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You can read the full interview right here:
Interview with Nicole Pacent Anyone But Me [Astor]
How did you get involved in acting?
I’ve been acting since I literally could put one foot in front of the other. It’s funny cause singing came before acting or they were just married in my mind forever. I really began singing in choirs and doing a ton of musicals until I was about fifteen. I now do both. I still do musical theater, I do a lot of acting on stage- born and raised on the stage- I will always do theater because I love it. I went to NYU for acting so I graduated from Tisch School of Arts two years ago. It’s always been there in my life. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t acting.
You don’t think it will change?
No, but that’s not to say though that I don’t have other passions or that I don’t have other things that I thought I could do and be happy. It’s funny because I am in the midst of writing my essay for Yale drama for graduate school and I’m talking all about how and why I got into this profession. I get really frustrated when I hear actors say, “Oh god, I could never picture myself doing anything else.” Because a) It sounds a bit fabricated to me and b) I really think that acting draws from everything else. Acting is about everything else. If your entire life is about acting, I don’t know how you can really draw on anything and be a worthwhile actor and tell worthwhile stories. For me, I also teach in Harlem. I am a tutor for a year now at a Charter school – I tutor middle school kids and I was actually asked to be a seventh grade English teacher this summer for their summer school. I taught two classes of seventh grade English. It was one of the most incredible experiences ever and I got to make the curriculum and I’m obsessed with literature and poetry so it was too much fun for me. I love working with kids and so that way I will always know I will be teaching in that respect as well, even if I’m just teaching drama classes. But I always want to do that along side of acting.
How did you get interested in theater itself?
That’s hard because again it was something that just came naturally to me. I think my earliest memories of it are just playing little games with my friends. I would play the little mermaid…all the time. (Laughs) I just loved that song- it’s actually one of my audition songs even now: Part of Your World. I used to go on the playground and just sing that song. I would cast people as the different characters. Anything that was theater or music related I just loved it. My first memories of being in a show were at my church, productions at school or Community Theater. It just made sense to me. It’s like when I watched a movie or went to see a show, I was just completely transfixed. I went to see Red Riding Hood when I was seven and all I wanted to do was be red riding hood. I don’t know it just made sense to me forever.
How did you get involved with Anyone But Me?
Almost a year after I graduated, I was reading this e-mail on the alumni listserv and at that point they would send audition notifications that would come specifically through the Tisch office. So anyone that was on the listserv got this e-mail and it said new web series-and at that point I really wasn’t submitting any of my stuff online to web series because I wasn’t familiar with the medium and it took a while for this to become recognized as a legitimate medium. But what I saw was a little description of the show and the breakdown of the characters they were casting, then of course “From the Producer/Writer of The L Word” and then I was like, “Done!” I am completely done. It was so exciting and I remember turning to my girlfriend in the room and just being like “Whoa there’s this show! I’m so excited about this audition!” So, I submitted and apparently I was one of the last people to submit. I didn’t know that. I was told this later. I wrote such a heart-felt cover letter, or cover e-mail just saying how much The L Word meant to me and how awesome that this show was going to be brought to a younger audience because I so wanted something like this when I was coming of age and dealing with all these things. The idea of being a part of something like that was just amazing. Apparently they took me serious and called me in for Astor for the initial audition. Then they had me do a couple scenes for Vivian and then they called me back for Vivian and Astor. So Rachael (Anyone But Me’s Vivian) and I were both called back for both parts. So, we were switching back and forth. Thinking about it now it doesn’t make any sense. It was well cast-ed at the end of the day.
Shewired.com just put up their 2009 Gay Women of the Year nominees and I got nominated. I was like, ‘what! I don’t even know!’ Ellen is nominated! I honestly do not deserve to share a sidewalk with the women that are nominated much less a nominee. That kind of threw me for a 24-hour loop because I had all these people contacting me asking if I’ve seen this. It’s been a great week for Anyone But Me.
Why do you think you were nominated?
I contacted the head of shewired and said, ‘you know, Tracy thank you so much. This is unbelievable and totally humbling and amazing.’ And she just said, ‘You’re out and you talk about it and you’ve been open and you’re a good sport and you’re involved with this show and you deserve it.’ I guess its just we’ve amassed such a wonderful, small niche following for Anyone But Me and I think people really relate to the Vivian and Astor characters and I guess the fact that in that first interview I came out people were really psyched about that. I guess it’s just not that typical. It’s funny to me now because it’s just so second nature for me, I don’t even think about it. I talk about it because it is who I am and it’s part of my life. It’s been wonderful because I get contacted by fans everyday saying that you’ve touched my life and that I give them courage. That’s the greatest gift anyone could have been given and I feel so blessed to be given the chance to have that. It’s why I act at the end of the day besides my own love for it is to do something that makes a difference with people. This has been an incredible opportunity to do that.
So you came out recently?
I came out when I was fifteen and I came out publicly almost a year ago last month in the shewired interview. Since then I’ve just been talking about it. They asked me about it because I mentioned that one of the reasons why I got involved with Anyone But Me was because of The L Word, and I was talking about how I’m such a huge fan and they were like, ‘So you like The L Word…” I knew I would answer that question when it came up anyways. But yeah, I came out when I was fifteen. I came out to selected friends and then my parents. It was pretty much over an eight-month period of time. Of course when you come out, I mean, you come out pretty much your whole life. It’s such a funny idea this whole idea of coming out because if we lived in a world where people didn’t assume that you were straight until proven otherwise, then maybe things would be different. But you come out everyday to people. It’s been a long process, I guess.
