“The things we are made to feel most ashamed about, the things we want to hide, those very things are our superpowers.” River Gallo on manifesting your true potential. The Director and intersex activist also shares advice for people who have been made to feel less than, being seen by Beyoncé, winning an Oscar, Sophia Loren, Selena and his debut film Ponyboi.
Featuring our L.A. photo shoot with Queer Latinx activist, José Hernandez. Shot by Jeremy Perkins and edited by @3rd_EYECHAKRA.
IDENTITY and POWER
What advice would you have for intersex people and anyone who is made to feel “less than” because of how they were born and how can they manifest their true potential?
My advice to intersex folx and all underrepresented people made to feel less than because of how they were born is to know that your gifts are in your difference. The things we are made to feel most ashamed about, the thing we want to hide, those very things are our superpowers. As humans, we want to run from our vulnerability, however through my work in my film Ponyboi and coming out as intersex I’ve learned that being authentically myself and letting myself be vulnerable creates the room and space for other people to feel like they can be themselves and that is transformative.
To manifest your true potential, you need to realize that your gifts and talents are in service to something larger, to make humanity a little better, and to give hope to the future generation that change is possible despite what present circumstances may tell us. In order to do this, you must take the steps to reveal your true self to others, with honesty, grace, and in your own time. This is the way to inspire, to give back, to lift up your community. It’s okay to be afraid because sometimes this shit isn’t easy. But be afraid and do it anyway. There’s power just beyond the other side.
Three Queer films you would recommend?
WOW. THAT. IS. TOUGH.
1) POSE – I know it isn’t a film but good lord this tv series has changed my life in ways that I am so grateful for. It is groundbreaking on so many levels (for trans and black/brown representation) and overall a television masterpiece. POSE also helped me contextualize and really feel how pervasive the HIV/AIDS crisis really was in the 1980s.
2) Call Me By Your Name – I know some people think it was too white but I don’t care. I cried and think it’s beautiful. The Lana Del Rey in me is a sucker for an angsty, summer romance.
3) Pink Flamingos – This film is the seed of camp. The legendary Divine and John Water at their finest and most grotesque.
When you first identified as intersex did you feel as though there was no “I” in “LGBTQIA” and can you comment on the prevailing representation of intersex individuals in the cultural landscape?
Rarely do people include the “I” in “LGBTQIA+” and it’s troubling to me. I was at the GLAAD awards this year in L.A. (getting my first award AYYYY!) and the whole ceremony the “I” in the acronym was said 3 times and the acronym was said A LOT. One person who did include the “I” was none other than the queen herself Beyonce! When she said it, I cried. I had never felt so seen and heard by her (even after Lemonade – who didn’t feel seen after that?). I thought “If Beyonce says it, why don’t others?” There is virtually no intersex representation in the cultural landscape, and even in the queer community, it feels like it’s a fight to be seen and heard. Our intersex community is facing human rights violations and physical/mental trauma at the hands of the medical industry every day, in order to uphold patriarchal and capitalistic interests. This must stop NOW. This needed to end yesterday. This change can only happen with people knowing we exist in the first place, so being visible is crucial.
Finish this sentence. My legacy will…
My legacy will be being the first intersex person to win an Oscar and helping end medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children in my lifetime.
How can genderqueer and cisgender members of the Queer community contribute to dismantling this notion of “normal” that is often the trigger to feelings of shame and “not good enough?”
There is no such thing as normal, and we all need to come to terms that this game we (both genderqueer and cis people alike) are all obsessed with of labeling, ordering and putting into boxes is a fallacy and quite frankly, silly. I think we need to dismantle the notion of “normal” by first dismantling it within ourselves. We need more people asking themselves tough questions. For example: where do you pass judgments on others or yourself, where do you find your tolerance goes out the window, what brings you shame? And then investigate with curiosity and kindness. There’s a great amount of internal work that we all must do, that we came here to do in this lifetime. It is each of our own responsibilities to look at what angers us in this world, see the reflections of those things in our internal, then with that knowledge, seek to change it externally.
If your style was the child of two icons, who would they be?
Sophia Loren meets Selena.
you must take the steps to reveal your true self to others, with honesty, grace, and in your own time. This is the way to inspire, to give back, to lift up your community.
Upon discovering you were born with anorchism, to completely embracing being intersex, how has your relationship with yourself transformed and what role did constructs of masculinity have in this journey?
It definitely has. I used to do this thing when I was in NYU called “Straight Sundays” lol (this was before I was out about being intersex). Essentially, I would wear really butch clothes on Sundays to take a break from being a glam queen, and I’d joke about it with my friends. Looking back on it, I think this was the start of being picky and choosing when I wanted to be more masculine identifying and just going for it.
Coming out as intersex has helped me realize that I am a chameleon, we are all chameleons or at least we have the choice to be when it comes to our gender identity. You can wake up and be whoever you want to be! Yes sometimes people will give you shit and yes sometimes it is not safe. However, since coming out as intersex I feel like it’s my duty to practice living as authentically me as often as possible. And sometimes that authentic me means wearing big Timberland boots with a fierce wing-tipped eyeliner.
What fitness and health routines do you have to facilitate you in being the best adaption of yourself?
Meditating and breathing are essential. Yoga and foam rolling too. I run, I swim, I lift weights, and try to shake my ass on the dance floor a few times a month too. Also getting massages and acupuncture. We forget how important it is to have restorative practices.
Since launching the film, Ponyboi you’ve established GapToof Entertainment, a production company with the objective to give voice to POC, female and LGBTQIA narratives. Can you tell us about any projects you’re currently working on?
A lot of music videos! If you need one done hit us up! We have an ad we did for Maison Margiela that I directed and star in that will go live soon which is very exciting. I’ve mostly been focusing on the Ponyboi full-length feature film which we want to shoot in 2020. I really want it to drip with all the me-ness that I can possibly give it. It’s set on Valentine’s Day in New Jersey in the early 2000s. It’s going to be deliciously campy, heartbreaking, and will go much more in-depth into my experiences as an adolescent being intersex.
As an intersex advocate and spokesperson for the Queer community do you ever feel that there’s so much more about you beyond your gender identity that you want to express, if so what are three things we should know about you?
Definitely. I think about my identity outside of being queer/intersex ALL the time. As much as I love my queer non-binariness I also reckon with the fact that these too are labels that I attach to, however they are not my totality. Three things:
1) I’m a first generation Salvadoran-American. My parents came to NYC from El Salvador in the 1980s to escape the Civil war, with literally a backpack and swam over the Rio Grande. It’s really remarkable.
2) My first love before filmmaking and acting is poetry. I read or listen to poems every day. I try to move through the day being as observant as I can, waiting for the poetry around me to reveal itself.
3) I’m a Jersey girl through and through.
Wellness goals for 2019?
Exercise more outside and in nature. Focus less on getting abs and more on just feeling sexy. I think for the first time in my wellness/fitness routine, I’m really focusing on the feeling of happiness and balance, what I look like will be what I look like. But as long as I’m happy and full of energy that’s an accomplishment.
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?
“Jesus was non-binary”
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