We speak to the photographer and model about the importance of queer visibility in the media, the continued fight for LGBTQ acceptance, and what being in a relationship with musician Troye Sivan is really like.
Model, photographer, filmmaker and now designer in the making, Jacob Bixenman is one to watch. We caught up on his life with Troye Sivan, being an outand-proud gay model, and his upcoming projects.
For Jacob Bixenman, being in a gay power couple is something of a juling act. Asked if maintaining a level of privacy is important to him and boyfriend Troye Sivan, the 22-year-old model replies: “At times it is, yes, and it was tougher in the beginning of our relationship because it was more of a crash course for me. We’re both people who share ourselves online but need privacy and really value close personal relationships, so balancing that line of how much to give away can be interesting. Otherwise, our relationship is really easy.”
That’s nice to hear, because they’re an adorable couple: The modelling superstar and the YouTube sensation, who began dating in 2016 but kept their relationship quiet for a while – so much so that Out magazine featured both of them on its list of hot bachelors the following year. They’ve since gone public in interviews and on social media, and Jacob feels it’s important for them to be visible, saying: “You have to keep certain things for yourself but I do think it’s important for there to be visible, happy, young queer couples. That’s something that I think would have impacted me when I was younger, especially before I came out.”
The California-born model wears his heart on his social media sleeve and, since he signed with Ford Models, has been open about being gay. “That relationship is different for everyone,” he says of the importance of being out on the public stage, “but I do find it personally important to be transparent about my sexuality online. I didn’t have that many personal models of queerness growing up, aside from stereotypical characters on screen. I think that the more we personalise the image of what it means to be LGBTQ the more people will understand.”
Especially active on Twitter and Instagram, Bixenman adds: “I love social media and connecting with people in the way it allows. It’s such a democratic way of seeing information and connecting your perspective to an audience.” Are many of his followers LGBTQ? “Yeah, a good number of them. It’s really exciting seeing so many informed and self-aware young LGBTQ people online.”
Again there’s some juling to be done, especially when you have hundreds and thousands of followers and your other half has more than eight million. Separating what’s public and what’s personal can sometimes be difficult, with Jacob admitting: “It’s easy to get sucked into social media and become over-attentive, but I’m learning to really put my phone down. Less is more, in general. I try to share what’s important and indicative of how I see things but to stay in the moment otherwise.”
Wise words from a man known as much for his intelligence as his looks. He grew up in Orange County and, passionate about poetry and short fiction, was an English major at the University of Southern California. Then the brown-haired, greeneyed six-plus-footer entered the VMan modelling competition and was signed by Ford. He’s since modelled for the starry likes of Dolce & Gabbana and Stella McCartney as well as Adidas and other big brands, jetting around Europe for fashion weeks and working with British make-up legend Pat McGrath (named by Vogue no less as the greatest make-up artist in the world).
Jacob’s feet have barely touched the ground. His first big shoot was with Peter Lindburgh for Interview magazine with a 60s beatnik vibe. He recalls rushing to the D&G offices in Milan, a hot mess from the heat and humidity, meeting the casting director then a day or two later having a fitting, some rehearsal, and the next day he was on
the catwalk. He kept his cool, as he always does, telling a journalist that he just tries to be himself when he goes into a casting and that “kindness and confidence go far”. His role models are his friends and his passions, aside from writing, include photography, dive bars, Cuban food, and walking around Yosemite and Malibu.
He’s also a designer. Having collaborated with New York workwear label Peels on shirts featuring his artwork, he then launched his own limited edition Bub Tees with an arresting design of a face that, to our eyes at least, wittily melds Picasso Cubism with Dali surrealism. Not surprisingly, the tees quickly sold out.
We tell him we love the design. “Thanks! It was just a doodle I did and ended up loving whoever that character is. I like the confrontation and ambiguity of it. I definitely didn’t expect it to have the turnout that it did, which was really exciting. With Peels I drew on some of their shirts but it was only fun and without any intention of selling anything, but I saw the response that it got and that people were interested in wearing some of my sketches so I modified a design and found the right people and tools to produce them. It was pretty organic and mostly a passion project.”
