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.

Gay Times Magazine - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy Harry Eel­man Fash­ion Heather New­berger Words Si­mon But­ton

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 ju€ling 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 ju€ling 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.

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