FEATURES | WINTER ’20

TRANSCENDING

SHYANNE ESCADA & AMARRA AMOR
 by PICASOO MOORE + images by KAMOLLIO

The first brick at Stonewall? Of course, you’re aware. Founding S.T.A.R. and bringing food, community, and resources to trans women across New York and beyond? No doubt, you’ve read about it. That glorious smile and colorful headdress? We’ve all seen them in that immortalized photograph that gets posted on everyone’s Instagram every pride season. But beyond the speeches, beyond the vital work, beyond the canonized saint that we need her to be, but did you know Marsha P. Johnson was a person? Hold on. Catch your breath. Okay, keep reading. She was a woman, a friend, a bad bitch, and an activist, but also, a whole entire human being. 

Yes, Marsha was the leader who carried us over the line but she was so much more… so much other. And yes, Marsha was in many ways the first but she was not at all the last. “I was protesting all through the summer. I got arrested,” says Amarra Rysedoph, model, musician, OnlyFans entrepreneur, artist, and certified BARB. On a break from the cover shoot for The Tenth’s latest issue, she sits in front of a bevy of vegan delights and builds a plate while I pick her brain. She is no stranger to civic engagement. “I was in the activist community back home in Omaha (Nebraska) doing certain things here and there. But when this happened (the recent Black Lives Matter inflection point), I was like ‘nobody should not be in the streets, you know?’” With perfect posture and an expertly applied smoky eye, she shares her story.  

“I was at this protest, we had just crossed over the Brooklyn Bridge, and they (the police) started to charge a group of thousands of people and I started to record the arrests because they were throwing people to the ground. I was like, let me record because I don’t know how they were going to be treating these people, where they were taking them, and then this officer shoved me. I moved his arm off of me and I had three officers, grown men, take me to the ground! They ripped my lace front off my head and took me to jail. I was there overnight… It was a whole mess.”

From just over her right shoulder comes a gasp out of Shyanne Escada, model and one of the second runners up on HBO Max’s Ballroom competition series “Legendary.” A full stop. Even in all the makeup and wardrobe, the smoldering gaze she was just giving to the camera falls away. For a moment the room is raptured. “Yeah, I know,” offers Amarra. “I have court in like a week and a half. They didn’t really have any reason to arrest me. So I’m hoping that they’ll drop the charges and give me a ticket or something. I just have to see how it goes. There are things I’m a little bit worried about, honestly, because I feel like they’re just going to make some shit up. They didn’t tell me what my charges were when they arrested me, so I’m assuming they’re just going to make some shit up. So I just have to be prepared for that.”

The makeup artist signals that she’d like to touch up before Amarra slips into wardrobe and has her moment in front of the camera. As she and her cheekbones glide away, she turns and says “I haven’t really processed it yet. I’m sure it will hit me later.”  The power of that moment! It was brief and matter of fact, but undeniably profound. Two young trans girls, Black and magical as the day is long, sitting in this room and serving, not just face, but as contradictions. 

Contradictions to the relentless framing of trans women, particularly trans women of color, as the featured players in the world’s most sensationalized trauma porn du jour. Most media would have you believe that our sisters spend their days battling transphobic violence and galvanizing to push back against pointed and discriminatory legislation, and they do, as those are the enraging realities of their lives, but their days are also filled with so much more. The two young women in this feature prove that. Today they have a shoot with The Tenth… let’s worry about the court date next week.

Our collective attention is always shifting. We’re angry and ready to ride at dawn for Megan Thee Stallion up until Kanye says something wild about Harriet Tubman at his “campaign rally.” We can’t get over the scandal in the Pinkett-Smith household until Nene storms away at the reunion. Halle Berry is canceled for considering taking a role as a trans man in a new film until Miley announces a new record. It seems we’re deadset to swing back and forth between outrage and joy; and even with our hearts set on allyship we can sometimes drop the ball. Not these girls though. Like many of the trans women we know and love, multitasking is second nature. Yes, they work daily for their right to occupy space and cultivate autonomy, but they find time to do so much more. Call it their burden, call it their power, but just because they’re busy fighting doesn’t mean that they don’t have the time and the will to slay.

