This year’s Jersey City Pride reports to be “more than an event, we are a movement.” And fourteen year old Siena Malmad is testimony to that.
On August 25 from 7-10 pm, Malmad is launching Teen Pride, an interactive art, spoken word and music festival featuring LGBTQ and ally teen artists and performers ages 13-19 at Art House Productions.
The theme of this year’s Teen Pride is Gender Euphoria. Proceeds from this event will go to the victims’ families of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando.
I was honored to spend some time with Malmad to learn more about Teen Pride and this incredible young and inspirational activist.
What inspired you?
Siena Malmad: Last year I went to Pride only to see a crowd of adult cisgender men. It disappointed me, being young and gender nonconforming. I realized soon after that the only space there seems to have been made in the lgbt community for teens is suicide hotlines. I don’t want the help and support we receive to only be given when it’s too late. I see the gay and trans community is under siege from hate crimes and suicide. Gender dysphoria can’t be the only option for LGBTQ kids.
To see an impactful, healthy community grow and blossom, we must create safe spaces and encourage gender euphoria in trans and nonbinary kids/teens. To support the community we must create a non-intimidating environment where young people can feel free from judgement and just be creative. That’s what Teen Pride is for.
Tell us about the event.
Teen Pride is an event organized as an art gallery, poetry slam, and concert experience for LGBT teens and allies to express themselves freely, without judgement.
Siena Malmad paints the damaged flower box that held the burnt LGBT Pride flag found at The Hair Room for the upcoming Gender Euphoria art show.
What is the art like?
We have about 25 pieces in the show. (Prices range from $25 – $250.) And there is a schedule currently being formed for the bands/singers performing. (Malmad will be submitting the damaged flower box that held the burnt Rainbow Pride flag found at The Hair Room JC as one of the art piece for the upcoming Gender Euphoria art show.)
All the artists that submitted work have completely blown me away. Despite me having no connection to any of these people besides Teen Pride, I am proud of each and every one of them. My jaw drops every time I look back at their work and I get all warm and fuzzy just thinking about how talented and amazing all these people are.
What point or concept would you like adults to better understand?
A lot of adults dehumanize LGBT teens to the point where they’re just another statistic in the yearly suicide poll for our demographic. Growing up in general is confusing and difficult but growing up gay and or trans can be one of the hardest things a kid can go through (even in this day and age). Straight adults sometimes try and relate their experience growing up to mine, but the truth is everyone is different. It’s not realistic to say that my time growing up is the same as theirs or ever will be. The best thing we can do is accept our differences and greet each other with open arms.
Have you felt misunderstood by adults?
I had a friend whose parent tried to tell me that they had a hard time growing up too and that they struggled to find their place in the world. The thing about me being bi and gender noncomforming is that I have found my place in the world, it’s just that people sometimes won’t let me into it. And like I said, no one has a clue what anyone else is going through especially if we’ve grown up under completely different circumstances.
Right. And that’s where you want to make it easier.
I want to help LGBT kids grow up not regretting or being traumatized by their childhoods. We’ve had enough generations of gay and trans kids experiencing self hate and lack of support from others. It’s been long overdue to start creating safe and supportive spaces for LGBT kids – before it’s too late. I owe it to my fellow LGBT teens to help them when they struggle.
Do you feel supported?
I had the privilege to have grown up in a supportive family and supportive city. My family accepts me for who I am and they wouldn’t ever force me to change. Not everyone gets that and I feel that one way I can make myself useful is to be that supportive friend that [other teens] need.
And there are several places in Hudson County that provide safe spaces for LGBT teens and young adults. Hudson Pride Connections Center is one of them; they run YouthConnect and several other programs for young LGBT people. They have some of the most supportive and accommodating people you will ever meet there.
Can you explain gender nonconformity?
Being gender noncomforming is simultaneously huge and irrelevant to who I am as a person. It’s a sentence with a question mark that I have learned to stop asking for an answer from. I’ve spent hours trying to figure out what my gender is before I realized, that it’s not important (to me at least). I don’t owe an answer to anyone and no one owes an answer to me when asked what my gender is. The only answer I owe to people is when they ask what my pronouns are and I tell them “they/them.”
Why do you think people struggle with understanding gender fluidity?
The gender binary is a thing people know and have grown accustomed to. It’s literally all they know! Even people who are nonbinary themselves are used to the gender binary even though it’s completely irrelevant to anyone’s actual gender identity. If we start to try and deconstruct the gender binary in our society by creating alternative pronouns and providing gender neutral ones, people will probably stop caring as much whether they fit under girl or boy, he or she. They’ll start asking themselves what makes them comfortable rather than what makes other people comfortable.
Teen Pride – Gender Euphoria will be held on Thursday, August 25 at 7 pm at Art House Productions, 136 Magnolia Ave. Admission is free. For more information email teenpridejc(at)gmail.com or visit JerseyCityPride.com
Photos courtesy Siena Malmad