Reclaiming the Best Parts of Ourselves: A Tender Bois Club Conversation
Photography: Amina El Kabbany
Flower crowns: Terry Chi
Creative direction: Wazi Maret and Eli Chi
Wazi: So, let’s talk about the things that got us here. Let’s talk about Tender Bois and how did this whole thing start.
Eli: I think we should talk about how we met and that genesis, if you will. Umm, I remember the night, very vividly too. ‘Cause I remember we ended up outside and it was drizzling...
W: Ha, yeah 2017.
E: I had just moved to Oakland in December, so it had to be sometime in the Spring, late winter. We were at this queer dance party, it was Missy Elliott themed, it was dope.
W: At AU lounge.
E: At AU Lounge, yes. We met through the homie Elliott and several of our mutual friends.
W: I love Elliott.
E: Yeah, shout out to Elliott!
E: Anyway, I remember asking you for weed cause I didn’t bring enough out. I was willing to pay, not trying to mooch, that was not my intention. And you were like, “Do you know where you are? You’re in California! Basically, we have an abundance here, smoke with me!” and we did. I had seen you around, in queer spaces, but that was the first time we talked. I also remember seeing you and Elliott’s videos pop up on my timeline and y’all were doing covers of songs and I was like, “I gotta jam with y’all.” And so... yeah, I remember coming over to your house one Sunday…
W: For ‘praise and worship’.
E: Haha yes!
W: Yeah, so we were doing these jam sessions every Sunday. The reason I liked Sunday was because I grew up in the Baptist Church. And every Sunday we go to church --during the early part of the morning you have ‘praise and worship’ which was when the choir leads the congregation in song for about 20 minutes. That was always my favorite part of church. I used to sing in the choir. They forced me to be a soprano even though I was an alto, so I felt like I sounded terrible all the time. But it was still my favorite part of church.
W: Yup. Singing and listening to the choir. That’s when the choir has their time to like, lay down all the vocals, songs and everybody gets hype and in they feelings. There are a lot of things that I don’t miss about church, but it was moments like that where, you just felt it. As a musical person you felt that so deep in your body, you know. People were having physical, bodily reactions to music and a shared feeling of togetherness and congregation, you know. And also suffering and safety.
W: And I was hella missing that. So that’s when we started doing those Sunday sessions.
E: Yeah… I grew up playing multiple instruments and when I went to college I stopped playing regularly. I was playing in band throughout high school and middle school. I started playing violin when I was in the first grade and it wasn’t until jammin’ with y’all that I finally started playing again regularly. And that felt really fuckin’ good. It’s really difficult for me to play on my own sometimes, but, playing with y’all...I realized how much I needed that and how healing it was to make music with y’all.
W: All of us. We had a whole crew, it was like six of us. Six amazing artists doin’ things. Yeah...we were doing those jams together every Sunday and then worked in the same office space.
E: Right and the two orgs share space, so there we were, seeing each other every day in the office working the 9 to 5 grind.
W: I know when we were getting deep into the creative stuff it was because we were struggling a lot. Even though we were working with and for the community, our community- it still felt like it’s hard to sustain in that environment.
E: Yeah, I know. Going from working in the restaurant industry into non profit was a huge transition. You can’t really prepare for those things. And so for me, working for our people and feeling triggered while working...there were just so many things that just exhausted me emotionally. And I feel like creating together really was a way to cope.
W: For real.
E: The music brought us together!
On Chasing Dreams & Self-Love
W: The music definitely brought us together. It was getting us through the days. We need to be doing this all the time in some way.
W: Otherwise we don’t feel all the way fulfilled. For us, if we’re not creating it doesn’t feel all the way there you know? It doesn’t feel all the way whole. I know for me it definitely doesn’t.
W: I realize that now.
E: Whole. Wow, that’s the word. Yeah, not feeling whole.
W: You were talking about that imposter syndrome too. We still fight that on a regular basis.
E: Honestly, reclaiming ourselves and this love for ourselves. Radical self love. It’s a fuckin’ every day process and I feel like in the last several years I’ve been more intentional about the ways..or learning how I show myself love. Being creative was a way to cope and an outlet in trying to process trauma, just getting it all out and just accepting like, wow, this is mine. I created it and this is why I created it. And there is just something so fucking cathartic about releasing it out into the world and sharing it. We started creating almost daily - you were writing stuff and I was jamming on the guitar and everything flowed. We eventually built a basement studio and it was dope. It really felt like home. We did way more in that basement then just fuckin’ make music.
E: We were building Tender Bois Club.
W: Before we had the language for it, we were building toward it. We had that moment, though, when it became official. We were creating all the time, building towards that. But then, that one day when you showed me the old logos.
