to school. It started making people uncomfortable and I thought that was great. I thought that this needed to happen because now I’m able to open up conversations with people about it. Even if they don’t believe in it, it’s good to know and understand other people's point of view.
Is there anything you want to add that you want people to know about you?
I just want people to know that anything that I do is out of a genuine heart. The things I say and the things I do are not for attention; they’re not to hurt people, to offend people or to make people upset. I do and say these things because these are the things that I believe for myself and because they’re what I want to share with other people. I feel like there are enough people in the world trying to hide themselves and I don’t want to participate in that. I feel like by me talking openly about these things I’m opening up the floor and making them more comfortable subjects for those around me.
I would encourage people to keep an open mind and not be so quick to jump down people's throats. Ask people their reasons behind what they do so you can understand where they’re coming from. Have times where you can be by yourself and think for yourself so you can figure out what you believe and why you believe it. The decisions that you’re making now for yourself are going to determine the type of person you become later on in your life.