Of course you came out to yourself before you came out to everyone else, but tell me what was it like? When you came out at fifteen, how did you feel afterwards?
The coming out to myself was scary. I told my best guy friend first because I felt that a guy would accept it a lot more and I didn’t want to freak my girlfriends out. It was so sad because one of my girlfriends that I hesitated to tell for a while and then found out two months later was so upset that I thought that she would be upset about it that she was crying. She was like, ‘How could you think I would judge you?’ I got a lot of support but I was terrified to tell my boyfriend at the time. We stayed together and everything because I came out as bi. I was terrified that he would break up with me and he didn’t so that was cool. But when we got into a fight, he told everyone at a party and that did not feel good. That is when I realized that it kind of was now out of my control and it was going to be something that would be talked about in high school and that got kind of scary for me. For the most part I could deal with it. I mean, my high school was really accepting. We had Gay Straight Alliance. One of the most popular girls at school in a grade above me, who happened to be my first girlfriend, was gay. She was literally loved by everybody. So it was pretty much accepted across the board. I was lucky to have grown up in area in the Northeast. I think my biggest fear- I remember coming back from summer break, going into my junior year at high school, and I had a girlfriend at the time. I had gotten this girlfriend and we became official over the summer. So no one really knew about it. She was at college already and I kind of felt that I had to walk into school and deal with this alone and that everybody was going to look at it differently. Up to that point people knew that I had hooked up with girls and they knew I had identified as bi but I had never had a girlfriend, so this was a new thing and I felt like I had no idea what the reaction was going to be. It was terrifying, absolutely terrifying to go back into that situation and feeling like I was going to be alienated because of this whole bi-sexual thing wasn’t just a joke. But it actually ended up being all right. Like I said, in those first couple of years there were ups and downs. There were times when I felt much more comfortable being out and other times when I felt rather judged. By the time I went to college it was time to get out of the small-town community and into an area where it was just extremely accepting everywhere. I needed that at that point.
Besides that time with that boyfriend of yours, which, by the way, that wasn’t such a great move on his part- he’s in my black list book as of right now, but besides that time tell me about another moment when you felt judged by people.
I remember walking past this one kid in the cafeteria. The cafeteria is always like the place for these kinds of things to happen. We were at lunch and I remember walking past him and hearing him whisper about this girl that I had hooked up something like, ‘Oh, there’s the girl that blah blah blah.’ We were in a giant social scene so obviously I wasn’t the only one that heard it. I just remember feeling this horrible kind of shame and I wanted to say something but I was too scared. It was one of those moments in retrospect where you play over and over and over again what you would have said but the moment has passed. So that wasn’t so nice and even if he didn’t mean it negatively it was very much calling attention to the fact that I was different and that that had happened. It just felt really alienating in any case. So that was one time. Another time, well, I definitely had some discriminatory things happen. Luckily nothing huge. One of the big things that stands out in my mind because it made me so angry afterwards was I woke up one morning. I was probably a junior in college, living in the East Village at the time. I woke up to go to rehearsal around probably 10 in the morning. My girlfriend at the time had slept over the night before so she had left my apartment with me and walked me to the corner and I had hailed the cab. The cab stopped in front of me and right before I got in. I just kissed her. I kissed her very quickly- it was certainly no make out. I kissed her really quickly like a see you later kind of thing and when I turned back around to the cab, the door was locked. I banged on the window and I just figured he didn’t know that the cab was locked. He didn’t turn around. He was sitting at the stoplight soon and I was just like, ‘What? That’s so weird.’ So I banged again and he wouldn’t turn around and then he flipped on his off duty sign and then drove away. I just turned around to my girlfriend and I just asked, ‘Did you just see that?’ I mean, I guess you could have justified it by saying it was something else. But we were the only people on the street. I mean, who do you think you’re driving around? This is the East Village! There are a lot of gay people. Another time I was at this club called Meow Mix, which used to be on the lower east side in Manhattan. I was dancing and it was the summer so they had these back doors open to let air in and you could kind of see the stage from there where people would dance. These two guys walked by with their girlfriends and yelled, ‘Fucking dikes.’ Why? Why would you? So those were kind of two things that stood out in my mind.
If the incident that happened in the cafeteria happened now, how would you respond to that kid?
All of us I hope are more confident after high school. I think you grow into yourself and you know more about people. I have more sense about people. I mean, people talk about other people because they are insecure. It doesn’t make it feel any better. But now I would be able to see that and I’d be like, ‘you know, I don’t know why this makes you feel uncomfortable but it’s really not my problem and the truth of the matter is you should probably mind your own business.’ I’m not crazy confrontational. I’m much more about just calling it out how it is.
Why do you think it would be a teen in any high school to come out?
It totally depends on where they are. You think of the worst scenario first. You know, coming out in an area where it is completely not accepted- like the Deep South or certain places out west or even internationally. Part of what the show has done for me has made my awareness go through the roof in terms of international feelings with all of this are concerned. I tend to think of Europe as being so liberal but I get mail from people in the Middle East. I got one from Germany where it really isn’t accepted. I get them from all over the place. I think that basically coming out in a high school where its not accepted no matter where you are, you know, kids are cruel and if its not one thing it’ll be another that they’ll pick on you for. With this specifically, for certain people, I would really just fear for their safety. That’s why it’s a really touchy subject. I would never make a blanket statement to high schoolers that they should just come out and be who they are, because it’s actually too dangerous of a world to do that right now which is very sad. I hope that it won’t always be that way. I mean, I think if I were in like Texas, I’d be scared for my life to come out. Beyond that I think sexuality and discovering yourself that way regardless of your orientation, is such an intimate and awkward process. It’s just SO awkward. No one knows how to deal with it themselves so everyone judges everybody else for it. No one knows how to deal with basically. So the fact that you can’t just be ‘normal’ and be dealing with it in the straight world adds a lot of pressure. It’s very stress producing. I would hope in a lot of high schools now that it’s changing. With our generation, I feel that it really is. I feel like we are becoming a live and let live. I feel like gay kids are just the backdrops of everything. They’re just kind of part of the makeup – the melting pot idea. I just feel like gay kids are becoming that. However, I would assume actually that maybe the parent thing would be the most anxiety producing in that situation. Our parents are still of another generation and some are accepting and some are not.
