Filmmaker, Writer and Curator, Ian Daniel weighs in on the responsibility of the LGBTQ community towards the health and wellbeing of its minority groups. The Executive Producer and Co-host of GAYCATION shares crushing on James Dean, the importance of quiet and the books he is reading.
YOUTH and ROLEMODELS
How was your youth, did you have a role model growing up?
I grew up in a small town in Indiana, I’m grateful for my youth because I played out in the woods, I sort of lived in nature. I’m from a conservative town, a state that is republican and has religious liberty values where religion plays a big part in how culture is shaped in these towns so when I was growing up it wasn’t a friendly environment for an LGBTQ person or young person. I think that I had a beautiful youth, but I think I definitely understand my struggles as a young child trying to navigate the feelings that I had about being attracted to guys and I kind of understood that it was taught to me that it would be a shameful existence. So I grew up thinking it would be very difficult to express myself but also that I could get out of that space and that I could transcend it and that there were opportunities for me outside of that town.
I really looked up to to James Dean who was from Indiana and also Michael Jackson who was from Indiana. Two tormented and talented souls, but I think I liked James Dean because I was understanding that there was potential for a queer story, whether he was bisexual. You know there were many stories about relationships with men in his town and then he moved to New York and he would sort of have these poetic relationships with other men so I loved James Dean as an artist and of course he is my ultimate crush probably in a way. But I think just to be able to read his biography as a young person in Indiana and to hear stories of him having experiences with other men did give me some sort of sense of thrill and hope.
Do you remember your first crush?
I think even before puberty there’s obviously an awareness you’re gay and I was very aware as a young child so I think you sort of have longings for certain people, like my camp councillor at church camp. But I have a lot of stories about crushes but they’re a little crazy…
Was there a failure or what you considered a failure that turned out to be a step to success?
I think so. I’m yet to understand it fully but I’ve been sober for a year and a couple of months now and I feel like that drinking brought me a lot of interesting times and a lot of failures as well and I don’t take them for granted. I think the’ve put me in a place to better understand how people struggle and how they persevere and how we can move through it because I do think that substance abuse is also an issue within the LGBTQ community. I’ve just been really thinking about that and I think that I can use my down times and harder times and the ways in which I’ve moved through them to really help other people and bring that into more and more consciousness.
What advice would you give your adolescent self?
When I think about this question, I still feel like my adolescent self, meaning as an adolescent I had a lot of wonder, I was very curious about people I was very excited about the possibilities in life and that’s how I am still. I think also though I was a little bit troubled and sad and confused about my sexuality and really trying to understand how to work through that and I think I still have that too. So maybe I’ll tell myself now, “you just have to embrace the paradox of living and that all these things are ok and don’t beat yourself up too hard for being this way or that way, you can be all ways and it’s just part of our existence.”
I also might go back and tell myself, maybe don’t pick up that bottle of vodka when you’re 14 ok. Or maybe if you’re going to pick it up, just watch yourself.
A quote to describe your outlook on life?
“I want everything from life. I want to be a woman and to be a man, to have many friends, and to have loneliness, to work much and write good books, to travel and enjoy myself, to be selfish and unselfish.” Simone de Beauvoir.
“…silence is key and being quiet with yourself is really healing and I’ve kind of been in a state of solitude and solitary space and sort of reflecting on the things I’ve experienced and being grateful to have experienced in the past year and reflecting on what I am understanding of what is going on in the LGBTQ community in regards to struggles, trauma, perseverance, healing and how that reflects on everybody and not just the LGBTQ community.”
ACTIVISM and ARTISTRY
Throughout shooting GAYCATION you examined what it means to be gay and the struggles of queer communities from Japan to Brazil. Do you think we take for granted the level of freedom we have in comparison to LGBTQ communities in nations such as Jamaica and the Ukraine and what are some of the most significant challenges and threats facing queer individuals in these countries?
I can’t speak for everyone but I think travelling the world and seeing other experiences and certain countries where it’s just very very difficult to be LGBTQ or illegal, it keeps things in perspective in your own life so in some level you look at how you are taking things for granted and the ways in which you move about your space a little bit more freely than in these other countries. Now to keep it in perspective there are a lot of people in our own country who really struggle still, trans woman of colour for example. It’s just a sort of radical act to leave the house some days, it’s a traumatic situation to just exist in a lot of ways so that happens all over the world and that happens in our country but of course in places like Jamaica for example there aren’t many spaces for queer people to express themselves freely. There are no LGBTQ bars, sometimes there are beach parties or parties they throw in malls but with security guards so I think we have to keep that in mind that we’re fortunate that we have so many spaces, non profits and centres that are here to support LGBTQ people because that doesn’t exist in many many countries.
What would you like to say to the more privileged members of the LGBTQ community regarding aiding queer citizens in these countries?
