NYC singer/songwriter Nomi Ruiz collaborates with Oli Chang of Animal Feelings on new track and visual Chemical Love. The melodic track is a departure from Ruiz’s dance floor-style grooves previously heard on Hercules and Love Affair’s You belong, and her own group Jessica 6 hits White Horse and Prisoner of Love. We also get to see a more stripped-down image of Ruiz, which she addresses in the essay below. She has suffered her entire life with the auto-immune disease alopecia (revealed to WOW in a feature interview a few months ago) that caused her to lose all of her bodily hair, and is now embracing a genderless expression, redefining what it means to be female and trans, ultimately rejecting all standardized labels of beauty and conformity.
I sang before I could talk, and when I could walk, I danced. As a child I loved wrapping myself in window curtains while dancing, imagining I was a ballerina wrapped in tulle. One day my mother watched me for the first time and shouted, ‘Stop! You shouldn’t do that. That’s for girls and you’re a boy!’ I looked at her wide-eyed and confused and innocently replied, “I know momma but in belly I feel like girl.” I was 4 years old. That was my first reality check, realizing that society would try to dictate whether or not I was a woman and even when I grew to be one regardless, they would try and dictate the type of woman I was allowed to be. It was a long journey but eventually I would discover how diverse femininity actually is and that being a girl isn’t all about ballerina’s and tulle but about breaking boundaries.
Growing up a woman of trans experience on the gritty streets of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, I struggled to find a place amongst my peers. I was slight of build, with a high-pitched voice and at an early age, I had already aligned myself with the feminine, both in the friendships I formed, and the outward appearance I adopted. Right when I began settling into my community, I was confronted by a shocking shift in my already complex experience. At the age of 4 I was diagnosed with Alopecia, an autoimmune disease which caused the hair on my entire body to fall out. Each morning I woke up to a pillowcase full of hair. Without treatment or cure for this disease, it didn’t take long until I was left with nothing but a bald scalp. Not only did I feel separate from the other kids in my neighborhood, but also from all of society.
We all use hair as a tool for self expression, so when that was taken away from me, a huge part of my identity was lost. I became an introvert, detaching myself from the world around me. The innocence I had as a child in tune with the woman inside was stripped away. At the time, I thought aesthetics alone determined my future as a female. When I suddenly had no control over my appearance I felt I also lost the ability to achieve my dreams. My hopeful innocence was devoured by fear and I made excuses to stray from my path. I told myself I could never be a singer because I was trans, and I could never be trans because I had no hair. I hid behind ball caps and sat in the back of classrooms. I spent all of my free time locked in my room, fantasizing of an alternative reality where I was considered beautiful, loved, and was free to sing as the woman I was meant to be.
My life changed when I saw Eve Salvail being interviewed on TV. Eve is a model who was discovered by Jean Paul Gautier and was known for having a shaved head that was tattooed with a Chinese dragon. I will never forget what she said during that interview, ‘being a model is what I do, not who I am.’ Seeing the confidence she possessed helped me see that an alternate universe of femininity DID exist. It was the first time I felt that I too could embrace femininity no matter what I possessed aesthetically.
It was at that moment when I not only became my own woman but also began to rebel against gender as a whole. I tattooed my scalp in honor of Eve and refused to cover up and hide behind scarfs and hats any longer. The more confident I became in my appearance, the more the world around me questioned my gender. I was often asked by my school teachers in front of an entire classroom, ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ I would smirk and reply, ‘I’m whatever you want me to be…’ I eventually aligned myself with the idea of being third gendered by rejecting gender as a whole and refusing to align with either male or female, a concept which is now defined as gender non conforming.
Eventually, I started my physical transition. I began taking hormones and as my body began to develop explored mainstream ideas of femininity. Having not only the soul of a woman but also a punk, I wasn’t content with simply ‘passing so, I toyed with hyperfemininity. I wore the highest heels, the longest hair, painted on the reddest lips and accentuated every single curve of my newly developed body. The punk in me that once challenged gender as a whole began finding power in feminine extremes but slowly this became a crutch as I began feeding off the way my new aesthetic not only excited men, but made them weak. The insecurity that lurked in my subconscious began using these feminine extremes as a weapon, searching for that look of vulnerability in a man’s eye that made me feel relevant, powerful, and beautiful. I was lost and had to return to myself in order to find my true strength by once again stripping away all aesthetics, like the day I lost my hair. Today, with nothing left to prove and without self-doubt, I find myself redefining my ideas of femininity once again. I observe my form as a naked canvas, stripped away of society’s ideas about what femininity should be.
When I sat down with Oli Chang and Adam France to talk about creating a video for ‘Chemical Love’ we all agreed we wanted something ethereal and otherworldly. I wanted to use this moment to express my current feminine philosophy by creating a character who escapes all preconceived notions of femininity, gender, and even race. I reached out to designer Rio Uribe at Gypsy Sport and jewelry designer Chrishabana, two artists who’s work also challenges gender norms, to help contribute to the videos aesthetic. I thought of myself as a child, so lost and afraid, suddenly finding strength in the sight of Eve Salvail. I wanted this video to present an image of alternative beauty for someone who may be trying to find themselves in a world full of false lashes and Instagram clones.
A rejection of labels, appropriation, and separation. Embracing the idea that we own nothing in this world but our collective souls, blending and sharing cultures, allowing an exchange of aesthetics until we are all undeniably one. Abandoning all ego. For it is the ego which fears evolution, for the moment we realize we are all one is the moment we realize we are nothing at all. When the feminine meets the masculine, like the chemicals in our bodies. Like the love in our hearts and the luxury in our lineage.