When you told your parents, how did they respond?
I have a problem keeping my mouth shut. If I have something to say, I’ll say it. When I had really had come to terms with this it was like dropping hints like bombs of hints left and right. I just wanted my parents to know. I don’t keep things from them anyway. We’re very open. I came out to my dad first because my mom made a comment. We were watching Felicity back in the day in the kitchen and there was a bi-sexual guy on it and my mom made a comment like, ‘Oh my god, ew, I could never date a man who was bi-sexual because the thought of him being with another man was disgusting.’ It was something like- such revulsion at that idea. I was so upset. It was weird that she had said something like that around me anyway because I was such an open gay advocate. I always had been. I was in theater and please; you’re surrounded by gay people all the time. She knew better than to say something like that around me. My dad was walking out to his car. I caught up with him and said, ‘Dad I have to tell you something.’ He kind of just sat there for a moment and took a deep breath and told me it’s ok I love you, give me some time to process this, but it’s okay I love you. My dad’s sister is gay so I felt more comfortable coming out to him because he’s been very accepting of her. It took me two or three more months to tell my mom. She guessed basically. She had met my first girlfriend a week or two before this. My girlfriend, whose name was Nicole too (laughs). My first girlfriend’s name was Nicole. She was more obviously gay than I was. I was very broken up one morning coming back from a sleepover with this girl because I was just dealing with a lot of stuff. We were just friends at that point. I just knew I really liked her. But I was still dating the boyfriend and I came home from this sleepover with her and I was obviously very confused and I was in a very upset place about everything. My mom asked what was wrong and I told her I liked someone else besides Chris and she just looks at me and asks if it’s a girl and I was just like ‘Yep.’ Then there were just water works. She started crying and it was no good. We were sitting in the car in our driveway and that’s when I came out. She just kept asking what was going to happen, what if I never had children- the whole nine yards. It’s funny because I knew before she was accepting of other gay people. My mom has always been cool about everybody else who is gay that comes in this house. It’s different when it’s your kid, I guess. She took a long time to come to terms with it and she still clings on for dear life to the bi-sexual thing. She thinks that maybe, maybe I will be with a guy and I’ve told her so many times especially after my most recent, definitely my most significant relationship in my life (three years with a girl who became a part of our family) and I said to my mom afterwards, ‘You really should count on this probably being the rest of my life. Even on the off-chance that its not, you should probably adjust your mindset so you’re not upset when I come to you with my wife.’ But she is much better about it now. She’s very supportive of me now. It just took her a long time to come around.
Why do you think it would be a teen in any high school to come out?
It was so taboo when they grew up. Some of them can’t wrap their heads around it. Some of them, I think, were raised in conservative households. Some of them never saw it around them so it’s this huge ‘What is this thing?’ And personally, I think for my mom and a lot of other people, I think it really comes down to this incredible kind of discomfort they have with putting themselves in that position. Usually it’s the opposite sex parent of the kid that comes out that is more okay with it than the same sex parent. So dads are more okay with their gay daughters, and moms are more okay with their gay sons. I think the reason for that is its not so personal to them. They don’t have to picture themselves in that situation. I think also on some level a mom could look at her gay son and be like, ‘well, yeah I see what you see in guys’ and same with dads and their gay daughters. That is true almost across the board.
At fifteen years old, what made you want to come out?
We thought we saw this hot guy across the field hockey field. I was there with my field hockey team. They were my friends- good friends but not my best friends. I mean, I told you when I came out I didn’t come out to girls at first- any girls. I certainly would not come out to teammates that I sharing bunk beds with. Basically, we see what we think is this hot guy across the field, comes over, takes off his hat, shaved head…we see it’s a girl. Everyone starts laughing and I have an identity crisis in the middle of everybody just laughing about it, I remember looking at her intently and being like, ‘That’s a girl. You know it’s a girl now. Why are you so attracted to her?’ I had to keep on telling myself, you know this is a girl right? Somehow I managed to get through that day. But that night I kind of just excused myself from everyone. I used a payphone to call two of my guy friends but I couldn’t get in touch with either of them. I felt so isolated for that next few days. I remember the music I was listening to then…All I could think of was I just want to kiss this girl so badly and I would do anything to do that and I can’t even talk to her. I wanted to. I lingered behind to see if she was there. But I didn’t even know how to handle myself much less talk to her. I thought about her the whole way home and I was really distant for two weeks afterwards and then I got distracted with other drama with the boyfriend at the time so I kind of put it out of my mind for a while. When that all settled down, I started thinking about it again. I started thinking about how there was this girl at home that I really wanted to hook up with. It was in November of my sophomore year of high school when I was heavily involved in theater at that point and I met two guys who identified as bi and those were the first bi-sexual people I have ever met or even heard of… I knew I still liked guys too so I could cling to that but I just didn’t know what was going on…so when I met these two guys that identified as this I was like, ‘well that seems right’ and now I feel comfortable putting a name to this.
