At 23, Yves Is the Soft-Spoken, Inked-Up Model and Activist of Our Dreams
Editor’s Note: The second issue of the Daddy Issues zine premiered yesterday (purchase your copy here), and within its pages is a feature story with 23-year-old model, dancer, activist and aspiring musician Yves.
The interview inside the issue was conducted by Hornet’s Executive Editor, Stephan Horbelt, and below we have reproduced the extended version of that story, along with amazing photography of Yves by Lucas Castro Pardo.
Yves of Destruction
At first glance you might see an inked-up tough guy, but Brooklyn’s own Yves is fighting the good fight and tearing down prejudice
By Stephan Horbelt
At this point, there isn’t much that Yves hasn’t dabbled in.
The current Brooklyn resident — at only 23 years old — has already forged a modeling career for himself, is an amazing dancer and earlier this year dropped a debut single, “Savage.” On top of all that, he’s a tireless advocate and activist for issues that truly matter: animal rights, homelessness and America’s longstanding epidemic of trans murders.
I recently sat down to discuss all this and more with Yves, in advance of Daddy Issues’ “Meet Me in the Flesh” issue. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more gentle soul than this man, though his soft-spoken nature and innate kindness stand in contrast to what many would consider an intimidating outward appearance. In a world that places preconceptions on people with body ink and piercings, Yves is proof that judging a man based on anything short of his character is an exercise in futility.
Daddy Issues: You were born in Brooklyn but grew up in Florida. What was your childhood like?
Yves: I had a pretty interesting childhood. I was bullied quite extensively since the time I was really young. I knew I was gay from the moment I could know stuff, but I didn’t really have the word for it. Around middle school people would ask about it, and so I’d say whatever I could to cover it up, started dating and hooking up with different girls to hide that part of myself.
When I got to high school it was a bit harder, because more questions were being asked and I was just a very expressive kid. I didn’t really have a lot of confidence in myself because I was looking for value in other people — the cool kids and everything. That led to drugs, so I could appeal to the people around me and fit in, and I became hooked. My whole experience with that is one of the millions of reasons why I could never judge anyone for anything.
Before I turned 16 I made the choice to come out to my friends, and they did not take it very well. They kicked me out of the group and I was beaten up pretty badly. But after that moment I made a promise to myself to not let anyone ever make me feel bad for being myself. When I turned 17 I got clean, and that was a huge accomplishment for me spiritually. I was just so devoted to being clean, and I knew the path I needed to take if I wanted to still be alive.
After high school I moved to Georgia to attend Savannah College of Art and Design for dramatic writing. I ended up not staying because I felt there was something more I wanted to do. I feel college isn’t for everyone, and I’m one of those people. You don’t need a degree to help somebody. While in Savannah I started going to Atlanta for modeling shoots and ended up moving there for a while before I ended up moving here to New York.
Despite the fact that today you dabble all over the place — in modeling, in dance, in writing, in music — does one of those passions take precedent over the others for you?
To me, my interests are like a family of people. Sometimes families can be challenging or dysfunctional or broken, but they make sense together. I never want to be a person who goes somewhere and says, “Oh, hey, I dance,” or, “I sing.” I just say, “I’m an artist.” I feel saying I’m an artist is saying this is the family of what I do, and these are different family members. They’re all different facets of myself.
How did the modeling opportunities first come about?
When I was in Savannah a lot of photography majors and photographers around town were really intrigued by my look, and they would use me for different projects and shows. I thought the photos were really cool, so I would post them on social media. Brands started messaging me for stuff, which eventually turned into me being able to pay my bills.
With this being the “Meet Me in the Flesh” issue, and your skin being largely covered in ink, I’d love to hear about your relationship to tattoos. Is your ink an ongoing process?
I got my first tattoo when I was 15, and it’s definitely still an ongoing process. I would say about 89% of my body is covered in tattoos, but I will be getting touch ups and things re-tattooed until the day I die, I think. As far as adding major new pieces, I don’t think I will just because the parts of my body where I could have major pieces are already completely filled.
How does your ink change the way people interact with you?
Something I’ve learned because I’ve been tattooed for so long is that you can tell when someone’s looking at you and making an assumption or questioning something. I’ve had interactions with people where the entire time we’re talking it’s like I’m not really a person, I’m this figure with these markings on me. I’m trying to talk to them and actually invest in who they are, but the entire time it’s like they want to touch my face, they want me to take my shirt off, they want to ask me what this tattoo means. Now, if I wasn’t heavily tattooed, I don’t know how I’d react to someone who looks like me, so I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.
How does your ink change the way you navigate the world?
I would say I’m more cautious, though I’ve always been a pretty cautious person. I’ve missed flights because I’m being searched. I’ve been spit on before by an older woman who didn’t like the way I looked. I try to be as aware as I can, no matter where I am, because while I know who I am, the stranger next door doesn’t. But being heavily tattooed, sometimes I find myself smiling a lot, because when you’re heavily tattooed and you’re nice to someone, you’re not just nice, you’re really nice. Does that make any sense?
Is it a feeling of needing to overcompensate?
Absolutely. A lot of the time I feel like I’m representing an entire community of people other than myself. I’m already a pretty respectful person, but I try my best to be twice as respectful because many people have a stereotypical idea of what I’m going to sound like or what I’m gonna say.
The idea of being comfortable in one’s own skin is an issue many people struggle with, but especially queer people. Can you recall a period of your life when you didn’t feel comfortable in your own skin?
All my teen years I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin because I had this inner secret of my sexuality that no one really knew about, so I couldn’t be myself. In a way I was asking people to accept me when I hadn’t even accepted myself, you know? I was asking people to let me be their friend when I wasn’t even my own friend. Now I love the absolute shit out of myself, and I love the bad parts of me, the flaws, the insecurities, the mistakes. When you’re someone in the queer community, it’s very easy to fall victim to what society thinks of you. We’re constantly seeking validation from other people, but the real validation comes from you.
It’s really commendable that you use your social media presence to increase awareness for your activism.
For me, my activism and my fight in advocating for the LGBTQ community — and anyone who is oppressed — it’s way more than my social media, but that’s a huge part because I take advantage of the fact that I know so many people’s faces are down in their phones. My whole stance is if you’re looking at your phone, I want you to look at something that actually matters.
The places I volunteer at range from shelters for LGBTQ runaways to feeding the homeless of New York, and the reason I take my trans activism so seriously is because there are people who are not being seen as people. On social media, I try my best to put my actions into words, because a lot of times people need to read something in order for it to really stick to them.
When I get really really involved with stuff, I kind of tend to get intensely passionate. That’s why I advocate as strongly as I do and I speak about it every chance I get. At some point in time I won’t be alive anymore, but I know there are trans kids who will be, and even when I’m gone they can look at things I’ve said or videos I’ve done, or any of these posts, and know there was someone on their side.