States of Independence
Dazed's ultimate guide to US creativity

Watch Alexis Penney's salute to lost loves in I Remember

Plus: the Chez Deep performer talks gender, drag and difference with the video's star and art director Dia Dear

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As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. This week, State of Sex takes an all-encompassing look at sexuality, gender and all the flavours of the American rainbow.

Depending on who you ask, Chez Deep is avant-drag, post-drag, or simply "drag beyond 2000". Either way, the art collective has one of the most radical visions of art and gender in America right now. Check out all things sisterhood in their Dazed guest edit here.

Here, Chez Deep member Alexis Penney premieres his new video for "I Remember" off his debut album Window and goes head-to-head with its SF-based art director and star Dia Dear

From our first meeting – as back-up lip-synchers in a bacchanal human sacrifice set to Ke$ha – to shared spaces and stages from Miami to New York, Dia Dear has shown themselves to be a beautiful and arresting force, often as touching as they are terrifying. Even their preferred pronoun of "they" strains to encompass everything I know Dia to be, which includes being a powerful friend.

Dia was the first person I called when I found out my guitarist and soulmate Grant had died, and was the first person I called to star and art-direct "I Remember", my video tribute to the pain of losing one you love. They were joined by VivvyAnne ForeverMORE (the mastermind of the aforementioned Ke$ha number) and Glamamore (together the mavens behind Some Thing, San Francisco’s weekly performance and drag freakout).

I logged onto GChat to connect with my inspiring friend about life, drag and identity. 

Alexis Penney: I've been thinking a lot about the way people perceive you and how that affects your perception of yourself, sort of how ‪I suddenly have found this ability to pass as a man in public naturally and how weird that is.

Dia Dear: Has that happened for you before or is this the first time?

Alexis Penney: ‪This is the first time. ‪I mean I was very obviously male my whole life, just like... Never felt like I fit into that. Shifting towards a more feminine paradigm felt so natural, because I'd always felt ostracised from masculine culture.

Dia Dear: ‪How do you feel about that?

Alexis Penney: It feels very natural as per the things that are happening to me, but my actual perception of myself has only grown more complex and less gendered so it's strange to look in the mirror and realize everyone is perceiving me as this man. I feel baited with power, like I can really dominate most social situations I find myself in, where actually drag was sort of this alternate way of doing that without having to actively dominate anything, but it's suddenly made me super aware of my racial privilege in a way that wasn't so in my face when everyone assumed I was some, like, broke-down trans girl who couldn't get her shit together to shave her legs.

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Dia Dear and Alexis Penney Alexis Penney

Dia Dear: That sounds really important. As a drag queen you can dominate specific spaces for limited periods of time. ‪I feel like I can relate in a less specific way. I come from a place where I’ve easily taken on a position of feeling victimized by the world, now I’m looking at my participation in that, my deep, deep attachment to that... Not just feeling victimized but feeling exceptional, ultra special in a way that I use to separate myself from people, ‪rather than become closer. ‪Being "different" can be this deep form of isolation.

Alexis Penney: ‪Yeah, I've been realizing that victimization is kind of a universal feeling within our society for so many reasons. I don't think there's a person alive who doesn't feel like they're getting shafted at some point. ‪Are you able to describe to me how you perceive Dia Dear in relation to the world at large, and how that identity intersects or is different (if at all) from how you view your deepest self. 

“I’m still dumbfounded about how I’ll be perceived as what and when. Like I’ve been wearing wigs in the daytime and within minutes I’ll be passing as a man” – Dia Dear

Dia Dear:  Wow. I am really very attached to Dia Dear being me. Dia Dear was such a shock to me that she was born. I mean, I think in a way it was a deepest self emerging that I was so dissociated from wanting, I didn’t know I wanted to be there. ‪She is / was the epitome of me feeling beautiful, sexual, that I had a voice worth expressing, that I had a body that I lived in.... I felt all this worth through performing Dia Dear initially by being vulnerable, ugly, grotesque. I absolutely felt that these weird visuals that she was were the first time I was beautiful and the beauty was ugly – and it all made sense and came super naturally – SOOOO I thought that Dia Dear was just me. I don’t know anymore. Something flattened out, or became flat. I felt that I started to play my idea of Dia Dear. That I started trying to force and control what was essentially her. I felt like I had to try harder and really own her. That didn’t work. ‪I really about lost my self.

Alexis Penney: ‪Is that what prompted you to start exploring other media outside of performance?

Dia Dear:‪ Yes. Why did you ask about Dia Dear?

Alexis Penney:  I realized that I always kind of assume my friends inhabit these personas in the way that I feel I inhabit Alexis, but I realized I’ve never actually asked most of them. I know some performers have very clear boundaries between their stage personas and themselves... 

Dia Dear: ‪(nodding) What did Alexis bring to you?

Alexis Penney: Alexis made me feel like I had a reason for being. I think the way a person perceives themselves is very linked to the way people perceive them and vice versa. Kind of inextricable.

Dia Dear: ‪In a way it is, in another it isn’t. I’m still dumbfounded about how I’ll be perceived as what and when. Like I’ve been wearing wigs in the daytime and within minutes I’ll be passing as a man even though you see hair and tits and lipstick and then I’m getting vibes like I’m being read by these other people as full real girl, then I think I’m getting read as a trans woman, etc, all within 30 minutes. I guess that impacts my perception of myself though, it’s just a lot.

Alexis Penney:  ‪Yeah it's definitely super complicated. Everyone brings such a weird set of issues to the tables with how they interact with others.

Dia Dear: ‪Ugh, I’m having so many thoughts about being seen and not being seen and it’s all good and actually OK and just this other weird experience.

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