What kind of differences do you see in guys and girls?
It’s like apples and oranges with guys and girls. Anybody knows that or could guess that by being around them in general. I think in terms of emotionally, with guys there is an often nice, and I hate to get Freudian on all this but there’s that nice feeling of being taken care of- almost a daddy feeling about it- oh, I feel so gross saying that. Not in like a direct way but in the sense that I’m being protected and taken care of and maybe even put on a bit of a pedestal. And also guys are so low drama, almost infuriating at times. Sometimes they’re just so simple-minded! But I’ve always enjoyed hanging out with guys. They tell it how it is and I enjoy that dynamic. On the other side of it, with girls it’s emotionally intense. Just think about it: two women. One woman in a relationship is definitely enough emotion but two kind of ups it. It can be great but it can be very dramatic at the same time. It’s wonderful to be able to relate with the person you are with in such a direct way like that. You both know what it is to be women and to be sensitive and understanding in those ways. It’s kind of this deeper bond that I find extremely comforting and intimate. I think guys are a bit rougher and girls are a bit softer in any way.
Why was coming out to your own self so scary?
It was totally different and I didn’t know anyone who identified as gay who was my age. I mean, I knew of people but none of them were my friends. It was so the other. As soon as it came in my conscience mind that this just might be who I am, I suddenly was alienated in my own head. I became the other that everyone could talk about. To me, that was very scary. It was scary too because I knew it was real. I knew from square one that this wasn’t just I’m curious and experimental. There was no question. As soon as it became conscience, it was a flood of ‘Oh my gosh when I was eight this happened…’ I remember in eighth grade I was staying home from school at my dad’s house, watching TV, and there was this hour long special on gay marriage. That was something, for the most part, so foreign to me. I remember watching it and being really uncomfortable but almost where I just couldn’t stop watching. It was so fascinating. That was my relationship with homosexuality until I knew that you should be accepting of other people. When I realized it as a social consciousness thing then I accepted it but was still uncomfortable with it in myself. When I was younger, I had a more than normal fascination with it. I remember seeing that special and saying to myself I’m gay. I’m gay. I’m gay. I want to stop watching this show because I can’t be gay. But I’m gay. I just remember that over and over again. So when I was dealing with all of it, all those thoughts came back to me and that I was denying it for a really long time. No matter what it is, when you’re coming out of denial about something it’s scary.
You mentioned before that you want to be a role model for so many teens. After watching the show and speaking with you I have no doubt in my mind that you are a role model for so many people. But who was your role model when you were a teen?
The first role model I can think of that comes to my head is Julie Andrews because I wanted to be her because she has a beautiful soprano voice and I’m a soprano and I wanted to play all the parts that she plays. I just love her. I idolized her. In terms of life role models, my aunt was certainly a role model for me in terms of being able to come out and she’s also an artist and a songwriter. I mean I’ll jump on the Ellen bandwagon here. Ellen was just huge and continues to be for me. I remember last year my girlfriend and I watched the entire Ellen series again from the first episode. But watching her do that in that time was incredible and just the amount of strength and courage that took and still is an awesome comedian and entertainer as she was- it just was incredible. What she continues to do is outstanding. The people that I look up to most in general are people who are able to be role models by who they are in their private lives and how they live their lives and what they do publicly for the benefit of others but at the same time have wonderful careers that have nothing to do with the rest of it. That’s what I hope to do is be an actor and a singer but have an absolute running parallel to it like the activism and social consciousness to it.
A lot of people say you look like Angelina Jolie. I mean, I feel like I’m talking to her right now.
You know, my ex-girlfriend said, ‘Yeah I saw it when I first met you, but I don’t see it anymore. You’re just…you.’ That’s what I get from most people. You see it at first and then they don’t see it anymore. I mean, it’s an incredible compliment. That woman is outstandingly beautiful. Can’t argue with it.
Okay back to Anyone But Me. How has been your experience working with the directors and producers?
I actually wrote them an e-mail after the whole Gay Women of the Year nominations came out. I wrote them thanking them for everything and saying they have become amazing mentors to me just in the way that they are extraordinarily dedicated to the show and to their art. They are wonderful on both the creative and business side of it. But beyond that, that they have become such great friends to me. They’re both very receptive. We have a lot of trust and openness personally and on-set.
Tell me a little bit about this girlfriend. For three years…that’s such a long time.
I used to keep her out of interviews in general because I needed to keep a distance emotionally or I wouldn’t have been able to talk about it. She and I met freshman year through a mutual friend. We met at a party and we never exchanged numbers. I’m not really sure why. Apparently she tried to get into my section of this required class that we both had to take and she didn’t get into that section but neither did I. But it just so happened that we ended up in the same alternate section together. It was funny because I had dated a guy over Christmas break and I walked in this class my first day of second semester and I saw her in the class. Like really? You’ve got to be kidding me! We ended up being friends for that semester and towards the end it got complicated because I clearly didn’t know what I wanted. She ended up dating one of my friends, which was rough. We started doing our separate things but she was always that girl…we were never really friends because there was always something more. And then one day she IMed me and asked me if I wanted to have dinner sometime and I was just like yeah sure, not really thinking that maybe she wouldn’t follow through on it. So she texted me the next day saying she’s on campus now and asked if I wanted to have dinner. So I popped some gum in my mouth and met up. We had a really nice time together…and that’s what started the whole thing. So we got together December of that junior year and were together all through the rest of junior year, senior year and for a year and a half after we graduated. She was my best friend and my everything- my support system, my best friend, by far the most significant romantic connection I ever had. But in the last year it was pretty up and down. I was in a place in my life where I needed to be on my own two feet and not rely on someone else. She had a steady job, a 9-5 kind of thing, since she had been an advertising major and I’m like this actor whose all over the place, with money jobs here and there, sometimes good sometimes not. So I was a little emotional that year and it was hard for her to deal with and I became difficult to deal with. I know that and I take a lot of ownership at this point. I did not make her life easy. It was rough. But anyway, I was the one who brought up the conversation that ‘I think I want to be with you forever but it won’t be before we have time apart.’ Who knows, maybe in some universe somewhere we will reconnect, but I think at this point we have our own lives again and it’s been good. If this wouldn’t have happened, this past year wouldn’t have been what it was and it was incredible.