I’ve been to so many countries and each country needs help and LGBTQ people in all these countries need some sort of help or assistance or funds and that’s just all over the world and I think that sort of depends on which issue you’re most concerned about but first and foremost I think it’s about looking at yourself and how can you be the healthiest person you can be to get more and more privilege to help more and more people and I think that’s something I focus on. More and more I’m trying to understand how I can be the best and most thriving version of myself because I do know how to help other people on some level and I do have access to help more and more people and I want to have more and more access so I think that within your means and within the comfort of whatever you have available and that you’re not going to be violated I really inspire LGBTQ people to shine as bright as they can, express themselves as freely as possible and set an example for just being joyous and happy people for one and outside of that I think there are organisations all over the world who are doing such good work. For example, JFLAG in Jamaica, it’s a big organisation really trying to help the LGBT homeless youth. Here (America) there are so many, the LGBTQ Centre in New York, the Youth Centre in Indiana. I think it depends on where you want to tap in and with GAYCATION it depends on whichever episode you view as certain episodes speak to different people.
What do you think we can do to challenge these preconceptions of masculinity in the world of health and fitness and encourage more people to focus on their wellness and personal development?
I think it would be nice to feature people who are not able bodied. I think that we leave out a lot of people who don’t have these sort of ideal bodies that are actually healthy maybe mentally or in their creative process. It is body positivity for someone, especially for a queer black body to show their body on instagram whether it be fit or not.
The more progressive conversation is what is this conversation around wellness and how do certain bodies not actually have access to wellness. I am asked to speak about LGBTQ health and wellness because I do talk about it a bit on GAYCATION and I think through making the show I’ve had to go through my own process of healing and understanding my personal struggles which have also come to light in the mere of other people and I’ve been in my own process of understanding what it means to be healthy, and to be the healthiest person I can be to be able to help other people. I think in that I’m realising that a lot of people that I talk to in the LGBTQ community and communities of colour is that they just don’t have access to health, they don’t have access to healthcare, they don’t have access to good food, a lot of them are unemployed or underemployed, discriminated in the workplace, so when you don’t have money and healthy food is expensive, then what are your options…
So I think that conversation needs to be discussed more in these conversations around health and wellness that are more in the zeitgeist and self love and self healing that seems to be part of the larger conversation right now but I don’t think we’re really talking about what that means for all different types of people in the community and where the access is and if we have privilege that can give more access to people who don’t have it. I’m very concerned about LGBTQ health, mental health, substance abuse and how we turn that type of suffering into something that is light and helpful for other people.
Your Go-To tracks for exercising?
For guided meditation I use Inscape and then when you have to start paying for it I stopped, I’m sorry but it’s true but it helped me begin and my Go-To track for exercising… I was listening to recently at the gym Kayne West’s YEEZUS Album, a song called Send It Up. I’ve actually done a little dance to it on my instagram to be honest. Clearly I’m fan.
“I still feel like my adolescent self, meaning as an adolescent I had a lot of wonder, I was very curious about people I was very excited about the possibilities in life and that’s how I am still.”
What have you learnt about yourself this year?
I think when GAYCATION Season 2 ended I needed to kind of gather my senses and step back a notch and really try to get a hold of what I had just experienced because it was so much. So many amazing people shared their stories and I really wanted to take that in and I think that I have been doing that so I think what I’ve learned in the past year is that silence is key and being quiet with yourself is really healing and I’ve kind of been in a state of solitude and solitary space and sort of reflecting on the things I’ve experienced and being grateful to have experienced in the past year and reflecting on what I am understanding of what is going on in the LGBTQ community in regards to struggles, trauma, perseverance, healing and how that reflects on everybody and not just the LGBTQ community. I’m working on my own healing in that space so I can help more people so I think I’ve learned that you have to just take time if you have it, find the space and the quiet to get to know yourself a little better and just chill out and reflect.
I’m definitely learning the importance of quiet. I mean I’m so curious about people and what they go through and their stories and I spend a lot of time of life in that realm of curiosity and I think that I’ve tried to step back and be a little more curious about the voices in my head and the ideas in my own head and I think that requires silence and I do meditate as much as I possibly can, so mediation meaning observing my thoughts and observing the quiet in between those thoughts. I’m kind of a mind that’s on rapid fire and you have to learn to try and find a stillness that works for it.
What is your morning routine? What are the first things you need to do once you wake up?
I wake up, I make my coffee and I make a smoothie, I literally do this everyday. I make my coffee, smoothie and then I read for half an hour and then I spend 20 minutes meditating and sometimes it doesn’t work out but that is literally my routine right now and then the rest of the day unfolds. I give myself an hour to do what I think is healthy for me.
I’ve been reading a lot of poetry. Right now in my backpack I’m reading this book called Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. I’m also reading Osho’s The Empty Boat which I recommend and I just read Deepak Chopra’s The 7 Spiritual Laws of Success.
Do you have any future projects that you’re currently working on?
Right now I’ve been making a documentary in Rockaway Beach, New York for the past 6 years. The film is getting developed right now and I had been hanging out there just after hurricane Sandy hit the area but I’ve been there for much longer and I’ve just been filming these 10 people that are from Rockaway, from this community that live on the edge of the earth. I’m also developing new television content for the LGBTQ experience so I’ll say that…
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?
“You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold.”