Sales surpassed his expectations and, frustratingly, we couldn’t get our hands on a shirt before they sold out so we’re cheered to hear him say: “I’m working on some follow-up material now.”
Often seen without a shirt of any kind, let alone one designed by himself, Jacob says that body image plays a large part in his day-to-day life in some ways more than others. “I don’t think that’s the case as much in my personal life as in the context of work. With modelling, there’s a good amount of pressure to look a certain way or to fill a specific template of masculinity. It’s about selling something to people.”
That said, the 6ft 2ins Bixenman is trim and remarkably toned, not beefy or muscle bound. The intention, he says of shirtless shots, is to start a conversation. “Most of the more intimate or bodyfocused imagery that I share online is from work or my own photography and I’d like to imagine that there’s something subversive in sharing my confidence as a thin, queer guy.” He laughs. “But maybe that’s hopeful and I’m overthinking it.”
There’s been a rightful shift in the celebration of femme gay men rather than the shaming of them. It’s a long-time-coming celebration of their truth and something Jacob sees as an important movement for the LGBTQ community. “The idea of what a man is or needs to be is so ingrained into culture and it’s easier to be accepted when you’ve assimilated to that,” he ponders. “But there are as many ways to be queer as there are queer people. Male femininity threatens the status quo so I think that sharing and celebrating it really makes people confront their own insecurities. It’s a step in the direction towards actual liberation.”
There’s been progress on LGBTQ rights in his homeland but he knows there’s still a long way to go. “We’ve come far but America is a large and diverse country with a history of oppression so it’s a long road. Things are sociologically very different from one place to the next, and that makes a unified effort for anything challenging, but things are obviously changing.”
That said, change can be a catalyst for oppression and hatred and violence. “With change can come fearful adversity. The last few years have been the most violent on record for trans women, especially those of colour. Bias still runs deep in certain places and federal legislation outlawing discrimination doesn’t exist. We’re headed in the right direction but have plenty of work to do.”
Exactly how Jacob and Troye got together is something they’ve not gone public on, but they were seen getting up close and personal in the video for Troye’s 2016 single Heaven which, like most of his videos, features an LGBTQ narrative. The South Africa-born, Australia-raised singer has said such imagery is inspired in part by vivid memories of the too-few times he saw LGBTQ relationships in TV shows or music videos.
Coming to fame on YouTube after competing in Australian TV talent contests, Sivan is a multihyphenate who has made singles, EPs and albums and has starred on stage (in Oliver! and Waiting For Godot) and screen (in the first Wolverine movie and the Joel Edgerton-directed drama Boy Erased, due out later this year). He launched his YouTube vlog in 2012 and, having come out to his family a few years before, used the platform to publicly come out the following year.
It’s no wonder Troye and Jacob are cited as one of the most admirable and influential LGBTQ power couples, sharing the list with the likes of elder statesman RuPaul and Georges LeBar and young trans models Laith Ashley and Arisce Wanzer. Fans have even anointed them with the ultimate in power couple recognition: The blended Brangelinastyle celebrity name of Tracob with a Tumblr page tracing their every public move and professional assignment.
Their status as social influencers is something that Bixenman embraces as a way to help push forward LGBTQ rights and give a voice to minorities. “There’s a good amount of power and responsibility in having an audience,” he says, “especially a young one. The idea of serving as a model of something progressive, informative and honest inspires me. I’m not out to be an influencer, just to share myself and what I believe in with the world. Hopefully that makes a difference.”
As for what we as a community can do to help bring LGBTQ rights around the world to a just and rightful place, he encourages patience and visibility. “We should continue to inform but have patience in doing so and accept that everyone is on a journey in their own understanding. Take them by the hand and show them the way. Continue supporting the people and organisations that are on the ground fighting and be brave and visible, if you’re able, because the more we share the more we enlighten.”
The more we personalise the image of what it means
to be LGBTQ the more people will understand.