Tell me what its like to be Astor on Anyone But Me.
Even though Vivian was the lead and everything in my actor self wants the lead and not the supporting lead, but now I don’t really subscribe to that. When I read Astor’s description, I was like oh yes definitely! Outspoken, she is who she is, she doesn’t apologize, really street smart and takes care of Vivian. It really hit home for me. She’s edgy, she’s not flat, and she’s fun. I see a lot of potential for her to make mistakes and I like that! Having to dig a character out of whatever they’ve gotten themselves into is a lot of fun. She’s so confident. She’s much more myself now than myself in high school. Myself in high school was a little more Vivian. Like I said before, sometimes I was comfortable with it and sometimes I wasn’t. But Astor is more impulsive and a little more- quick to say the wrong thing or act on her emotions than I am at this point because I feel like I’ve matured beyond that. But in terms of owning to who she is, she is more mature than I was. Astor is the kind of girl that I would date, not necessarily the person I am. If you had to cut Astor’s hair off, she’d be more of a girl that I would date in addition to her sensitivity and edginess.
It’s made me think a lot about my identity as an actor and my drawbacks. Often where you have trouble in acting is where you have trouble in life too. It’s a great reflection in that. So in that way I’ve become hyper-aware of things like that. It’s funny because I think of myself as so emotional but sometimes I have such a hard time of being vulnerable in front of people and not being in control. I see so much of that in Astor. There have been times in scenes where I’m like should I cry in this scene and I found myself so uncomfortable at the idea of crying and I’m like, ‘Is that me being uncomfortable for Astor or being uncomfortable for me?’ I’m a crier! I watch sad movies with waterworks. But when it comes to being that open…I don’t know, there’s something about me that needs to be the tough one and is in control and has got it together and the fact that Astor is that way has really illuminated that for me too.
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Keshet and Anyone But Me: Two Different Organizations, doing separate things, with the same common goal: bringing attention to acceptance, identity and social change
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” A peaceful fighter for social justice, we remember MLK Jr. as an honorable individual who indeed sacrificed, suffered and struggled to help make generations to come be able to skip hand in hand- white, black, pink, red – no matter what color, race, sexuality, or ethnicity. Years later, even though MLK Jr.’s dream has become partially true – we still have plenty of work to do.
Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are – and Keshet does just that. An organization that develops leadership among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Jews who can affect policy and cultural change in Jewish institutions, Keshet creates many opportunities where people of all sexualities can come together. Keshet, like JChoice, is about uniting the differences in people and working with Jewish communities. Based in Boston, Keshet’s Community-Building programs creates an institution where GLBT Jews can celebrate their Jewish identity while engaging in the acquisition of concrete activist skills for change. In 2006, Keshet began to offer national training, resources, and technical assistance to Jewish communities. To learn more/contact Keshet, go to their JChoice profile page: http://www.jchoice.org/CauseDetails.aspx?id=51.
After reading about this organization, I was doing some surfing on the web one day and came across the web series Anyone But Me, a show that introduces a new generation struggling with identity and modern relationships. Anyone But Me is a new webseries brought to you by one of the writers and producers of The L Word and thirtysomething, Susan Miller and independent filmmaker Tina Cesa Ward. Anyone But Me stars Rachael Hip-Flores, Mitchell S. Adams, Jessy Hodges, Joshua Holland, Nicole Pacent, Barbara Pitts, Alexis Slade, Dan Via. In the interview (which you can read in full at the end of the blog entry) Pacent talks about her experience coming out bi to her family and peers. An organization like Keshet embraces individuality and provides a safe haven and educational institution to do so. Anyone But Me is creating this same idea through the web and social media.
The new hit web-series Anyone But Me’s Nicole Pacent looks like a spitting image of Angelina Jolie. Created by one of the writers and producers of The L Word and ThirtySomething, Susan Miller, and independent filmmaker Tina Cesa Ward created Anyone But Me to introduce a new post 9/11 struggling with homosexuality, identity, and modern long distance relationships. Acting since she could literally put one foot in front of the other, Pacent flips her freshly salon highlighted brown hair, and flashes a crest-white smile. Placing her Au Bon Pain coffee near her computer, she gets ready to explain how excited she is for recently being nominated as one of Shewired.com’s 2009 Gay Women of the Year and what it means to her to be a part of Anyone But Me.
“We’ve amassed such a wonderful, small niche following for Anyone But Me,” said the New York University Tisch School of Arts graduate who plays 15- year old Astor, Vivian’s (played by Rachael Hip-Flores) on-screen love. “I think people really relate to the Vivian and Astor characters and the fact that in that first [SheWired.com] interview when I came out, people were really psyched about it. I guess it’s just not that typical,” says Pacent. “It’s funny to me now because it’s just so second nature for me. I don’t even think about it. I talk about it because it is who I am and it’s part of my life.”
