ISAAC COLE POW­ELL.

The Broad­way baby opens up about his love for the stage, racial iden­tity, and what it means to be mixed in Tr*mp’s Amer­ica.

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy Anna Friemoth Fash­ion and Words Maxwell Los­gar

Broad­way’s hottest prop­erty steps in front of our cam­era lens for an ex­clu­sive shoot. Open­ing up about racial iden­tity in Tru*p’s Amer­ica, his jour­ney to be­ing out and vis­i­ble hasn’t been the eas­i­est, but he’s here and still fight­ing.

Last au­tumn — just months af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Univer­sity of North Carolina School of the Arts — Isaac Cole Pow­ell made his Broad­way de­but in the Tony Award-win­ning re­vival of Once on This Is­land. This spring he signed with New Pan­demics — a mod­el­ing agency ded­i­cated to in­creas­ing LGBTQ vis­i­bil­ity within the fash­ion in­dus­try. And this sum­mer, the 23-year-old New York City trans­plant from Greens­boro, North Carolina ap­pears in sea­son two of the In­die Se­ries Award-win­ning web se­ries In­door Boys as he con­tin­ues to earn his stripes in the con­crete jun­gle he now calls home.

You re­cently posted an op-ed about eth­nic­ity on In­sta­gram. What prompted that di­a­logue?

That day I had two peo­ple DM me and ask where I was from. Like, “re­ally from.” And that ques­tion has al­ways given me pause. It makes me so un­com­fort­able. It’s not that I’m ashamed of where I come from, or who I am, my dis­com­fort is rooted in the way we try to de­fine other peo­ple. As soon as some­one knows my racial iden­tity they au­to­mat­i­cally make as­sump­tions, and I don’t like that.

As some­one who grew up in the south, were you ever treated dif­fer­ently by peo­ple who knew you were mixed, ver­sus any­one who as­sumed you were white?

I pass as a white per­son and am af­forded white priv­i­lege so I don’t feel like I was ever dis­crim­i­nated against – at least not to my face – and it’s not like I’m try­ing to pass. These are just the cards I was dealt. So no, I didn’t re­ally ex­pe­ri­ence racism to­wards my­self, but I was privy to it. I en­coun­tered a lot of ig­no­rance from peo­ple who didn’t know my dad was black and thought they could get away with say­ing

cer­tain things — cer­tain, um, words — around me.

Has pass­ing as white os­tracised you at all from cer­tain cor­ners of the black com­mu­nity?

I wouldn’t say os­tracise. I’ve cer­tainly felt left out in some ways, but I recog­nise why. The main defin­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing black in Amer­ica is the dis­crim­i­na­tion that comes along with it. A per­son’s world­view is molded by the way they are treated. Be­cause I’m not treated the same way as other black peo­ple with darker com­plex­ions than me, there will al­ways be cer­tain con­ver­sa­tions I’m just not able to have.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tion has been at the root of many con­ver­sa­tions in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. What has it been like work­ing on a show with a pre­dom­i­nantly black cast?

There was a bit of di­ver­sity lack­ing on my col­lege cam­pus, so join­ing the Once On This Is­land cast felt like a homecoming of sorts. I grew up with my dad’s side of the fam­ily and re­ally missed be­ing im­mersed in the cul­ture.

When did you start do­ing the­atre?

When I was twelve. My sis­ter was babysit­ting these girls who were re­ally in­volved in the com­mu­nity the­atre and they needed more boys in The Wiz­ard of Oz. They taught me a lit­tle song and dance and I some­how got up the courage to au­di­tion.

What part did you play?

I was a munchkin and I got to wear glit­ter eye­shadow and eye­liner. I loved it! I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m wear­ing makeup and I get to stand in front of peo­ple and sing and dance and no one is laugh­ing.’ And then you saw Dorothy’s red heels and you were like, ‘Bi­i­i­i­i­itch! I’m home!’

Ba­si­cally! It’s ac­tu­ally funny you men­tion the red heels... when I was three or four, my sis­ter had this pair of red pleather plat­form san­dals that she wore for her fifth grade tal­ent show and I was ob­sessed with them. I re­mem­ber tak­ing them from her room and then lit­er­ally sit­ting in a closet and wear­ing them.

Did she know you were steal­ing her shoes?

She did... and so did my par­ents. They would take them away and hide them, but I would some­how al­ways find them again. It got to a point where all I wanted to do was sit in a dark closet and wear these beau­ti­ful red san­dals, so even­tu­ally my par­ents got rid of them.

That’s so sad.

Yeah! From an early age, I was taught that fem­i­nin­ity was re­served for women, and mas­culin­ity for men. My par­ents re­ally tried push­ing me to do sports.

Did that make it harder for you to come out?

I came out when I was six­teen. At that point I was at­tend­ing a per­form­ing arts high school where there were gay peo­ple ev­ery­where, so I couldn’t hide as much as I wanted to. Every­body saw me more for who I was and even­tu­ally I had to get re­ally hon­est with my­self. It got to a point where I couldn’t main­tain hav­ing a split per­son­al­ity be­tween my home and school life, pre­tend­ing to be straight with my fam­ily while liv­ing my true col­ors around my friends. It was ex­haust­ing. I came out to my fam­ily on Na­tional Com­ing Out Day.

How did they re­spond?

I sent ev­ery­one in my fam­ily a Face­book mes­sage, and my mom read it right away. I didn’t get a call from my dad un­til a cou­ple months later, but he made sure I knew that he loved me, which I wasn’t ex­pect­ing at all.

Why is that?

Be­cause my par­ents are South­ern Bap­tist. My dad is this quin­tes­sen­tial south­ern man. Just strong, hard work­ing, re­li­gious, and dis­ci­plined. But I re­mem­ber a lit­tle while af­ter that call he came up to my room to ask me all sorts of ques­tions, like did I feel I was born this way, and stuff like that. He was gen­uinely sweet and com­pas­sion­ate and wanted to make sure I wasn’t be­ing treated badly. He was more con­cerned about that than any­thing. Love that he wanted to make sure his son was okay...

He wanted to un­der­stand me – and I think he fi­nally does. My sis­ter ac­tu­ally told me that he re­ally does be­lieve I was born this way, that he doesn’t be­lieve it’s a choice.

As an ac­tor, did you ever feel a need to go back in the closet when you started au­di­tion­ing?

Truth­fully, when I got the role in Once on This Is­land, I sort of pan­icked. I was cast as a straight lead­ing man and one of my cast mem­bers ac­tu­ally took me out and said I might want to think about delet­ing all of the pic­tures of my then boyfriend and me, which I ac­tu­ally did. And that caused him a lot of pain.

What made you change your mind about

re­main­ing out and proud?

Af­ter see­ing the hurt I caused my ex, I re­alised I wasn’t will­ing to com­part­men­talise my life like that. I al­ready grad­u­ated from do­ing that in high school and there was no go­ing back. I wanted to live au­then­ti­cally, and if it meant hid­ing parts of my­self in or­der to be suc­cess­ful I wasn’t re­ally in­ter­ested. I needed to re­de­fine what suc­cess meant to me.

Good. We need more LGBTQ role mod­els like you break­ing the mold...

Thank you. So many peo­ple have reached out to tell me how much it means to them to see that some­one like me, a gay man in 2018, is not lim­ited in his ca­reer by his sex­u­al­ity. I just hope it stays that way.

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