You once said that you “step into your authenticity everyday”. How did you find your authentic self, and can you talk to us about becoming Thugpop?
I, Christen Mooney, found myself really lost pre-ThugPop. After living in nyc, at 18 and then 25 I believe, I lost myself in what I identify as substance abuse. The industries of fashion and art say it’s ok to be a functioning addict, and for me that just wasn’t sustainable or beneficial. I found myself spirituality bankrupt and I took a sabbatical for two years. Within that time to myself, I meditated and built myself back brick by emotional brick. During that process I had remembered that I created ThugPop with my college friends in 2012, and I just held onto the name. I went back and looked at all my past creative work and realized “This is ThugPop. This is me. This is what my lens/aesthetic is”. With all my past experiences, it created the pathway for where I am now – simply ThugPop. No one can take that away from me, ever, because I did and am doing the hard laborious work; physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc all on my own. I’m 28 right now.
What do you think makes you beautiful?
I’m one of the realest people out here, and I really don’t give a fuck about being apart of the “industry”, but yet I’m very vulnerable about my inner workings, and confident in what I bring to the table. I’m not afraid to step out on my own and fall on my face or, dare I say it, succeed. Yes, my features are symmetrical, I’m physically fit, my style is one of a kind, I can pretty much do anything in the creative realm pretty well, and that’s without my ego getting in the way – no cap. However plainly, I think my spirit is what makes me beautiful. It’s very much pure and fragile, sort of like a lamb, but the lamb has snake fangs and a lion’s heart.
How does it feel to be a black gay man in America right now?
It’s a rollercoaster. Some days its fabulous, and other days I can literally feel the patriarchy on my fucking neck. It’s why I am so vocal about my blackness and my queerness simultaneously. Its not fair that I am called a fag if I wear a dress, but Harry Styles gets the cover of Vogue, or Kid Cudi gets a line of dresses with Off White. That is so unfair to me. I can’t even find a proper manager or agent to help me with my career after doing all of the work I’ve done. I wish the gatekeepers and “the man” would just let it go because everything is so mundane anyway. We need people like me and my comrades like Telfar, like Shayne Oliver, like Brontez Purnell, and Frank Dorrey, and the industry just isn’t necessarily allowing us to be as great as we could possibly be. However, my people have never backed down to adversity and neither will I. Allah will not allow me, because I certainly have my days where I’m like ‘Fuck ThugPop!” LOLOL.
What would you say to a fellow black man who has lost his idea of beauty?
I would recommend he visit the works of Bayard Rustin, Essex Hemphill, Shikeith, Devin Morris, Kanye West, and Marlon Riggs and then get back to me. I would also tell him to expel everything his history books have taught him because it’s a crock of shit. Become your own standard of beauty through visualization and meditation, even if it’s a hard task to accomplish. I’m inspired to infuse those ideals within my new work to be honest.
It seems like there’s a bigger social divide than ever before. While the system as a whole still disadvantages the black community, the black experience is being fetishized by popular media and white “culture”. How do you wake up and navigate that reality every day?
That’s not my reality, I don’t participate in white culture if I don’t have to. I don’t read Vogue, I have no aspirations to be a part of white establishments like museums, I don’t even know where white people hang out. I consciously try to live within my own world. Yes, I live in America which is white land period, but I reject that question because it’s not something I choose to be my reality. Call me naive or whatever, but I’ve been sexually assaulted by a white man before in my adult life, and that’s my way of keeping myself safe from the whiteness of it all. If white people like what I do, cool, and if they want to participate with it, great, but my work is not for them. it’s for me and my people. I have no idea how it would resonate with them. I would ask them, “Are you fetishizing me?” and they would have to be like “Yes, I am.” which is the first step to them admitting out loud that they, white people, have a very serious problem.