When Pacent was notified that she had been nominated as one of Shewired.com’s 2009 Gay Women of the Year, she could barely hold in the excitement. “Ellen is nominated! I honestly do not deserve to share a sidewalk with the women that are nominated!”
After coming out publicly to the press as bi-sexual on April 21, 2009, shortly after the release of the first season of the web-series, Pacent says she gets contacted daily by devoted fans saying they have been touched by her efforts. “It’s why I act at the end of the day. Besides my own love for it, it is to do something that makes a difference with people,” says Pacent.
Although acting is a way for Pacent to make a difference for people, she also finds other ways to touch lives personally. In the midst of writing her graduate school essay for drama at Yale University about why she chose acting as her profession, Pacent says that even though she was “born and raised on the stage,” she has other many interests as well. “Acting is about everything else,” explains Pacent, “If your entire life is only about acting, I don’t know how you can really draw on anything else and be a worthwhile actor and tell worthwhile stories.” Also a middle school tutor at a Charter School in Harlem, New York, Pacent loves working with kids and wants to continue to teach alongside acting. This past summer, Pacent was asked to be a seventh grade English teacher for their summer school. “It was one of the most incredible experiences ever and I got to make the curriculum. I’m obsessed with literature and poetry so it was too much fun for me,” says Pacent, laughing.
As a kid herself, Pacent often played the little mermaid during recess, always showing admiration for the song, “Part of Your World,” to the point that even to this day, she still relies on it as her audition song. Casting kids on the playground as different characters from the Disney movie, theater was always something that just “made sense” to Pacent. “Anything that was theater or music related I just loved. When I watched a movie or went to see a show, I was just completely transfixed,” says Pacent, “I went to see Red Riding Hood when I was seven and all I wanted to do was be red riding hood.”
But the confident and smiling actress reminiscing about her musical production and community theater days on and off the playground actually used to be a little girl scared of coming out to her peers, and more importantly, to herself. “It’s such a funny idea this whole idea of coming out because if we lived in a world where people didn’t assume that you were straight until proven otherwise, then maybe things would be different. But really you come out everyday to people,” says Pacent.
While watching a long television special back in eighth grade on gay marriage one morning when she stayed home from school, Pacent recalls homosexuality being very foreign to her then. She was so uncomfortable with the television special and gay marriage in general, that it was absolutely fascinating at the same time. “I remember seeing that special and saying to myself, ‘I’m gay. I’m gay. I’m gay. I want to stop watching this show because I can’t be gay. But I’m gay,’” says Pacent. Coming out of denial was the first step towards Pacent coming out with her sexuality.
One would never think that in the middle of a field hockey field where practice was being held, someone could have an identity crisis. However, for fifteen-year-old Pacent it was possible. During a summer afternoon, her and her teammates saw, what they thought, was an attractive-looking guy across the field hockey field. A few minutes later they found out that this guy was actually a girl, when he, or rather she, took off a baseball cap to expose a shaved head and a face that had very apparent girl features. That moment was the turning point in Pacent’s awareness of her sexuality. As all the other girls laughed at the idea that they could possibly think this ‘guy’ was attractive, Pacent still could not get it out of her head that she still thought the girl was quite striking. “I remember looking at her intently and being like, ‘That’s a girl. You know it’s a girl now. Why are you so attracted to her?’ I had to keep on telling myself, you know this is a girl, right?’”
To Pacent, coming out at fifteen was a scary process. It was different and she did not know anyone her age that identified as gay. “It was so the other. As soon as it came in my conscience mind that this just might be who I am, I suddenly was alienated in my own head,” says Pacent, “I became the other that everyone could talk about and to me, that was very scary. It was scary because it was real.”
Coming out only became real when Pacent came to terms with the fact that this was something that would be a constant element in her lifestyle: she liked boys, but she also liked girls. When the truth was itching to come out Pacent would “drop hints like bombs” to her parents. While watching Felicity one afternoon with her family, there was a bi-sexual man on the show. Her mom made a disgusted comment about the man, knowing that her daughter was such an openly gay advocate. At the end of the evening when her dad was walking out to his car, Pacent decided it was time to tell him. She knew that her dad was more accepting because his sister was gay too. Three months after coming out with the truth to her dad, Pacent finally told her mom the morning after she came home from a sleepover with another girl- who later became her girlfriend.
“[My mom] had met my first girlfriend a week or two before this. My girlfriend, whose name was Nicole too was more obviously gay than I was. I was very broken up one morning coming back from a sleepover with this girl because I was just dealing with a lot. We were just friends at that point. I just knew I really liked her,” says Pacent, “But I was still dating the boyfriend and I was obviously very confused and I was in a very upset place about everything. My mom asked what was wrong. I told her I liked someone else besides Chris [the boyfriend] and she just looks at me and asked if it’s a girl and I just said, ‘Yep.’”
Pacent explained that her mom most likely expressed great discomfort with her bi-sexual daughter because she grew up in a society that considered it to be taboo. Her mom was not exposed to the idea of homosexuality and the thought of putting herself in that situation was uncomfortable. “Usually it is the opposite sex parent of the kid that comes out that is more okay with it than the same-sex parent,” says Pacent, “Dads are more okay with their gay daughters and moms are okay with their gay sons. I think the reason for that is its not so personal to them.”
