How Do You Self-Identify?

Seattle-based artist Yonnas Getahun set out to discuss sexuality and gender through art—this is what came from it.

(Photo: SelfID2015/Instagram)

Sep 6, 2015· 2 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

Coming out about one’s sexual and gender identity is something many LGBT people have experienced, but for those who identify as straight, male, or female, the idea of opening up about their sexuality and gender can seem strange.

With this in mind, Seattle-based artist Yonnas Getahun created a multimedia art project aimed at challenging the way people think about self-identification. The initiative, called #SelfID, asked 38 people to share their stories about how they came to identify—one of them was Getahun, who identifies as mostly straight and male—and transformed the video-recorded responses into posters that are posted all around Seattle, heavily targeting the LBGT district of Capitol Hill.

“A lot of us don’t have to think about the challenges and processes that people in the LGBT community have to go through,” Getahun told TakePart. “This project allowed people who may not have been asked before to explore what their identity and sexuality means to them.”

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(Photo: SelfID2015/Instagram)

Getahun and his team of artists came up with the idea back in April and started shooting the video interviews in June. The artist sat down with 37 Seattle natives he’d reached via social media and asked them four questions that addressed their sexual and gender identity, when they knew, how they knew, and how they announced it.

For those who had been asked similar questions before, the answers came more easily than for some who hadn’t.

“I don’t really think there was a time I knew I was straight,” said Yirim Seck, one video respondent.

For Christa Nemeth-Heard, the opportunity to explore her identity as a straight female wasn’t something she was afforded by her parents growing up. In high school, they would ask her if she had a boyfriend, never asking if she had a crush or if it was on a boy or girl.

On the other hand, those who identified apart from straight, male, or female expressed a better sense of how they came to know their own sexuality and gender.

(Photo: SelfID2015/Instagram)

Fellow artist Crystal Barbre realized her sexuality when she was at a punk rock show.

In her interview with Getahun, she recalled feeling a strong attraction to the blue-haired female singer in that moment, which later inspired her to dye her own hair blue.

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“We were sitting right across from her when she was telling her story and realized she had the same blue hair she was describing,” said Getahun. “That was crazy to me, because it showed how powerful someone’s self-expression can be to another person.”

One of Getahun’s friends, Mikol S., also shared his coming-out story in the video interviews, saying how at first his parents accepted him being pansexual. But once he started bringing his male partners home, it was a different story.

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“What blew me away was the intimacy and variance of all these people’s stories,” Getahun said. “People had a sense of who they were, but it was a matter of finding the words that expressed who they were or felt like ‘Oh, that’s me.’ ”

Getahun plans on tackling a similar short documentary series on race and ethnicity in 2016.