Shyanne, a native of Rochester, NY, is as comfortable and competent when speaking about her experience with advocacy as she is speaking about her ambition. When asked about the recent intersectional Black Trans Lives Matter March in Brooklyn, she notes that progress is being made. “Seeing the Black Lives Matter movement in high school, I remember talking about it in class and asking would you guys care if these people that died were gay or trans or anything? and it was just quiet. They didn’t even think about it. To see so many people marching for trans lives… I’ve always felt conflicted. It felt so separated from our community, but now it’s starting to merge. It feels inclusive. It doesn’t feel like I’m marching for someone who wouldn’t march for me.” Vital as that dialogue is, and eloquently as she engages, she has so much more to say. 

In between touchups to her makeup and head wrap, Shyanne makes it clear that her time on “Legendary” was only the beginning. “Before the show, I told them my goal isn’t to win the show. I said my goal is to make a moment. I’d rather they remember us than win… I’m thinking in advance. ” That hands on the wheel mentality is evident even in her nonverbal exchange. “Your basic average girl, here to save the world”, reads her Instagram bio. It may be a Kim Possible quote, and it may be a bit tongue in cheek, but the look in her eye when she’s being photographed, the presence she has when she struts down the stage, and the conviction in her voice when she speaks about her career and desire to “make a moment” and “be remembered” are not to be taken lightly.

If you want an online vogue class via Zoom, hit up Shyanne on Instagram. If you’re a savage but are looking for lingerie that’s more sustainable than what Rihanna has to offer head to Amarra’s page and use her PARADE discount code. From sharing their technical gifts with the world, to using their savvy to create brand partnerships, both Amarra and Shyanne shake off any and all imposed narratives and expiration dates on them. Months after our social media feeds have gone back to normal and the white gays in those ever-expanding gentrified pockets of Brooklyn have stopped professing their desire to “do the work,” our sisters actually are. In the stretch following, the historic march for Black Trans Lives in Brooklyn and the unprecedented rise in intersectional dialogue, these ladies make their desire to be more than the winners of the Oppression Olympics clear. They’re creating their own opportunities and making their own coins, and they are doing so on their own terms. 

It’s encouraging and inspiring to see self-actualized young trans women transcend (pun intended) the narrative so often imposed on them. In simply living their lives ambitiously and intentionally, they challenge ideas about what their trajectory and focus can be and reveal a more nuanced portrait of excellence.

ARTWORK by ZACH GREAR

The momentum they’ve respectively cultivated has been deliberate and when the girls get moving there’s really no stopping them. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, you’d think that they would tire. That they’d yield to the rapidly changing landscape of media or that they’d at least push things down the line a bit, right? Wrong. To Shyanne, her continued industriousness seems only logical and her recently acquired fan base seems eager to get a piece of her where and however they can. “I was really a homebody before COVID happened. So, I FaceTime my friends every day, and we text. And because of the show, I have a bigger following now, so I get to interact with a lot of people online more than before. I don’t think I’ve had to get creative.” For Amarra, the world’s state doesn’t seem to be an obstacle either. “Since coronavirus happened, I’m obviously not going out or anything. But I’m still connecting with people through social media and meeting other creatives that way and trying to keep myself creative and productive. Creating within the house, you know?”

Spending the day with Shyanne and Amarra is spending the day with the future. Two young women living life on their own terms and reshaping the molds that media and the world seem hellbent on setting them in. As they wrap their respective photo sessions and head out the door they subtly exhibit a mix of gratitude, effervescence, pride, and power. They’ve got meetings to take, shoots to head to, and collabs to manage. As I say my goodbyes and barrage them with a few more compliments for the work they both do behind and in front of the lens, I meet their eyes and feel overcome with the notion that though they offered a smorgasbord of soundbites desirable for any journalist, the most phenomenal part of the day was what went unsaid. The best part is what they and, so many other girls like them, effortlessly present as an imperative. With their confidence, wit, and drive Amarra and Shyanne make it clear that police, politics, and pandemic be damned, the girls are unstoppable!

 

is a contributing writer and all-star team player at The Tenth, who once had said on IG: “This is all Sarah Jessica Parker’s fault.”

 

is an Art Director and photographer who’s worked for every global luxury fashion & beauty brand possible, but in his independent creative pursuits, balances a stillness of hand and peace of mind, which is always transmitted in the process.

 



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