A few months later, Pacent’s mom got used to her daughter’s sexuality, even though she still clung onto the bi part of it. Coming out was hard for fifteen-year-old Pacent because she did not know what kind of response to expect from her parents or her peers. Both parents became accepting and supportive and her friends never once judged her. But when Pacent was a junior in college living in the East Village, she woke up one morning around ten, as usual, to go to rehearsal not expecting to get a sudden sour taste of discrimination because of her sexuality. Leaving the apartment with her girlfriend at the time, they walked together to the corner where Pacent hailed a cab. The cab pulled in front of her and before she opened the door to get in, she gave her girlfriend a quick good-bye –see-you-later kiss. When she turned back to the cab, the door was locked. Pacent knocked on the window thinking the cab driver did not know the door was locked- but the driver never turned around or unlocked the door. The red traffic light at the corner turned green and the cab driver flipped his off duty sign and drove away. “I just turned around to my girlfriend and asked, ‘Did you just see that?’ I mean, I guess you could have justified it by saying it was something else. But we were the only people on the street. I mean who do you think you’re driving around? This is the East Village! There are a lot of gay people,” says Pacent.
Able to relate on a very personal level with her character on Anyone But Me, Pacent says Astor is very confident. “She’s much more myself now than myself in high school. Myself in high school was a little more Vivian,” says Pacent. After moving from New York City to Westchester, Vivian has to deal with coming out to her peers in a new school and neighborhood and has a hard time adjusting to that idea while still maintaining her relationship with Astor back at home. “Sometimes I was comfortable with it and sometimes I wasn’t. In terms of owning to who she is, she is more mature than I was. Astor is the kind of girl who I would date, not necessarily the person I am,” says Pacent.
Performing as Astor on the show makes Pacent think a lot about her identity as an actress, saying that often where people have trouble in acting is where they have trouble in life too. Sometimes during scenes where she needs to become vulnerable, Pacent finds it hard to do so in front of other people when she is not in control. “There have been times in scenes where I’m like, ‘Should I cry in this scene?’ and I found myself so uncomfortable at the idea of crying and I ask myself ‘Is that me being uncomfortable for Astor or me being uncomfortable for me?’
Since coming out to her peers and family, Pacent is finally comfortable forming relationships with other women and not afraid of being judged. The Angelina-look-alike is starring again on the second season of Anyone But Me that premiered December 15. “You know, my ex-girlfriend in the beginning thought I looked like Angelina Jolie but then over time said ‘Yeah I saw it when I first met you, but I don’t see it anymore. You’re just…you.’ That’s what I get from most people. They see it at first and then they don’t see it anymore. I mean it’s an incredible compliment. That woman is outstandingly beautiful. Can’t argue with it.”
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It’s no surprise that magazines, advertisers, and marketers use the “art” of airbrushing photographs to alter what reality looks like and to convey a certain type of image. Covers of magazines show flawless actors, actresses, singers, and models. We’re all aware of this as consumers. We know these models don’t really look the way they are portrayed on the glossy pages, but for some reason we’re okay with it. We still go ahead and buy the products being advertised or the clothes being modeled. Then we get upset when the bathroom cabinet piles up with a collection of face washes that never really worked, cover –ups that advertise miracles and provide none and mascara that claims to never clump and does so after the first use. Still surprised that Vanessa Hudgens appears to have no zits as she advertises for Neutrogena’s skin clearing cleansers? Don’t be. Two words: Adobe Photoshop.
Recently there has been a lot of talk in the media world concerning the evils of airbrushing, a photo editing technique that is used in the mentioned and infamous Adobe Photoshop, providing a means of shaving off any imperfection. The messages behind many advertisements have been increasingly misleading.
The question major companies have been faced with is when have we taken airbrushing too far?
On September 29 an advertisement that appeared only in Japan, by fashion clothing line Ralph Lauren, featured model Filippa Hamilton who appeared to have a waist smaller than her actual head. Airbrushing images already illustrates an unnatural appearance, but as viewers, we still accept it, because although the models look perfect, oddly enough, we still think this beauty is realistic. However, Ralph Lauren, in this advertisement, showed the world exactly how distorted some perceptions of beauty can be. Looking at the ad and of this poor model whose body was obviously not accepted for what it was, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow. She doesn’t even look simply skinny. She looks sick.” After reading follow-up articles, I was astonished and rather revolted at the fact that Ralph Lauren actually had fired this model just a few months before they used her image for the advertisement. Hamilton, who had worked with Ralph Lauren since 2002, said in a New York Daily News article, published October 14, that she was fired because she weighed too much and could no longer fit in the company’s clothes. Yet, Ralph Lauren still used her face and her body… well, only a sliver. The rest was edited away.
Promoting an unrealistic body image hurts the average teenager in more ways than just one. Do we really want to further encourage eating disorders or other unhealthy lifestyles? No. So how can we, as the voices of the next few generations, and the new faces in the social media world, alter this distorted so-called-ideal perception of beauty? How can we bring the natural back in beautiful?
One of the causes sponsored by JChoice inspires teens to look beyond appearance. The Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (MEDA) offers programs to guide teens to make healthy choices that will positively influence their self-esteem individually and those around them. Since food plays such a huge role in our society, family, and different cultures, eating disorders is a horrible aspect of reality that is coupled with the concept of food. Specifically among Jewish preteens and teens, eating disorders have been a prevalent concern. As mentioned on the JChoice website, a study conducted by the Jewish Women International site, has found that three in four Jewish girls between the ages of twelve and fifteen, have engaged in unhealthy eating and weight lifestyles. The mission of MEDA is to reach out to these preteens and teens in Jewish communities and to continuously raise awareness. MEDA reaches out to their targeted communities by creating different projects to remind our youth the importance of staying healthy and loving one’s body. One example of such a project is where interested members design a mirror with affirmations. These mirrors are then delivered to young teens that have been hospitalized for their eating disorders. In my opinion, such a project really emphasizes on the importance of loving the body you’re in. It encourages the power of the mirror as a reflection of one’s self and how essential it is to treat it with the utmost care, because, the body is probably one of the more fragile things in life.
