The Toronto-based beauty expert and hairdresser shares how he went his own way.
I used to feel like I was playing a role that I hadn’t signed up for. I love incorporating masculine and feminine energy into my clothing today, but growing up in Australia trying to express myself in a way that was different from the heterosexual male conventions I was born into, I felt very confused and lost . I was so scared and unsure how to explore another mode of dressing because of the community I was surrounded by.
I’m Lebanese and Middle Eastern culture is very tough, especially for someone who is weird and open like me. I was amazed at how freely people in other countries express themselves. Australia is very slow in terms of human rights advancement and how people are allowed to identify. It’s also very isolated so it’s not affected by outside factors like it is in North America. I could never live the way I wanted – 100 percent authentically – and in my youth I lived on behalf of other people.
I had a friend – my first in the LGBTQ + community, which I eventually belonged to – who was also from the Middle East but was very carefree about his clothes and behavior. I saw him as his authentic self and thought, “Why can this person do this and not me?” I have come to believe that I am “self-sufficient” and not selfless. I deserve to be happy and not always have to worry about everyone else’s feelings when it comes to my happiness. And it’s my responsibility as a queer person of Middle Eastern descent to be that role model for someone. I have to hold myself accountable for things I do because I punish myself and others for not living for myself.
As I became more involved with the queer community, I started attending fashion balls. I was preparing to run in a category for an event and bought a pair of black high heels for the occasion. I would describe them as “ankle breakers”. It was the first time I bought something that I raised to feel like I shouldn’t be wearing it and it was very emotional to me. Lisa, the young woman who helped me – I’ll never forget her name – was so polite; When I told her my story, she was very supportive and I was so comfortable. She said that if she had children, she would allow them to express themselves as they wanted. “I hope my son becomes gay,” she enthused.
I got out very late – just a few years ago, just before my 21st birthday. I was always the kid who wanted to keep his family together and I never wanted to draw attention to myself. My mother, who was a single mom, was my best friend, and her beautiful, composite style has always influenced me. But I grew up in a rough, male household with brothers who were bodybuilders. When I came out it was dramatic and devastating. My father and brothers cast me out – I haven’t spoken to them since – and my mother also stopped talking to me because she felt pressured by the church. I wasn’t the child they wanted me to be; I was a shame on her. I was homeless for the next three years; Once I only had $ 50 with my name.
I eventually moved to Los Angeles where I continued to work as a hairdresser and became part of the celebrity glamor world. At that point, I really felt like I was expressing my authentic self with my style. Through my connections there, I was invited to a party hosted by cosmetics company Nyx, and after that I promoted one of their foundations on my Instagram (which didn’t have many followers at the time). A few months later, Nyx reprogrammed the post and it exploded. It was the most popular and most commented post for the company at the time, and it caused a lot of controversy. Many people were loving and supportive, while many others expressed hatred and said they were boycotting the brand because it promoted the idea that what I represent is normal when in their minds it is not. Nyx had to issue a statement on this and I was interviewed by multiple media outlets around the world. As a result of this incident, my following grew massively.
I believe that everything happens for a reason and that your path is always free for you to go. After the Nyx post, I thought I might as well be the voice people want to hear. I was looking for someone who could relate to my whole life and I realized that I could be that person to others. I think of all the influences in my life – from the ballroom and fashion scene to the Eurovision candidate Conchita Wurst and the supermodel Linda Evangelista to actors like Cher, Christina Aguilera and Prince. The prince’s sex had nothing to do with how he dressed; He was involved in much controversy about it, but he did not give in for anyone.
I hear from many people around the world who thank me for being the voice they never had. And I think it’s important that we all thank queer people of color because they made space for us. I also have my mother back in my life. She loves the LGBTQ + community and goes to Pride every year, but after being brought up a certain way, she was never taught how to deal with LGBTQ + people. Now she is an activist speaking to parents and the wider community. We always say, “If you don’t know better, you won’t do better.” And I always think of the following questions: How do I benefit myself and others and this world? Nothing is more important than making an impact – what else are we here for?