This Toronto-based beauty expert and hairstylist talks about how he forged his own path.
I felt like I was playing a role I hadn’t signed on. I love embracing the masculine and feminine energy in the way I dress today, but growing up in Australia, when I found out that I wanted to express myself in a different way from the straight male conventions in which I was born, I felt very confused and lost. I was so scared and didn’t know how I could explore another way of dressing because of the community I was surrounded by.
I am Lebanese and the Middle Eastern culture is very harsh, especially for someone who, like me, is queer and outspoken. I was taken aback by the freedom of speech of people in other countries. Australia is very slow in terms of progress on human rights and the way people are allowed to identify themselves. It is also very isolated, so it is not influenced by external factors, as is the case in North America. I was never able to live the way I wanted to – 100% authentically – and in my youth I lived vicariously through other people.
I had a friend – my first in the LGBTQ + community that I ended up being a part of – who was also from the Middle East but was very carefree in the way he dressed and acted. I saw him being his authentic self and I thought, “Why is this person able to do it and not me?” I have come to believe in being “full of yourself” and not altruistic; I deserve to be happy and not always have to worry about how other people feel when it comes to my happiness. And it’s my responsibility as a queer person of Middle Eastern descent to be that example to someone. I have to hold myself accountable for the things I do because I punish myself and others when I am not living for myself.
As I became more involved in the queer community, I started to attend vogue balls. For an event, I was getting ready to walk in a category and bought myself a pair of black stilettos for the occasion; I would describe them as “ankle breakers”. It was the first time I bought something that I had been raised with the idea that I shouldn’t wear, and it was very emotional for me. Lisa, the young woman who helped me – I’ll never forget her name – was so complimentary; by telling her my story, she supported me a lot and put me at ease. She said if she had children she would allow them to express themselves however they wanted. “I hope my son is gay,” she enthused.
I went out very late – only a few years ago, right before my 21st birthday. I’ve always been that kid who wanted to keep his family together, and I never wanted to draw attention to myself. My mom, who was a single mom, was my best friend and her beautiful and polished style has always influenced me. But I grew up in a tough, masculine family with bodybuilder brothers. When I walked out it was dramatic and devastating. My father and brothers denied me – I haven’t spoken to them since – and my mother also stopped talking to me because she felt pressured by the community. I was not the child they wanted me to be; I was a shame for them. For the next three years, I was homeless; at one point I only had $ 50 in my name.
I eventually moved to Los Angeles, where I continued to work as a hairstylist and be a part of the glamorous world of celebrities. This is when I really started to feel 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, then I promoted one of their foundations on my Instagram (which at the time didn’t have a ton of followers). A few months later, Nyx reframed the post and it exploded. It was the company’s most liked and commented post at the time, and it sparked a lot of controversy. Many people commented with love and support, while many others expressed hatred, saying they were going to boycott the brand because it promoted the idea that what I stand for is normal when in their minds it is not. is not. Nyx had to issue a statement about it and I was interviewed by several media outlets around the world. From this incident, my suite grew massively.
I believe everything happens for a reason and your path is always clear for you to walk. After Nyx’s post, I thought I might as well be the voice people want to hear. I was looking for someone to relate to all my life and realized that I could be that person for others. I think of all the influences in my life – from the ballroom and voguing scene to Eurovision contestant Conchita Wurst to model Linda Evangelista and performers like Cher, Christina Aguilera and Prince. Prince’s gender had nothing to do with the way he dressed; he found himself in a lot of controversy about it, but he never backed down for anyone.
I hear a lot of people around the world thanking me for being the voice they never had. And I think it’s important that we thank all queer people of color for making room for us. I also have my mother in my life. She loves the LGBTQ + community and goes to Pride every year, but having been raised in a certain way, she has never been taught how to deal with LGBTQ + people. Now she is an activist and she speaks to parents and the community in general. We always say “When you don’t know better, you don’t do better.” And I always consider these questions: How do I benefit myself and others and this world? Nothing is more important than having an impact – otherwise, why are we here?