What makes MEDA different from perhaps other health-related organizations is that the actual organization itself is comprised of six members who have recovered from an eating disorder. By being able to relate on such a personal level, these members can truly engage in helping both Jewish and Non-Jewish teens from many different communities recover from the dangers of eating disorders. MEDA partners with other eating disorder treatment facilities nationally. Founded by Rebecca Manley in 1994, MEDA was envisioned upon the idea that it would act as a safe haven for those individuals struggling with an eating disorder and a place where family members and friends of such patients can learn more about the illness and how to support their loved ones.
Overall the most important part of MEDA’s mission is prevention. Through educational presentations, workshops, and speakers, MEDA reaches out to many diverse audiences to explain the causes of the illness and the emotional and physical effects. Together with organizations such as MEDA, we can work towards editing away eating disorders from society and providing a new, healthy model and face for all those magazines creating their own false and dangerous idea of beauty. Together recovery IS possible. So magazines out there: be sure to edit this into the fine print under your next airbrushed victim.
Filed under: JChoice, Jewish, Media, Non-Profit, Teens, Tzedakah, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment
Tags: Airbrushing, Body Image, Fashion, Jchoice.org, Media, The Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association
Writing has always been a passion of mine. One day I hope to publish a memoir. One day I hope to have my own column in a newspaper and one day I hope to be an editor of a small magazine. But the writing business is a hard one to get into, and, in my opinion, to stay in as well. However, no matter how hard the business can be, I will still work towards establishing my own column, writing my own memoir, and becoming an editor of a small magazine. Writing is an art, a form of creativity, and a means of self-expression. Since a little girl, different forms of art have always had a significant impact on my life. Art is absolutely everywhere. Picasso, the Spanish painter and best-known figure in twentieth century art, showed his passion for art by experimenting with different theories, techniques and ideas. That’s the greatest thing about art: experimenting.
Not only is art a form of self-expression and experimentation, but it is also a way to bring communities together by expressing feelings and experimenting with different ideas with other people other than just oneself. The organization Artists for Humanity, a cause supported by JChoice, hosts a central apprenticeship/leadership program employing underserved Boston teens to partner them in small groups with professional artists, designers, and young artist mentors. By partnering these teens with professionals, together they can design, create, market and sell art products. The staffed studios are fully equipped, providing the necessary equipment for painting, mural design, sculpture, industrial design, screen-printing, graphic design, digital media, photography/web design, and fashion beyond design. To go with what I said earlier, art is way to join different people with different backgrounds. In this program, youth and mentors collaborate together. Though from a variety of backgrounds and ages, these young teens and professional mentors work together on a variety of projects to exhibit their similar passion for the arts.
What is so compelling about this organization is how it all originated. Susan Rodgerson, artist, teacher, and entrepreneur, felt that there was a need to address the lack of art in the Boston area public school systems. So in 1990, Rodgerson began working on a way for thirteen and fourteen year olds at an inner-city middle school to engage in creative thinking and expression through the power of the visual arts. The intention of doing so was that the youth could communicate to others and understand how their interactions with others and with art was indeed reaching out to a larger community- and in many ways, educating and empowering the people around them. No matter their socioeconomic status, passion for education or their knowledge of art itself, Rodgerson believed that every young individual deserved to have their voice heard- even if their voice was simply painted on a mural in a nearby neighborhood. Artists for Humanity began as a way to market such large-scale and collaborative paintings to Boston’s business world. But what makes these pieces of art so unique is that they reflect the voice of the youth and the vision of a diverse and culturally unified group of special teens of urban communities passionate for sharing their dream with a larger community. Rodgerson and six other dedicated supporters of the arts founded Artists for Humanity on the basis of this vision.
Artists for Humanity also tours to community groups and offers tours of their own green facility, the AFH EpiCenter, which has been voted the greenest building in Boston. The organization also offers specific art workshops for community groups throughout the year, an arts introduction and exploration program for middle school students on Saturdays, a job-training program for young people out of school, and an after hours summer programming to provide a safe haven for teens to further inspire themselves and others by acquiring educational guidance, and college preparation and readiness workshops.
As a twenty-year old and a student at Emerson College, located in Boston, Massachusetts, a school that is too a promoter of the visual arts as an effective means of communication to the greater world, I, too, value the significance of art. My form of art may be writing- but writing is only one aspect of communication. Putting together words on paper is a form of art much like splashing paint and color on canvas. Any form of art is a force towards social change. Social change is created when people are working together to bridge economic, racial, and social divisions, which ultimately can be possible through the efforts of such organizations like Artists for Humanity.
So members and supporters of the JChoice community: What is your form of art? And how will you use it to promote social change?
Want to know more about Artists for Humanity? Check out their JChoice Cause Profile: http://www.jchoice.org/CauseDetails.aspx?id=70
Filed under: Art, Charity, JChoice, Non-Profit, Teens, Tzedakah | Leave a Comment
Tags: After-school programs, Art, Artists for Humanity, Boston, Causes, Communication, Education, JChoice, Non-Profit, Organizations, Public Schools, Teens, Writing, Youth