E: Yeah, we were sitting outside on a break talking, and just feeling our feelings. And you were sharing this idea with me. You kept talking about grooming products. You were talking about grooming products for the last week and a half and I was like “OK yes, I need you to show me what’s up!” And you finally showed me the brochure, explained how this was also a part of self-care...I was very impressed. What a niche market to get into. And then you went to talking about starting a podcast and I was like oh yeah, I’ve thought about that and then you, well, you can continue…
W: Tender Talks, was going to be the name of the podcast.
E: We were talking about Tender Talks and then I shared with you this idea of Tender Bois Club. I had this name, I created this logo and I kind of shared with you my vision for Tender Bois Club. It was going to be a storytelling platform with a podcast. But beyond the storytelling, I also wanted Tender Bois Club to include fashion in some way, particularly a clothing line, and also eventually have a space to do my fashion things, styling and consulting. Yeah, there was a whole plan...
W: You had a whole business plan.
E: And you were down. So I pulled up the logos and you were like, “YES!”
W: I specifically remember saying, “No wait, bruh. You know this can be a thing like right now?”
E: And the thing was that at the time I didn’t think it could be a thing because I didn’t know how I was gonna get money to do this. Well, I was talking to the right person…
W: Well, I try to make a little bit of coins, you know. It’s a struggle out here but I know a little somethin’.
E: For me, and maybe this resonates for you too, in the last two years I have really been able to own up to A) the fact that I’m a creative and I’m an artist and B) the things that I put out into the world are valid and amazing. That’s still hard, really really fucking hard. It’s easier said than done and I’m still trying to work through that, but I feel like I’ve been more intentional about creating and really learning how to love myself through it.
W: That’s so necessary. I feel that my problem for a long time was that I would get so self-conscious. Actually, I want to do this when I go home and talk to my mom-- I want to ask her about how I was as a child. I have these very vivid memories of having this imagination where I could spend hours upon hours of time with myself... by myself. Just creating, doing shit, you know...whatever. Middle school and high school is when I started to get really self conscious about that stuff. Also having the whole journey of queerness and being trans, learning that I liked girls and I had all this other shit going on. I was insecure for a long time. And those insecurities really kept me from creating. Or I never wanted to share with people-- I was too scared to ever try to perform anything until I moved to California. When I moved to the Bay is when I started performing and sharing more of my stuff with the world.
On Reclaiming the Best Parts of Ourselves
E: For me, coming into my masculinity and not perpetuating the bullshit that’s out there is a responsibility. There’s work to be done internally. I feel, that as a transmasc person and as someone who “passes” as a man on the daily, I have an obligation to this world, while I’m here, to help shift or recreate, destroy masculinity...whatever. Just not have what we have right now that is in place because it is killing us, it’s destroying us, it’s violent. It’s all ‘cause we’re hurt.
W: Everybody’s hurt, man
W: It’s just cycles and cycles and cycles of that.
E: And it’s sad. Anyways...stressing that self love. How do we show that and how do we give that to ourselves? For me, creating is one of those ways.
W: Yeah, I agree. I’ve always felt so much, you know, I was emotional all the time. I was always trying to make sense of all that was going on around me, just confused and questioning--”What do you mean it’s like that because he’s a dude?” All of these messages about gender that were just so confusing and fucked up. You go most of your life getting all these messages about how men are not to be held responsible or accountable for their violence or their fucked upness. I’ve experienced that kind of violence first hand and as a masculine person I’ve also been someone who has perpetuated shit too. I learned violence and I have to unlearn it too. By doing work on myself and trying to be more accountable, more responsible. Also now, passing as ‘male’ to most people, I definitely feel like I have this other perspective on how the world works. For me now to be able to relate to other men, I feel a responsibility to do that work with them.
E: What you were sharing really resonates with me...now I’m living as a transmasculine person, but I was once a little queer lesbian in the Midwest (that’s where i came into my queerness, St. Louis). I’ve been thinking about how I’ve stepped into my masculinity, not wanting to perpetuate shit, but also realizing that I have caused harm. Now how do I hold myself accountable for that? There are so many things that self love is. And I think one of those things is doing that internal work. I knew I needed to do that hard, internal work, and step through the fear and lean into the discomfort of these problematic parts of myself, the parts of myself that weren’t serving me or others and that needed to be unlearned. Tender Bois Club has really helped hold me accountable to myself and to this world, realizing how shifting culture and patriarchal masculinity starts with ourselves.
W: Yeah, trying not to be afraid of all that. And that’s why we built Tender Bois. Even though the world is really set up to make you hard and cynical the older you get, the best part of Tender Bois is our efforts to maintain that softness as a political resistance too.
W: You know, I’ve definitely had those moments where I feel like am I doing enough? Am i being selfish? All of these things, these messages again, that I have to fight.
E: No, it’s not selfish. I was listening to this podcast earlier and this person was saying that radical self love is when you’re dedicated to the promotion of your own happiness. So it’s not selfish. You deserve to be happy in a way that you’ve never been told by society. And all those things that we’ve internalized, we’re working to unlearn those things and really learning how to love ourselves.
W: Yeah, it’s a daily thing.