Meet — Jay Boogie
[Jay and I in Brooklyn, chatting over iced tea]
You mentioned you’re from the Dominican Republic?
Yup, I’m half Dominican and half Colombian.
When did you come to America?
Long story short, I came to New York in high school.
Before that, I was traveling back and forth—but high school was my first settlement.
Where did you attend high school?
I went to Norman Thomas in the city. Thank God. It was practically a going-away-to-college experience. I got to learn about the Village, and SoHo, and 34th St; and that was when the faggotry really kicked in.
Where were you living?
School was on 33rd and Park, and I was living in East New York, which is where I’m still living now. Same number, same hood, same house, same everything. It’s where I’ve been all my life.
I’m very interested contributing to my stomping ground, which is Brooklyn / East New York. I'm really fascinated with how its kept up over time. Still pure. Hasn't been gentrified. I wanna conserve that energy through my artistry. With my visibility.
Pretty much. People know me down to my great-grandparents over there. Wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Do you ever find it unsafe to express yourself in your neighborhood?
Me personally? No, not at all. I've been doing it for so long, nobody’s surprised by the looks anymore. They're just like, “Oh there she goes! She’s crazy!”
Are there times when you don't like that feeling? Of being gawked at?
No, because I’m opening their minds to aesthetic. Identity. Nonconforming gender, or whatever you wanna call it. I'm opening their minds to the possibility of humanity. The variations. Although I may look this way, I'm still just like you. You’ve seen me here all my life, and we’ve been through the same things. I enjoy giving people pieces of me. People that deserve it. Close friends and family. My hood.
I am myself. Unapologetically. Throughout my youth, I never conformed to anyone’s expectations for me. Now as an adult, you cant really come for me. If you wanna converse, we can do that, and talk about whatever, but don't come for my position in life because I feel like I'm fulfilling my purpose. People over there know now: Jay’s not gonna judge you unless you judge him. And you don't want Jay to judge you girl…
What are you wearing right now?
This one-piece is Gap Body. The coat is Dior. Telfar nano-bag. Diamond ring, diamond earrings, 99-cents do-rag. And my glasses are from a costume shop, like Halloween stuff. Don’t they look McQueen though? It’s all a story [laughs].
Can we talk about your nails?
It’s a love/hate thing. Sometimes I do feel like simplifying and *click click click* taking them off — but they're so connected to me. This is what I grew up seeing on my mother. These were the hands that touched me. These are the nails that I felt on my body as a kid. They're comforting to feel and look at. But yes, they do get in the way, I cant even front. People are like “how do you wipe your ass?” Girl with my fingers, not my nails.
Your mother seems to be a huge style influence for you.
She is. The way I compute my performance art: I am my mother getting ready. Nails, hair, and all of the things. She's a huge reference. I think for any young little latin queen, it’s the closest thing we have to look at and identify with. Especially coming from a single mother, it’s like, who else do I look at? I can’t look at my dad for an aesthetic or body reference because he wasn't there.
These are bonding moments when we get our nails done. We look at hair together. I don't talk to my mother about boys or about certain things, but when it comes to looks and stuff she's all about it. Every look you've ever seen Jay Boogie wearing has been pre-approved by his mother.
How does Dominican culture influence your relationship with gender expression?
It really contributes to my flamboyancy and my flair. You would think that since it’s a Third World country, a lot of people would discriminate, or it would be dangerous—but at the same time, it’s such a carefree kinda society. You have a lot of people out there who only know how to love. Who don't really know hate. Hate is something that’s harvested and developed. Someone in a village—all they know how to do is receive you as a person of flesh and bone. That you need to eat. That you like to laugh. What I learned from being myself over there is that if I project that I'm happy, and that I'm good with myself, then others have no choice but to follow that lead. And it works out. It really does.
Even the men over there. While there’s definitely a sense of homophobia, and they are afraid of falling into something messy — they’re afraid of falling into that trap. that lust trap. — it’s the way they express their phobia that’s totally different from here in America. It’s almost comedic.
Yeah, its almost comedic. They’re afraid because they don't understand, but they’re not necessarily angry or upset. You know, out here, phobia is like, if I'm perplexed or confused, then my instinct is to shoot. To end you. Out there it’s not like that. Everyone’s looking at you, but if you're celebrating yourself, then they’re gonna celebrate with you. It’s a vibe.
I really love DR so much. its a big part of me. That spiciness, that flamboyancy. It’s in my tongue, its in my aesthetic, its in the way I operate. Like, if it aint glitter, then it aint poppin'. I love tacky!
I read once that you're legendary for your use of pepper spray?
[Laughs] I've been on both sides of the fence when it comes to pepper spray. I mean, it’s New York. Here, you grow up having to fight for respect. And yeah, pepper spray was once my weapon of choice. I always had a good can of mace on me. I used to get them from this military store on 33rd street by Penn Station. It was an aerosol can.
Wasn’t that troublesome to carry around?
Well back then it was all about a bit tote. Mace and big totes. Now its about a nano bag, you know, so there’s no pepper spray in there right now. But it’s called “evolution.” Now, I don't feel like I need to pepper spray anybody. Back then, I felt like I was vulnerable to attack — now I feel so confident in my artistry as my weapon that I don't even resort to that ideology anymore of like, spraying the mace. I’ll throw hands, you know, but that’s about it. My looks are my defense.
Have u always been so openly expressive?
Always. Yes, always. Definitely. It was conflicting in the past ‘cause u got people like grandparents that u don't wanna… offend? But it never clicked for me how someone could be offended by me just being myself. I thought that was something to be celebrated: that we’re finding ourselves, and into ourselves like that.
I feel like if everybody embraced their sense of expression, we would all be free, and more tolerant. You do you, and I do me.
You have people who understand that the possibilities are endless, and you have people who don't wanna understand that there are people out there who are different from them.